Sunday, 19 October 2014

Biography of Eamon de Valera - from 1916 rising to President of Ireland

The following excerpt is taken from a biography of Eamon De Valera on Wikipedia:

De Valera under prisoners’ escort 1916
 
Easter Rising

On 24 April 1916 the Easter Rising began. De Valera's forces occupied Boland's Mill, Grand Canal Street in Dublin, his chief task being to cover the southeastern approaches to the city. After a week of fighting the order came from Patrick Pearse to surrender. De Valera was court-martialed, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to penal servitude for life. It has been argued that he was saved by four facts. First, he was one of the last to surrender and he was held in a different prison from other leaders, thus his execution was delayed by practicalities. Second, the US Consulate in Dublin made representations before his trial (i.e., was he actually a United States citizen and if so, how would the United States react to the execution of one of its citizens?) while the full legal situation was clarified.

The fact that the UK was trying to bring the USA into the war in Europe at the time made the situation even more delicate, though this did not prevent the execution of Tom Clarke who had been a US citizen since 1905. Third, when Lt-Gen Sir John Maxwell reviewed his case he said, "Who is he? I haven't heard of him before. I wonder would he be likely to make trouble in the future?"

On being told that de Valera was unimportant he commuted the court-martial's death sentence to life imprisonment. De Valera had no Fenian family or personal background and his MI5 file in 1916 was very slim, only detailing his open membership in the Irish Volunteers. Fourth, by the time de Valera was court-martialed on 8 May, political pressure was being brought to bear on Maxwell to halt the executions; Maxwell had already told the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith that only two more were to be  executed, Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, although they were court-martialed the day after de Valera. His late trial, representations made by the American Consulate, his lack of Fenian background and political pressure all combined to save his life, though had he been tried a week earlier he would probably have been shot.

After imprisonment in Dartmoor, Maidstone and Lewes prisons, de Valera and his comrades were released under an amnesty in June 1917. On 10 July 1917 he was elected member of the House of Commons for East Clare (the constituency which he represented until 1959) in a by-election caused by the death of the previous incumbent Willie Redmond, brother of the Irish Party Leader John Redmond who had died fighting in World War I. In the 1918 general election he was elected both for that seat and Mayo East.

In 1917 he was elected president of Sinn Féin, the party which had been blamed incorrectly for provoking the Easter Rising. This party became the political vehicle through which the survivors of the Easter Rising channeled their republican ethos and objectives. The previous president of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith, had championed an Anglo-Irish dual-monarchy based on the Austro-Hungarian model, with independent legislatures for both Ireland and Britain. This solution would, mutatis mutandis, emulate the situation following the Constitution of 1782 under Henry Grattan, until Ireland was legislatively subsumed into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.



President of Dáil Éireann

Sinn Féin won a huge majority in the 1918 general election, largely thanks to the British executions of the 1916 leaders, the threat of conscription with the Conscription Crisis of 1918 and the first past the post ballot. They won 73 out of 105 Irish seats, with about 47% of votes cast. 25 seats were uncontested. On 21 January 1919, 27 Sinn Féin MPs (the rest were imprisoned or impaired), calling themselves Teachtaí Dála (TDs), assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin and formed an Irish parliament, known as Dáil Éireann (translatable into English as the Assembly of Ireland). A ministry or Aireacht was formed, under the leadership of the Príomh Aire (also called President of Dáil Éireann) Cathal Brugha.

De Valera had been re-arrested in May 1918 and imprisoned and so could not attend the January session of the Dáil. He escaped from Lincoln Gaol, England in February 1919. As a result he replaced Brugha as Príomh Aire in the April session of Dáil Éireann.

In the hope of securing international recognition, Seán T. O'Kelly was sent as envoy to Paris to present the Irish case to the Peace Conference convened by the great powers at the end of World War I. When it became clear by May 1919 that this mission could not succeed, de  Valera decided to visit the United States. The mission had three objectives: to ask for official recognition of the Irish Republic, to float a loan to finance the work of the Government (and by extension, the Irish Republican Army), and to secure the support of the American people for the republic. His visit lasted from June 1919 to December 1920 and had mixed success. One negative outcome was the splitting of the Irish-American organisations into pro- and anti-de Valera factions. He met the young Harvard-educated leader from Puerto Rico, Pedro Albizu Campos, and forged a lasting and useful alliance with him.

De Valera managed to raise $5,500,000 from American supporters, an amount that far exceeded the hopes of the Dáil. Of this, $500,000 was devoted to the American presidential campaign in 1920 which helped him gain wider public support there. In 1921 it was said that $1,466,000 had already been spent, and it is unclear when the net balance arrived in Ireland. Recognition was not forthcoming in the international sphere. He also had difficulties with various Irish-American leaders, such as John Devoy and Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, who resented the dominant position he established, preferring to  retain their control over Irish  affairs in the United States.

Meanwhile in Ireland, conflict between the British authorities and the Dáil (which the British declared illegal in September 1919) escalated into the Irish War of Independence. De           Valera left day-to-day government, during his eighteen-month absence in America, to Michael Collins, his 29-year-old Minister for Finance. De Valera and Collins would later become opponents during the Irish Civil War.

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