- Remembering De Valera
- by Michael Purcell
- Visiting President De Valera
at Arus An Uachtaran, Carlovians Oliver Snoddy
(National Museum), Fr. Denis Haughney and Michael
Although in my opinion Eamonn De Valera was without
arrogance or pretension and simple in his manner and speech when you
were in his presence he also had that type of charisma, which made you
instantly realise you were in the presence of greatness.
No matter how one judged his decisions or his
policies one could not deny that on the world stage he stood on a par
with the worlds towering political figures — Kennedy, de Gaulle, Franco,
Gurion, Gandhi, Nehru, indeed many would say that Dev as a statesman
towered above most of them.
By the time I met him he was in his relative
tranquil years as Uachtaran Na Eireann, a legendary figure with an
indestructible mystique. For fifty years he had been undisputedly "the
chief, always carrying out his duties with unruffled calm and phenomenal
For the public his image was one of cold aloofness
but once one entered the privacy of his office his extraordinary
personal charm manifested itself. He was a first rate conversationalist
and his now famous sense of humour soon became apparent.
Advice to stop smoking
I remember him advising me in 1968 to give up
smoking, telling me how he had broken the habit in 1917 and smoking had
never bothered him since. Informally reminiscing he became highly
entertaining and one sat spellbound as history came alive in his
He had many happy memories of Carlow and always
enquired in particular after the Prendergast family, recalling the
hospitality and welcome that had always being shown towards him in their
home. He never forgot the people who supported him, and later, his party
in the early years.
Dev did not campaign actively in 1966 when he was
going for a second term as President. Nevertheless when it was learned
that he was due to pass through Carlow on his way to Kilkenny just
before the election, the local cumann organized a band and a guard of
honour for himself and his close friend Frank Aiken, (happily still with
us) to parade them through the town.
Crowds lined the route for this last unofficial
rally, at the Kilkenny Road, Dev's car stopped and he alighted to thank
each member of the guard of honour personally.
The only members of the guard of honour I can
recall seeing was the late Paul Brennan, Kennedy Street. I wonder who
were the others?
In many peoples minds one of Dev's great
achievements was the way he steered this country honourably through the
2nd World War. Although under heavy pressure from the great Powers we
remained neutral to the end.
Dev pulled off a tremendous coup when in 1938 he
regained possession of the Treaty Ports with no strings attached.
Kept policy of neutrality
Dev had wiped out articles six and seven of the
1921 Treaty, this action more than any other enabled Ireland to adopt a
policy of neutrality.
His reply to Churchill at the end of the war is
acknowledged a classic.
Never had a leader spoken so clearly for the
nation. Dev in his calm voice speaking to the world for the Irish people
in his radio broadcast replied:
Answer springs to lips
"I know the kind of answer I am expected to make. I
know the answer that first springs to the lips of every man of Irish
blood who heard or read that speech, no matter in what circumstances or
in what part of the world he found himself.
- "I know the reply I would have given a quarter of a
century ago. But I have deliberately decided that that is not the reply
I shall make tonight. I shall strive not to be guilty of adding any fuel
to the flames of hatred and passion which, if continued to be fed,
promise to burn up whatever is left by the war of decent human feeling
- Allowances can be made for Mr. Churchill's
statement, however unworthy, in the first flush of victory. No such
excuse could be found for me in this quieter atmosphere".
And so it goes on. I would advise any reader who
has not read the full copy of this speech to get one and read it.
My own favourite quote from the Chief gives us an
insight into the soul of this great man.
"I was brought up amongst the Irish people, I was
reared; in a labourer s cottage. I have not lived solely amongst the
intellectuals. The first 16 years of my life, that formed my character
were lived amongst the Irish people down in Limerick and, whenever I
wanted to know what the Irish people wanted I only had to examine my
heart and it told me straight off."
Yes Dev was a statesman who could see further ahead
than most and he was a master of the political arts which enabled him to
maintain his leadership over such a long and important period in our
Throughout his long life it could be said he knew
the aspirations of the Irish people.
It is a pity that some of our politicians today do
not harbour this quality. If they did then our newspaper headlines would
Dev was spared a long illness and died peacefully
surrounded by his family on Friday 29th August 1975 and the world paid
Purcell & THE NATIONALIST, March 5, 1976 (part of a collection of old
newspaper cuttings given to Michael Purcell from Nannie Nolan's shop on
Tullow Street, Carlow.c2009
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