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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Eamon DeValera's Christmas Greeting to the Irish in 1937

 Eighty years ago, Eamon DeValera, President of the Irish Free State, gave a special radio broadcast on Christmas Eve, according to an item in The Boston Globe

The five minute speech, which ended in a Gaelic blessing, came at a time when a new Constitution of Ireland was officially enacted on December 29, five days after DeValera’s address.  It had been approved in a vote of the Irish people on July 1, 1937.

“We are in a position to shape our Nation’s destiny. We will establish a new order, make life here more noble and happy," DeValera said to his listeners.  "However we need to plan wisely.  Our new life cannot be the work of a day; we must build from the right foundation."

DeValera saw the new Constitution as a forward-looking document that future generations would value.  “Children and youth of Ireland you are on the threshold of a new era.  Opportunities now are yours.  The tradition of a free Ireland has been handed down to you.  You must give it life through fidelity and devotion.”

The 1937 Constitution replaced the 1922 Irish Constitution that DeValera and others felt was imposed by the British Government.  An important element, according to Dr. Ronan Fanning’s book, Eamon DeValera: A Will to Power, was “taking the king out of the constitution” thereby strengthening Ireland sovereignty.  It was also a bi-lingual document in English and Irish, and aspired to a united Ireland.  

While the Constitution recognized "the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church," Dr. Fanning notes the document also recognized other denominations, including the "Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish congregations and the other religions denominations existing in Ireland."

In his broadcast, DeValera also addressed the “scattered children of Erie.”  He asked Irish-American youth to help Ireland take its place as a nation of “culture and learning.”

He asked that “friends of Ireland in America enjoy a homely and happy Christmas and rejoice with us in our new found success.”  He described Ireland as being free of “national captivity after centuries of sacrifice.”

When the new Constitution became law on December 29, 1937, the nation was officially known as Ireland or Eire, and not the Irish Free State.  The Constitution set up a two-chambered legislation, a Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and a President.

Read Irish Times article by Diarmaid Ferriter regarding the Constitution's "robustness and adaptability and the sophisticated legal thinking of its drafters."