The De Valera Family and St. Brigid’s Greystones

The following is and extract from

History of

Greystones Convent

and Blacklion School

by

Sister M. Dolorosa

(1964)

President De Valera (and his family)

‘The year was 1917. Sister Mary Rose was called to the parlour  

‘a lady wished to see her’.

As the Sister stood for a moment, framed in the parlour doorway,

the visitor noted the kindly lines in her face.

‘A warm heart beats with’, she though, ‘which all her Victorian dignity,

and the Jansenistic rigour of her generation, cannot hide’.

In her turn, the Sister looked at the dainty figure befor her:

a fair-hair lady with a gentle dignity, and the most winning of smiles.

The nun’s heart went out to her at once.

‘I’m Mrs. De Valera,’ the lady introduced herself.

‘De Valera!’ Sister Mary Rose was conscious of a little inward shiver.

‘The name was not at all common.

Could it be connected with that dreadful Rebel? She sincerely hoped not!’

Like all nuns of the period, she was naively ignorant of the world of politics.

Of course, she knew what rebellions were.

Had she not heard endless discussion in her own home and ’98. 1803 and 1848!

Then there was 1867, when she had been in the Convent for six years,

and the recent trouble in 1916 …

What bloodshed! What loss of life! And all in vain!

Would her dear misguided countrymen never learn sense?

Untrained, and with the most primitive of weapons,

‘with every recurring folly, they were prepared to defy a mighty Empire.

Of what use were pikes against the British cannons?

To be sure, they must have had some guns in 1916: a number of people were shot!’

The mere thought of taking life was enough to make Sister Mary Rose feel faint.

She recoiled in horror from these thoughts,

but was far too well-bred and courteous

to allow them to effect her manner to the visitor.

‘How do you do, Mrs. De Valera. Won’t you be seated, please.’

Her hostess indicated the sofa.

‘Now, what can I do for you?’

‘I have come to ask you to take my two eldest children into the school.

Vivion is almost seven years of age, while Mairín is not yet six.’

A Valued Friendship

The interview proved to be the beginning of a warm friendship

between the Sisters of the Holy Faith in Greystones,

and the family of Éamon De Valera, now President of Ireland.

Moreover, Sister Mary Rose was to live long enough to learn,

that the latest ‘recurring folly’ of her ‘dear misguided countrymen’

was not ‘all in vain’, after all!

The Children Come to School

When the De Valera family took up residence in one of the stucco houses on Kinlen Road, in 1917,

they hardly realized at the time that they were settling among a very unsympathetic and hostile community.

Before they left the district, however in 1922, many had thawed out and succumb to the charm of this family,

the members of which were ready to suffer so much, and make such sacrifices for their ideals.

Vivion and Mairín came to the Convent School and made their First Holy Communion with the Sisters,

before the family returned to Dublin.

Éamonn, Brian and Ruaidhrí, all attended the school, while Emer was a little visitor of four at the time.

On their return to the City, they continued their education in the Holy Faith Schools, Haddington Road,

until they changed their residence to another district.

The youngest, Terry, is the only member of the De Valera family, who did not attend a Holy Faith School.

Since that sad period of our country’s history, having come through many suffering and vicissitudes,

from which they were bravely shielded by their valiant mother, the children,

after distinguished academic careers, have become:

Major Vivion De Valera, MsC, PhD.

Miss Máirín De Valera, Msc, PhD.

(at present Professor of Botany in University College, Galway).

Éamonn De Valera, MAO, MD, FRCPI

(Professor of Gynaecology & Obstetrics in University College, Dublin).

Ruaidhrí De Valera, MA, PhD

(Professor of Celtic Archaeology in University College, Dublin).

Emer De Valera, BA,

(cut short a university career to become Mrs. Brian Ó Cuív).

Toirdhealbhach De Valera is a solicitor.

Alas! Brian’s name is absent from the list.

He met with a sad accident at the age of twenty (1936), when he was thrown from a horse.

This was not the least of the many great sacrifices which this family has been called upon to offer to God.

The Language Movement

…..In 1917, just at the time when the family of President De Valera came to live in Greystones,

the Language movement was in full swing.

The coveted ‘Fáinne’ was becoming quite fashionable.

