This page discusses sources used in my first book

Lemass is acknowledged as an extraordinary historical figure. He held key ministerial appointments in every one of Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil administrations from 1932 onwards, went on to become Tánaiste and, between 1959 and 1966, Taoiseach. He orchestrated the two critical economic transitions in twentieth century Irish history: the construction, and dismantling, of protectionism. A moderniser who, for his time, was exceptionally receptive to change; Lemass’s workaholic commitment is striking. His achievements have been extolled in the ample literature that has grown up around him. To borrow one of the many platitudes from an RTÉ documentary on him, ‘The story of Seán Lemass is the story of modern Ireland’. But how has this story been written? And what does my book add to our knowledge of this colossus of Irish history? 

Biographies of Seán Lemass

My biography is the latest addition to an extensive canon. My book aside, my recommended biography is John Horgan’s. Professor Horgan was generous in providing much unpublished material from his personal archive of interviews, fascinating material which was used in the book.

Brian Farrell, Seán Lemass (Dublin, 1983); Michael O’Sullivan, Seán Lemass: A Biography (Dublin, 1994); John Horgan, Seán Lemass: The Enigmatic Patriot (Dublin, 1997); Robert Savage, Seán Lemass (Dundalk, 1999); Tom Garvin, Judging Lemass: the Measure of the Man (Dublin, 2011). See also the collection of chapters in Brian Girvin and Gary Murphy eds. The Lemass Era: Politics and Society in the Ireland of Seán Lemass (Dublin, 2005) and Paul Bew and Henry Patterson’s Seán Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland, 1945-66 (Dublin, 1982).

New Source Material

Perhaps wary of historians of the future, Lemass kept very few personal papers. Therefore, the majority of the works on Lemass published prior to this one reverted to the published parliamentary record for the bulk of their sources. This record of proceedings in Dáil Eireann is accessible at

But new and original material comes from digging a little deeper.


My book is the first biography of Lemass to fully utilise the digitisation of a host of historical material.

Irish newspapers have been subjected to mass digitisation, which has proved enormously beneficial to researchers. The book made extensive use of regional and national newspaper accounts of its subject from the Irish Newspaper Archive:

I also availed of a new digitised index of all Lemass’s speeches as Taoiseach, compiled by the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA):

Mining the Archives

I also used a range of never-before-seen material from the Irish Military Archives, an archive which has become more professionalised in recent years:

Original material from Lemass’s early life was obtained through the Allen Library, a repository of information on Christian Brothers Schools. The papers of Archbishop Charles McQuaid – which reveal a much closer relationship between Lemass and the prelate than previously assumed – were also mined extensively: As Lemass was assumed to be mild, or even atheistic, in religious outlook few historians explored material in other diocesan archives. But the reality of Irish political life in the twentieth century meant dealing with the Church, and material from other religious collections was also examined:

Of course, ministerial memoranda comprised a large chunk of my source material and the bulk of this was accessed at the National Archives in Dublin –; the National Archives in Kew, London –; and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland –

The manuscripts section of the National Library of Ireland holds a vast array of material and, when researching a figure so influential as Lemass, everything of relevant date is worth checking:

Several little-known archives proved profitable, for instance the Irish Arts Council archive; Trinity College Manuscripts and Early printed Books collections; various county archives around Ireland; and the Irish Architectural Archive.

Oral Testimony

Oral history is dismissed by some but, when used properly and sparingly, should be a key component in the historian’s tool kit. My biography profitably deployed oral testimony from members of Lemass’s family, politicians, civil servants, and journalists.


Political cartoons are another under-valued historical source. I used a broad selection of funny images to provide context and commentary, most of which were originally published in the satirical magazine Dublin Opinion.

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