In a very Irish manner
We celebrate one body of neglected heroes while ignoring one fine example. In the hype and passion that has surrounded the reawakening of compassion for our fallen countrymen of World War One, I almost forgot to remember one of Ireland’s greatest unsung heroes, W.T. Cosgrave. Cosgrave was first Chairman of the Irish Provisional Government (following the deaths of Griffiths & Collins in August 1922) from August to December 1922 and then he was the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1922
For me, Cosgrave represents a tradition that is sorely underplayed in Irish History, the practical democrat who drives progress and development at the expense of drama and self aggrandizement. Too often we choose to laud the violence and the flamboyant failures rather than the solid builders who achieved real success for Irish people on the ground.
Forged by war
Faced with an unenviable position in 1922-1923 he rose to the challenge and lead our fledgling state for a decade that saw its fair share of tragedy and triumph but which remarkably saw Ireland remain both democratic and relatively peaceful.
That is not to say that Cosgrave did not have failings. For sure, he might have been more inventive in economic policy or less conservative in his social outlook, but the prevailing mood was broadly in line with his thinking on these issues, and in the later half of his tenure, the economic climate hardly encouraged inventiveness!
On balance, the most incredible feat was the peaceful transfer of power in 1932 to the losers of the civil war, Fianna Fáil and Eamon de Valera. Even allowing a decade for the bitterness of the civil war to dissipate, more recent evens like the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins in 1927.
But the often overlooked work that was achieved in terms of Ireland’s position within the Commonwealth was also remarkable. By the time Fianna Fáil came into power in 1932, Cosgrave’s government had dismantled the majority of the barriers to create a full Irish Republic.
I’ll write more on this during the week, I just thought it warranted a mention, but now it has my mind running!