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'No funds' available amid 1989 departmental row over De Valera birthplace plaque

A “modest contribution” of $600 was required.

Eamon De Valera on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, London.
Eamon De Valera on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, London.

NEITHER THE TAOISEACH’S Department nor the Department of Foreign Affairs was willing to put forward $600 for a plaque at Eamon de Valera’s birthplace in New York in 1989. 

Early that year, plans were afoot in New York City to erect a plaque at de Valera’s birthplace near Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. 

The former Taoiseach and President was born in October 1882 to an Irish mother and a Spanish father. 

A Commander during the Easter Rising in 1916, de Valera went on to become the first President of Dáil Éireann during the War of Independence and Taoiseach on three occasions and was later elected President, thus dominating Irish political life for over half a century. 

Almost 15 years after his death in 1975, a committee was formed to organise an unveiling of a plaque at de Valera’s birthplace. A date – 24 April 1989 – was fixed. 

However, internal documents released under the 30-year State Papers rule show there was a Departmental stand-off over funding. 

One month before the unveiling, a Department of Foreign Affairs official replied to an official in the Taoiseach’s Department, who was enquiring about a funding contribution, saying there were “no funds” for the de Valera plaque and, considering de Valera was a former Taoiseach, suggested the “modest contribution of $600 should come from your Department”.

The official then wrote to the Assistant Secretary at the Taoiseach’s Department who in turn said that, while supportive of the birthplace plaque, “it should be assisted financially by the Department of Foreign Affairs” and that he was “not aware of any funds” available in the Taoiseach’s Department. 

Capture Corner of Lexington Avenue and 51st Street in New York where Eamon de Valera was born. Source: GoogleMaps

The plan for the plaque – as outlined by the official at the Taoiseach’s Department – was for the city of New York to close off the street for the unveiling, which would be attended by then-Mayor of New York Ed Koch, Irish-American organisations as a well as members of the de Valera family, followed by a short ceremony in a nearby cathedral. 

It was also planned to rename the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue ‘Eamon de Valera Place’. 

The Department of Taoiseach official noted that “paid advertising for the event had been raised which in turn raised the question of funding” and said that “the plaque unveiling would be short and provide, essentially, a photo opportunity.”

In the end, Taoiseach Charles Haughey unveiled the de Valera birthplace plaque at a ceremony in New York City that summer. 

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