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Bruree, County Limerick, Ireland
|Died||12 June 1932 (aged 73–74)
New York, United States
|Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Rochester, New York, United States|
|Known for||Mother of Éamon de Valera|
|Spouse(s)||Juan Vivion de Valera (m. 1881 – d. 1886) (alleged)
Charles Wheelwright (m. 1888 – d. 1929)
|Children||Éamon de Valera (1882–1975)
Fr. Thomas Joseph Wheelwright (1890–1946)
Catherine Coll was born in Bruree, County Limerick. She emigrated to New York City in 1879. She first took a job with a wealthy French family that was living in Manhattan. This is where she allegedly met Juan Vivion de Valera (born 1854), a Cuban or Spanish sculptor who came to the home of her employers to give music lessons to the children. Though de Valera's official biography (Longford/O'Neill, Hutchinson, London, 1970) states that his parents were married at St. Patrick's in Greenville, New Jersey, on 19 September 1881, the parish records show no record of any Coll–de Valera wedding either at St Patrick's or any church, nor were any civil records found, in the vicinity during the period from 1875 to 1887. Also, initially de Valera was not registered in his father's name.
The New York State records contain two de Valera birth certificates. The first, registered on 10 November 1882, gives his name as George De Valero. The second was a "corrected certificate" which was "approved by Commissioner of Health" on 30 June 1910. Consequently, whilst the correction was instigated by de Valera's mother Kate, there appears to be no validity in the claims that it was for the purpose of establishing de Valera's U.S. citizenship in an attempt to save him from a firing squad following the Easter Rising in Dublin, which occurred six years later. It is in this second certificate that the first name is given as Edward and the surname as de Valera.
It was alleged that Vivion de Valera, always in poor health, left his young family behind him and traveled to Colorado, hoping that perhaps the healthier air would help him out only to die within a few months. However, not merely is there no record of the wedding. No record exists of the existence of a "Juan Vivion de Valera" anywhere in the United States: no birth certificate, no baptismal certificate (if he was a Catholic), no wedding certificate and no death certificate. While it was possible that he was born abroad and so either had a foreign birth certificate or was not registered, the absence of a death certificate for someone stated definitely in Éamon de Valera's family history to have died in the United States has puzzled researchers. Some scholars have questioned whether he ever existed. There has been a suggestion that he was related to the French painter Achille Deveria as Éamon de Valera was known to be particularly fond of his works.
Kate later married an English-born coachman, Charles Wheelwright, on 7 May 1888, who converted to Roman Catholicism for her, and she gave birth to a daughter Ann, and a son, Thomas, who would later become a Catholic priest. They moved to Rochester, New York. The closeness of the marriage to her supposed first husband's death is again pointed to as evidence that the first marriage never actually existed, and was just a cover story to explain her pregnancy. Coll sent her young son Éamon back to live with relatives in Bruree prior to her marriage to Wheelwright. She never brought him back to live with her.
The 1881 British census lists Charles Wheelwright, 27, coachman/domestic servant living at the house of a man called Edward de Vall or Devall, 65, a coachman.
Later in his life, Éamon de Valera would remember occasional visits from, as he knew her, a "woman in black", which ended up being his true mother. Kate later sent her young son to Limerick to be raised by his grandmother and uncle.
The Wheelwrights were staunch supporters of de Valera and his cause for the establishment of the Irish Republic. In 1916, Mrs. Wheelwright campaigned successfully for the suspension of the death sentence placed on her son, an American citizen by birth, by the British government.
Charles Wheelwright died in 1929, and Catherine Wheelwright died 12 June 1932. Both are buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York.
Though married for many years to Wheelwright, Catherine is generally referred to in biographies as Catherine (or Kate) Coll.
- Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow (Hutchinson, 1993)