seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Elizabeth Dillon, Diarist and Nationalist

Elizabeth Dillon, an Irish diarist and nationalist, is born Elizabeth Mathew in England on March 2, 1865.

Dillon is the eldest of five children of Sir James Charles Mathew and Elizabeth Blackmore Mathew. Her family is related to the Butler family, but she does not visit Ireland until 1886. Living in Queen’s Gate Gardens, Kensington, London, she is educated at home. From a young age she attends the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, while mixing a busy social life with charitable works.

Dillon begins keeping a diary in 1879, which she continues to write until her death. Her ancestor, Mary Mathew, is also a diarist and keeps the diary for the discipline of the daily activity. She soon begins to write for the love of it, and some have surmised she wrote with the intention her diaries would be read by others. She attends lectures in Old English and literature at King’s College, London from late 1882 to 1884, and begins to learn Irish in 1893.

Dillon’s father supports land reform in Ireland, chairs the evicted tenants commission in 1892, and is a huge influence on her politics. She makes her first political reference on February 25, 1883 when she notes the arrest of the Invincibles, and she then regularly comments on land reform. She travels to Ireland for the first time in August 1886, staying in Killiney, County Dublin. In October 1886, she meets John Dillon, and begins to follow the Plan of Campaign so that she can discuss it with him during his visits to the Mathew house in London.

During this time, John Dillon is deeply immersed in politics, and is imprisoned on a number of occasions. Being a careful follower of Irish politics, she becomes an anti-Parnellite. She confronts John Dillon in autumn 1895 about their relationship, saying that they can no longer meet as they had become the subject of gossip. He proposes within two weeks, and they are married on November 21, 1895 in Brompton Oratory. They are busy and often apart, with Dillon spending time in a warm climate due to his ill health. She tries to accompany him when she can, but the couple’s large family makes that difficult. They have one daughter and five sons, John Dillon (1896-1970), Anne Elizabeth Dillon (born October 29, 1897), Theobald Wolfe Tone (1898-1946), Myles, James, and Brian.

Finances are strained until John’s uncle Charles bequeaths him his house, 2 North Great George’s Street, Dublin in 1898, and a business in Ballaghaderreen, County Mayo is bequeathed him by a cousin, Anne Deane, in 1905. Dillon runs the business successfully, while also carrying out duties as a politician’s wife such as opening the Belfast ladies’ branch of the United Irish League in June 1905. Her busy life results in her neglecting her diary.

Dillon dies on May 14, 1907 in Dublin, having given birth to a stillborn daughter that morning. Pneumonia is given as the cause of death, but it could have been medical incompetence. She is buried in the family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery. Her husband writes of her death in June 1907, A short narrative of the illness and death of my dearest love. Trinity College Dublin holds her diary and correspondence. Her diaries, edited by Brendan Ó Cathaoir, are published in 2019.


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Birth of James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael Politician

James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael politician who serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and 1954 to 1957, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Elizabeth Mathew. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar of Ireland in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937, Dillon serves as a TD for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon temporarily resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. A passionate anti-Nazi, he describes the Nazi creed as “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zeal against Adolf Hitler draws him the ire of the German Minister to Ireland Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.” Even Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is not spared the fierceness of Dillon’s rhetoric. When the Taoiseach ridicules his stark support for the Allies, noting this means he has to adopt a Pro-British stance, Dillon defiantly retorts, “My ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.”

In 1942, while holidaying in Carna, County Galway, Dillon meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that the pair are married. He is 40 and Maura is 22 years of age.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959, he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965, Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties won four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

On Northern Ireland, while Dillon stands against Partition, he equally opposes any “armed solution” or militant nationalist policy, stating, “We have got to win, not only the barren acres of Ulster, but the hearts of the people who live in it.”

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He dies in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.