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W.T. Cosgrave



W.T. Cosgrave, 1922.
Image courtesy of Cork Multitext Project, UCC (see here). Used with permission.



W.T. Cosgrave,
first prime minister of independent Ireland ("President"), 1922-32,
see biography and election record,
see biography and images,
born 6th June 1880,
educ Christian Bros school, Malahide Rd, Marino (now Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre),
worked in family pub at 174 James's St, Dublin,
see him at home in 1901 census,
attended first Sinn Fein convention 1905,
Dublin Corporation councillor 1909 - most of period to 1922,
see him at home in 1911 census (return in Irish, he is "Liam T. Ua Cosgair"),
joined Irish Volunteers 1913,
fought in 1916 Rising under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union, sentenced to death, commuted to penal servitude for life, interned in Frongoch, Wales,
released under general amnesty Jan 1917,

Sinn Fein MP 1917-8, elected as Sinn Fein MP for Kilkenny city in by-election, 10 Aug 1917, a poster says "VOTE FOR COSGRAVE - A FELON OF OUR LAND",
Sinn Fein TD 1918-22, elected for Sinn Fein in Dec 1918 general election in Kilkenny North, unopposed, James O'Mara won in Kilkenny South,
treasurer of Sinn Fein, imprisoned again, released 1919,
Member of the First Dail, Jan 1919,
Minister for Local Government 1919-21 in the new underground government, with the job of organising non-cooperation with the British authorities and establishing an alternative system,
mar June 1919 to Louisa Flanagan [born 28th Aug 1882],
although on the run, he did much to undermine the existing institutions of local government, particularly after Sinn Fein swept the 1920 council elections,
supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Dec 1921,
[Ward, 1983] tells story of a plan by Cumann na mBan members to protest the Treaty by raising the Union Jack over the building housing the Treaty debates (to denote the betrayal that was taking place), they went to large shops looking for a Union Jack, "But Mrs. Cosgrave .. happened to be in the exclusive shop of Switzers" [on Grafton St] "and was told of what was happening. She of course immediately reported the plot.",
Treaty was passed Jan 1922,
(pro-Treaty) Sinn Fein TD 1922-23, re-elected TD for (pro-Treaty) Sinn Fein, Carlow-Kilkenny, general election, mid-June 1922,
Civil War started end-June 1922,

Prime Minister 1922-32,
after death of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins Aug 1922, W.T. became head of the pro-Treaty side,
when the constitution of the Irish Free State was enacted Oct 1922, he became "President of the Executive Council" or head of government,
first prime minister of Ireland ("President of the Executive Council"), 1922-32, covering the governments of 1922-23 and 1923-27 and 1927 and 1927-32.

The executions: As head of Free State government in Civil War, he was ruthless in what he saw as defense of the state against his former republican comrades. By some he was never forgiven for the execution without trial of republican prisoners. In all 77 republicans were executed by the Free State, Nov 1922 - May 1923, far more than the British executed in the War of Independence, including Erskine Childers, hero of the Howth gun-running, and (without trial) Liam Mellowes and Rory O'Connor (ignoring even the pleas of the Archbishop of Dublin, who spent several hours with him, trying to persuade him to stop the executions). The hard line on law and order and against republicans continued after the Civil War ended May 1923.

His legacy: On the other hand, he did establish the southern state on a firm footing, avoiding fascism, communism and corruption, to establish a true parliamentary democracy, which, at one point in mid-20th cent, would be one of only a handful of democracies left in the world. Today, only 10 countries out of 200 in the world have been continuous (unbroken) democracies as long as Ireland.
And in its ethos his state was more modern and secular than the more sectarian Catholic state later established by de Valera. W.T. appointed an enlightened mix of scholars and Anglo-Irish to the Senate, and the 1922 Constitution was reasonably secular and tolerant (later replaced by de Valera's more Catholic, sectarian, 1937 Constitution).
There were exceptions to this though - when a Protestant woman was appointed to a library job in Co.Mayo in 1931, the Bishops protested at "a Protestant being allowed choose what Catholics would read". W.T. initially opposed the bigotry, but then did a deal to transfer her to another library job. De Valera supported the Bishops.
It is also noted that, despite the fears about what the Treaty meant at the time, under Cosgrave the Treaty really did mean effective independence for southern Ireland. As [Wallace, 1983] puts it: "by the time he was defeated by Eamon de Valera in the 1932 election, he had established a secure parliamentary democracy and had achieved in dominion status a cordial and almost complete independence from the UK". The absurd and self-destructive Economic War with the UK would never have happened under Cosgrave's government.
Finally it is noted that when the republicans, who only a couple of years before had opposed the very existence of the state, finally won a fair election, Cosgrave did, like a true democrat, peacefully surrender power - even though many Free Staters at the time were strongly opposed to surrendering power to de Valera.

