seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Founding of Fine Gael

fine-gael-logoFine Gael, a liberal-conservative political party in Ireland, is founded on September 8, 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard, popularly known as the “Blueshirts.” The party’s origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. Michael Collins, in particular, is often identified as the founder of the movement.

Fine Gael is currently the third-largest party in Ireland in terms of members of Dáil Éireann and largest in terms of Irish members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of 21,000 in 2017. Leo Varadkar succeeds Enda Kenny as party leader on June 2, 2017 and as Taoiseach on June 14. Kenny had been leader since 2002, and Taoiseach since 2011.

Fine Gael is generally considered to be more of a proponent of market liberalism than its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil. Apart from brief minority governments, Fine Gael has rarely governed Ireland without a coalition that also includes the Labour Party, a social-democratic, centre-left party. Fine Gael describes itself as a “party of the progressive centre” which it defines as acting “in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology.” The party lists its core values as “equality of opportunity, free enterprise and reward, security, integrity and hope.”

In international politics, Fine Gael is highly supportive of the European Union, along with generally supporting strengthened relations with the United Kingdom and opposition to physical force Irish republicanism. The party’s youth wing, Young Fine Gael, is formed in 1977, and has approximately four thousand members. Fine Gael is a founding member of the European People’s Party.

Having governed in coalition with the Labour Party between 2011 and 2016, and in a minority government along with Independent TDs from 2016 to 2020, Fine Gael currently forms part of an historic coalition government with its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party. On June 27, 2020, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil is appointed as Taoiseach and forms a new government. Leo Varadkar serves as Tánaiste with both parties agreeing that in December 2022, Varadkar will serve again as Taoiseach.


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Death of John Dillon, Irish Parliamentary Party Leader

john-dillonJohn Dillon, a Member of Parliament (MP) for over 35 years and the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the struggle to secure Home Rule by parliamentary means, dies in a London nursing home on August 4, 1927. Through the 1880s he is perhaps the most important ally of the greatest 19th-century Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, but, following Parnell’s involvement as co-respondent in a divorce case, he repudiates Parnell for reasons of political prudence.

Dillon is born in Blackrock, Dublin, a son of the former “Young IrelanderJohn Blake Dillon (1814–1866). Following the premature death of both his parents, he is partly raised by his father’s niece, Anne Deane. He is educated at Catholic University School, at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He afterwards studies medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, then ceases active involvement in medicine after he joins Isaac Butt‘s Home Rule League in 1873

Dillon is a member of the British House of Commons during 1880–1883 and 1885–1918. For his vigorous work in the Irish National Land League, which seeks fixed tenure, fair rents, and free sale of Irish land, he is imprisoned twice between May 1881 and May 1882. He is Parnell’s fellow inmate in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin from October 1881. For six months in 1888 he is imprisoned for aiding William O’Brien, author of the “plan of campaign” against high rent charges by English absentee landlords in Irish farming districts.

When Parnell is named co-respondent in Captain William Henry O’Shea’s divorce suit in 1890, Dillon and O’Brien at first affirm their support of him, but they finally decide that he will thenceforth be a liability as party leader. The party then splits, the anti-Parnellite majority forming the Irish National Federation, of which Dillon serves as chairman from 1896. In 1900, however, he agrees to join a reunited party under the Parnellite John Redmond.

During the prime ministry of Arthur James Balfour (1902–1905), Dillon comes to believe that the British Conservative government intends to grant Irish reforms without independence, thereby “killing Home Rule by kindness.” In 1905 he advises Irishmen to vote for Liberal Party candidates for Parliament, and, after the Liberals had taken office that year, he supports their reform program.

Throughout World War I Dillon vehemently opposes the extension of British military conscription to Ireland, both because that measure would strengthen the agitation by the more extreme nationalist Sinn Féin party and because he never accepted the view that British imperial interests necessarily coincided with those of Ireland. After the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he protests against the harsh measures that ensue and, in the House of Commons, makes a passionate speech in defense of the Irish rebels.

Upon Redmond’s death on March 6, 1918, Dillon, who had broken with him over Irish support for the British war effort, succeeds him as Irish Parliamentary Party leader. By that time, however, the party has been discredited and in the 1918 Irish general election Sinn Féin wins easily. On losing his House of Commons seat to Éamon de Valera, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, he retires from politics.

Dillon dies in a London nursing home at the age of 76, on August 4, 1927. He is buried four days later in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. There is a street named after him in Dublin’s Liberties area, beside the old Iveagh Markets. One of his six children is James Mathew Dillon (1902–1986), a prominent Irish politician and leader of the National Centre Party and of Fine Gael (1957–1966) and also servers as Minister for Agriculture (1954-1957).


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He 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, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. 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 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 Teachta Dála (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 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. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

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 been able to win 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.

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 died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Birth of Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor

Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Brosna, County Kerry, on July 4, 1870. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1924 to 1935.

At seventeen O’Connor leaves school to become a stonemason. In October 1893, at the age of 23, he goes to Boston, where he stays five years. On his return to Ireland, he moves to Dublin, where he soon establishes himself as a “speculative builder” constructing houses in Anglesea Road, Dolphin’s Barn, Eglington Road, Brendan Road, and Donnybrook.

O’Connor joins the Gaelic League in 1900, through which he comes into contact with many of the future leaders of the Independence movement, including Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada. He is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909 and enrolls in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the same night as Éamon de Valera.

While not directly involved during the Easter Rising, O’Connor is recognised and arrested on his return to Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Gaol, then to Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Prison, and finally to Frongoch internment camp, in North Wales.

On his release in September 1916, O’Connor re-establishes his business and takes up his political activities. He reconnects with members of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League at 46 Parnell Square, and takes part in the re-organising of the fragmented IRB. He canvasses for by-elections in Kilkenny and Armagh on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates W. T. Cosgrave and Patrick McCartan.

O’Connor is involved with the revolutionary Sinn Féin party during the time of the First Dáil, handling money and hiding documents for Michael Collins. He purchases 76 Harcourt Street for Michael Collins, following a raid on the Sinn Féin Office at No. 6. There he installs a secret recess for private papers and means of escape through the skylight. When the recess escapes discovery following a raid, he goes on to construct hiding places in many of the other houses used by the movement. He is one of the shareholders of the National Land Bank which is set up in March 1920 at 68 Lower Leeson Street.

O’Connor plays a role in the “National Loan,” raised by Collins to fund the fledgling Dáil Éireann. The loan, which had been declared illegal, is lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees. The gold is kept under the floor of O’Connor’s house until 1922.

O’Connor takes the pro-Treaty side during the subsequent split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election, in the Dublin County constituency.

After the death in November 1923 of Cumann na nGaedheal TD Michael Derham, O’Connor is the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the Dublin County by-election on March 19, 1924, when he is elected to the 4th Dáil ahead of Seán MacEntee. He retains his seat at the next four general elections, joining Fine Gael when Cumann na nGaedheal merges in 1933 with the National Centre Party and the Blueshirts. He serves as a Trustee of Cumann na nGaedheal.

After his death on February 7, 1935, the 1935 Dublin County by-election is won by Cecil Lavery of Fine Gael.