Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was in Ennis on Sunday to attend the 100th anniversary of the East Clare by-election which catapulted Eamon de Valera to national prominence and dramatically changed the Irish political landscape.
Fianna Fáil ensured inclusivity at the event by inviting members of those other parties divided in the 1920s by the Treaty and the horrific Civil War that followed.
After speeches by Micheál Martin, Síle de Valera and her cousin Eamon Ó Cuiv, grandchildren of Eamon de Valera, the Fianna Fáil leader presented certificates to descendants of those who had campaigned for victory in the East Clare by-election.
There was standing room only in Glór theatre when Micheál Martin gave his address in which he emphasised that Eamon de Valera’s victory in 1917 “is not some passing footnote in Irish history – it is a defining moment.”
“By winning here so overwhelmingly and with such a clear commitment to the ideals of 1916 he changed the course of the struggle for Irish freedom. He ensured a decisive move towards establishing republicanism as the dominant ideology of the Irish people.”
De Valera, he said, set off a string of events which led to the success of the 1918 general election, the establishment of the Dáil and the War of Independence.
The Fianna Fáil leader had harsh words for those who now assume the name Sinn Féin when he stated, “The party which today uses the name Sinn Fein has nothing to do with the Sinn Fein which Eamon de Valera so triumphantly led to victory.
“They are a party founded in 1971 which has never ceased in an effort to try to distort history in the service of an illegitimate campaign rejected time and again by the Irish people. They maintain the hypocrisy of claiming the revolutionary Sinn Fein while ignoring most of its leaders.
“They actually held a centenary celebration of the founding of Sinn Fein without mentioning its founder or the only Sinn Fein leader who ever won the support of the Irish people. As we move forward in commemorating our revolution, let’s never let up in challenging their cynicism and hypocrisies.”
Speaking to reporters, Micheál Martin once again reiterated that Fianna Fáil has no intention of entering coalition with Sinn Fein after the next general election.
In Mr Martin’s view, “the true inspiration of our revolutionary generation is how they radically opened up new opportunities for Ireland and how, in the Proclamation, they set out a vision of an inclusive, democratic and outward-looking republic which is as relevant today, as it ever has been.” Reflecting on the event in Ennis to celebrate 100 years of history,
Reflecting on 100 years of history, Mr Martin said, “This is an event proudly organised by the party founded by Eamon de Valera, but let no one be in any doubt, we are not claiming the by-election victory and its significance for Fianna Fáil. “The history of the Irish revolution belongs to no party. We have no difficulty in
“The history of the Irish revolution belongs to no party. We have no difficulty in recognising that many who contributed to this victory took other paths. We are here today because we want to show our respect and recognition of this great event.
“Commemorating the victory of Eamon de Valera involves looking at a moment when powerful ideas and a magnetic personality combined, to inspire a rising nation in the face of great odds.
“The republican cause following Easter 1916 was not strong. It had seen its inspiring leadership executed. It had at its disposal almost no financial resources. A massive propaganda campaign in favour of the war on Europe was still in place and the allied blockade on Germany was having a huge impact.
“The dominant electoral party continued to argue for a different approach. The Volunteers themselves lacked a clear political programme or even a unified approach to political participation.
“On July 10th 1917 much of this was changed dramatically. After Clare, it was the Republic which secured the allegiance of the majority of the Irish people.
“The was nothing inevitable about de Valera’s victory. His participation as a candidate was unsure until the last moment. He was reluctant to stand, and it took the determined persuasion of others before he agreed. Once he did agree, his personal campaigning had a huge impact.
“Wearing his volunteer uniform as a statement of his loyalty to the leaders of 1916, he travelled the constituency speaking directly to the people. They were inspired by this young man and by the positive message of a rising Ireland which he brought to them.
“His opponent, Patrick Lynch, was a well-established and rightly respected candidate who would have done well against a less formidable candidate. In winning over 70% of the vote de Valera completely altered Irish politics and Irish history.
“As leader of a united Irish national movement de Valera secured the greatest electoral mandate which will ever be achieved on this island. He also achieved a dramatic level of international attention and sympathy for Ireland.
“Inevitably someone with such a profile becomes an easy target for those who want to promote a simplistic story driven by personalities and heroes and villains. De Valera has been a convenient caricature for those interested in reliving old disputes rather than understanding them.
“Eamon de Valera’s record of achievement for our country is absolutely clear. While he made some mistakes, there is no doubt that we owe him a great debt of gratitude.
“In 1937, when dictatorships and extremism were sweeping the world he produced a democratic constitution which removed the power of politicians to change basic rights, which empowered independent courts, which respected international law and explicitly protected the rights of minorities.
“At this tough moment in world affairs when authoritarian nationalism is rising, we should look back at the inspiring words of de Valera to the League of Nations when he called for states to understand that peaceful cooperation was the only way to avoid catastrophe”.
Micheál Martin noted that the de Valera tradition did not end with him. “Thankfully, it remains a valuable part of Irish politics. As Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage, Síle was a great innovator and advocate. Her policies directly led to a flowering of local arts facilities and the strengthening of key national institutions.
“Eamon O’Cuiv not only looks like his grandfather he is also known for his passion for our culture and his innovation as a policy maker.
“De Valera no doubt would be proud of his family and of his party progressing policies through politics, in areas of Irish life that he felt and fought so passionately for – tolerance, rural Ireland, rule of law, the Irish language, arts and culture.”