Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin, also known as Jane or Jennie Flannigan, and finally as Sinéad De Valera, was born in Ballbriggan on this day in 1878…I think. There are some conflicting accounts of her actual birth date – but it’s absolutely safe to say that somewhere between June 1st and June 3rd, she was born. While she grew, she developed a keen love of the Irish language – so much so that as a young adult, she joined the Gaelic League and began to teach classes. She also joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) but aside from membership in those organizations and a fondness for Irish, Sinéad was not overly political herself. This is probably a good thing in the long run, since she married one of the most politically charged men that Ireland has ever known just a few years later.
Eamon de Valera and Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin were married in 1910, and quickly had a whole gaggle of children. They met and fell in love when he became one of her students and the honeymoon ended a few years later when he was sentenced to death for his role in the Easter Rising. There are many theories as to why he wasn’t executed but it was likely his wife who may have ultimately saved him from the firing squad. She unearthed his American birth certificate and left her kids in the care of family while she rushed to the U.S. Embassy to plea for his life. Shortly thereafter, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Even though he was still largely absent, he was alive and that was good enough.
Eamon de Valera never met a spotlight he didn’t like, and his Sinéad was his exact opposite. He spent the rest of their days together in politics, power, and the public eye, while she tried to avoid all of the above. She was a mother first and foremost and a prolific author of children’s books, written in both Irish and English. She had to have an excess supply of patience, strength and fortitude, in order to deal with the constant turmoil her husband’s politics brought into their home. Because the focus was always on Eamon, she has sadly been neglected – a fate perhaps of her own choosing. But without her, he may never have been the political giant he was or the icon of Irish politics that he is remembered as, so today I remember her. If you would like to as well, you can read even more about her here.
Breithlá Sona Sinéad.