Today on her death anniversary, we remember Sinéad De Valera, a Celtic revivalist and author of repute.
Sinéad De Valera (1875–1975), teacher and writer, was born as Jane Flanagan on 1 June, 1875 in Ballbriggan, Co. Dublin. One of four children of Laurence Flanagan, a carpenter, and Margaret Flanagan, the family later moved to Phibsboro, Dublin, following her father’s appointment as clerk during the building of St Peter’s church, Phibsboro. A good student, she was educated locally and went on to study at the Baggot Street Training College, from where she qualified as a school teacher.
A Celtic revivalist, she changed her name to the Gaelic version as Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin and spent much of her spare time learning Irish. She also became a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland, an Irish nationalist women’s organisation).
Continuing to teach, and, having gained a fluency in Irish, she soon began giving classes for beginners at the Gaelic League’s college in Parnell Square. One of her pupils was Eamon de Valera, with whom she spent the summer of 1909. They were married the following January, after which she gave up her career and concentrated on rearing their family of five sons and two daughters.
After the events of the 1916 rising, pregnant and without an income while her husband was in prison, Sinéad had to return to the family home in Phibsboro. Once the family’s finances stabilised, she chose to settle in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. But throughout those years of political upheaval, she saw little of her husband, who was either in prison or on the run from the British forces.
In 1920, she managed to finally meet him in America, as Michael Collins provided them with false passports. During the civil war, her home was frequently raided by Free State troops. She made a policy of speaking to them only in Irish. Rumoured to be pro-treaty, she made no public comment on politics.
In her later years, with her family grown up, she began writing. She adapted old Irish stories, translated European fairy tales into Irish, and wrote several plays for children. In total, she published over thirty books for children in both Irish and English. These included The Emerald Ring and Other Irish Fairy Stories (1951), The Stolen Child and Other Stories (1961), The Four-leafed Shamrock (1964) and The Miser’s Gold (1970).
A collection of her classic Irish fairy tales titled The Enchanted Lake was first published in 2005 by Currach Press, and a later version in 2015. The latest version, published by the newly named Currach Books, released in 2020 with brand new illustrations by talented illustrator Alexis Sierra.
During her husband’s presidency (1959–73) she made few public appearances, but continued to attend Gaelic League functions and children’s drama competitions. After his retirement they moved into a private Dublin nursing home. She died 7 January 1975 in Dublin and was buried at Glasnevin cemetery.