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W. T. Cosgrave Papers

William Thomas Cosgrave was born on 5 June 1880 at 174 James’ Street, Dublin. He attended the Christian Brothers School in Marino, and later worked in the family business, a grocers and licensed premises. His first brush with politics came in 1905 when, with his brother Phil and uncle P.J., he attended the first Sinn Féin convention in 1905. Serving as a Sinn Féin councillor on Dublin Corporation from 1909 until 1922, he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, although he never joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

During the Easter 1916 Rising, Cosgrave served under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union. His was not a minor role, and after the Rising he was court-martialled and sentenced to death by firing squad. Reprieved by the presiding officer, Brigadier General C.G. Blackader, Cosgrave’s sentence was instead commuted to penal servitude for life. W. T.  Cosgrave went on to become President of the Executive Council of the Free State, guiding the new state forward through its turbulent inception and laying the foundations for economic development.

Widely regarded as a solid and effective politician rather than a charismatic leader, his role in the formation of the modern Irish state has perhaps been overshadowed by other figures. The work done under his leadership though stands testament to achievements. He oversaw the establishment of the formal institutions of the state, as well as the establishment of the Electricity Supply Board, the Irish Sugar Company, and the Agricultural Credit Corporation. Cosgrave maintained democracy in Ireland at a time when other European governments were moving towards dictatorship, handing power to de Valera after the 1932 general election, despite talk within the Irish Army of staging a coup to keep him in power.

W.T. Cosgrave died on 16 November 1965. He was awarded the honour of a state funeral, which was attended by the President, Eamon de Valera. Cosgrave had married Louisa Flanagan on 24 June 1919 and they had two sons, Liam and Michéal. Liam Cosgrave succeeded his father as a TD in 1944 and went on to lead Fine Gael. He served as Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977.

In December 2014, former Taoiseach Mr. Liam Cosgrave donated the papers of his late father to the Royal Irish Academy. A collaboration with UCD Archives enabled the arrangement, cataloguing and digitisation of the collection, with digital records now being available at UCD and the Academy.

Correspondence forms the bulk of the W. T. Cosgrave Papers, with many letters relating to Cosgrave’s retirement from politics in 1944. Correspondents include: Douglas Hyde, Oliver St. John Gogarty, George Sigerson, Frank Duff, Thomas Bodkin, Sir John Lavery, Lord Powerscourt, Sean Lemass, Dan Breen and General Richard Mulcahy amongst many others. Additionally, there are larger individual collections of correspondence from Dr. Michael Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe and Bernard Forbes, Lord Granard. Smaller amounts of political and personal ephemera and photographs comprise the remainder of the collection. 

Download the catalogue for the Cosgrave Papers here.

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