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 The Long Fellow

The Long Fellow

Mary E Daly
De Valera Volume 1: Rise 1882-1932, by David McCullagh, Gill Books, 480 pp, €24.99, ISBN: 978-0717155866 Eamon de Valera was the most significant political figure in twentieth century Ireland. One of the great strengths of this first volume in David McCullagh’s biography is to show that his pre-eminence was by no means inevitable, even after he was spared execution for his part in the 1916 Rising. Volume 1 tells the story from his birth in 1882 until 1932, when Fianna Fáil entered government. The story of de Valera’s early life is remarkable. Americans love to trumpet the “log-cabin to White House” biography of Abraham Lincoln, but de Valera’s obscure and impoverished origins were generally cited only to denigrate him. He was the son of Kate Coll from Bruree, who followed the path of many Irish women in the decades after the Famine: emigrating to the USA in her teens to become a domestic servant. He was born in Manhattan, in a hospital that catered for “the destitute, unwed and working mothers”. As for his father, Vivion de Valera/De Valero, no trace of him has been found in US census records, and there is no record of a marriage certificate or of Vivion’s death certificate or place of burial. De Valera’s mother gave several contradictory versions about where their marriage took place. In later life de Valera went to considerable efforts to learn more about his parentage – without success. In May 1959, when he was a candidate for the office of president of Ireland, he asked the minister for justice to provide him with a certificate confirming that he was an Irish citizen, which suggests a degree of insecurity about his origins, and during the debate on the 1935 Irish Citizenship Bill, he made a revealing speech in Dáil Éireann where he suggested that where a child had parents with different nationalities, they should take their mother’s citizenship. At some point after his birth Kate Coll returned to work as a live-in domestic servant on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and de Valera was boarded out with a Limerick woman. She sent him back to Ireland with her brother Edward in 1885. McCullagh speculates that this decision was prompted by hearing of her husband’s death (he had allegedly gone west seeking respite from tuberculosis); alternatively, she found it difficult to pay for his care from her servant’s income (an all too…

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