Archive for Eamon de Valera

After The Treaty

Posted in Biographical, History, Television with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2022 by telescoper

On Friday I saw a bit of a programme on RTÉ One called Treaty Live which covered the events of January 7th 1922 in the form of a modern live news broadcast. It was on that date that the Dáil Éireann voted on whether to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty (usually called “The Treaty”) negotiated between the British Government (led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George) and representatives of the Irish Government (led by Arthur Griffith) and signed on 6th December 1921. The Treaty was intended to end the Irish War of Independence and bring about the removal of Crown forces from Ireland, but it fell short of establishing a fully independent Irish Republic, instead creating an Irish Free State with the status of a British dominion rather like New Zealand or Australia (i.e. with its own government but with the British Monarch as Head of State). It also led to the partition of Ireland with six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster remaining under British rule.

Three days of debate preceded the momentous vote in the Dáil which, incidentally, took place in a room in a building in University College Dublin that is now the National Concert Hall. Here is some footage of TDs leaving the building after the debate:

It’s strange to think of the number of times I’ve walked up those steps to attend a concert without realizing this historic event took place there.

Anyway, in the end the vote was to ratify The Treaty by 64 votes to 57. It seems popular opinion at the time was in favour of ratification, and what was surprising was not the fact that the vote was carried but that the margin was so narrow: had just four TDs voted the other way it would have failed.

Éamonn de Valera, then President of the Irish Republic, was the most prominent opponent of ratification. Michael Collins, who was a member of the delegation of plenipotentiaries who negotiated The Treaty, was prominently in favour. Many questions can be asked about the conduct of the negotiations, including why de Valera did not conduct the negotiations himself. During the negotiations Lloyd George insisted that the Irish plenipotentiaries sign the agreement on the spot otherwise there would be “war within three days”. The Irish delegation clearly assumed he wasn’t bluffing so signed it. De Valera was unhappy that they did not consult more widely (especially with him) but then if that’s what he wanted he shouldn’t have sent “plenipotentiaries” – that word means “delegates having the full power to sign agreements” – but participated directly. Valera resigned as President on 9th January 1922 and was replaced by Arthur Griffith.

The anti-Treaty side considered it to be a betrayal of the sacrifices made during the War of Independence; the pro-Treaty side thought it was a stepping-stone towards the goal of independence. As it turned out a fully-independent Irish Republic was eventually established in 1949, though the partition of Ireland is still in place.

In retrospect the narrowness of the Dáil was an indication of what was to come. In June 1922 The Irish Civil War erupted between the two factions that lasted almost a year. All wars are dreadful, but there’s something about a Civil War that is particularly dreadful: people who had fought on the same side against British rule would now fight each other.

And that brings me to the point of this rather rambling post. I moved to Ireland at the end of 2017. Like most people born and educated in England I knew very little of Irish history before coming here; topics such as the Irish Famine are simply not taught in British schools, though they certainly are in Irish schools. I missed being here through the centennial commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, for example, but have followed subsequent events in the “decade of centenaries” and done the best I can to read about Irish history to gain some knowledge.

What’s interesting about this is that the events of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, although commemorated with appropriate solemnity, do form a righteous narrative relating to the heroic birth of a new nation. As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of Civil War the issues are much more complex. An Irish friend told me that when he was taught history at school, it basically stopped at the Civil War. People generally are much less willing to talk about it than the events preceding. The Civil War left deep wounds, some of which have still not healed. Perhaps the centenary will provide an opportunity to confront some of the very difficult issues arising from this period of this nation’s history.

The Burning of the Custom House

Posted in History with tags , , , , on May 25, 2021 by telescoper

Today is the centenary of a significant event in the War of Independence. On 25th March 1921 about 120 members of the Irish Republican Army mounted an operation in Dublin with the aim of setting fire to the Custom House, a fine 18th Century neoclassical building on the North Side of the River Liffey in central Dublin. They were aided in this task by members of the local Fire Brigade who, being Republican supporters, started by the IRA, did the best they could to spread the flames throughout the building when purportedly trying to put them out.

