These were the words which concluded the address of the 3rd President of the free Irish State, Eamon de Valera, to a joint session of Congress in 1964. De Valera, during the same trip that brought him to the capitol, addressed crowds of 60,000 at Madison Square Garden and Fenway Park. He had been here before, in 1921, raising money for the Irish rebel cause to which Irish Americans responded generously.
Sometimes forgotten is that Eamon de Valera was OUR native son. The future Irish President was born in Brooklyn to an Irish-born mother who taught music and a Spanish artist father. When he was two, Eamon’s father died and he was taken to Ireland to be raised by family there. Noted for scholarship, Eamon was good enough to play soccer for Munster.
De Valera was one of the leaders of a Dublin based revolt, 101 years ago, that unfolded because the British backtracked on a September 1914 grant of limited self-rule to Ireland. Seeking control of the city, armed Irish rebels seized several key buildings, among them the central post office where they were commanded by de Valera. Overwhelmed by British troops, a week later, the insurrectionists surrendered, but not before 234 British soldiers were dead. A number of the rebels were executed, subsequently. All told, the “Rising’s” casualties numbered 450 persons killed, 2,614 injured, and 9 missing.
The British pardoned De Valera his crimes because he was an American and he went on to become a key negotiator for Ireland with Britain. Despite a violent past, Eamon became the conscience of the Irish nation and remained a fervent advocate for peace between the two countries and a tireless champion of the once forbidden Irish language, Gaelic, and for Irish culture.
When de Valera arrived in Washington to address Congress, Lyndon B. Johnson accorded him virtually equal dignities with himself. De Valera is renowned for acquitting his formal political career with probity and intellect. He may be the only American, ever, to have been freely elected to the presidency of a foreign country.
De Valera energized American Irish in 1921 and these feelings were re-vitalized by the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. President in 1960. The Kennedys were among de Valera’s friends and hosted him at Hyannis Port. The Irish President featured, prominently, in the family films J.F.K. would screen for himself, his relatives, and intimates, on special occasions in the White House.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 1943, de Valera spoke these words, in an address, meant to describe an ideal nation, starting with Ireland:
“The Ireland that we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit - a land whose countryside would be bright with cozy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that we should live.”