Close Up Photo of Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera (/ˈeɪmən dɛvəˈlɛrə/; first registered as George de Valero; changed in 1910 to Edward de Valera; 14 October 1882 – 29 August 1975) was a prominent politician in twentieth-century Ireland. His political career spanned over half a century, from 1917 to 1973; he served several terms as head of government and head of state. He also led the introduction of the Constitution of Ireland.
De Valera was a leader in the War of Independence and of the anti-Treaty opposition in the ensuing Irish Civil War (1922–1923). After leaving Sinn Féin in 1926 due to its policy of abstentionism, he founded Fianna Fáil, and was head of government (President of the Executive Council, later Taoiseach) from 1932 to 1948, 1951 to 1954, and 1957 to 1959, when he resigned after being elected as President of Ireland. His political creed evolved from militant republicanism to social and cultural conservatism.
Assessments of de Valera's career have varied; he has often been characterised as a stern, unbending, devious, and divisive Irish politician. Biographer Tim Pat Coogan sees his time in power as being characterised by economic and cultural stagnation, while Diarmaid Ferriter argues that the stereotype of de Valera as an austere, cold and even backward figure was largely manufactured in the 1960s and is misguided
Éamon de Valera was born on 14 October 1882 in New York City, the son of Catherine Coll—an Irishwoman originally from Bruree, County Limerick—and Juan Vivion de Valera, described on the birth certificate as an artist born in Spain. His parents were reportedly married on 18 September 1881 at St. Patrick's Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, but archivists have not located any such marriage certificate or any birth, baptismal, or death certificate information for anyone called Juan Vivion de Valera (nor for "de Valeros", an alternative spelling). On de Valera's original birth certificate, his name is given as George de Valero and his father is listed as Vivion de Valero. In a fresh birth certificate issued in 1910, his first name was changed to Edward and his father's surname given as "de Valera".
In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduced a motion calling on the IRA to desist from ambushes and other tactics that were allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly opposed, and de Valera relented, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claimed it was fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, brought pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the U.S. himself, on the pretext that only he could take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resisted this move, and stayed in Ireland. In the elections of May 1921, all candidates in Southern Ireland were returned unopposed, and Sinn Féin secured some seats in Northern Ireland. Following the Truce of July 1921 that ended the war, de Valera went to see David Lloyd George in London on 14 July. No agreement was reached, and by then the parliament of Northern Ireland had already met. It became clear that neither a republic, nor independence for all 32 counties, were going to be offered; Lloyd George told de Valera he could "put a soldier in Ireland for every man, woman and child in it" if the IRA did not immediately agree to stop fighting. In August 1921, de Valera secured Dáil Éireann approval to change the 1919 Dáil Constitution to upgrade his office from prime minister or chairman of the cabinet to a full President of the Republic. Declaring himself now the Irish equivalent of King George V, he argued that as Irish head of state, in the absence of the British head of state from the negotiations, he too should not attend the peace conference called the Treaty Negotiations (October–December 1921) at which British and Irish government leaders agreed to the effective independence of twenty-six of Ireland's thirty-two counties as the Irish Free State, with Northern Ireland choosing to remain under British sovereignty. It is generally agreed by historians that whatever his motives, it was a mistake for de Valera not to have travelled to London.
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