Micheál Martin addresses the crowd surrounded by Mike Enright, Timmy Dooley, Cathal Crowe, Michael McTigue and Brendan Daly. Photograph: Natasha Barton

EAST Clare’s role in the fight for Irish independence and the contribution of Éamon de Valera to political life in the county and country was acknowledged on Sunday.

In what was the fortieth commemoration of the unveiling of the statue in memory of de Valera in front of Ennis Courthouse, Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) spoke of the man regarded as one of the most influential figures in Irish politics.

Following the 1916 Easter Rising, de Valera was sentenced to death but it was later agreed that the New York City born statesman would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Following his release from prison in June 1917, de Valera was elected as a Sinn Féin deputy for East Clare, a constituency he would serve until 1959.

He supported the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War from 1922 to 1923, he was arrested in August 1923 when about to make a speech in Ennis and was not released until the following July. Despite being in prison, he still topped the poll in the 1923 General Election.

De Valera served as the country’s second Taoiseach and third President. From 1926 to 1956, he was the leader of Fianna Fáil.

A wreath was laid at the foot of the de Valera statue by the Taoiseach to mark the fortieth commemoration on Sunday morning. Former Clare TD and Senator, Brendan Daly (FF) laid a second wreath, he is one of the surviving members of the committee responsible for securing funding for the memorial which was sculpted by Kilbaha’s Jim Connolly.

Secretary of the Clare Fianna Fáil Comhairle Dáil Ceantair, Rita McInerney read aloud the 1916 proclamation while the Taoiseach was surrounded by Cathal Crowe TD (FF), Senator Timmy Dooley (FF), CDC Chair Michael Enright, CDC PRO Michael McTigue and Brendan Daly when addressing Sunday’s crowd.

When beginning his address, Martin referred to East Clare. “In July 1917 the people of East Clare lit a beacon in the cause of Irish independence which was seen throughout the world. Little over a year after the Rising and the executions which followed, it was here that people were able to give their first expression of support for the ideals of the men and women of 1916. Proudly wearing the plain, green uniform which he had shared with his fallen comrades, Eamon de Valera came to this place to speak of an Ireland which could control its own destiny. In the face of intimidation and a massive imbalance of resources, his message resonated with the people of Clare and with the Irish people”.

His life in politics was “one of the great democratic careers of the 20th century. By far the most successful Irish person in winning the free support of the Irish people, de Valera also stands out in the wider democratic world. He was a revolutionary leader, who built a democratic movement which stood against the extremes of left and right, and reinforced democratic republicanism at times when basic freedoms were being crushed in so many places”.

A balanced narrative was often denied to de Valera, the Cork native outlined. “He is the most written-about figure of the last century – but just because we talk a lot about someone doesn’t mean that we understand their importance. When you look back at how he has been talked about since January 1922 it is remarkable how partisan the debate has been framed. A lot of our modern public debate is unfortunately quite populist. It seeks to frame every situation as a story of good versus evil and the elite versus society. And of course the values, expectations and perspectives of today are applied as if they were always in place”.

“Incredible obstacles” were overcome by de Valera in his life, the Taoiseach said. “By a very large margin he came from the poorest and most marginalised background of any person to have risen to the leadership of Ireland at any point in our history. Sent back across the Atlantic as a young boy, he was raised on a tiny farm where everyone had to contribute to survive. Key to his future was that he had a passion for learning. He was part of a rising generation here and throughout the world which sought to improve themselves and help their countries. Young Dev was able to stay in education because of winning scholarships which he studied for after attending to his other duties and spending many hours walking the roads to and from school”.

During the War of Independence, de Valera “was far more than a political figurehead,” he stated while also referencing the role he played in the Treaty and Civil War.

Fianna Fáil founders and leaders such as de Valera “focused on the future and not the past,” the Taoiseach commented. “They faced enormous obstacles – especially a uniformly hostile media and a lack of resources. And they built a proud record of democratic, social and economic achievement. It is a record which has important blemishes, but we are entitled to point to actions which secured sovereignty and are central to the fact that Ireland is today one of the world’s longest-established democracies. We avoided the catastrophic extremism of the last century and overcame many of the biggest challenges we faced. We have many problems, but we have also achieved remarkable progress”.

As he continued, Martin referenced the Irish Constitution as the “most dramatic and positive legacy” of de Valera. “The life of Eamon de Valera was one of overcoming adversity and remarkable achievement. His positive legacy remains strong, and remains central to achieving progress for everyone on our island”.

While addressing the crowd, the Taoiseach in his oration also spoke of the restrictions announced on Friday. “We came into government in the middle of a unique pandemic and the fastest and deepest recession ever recorded outside of wartime. There is no playbook to be taken off a shelf to get us out of this pandemic and we have to continually respond to new threats. There will be time in the future to look back and take a full picture, but the facts show that this government has helped ensure that Ireland has seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than most comparable countries. We’ve run one of the world’s most effective vaccination programmes, which is now tackling the challenge of distributing booster shots”.

He added, “And people should never forget that the vaccination programme is saving lives and central to the major return of economic activity which has been achieved. The level of cases which are being seen today is of real concern, but it’s having a much smaller impact than it would have had a year ago. The guidelines and restrictions today are significant, but they are nowhere near as severe as they might have been absent the vaccine programme. No government in the world is in a position to promise when we can return to February 2020, but huge progress has been achieved in protecting lives and restoring the economy we rely on to fund our basic services and supports”.

Acceleration of a “step-change in the provision of social housing”, “an urgent programme to tackle the pandemic-linked backlog” in our health services, working towards a better understanding of critical all-island issues and efforts to tackle “the existential threat of climate change” were also referenced by the Taoiseach.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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