Understandably, the nuns did not like to be left behind in this particular field,

but at the time, they could not leave their convents in order to attend classes outside.

The delight of the Sisters in Greystones, when they discovered that

they had an experienced teacher of the Irish language in their midst,

in the person of Mrs. De Valera, who was willing to conduct classes in the Convent,

can well be imagined.

Mrs. De Valera gave them every help in the study of the Language. …

Mrs. De Valera also taught Irish to the children in the school in Greystones,

thus the Sisters’ pupils benefited, too.

Ireland’s First Lady

Wishing to put on record an account of this friendship

between the Sisters of the Holy Faith and the family of President De Valera,

we applied to Mrs. De Valera for confirmation.

…Realizing that if she compied with our wishes in writing,

she might be harassed by others looking for written memorials –

a task to which she felt very unequal in her eight-sixth year

– she decided on a personal interview instead;

a privilege for which we would not have dared to hope!

On December 31st, 1964, Mrs. De Valera, as ‘Ireland’s First Lady’,

paid a visit to the Convent to which she had first come in 1917.

The pleasure of this visit for her, must have mingled with sadness.

All the old faces were gone; all the old friends were dead.

There was no Sister Mary Rose to receive her.

And alas! For the ‘Victorian dignity’ and (we hope!) the ‘Jansenistic rigour’

– they had vanished a generation ago.

Instead she was ‘hugged and kissed’

and ‘physically’ conducted to a modern armchair in lieu of the ‘indicated sofa’.

We trust that the warm affection which inspired this conduct compensated for our lost of dignity!

There sat this little lady with the gracious smile, telling us in her own simple and homely way

about the only people who held out the hand of friendship

to her in her years of trial in Greystones from 1917 to 1922:

the Sisters of the Holy Faith.

How even Sister Mary Rose’s heart,

melted in kindness toward the ‘dreadful Rebel’ so as much as to pray

and ask others to pray that Our Lady would make him invisible to his enemies.

An Bhean De Valera was accompanied by her daughter, Professor Máirín De Valera , who related

how impressed the De Valera children had been by the kindness of all the nuns,

but especially by that of Sister Mary Paulinus.

This Sister was in charge of the kitchen.

When any of the children were put out of the school-room ‘in disgrace’,

Sister Mary Paulinus called them into the kitchen,

where their ‘penance’ was changed into pleasure by the enjoyment of some titbit or sweetmeat.

Yes, the Sisters took the De Valera family and the Cause they embraced, to their hearts.

In those early days the Cause was fought under the banner of ‘Sinn Féin’.

The day came when the Sisters went to the polls to vote.

Sister Mary Rose, with all the affection she had for the family of Éamonn De Valera,

never took to the ‘Cause’.

When the Sisters returned after having registered their votes,

she on overhearing some of their whispered remarks, complained:

‘I’m afraid some of you have voted ‘Sinn Féin!’

The sole reason they had for voting at all!…

Informal Chats

When the chaos which reigned between 1917 and 1922 was finally brought under control

and Éamonn De Valera took his place in public life

as President of Dáil Eireann, under the first Constitution,

himself and Mrs. De Valera slipped down to Greystones,

on a few occasions, to have a chat with their old friends in the Convent.

During one of those visits (long before it ever appeared in print)

he described for the Sisters his romantic escape from Lincoln Jail:

how he procured the wax and got an impression of the Chaplain’s key;

how duplicates were made;

the thrill when the expected signal was flashed in the darkness outside;

the awful anxiety when the key which Collins and Boland had brought,

broke in the lock; the relief when his own duplicate worked;

his boyish sense of adventure as he passed the sentry unobserved,

and all the subsequent vicissitudes.

The card which comes every Christmas from Áras an Uachtaráin to the Sisters in Greystones,

is a gentle reminder of all the affectionate traditions which have been

handed down to a younger generation of nuns.

But they need no reminder to keep alive the deep regard

which they will always have for President & Mrs. De Valera

and each member of their family.’

End of extract from Sister Mary Dolorosa’s piece on the History of St.Brigid’s

Two Women; Kitty Kiernan and Sinead De Valera – Their Stories, their Connections to Greystones and Their Place in History

 

Introduction

The Irish Free State was an independent state established

on 6th December 1922

under the Anglo Irish Treaty of December 1921.

