Born in rural Armagh in 1898, Frank Aiken took over the running of his family farm at the age of thirteen, became lieutenant of the local company of Irish Volunteers at 15 and served as secretary of the local branch of the Gaelic League from the age of 16. Following the Easter Rising, he became active in Sinn Féin, assisting Éamon de Valera in his successful Clare by-election campaign of 1917. He rose to prominence during the War of Independence, serving throughout the conflict and becoming commandant of the 4th Northern Division of the IRA in March 1921. Aiken endeavoured to remain neutral during the Civil War, though those under his command strayed towards the anti-Treaty side and he was imprisoned in July 1922. He led a mass escape of republican prisoners from Dundalk jail and seized the town a month later. Aiken succeeded Liam Lynch as the IRA Chief of Staff in April 1923. Within a week of his appointment, he ordered the IRA to cease operations in accordance with de Valera’s peace proclamation, thus ending the Civil War. Aiken was first elected to the Dáil for the Louth constituency in August 1923, and joined Fianna Fáil upon the party’s creation in 1926. He held his Dáil seat for 50 years, serving in various Fianna Fáil administrations as Minister for Defence, Lands, Finance, and External Affairs, becoming particularly active in the UN whilst holding the latter portfolio. He also served as Tánaiste from 1965 to 1969, before retiring from politics in 1975.
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