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The Irish President: The Later Career of Eamon De Valera

By personality and perseverance over the past thirty-eight years, writes Edgar Holt, the rebel of 1923 has achieved most of his aims for Ireland, save unity.

The Irish balladmonger’s prophecy has not come true. They have never crowned de Valera King of Ireland. Even in the years between 1932 and 1959, for most of which he was chief Minister of what is now the Irish Republic, he never enjoyed the kind of majority in Dail Eireann which might have suggested any near approach to absolute authority.

The old and persisting cleavage between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty parties in Irish politics has made it impossible for him ever to have the whole country behind him—except on particular issues during the Second World War, when there were few in Southern Ireland to oppose his resolute maintenance of neutrality.

None the less it is self-evident that he has been the greatest political figure in Southern Ireland since its twenty-six counties were given their own Government in 1922.

Yet this is the man who was sentenced to death by the British and clapped into gaol by his own countrymen, both in the Irish Free State and in Northern Ireland. The transformation of the rebel of 1923 into the respected President of 1961 is a remarkable example of how personality and perseverance can win through, even when all the odds have been heavily against them.

The Eamon de Valera whom the Government of the newly-formed Irish Free State interned in Arbour Hill barracks in 1923 had already many proud memories to console him. In spite of his international origin — he was born in New York, the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother — he had become established as an Irish patriot and had the great prestige of being the only surviving senior commandant who had fought in the Easter Rising.

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