The destruction of the Custom House was a major propaganda coup for the Republican forces, but in military terms it was disastrous. About two-thirds of the IRA volunteers that took part were captured and five were killed. That meant that the virtual elimination of the fighting capability of the IRA in Dublin. The whole plan was the brainchild of Éamon de Valera, who wanted to stage a large-scale “spectacular” to counter the British propaganda argument that Republican forces – who had previously fought a guerilla war of ambushes and assassinations – were just a gang of criminal thugs. The problem with his plan was that the IRA was vastly outnumbered, especially in Dublin where the British garrison was about 10,000. In practical terms, guerilla warfare was all the IRA could manage with the resources available at this time.

The Custom House raid might have been less of a military disaster had more thought been given to an exit strategy once the fires had started, by somehow securing a route out of the area, but as it was the Republican forces trying to hold a perimeter were quickly surrounded, ran out of ammunition in the ensuing gun battle, and were overwhelmed. But maybe it really did have a big effect on the British authorities. Just a few months later, on 11th July 1921, a truce was signed and the War of Independence came to an end.

There have been many commemorations today, many of them rightly focusing on the loss of civilian life and lots of coverage in the news and other media. Here is an item that was on RTÉ News last night.

NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 21, 2021 by telescoper

I found out yesterday that the National University of Ireland is commemorating the centenary of the election of Éamon de Valera as its Chancellor. To mark this occasion, NUI will offer a special NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences. This post is in addition to the regular NUI awards, which include a position for Science & Engineering.

Éamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (formerly one of the two largest political parties in Ireland) and architect of the Irish constitution. De Valera (nickname `Dev’) is an enigmatic figure, who was a Commandant in the Irish Republican Army during the 1916 Easter Rising, who subsequently became Taoiseach  and then President of the Irish Republic.

You may or may not know that de Valera was a mathematics graduate, and for a short time (1912-13) he was Head of the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth,  a recognized college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997.Mathematical Physics is no longer a part of the Mathematics Department at Maynooth, having become a Department in its own right and it recently changed its name to the Department of Theoretical Physics.

Anyway, the Fellowship will be awarded on the basis of a common competition open to NUI graduates in all branches of the Mathematical Sciences. All branches of the Mathematical Sciences will be deemed as including, but not limited to, all academic disciplines within Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics, Mathematical Physics and Statistics and Probability.

You can find more details of the position here. I should say however that it is open to NUI graduates only, though it can be held at any of the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland. Given the de Valera connection with Maynooth, it would be fitting if it were held here!
The deadline for applications is February 9th.

An interview with Éamon de Valera

Posted in History with tags , on November 8, 2020 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this old film that I came across a few days ago. It dates from 1955, at which time Éamon de Valera was leader of the opposition. It is quite a strange film. Notice how the camera position keeps changing as does the placing of the interviewer (Professor Curtis Baker Bradford), who at one point is standing up near to the sitting interviewee in a way that looks very unnatural. Notices the frequent changes of camera angle too. I’m guessing they had to change reels quite frequently and the camera operator used those opportunities to change the set up. It all looks rather stilted with de Valera not at all relaxed but that might have been typical of him. He seems particularly uncomfortable, though, talking about the Easter Rising of 1916: notice how he skips from the Proclamation of the Republic directly to the surrender. I’ve heard it said that Éamon de Valera was not a particularly effective leader of the battalion at he commanded Boland’s Mill during the uprising (which would not be surprising because he had no real military training). Some even say that he had some sort of breakdown while under fire and couldn’t really function during the fighting. It may just be what his political opponents who spread that around, of course. Nobody who wasn’t there will ever really know.

P.S. Apart from anything else, this film shows what a great job Alan Rickman did at “doing” Éamon de Valera in the film Michael Collins

Sheila Tinney et al.

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on September 2, 2018 by telescoper

I came across the above picture via Twitter the other day. It was taken about 75 years ago, in 1943, the year that Erwin Schrödinger gave his famous lectures in Dublin on the topic What Is Life? Schrödinger is second from the right in the front row, next to Arthur Stanley Eddington (who is to his left as you look a the picture). Next but one to Eddington (to his left as you look at the picture)  is Éamon de Valera (who was Taioseach at the time; apparently he dragged all his cabinet along to Schrödinger’s lectures) and next to him (on the left as you look at the picture) is Paul Dirac. That’s quite a front row!

