Wednesday 22 May 2019

New book tries to reclaim Dev's legacy

Former President did not deserve to be 'scapegoated by intellectual laziness'

Bertie Ahern launched Judging Dev in Dublin yesterday flanked by two huge portraits of the man. Below: Eamon de Valera meets Winston Churchill in one of the historical photos from the new book
Bertie Ahern launched Judging Dev in Dublin yesterday flanked by two huge portraits of the man. Below: Eamon de Valera meets Winston Churchill in one of the historical photos from the new book

THE author of a new book on Eamon de Valera has hit out at the "scapegoating" of the former president and taoiseach.

The criticism came from Diarmaid Ferriter, whose book and radio series 'Judging Dev' was launched yesterday by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who described it as "superb".

Much of the "scapegoating" of de Valera and the preponderance of the "dreary de Valera's Ireland" syndrome was born of "an intellectual laziness", Mr Ferriter said.

"It is legitimate to see it as a product of the critics' frustrations rather than any real engagement with the long and complex career of the man they are determined to dismiss and belittle," he said.

The launch coincided with the 125th anniversary of de Valera's birth and this year is also the 70th anniversary of the Irish Constitution.

The Taoiseach said the book would be "equally invaluable in classroom, in college and in the home".

The book contains the publication for the first time of many key letters, documents and photographs from the National Archives of Ireland and UCD's School of History and Archives.

One such letter, according to the author, contradicts the "widely held belief" that de Valera escaped execution after the 1916 Rising because he was a US citizen.

"He argues, quite convincingly, that he escaped the firing squad because he was the last of the leaders to be court-martialled, by which time public opinion had diminished the resolve of the British government," said Mr Ferriter.

Some of the letters published come from people such as former US President Richard Nixon, the late Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, and Lieut GF McKay, the only prisoner de Valera captured during the 1916 Rising.

The book also contains many quotes from de Valera, such as one on being a revolutionary.


"Nature never intended me to be a partisan leader," he wrote in a letter in 1922. "Every instinct of mine would indicate that I was meant to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, or even a bishop, rather than the leader of a revolution."

On rugby, de Valera said in a 1957 speech: "For Irishmen, there is no football game to match rugby and if all our young men played rugby not only would we beat England and Wales but France and the whole lot of them put together."

On the Constitution, de Valera is quoted from a conversation he had with a former British Ambassador Sir Arthur Gilchrist and the late Foreign Affairs Minister Frank Aiken.

"Of course I wrote most of the Constitution myself. I remember hesitating for a long time over the US presidential system. But it wouldn't have done -- we were too trained in English democracy to sit down under a dictatorship which is what the American system really is," he said.

"Ministers not responsible to parliament -- that would never do. Besides, I wanted to prepare a nice quiet job without too much work for my old age. Still, I admit, I was tempted. Look at the way de Gaulle rules France ... absolute rule ... very efficient," de Valera said.

Professor James Slevin, president of the Royal Irish Academy, where the launch was held and which is publishing it, said the 'Judging Dev' project was timely and added that a re-examination of "his important and sometimes controversial legacy is long overdue".

RTE director general Cathal Goan said the station hoped the project would stimulate "lively and widespread interest" in the "complex legacy" of de Valera.

A nine-part series on 'Judging Dev' begins on RTE Radio One at 10.30am on Sunday, October 28.

The book and radio series are complemented by an RTE permanent online exhibition of archive clips and stills, which has already gone live.

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