Anuraidh léirigh pobal na hÉireann an onóir agus an meas ollmhór atá acu ar fhir agus ar mhná míle naoi gcéad a sé déag.
Chuir na laochra seo Stát bródúil nua-aimseartha Eorpach os comhair an domhain uilig ag léiriú measa agus onóra ar a bhunaitheoirí agus ar an ngaisce iontach a chuireadar i gcrích ar son na saoirse.
Níl dabht ar bith faoi in aigne aon duine faoin mbród agus sásamh atá orainn as scéal imeachtaí an neamhspleáchais a bhaineamar amach in aghaidh chonstaicí iomadúla inár dtimpeall.
Ar an iomlán, ba chóir agus ba cheart an t-athbheochan polaitiúil, sóisialta agus cultúrtha a lean go dtí neamhspleáchas, a bheith mar spreagadh dúinn uilig, ar conas gur féidir linn mórchuid dul chun cinn a bhaint amach nuair a oibrímid le chéile, mar a deir an seanfhocal, `Ní neart go cur le chéile`.
Táimid bailithe anseo inniu i gcuimhne ar cheann de na hócáidí ba thábhachtaí i réabhlóid na hÉireann. Ba anseo i gContae an Chláir céad bliain ó shin a thug gluaiseacht an neamhspleáchais aitheantas don cheannaire ab fhearr agus ba rathúla dá raibh aici riamh i stair na hÉireann.
On June 18th 1917 the final group of prisoners arrested after the Rising boarded a ship in Holyhead. Just over three weeks later the people of East Clare voted in a by-election which signalled that the Irish people had swung decisively behind the cause which those prisoners were committed to.
When they left Ireland a year before their future and the future of the movement they belonged to, was at best unsure. There were many signs of the Irish people rallying to their side, but there was no coherent programme, there was widespread division within nationalism and the grip of the British empire seemed as strong as ever.
Upon landing in their home country they received a euphoric welcome which signalled how much had changed. No one who witnessed the crowds could doubt that this was a cause which was winning the hearts and minds of the Irish people. But most importantly of all, it was on that day that the Irish Volunteers saluted as their leader a young, and until recently unknown mathematics lecturer Eamon de Valera.
This was not inevitable, many people could have sought to challenge him and he was absolutely not seeking the status. What happened that day was in fact the natural result of the admiration which he had earned for his bravery, intelligence and idealism.
His victory in the Clare by-election 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.
He set off a string of events which led to the crushing success of the 1918 general election, the establishment of the Dáil and the War of Independence. Most of all, Eamon de Valera’s victory gave to Irish republicanism its greatest and most successful leader. He was a towering figure whose positive achievements have persisted, irrespective of the partisan attacks he has continued to be subject to.
Last year the Irish people participated in remarkable numbers, and with an unprecedented engagement in the commemoration of the start of the Irish revolution in 1916. They showed how a modern European nation can display pride in its national story and ideals in a generous and open manner.
The most impressive part of this was how the Irish people rejected the cynical attempts of a few, to claim ownership of the Rising and to distort the democratic republican tradition which it enabled. To those people Irish history is something to be presented as a continuous chain where methods never change and new realities are never created.
To me, 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.
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 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.
As our country moves forward to commemorate the centenaries of other events in our revolution we will face a challenge to overcome more divisive narratives and to be more reflective than we have been in the past. We need to seek out new perspectives and to find ways of appreciating different traditions.
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. In fact even 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 clear 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 from Bruree, by his sincerity, and by the positive message of a rising Ireland which he brought to them.
The electorate for the by-election was still highly restricted. Only 9,000 men could vote – by definition they were from from groups which were better off and had a greater interest in preserving the status quo.
This electorate was to expand by over 150% by the time of the 1918 general election, but de Valera had to win the votes of people who had a long history of supporting the Parliamentary Party.
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 did far more than just exceed expectations, he completely altered Irish politics and Irish history.
This was seen on three different levels.
Firstly, the leadership of the Volunteers and Sinn Fein of nationalist Ireland was established. From this moment, until the end of the War of Independence no one could credibly dispute how the vision of 1916 had the support of the Irish people.
That is why de Valera and Sinn Fein could take the lead in the anti-conscription movement and it is what led to the electoral landslide of 1918.
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.
And we should also remember that 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.
The second major impact of the by-election was that it led to a decisive shift of Sinn Fein to the republicanism which remains the largest political allegiance on this island.
There were many alternative directions available, including Griffith’s long-established policy of seeking a dual monarchy, but the boost to republicanism which Clare provided was decisive.
Finally, Clare gave to Irish republicanism its greatest and most successful leader.
De Valera is so distinct a figure, and his career covered so many tumultuous times, that there are many who prefer caricature to the much more rewarding approach of looking at his remarkable personal story and his lasting achievements.
His achievements are so many, that any independent state would be proud to be associated with him.
At the core of the man was someone who overcame incredible hurdles in order to succeed. It was only by sheer grit, determination and ability that he progressed.
While he won a scholarship, every day he faced that lonely seven mile trek to and from school, while also taking his full share of work on his family’s small holding.
When he in turn won a scholarship to study for university exams he still needed to undertake multiple jobs to support himself.
He was a man of his time and of his class – determined to improve himself and absolutely committed to improving his country.
Every position he achieved he achieved because others recognised his abilities.
At the Mansion House Conference in 1918 he so impressed the Parliamentary Party’s representative that William O’Brien said of him “his transparent sincerity, his gentleness and equability captured the hearts of us all.”
As leader of a united Irish national movement he 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 – just the first part of his stature as by far our greatest international statesman.
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 relieving 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.
His greatest achievement remains a constitution which was the first in the world adopted in a free referendum and is now one of the oldest written constitutions.
And let no one be in any doubt, it is his achievement. No other politician was capable of the foresight, focus and ambition which turned advice into such comprehensive action.
There is no other example in the democratic world of a leader sitting down and writing out, article by article, the framework for a constitution.
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.
He also did this in the face of pressures to take other routes. When the draft was seen by the Vatican, Ireland was actually informed that the failure to adopt a purely confessional approach was heretical.
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.
We should also note that the de Valera tradition does 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. She also enabled a new era in historical scholarship by opening up the archives of witness testimonies from 1916-23.
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. Eamon’s CLÁR rural development initiative was the first serious effort to secure facilities and services in some of our most under-pressure rural communities. In fact it’s name is so good, that the current government is trying to claim credit for it.
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.
Today is an opportunity for us to celebrate the de Valera tradition, to remember a decisive moment when the people of Clare declared for the Republic and to show our continued commitment to the spirit and inspiration of our great revolutionary generation.