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Odd that… a secret Irish history? January 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History.

Interesting obit in the Irish Times on Saturday for former senior civil servant John Irvine who passed away at 82. He had a varied if not entirely unusual life and career as a civil servant, working in the P&T initially. He was deputy director general of RTE and was later involved in the radio sector. Still, I’m indebted to Fergus for pointing me to the following sentence…

Born (in 1925) the eldest son of nine children in Moneyglass, Co. Antrim, the family moved in 1925 to a Belfast home, the upper storey of which overlooked Crumlin Road jail. As a teenager there, John recalled Eamon de Valera being pointed out to him while exercising in the prison yard…

So Eamon de Valera was in Crumlin Road in the late 1930s or early 1940s? Now that doesn’t sound right…


1. Garibaldy - January 20, 2008

Isn’t oral history a wonderful thing.


2. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2008


…or perhaps young John was blessed with an ability to walk between parallel universes… Makes you wonder just what sort of history would wind up with Dev in Crumlin Road Jail in the around then… still, tells us more than a little something about the sub-editors down at the Irish Times and their grasp of Irish history.


3. Eagle - January 20, 2008

Obviously someone has got something wrong here, but what could he have seen and/or been remembering? I mean, did De Valera even cross the border after he became Taoiseach in 1932?


4. Eagle - January 20, 2008

Oh, and WBS, absolutely right about the sub-editors at the IT. Good God, what a mistake. At least you could forgive an old man whose mind or speech might have been confused in later years.


5. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2008

Re 3, I don’t think so. Re 4… I agree, it wouldn’t even cross my mind to see John Irvine in any sense coming out of this badly. It’s entirely down to the IT…


6. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2008

I’ve been told by one who would know these things better than I that Dev was in fact imprisoned in Crumlin Rd. sometime after 1926 and probably before 1933 when he was elected an abstentionist MP for Stormont. That still would prevent a young Irvine from seeing him as a ‘teenager’ unless they reckon such things differently North of the border…


7. Eagle - January 21, 2008

Excellent work WBS. Here’s what T. P. Coogan says (my summation).

In 1929 De Valera defied an exclusion order to attend a function hosted by the GAA & Gaelic League. He spent a month in jail in Belfast (must have been Crumlin Road – TPC doesn’t say). Anyway, according to Coogan Dev did this deliberately to get publicity for himself and his party in America.


8. barry - January 21, 2008

Aha, when I read it in the obit I thought – what? then something surfaced and I couldn’t grab it as it went by. Thanks for the TPCoogan excerpt, that’s where I saw it must look now and see if TP actually has a reference…..


9. Ciarán - January 23, 2008

DeValera was invited to open the Gaelic League’s new headquarters, An Ardscoil Ultach, and Seán Mac Maoláin (who sent the invitation) was warned by the RUC not to do so. But Dev came anyway and was promptly arrested when his train reached Newry, and tried in Belfast. He was held in contempt of court for speaking to the judge in Irish and jailed for a month.

That account is from “Belfast and the Irish Language”, edited by Fionntán de Brún.


10. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

Ciarán, what date do you have for that.

Cheers barry. if you find a TP ref, write a comment…


11. soubresauts - January 24, 2008

…But Dev came anyway and was promptly arrested when his train reached Newry, and tried in Belfast. He was held in contempt of court for speaking to the judge in Irish and jailed for a month.

That reminds me of “Dev’s favourite joke”. I have it on good authority… Years ago in Dublin I knew this man who was a great story-teller and Dev used to invite him around occasionally to hear his stories and jokes. This is what made Dev laugh loudest:

A man got on the Belfast train in Dublin. He spoke to the train guard and explained that he had to get off in Portadown. The difficulty was that he tended to fall asleep on the train and could be very stroppy when he was woken. He told the guard not to be put off by any objections, just make sure he got out in Portadown; and he gave the tip in advance.

On went the train… and when the man woke up he realized he was in Belfast. In a rage, he went off in search of the guard. When he found him he let fly with furious gestures and words. Eventually, the guard was able to say something. He said:

“That’s some abuse alright, but you wouldn’t hold a candle to the man I threw off the train in Portadown.”


12. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

Brilliant! 🙂 It’s a gentle sort of humour. Any more?


13. Ciarán - January 24, 2008

According to the book it happened in 1928, which makes sense as it surely would’ve been made a bigger deal of had it happened after he became Taoiseach.


14. Barry - January 25, 2008

In TPC’s book on DeValera (1993) on page 421…

“…. one of the most effective ways [to keep ones name to the fore] was to get himself arrested on a ‘national issue’ This happened to Dev on 5 Feb 1929. The exclusion order served on him 5 years before was still in force. Nevertheless he accepted an invitation to speak at a function hosted by the GAA and the Gaelic League in Belfast in the knowledge that he would ‘be arrested the moment he reaches the border’ …..

It is referenced as “Kathleen O’Connell, quoted in Longford and O’Neill p269” So a second hand quote, no Crumlin Rd…..


15. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008

What incidentally was the basis for the exclusion order?


16. soubresauts - January 25, 2008

Just to be padantic… The Irish Times wasn’t inaccurate (that time):
As a teenager there, John recalled Eamon de Valera being pointed out to him while exercising in the prison yard…

You can hardly doubt that John Irvine, as a teenager, recalled what he saw as a four-year-old — Dev pointed out to him in the prison yard. Nyuk, nyuk.


17. soubresauts - January 25, 2008

Pedantic, PEDantic, I mean, of course. Jeez.


18. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008



19. barry - January 27, 2008

Here we are — TPC’s book again, Pp374/5….

“But his most spectacular manipulation of the partition issue was achieved, at some cost to himself, when he managed to get sent to jail over the question of the six counties. ….. [in the GB general election campaign of October 1924] he announced he intended to speak in support of an anti-treaty republican in Newry….the northern governmnent issued an order banning him from from various parts of the statelet, including Newry…. He was arrested in Newry on October 24th, served with an exclusion order, and put across the border the next day……he announced his intention of (re)crossing the border… and was arrested in Derry… on 1 Nov he was sentenced to one month [in solitary] …..

This month was before the other one, obviously, but even more unlikely that Irvine saw him then either.

Interesting all around. TPC’s book contains so much detail one tends to forget some of it, such as the fact he was in Crumlin Rd twice.

One aside – according to a ‘Vivion Dev to the author’ quote, Dev found “the solitary in Belfast the worst experience of his prison career”

Bye, Barry


20. WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2008

1924… oh dear… cheers, Barry


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