May 2021 Print

De Valera and Catholic Ireland

By Fr. Francis Gallagher

My only sighting ever of President Eamon De Valera’s distinctive profile was in 1961. He was returning by car from a ceremony to commemorate the fifteen hundredth anniversary of St. Patrick’s death.

His Career

De Valera (1882-1975) was probably modern Ireland’s dominant political figure. His over fifty-year-long career included terms as Taoiseach1 and President.

He was a leader of the 1916-1921 struggle for independence from Britain. He opposed the subsequent peace treaty which tacitly accepted Protestant “Northern Ireland” remaining part of the United Kingdom. This assured British masonry a strategic foothold in Ireland. The British “Government of Ireland Act” states that neither the northern nor southern parliament “… shall have power to abrogate … any privilege … of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Ireland.”2 The treaty also stated that: “Neither the Free State nor Northern Ireland will pass laws that favor any religion or restrict the free practice of religion,” (Article 16). In fact “Northern Ireland” was soon declared to be: “… a Protestant state for a Protestant people.” Yet neither the “pro-treaty” nor “anti-treaty” factions in the Free State objected to not being allowed to favor Catholicism over the minority sects. De Valera led the anti-treatyites.

His Conservatism

De Valera was a conservative. He claimed that he was meant to be a Tory “or even a bishop,” rather than a revolutionary leader.3 In a 1943 speech he said: “That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people … satisfied with frugal comfort (who) devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit.”4 That speech still arouses the ire and mockery of leftists like the Republican News writer who once claimed that links between Catholicism and nationalism were now irrelevant.5 Church authority was “shattered.” Catholicism was no longer linked with national identity. Ireland, no longer poor, was attracting immigrants instead of exporting emigrants.

Now, some eighteen years later, with mushrooming economic, political, emigration, immigration, and crime problems, it is secularist triumphalism like this, not Dev’s dream, that sounds archaic. The British MEP6 Nigel Farage noted how Ireland having fought for centuries to achieve independence had now given it away allowing Brussels and the IMF7 to take control.8 De Valera would have agreed! In a speech to the Dail in 1955 concerning proposals for European “unity” he stated: “In a Council of Europe it would have been most unwise for our people to enter into a political federation which would mean that you had a European parliament deciding the economic circumstances, for example, of our life here.”

“Europe” seeks also to control Irish morality as the European Court of Human Rights order to update her abortion laws indicates. This followed an IMF “bailout” of Irish banks. Indeed, increased outside economic “aid” has accompanied the liberalization of laws on religious and moral matters.

Certainly much has changed since De Valera’s day, simplistic though the Republican News rant may be. Recalling the State’s upholding of morality when the bishops were Catholic, the journalist Kevin Myers noted that today’s bishops “… have about as much political power as Australian Aborigines in North Korea…”9 De Valera’s reputation has also suffered from today’s changed perspectives.

However the Polish MEP Maciej Marian Giertych declared: “The presence of such personalities as Franco, Salazar or De Valera … guaranteed Europe’s preserving of traditional values. We lack such men of action these days,”10 We do indeed!

Seated, left: Éamon de Valera, President of Ireland, meets President Lyndon B. Johnson after the funeral of John F. Kennedy.

His Catholicism

Nobody questions De Valera’s Catholicism. He once considered becoming a priest. He liked discussing religion with priests. He participated actively in the religious life of his school.11 During a visit there in 1928 of the renowned spiritual writer Fr. Edward Leen, C.S.Sp.,12 whom he esteemed greatly, he claimed that he saw, superimposed on Leen, the figure of Our Lord. This made an abiding impression. In 1934, rejecting suggestions that he might be Jewish, he stated: “… I come from Catholic stock … I was baptized in a Catholic church. I was brought up in a Catholic home.”13 In 1935 he said: “Since the coming of St. Patrick fifteen hundred years ago, Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation … ruthless attempts made through the centuries … have not shaken her faith. She remains a Catholic nation.”14 He carried a first class relic of St. Therese of Lisieux. He was a daily communicant. As President, he visited the Blessed Sacrament five times daily. Of his failing eyesight he said “It is a small cross to have to carry for Christ.”15 Towards the end of his life he became a Third Order Carmelite.

To what extent then did Catholicism influence his politics?

His Morality

Certainly morality did. In his reply to a post-World War II attack on Irish neutrality he accused Winston Churchill of making Britain’s necessity into a moral code. He defended the 1916 rising as moral against episcopal criticism. Yet he had some moral reservations about certain aspects of the 1919-1921 guerrilla war. As Premier and President he insisted that his salary should be a modest one.

