herald

Thursday 17 August 2017

Call for 'forgotten' Sinead de Valera to be honoured by town

Michael McMahon of Balbriggan and District Historical Society outside the former home of Sinead de Valera with the plaque denoting her birthplace (Caroline Quinn)
Michael McMahon of Balbriggan and District Historical Society outside the former home of Sinead de Valera with the plaque denoting her birthplace (Caroline Quinn)

Sinead de Valera's Balbriggan roots have almost been "forgotten", according to a local historian.

Michael McMahon, who has studied the life of Eamon de Valera's wife of 60 years, said the town should recognise Sinead's impact, who was a successful children's author in her own right.

The town's 2016 commemorative committee has proposed to celebrate the author and schoolteacher with a commemorative stone near Quay St - close to where Sinead grew up.

Michael told the Herald that Sinead had "basically been forgotten about".

Overdue

"They should have had a statue up by now," he said. "It's long overdue."

In her youth, Sinead made a name for herself as a beautiful actress and teacher.

Born Jane Flanagan in 1878, she changed her name to Sinead Ni Fhlannagain when she joined the Gaelic League.

As a young woman, she gave Irish classes at the League's Leinster College in Parnell Square.

It was there where she met a maths teacher named Eamon de Valera.

After a courtship of two years, the pair married and later had six children over their six decades together.

Mr McMahon wrote a paper on Sinead's life in 2005, and has since given numerous talks on her life and influence around Dublin.

"1916 was a horrible year for Sinead, on a number of levels," he said.

During that fateful year, both Sinead's mother and her sister Mary were dying, eventually passing away in early 1917.

As de Valera became more and more committed to the rebellion, she was often left looking after their young children by herself.

"People tend to focus on the heroes of the rising, but they forget the importance of the family and the women.

"I suppose when you see her beside a figure who looms as large as Dev, she could be forgotten. But she deserves her own attention."

The following years weren't much easier for Sinead.

Her husband went to the United States in a bid to win prominent Irish-Americans over to the Republican cause.

Sinead even travelled to America on a false passport to visit Eamon at the time.

"She saw [Eamon's] trip as a waste of time," Mr McMahon said.

But he added that at this time she began writing "scribbles" that would eventually lead to her publishing career.

She later authored several collections of Irish myths, fairytales and legends.

While she was at home, Mr McMahon said that fellow patriot Michael Collins came to visit her and make sure she had enough money.

It is hoped the commemorative stone will be erected around Harbour View and Quay Street in May, coinciding with a series of events to celebrate Balbriggan's 1916 links.

Councillor Malachy Quinn (SF) said the events would include nights of music, poetry and history lectures from May 2-8.

He will be working with the local council in organising the cross-community events, which he said he hoped would re-introduce Sinead's work to younger people.

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