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


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Death of Thomas Derrig, Fianna Fáil Politician

Thomas Derrig (Irish: Tomás Ó Deirg), Irish Fianna Fáil politician, dies in Dublin on November 19, 1956. He serves as Minister for Lands from 1939 to 1943 and 1951 to 1954, Minister for Education from 1932 to 1939 and 1940 to 1948 and Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in September 1939. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1923 and 1927 to 1957.

Derrig is born on November 26, 1897, in Westport, County Mayo. He is educated locally and later at University College Galway. During his time in college he organises a corps of the Irish Volunteers. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned, and sent to the prisons of Woking, Wormwood Scrubs and Frongoch internment camp. He is arrested in 1918, and is accused of attempting to disarm a soldier. He is sentenced to five months imprisonment by a court in Belfast. When he is released, he supports Joseph MacBride at the 1918 Irish general election. He also graduates from college and becomes headmaster in a technical college in Mayo.

During the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) Derrig is the commander of the Westport Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), before being captured and interned at the Curragh Camp. While there he is elected a Sinn Féin TD for Mayo North and West.

Derrig takes the Republican/Anti-treaty side during the Irish Civil War (1922-23). During the war he is an auxiliary assistant to Liam Lynch. He is later captured by the Irish Free State army. While in custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) he is severely injured, having an eye shot out by CID detectives.

At the June 1927 Irish general election Derrig is elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow–Kilkenny. In Éamon de Valera‘s first government in 1932 Derrig is appointed Minister for Education. He initiates a review of industrial and reformatory schools and the rules under the Children Act 1908, resulting in the critical 1936 Cussen Report that follows which he shelves, and a report in 1946-48 by the Irish American priest Father Edward J. Flanagan, which is also shelved. His lack of action wis noted in 2009 when the Ryan Report examines the subsequent management of these “residential institutions.” He is the first Minister to seek a report that could result in much-needed reforms. It is suggested that he does not want to follow British law reforms in the 1920s and 1930s, because of his strong anti-British views, and that Irish children have suffered needlessly as a result. From 1939 to 1943, he serves as Minister for Lands. He is re-appointed to Education in 1943 until 1948. During this period a bitter teachers’ strike, involving the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), takes place, lasting from March 20 to October 30. Between 1951 and 1954, he becomes Minister for Lands again.

Derrig marries Sinéad Mason, an Irish civil servant and Michael Collins‘s personal secretary, in 1928. They live with their two daughters, Úna and Íosold, at 58 Dartmouth Square and 33 Pembroke Road, Dublin.

Derrig dies in Dublin on November 19, 1956, seven days before his 59th birthday.

(Pictured: Photograph of Irish politician Thomas Derrig, circa 1932, taken from a Fianna Fáil election poster)


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Birth of Philanthropist Vere Foster

Vere Henry Louis Foster, English educationist and philanthropist is born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819.

Foster is the third son of Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet and his wife, Albinia Jane, daughter of George Vere Hobart, and granddaughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire. He is educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on May 30, 1838.

Leaving Oxford without a degree, Foster joins the diplomatic service. From 1842 to 1843 he is attached to the diplomatic mission of Sir Henry Ellis in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1845 to 1847 to that of Sir William Gore Ouseley in Montevideo.

In 1847 Foster visits a family estate in County Louth, Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, with his eldest brother, Sir Frederick George Foster. They become involved in famine relief. In 1848 their father dies and Foster undergoes a crisis in his life, and he comes to concentrate on philanthropy in Ireland.

Foster makes three voyages to the United States as a steerage passenger in a ship of emigrants, finding the accommodations bad, and the treatment of emigrants exploitative. Through his cousin Vere Hobart, Lord Hobart, he is able to influence parliament and the Passengers Act 1851. He also takes practical steps to promote Irish emigration to the United States.

Later, Foster takes up the improvement of education in Ireland. This is a time of Catholic suspicion of the national education system introduced by Richard Whately. Foster contributes to the provision of better school accommodation and apparatus, and gives grants in aid of building several hundred new school-houses. He agitates for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and develops the “Vere Foster copy-books” to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts draw him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward & Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settles permanently in Belfast where he continues to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraises for the Royal Belfast Hospital, and helps to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

In 1879, with the Land War in Ireland, Foster concentrates on promoting female emigration to the United States and the British colonies. He is supported in his projects by both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Vere Foster dies, unmarried, in Belfast on December 21, 1900. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.