De Valera refused however to support the 1936 Spanish Catholic uprising, partly because it was against a “democratic government” although he had himself rebelled against democratic governments. He favored the Spanish rebels but did not recognize Franco until his rule was clearly established. His hesitancy, though, was possibly due to the slowness of Pius XI to do likewise.

The 1937 Constitution

When devising a new constitution, he consulted militantly orthodox priests like Fr. John Charles Mac Quaid, C.S.Sp., Fr. Dennis Fahey, C.S.Sp., and Fr. Edward Cahill, S.J., who was for many years his confessor.

The 1937 Constitution begins indeed by stating: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, we, the people of Éire … do hereby … give to ourselves this Constitution.” This preamble, largely Cahill’s work, was modified somewhat by De Valera. Mac Quaid supplied various manuals, advice and suggestions which were also influential.

The family is recognized as the basic unit of society and first educator of children. The State pledges to uphold marriage. Divorce is forbidden.16 The State recognizes that women in the home provide a necessary support for achieving the common good. The State therefore tries to avoid having mothers work outside the home. All this displeases the liberals and feminists, strengthens the position of the family and hinders efforts to introduce anti-family legislation.

However, certain provisions concerning relations between Church and State provided problems. Article 44, Section 2 said: “The State recognizes the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.” Section 3 said that the State also recognizes the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Quakers, “… as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland…” This provision pleased De Valera, who wished to placate northern Protestants.

Compare the above with Article 6 of the former Spanish constitution which clearly states: “The profession and practice of the Catholic religion, which is the religion of the Spanish State, shall enjoy official protection.”17 Private practice only of other faiths would be allowed. Pope Leo XIII reminds us: “Justice forbids … the State to be godless … to treat the various religions … alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges.”18 St. Pius X describes Church and State separation as “… a most pernicious error.”19 Fr. Cahill, recalling constant papal teaching, says that the State while tolerating non-Catholic religions “ … itself publicly professes the Catholic faith.”20 This the Irish State manifestly failed to do in 1937. Cahill, Fahey, Mac Quaid and Cardinal MacRory all criticized the new Constitution. Mac Rory was the Archbishop of Armagh and therefore “the Primate of All Ireland” at this time.

Surprisingly, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin regarded the preamble as sufficient to ensure the Constitution’s acceptability. De Valera did include a reference to the Church’s “special position as the religion of the majority,” an “anodyne phrase” nonetheless.21

Any “special position” comes from the Church’s having been founded by Christ, not from mere majority approval!

Cardinal Mac Rory, the Primate of All Ireland, was initially unhappy with Article 44. De Valera, not wanting any unnecessary public conflict, sought Rome’s approval. However Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State and future Pope, insisted that the “special position” reference had no value if there was no recognition of the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. He criticized the recognition given to other religions which should merely be tolerated. Eventually Pope Pius XI succinctly declared: “Ni approvo ni non disapprovo; taceremo” (“I do not approve, neither do I not disapprove; we shall maintain silence.”22 This was not quite what De Valera wanted.

But did either De Valera or Rome go far enough? How far did they want to go? Did Rome hope eventually to see better things?

The Liberal Influence

Hamish Fraser complains of “ … the well-intentioned liberalism of Mr. De Valera who … with an eye to eventual Irish unity, wished the Constitution to be ‘Christian’ rather than ‘Catholic.’”23 It was, says Fraser, apparently the reason for rejecting the counsel of Catholic advisers who wanted Article 44 to explicitly recognize the Church as the One, True Church, and not merely that of the majority. There is evidence that international finance may also have exerted pressure on Dev.24 Even the “special position” reference eventually had to go, hence the 1973 campaign for the amendment of Article 44 supposedly so offensive to non-Catholics.

Cardinal Conway, the then Primate, promised that he would not shed a single tear if Article 44 was amended. A popular referendum amending it had near overwhelming episcopal support. Episcopal non-resistance to secularist politicians would soon facilitate the legalization of contraceptives and divorce. It will likely ensure a more complete legalization of abortion. It has certainly contributed to the popular vote in favor of “gay marriages” in May 2015, and to the end of what is left of Catholic education now that anti-family socialists have so much influence in the government and elsewhere, including the Church itself and of course also in the media. We now have the most anti-Catholic and anti-family government in the history of the state. The response from the hierarchy is a deafening silence!

Some attempts were made to have Catholic social and political teachings implemented in Ireland. De Valera “too trained in English democracy,”25 was unsympathetic to decentralization and diffusion of powers as urged by Catholic activists. So why have an Irish government if England’s partisan liberal democracy is so wonderful? Apart from organizing the Senate on vocational rather than party political lines, very little was done by the government to implement Catholic teaching. Ironically Irish secular leaders showed interest in decentralization and vocationalism as churchmen abandoned Catholic social teachings following Vatican II.

