De Valera. Just the name usually conjures up strong feelings in anyone that knows anything about Irish History, and they are always linked to Eamon. However, today is all about the woman behind the man and her name was Sinead. Her sacrifices and determination were often the only things that kept their family alive and like him or no, she helped make him the man he was.
Sinead De Valera (born Jane O’Flanagan) had the patience of a saint and the strength of an army. She trained at a young age to be a teacher and soon began teaching Irish in Dublin through the Gaelic League. It was there that she met and fell for Eamon, who was a Math teacher and her student. She taught him how to speak Irish and when they survived that ordeal, they were quickly married.
I doubt that it would have been the marriage of anyone’s dreams. Sinead not only had to deal with her husband going from rebel to politician to rebel repeatedly, but she also had to deal with all the absences that entailed. Countless trips and fundraisers kept her husband traveling incessantly and even when he was close to home, he was often a prisoner. After 1916, he would have been executed if not for his ties to America and other lucky circumstances, and that had to be terrifying for her. Though she was incredibly talented at managing money, during this time she had to leave her home and their family was split up while she figured out how to care for her dying sister, deal with a husband that may not come home, mourn her mother who had just died, and ponder how to get her kids all back under the same roof. Eamon was imprisoned fourteen times during their marriage and by the time she no longer had to worry about him being taken back to the gaol, he was the President—which probably allowed for the same amount of quiet time at home—if not a little less.
Sinead never publicly involved herself in her husband’s career. She avoided the political spotlight that she could have claimed in favor of running the household and raising a whopping seven children – five boys and two girls. She was a devoted mother and a prolific children’s author, who managed both her own career and a huge household, even with an absent partner and little or no resources. She eventually published over thirty books in both Irish and English, content to leave the public life of politics and intrigue to her husband.
This is not to say that she didn’t have a strong presence in the privacy of their home. Their son claimed that his father relied on her for everything. She may have stayed out of the public eye, but she lived a long and solid life with her husband and family. When she died on this day in 1975, she was 96 years old and it was one day shy of what would have been her and Eamon’s 65th wedding anniversary. Obviously his dim views on women did not extend to his own wife and their relationship worked for them. When he passed away a few years later, he joined her in Glasnevin Cemetery, where they remain today.