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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Birthday boys

Today is Michael Collins birthday. Tuesday was Éamon De Valera’s birthday. De Valera was born in New York in 1882 to an Irish mother and Spanish father; Collins in 1890 in Clonakilty, Co. Cork. Collins was killed by an assassin less than a month before his 32nd birthday; De Valera died peacefully at the age of 92 in a convalescent home in Dublin, having served as both Taoiseach and President of Ireland.

The two men fought side by side in the War of Independence and forced the British Empire to the negotiating table. However, their opinions divided over the offer made by the British; the partition of Ireland. Collins felt it was the best option they could hope for, and the inclusion of Northern Ireland could be negotiated later. De Valera passionately felt the partition was a betrayal of those that had died in 1916 and the War of Independence. Their viewpoints reflected the division of opinion among the population at large; a division that led to the civil war in 1922.

De Valera preparing to turn 80 at Áras an Uachtárain
12 October 1962
Both men feature largely in our Archive; De Valera in his role as President, Collins more as  a looming shadow over Irish politics. The two main Irish political parties are legacies of these two men; Dev’s Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael owing its roots to the pro-Treaty side of the civil war – hence the ‘Civil War politics’ barb often fired by independents and media commentators.

Attendees at the commemoration mass for Collins
20 June 1970

If you were a believer in astrology, you could probably find reasons for the passions and commitment to a cause of the two men. Or maybe it was the similarities between the two men that set them at loggerheads. Either way, I wonder what was going through their head in October of 1922 when they celebrated their birthdays separately on opposite sides of that bitter rift?

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