Friday, July 18, 2014

Eamon de Valera

Eamon de Valera by the Earl of Longford and Thomas P O'Neill, 474 pages de Valera was born in New York City to a Spanish father and an Irish mother.  There's no telling what he would have become if he had remained in the US, but after the early death of his father he was sent to live with relatives in Ireland, where he became slowly involved with the dual causes of Irish culture and Irish independence.  If de Valera had one defining characteristic, it was that he pursued his logic inexorably to its conclusion, refusing to compromise his principles.  For better or worse, his personality dominated Irish politics from the failure of the Easter rising in 1916 until his death in 1975, from revolution through civil war and electoral politics to a role as revered elder statesman.  More than anyone else, he made Ireland a Republic.

This is an authorized biography, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.  Lord Longford had access to de Valera himself, as well as various members of his family, and the book is full of memories and anecdotes only they could have provided.  On the other hand, it lacks a certain amount of objectivity - doubtless other participants have different recollections of some of the events.  Longford is too honest a man not to ensure that all the historical data is verified, but the interpretations are certainly open to question.

Well-written and engaging, despite its length.

Bonus - Lord Longford was portrayed by Jim Broadbent in the excellent docudrama Longford.  Eamon de Valera was played by Alan Rickman in the not-quite-as-good Michael Collins.  Both Rickman and Broadbent spent time as Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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