W.T. lived Beechpark, Templeogue, Co.Dublin,
his house Beechpark was attacked and burnt down by the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War 1922-23, it was later re-built,
W.T. was Minister for Finance 1922-23,
the pro-treaty government party was re-named Cumann na nGaedheal Apr 1923,
Civil War ended May 1923,
Cumann na nGaedheal / Fine Gael TD 1923-44,
re-elected TD Carlow-Kilkenny, general election, Aug 1923, for Cumann na nGaedheal,
Minister for Defence 1924, dealing with threatened mutiny 1924 by some old IRA officers in Free State Army, who planned to force the government to establish a Republic, the officers backed down,
Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX, 1925,
friend of Frank Duff and supporter of Legion of Mary (founded by Frank Duff 1921),
TD for Carlow-Kilkenny until 1927,
TD for Cork city 1927-44,
made the first Irish state visit to America in 1928,
he was asked in 1930 by the co-founder of the Irish Labour Party, William O'Brien, to grant asylum to the Soviet communist leader Leon Trotsky, widely regarded as a mass murderer, Cosgrave refused,

Leader of Opposition 1932-44,
his party lost power to the formerly anti-Treaty side Fianna Fail in general election Feb 1932,
led Cumann na nGaedheal in opposition after 1932.

The Blueshirts: Both sides flirted with non-democracy in this period.
On the anti-Treaty side, now that Fianna Fail were in power, the IRA began to disrupt meetings of any opposition, with apparent government approval.
On the pro-Treaty side, Cumann na nGaedheal had links with the Army Comrades Association (the Blueshirts), which was formed Feb 1932 as an anti-IRA, anti-communist group to protect the opposition. The Blueshirts adopted symbols of then-fashionable European fascism. They were not a serious fascist movement (with racial beliefs etc.), though membership was restricted to Christians, and they did express support for aspects of European fascism.
Blueshirts re-named the National Guard, July 1933.
Cumann na nGaedheal was re-named Fine Gael after merger with Blueshirts Sept 1933.
But Fine Gael was dominated by the normal democratic party Cumann na nGaedheal, and the Blueshirts were finished by the end of 1934.

W.T. did support Franco in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39, as did the remnant Blueshirts. For W.T. (and other Catholic democrats in Ireland who supported Franco) this was about supporting the Catholic church against communists who were burning churches and killing thousands of clergy, rather than about supporting non-democracy per se.
Interestingly, despite the Blueshirts being remembered as Ireland's "fascists", it was the IRA itself that would support the Nazis in WW2, while Fine Gael were the most pro-Allied party. (W.T.'s deputy leader James Dillon wanted Ireland to join Britain in the war against Nazi Germany.)

W.T. was opposition leader until he resigned from the Dail, Jan 1944,
member of Irish Racing Board 1945, chairman for many years,
Louisa died 16th June 1959, Beechpark, age 76 yrs [GROI],
bur Cosgrave family grave, Goldenbridge cemetery, Inchicore, Co.Dublin (see street view of gate),

he died Tue 16th Nov 1965, Dublin, age 85 yrs,
(todo) see obituary in The Times, 17 Nov,
State funeral, Thur 18th Nov, bur Goldenbridge, see photo at funeral,
the President Eamon de Valera and the Taoiseach Sean Lemass both attended, funeral reports in Irish Press and Irish Independent, both Fri 19th Nov,
see [Dict. Ir. Biog.],
had issue:


  1. Liam Cosgrave,
    Prime Minister of Ireland (Taoiseach) 1973-77,
    Liam Michael Goban Cosgrave, born 1920,
    "Michael" after grandfather,
    "Goban" after W.T.'s step-brother Frank "Goban" Burke, who was killed in the 1916 Rising.


  2. Micheál Cosgrave,
    Michael, poss. Micéal or Míceál,
    born 13th Apr 1922.





W.T. Cosgrave pledges money to Michael Collins (centre), Minister for Finance of the underground Irish Republic.
This is a clip from the Republican Loan film, a fund-raising film shot at St Enda's, Dublin, in 1919.
Movie is here on my YouTube account.
Download WMV of clip.



W.T. Cosgrave.
See larger and full size.
From United States Library of Congress.



Members of 2nd Dail, Mansion House, Dublin, Aug 1921.
Front row includes a line of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, W.T. Cosgrave, Kevin O'Higgins.



Louisa Flanagan and W.T. Cosgrave.
During 1933 general election.
Image courtesy of Cork Multitext Project, UCC (see here). Used with permission.



Grave of W.T. and Louisa, Goldenbridge cemetery.
From OldDublinTown. See here.
See full size.





Photos of W.T. Cosgrave






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