Allegedly, Catherine Coll and Juan Vivion de Valera are married in St. Patrick’s Church, Greenville, New Jersey on September 19, 1881. They are the parents of Irish statesman and politician Éamon de Valera, who serves as the 3rd President of Ireland and Taoiseach.
Catherine Coll is born on December 21, 1856 in Bruree, County Limerick and emigrates to New York City in 1879. She first takes a job with a wealthy French family that is living in Manhattan. This is where she allegedly meets Juan Vivion de Valera (born 1854), a Spanish sculptor who comes to the home of her employers to give music lessons to the children.
It is alleged that Vivion de Valera, always in poor health, leaves his young family behind in 1885 and travels to Colorado, hoping that perhaps the healthier air will help him out only to die within a few months.
Though Éamon de Valera’s official biography (Longford/O’Neill, Hutchinson, London, 1970) states that his parents were married at St. Patrick’s Church on September 19, 1881, the parish records show no record of any Coll–de Valera wedding either at St. Patrick’s or any church, nor were any civil records found, in the vicinity during the period from 1875 to 1887. Also, initially de Valera is not registered in his father’s name.
However, not merely is there no record of the wedding. No record exists of the existence of a “Juan Vivion de Valera” anywhere in the United States: no birth certificate, no baptismal certificate (if he was a Catholic), no marriage certificate and no death certificate. While it is possible that he was born abroad and so either had a foreign birth certificate or was not registered, the absence of a death certificate for someone stated definitely in Éamon de Valera’s family history to have died in the United States has puzzled researchers. Some scholars have questioned whether Juan Vivion de Valera ever existed.
There has been a mischievous suggestion that he was related to the French painter Achille Devéria as Éamon de Valera “was known to be particularly fond of his works.” This claim is hardly likely given that Devéria was a painter of erotica, and de Valera nothing if not a prude. It should also be noted that Devéria died in 1857, at least 20 years before Éamon de Valera was born.
It has also been alleged by some that Catherine Coll invented Juan de Valera to give her son legitimacy.
(Pictured: Irish republican leader and founder of Fianna Fail, Éamon de Valera, with his mother Catherine Coll, April 01, 1927)