Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Lemass, Seán Francis
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Irish nationalist politician and Taoiseach (prime minister) 1959–66. A long time associate of Éamon de Valera, he was a founder member of the Fianna Fáil party (1926), and minister for industry and commerce under de Valera from 1932. His greatest achievements were the modernization of the republic's economy (through industrialization and free trade with Britain) and the improvement of relations with Northern Ireland. In 1965 he made a historic visit to Belfast to meet Northern Ireland's prime minister Terence O'Neill.

Lemass joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers at the age of fifteen. He fought at the General Post Office in the Easter Rising of 1916, but escaped deportation. He became an officer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and was interned 1920–21. Like de Valera, Lemass rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) which established the Irish Free State within the British Empire, and fought as a republican leader in the Irish Civil War 1922–23 until his capture and imprisonment. Elected to the Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament) in 1924 Lemass, like other republicans, refused to take his seat until 1927. As the chief architect of the republic's economic expansion, he built up Irish industry behind a wall of high tariffs before adopting free trade practices, promoted the foundation of a national shipping company and airline, and made Ireland's first attempt to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961. He succeeded de Valera as prime minister and head of Fianna Fáil in 1959. Ill health prompted his resignation in 1966.

Lemass was was born in Ballybrack, County Dublin, and educated at the O'Connell Schools in Dublin. While in the Irish Volunteers, he became a loyal follower of de Valera, who was the captain of his company. After the Easter Rising he returned to school and spent a short period working in his father's drapery shop before joining the IRA. He fought as a member of the IRA ‘Irregulars’ headquarter's staff during the civil war. Following the foundation of Fianna Fáil he served as Teachta Dála (member of Irish parliament) for a Dublin constituency, and was only out of office when Fianna Fáil was out of government 1948–51 and 1954–57; he became de Valera's deputy in 1945.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Lemass, Seán (1899-1971)
Brewer's Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable

Revolutionary and statesman; taoiseach from 1959 to 1966. He was born in Dublin on 15 July 1899 and educated by the CHRISTIAN BROTHERS at...

Full text Article de Valera, Eamon
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

De Valera, c. 1965 Credit:Courtesy of the Irish Embassy; photograph, Lensmen Ltd. Press Photo Agency, Dublin (born Oct. 14, 1882, New York, N.Y.

Full text Article Collins, Michael
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Irish nationalist. He was a Sinn Fein leader, a founder and director of intelligence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1919, a minister in the pr

See more from Credo