‘Soldier and statesman’

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Editorial, General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2011), Volume 19

At the risk of having a ‘Dewey defeats Truman’ moment, am I right in assuming that by the time you read this Michael D. Higgins will have been elected ninth Uachtarán na hÉireann? Regardless of the result, it has been an interesting campaign and, in spite of criticism of the candidate selection process, no one can complain that voters were not offered a wide choice, with seven candidates in the field. Equally interesting from a historical point of view is the candidate who wasn’t in the race. Since its inception in de Valera’s 1937 constitution the presidency—with the exception of Mary Robinson—has been a Fianna Fáil monopoly, yet they are not even at the races for this one.The candidacy of the openly gay David Norris was novel (although the novelty seemed to wear off as the campaign progressed), as was the candidacy of Northern Ireland deputy first minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness. But was it really? The ‘northern taboo’ had already been breached with the election of Mary McAleese in 1997 and her re-election unopposed seven years later. Nor did a paramilitary background stop de Valera (commandant of the Boland’s Mills garrison in 1916) from being elected to the post twice, nor his Fine Gael opponent in the 1959 election (and Seán T. O’Kelly’s in 1945)—War of Independence veteran Seán Mac Eoin—from being proudly described on the hand-drawn poster (above) as ‘soldier and statesman’ (and thank you to Donegal County Museum for supplying this unique piece of ephemera).
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Apropos my last editorial, Colm de Barra tells me that the Vatican does indeed have a football team but are one of seven sovereign states who are not FIFA members. They have played only two full internationals—against Monaco in 2002 and 2011, losing both. And the current pope, like the previous one, takes a keen interest in football and is a Bayern Munich supporter.

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