Éamon de Valera letter about end of WW1 made public

The future taoiseach wrote: ‘The thoughts that occur to me here today would fill volumes’

De Valera  wrote: “For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure.” Photograph: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

De Valera wrote: “For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure.” Photograph: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

 

A letter written by Éamon de Valera from prison to his wife on Armistice Day has been made public for the first time.

The letter is sent from Lincoln Jail where de Valera, who later became taoiseach and president, was incarcerated after the German Plot of May 1918 with many of the Sinn Féin leadership. They were arrested by the British authorities following a spurious rumour that they were conspiring with Germany.

In the letter, de Valera says he can hear the “sirens and bells which announce that the armistice with Germany has been signed”.

It led him to reflect on all the families who lost somebody in war and how the armistice would only deepen and accentuate the grief of those who had been bereaved.

“How many homes will (sic) the joybells cease ringing will be plunged into a grief which at the moment is not felt but which will be crushing when those who remain return home and it is realised that those who have fallen will never return?” De Valera wrote.

“The thoughts that occur to me here today would fill volumes—we have leisure for thought calm sober thought—thoughts on the vanities of men and of Empires—vanities which the lessons of this war will not dispel.”

De Valera added: “For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure.”

The letter was thought lost during a burglary at the gatelodge of the de Valera family home in Blackrock, Dublin in the late 1970s. It was the original home of Éamon and Sinead de Valera and at the time their eldest son, Vivion, was living there.

Some time later it was sent anonymously to Vivion who was then the managing director of The Irish Press Group. It is now in the UCD Archives and appears as part of their online exhibition to mark Armistice Day.

De Valera’s biographer, RTÉ journalist David McCullagh said the sentiments in the letter were similar to the ones De Valera expressed before he participated in the Easter Rising.

At that time De Valera wrote: “We’ll be alright, it’s the women who will suffer. The worst they can do to us is kill us, but the women will have to remain behind to rear the children.”

McCullagh, who has just produced the second volume of his biography entitled De Valera: Rule 1932-1975, said the letter also demonstrated as early as Armistice Day that de Valera feared the first World War would not be the “war to end all wars”.

De Valera had been consistently against the Irish serving in the war and retained a neutral stance in the second World War.

“Given his relative lack of political experience at this stage of his career, his remarks are quite perceptive,” McCullagh said. “It’s really interesting that even in 1918, even though he was in prison, he had this view of the potential pitfalls of a harsh peace.”

TEXT OF DE VALERA LETTER

11 November 1918

From Lincoln prison

A chuisle,

I got your recent letters. I hope the children are now all well and that, as so often happens, when the strain was relaxed you did not yourself get the disease.

I have just heard the sirens and bells which announce that the armistice with Germany has been signed. It will bring relief to many an anxious heart—it will bring joy to many—but how many homes will (sic) the joybells cease ringing will be plunged into a grief which at the moment is not felt but which will be crushing when those who remain return home and it is realised that those who have fallen will never return.

The thoughts that occur to me here today would fill volumes—we have leisure for thought calm sober thought—thoughts on the vanities of men and of Empires—vanities which the lessons of this war will not dispel.

A hundred years ago ‘twas Napoleon this time ‘twas Germany—whose turn will it be next? Many nations like many many individuals when during this struggle they were sick would were resolved to be monks they are now they are well we shall see what they will become. I can see with a cynic’s eyes but I have not a cynic’s tongue to express what I see.

I should not weary you with this. The huge happenings through which we are passing will make their own suggestions to you—and thoughts and feelings like these are incommunicable. For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure. They who live in Those of the victorious nations will forget for a time their nightmare in the joy of victory but alas for those in the nations that have been vanquished.

I was surprised to find I was not correct in my guess as to the books you would choose—you must tell me what they are when I see you. When that may be I do not know. God has preserved you all safe so far and I trust that when I do see you, you will all be as well as when I saw you last. Some of my letters to you I think have been suppressed. I wrote to acknowledge receipt of letter re my candidature at the coming election. That has probably been held up also I suppose.

I love to hear about yourself and the children—you need not fear that such tidings as in your last will weary me. To others what they say or do may not matter to me they are much (sic). You will yet get your birthday gift. Be of good cheer. Éamon.

Tell the children how fond I am of them.