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'1917 and Dev'


Figure 1: Eamon de Valera at No. 10 Downing Street

Introduction

‘God Bless you DeValera, Your (sic) the champion of the fight. You struggled hard for Ireland and you made the wrong go right.’[1] Like him or loath him, Eamon de Valera was one of the most influential personalities in the creation and development of the new Irish state. Born in New York in 1882, he served both as Taoiseach and President. 1917 is the year when Eamon de Valera underwent a metamorphosis from republican to prisoner to politician and developed the embryonic characteristics of the statesman he would become, ‘the coming Parnell of Ireland’.[2]

Major William Redmond

Without the death of William Redmond on the battlefields of France, this occasion may never have come to fruition. The death of Redmond whilst serving King and country presented an opportunity to de Valera who was residing in jail at the His Majesty’s pleasure. ‘The death of Mr. William Redmond, M.P., took place in France, and the resultant vacancy in East Clare gave rise to one of the most exciting contests since the days of O’Connell.’[3]

Figure 2: Major Redmond leading is troops in World War 1

1916 Political Prisoners

A year after the Easter Rising of 1916 saw de Valera and the other political prisoners resident in various jails in Britain. However, on the 15 June 1917, liberation was on the horizon. Mr. Bonar Law announced that ‘they have decided, therefore, upon the release, without reservation, of the prisoners now in confinement in connection with the rebellion of 1916.’[4]

Figure 3: Crowds gather at Westland Road, Dublin to greet the newly released 1916 prisoners.

Selection of a candidate

Following their release, the former prisoners met to discuss a spokesman and candidate for the resurgent

republican movement. The obvious choice was Thomas Ashe. ‘In Fleming’s Hotel, Gardiner Place, a meeting of the released men was held at which Ashe was proposed … as the choice of the Lewes men for the vacancy in Clare.’[5] He declined and de Valera was next to be suggested, he accepted and was unanimously selected by his peers. Little did Ashe know that this decision would result in his death whilst saving the life of de Valera.

Eamon de Valera’s opponent in Clare was Patrick Lynch, a local man and a nationalist. This was a fight not between Ireland and Britain, but between old and new factions; the Irish Parliamentary Party and Sinn Féin.

Figure 4: Thomas Ashe, arrested August 1917, died on hunger strike 25 September 1917.

De Valera's election manifesto

De Valera’s manifesto menu was a main course of Irish independence and a dessert of anti-conscription. De Valera insisted that the Parliamentary Party was sympathetic to conscription and warned voters that the British Empire would commandeer their sons. On 11 July 1917, the voters in Clare went to the polls. De Valera once again demonstrated his eye for detail, organising transport for voters, armed security for ballot boxes after the close of polling and finally a no alcohol directive.

Figure 5: 1917 Clare election campaign

When the ballots were counted, a landslide victory for Sinn Féin was announced; Lynch received 2,035 votes and de Valera over twice as many at 5,010. The victory was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and included a comment that the support for John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party was in decline. The article concluded with the statement that ‘there is no other Irish leader in sight who possesses a tithe of his good sense and political sagacity’.[6] Eamon de Valera’s rising in 1917 was about to prove a solution to this issue.

What happened next?

De Valera was discussed in the House of Commons in October and December 1917. The question of de Valera’s nationality came to the fore once again with questions being raised about the legitimacy of him taking his seat in the British parliament. Mr Gershom Stewart asked if de Valera, ‘is a natural-born British subject; if not, whether he has been naturalised; and can he give the date of his certificate of naturalisation?’[7] A month earlier, one of de Valera’s greatest adversaries, David Lloyd George, recognised the new Sinn Féin politician, commenting about the cold shrewdness that de Valera seemed to possess, ‘the speeches …. are plain, deliberate and I might almost say cold-blooded incitements to rebellion.’[8]

Eamon de Valera survived the War of Independence and the Civil War while all around present and former comrades fell, including Michael Collins, Harry Boland and Liam Lynch. De Valera founded the political party Fianna Fáil in 1926 and it was the dominant party in Irish politics from 1932 to 1957. Even when the party was gazumped twice by a rainbow coalition, Fianna Fáil still retained the largest first preference vote.[9] On the 25 June 1959 he was inaugurated as President of Ireland and served two terms. He died on 29 August 1975.[10]

Figure 6: Different times - 1948 election poster

[1] School folklore collection, accessed 14 November 2018, https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4602743/4600357/4634164

[2] A resolution by Corofin Rural District Council to George Noble Plunkett, Count Plunkett, and Éamon de Valera, congratulating their constituency on electing Éamon de Valera, 1917 July 30, accessed 15 November 2018, http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000588790

[3] David T. Dwane, Early life of Eamonn Devalera (Dublin 1922), 56.

[4] HC Deb 15 June 1917 vol. 94 c1385 Retrieved from https://parlipapers.proquest.com/parlipapers/docview/t71.d76.cds5cv0094p0-0009?accountid=14504

[5] Séan Ó Lúing, I die in a good cause (Cork 2017), 196

[6] The Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 July 1917.

[7] HC Deb 6 December 1917 vol. 100 c577 Retrieved from https://parlipapers.proquest.com/parlipapers/docview/t71.d76.cds5cv0100p0-0004?accountid=14504

[8] HC Deb 23 October 1917 vol. 98 c786 Retrieved from https://parlipapers.proquest.com/parlipapers/docview/t71.d76.cds5cv0098p0-0006?accountid=14504

[9] Irish elections 1922-44 : results and analysis ed. Michael Gallagher (Limerick 1993) and Irish elections 1948-77 : results and analysis, ed. Michael Gallagher (New York 2009) set out turnout and percentage votes at general elections.

[10] https://president.ie/en/the-president/eamon-devalera

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