That treaty ended the Irish War of Independence between

the forces of the Irish Republic and the British forces.

The Easter Rising in 1916 had not been popular with the public.

But the execution of the leaders, changed people’s minds.

On Display at the Museum of Decorative Arts, Dublin. Lynn Gallagher via Compfight

 

This is the story of two women, with links to Greystones,

who had links to people fighting for Irish  freedom

in the lead up to the foundation of the Irish state.

 

You can read their stories below.

Or you can download a powerpoint of their stories here:

Two Women; Their Story & Their Place in History 

 

Kitty Kiernan

The powerpoint tells the story of Kitty Kiernan.

Kitty was engaged to Michael Collins.

They got engaged in The La Touche Hotel on Saturday, 8th October 1921.

Locals say they were planning to buy ‘Brooklands’ on Trafalgar Road,

and live there after they married.

Kitty hoped to have a double wedding with her sister Maud,

who was due to marry her fiancé Gearóid O Sullivan.

 

Michael Collins was assassinated at Beal na Bláth, County Cork

on 22nd August 1922.

At his funeral there were hundreds of wreaths

but only one floral tribute was allowed on the flag-covered coffin;

a single white peace lily.

It was from Kitty Kiernan.

 

Two months later, in October 1922,

Kitty attended Gearóid and Maud’s wedding,

dressed in black,

as she continued to mourn the loss of Michael Collins.

 

Sinéad  De Valera

The powerpoint also tells the story of Sinéad  De Valera.

Sinéad and her children lived in Greystones,

at Craig Liath, Kinlen Road, in the Burnaby

for five years from September 1917 until October 1922.

 Craig Liath was originally called Howbury.

If you are looking for it in the Burnaby it is called Edenmore now.

 

Éamon fought in the 1916 Rising.

In a note from De Valera to his wife Sinéad, written from Boland’s Bakery he wrote:

‘If I die pray for me. Kiss our children for me. Tell them their father died doing his duty.…

We showed that there were Irish men who, in face of great odds would dare what they said’.

.  

Her husband Éamon was sentenced to death after the 1916 Rising.

This sentence  was commuted to penal servitude for life.

After the Rising, Éamon De Valera was taken prisoner.

On 8 May 1916 he was sentenced to death for his part in the Rising.

Later that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

 

Their fifth child Ruairí De Valera was born on 3rd November 1916

while his father was still in prison.

Having spent time in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin, Dartmoor Jail, Devon,

Maidstone Jail, Kent, Lewes Jail, Sussex and Pentonville Prison

on 16 June 1917 he was released from prison under a general amnesty.

In October 1917 he was elected President of Sinn Féin

 

In his book, ‘De Valera, A Will to Power’, Ronan Fanning explains

‘As president of Sinn Féin, De Valera was voted an annual salary of £500 a year

that enabled him to improve the material circumstances of his family he was to see so rarely before 1925 –

they now had five children – by renting a house in Greystones, on the railway line fifteen miles south of Dublin’.

 

Éamon went to America to raise funds

for the fight for Irish freedom.

Michael Collins visited the family every week,

bringing money and food parcels.

 

The De Valera’s eldest children Máirín De Valera

said that the

‘younger children could not remember my father

– my mother overheard Brian and Ruairí discussing him,

‘Who is Dev?’

‘I think he’s Mummy’s father’’

 

So Sinéad kept their large family together

during the times her husband was in jail,

in America,

on the run,

or busy with politics.

 

Her son Terry De Valera in his memoirs

describes his mother’s life as

‘anxious, stressful and exceptionally long’.

 

Many history books tell the story of

Michael Collins and Éamon De Valera.

We think Kitty Kiernan and Sinéad De Valera

deserve their place in history too.

 

The Gifford Sisters also found themselves involved

in the struggle for Irish freedom through their husbands.

You can read about their stories HERE.

Famous People – Éamon De Valera – President of Ireland (1959–1973)

The Dublin GPO Witness History exhibition Diego Sideburns via Compfight

In 1917 the late Eamonn de Valera sent his two eldest children,

Vivian and Máirin to the Holy Faith convent school in Greystones

when the family lived at Kinlen Road in The Burnaby Estate.

All but one of the de Valera family attended the convent in Greystones.