W.T. Cosgrave Papers

Repository: Royal Irish Academy

Identity Statement

TitleW.T. Cosgrave Papers
Archive ReferenceIE RIA P285
Web Link to this Entryhttps://iar.ie/archive/wt-cosgrave-papers
Creation Datesc1916-1993
Extent Medium6 archival boxes, comprising mainly correspondence and a small number of photographs and artefacts


Creator(s): Cosgrave, William Thomas, 1880-1965, President of Ireland Fogarty, Michael, 1859–1955, Bishop of Killaloe Granard, Bernard Arthur William Patrick Hastings Forbes, 1874-1948, Earl of Granard

  • Administrative History ↴

    William Thomas Cosgrave was born on 6 June 1880 at 174 James’ Street, Dublin. He attended the Christian Brothers School in Marino, and later worked in the family business, a grocers and licensed premises. His first brush with politics came in 1905 when, with his brother Phil and uncle P.J., he attended the first Sinn Féin convention in 1905. Serving as a Sinn Féin councillor on Dublin Corporation from 1909 until 1922, he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, although he never joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. During the Easter 1916 Rising, Cosgrave served under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union. His was not a minor role, and after the Rising he was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to penal servitude for life, and he was transported to Frongoch in Wales along with many other rebels. As public opinion began to favour the rebels, Cosgrave stood for election in the 1917 Kilkenny city by-election, and won despite being imprisoned. This was followed by another win the following year in Kilkenny North. Cosgrave took his seat in the First Dáil on his release from prison in 1919. He was appointed as Minister for Local Government, his long friendship with Eamon de Valera being key to the appointment, as well as his political experience from his years on Dublin Corporation. The issue of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 divided Cosgrave and de Valera. Cosgrave surprised de Valera by siding with Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, and favouring the Treaty. After the Treaty was approved by the Dáil and de Valera resigned as President of the Irish Republic, a new Provisional Government was formed, headed by Griffith and including Cosgrave. The country moved towards outright conflict in the wake of the acceptance of the Treaty, and the Civil War began in June 1922. The anti-Treaty IRA forces were defeated by the newly formed National Army over the course of the next few months. In August, both Collins and Griffith died within ten days of each other. With de Valera maintaining his anti-Treaty stance, the new dominion had lost all of its most senior figures. Cosgrave was chosen by the pro-Treaty leadership over General Richard Mulcahy to lead the Government, in part because of his long experience as a politician. Cosgrave took the roles of President of Dáil Éireann and Chairman of the Provisional Government. On 6 December 1922, the Irish Free State was officially established and Cosgrave became the President of the Executive Council, the first prime minister. In April 1923 Cosgrave’s group of pro-Treaty politicians formed a new political party called Cumann na nGaedheal, with Cosgrave as leader. The new party faced several serious problems in their first years in power. The June 1927 general election saw de Valera’s new party, Fianna Fáil, win seats on an abstentionist platform. The following month Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated. Cosgrave enacted legislation to force Fianna Fáil to take its seats in the Dáil which, while successful, meant that Cosgrave did not have the freedom of action he had had previously. The general election of 1932 led to Fianna Fáil forming a minority government, their election results buoyed by their offering the electorate a manifesto based on social reform. Cosgrave led Cumann na nGaedheal in opposition, becoming the first leader of the new Fine Gael party when his party combined with the National Centre Party and the National Guard in 1933. He served as leader until 1944, when he retired. Cosgrave led the Irish Free State through its turbulent inception and through its earliest years. Widely regarded as a solid and effective politician rather than a charismatic leader, his role in the formation of the modern Irish state has perhaps been overshadowed by other figures. The work done under his leadership though stands testament to achievements. W.T. Cosgrave died on 16 November 1965. He was awarded the honour of a state funeral, which was attended by the President, Eamon de Valera. On 24 June 1919 Cosgrave had married Louisa Flanagan , and they had two sons, Liam and Michéal. Liam Cosgrave succeeded his father as a TD in 1944 and went on to lead Fine Gael. He served as Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977.
  • Archival History ↴

    These papers were deposited by Liam Cosgrave in the Royal Irish Academy in 2014. The cataloguing of the papers took place in UCD Archives, with digitised images being created on completion of the descriptive catalogue and shared by both institutions. Donation, Liam Cosgrave, September 2014.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Cosgrave, William Thomas, 1880-1965, President of Ireland Fogarty, Michael, 1859–1955, Bishop of Killaloe Granard, Bernard Arthur William Patrick Hastings Forbes, 1874-1948, Earl of Granard ↴

    Correspondence forms the bulk of the W. T. Cosgrave Papers, with many letters relating to Cosgrave’s retirement from politics in 1944. Correspondents include: Douglas Hyde, Oliver St. John Gogarty, George Sigerson, Frank Duff, Thomas Bodkin, Sir John Lavery, Lord Powerscourt, Sean Lemass, Dan Breen and General Richard Mulcahy amongst many others. Additionally, there are larger individual collections of correspondence from Dr. Michael Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe and Bernard Forbes, Lord Granard. Smaller amounts of political and personal ephemera and photographs comprise the remainder of the collection.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    1.1 General, 1917–93
    1.2 On retirement, 1944
    1.3 With Dr Michael Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe, 1920–55
    1.4 With Bernard Forbes, 8th Earl of Granard, 1920–48




Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Access to original and digitised documents available by appointment to holders of an RIA Library reader's ticket. Digitised documents are also available in UCD Archives by appointment to holders of a UCDA reader’s ticket.
Conditions Governing ReproductionContact RIA Library for reproduction information.
Creation Datesc1916-1993
Extent Medium6 archival boxes, comprising mainly correspondence and a small number of photographs and artefacts
Material Language ScriptEnglish, with some Irish.
Finding Aids Descriptive catalogue. Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Originals InformationOriginals held by RIA Library.
Copies InformationDigitised documents available in both RIA Library and UCD Archives.

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteSarah Poutch, August 2015
Rules/ConventionsIGAD: Irish Guidelines for Archival Description, Dublin Society of Archivists, Ireland, 2009. ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, 2nd ed., Ottowa, International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions42217