BackStory Listener Mailbag
In the segment “’A Foe Without Hate’” from BackStory’s “Too Good To Be True,” guest Gary Gallagher and host Brian Balogh discussed celebrated rebel leaders. During the segment, Gallagher said, “I’d love to know any other principle rebel leader in a major civil war who ended up with a National Memorial to him, and his visage on postage stamps and coins. I would love to know if there’s another example of that.” Listener Emmet Connolly of Dublin answered the call and offered up the name Éamon de Valera.
According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, de Valera was born in New York to a Spanish father and Irish mother in 1882. His father died when de Valera was two and his mother sent him to live with her family in County Limerick, Ire.
Connolly, age 30, is originally from County Westmeath and remembers hearing the story of de Valera as a child. Here’s what he wrote:
Éamon de Valera was the leader of the Irish independence movement from 1916 until a treaty of independence was negotiated with the British government in 1921. “Dev” refused to accept the treaty, which triggered a civil war in which he was the leader of the (losing) side which sought to overthrow the new state and reject the treaty.
Dev was later imprisoned but in 1926 founded a new political party called Fianna Fáil, which became the largest Irish party for the next eighty years. Dev led several governments as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) between 1932 and 1959. In that year, he was elected President of Ireland, the state he earlier rebelled against, and was re-elected in 1966. He also drafted the Constitution of Ireland in 1937 (which is still in force today).
Overall, despite rebelling against the new Irish state in the civil war, he was the most dominant figure in Irish politics for fifty years. Although he is seen as good and bad in equal measures, he certainly did emerge from a (commuted) death sentence from the British, civil war defeat and several rounds of imprisonment to come out on top.
Thank you, Emmet, for your message. If you’d like to respond to Professor Gallagher’s question, be sure to email it to [email protected]. We may even feature it in a future blog post!