Rewind - Former Taoiseach WT Cosgrave

By Sean Heffernan

This weeks subject matter is a famous local politician who has been thrust back into the public consciousness due to archaeological finds on lands surrounding the house just off Scholarstown Road he lived in until his passing.

We shall be hopping back on the 161 bus at the Terminus in Rockbrook and we will be staying on for about 9 stops whereupon we will be alighting at stop 1330 Grand Road-Willowbrook Park.

Rewind Liam Cosgrave

We will then cross the road and hop on a 175 bus at stop 7449 Taylors Lane-Edmondstown Road.

We will stay on the bus for approximately six stops and get off at stop 1149 St. Colmcille’s School.

It is across the road that this weeks personality, Ex-Taoiseach WT Cosgrave lived for a good bit of his life and where his son who also became Taoiseach lived for all of his.

The future leader of the Irish Free State was born in James’s street in the month of June in 1880.

In his youth he attended the Christian Brothers School on Francis Street and the O’ Brien Institute in Marino; something very few young people in the state were able to do at the time.

However, his father was a successful publican who had the money to send his children to school and when William finished his schooling he helped his father in the running of the public house.

When Arthur Griffith’s newly setup Sinn Fein party held it’s first congress in the round room in the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell Square he was one of the attendees.

Six years later he was elected onto Dublin Corporation in the 1909 Local Elections as a Sinn Fein Representative.

He was to serve on the Corporation for 13 years before he relinquished his seat in 1922.

While he signed up to join the Irish Volunteers he did not take the hardline jump some did and join the Irish Republican Brotherhood as Padraig Pearse and others did.

He was then to play his part in the 1916 Rising where he was stationed at The South Dublin Union under the command of Eamonn Ceannt.

This building was one of the biggest workhouses in Ireland and was located where James’s Hospital now stands.

It was occupied by the Volunteers as part of a plan to try to impede the movement of British soldiers from Richmond Barracks in Inchicore and The Royal Hospital Kilmainham (two places I’ve written about in this column).

Like so many of his fellow conspirators who took part in the insurrection he was taken by boat to the Frongoch internment camp in North Wales.

He was to remain there until freed in a General amnesty in January 1917.

The following August the man from what is now Dublin 8 was picked to represent the Sinn Fein party in the By-Election for Kilkenny, where he defeated the former mayor John McGennis who was standing for the once powerful but now on the wane Irish Parliamentary Party, with a massive 66% of the votes cast.

On the 21st of January 1919 what became known as ‘The First Dáil’ in Dublin’s Mansion House and the Sinn Féin MP’s present voted in favour of the creation of a Government of Ireland, but it had no legal standing nor did it attain any recognition from other countries.

Notwithstanding these caveats it was in all an event of major symbolism which selected the MP for Kilkenny City as Minister for Local Government - a post with very little power in essence - which he occupied for three years.

The publican’s son from the South-Inner City had developed a close friendship with Eamonn De Valera, the New York born son of Irish parents who was elected as Sinn Fein MP for Co. Clare; but this was to be severely strained in 1921.

Upon the agreement of a truce between the IRA and the British Government, a Sinn Féin delegation led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins agreed a Treaty after talks with the British Government in London.

The yank thought his good friend would vote against the Treaty in the fraught and heated discussion that took place between the Sinn Fein MP’s after the delegation had brought the agreed text back to Dublin, but Cosgrave in fact voted FOR the documents ratification.

The vote was carried on the day by 64 votes to 57 and eventually led to the creation of the ‘Free-State Government’ upon which William T Cosgrave was selected as the first Taoiseach of his newly created governing authority.

This entity could only decide on domestic issues though, with foreign policy matters still in the ultimate control of the London Administration and the King was still the overall ruler of Ireland.

This structure was seen as a betrayal by a large minority of the population who felt Michael Collins et al had effectively danced on the graves of Pearse and Connolly by signing the Treaty and a civil-war thus ensued.

W.T. was to steer the country through the Civil-War – which the Pro-Treaty side won – and his Cumann na nGaedheal party was to remain in power until it lost the 1932 election to the Fianna Fail party which was formed six years earlier.

One key thing which rankled with a lot of voters was his Government’s killing of so many Anti-Treaty men without trial after the Civil-War some nine years earlier.

Cosgrave was to remain as the leader of the opposition until he resigned from Dáil Eireann in January 1944.

From this point on he got involved in a number of organisations including the Irish Horse Racing Board where he became a very important member.

W.T. Cosgrave passed away on the 16th of November 1965 aged 85, eight years before his own son was also appointed Taoiseach, a position he held from 1974-1977.

With the descendants of Seán Lamass and Charlie Haughey dipping their toes into the political foray by way of the current Local elections, who is to say we might yet see further members of the Cosgrave dynasty in Dail Eireann?

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