Fine Gael Past Leaders
James Dillon (26 September 1902 - 10 February 1986) was an Irish politician and leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965.
James Matthew Dillon was born in Dublin. He was the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1918), which had been swept away by Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election. He was educated in Gorey, University College Galway and King's Inns. He qualified as a barrister and was called to the bar in 1931. Dillon studied business methods at Selfridge's in London. After some time at Marshall Fields in Chicago he returned to Ireland where he became manager of the family business in Ballaghadereen, Co.Roscommon.
Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon served as TD for West Donegal for the Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedhael, the new party Fine Gael. He remained as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. Dillon became deputy leader of Fine Gael under W.T. Cosgrave. He was expelled from Fine Gael in 1942 over his controversial views on Irish neutrality during World War II, when he urged Éire to abandon neutrality and side with the Allies. In the first inter-party government (1948-1951) Dillon was appointed Minister for Agriculture as an Independent TD. Dillon rejoined Fine Gael in 1953. He became Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954-1957).
In 1959 James Dillon became the leader of Fine Gael, the party he was expelled from in 1942. He became president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael lost the election to Sean Lemass and Fianna Fáil. Dillon retired as party leader due to old age. He remained on as a TD until 1969. He then retired from politics completely.
Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Wolfhound Press, 2000)
A long overdue life biography of the life of one of Irelands foremost parliamentarian, James Dillon was launched recently in Ballaghaderreen. The guest speaker at the launch was Liam Cosgrove who served as Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977. James Dillon stands among the greats of Irish politics. Across the decades, since the formation of the State, there have been many great and controversial political figures such as De Valera, Lemass, Browne and Haughey. For almost four of those decades, half the life of the State, James Dillon was placed at the centre of Irish life.
By many estimates, Dillon was the most effective parliamentarian in the history of the State. He was never Taoiseach but in certain circumstances might have been. Todays Ireland owes a great deal to his democratic commitment, to his fearless political honesty and to his practical patriotism. His is perhaps best remembered for his colourful oratory and great wit. But he was more than just a superb performer in the Chamber. He was a rare, almost exotic figure in Dail Eireann. He railed ceaselessly against the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the political culture of the newly Independent State. He stood outside the consensus which venerated 1916 and the War of Independence. In Dail Eireann he almost single-handedly challenged the morality of De Valeras policy of neutrality in Word War II.
His extraordinary contribution to the life of the State and his role as a searing critic of De Valeras vision make fascinating reading. It examines from a hitherto unexplored perspective how the processes of parliamentary opposition operated in the new democracy which was the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland. As a Minister he argued that the basis of future prosperity of Ireland would have to be Agriculture and his policies were far-reaching. This is a major biography of one of the key political figures of twentieth century Ireland. Maurice Mannings study of James Dillon fills a significant gap in the political history of Ireland. Without it we would have an incomplete understanding of the making of Modern Ireland.
This distinguished political family were natives of Ballaghaderreen. John Blake Dillon was one of the founders of the Young Ireland movement. His son John Dillon was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons before independence. His son James Dillon was leader of the main Opposition party Fine Gael and was twice Minister for Agriculture in the Irish government. There is an interesting new biography on James Dillon written by Maurice Manning. The former Dillon home is a focal point for the town, occupying a prominent position in the centre of the Market Square. It has recently been refurbished by the Board of Works and is now the headquarters of the Western Development Commission which aims to promote development in the Western and Border counties.
The Dillon family also owned the famous business known as Monica Duffs. Monica Duff was the aunt of John Dillon and the business premises adjoins the Dillon home. Over the years the business included a grocery, drapery, hardware, haberdashery, mineral water factory, beer bottling plant and many other activities. For 150 years until its closure in 1986 it was one of the main sources of employment in the town.
CROWDS ATTEND THE OPENING OF DILLON HOUSE
The opening of Dillon House in Ballaghaderreen recently was a great occasion for the town. Large crowds attended. The people of the area are proud of Dillon House, home of the famous Dillon family, a political Roscommon dynasty. Local people are pleased to see the house restored to its former glory. It now houses the local library as well as serving as the headquarters of the Western Development Commission. The house was barely accessible when first visited by John Bruton when he announced that it was to be restored. It is, again, today similar to the days when the Dillon family held political debates in its large, majestic rooms. At the launch, Liam Scollan, C.E.O. of the Western Development Commission said that the house was home to those who believed that the West was a natural place for modern sustainable development. It was home to those who believed that the West and rural Ireland were very central to who we were as a nation. "Let us throw off for once and for all the tag of peripherality and see that places like Ballaghaderreen and scores of town like it are centres not satellites. Let Dillon House be the proud symbol of those who have the confidence to see the vision through" he said.