Kilmainham Gaol text Collection title

William Thomas Cosgrave

Biography

Born in 1880, by the time WT Cosgrave signed up to the Irish Volunteers in 1913, he was already an elected member of the Dublin Corporation, representing Sinn Féin. Cosgrave rose to the position of lieutenant in the 4th Dublin Battalion of the Volunteers and participated in the Howth gun running in July 1914. He was stationed in the South Dublin Union during the Easter Rising, an area he knew well having grown up nearby. His knowledge was utilised by Eamonn Ceannt and Cathal Brugha, who redeployed men according to his advice. He was court-martialled following the surrender and placed in Kilmainham Gaol to await execution. He later recalled seeing Major John MacBride being removed from an adjacent cell: “Through a chink in the door I could barely discern the receding figures; silence for a time; then the sharp crack of rifle fire and silence again. I thought my turn would come next and waited for a rap on the door”. His death sentence was, however, reduced to life imprisonment, and he was released in 1917. He re-entered politics as a Sinn Féin MP for Kilkenny and was made the Minister for Local Government in the Dáil. As the holder of the casting vote in the Dáil cabinet, his support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty was critical, and following the sudden deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins in August 1923, he became the Chairman of the Provisional Government and leader of Cumann na nGaedheal. Cosgrave became President of the Irish Free State upon its establishment in December 1923, leading the newly established dominion in its first decade of existence until Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932.

 

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