amon deValera was born on October 14, 1882 in New York City of an Irish mother and a Spanish father. When his father died in 1885, he was sent to live with his mother's family in Bruree, County Limerick, Ireland. He received his education at Blackrock College and the National University in Dublin. After his graduation in 1904, he taught mathematics. He married Sinead Flanagan in 1910. They had five sons and two daughters.

In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers. In 1916 he was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. He was the last commandant to surrender, making the statement "shoot me if you will, but arrange for my men". He was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life in prison, because of his American birth. DeValera was released under an amnesty in 1917, and elected president of both Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers, political and military groups, respectively, opposed to British rule. He was re-arrested the next year and sent to prison in England. While in prison, he was elected to the British Parliament but refused to take his seat, in line with the Sinn Féin abstentionist policy. In 1919 he made a dramatic escape from Lincoln Jail using a key smuggled to him in a cake. He made his way to the United States as a stowaway and travelled the US for a year and a half, promoting the Irish cause. He raised six million dollars for Irish independence.

In 1921 he returned to Ireland, going on to London to negotiate with British Prime Minister Lloyd George. However, he was not a party to the final agreement signed by Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and the other plenipotentiaries. They had been instructed to submit the draft treaty to the Cabinet in Dublin before signing. He fought against adoption of the treaty because it excluded Northern Ireland and included an oath of loyalty to the British crown.

In 1922 the Dáil (the Irish Assembly) ratified the treaty. A bloody civil war followed (June, 1922 through May, 1923) during which deValera's followers were defeated and deValera was imprisoned for about a year. In 1926 he founded a new political party, Fianna Fáil, which became the official opposition in the Dáil. To enter the Dáil, he and his followers had to take the oath of allegiance to which he was bitterly opposed. In the Dáil, his party demanded abolition of the oath, removal of the governor general and an end to land purchase annuities payable to Britain. In 1932 the Fianna Fáil Party won control of the government and deValera became Taoiseach (Prime Minister). He withheld payment of the land annuities and abolished the oath of loyalty to the British crown. During the next 5 years, Britain began an economic war against Ireland during which the latter suffered substantial losses. In 1937 Ireland adopted a new constitution, declaring itself a sovereign state, taking the name Éire.

In 1932 deValera was made head of the Council of the League of Nations and in 1938 he became President of the Assembly of the League. In 1939 Ireland announced it would remain neutral in the World War, although many termed it "neutral on the Allies side". DeValera was continually re-elected until 1948 when the opposition turned him out of power. During the next three years, when deValera's party was in the minority, the new government took the Republic of Ireland out of the British Commonwealth. DeValera had avoided that step because he had hoped on the eventual reunion of Northern Ireland and Eire.

In 1951, when his party was again elected to power, he again served as Taoiseach. As usual his main support came from the small farming class. Although turned out again in 1954, he came back as Taoiseach for the years 1957 through 1959, dealing with the problems of emigration, unemployment, and the lack of industrial production. One long time associate commented about this time, that the most striking feature of deValera's statesmanship was "you couldn't imagine him doing anything opposed to the Sermon on the Mount."

In 1959, hampered by growing blindness, he was forced to retire from the active post of Taoiseach. Instead, he ran for the presidency of Ireland, winning a seven-year term. In 1966 he was re-elected. In 1973, at the age of 91, he completed his second term as president. He retired to a nursing home near Dublin and died there on August 29, 1975. He remains the major political figure of modern day Ireland.

Copyright © 2006 Waterford History