Kirkus Reviews QR Code
EAMON DE VALERA by Earl of Longford & Thomas P. O'Neill



Pub Date: March 17th, 1971
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Earl Longford, Irish Labour leader, and Irish National Library Staff member O'Neill have produced a semi-official biography of extensive detail and pedestrian quality. The latter stems in large part from their utter failure to explain the political issues at stake, especially in the Irish independence movement which conditioned De Valera's career and which he influenced in turn: what was wrong with British rule, anyway? why was partition undesirable and why did De Valera think it was? what was Ireland's socio-economic condition and who grouped behind each brand of nationalism? Only the expert historian and the most pre-analytic devotee of narrative biography will not wish for more context in these respects. What the authors dwell on are the particulars of De Valera's early career as mathematician and Irish Volunteer, his ascetic image and his scrapes as a leader (interned at the end of World War I during the anti-conscription upheaval, he made a jail break) and his recurrent negotiations with Britain as head of the government over a forty-year span. While the Earl has written a study of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 (Peace By Ordeal), there is no clear overview of strategies and results, though the book acknowledges that the British war threat was insincere. The practical significance, advantages and disadvantages of dominion status vis-a-vis De Valera's compromise ""external association"" vis-a-vis total republican independence are never spelled out. The book deals at length with De Valera's efforts to preserve Ireland's World War II neutrality against Anglo-American pressures. De Valera tussled with Churchill, to whom he much preferred Chamberlain (less on ideological grounds than on the basis of their respective stands on Ireland, it seems); De Valera's political complexion is indicated by his remark that had he been a Briton at the end of the war he would have voted for Churchill; but the authors tell us little about his actual domestic policies. De Valera, who refuses to write an autobiography, contributed papers and interviews to this effort, which is consequently ""authoritative,"" however disappointing as an interpretive effort.