I’m afraid I don’t know the identity of most of the other people in the picture, apart from the lady on the far left who is Dr Sheila Tinney. She completed a PhD under the supervision of Max Born in just two years and was held in very high regard as a physicist, not least by Schrödinger himself. Sheila Tinney spent her academic career at University College Dublin and passed away in 2010 at the age of 92.

The gender balance in physics has improved a bit since 1943 but we still have a long way to go! Note also the numerous men in clerical garb.

There is a conference coming up in Dublin to mark the 75th anniversary of the What is Life lectures, and there has been quite a lot of interest in Schrödinger in the Irish media as a consequent, such as this piece in the Irish Times.

I guess most readers of this blog will know that Éamon de Valera set up the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) in 1939 in order to create a position for Schrödinger, who was then basically a refugee from the Nazis. He had attempted to settle in Oxford but his unconventional domestic arrangements – he lived in the same house as his wife and his mistress – met with disapproval. Dublin was far more tolerant, and he took up the post of Director of Theoretical Physics at DIAS in 1940 and stayed in Ireland for 17 years.

If you ask me for a personal opinion about Schrödinger’s private life then I have to say two things. One is that all three members of his ménage à trois seemed quite happy with the arrangement as well as the affairs that Schrödinger had outside it. His wife also had numerous affairs, including one with physicist Hermann Weyl. Unconventional it may have been, but most conventions are pretty silly in my view.

On the other hand, there is a part of Schrödinger’s life that I do find entirely reprehensible, and that is the way he treated some of the women with whom he had affairs. As the Irish Times puts it

‘For Schrödinger, the mystical union of sexual love did not endure for long .. With Erwin it was never able to survive tidings of pregnancy.

The Schrödingers did (unofficially) adopt one of the children he fathered outside his marriage, but he strikes me as someone who wanted (or perhaps needed) the sexual and emotional fulfillment his lovers could give him, but wasn’t prepared to accept the responsibility that goes with human relationships. That strikes me as a very selfish attitude.

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

Posted in History with tags , , on March 11, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve just been reading Charles Townshend’s book ‘Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion’ and was searching for the photograph it includes of Eamon de Valera surrendering with his men at the end of the uprising. I found it at this excellent blog post, which includes a great deal of other interesting information, so I thought I’d reblog the whole thing!

The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland

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The de Valera connection

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth with tags , , on February 14, 2018 by telescoper

This morning I took the early flight to Dublin, which was on time, and thence via the Airport Hopper to Maynooth. There were only two passengers on the bus, both going to the terminus, so it made good time, travelling all the way along the motorway.

Walking into the Maynooth campus I remembered an interesting little historical fact that I stumbled across last week, concerning Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (one of the two largest political parties in Ireland) and architect of the Irish constitution. De Valera (nickname `Dev’) is an enigmatic figure, who was a Commandant in the Irish Republican Army during the 1916 Easter Rising, but despite being captured he somehow evaded execution by the British. He subsequently became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and then President (Head of State) of the Irish Republic.

Eamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

The point of connection with Maynooth, however, is less about Dev’s political career than his educational background: he was a mathematics graduate, and for a short time (1912-13) he was Head of the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which was then a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997. It is said that one of the spare gowns available to be borrowed by staff for graduation ceremonies belonged to de Valera. Mathematical Physics is no longer a part of the Mathematics Department at Maynooth, having become a Department in its own right and it recently changed its name to the Department of Theoretical Physics.

De Valera missed out on a Professorship in Mathematical Physics at University College Cork in 1913. He joined the the Irish Volunteers, when it was established the same year. And the rest is history. I wonder how differently things would have turned out had he got the job in Cork?

That’s one connection, but when I arrived in the office this morning I found another. An email had arrived announcing a conference later this year in honour of Erwin Schrödinger.  It was de Valera – a notable advocate for science – who in 1940 set up the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS); Schrödinger became the first Director of the School of Theoretical Physics, one of the three Schools in DIAS.