Seán MacEntee (1899-1984)

CriticismCommentary


Life
[John Francis]; b. 22 Aug. College Sq., Belfast; eldest child of James and Mary MacEntee, his father being a well-off Redmondite; ed. St. Malachy’s and Belfast Municipal College of Technology, where he qualified as electrical engineer; attended lectures given by Connoly, Hobson, and James Larkin; appt. member of the National Executive Committee of the Irish Volunteers 1917-21; much influenced towards physical-force Republicanism by T. D. Sullivan’s Speeches from the Dock; received a death sentence for his part Easter Rising which was commuted to life imprisonment, 1916; interned in Dartmoor, Lewes, and Portland prisons; released in the general amnesty, 1917; elected Sinn Féin MP for Monaghan, 1918;
 
cited Partition as a reasons for opposing the Treaty in Dáil debates, Christmas 1921 (‘I am voting against it because I believe it will be a final settlement, and it is the terrible finality of this settlement that appals me’); m. Margaret Browne 1922, dg. Máire [Mhac an tSaoi] 1922, s. Séamus 1924, dg. Barbara 1928; imprisoned by Free State in 1923 for his active opposition to the Treaty as partition (‘if you approve this Treaty, Ulster will become Britain’s fortress’); became partner in firm of consultant engineers; founder-member Fianna Fail, 1926; prominent TD for Dublin constituencies, 1927-69; appt. Minister for Finance 1932-37;
 
he disparaged the Irish negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1938 on the grounds that it coerced Northern Unionists; proposed pay-cuts for Civil Servants over £600 in Depression climate and instituted strict budgetary reductions - nwo seen as a necessary prelude to the Programme for Economic Expansion, 1958; appt. Minister for Eire 1937-39; appt. Minister for Industry and Commerce 1939-41; narrowly re-elected, 1954; appt. Minister for Local Government and Public Health 1957-65 (of Social Welfare 1958-61) in which post he was served by Flann O’Brien; Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) 1959-65; afterwards a member Council of State;
 
made stinging attacks on Seán Lemass, which whom he had long shared government, and criticised the timing of his decision to resign as Taoiseach at party meetings after he relinquished his own office, 1965 - the two having remained tacit about their differences in government;retired from politics, May 1969; awarded DLitt. (NUI); appt. Knight of the Grand Cross of the Pian Order; he issued a volume of Poems in 1918, which he then sought to remove from circulation in a self-administered verdict on their merit; also wrote Episode at Easter (1966), on the Rising; warned against military action in N. Ireland at the outbreak of the Northern Troubles; d. Dublin, 9 Jan. 1984;
 
he is ultimately remembered for his maverick qualities and his insight into Northern sectarian divisions and the real force of the Unionist constituency; MacEntee papers are held in the UCD Archive; there is a life by Tom Feeney (2008). DIW DIB DIH DUB DIL WWI

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Works
Padraic Gregory, ed., Poems of John Francis Mac Entee (Dublin: Talbot 1917).

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Criticism
Tom Feeney, Sean MacEntee: A Political Life [New Directions in Irish History] (Dublin: IAP 2008), 272pp.

[Note: Information from Barry Andrews’s [FF Min. of State] review of Feeney’s life in The Irish Times (14 Feb. 2009, Weekend, p.10) is incorporated in Life, supra.]

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Commentary
Anthony Cronin, No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien (1987): ‘O’Nolan was his ministerial secretary in the early 1940s. McEntee published ‘a little green bound book of romantic verses full of the worst clichés of the Irish Literary Revival. That his critical faculty had improved with the years was shown by his determination to buy up any copies of this which from time to time surfaced in the book shops’. Further: ‘He boasted that his Secretary [Brian O’Nolan] knew his inmost thoughts and could express them better than he did himself. Probably these thoughts were so predictable that the Secretary’s task was an easy one ...’ (p.133; No Laughing Matter, 2989 pb. edn., p.133.)

Jude the Obscure [Gerard Keenan], ‘Antony Cronin’, The Professional, the Amateur, and the Other Thing: Essays from ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ (Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1995), pp.1-12: ‘Myles’s [na Gopaleen, aka Flann O’Brien] pathological hatred of the Belfast man Sean MacEntee, the wee MacEnteenager as he used to call him, his sometime Ministerial boss when he was Princ. Private Sec. to the Minister for Local Govt., injected real viciousness into his consideration of Ulsterisms.’ (p.3).

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