I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized ‘Staunch Fine Gael’

‘Staunch Fine Gael’

Frank Callanan
Saving the State: Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar, by Stephen Collins & Ciara Meehan, Gill Books, 400 pp, €24.99, ISBN: 978-0717189731 Years ago at a wedding my cousin Padraig Gearty met James Dillon. He mentioned my cousin and godmother Brigid Lyons Thornton, referring to her as “bitter Fine Gael”. “No, no, no,” Dillon intoned: “Staunch Fine Gael. Bitter Fianna Fáil.” “Bitter Fine Gael” was certainly an apt characterisation of my godmother. For a child it was highly entertaining: the first time I heard the word “bastard” used it was in “that bastard”, to refer to Éamon de Valera. Not the least merit of Saving the State is that it prompts reflection on the endurance of the strange phenomenon that is Fine Gael. Collins and Meehan write of the party playing down the embarrassing (to put it no more strongly) episode of O’Duffy’s leadership of Fine Gael when the party was established in 1933 by the merger of Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the Army Comrades Association – the “Blueshirts” ‑ in favour of the heroic figure of Michael Collins. Collins had, as they point out, died eight months before the foundation of Cumann na nGaedheal. But it is about more than branding: the cult of Collins runs deep in Fine Gael. The party has also a strain that identifies more with the Irish parliamentary party than Sinn Féin. In ways WT Cosgrave can be seen as more in the line of Arthur Griffith than of the martial figure of Collins, who overshadows Griffith both in the public and in the Fine Gael imagination. O’Duffy’s volatility and extremism alarmed the rest of the party leadership. Confronted with an ultimatum, he resigned in September 1934. It was a discreditable interlude. O’Duffy headed off on his “Crusade in Spain” in 1936-37. Irish  identification with Franco in the Spanish civil war was sadly not confined to Fine Gael; de Valera expressed sympathy with the Nationalists but maintained a policy of neutrality. Some of the party’s “intellectuals” (a term that has a distinctly right-wing hue in the early history of Fine Gael) entertained the deluded belief that they could return to office by challenging Irish neutrality in the Spanish civil war. Collins and Meehan’s book is a reminder of the extraordinary cast of ruddy characters who make up the history of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, with which they are principally concerned. While…

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