Boy from Bruree
Eamon de Valera was born in New York on October 14, 1882
to Catherine Coll, a native of Bruree, who is believed to
have married another immigrant, Vivion de Valera, a Spaniard,
in that city the previous year, writes Martin Byrnes.
Shortly after the birth of the boy, Vivion de Valera moved
away from the grimy and smog-filled air of New York for
health reasons, presumably tuberculosis, and died in Denver,
Colorado, two years later.
Whether the two events were connected or not, the boy Edward
was brought to Ireland about the time of his fathers
death, to be raised by her own family in the small labourers
cottage outside Bruree village on the Athlacca road. He
was brought to Ireland by a brother of Catherine Coll, who
soon returned to America. Another of Catherines sister,
Hannie, also soon took the boat.
A few years later, Catherine visited Bruree to announce
that she was to remarry, but declined the boys pleadings
that he be taken back with her to America. And so it was
that his uncle Pat and his grandmother raised the boy, schooling
him firstly at Bruree, and later, after the old womans
death in 1895, at Charleville CBS to which the boy often
walked the seven miles each way daily. There he succeeded
and won a £20 scholarship tenable for three years,
which allowed him to attend Blackrock College, south of
Dublin, a boarding school run by the Holy Fathers. He had
been refused at two other schools, including St Munchins
College, apparently because of suggestions of his illigitemacy.
It was at Blackrock that he developed his lifelong love
In those days, Trinity College was exclusively Protestant.
The Royal University merely prepared syllabuses and conducted
examinations, but did not have any campus of its own. So,
with his third year of his scholarship, the young de Valera
enrolled in the university college which was attached to
Blackrock College and studied for his first year arts exam.
From this he received a further scholarship.
His first job was as a teacher in the Holy Ghost Fathers
Rockwell College, near Cashel, where he still had an ambition
to study for the priesthood, and during which time he qualified
with a pass degree from the Royal University. He then had
a number of temporary teaching jobs, ironically including
at St Munchins in Limerick, which had earlier refused
him as a student, and studied Irish in the hope of becoming
a lecturer in the National University which was in the process
of being established in 1908. One of his Irish language
teachers in conradh na Gaeilge was Sinéad Flanagan,
who was to become his wife and lifelong companion.
He was given a part time and temporary post as a mathematics
professor at St Patricks College, Maynooth, where
its President was Fr Daniel Mannix, a native of Charleville,
who was later to become Archbishop of Melbourne and Cardinal
Primate of Australia. But it was to be his part in the Easter
Rebellion of 1916 which would send him into national prominence.
He was the commander of the rebels in Bolands Mills
for the short-lived attempt at overthrowing British rule,
was arrested and sentenced to death with the other leaders,
including Pearse and Connolly and fellow Limerickman Thomas
Clarke. It is understood it was his American citizenship,
and the wish of Whitehall not to alienate the US which was
still reluctant to enter the Great War which led to his
sentence being commuted to life imprisonment. He was released
under a general amnesty a year later.
Upon his release, he was elected MP for East Clare and also
president of Sinn Féin. He with the other Sinn Féin
MPs refused to attend Westminster.
In 1918, he was again arrested and was imprisoned in London
Jail, but escaped to America in 1919. Elected President
of the Irish Republic when the Sinn Féin MPs
constituted themselves as the First Dáil in Dublins
Mansion House in 1920, he returned to Ireland and co-ordinated
the state-wide guerrilla war against British rule from hiding
places in Dublin.
He authorised the Treaty negotiations of 1921, and was in
Limerick the night word came through that the Griffith,
Collins and the other negotiators had accepted partition
and limited independence for the 26 counties.
He rejected the Treaty, which was endorsed by the Dáil
and a short but bloddy civil war followed which raged most
fiercely in Munster. It was during this conflict that departing
anti-treaty forces burnt the main building of Newcastle
West Castle, not a stone of which remains standing today.
After the civil war was suppressed, de Valera was arrested
by the Cumann na nGael government of William T Cosgrave,
and spent a year in prison.
In 1926, he broke from Sinn Féin and formed a new
party, Fianna Fáil, which took its seats in the Dáil
at its first election the following year, and which gained
power in the next election of 1932. Becoming president of
the Executive Council and Minister for External Affairs,
de Valera at once abolished the Oath of Allegiance to the
King and suspended payments of annuities due to London under
the Land Purchase Acts in respect of the buy-outs of former
English-held estates in Ireland to give tenure to native
tenants. This led to a trade stand-off in which Irish exports
to Britain were embargoed.
This Economic War lasted until 1938 when Britain made an
agreement to settle the outstanding issues, as a new and
terrible war with Hitlers Germany looked increasingly
The raising of the embargo meant that Ireland was reasonably
self-sufficient during the 1939-45 conflict, throughout
which the 26 counties maintained neutrality, refusing to
fight for a British state which contained Northern Ireland.
Prior to the war, de Valera, as President of the League
of Nations had tried to avert conflict, but nothing came
of it as unanimity was required on all resolutions and because
Germany had simply withdrawn from the Geneva-based body
The Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, was
enacted in 1936 and took effect in 1937, and specifically
laid claim to the island of Ireland, its islands
and territorial seas. It had been largely written
under de Valeras personal supervision and replaced
the office of Governor General (of a British dominion) with
that of president, although falling short of an outright
declaration of a republic.
After 16 years in power, the de Valera Government was voted
out of office by a coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and others
in 1948, but he was re-elected in 1951, losing out again
in 1954. He was returned to power in 1957 and continued
as Taoiseach for two further years when he contested and
won the presidency at the age of 77. Seán Lemass
taking over as Taoiseach until 1966, to be succeeded by
Jack Lynch who together would complete another unbroken
16 years of Fianna Fáil in government. De Valera
was re-elected as president in 1966 with a slender majority
and served out his second term until his retirement at the
age of 91. Even in his last months of office, the old statesman
opposed Lynchs calling of the 1973 general election,
believing the timing to have been wrong, but had no alternative
but to sign the warrant of dissolution.
Predeceased by his wife, de Valera died two years later
in 1975, and was buried in third order monastic robes, signifying
his lifelong adherence to the faith.
Within months of first achieving power, de Valera was head
of government for the holding in Dublin of the Eucharistic
Congress of 1932, which would be by far the biggest outpouring
of religious fervour in Ireland until the visit of Pope
John Paul II, 47 years later. De Valera paid an official
visit as Taoiseach to Pope Pius XII and visited sacred sites
around Rome, including the Sanctuario at Genazzano, in which
ancient village the Irish Augustinians had an establishment
San Pio. He was famously friendly with the austere Archbishop
of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, whose influence on legislation
and on education was legendary.
Right through his adult life, Eamon de Valera was plagued
by bad eyesight, and latterly had to be shepherded to and
from public engagements by the gentle hand of his aide-de-camp
and friend, Col Seán Brennan. As president, he addressed
the United Nations, delivering a long and wide-ranging address
entirely from memory, being unable to work from a script.
He was still president when he received the youthful John
F Kennedy to Ireland in 1963, just months before the latters
During his periods as Taoiseach, de Valera never appointed
a Limerick TD to Cabinet, but kept close connections with
his personal roots in both Limerick and Clare. He travelled
most years to the annual agricultural show in Ennis and
famously attended the opening of the old schoolhouse in
Bruree as a museum to his life, and contributed many artefacts
to its exhibition cabinets. His own school desk is preserved
Courtesy of the Limerick Leader