By Tom Garvin
He is sensible, courageous and cool-headed, a man of affairs with his feet on the ground [.] He is probably more progressive that the majority of his colleagues and fellow countrymen, but is too shrewd to try to force the pace. - Extract from a British Foreign Office briefing document, 1959 ** "Without doubt the ablest of the Fianna Fail Ministers. He is generally regarded as a realist who is anxious to get away from the barren political controversies of the past. He is no orator but his public speeches are usually very much to the point, and he is certainly less inclined than his colleagues to wander at large over the field of Ireland's ancient wrongs." - Extract from a report of the British Embassy, 1959 ** "I once heard Lemass say [...] that he had never known a day's happiness since he became Taoiseach, that his mission in public life was Industry and Commerce. While he was there he was happy, because he was doing useful work; from the time he became Taoiseach, he felt himself a supernumerary." - James Dillon, from his unpublished memoirs ** "I would like to have been away from all worldly things like politics. To be in a hut in the mountains surrounded by books on mathematics and working out problems of physics. With such a life I could be very happy." - Sean Lemass speaking to Seamus Brady in the early Sixties **** An almost mythical narrative has grown up around Sean Lemass and his short career as Ireland's Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966. Lemass was responsible for not one, but two economic revolutions in Ireland during his time in the Department of Industry and Commerce. This period marked the beginning of a long process that has transformed the island of Ireland from an agrarian province of the British Isles to a successful, developed country which has been seen as a model for many aspirant, underdeveloped countries. Lemass instigated a new era in North-South relations and began the overhaul of the educational system. In Judging Lemass, renowned historian Tom Garvin introduces the many facets of Sean F. Lemass - a "cusp" figure who ushered in the modern world; a visionary who was imagining a "United States of Europe" since the 1920s; a sharp dresser with a striking "film noir" style; an ex-revolutionary; a city man, who regarded rural Ireland as somewhat alien with its agriculture being a drag on economic development; and, above all, the architect of modern Ireland.
Publication Date: 12/15/2009