Ciara Meehan’s The Cosgrave Party is a deceptively frank and sneakily dense redefining of the Cumann Na nGaedheal government, the first official entity in charge of the Irish Free State. While other works have been published on Cumann Na nGaedheal, Meehan’s argument remains that no author has truly defended the idea that, “Cumann na nGaedheal should have a proud place in history” (Meehan, XI). Meehan’s historical revision of Cumann na nGaedheal is found in the nucleus of her argument, which is that, “What had been written, painted an ‘unfair and unsympathetic historiography of the period’” (XV). In accordance with one of her secondary sources, “Politics of Reaction,” by John Regan, The Cosgrave Party sets out to refurbish the reputation of na nGaedheal through an unbiased lens and to reason with the criticism haunting the party’s history today.
One of the building blocks to Meehan’s argument is that W.T. Cosgrave was a qualified political leader, recognized by the Irish Times as, “The most capable man in the new Irish Parliament” (17). Despite Cumann na nGaedheal’s profound failure in the 1927 general election, Meehan asserts that, “Cosgrave’s leadership was never challenged” (17). Although Meehan allows the fact that Kevin O’Higgins may have challenged Cosgrave’s post, she neglects to mention Regan’s claim that attributes the party’s continued lack of a timetable (for independence) to its general decline, a position upheld by Cosgrave (Regan, 561). Countering this point, Meehan deems the 1927 election as, “an anomaly,” and justifies Cosgrave’s upholding of the party’s position as an attempt to stay aligned with the prospect of a stable Ireland (Meehan, 87).
Following Meehan’s introduction to Cosgrave, she draws the focus to the achievements of the party between 1923 and 1927 (29). One stark accomplishment of Cumann na nGaedheal is in the fact that the government passed 62 measures through the Oireachtas in 1924 (29). While an easily overlooked fact due to its overwhelming majority that year, the feat remains unrivalled by succeeding parties (29). Secondly, Cumann na nGaedheal created the Civic Guard, an unarmed police force that enabled the general public to feel protected without bringing about memories of British occupation (38). Furthermore, Cumann na nGaedheal created the 2RN broadcasting station, Tailteann games, and secured Ireland’s membership in the League of Nations (44). Such crowning achievements justify Meehan’s concern for Cumann na nGaedheal’s reputation in history as these successes are often overlooked in favor for its shortcomings. The culmination of Cumann na nGaedheal’s progressive agenda is undoubtedly in the Shannon Scheme and electioneering practices (55).
Following a number of controversies concerning cost and wages paid to the laborers, the Shannon Scheme was completed amidst a conflicted public and a declining Cumann na nGaedheal (Meehan, 61). Though the Free State spent much more than originally estimated, the Scheme was deemed a success by 1937 as it supplied 87% of electrical demands (60).As for electioneering, the September elections of 1927 and more importantly 1929, Cumann na nGaedheal used an airplane to drop thousands of handbills supporting Kevin O’Higgins over the northern Dublin area, which assuredly influenced the retaining of his seat following a close call with the Fianna Fail candidate. Other uses of promoting the party include a professional advertising campaign and a film of Cosgrave that was shown across Ireland via cinema vans (118-119).
The last real layer of Meehan’s argument is in the death of Kevin O’Higgins and its true effect on the vitality of the party. While O’Higgins’ death was a blow to Cumann na nGaedheal’s morale, Meehan argues that it was the resulting legislation that lead to its downfall (92). In addition, Cumann na nGaedheal failed to take advantage of temporary party reunification in the wake of the atrocity, missing out on an ample opportunity to reestablish itself on the political stage (92). Despite these circumstances, Regan argues that the root of Cumann na nGaedheal’s demise is in the overused rhetoric of anti-treatyite violence failing to hold the merit that it did in the early years (562). Though both authors address O’Higgins death as a catalyst in nGaedheal’s deterioration, Meehan’s point is much more sympathetic to the condition of the party following the death of O’Higgins and has unearthed a greater explanation into why it was so devastating for the government (93). Additionally, Meehan cites Dail Debates, legislation, and newspaper articles, which are more scholarly sources than Regan’s election poster (Meehan, 253).
All in all, Meehan succeeded in her aim to redeem Cumann na nGaedheal despite the decades of harsh judgment against its members and their policies. While her argument focused on many of the positive aspects of the party, Meehan was careful to acknowledge the validity of the criticism against Cumann na nGaedheal as well. In comparison to Regan’s article, Meehan has proven that her sources are essential to understanding the true nature of the party’s decline, whereas Regan relies on less detailed evidence to justify a few of his claims. The only claims that can really be made against the book is its somewhat confusing organization and the lack of continuity in a few of the arguments made.
Meehan, Ciara. The Cosgrave Party. Dublin: Prism, 2010. Print.
Regan, John M. “The Politics of Reaction: The Dynamic of Treatyite Government and
Policy, 1922-33.” Irish Historical Studies 30.120 (1997): 542-63.