29 August 1975: Éamon de Valera died on this day. His active political career spanned the years 1913-1973 from when he first joined the Irish Volunteers until his retirement as President of Ireland. Born in New York City in 1882 he was brought back to Ireland two years later and raised by his wider family in Co Limerick
He was one of the leading commandants of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and was sentenced to death by the British but this was commuted to Life Imprisonment as being born in the USA he was eligible to claim US citizenship
In 1917 he was elected as MP for East Clare but did not take his seat and in 1918 he was again imprisoned by the British but escaped from Lincoln Jail in England 1919. He returned home where he was elected by Dáil Éireann as Príomh Aire (President). He then made his way to America where he campaigned hard to gain support for the Irish Republic especially amongst the huge Irish American community there
Returning home in 1920 he and the British began tentative negotiations which led to the Truce of July 1921. But he broke with many of his colleagues in December that year when the Treaty was signed. The Civil War of 1922-1923 saw him side lined and after another period of imprisonment by the Irish Free State he in 1926 founded his own Party Fianna Fáil which he led until 1959
In 1927 he led the Party into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann and took the Oath to the British King George V - but under protest that he felt not bound by it! A dodgy tactic but it worked and he carried most of the Republican Movement with him to back this approach.
After the General Election of January 1932 he was elected by the Dáil as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and governed it until 1948 - being returned as Leader in every election. In the early 1930s he faced down General Eoin O’Duffy and his fascistic Blueshirt Movement and contained the threat from the IRA who wanted to re start the War with Britain over their continued Occupation of the North.
He refused to pay the Annuities due to the UK and this triggered the Economic war with England which brought great hardship to many farmers & others. While he was right in Principle the cost was high. He got rid of the Oath to the British Monarch in 1936 & brought before the People a New Constitution - Bunreacht na hÉireann - which was passed in a Referendum and came into operation in 1937. It is still the Constitution to this day - though somewhat amended now. In 1938 he got the British to hand back the Treaty Ports they still held and made a final settlement to the Economic War with a once off payment to them which finished the matter.
In 1939 the Second World War began and this State declared itself Neutral - the British were disgusted but had to accept it. However Dev played it well and ensured that co operation with England while low key was real nonetheless. He allowed anyone who wanted to go to cross the water to join up or work there if they wanted to. At War’s end in 1945 he offered condolences to the USA on the death of President Roosevelt but also to Germany on the death of Adolf Hitler - a gaffe in most people’s eyes.
He lost the General Election of 1948 and was out of power until 1951 when he was returned once again. However he was to lose it once more in 1954 and by this stage he was well into his 70s. The State could not provide enough jobs for its young people and Emigration was astronomical + widespread poverty in many parts of the Country. No Party seemed to have the solution. When he was returned to power in 1957 he came under pressure to look for new ways to change things and in 1958 it was decided to open up Ireland to Foreign Investment and Trade to which Dev gave his Imprimatur. This led to rapid economic expansion that continued until 1974.
But Dev was old and tired by now and his eyesight was failing. He resigned as Taoiseach in 1959 and was then elected President of Ireland in June of that year by popular vote. Probably the highlight of his term in Office was the visit of President John F Kennedy in 1963 and the celebrations in 1966 of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In that year he also was re elected President defeating the Fine Gael candidate Tom O’Higgins by a narrow margin. His last years were much more low key as age caught up with him. By that stage he was seen by many younger people as an archaic figure out of touch with Modern Ireland.
Always a divisive figure and a controversial one he led his followers through many crises - though many would consider some at least self inflicted ones! There was no doubting his fine mind and his ability to think a few steps ahead of his opponents on most occasions. His abiding legacy must be though the Constitution of 1937 and keeping the Irish State out of the Second World War + initiating the change that started our rise in living standards from 1958.
At his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. His wife of many years Sinéad de Valera died some months before he did and he was buried alongside her in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin after a State Funeral.