This Week in the History of the Irish: March 9 - March 15

Left to right: Harry Boland, Michael Collins, and Eamon de Valera

LUAIN -- On March 9, 1932 Eamon de Valera formed his first Free State government. . Eamon was born on October 14, 1882 in New York City, of an Irish mother from Country Limberic and a Spanish father. When his father died in 1885 his mother sent Eamon back to Bruree, County Limerick to be raised as an Irishman from the age of three by his grandmother, Elizabeth Coll.

Following his graduation from college he taught mathematics at several different colleges. His political activism began through an interest in the Irish language which cause him to join the Gaelic League in 1908, where he also met his future wife, Sinèad Flanagan. De Valera joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and rose to become commandant of the 3rd Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade as well as becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization that controlled the Irish Volunteers. During the Easter Rising in 1916 he commanded the 3rd Battalion at Boland's Mills and was the last commander in the city to surrender. Though he was sentenced to death, his US birth probably saved his life, as his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

When he was released under a general amnesty in June 1917 he was elected as the Sinn Fein candidate for MP from East Clare, a post he would hold until 1959. De Valera became president of Sinn Fein in October and led Sinn Fein to a huge victory in the 1918 elections. He was arrested by the British as part of their bogus "German Plot" in May 1918 and was in prison when Sinn Fein MPs meet in Dublin and declared themselves an Irish parliament, known as Dàil Éireann. De Valera was broken out of prison by Harry Boland and Michael Collins in February 1919

A trip to the US following his escape designed to help raise funds for the Irish cause from the Irish American community did not go well, as his relations with several US leaders was strained, but money did flow from the US for the Irish cause in spite of his problems. Following the truce that ended the Irish War of Independence in 1921 de Valera made a controversial decision not to be on the committee negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His opposition to that treaty led to the tragic Irish Civil War.

Following the defeat of the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War de Valera founded a new party, Fianna Fáil (The Warriors of Destiny), in March 1926. It would become the dominant Irish Party of the 20th century. In 1932 the party won a majority in the Dáil and formed a government with the Labour Party, putting de Valera in charge. He immediately began a campaign to remove all visible and eventually all actual connections to Great Britain and would continue that process as his party held power through the next 16 years. He would keep Ireland neutral during WWII, and controversially offer condolences to the German Ambassador following Hitler's suicide in 1945.

The process of totally ending Ireland's connections to Great Britain would culminate on April 18, 1949 when Ireland was declared a republic, though not by de Valera, but his successor Taoiseach John Costello after de Valera was voted out of power in 1947. De Valera would be voted back into power in 1951, out in 1954 and in again in 1957 and then would be elected President of Ireland in 1959. He would hold the post until 1973, when he retired. He would pass away on August 29, 1975.

Eamon de Valera was a controversial figure in Irish history, but whether for good or ill, there is no question that he was the towering figure of 20th century Ireland.

Thomas Clarke

CÉADAOIN -- On March 11, 1857, Irish revolutionary Thomas James Clarke was born of Irish parents on the Isle of Wight but the family moved to Dungannon, County Tyrone, shortly after that. His father, James Clarke, was a sergeant in the British Army. Thomas spent part of his early life in South Africa and the Unites States, as well as Ireland. At 21, living in the United States, he joined the Clan na Gael and was sent to England as part of the Clan's bombing campaign. Living there under the name of Henry Wilson, he was soon arrested and spent 15 torturous years in prison there before being released.

Following his release he married Kathleen Daly, 21 years his jounior. He had met her uncle, John Daly, in Pentonville prison. Thomas lived in the U.S. for a time again working with Clan na Gael under John Devoy, then returned to Ireland and helped reorganize the IRB. In 1915 Clarke and Sean MacDermott established the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what later became the Easter Rising. It's members included Patrick Pearse. Clarke was the first signer of the Proclamation of the Republic. Clarke served in the General Post Office during the Rising and surrendered along with the rest of that garrison on April 29th.

As was the case with the other leaders of the Rising, he was quickly tried in sham military trial and sentenced to death. Thomas Clarke was executed at Kilmainham Jail on May 3, 1916.

CÉADAOIN -- On March 11, 1951, Ulster firebrand and demagogue Ian Paisley (on left in photo with George Bush and Martin McGuinness) formed the first Free Presbyterian Church. Paisley was born on April 6, 1926 in Armagh, County Armagh and lived in the town of Ballymena, County Antrim as a child. His father, James, was a reverend in the Independent Baptist church.

Paisley has been a virulent opponent of the Roman Catholic Church his entire life; he protested putting the British flag at half-mast to mark the death of Pope John XXIII in June 1963. In the late 60s he helped lead the violent opposition to Catholic civil rights. He was one of the leaders of the movement that destroyed the Sunningdale Agreement in the 70s, the demise of which contributed to 20 more years of horrendous violence in Northern Ireland. True to form, he violently opposes the Good Friday Agreement, the latest and most promising attempt at reconciling the two communities.

More recently, however, his DUP party became the majority Unionist party and he finally relented and entered into a powersharing government with the republican party he had so long vilified, Sinn Fein, serving as the First Minister of that government. In June 2008 he stepped down as leader of the DUP party and resigned as First Minister.


'This is the beginning, our fight has saved Ireland. The soldiers of tomorrow will finish the task.'
        -- Thomas Clarke, May 1916

I will never sit down with Gerry Adams . . . he'd sit with anyone. He'd sit down with the devil. In fact, Adams does sit down with the devil.
        -- Ian Paisley, February 13 1997.

March - Márta


10, 1810 - Sir Samuel Ferguson (Poet - Belfast)
11, 1857 - Thomas James Clarke (Revolutionary - Isle of Wright.)
12, 1700 - George Berkeley (Philosopher and Bishop - Co. Kilkenny)
13, 1914 - Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare (US Navy Aviator and Medal of Honor winner - St. Louis, MI.)
14, 1894 - William Earle "Moley" Molesworth (WWI Ace, 18 kills - Ireland)
15, 1852 - Lady Gregory (Playwright - Loughrea, Co. Galway)


9, 1825 - Parliament passses Unlawful Societies act.
9, 1932 - Eamon de Valera forms his first Free State government.
10, 1653 - Sir Phelim O'Neill, revolutionary, executed by British.
11, 1951 - Ian Paisley forms Free Presbyterian Church.
12 1689 - James II arrives in Ireland.
12, 1798 - Many of Dublin's United Irish leaders arrested.
13, 1592 - Foundation stone of Trinity College is laid by the major of Dublin.
14, 1779 - John O'Flanagan, Col. in the Austrian army, dies in Felsberg.

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Tags: Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day


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