De Valera opposed the treaty that established the Irish Free State, but went on to lead and shape the new state.
Edward George de Valera was born on 14 October 1882 in New York to a Spanish father and an Irish mother. He moved to Ireland at the age of two and was brought up by relatives in Limerick. He became a teacher of mathematics and an avid supporter of the Irish language movement.
De Valera was a leader in the 1916 Easter Rising which proclaimed an Irish republic. Arrested, he was saved from a death sentence because of his American birth and instead received a prison term. On his release, he stood as a Sinn Fein Party candidate in the 1918 general election. Sinn Fein won the majority of seats outside Ulster, but refused to take their seats at Westminster, instead establishing an independent parliament (Dail Eireann) to govern Ireland. De Valera was elected president of the Dail.
The Irish Republican Army, the armed wing of Sinn Fein, began a guerrilla war against Crown forces. After two years of violence, a truce was agreed and a treaty with the British negotiated by a Sinn Fein deputation, which de Valera chose not to join. Michael Collins, who led the Sinn Fein negotiating party, described the result as 'the freedom to achieve freedom'. But de Valera opposed the agreement, because it involved the partition of Ireland and did not create an independent republic. The treaty was passed by a narrow margin in the Dail and de Valera resigned as president. He led the anti-treaty side in a bitter civil war against the government of the new Free State. Despite killing Collins, the irregulars were defeated.
De Valera reconciled himself to the new dispensation and led his party Fianna Fail into the Dail in 1927. Fianna Fail won elections in 1932. De Valera wrote a new constitution in 1937 asserting greater autonomy for Ireland, although stopping short of declaring the Free State a republic. This happened during a period in which he was in opposition in 1948. He was subsequently elected prime minister (taoiseach) three times and then president of the republic, a position he held until 1973. Under de Valera's rule, the cultural identity of the Irish Republic as Roman Catholic and Gaelic was asserted. Complete independence was secured, but a lasting accommodation with the majority Protestant and British Northern Ireland receded as a result.
De Valera died on 29 August 1975.
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