In the early fifties, the bishops were concerned that proposed legislation for free health care for mothers and babies (“The Mother and Child Scheme”), might mean undue state interference in family life with possible state “education” in matters like contraception.

When De Valera returned to power in 1951, Dr. Mac Quaid, now the Archbishop of Dublin, was unhappy with the new government’s approach. He complained of “a policy of distance” concerning the Church. He noted that there was undue concern with pleasing northern Protestants. Of De Valera’s Fianna Fail party he claimed: “…a definite liberalism is always present.”26

The obsession with appeasing northern Protestants (thus hopefully ending partition) partly explains De Valera’s practical liberalism in devising the Constitution. It was a reason given for amending Article 44 and for introducing liberal legislation. Ironically, Catholics, whose families remain somewhat larger, will soon be a majority in the “province” whose raison d’être was the preservation of Protestantism and masonry in Ireland. But it is also ironic that the morality of Ulster Protestants is often more Catholic than that of modernized Catholics.

An Historical Perspective

It is forgotten, by the Irish as well as the English, that a major reason for the long standing “Irish problem,” for the fact that Ireland could not fit into the United Kingdom in the same way as did Scotland and Wales, is that Ireland was Catholic while England, Scotland and Wales were Protestant. It is not the only reason. Otherwise the curious 12th-century English invasion to “re-Christianize” Ireland might have been less catastrophic.

The invasion was fiercely resisted with invaders settling in Ireland and becoming “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” The 16th-century Protestant revolt sharpened the conflict between Catholic Ireland and Protestantized England. For the Irish, it now became a war for defending the Faith rather than for re-establishing national independence.27 However, from the 18th century onwards, liberal and revolutionary ideas began to influence many Irish Catholics and nationalists, some of whom found common cause with Ulster Presbyterians, like the masonic United Irishmen and the violently anti-Catholic Wolfe Tone, who wanted to overthrow the Anglican establishment as their co-religionists and kinsmen had done in the United States. The liberal element in Irish nationalism would become increasingly influential affecting men like Eamon De Valera. Ironically much of this came from England.

Of course, events in the Church influenced developments in Ireland. Many Irish priests and laity were martyred. Others fled to European Catholic countries to receive a priestly or religious formation. Some unfortunately developed revolutionary ideas. The English government, fearing this influence, decided to have established in 1795 a Catholic seminary in Ireland which they could closely monitor. Priests formed in this “Royal” seminary in Maynooth were sometimes obsequiously pro-British. Others, influenced by revolutionary ideas, associated themselves with the more radical and masonic influenced nationalists in the Fenian/Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Cardinal Paul Cullen, the Primate for much of the nineteenth century, dealt rigorously with revolutionary nationalists but also kept aloof from the British administration.

Ireland had not experienced an integrally Catholic society in culture, politics, and economics for many centuries. This disadvantage remained manifest after independence. Irish-born bishops in the USA, lacking this integrally Catholic background, easily identified with the American system and encouraged Americanism. Americanist influence during Vatican II contributed much to a new and false teaching on religious liberty. Notably a leading figure in all this had an Irish name: Fr. John Courtney Murray.

Archbishop Lefebvre on De Valera

Archbishop Lefebvre was as prominent in fighting false religious liberty as he was in fighting liturgical errors. During his last visit to Ireland in 1989 he remarked: “I remember when I visited Ireland many years ago, I met your great President, Eamon De Valera. He was a great Catholic.28 He certainly would have refused to say that Jesus Christ is not King of Ireland. But after the Council, the Vatican authorities requested from the President of Ireland to abandon the principle of the Kingship of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is no more publicly acclaimed King of Ireland; it is the same in many Catholic countries.29

What Was Achieved

In 1937, some in the Vatican regarded the Irish Constitution as a positive step despite its deficiencies and Mr. De Valera’s failure, pious though he was, to introduce a fully Catholic Constitution. Certainly, many worked diligently to make Ireland a fully Catholic country. In 1925, Fr. Cahill founded An Rioghacht (the Kingdom) which promoted Christ’s social kingship and influenced some government legislation.30 Similar work was done by Fr. Fahey’s Maria Duce. The Irish Christian Front, led by Patrick Belton, organized material support for Catholic Spain’s war effort. Muintir na Tire, founded by Canon John Hayes in 1937, implemented Catholic social teaching among farming people thereby improving the quality of rural life. Dr. Mac Quaid did much to alleviate poverty in Dublin. There was a growing interest among young people in Catholic social and political teaching. The works of writers like Fathers Fahey, Cahill and Alfred O’Rahilly became influential worldwide. De Valera showed interest in some of this, notably in the works of his friend Fr. Edward Cahill.

