Éamon DeValera, the 3rd President of Ireland, 2nd Taoiseach and one of the people who fought for Irish independence in the 1916 Easter Rising, died on this day in 1975.
While his legacy is one which divides opinion, the man played an integral part in securing Irish freedom from Britain a century ago.
Born in New York under the name George De Valero, he was raised in Bruree, County Limerick, by his grandmother, and later changed his name to Éamon DeValera. The Gaeilgóir eventually moved to Dublin to study at Blackrock College, Dublin, and taught mathematics in several colleges before becoming involved in the uprising against the British.
The deeply religious man, who had considered joining the priesthood several times, was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood alongside his eventual rival Michael Collins, and together the group planned the details of the now-famous Easter Rising.
His actions during the Rising itself are disputed—some referred to him as a brave and competent leader whose soldiers were some of the best-trained in the world. Others however, recount stories of the Limerick man being deeply troubled, refusing to sleep, giving conflicting orders and at one point almost getting shot by his own men in the dark after forgetting the password.
Regardless, DeValera was among those arrested after the failed uprising, but like Michael Collins, he escaped execution by chance— one of the reasons being that the Lieutenant General at the time, Sir John Maxwell, said of DeValera when reviewing his case “I haven’t heard of him before. I wonder if he would be likely to make trouble in the future?”
Maxwell was advised that he probably wouldn’t—and so the future Taoiseach of Ireland was released from prison a year later.
Upon his release, DeValera began rising through the ranks of Irish politics, becoming an MP (as was the term at the time), for East Clare and Mayo East, before becoming President of Sinn Féin, Dáil Éireann, and eventually, the Irish Republic. He served two terms as Taoiseach, from 1951-54 and again from 1957-59, resigning to accept his post as the President of Ireland.
Retiring from the Presidency at the age of 90, Éamon DeValera was the oldest head of state in the world.
He lived a full and controversial life, and his political party Fíanna Fáil has dominated Irish politics since its conception: his grandson Éamon Ó Cuív has been a TD for Galway West since 1992.
Éamon DeValera died at the age of 92, on 29 August 1975, and was buried next to his wife Sinéad and his son Brian, who had died at the age of 21.
The family rest in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.