James Dillon (1902-86)


Life
b. Gorey, Co. Wexford, 26 Sept. 1902; son of John Dillon (1851-1927); ed. Mount St. Benedict, Gorey, UCG, and King’s Inns; studied business in London and Chicago; m. Maura Phelan, with whom a son; independent TD for Donegal, 1932; supported de Valera for presidency of Exec. Council; formed National Centre Party with others, 1932, and soon after the United Ireland Party, transforming eventually into Fine Gael;
 
TD for Monaghan, 1938-1969; advocated commitment to Allies in World War II and expelled from Party following pro-Allies address in Mansion House in 1942; coalition Min. of Agriculture, 1948-51, while remaining independent of the party whip; returned to ministry of Agriculture during Fine Gael government of 1954-57; elected leader of Fine Gael, 1959; resigned after election of 1965; d. at home in Ballaghaderreen, Co.Roscommon, where he lived most of his life.

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Criticism
Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Dublin: Wolfhound Press), 432pp.

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Commentary
J. J. Lee, review of Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography, in Times Literary Supplement ( 13 April 2001): Dillon ‘showed great courage, if doubtful judgement, in defying the over-whelming consensus of Irish opinion, including that of his own party, in increasingly urging support for Britain and America, a position which obliged him to resign from Fine Gael in 1942 and plough his political furrow as an independent until he rejoined in 1952’ (Lee); quotes Noel Browne: ‘James Dillon who was notoriously wordy and could run everyone’s Department except his own, appeared to delight in tormenting the hapless Dan Morrissey over his clear inability to cope with any of the complex problems of the Department of Industry and Commerce.’ Lee calls the book under review a ‘finely crafted study’ and ‘indispensible for all students of twentieth-century Irish history.’ (p.28.)

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Patricia Craig, Elizabeth Bowen (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986): ‘Later in the autumn of 1940 Elizabeth crossed to Ireland again, and one afternoon in November she took tea in Dublin with a prominent opponent of Irish neutrality, James Dillon, the Fine Gael deputy leader, who was adamant in his opinion about the justness of the Allied cause. Elizabeth, on the alert for anything that might influence Irish opinions in general, was struck by Dillon’s political astuteness, and also by the mixture of worldly and monkish elements in his personality; in one of her dispatches she alludes to his “deep religious fanaticism”. (Many years later, after her death, when he was shown a copy of this dispatch, Dillon was affronted by the way Elizabeth had abused his hospitality, back in 1940, by writing up what he’d taken to be a private conversation. As for the “religious fanaticism” she’d attributed to him, “Poor woman - you can see her unhappy agnosticism,” he said. It’s an odd verdict on a frequent church-goer and unostentatious Protestant.)’ (p.101.)

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Notes
Ár teanga: Dillon is reputed to have said that successive Irish governments did more harm to the Irish language by their supposed advocacy in education than the British administration in Ireland had ever done. (Q. source.)

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