However the publication of Dignitatis Humanae during Vatican II destroyed any immediate prospect of Ireland’s becoming again an integrally Catholic nation. Nations and individuals were now supposedly free to choose any religion or none.

What Must Be Done

Ireland must begin again to make herself truly Catholic. But this she, like other countries, can achieve only whenever Rome finally abandons her current false teaching on religious liberty which has so undermined formerly Catholic countries. To restore all things in Christ throughout Ireland we need leaders, lay and clerical, who have De Valera’s patriotism, piety, courage and determination, but who are better informed in Catholic social and political teaching than were he and most of his generation. May Our Lady Queen of the Gael, St. Patrick, and St. Bridget obtain for us such leaders.


1 Prime Minister.

2 Government of Ireland Act: Section 65.

3 De Valera in a letter to Mary MacSwiney, 11 September 1922.


5 Republican News/An Phoblacht, 22 May, 2003.

6 Member of the European Parliament.

7 International Monetary Fund.

8 Athlone Topic, 9 December 2010.

9 The Irish Independent, 25 January, 2011.


11 Blackrock College. It is a prestigious school run by the Holy Ghost Fathers. Archbishop John Charles Mac Quaid was among its Presidents.

12 Leen, Edward. In the Likeness of Christ, available from: Angelus Press, PO Box 217, Saint Marys, KS 66536, USA.

13 Jordan, Anthony J. Eamon De Valera 1882—1975: Irish Catholic Visionary. October 2010, p. 11.

14 Ibid., p. 13

15 Ibid., p. 15.

16 This section was unfortunately removed after a 1995 referendum favoring divorce. The majority in favor was narrow and, as with the recent pro-Lisbon Treaty vote, there was some evidence suggesting electoral fraud.

17 Ottaviani, Cardinal Alfredo. Duties of a Catholic State with Regard to Religion (trans. Fr. Fahey).

18 Pope Leo XIII. Immortale Dei.

19 St. Pius X. Vehementer Nos.

20 Cahill, Rev Edward. Framework of a Christian State. Roman Catholic Books. p. 610.

21 Jordan, p. 207.

22 Irish Times, 25 Nov. 2006 by Stephen Collins, based on Republic of Ireland state papers.

23 “Can Ireland Survive”—Approaches No 40-41, November 1974.

24 Payne, M. “The Truth About Ireland,” Christian Order, December 2004.

This article, citing Fr. Fahey, reveals a masonic plan to destroy the old Catholic countries beginning with Belgium and Ireland. Thus the 1916 Rising was apparently financed by international bankers (who would later finance the 1917 Russian Revolution) in the hope of influencing future developments like the 1937 constitution. Elsewhere the writer claimed to have spotted an international finance “watchdog,” described by De Valera as an “observer,” at a meeting discussing the future constitution.

25 Ferriter, Diarmaid, Judging Dev. Royal Irish Academy (RIA), 2007, p. 212 (The remark was made during a conversation with the British ambassador in 1967.)

26 Ibid., p. 219. Dr. Mac Quaid also expressed his worries concerning: “…the presence of a Protestant minority … powerful in finance and in the professions & very firmly organized on a Masonic basis.” He called for: “… an unrelaxed vigilance on the part of the Church, particularly in education.”

27 O’Donnell Timothy, Swords Around the Cross: The Nine Years War: Ireland’s Defense of Faith and Fatherland, 1594-1603. Christendom Press, 2001.

The 17th Century leaders Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell wanted to establish Ireland as a Spanish protectorate, a realistic policy perhaps for a country with a powerful Protestant neighbor. Their military campaign, by keeping the English army occupied in Ireland, did much to stem the spread of Protestantism in Europe as well as in Ireland. In his book A Priest in Changing Times (The Columba Press, 1998, p. 111), Fr. Michael O’Carroll states: “Interestingly, Mr. De Valera was one of Mgr. Lefebvre’s heroes, and he liked to recall that ‘Dev’ once served his Mass. What impressed him was the uncompromising public profession of the faith by our president. I do not think that Mgr. Lefebvre had read the reference to the Catholic Church in Dev’s Constitution. The wording, it has been noted, strongly resembles the formula finally reached in the Napoleonic Concordat. Dev denied any borrowing. Mgr. Lefebvre, if he had time to study Constitutional texts would have preferred Franco’s declaration in the Concordat of 1953.” He probably would have. Yet, I think we can say that De Valera would be most unhappy with many aspects of today’s increasingly secularist Ireland.

29 Sermon of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for the Feast of Christ the King, October 29, 1989.

30 It has been re-established by the SSPX in the US & Britain where it is doing much good work under the title: “League of the Kingship of Christ.”