by LIONEL HARROWITZ
Eamon de Valera by the Earl of Longford and Thomas P. O'Neill (Hutchinson 80s.)
THE appearance of this splendid biography of the President of Ireland will surely be welcomed by the world. Now at 88 years of age, without losing the "proud" humility which only faith and great achievement can sustain, shape and mould, we see standing before us one of the greatest— if not the most distinguished —living elder statesman of the age.
How else can one describe Eamon de Valera whom even Churchill was not loth to admire? Winston, it may be remembered, as a child went with his father Randolph to live in the Chief Secretary's lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, at the end of the 1870s beside the then viceregal Lodge, now the official residence of President of Ireland. He could scarcely have thought even in later years that one of his most persistent foes would be its present occupant.
To read this remarkable man's life is to pay tribute to a world of logic and decency which came to recognise the true de Valera. It was an era which came to understand and appreciate the man behind the image by conferring on him. with absolute trust and admiration, the Presidency of the League of Nations. in later years his own country bettered this by making him its own President, not just once but honouring him a second time with term of office.
Wherein lay the magnetism of this strange tall figure whose en-Irish name symbolised the Irish struggle for freedom? What was the driving force of this phoenix rising from the ashes of an Easter sacrifice and who mellowed so surprisingly in subsequent years?
Lord Longford is no newcomer to the contemporary Irish scene. Indeed his authoritative book on the War of Independence, "Peace by Ordeal," is probably one of the finest and roost accurately documented writings of the period. With its research and access to Horne Office files it has always been extensively quoted by succeeding biographers and writers of the subject.
The present work, thanks to the co-authorship of Thomas O'Neill, who has worked close to the President and very thoroughly in the National Library, is a most competently compiled account of the crowded span of years which the writing covers.
The modern making of Ireland is a formative part of the transformation of a powerful Empire into a Commonwealth of willing membership, whose flexibility has even extended to the admission of republican status, and ultimately sovereign recognition with "external association." The evolution of such formulae has overtaken the more rigid policy of another age.
Ireland, through de Valera, approached her struggle not only militarily but with faith in justice blended with fierce nationalist thought. But it had little in common with the squalid hi-jackings and kidnappings of the present day. What has now been captured is the inner quality of ruggedness and unbending vision that sur rounded "Dev's" name throughout his earlier years and made such paradoxical achievements possible.
"Dev" reflected like a scorching flame the minds and souls of a down-trodden
peasantry, tortured and beaten for centuries but never tamed. We read how the scholar, the rugby player, the professor, the mathematician — turned soldier-commander in the 1916 Rebellion — became a tireless leader on the run, torn with the briar and blackthorn of the wild Irish countryside, hunted like a fox through the rough winters of terrible fire and fury.
Speaking at elections, however, and going back and forth to America raising money and loans for the Irish fight, he was ever an exemplary family man of unblemished Catholic loyalties; an example of "fidelity to the universe."
The authors speak of his admiration and love of the martyred Patrick Pearse as something which only one like himself (who had been closest to sharing the same fate) could really understand. We have nothing quite to equal this in the immediate past. Perhaps only "Dev" could say with such modesty "Ours was not a revolution in the ordinary sense — it was an internal revolt against external domination."
This is magnificent stuff which no reviewer could possibly cover adequately in a limited space.