Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recalling Eamon de Valera's Visit to the Isle of Man

As commemorations for the centenary of the Easter Rising continue apace in the Irish Republic, it's an appropriate time to reflect upon the Island's links with one of the most important men of the insurrection, Éamon de Valera.

Although he had never visited the Isle of Man, Éamon de Valera was approached in 1938 by his honour Deemster Farrant, Mrs K. Kelly and Miss Mona Douglas, together with representatives of other Celtic nations, on the question of whether financial assistance might be forthcoming from the Irish government in relation to the furtherance of Celtic culture.

But in 1947 Éamon de Valera did make a brief, informal visit to these Island shores as part of a short cruise on the former Royal Navy fisheries protection vessel Macha which was on sea trials, taking in the Western Isles and the Outer Hebrides.

Skippered by Captain F. M. White, the vessel drew alongside the Victoria Pier in Douglas, in glorious sunshine, to be met by the Lieutenant Governor Sir Geoffrey and Lady Bromet, Captain J. M. Cain ADC, the Mayor of Douglas and other dignitaries. However, his visit seemingly aroused little interest amongst the thousands of holiday makers, who were more intent, perhaps, on enjoying the summer weather.

Accompanied by his son, Rúaidhrí, and officials, Éamon de Valera and his party made a courtesy visit to Douglas Town Hall, before heading to Government House for lunch. Afterwards, they toured the Island by car, visiting places of interest and having tea at the Manx Museum. He also attended St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Douglas before his departure.

Although brief, Éamon de Valera's visit proved to be fortuitous for the Isle of Man, securing a vital link between the few remaining Manx Gaelic speakers and revivalists of recent times.

Stopping off at Harry Kelly's cottage in Cregneash, both Éamon de Valera and the celebrated Manx speaker, Ned Maddrell, spoke together in their native tongue without difficulty. This prompted an offer to send the Irish Folklore Commission's newly acquired and fully equipped recording van to the Island, so as to record the last native speakers of Manx Gaelic.

During the following year, Irish folk collector, Kevin Danaher, arrived in Douglas, after an adventurous journey on a cattle boat from Dublin, to begin his quest; although not before his van was thoroughly hosed down at the Manx Museum.

But another, more intriguing story, linking Éamon de Valera to the Isle of Man involves the Island's cultural champion, Mona Douglas, who was staying in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin during the War of Independence. The story recounted how a party of Black and Tans, searching for Éamon de Valera, raided the hotel, but were apparently unable to locate their prey, as he was safely hidden in a wardrobe in Mona's room!

Valerie Caine
© June 2016

(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

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