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Manhattan Mystery: Notes on the paternity of Éamon de Valera

It is extraordinary the lengths people were made to go to in centuries past to conceal the paternity of a child born out of wedlock. The name of a favourite pastry shop, a popular entertainer, a character in a play, or a name plucked from the newspapers - all could serve as potential sources for the surname of a child with no official father.

Yet even with the most creative narratives, clues can be dropped accidentally and perhaps even intentionally. Few stories are ever concocted from scratch. But which parts are true and which are made up? To quote David Lloyd George in another related context, extracting the facts from this particular mystery is a bit ‘like trying to pick up mercury with a fork’.

Most of Éamon de Valera’s biographers, most recently David McCullagh, have dealt with the puzzle of the Irish statesman’s paternity with varying degrees of detail and scepticism. They have then understandably moved quickly on to concentrate on his long and far-reaching political career.

Historyeye Éamon de Valera's father Vivion de Valera
Éamon de Valera as a young man Photographer unknown

When it comes to this particular mystery, a number of problems are at play, apart from the unreliability of its lead character, de Valera's mother Catherine Coll, (for good reasons of her own no doubt). For a start, its most interested researchers are not likely to be native New Yorkers, knowing the city’s geography and neighbourhoods inside out. There is also the eternal presumption that the father of a great man must also have been great, or at least distinguished in some way.

But nobody alive in the 19th century, including the astute Kate Coll, could have predicted the need to outsmart the swathes of genealogical records and powerful search engines available at the click of a mouse today. Therefore, after all that's been researched to date on the subject of de Valera's father, Vivion (Juan) de Valera, can any more be squeezed from the sources relevant to this mystery, such as they are? Or has too much time elapsed and have too many secrets gone to the grave ?

Historyeye examines the possibilities in the following essay.......

Manhattan Mystery: Notes on the Paternity of Eamon de Valera
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