Sinead de Valera - woman of destiny who hailed from Balbriggan
ON the gable end of a house at the corner of Pump Lane and Skerries Street in Balbriggan, there is a plaque commemorating Sinead Ni Fhlannagain who was born in a house that stood there on 1 June 1878. She was the ninth of eleven children born to Laurence Flanagan of Carberry County Kildare and Margaret Byrne from Balbriggan. She was baptised in SS Peter and Paul’s Church in Balbriggan on 2 June 1878.
She was the ninth of eleven children born to Laurence Flanagan of Carberry County Kildare and Margaret Byrne from Balbriggan. She was baptised in SS Peter and Paul’s Church in Balbriggan on 2 June 1878.
There is little to indicate from this simple plaque the unique place she deserves in the history of this country, or the quiet influence she exercised over her future husband, Éamonn de Valera, revolutionary, prisoner, politician, Taoiseach and finally President of Ireland. Apart from this plaque also, there is little evidence remaining in Balbriggan of the woman whose life spanned ninety seven years.
She was given the name ‘Doll’ by her father because of her auburn hair. She was usually called Jennie until she joined the Gaelic League, when she became Sinead ni Fhlannagain
Although the family moved to Dublin when she was only seven, Sinead retained a strong emotional link with Balbriggan for the rest of her life. Every year from the age of nine until she was twenty seven, she holidayed each year in Balbriggan in her aunt Kate’s. She recalled that when leaving Balbriggan to return to Dublin she would say, ‘goodbye front strand, goodbye back strand’.
One of her fondest memories was of Parnell’s visit to Balbriggan. A large crowd turned out to greet Parnell as he was escorted from the railway station, streaming past her Aunt Kate’s in Station Street escorting Parnell up to the Square, where a platform had been specially constructed for the occasion.
A very short time later, she witnessed with deep regret, Parnell’s funeral procession on its way to Glasnevin.
At the age of twelve she became a monitoress or student teacher in Francis Xavier School. When she was seventeen she entered teacher training college and one of her first teaching posts was in Edenderry, where she first became interested in the Gaelic League during the centenary celebrations of the 98 rebellion.
She returned to Dublin to teach in Francis Xavier School from September 1899 to December 1910.
She met Eamon de Valera who became one of her students and in 1910 they were married in Saint Paul’s Church, Arran Quay, the wedding being conducted in English and Irish. Dev had spent the previous day in Gill’s of O’Connell Street checking books for the correct Irish phrases for the wedding and he spent so much time there, that his bicycle was stolen.
Several of her children marvelled at her ability to manage money, especially during the difficult years between the Rising and the end of the Civil war. She had to leave her home in Donnybrook and go to live with her parents in Munster Street in Dublin.
Three of her children were sent to live with Sinead’s sister in Balbriggan, where they remained for several months. They had been brought up with Irish as their first language but Aunt Kate’s household was not Irish speaking.
It was expected that as a Commandant in the Rising that Dev would be executed but in the end the death sentence was commuted and he was sent to England to serve his life sentence.
The years 1916-17 were terrible years for Sinead. Dev was sent to gaol of course, she nursed her sister Mary who died of cancer in August while her fifth child Ruaidhri was born in November and her mother died in January 1917
When Dev returned in 1917 along with the rest of the prisoners he embarked on his political campaign. Elected as MP for Clare, his political career and the War of Independence meant that he and Sinead were often apart. In fact De Valera was in prison no fewer than fourteen times so the strain on Sinead, struggling to raise her growing family was intense.
During Dev’s long absence in the United States, Michael Collins often called to see her. She was now living in Greystones and Collins, despite being a wanted man himself, was able to visit her to offer material and other help.
A private person, Sinead shunned the limelight. However, she was persuaded by Harry Boland however, to visit Dev in the States. She stayed for six weeks, because of Dev’s work schedule, they saw little of each other and she was relieved to return home.
She was no mere shadow in her husband’s political life and her son Terry said that Dev relied on her in everything. Another friend said that the ‘way to Dev was thru Mrs. Dev’.
She retained her hatred of public life right up to the end and her son Terry said that she never liked living at Aras an Uachtarain.
Sinead died in 1975.