Fine Gael Past Leaders
WILLIAM THOMAS (W.T) COSGRAVE(1880 - 1965)
first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
First prime minister of independent Ireland ("President"), 1922-32,
William Thomas, Willie, born 6th June 1880, 174 James's St, Dublin [a plaque now marks the house, now Kenny's pub, opposite St.James' Hospital, see [Walsh, 1988]],
educ. Christian Bros school, Malahide Rd, Marino (now Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre), entered father's publican's business, attended first Sinn Fein convention 1905, Dublin Corporation councillor 1909 - most of period to 1922, joined Irish Volunteers 1913, fought in Easter Rising 1916 under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union, sentenced to death, commuted to penal servitude for life, interned in Frongoch, Wales,
released under general amnesty Jan 1917,
Elected as Sinn Fein MP for Kilkenny city in by-election c.Aug 1917, a poster says "VOTE FOR COSGRAVE - A FELON OF OUR LAND",
Unopposed in 1918 general election, treasurer of Sinn Fein, imprisoned again, released 1919, Member of the 1st Dail, Jan 1919 (as was James O'Mara), Minister for Local Government in the new underground government, with the job of organising non-cooperation with the British authorities and establishing an alternative system,
Married June 1919 to Louisa Flanagan [born 28th Aug 1882], although on the run, he did much to undermine the existing institutions of local government, particularly after Sinn Fein swept the 1920 council elections.
Supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Dec 1921,
[Ward, 1983] tells story of a plan by Cumann na mBan members to protest the Treaty by raising the Union Jack over the building housing the Treaty debates (to denote the betrayal that was taking place), they went to large shops looking for a Union Jack, "But Mrs. Cosgrave .. happened to be in the exclusive shop of Switzers" [on Grafton St] "and was told of what was happening. She of course immediately reported the plot.",
Treaty was passed Jan 1922, Civil War started June 1922,
after death of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins Aug 1922, W.T. became head of the pro-Treaty side, when the constitution of the Irish Free State was enacted Oct 1922, he became "President of the Executive Council" or head of government.
First prime minister of Ireland ("President of the Executive Council"), 1922-32,
as head of Free State government in Civil War, he was ruthless in what he saw as defense of the state against his former republican comrades, never forgiven for the execution without trial of republican prisoners, in all 77 republicans were executed by the Free State Nov 1922 - May 1923, far more than the British executed in the War of Independence, including Erskine Childers, hero of the Howth gun-running, and (without trial) Liam Mellowes and Rory O'Connor (ignoring even the pleas of the Archbishop of Dublin, who spent several hours with him, trying to persuade him to stop the executions), the hard line on law and order and against republicans continued after the Civil War.
On the other hand, he did establish the southern state on a firm footing, avoiding fascism, communism and corruption, to establish a democracy, which, at one point in mid-20th cent, would be 1 of only a handful of democracies left in the world. And in its ethos his state was more modern and secular than the offensively Catholic sectarian state later established by de Valera. W.T. appointed an enlightened mix of scholars and Anglo-Irish to the Senate, and the 1922 Constitution was reasonably progressive, secular (later replaced by de Valera's Catholic, sectarian, 1937 Constitution).
There were exceptions to this though - when a Protestant woman was appointed to a library job in Co.Mayo in 1931, the Bishops protested at "a Protestant being allowed choose what Catholics would read". W.T. initially opposed the bigotry, but then did a deal to transfer her to another library job. de Valera supported the bigots.
It is also noted that, despite the fears about what the Treaty meant at the time, under Cosgrave the Treaty really did mean effective independence for southern Ireland: "by the time he was defeated by Eamon de Valera in the 1932 election, he had established a secure parliamentary democracy and had achieved in dominion status a cordial and almost complete independence from the UK" [Wallace, 1983]. - The absurd and self-destructive Economic War with the UK would never have happened under Cosgrave's government.
Finally it is noted that when the republicans, who only a couple of years before had opposed the very existence of the state, finally won a fair election, Cosgrave did, like a true democrat, peacefully surrender power - even though many Free Staters at the time were strongly opposed to surrendering power to de Valera.
lived Beechpark, Templeogue, Co.Dublin,
Minister for Finance temp c.1923,
Minister for Defence 1924, dealing with threatened mutiny 1924 by some old IRA officers in Free State Army, who planned to force the government to establish a Republic, the officers backed down,
Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX, 1925,
friend of Frank Duff and supporter of Legion of Mary,
led Cumann na nGaedheal in opposition after 1932, later Fine Gael,
note: that it was John A. Costello who predicted the success of the Blueshirts in 1934, NOT W.T.,
though W.T. did support Franco in the Spanish Civil War,
TD Cork city 1943,
Opposition leader until he resigned from the Dail, Jan 1944,
Member of Irish Racing Board 1945, chairman for many years,
Louisa died 16th June 1959, Beechpark, age 76 yrs [GROI], buried in Cosgrave family grave, Goldenbridge cemetery, Inchicore, Co.Dublin,
W.T. died Tue 16th Nov 1965, Dublin, age 85 yrs,
State funeral, Thur 18th Nov, buried Goldenbridge,
the President, de Valera, and the Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, attended, funeral reports in Irish Press and Irish Independent, both Fri 19th Nov,
see brief biography and also [Dict. Ir. Biog.] etc.,
1. Liam Cosgrave, prime minister of Ireland (Taoiseach) 1973-7,
2. Micheál Cosgrave, born 1922,
mar Monica Barton and had issue:
1. Ron Cosgrave.
2. Louise Cosgrave,
Fine Gael county councillor.
3. Marita Cosgrave.
4. Mickey Cosgrave.