Eamon de Valera, although born in New York City, in the United States of America, devoted his life to help the people of Ireland. As he once said it, "If I wish to know what the Irish want, I look into my own heart." De Valera loved Ireland and its people with a deep and lasting passion. It was he, probably more than any other person in their history, who helped that country win freedom from British rule and then shaped its history well into the twentieth century.
De Valera's mother, Catherine Coll, usually known as Kate, came to the states in 1879, at the young age of twenty-three. Like so many other Irish immigrants of that time, she had suffered from poverty, and even hunger, in her native land and saw America as a place where she could go to try and get a fresh start. She first took a job with a wealthy French family that was living in Manhattan. This is where and when she met Vivion Juan de Valera. He was a Spanish sculptor who came to the home of her employers to give music lessons to the children.
In 1881, the couple married. A little over a year later, while living at 61 east 41st Street, Kate Coll de Valera gave birth to the couple's only child. His name was Edward, called by Eddie at first, but would become known to the world by the Irish variation of that name, Eamon.
Always in poor health, Vivion de Valera left his young family behind him and traveled to Colorado, hoping that perhaps the healthier air would help him out. Within a few months he died. Now a widow, Kate went back to work, leaving Eamon in the care of another woman who also had come from the tiny village of Bruree, in County Limerick. Later in his life, Eamon would remember occasional visits from, as he knew her, a woman in black, which ended up being his true mother.
Kate de Valera decided that Eamon would be better cared for by her family back in Ireland. Before long he found himself away from noise of Manhattan, living in Bruree in a one-room house with mud walls and a thatched roof. Living with him were his grandmother, his twenty-one-year-old uncle, Pat, and young Hannie, his fifteen-year-old aunt.
Shortly after Eamon arrived, the family moved to a cottage, built by the Irish government for farm workers, but it was only a little bit larger. It was made up of two rooms, most of which were given over to kitchen space. After a year Eamon's mother visited briefly- long enough for her to announce her new marriage to an American, Charles Wheelwright, known to Eamon as "Uncle Charley". Kate soon returned to America. She thought it would be best that four-year-old Eamon remain in Ireland.
Eamon's childhood was typically Irish. He worked at farming with the rest of his family, went to school, played rugby, and starred as a runner. At the age of fourteen, after eight5 years of school, it was time to decide what he was going to do next. He considered returning to America. He even wrote to his mother about it. It was just not to be. Instead, he enrolled at the Christian Brothers' School seven miles from his home. Since the family could not afford to buy him a bicycle, he had to walk the entire distance- both ways every day- carrying a heavy load of books.
Eamon proved so strong a student that after two years; he was admitted with a scholarship to Blackrock College. That school, which was located near Dublin, was run by the Holy Ghost fathers. Eamon entered the college unsure of his future career but leaning toward either teaching or priesthood. It soon became clear to him that his greatest interest, as well as his greatest academic strength, lay in mathematics. After five years at Blackrock, he became a mathematics teacher at a school in Tipperary while completing his college degree. In 1904 he graduated from the Royal University in Dublin.
Very tall and thin with dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin, like his Spanish father, what struck people immediately was his seriousness. Just...
Cited: O 'Brien Maire and Conor Cruise. A Concise History of Ireland. Thames and Hudson. London. 1972.
MacManus Seumas. The Story of the Irish Race. Random House. New York. 1990.
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