WT Cosgrave: The Steady Hand

Eoin Purcell

WT Cosgrave & Tim Healy (left) at the State Funeral of Kevin O'Higgins (Courtesy of UCC MultiText)

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!
Eoin

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5 comments

  1. I agree with you fellow eoin, its a crying shame that not more is widely known of our founding taoiseach, personally i find it a great tesamony to the mans work that his arch enemy, Eamon De Valera said of him and his government “they did a fine job viv, a fine job” high praise indeed and well deserved. i have only one problem, you didnt mention the relitivley progressive contitution his government made, especially the fact that unlike the 1937 constitution there was a distinct lack of secterianism in his constitution, which cannot be underestimated in Ireland

  2. Eoin,

    A very interesting piece that I’ve only just come across – I followed your link through your response to a recent Pue’s post. Even if it is from two years ago, I’m glad to see WT getting a mention – little has changed since you wrote your post. It is such a shame that Cosgrave is so often overlooked and that the period 1922-1932 is often examined in terms of the SF split and FF’s rise to power. Regrettably, Cumann na nGaedheal remains in the shadows. If I might do a shameless plug, I’m publishing a book later this year with the Royal Irish Academy on Cumann na nGaedheal, but there is still plenty of scope for research on the party, its leading figures and, of course, its leader.

    1. Ciara,

      That’s excellent news. The period remains critically under-studied in my view. Would love to learn more about your book.
      I’ve started a much less personal site http://www.theirishstory.com and if you wanted to add something there on Cosgrave or Cumann na nGaedheal you’d be more than welcome.

      All the best,
      Eoin

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