Gerald Boland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gerald Boland
Boland in 1933
Minister for Justice
In office
13 June 1951 – 2 June 1954
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byDaniel Morrissey
Succeeded byJames Everett
In office
8 September 1939 – 18 February 1948
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byP. J. Ruttledge
Succeeded bySeán Mac Eoin
Minister for Lands
In office
11 November 1936 – 8 September 1939
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byFrank Aiken
Succeeded byThomas Derrig
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs
In office
8 February 1933 – 11 November 1936
PresidentÉamon de Valera
Preceded byJoseph Connolly
Succeeded byOscar Traynor
Parliamentary Secretary
1932–1933Government Chief Whip
In office
23 June 1965 – 5 November 1969
ConstituencyNominated by the Taoiseach
In office
14 December 1961 – 23 June 1965
ConstituencyIndustrial and Commercial Panel
Teachta Dála
In office
August 1923 – October 1961
Personal details
Born(1885-05-25)25 May 1885
Manchester, England
Died5 January 1973(1973-01-05) (aged 87)
Dublin, Ireland
Resting placeGlasnevin Cemetery, Dublin
Political partyFianna Fáil
Annie Keating
(m. 1920; died 1970)
Children7, including Kevin and Harry
RelativesHarry Boland (brother)
EducationO'Brien Institute
Military service
Years of service1913–1922

Gerald Boland (25 May 1885 – 5 January 1973)[1] was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served as Minister for Justice from 1939 to 1948 and 1951 to 1954, Minister for Lands from 1936 to 1939, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1933 to 1936 and Government Chief Whip from 1932 to 1933. He served as a Senator from 1961 to 1969 and a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Roscommon constituency from 1923 to 1961.[2]

Boland was active during the Irish revolutionary period, fighting in both the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, the latter of which saw the death of his brother Harry Boland. Following the wars, Boland was amongst those who lead Republicans out of Sinn Féin and into Fianna Fáil following a split over abstentionism. When Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, Boland became a perennial member of the cabinet, most notably as Ireland's longest-serving Minister for Justice. Despite being socially liberal in his own views and a committed Irish republican, as Minister for Justice he was frequently asked by the government to enforce hardline policies against Irish citizens in order to prevent the Irish Republican Army from drawing the Irish state into World War II.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Manchester, Gerald Boland was the son of James Boland and Kate Boland (née Woods). He was the second child and eldest son among three sons (including Harry Boland) and two daughters of the couple. His family on both sides were staunch Irish Nationalists; his father had been a Fenian in his younger days, a devout follower of Charles Stewart Parnell, and later a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). His father also had ties to the Irish National Invincibles, and his association with them caused him to have to flee to New York City for a time.[3]

After his national school education Boland attended the O'Brien Institute in Fairview, Dublin. He left school at fifteen and became an apprentice fitter at Broadstone Station. Instead of attending to his studies to secure an engineering diploma, Boland took Irish language and history classes at night. In spite of this, he passed his engineering exams.

Revolutionary years[edit]

Gerald's brother Harry Boland was killed during the Irish Civil War while Gerald was imprisoned

Boland was enrolled in the IRB along with his younger brothers Harry in 1904,[4] following in the footsteps of his father James, uncle Jack. Gerald and his brothers Harry and Ned subsequently joined the Irish Volunteers when that organisation was established in 1913, serving in the same company as Arthur Griffith. When news broke out of the Easter Rising in 1916 Boland immediately left his job in Crooksling, however, he was bitterly disappointed when he found out that the order was countermanded. When the rebellion began in earnest on Easter Monday, he made his way to Jacob's Mill where he fought under Thomas MacDonagh. Following the official surrender, Boland was arrested and interned at Frongoch internment camp in Wales, where he came into contact with other notable revolutionary leaders, including his brother Harry's friend Michael Collins.[3]

Boland was released after a general amnesty in December 1916, however, he remained involved in revolutionary circles, although he declined to rejoin the IRB, believing the organisation was no longer needed. He was arrested and imprisoned in Belfast from May to December 1918 for practising military drills in the Dublin Mountains. Meanwhile, a number of his colleagues secured their release by winning seats in the 1918 general election.[3]

During the War of Independence, Boland was Battalion Commandant of 7 Battalion, Dublin Brigade, IRA and was known as 'Trotsky' for his left-wing views.[5]

He and his brothers were opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Boland was Battalion Commandant of 3 Battalion, 2 Dublin Brigade (South Dublin) in Blessington, County Wicklow, but was captured early on in Irish Civil War on 7 July 1922 and was interned until release in July 1924. On the outside, his brother Harry died some days after being shot, in August 1922, after two National Army officers attempted to arrest him at the Grand Hotel in Skerries, Dublin. Boland applied to the Irish government for a service pension under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1934 and was awarded 11 and 5/12 years service at Grade C for his service with the Irish Volunteers and the IRA between 1 April 1916 and 30 September 1923.[6]

Political career[edit]


Following the end of the Civil War, Boland helped to build up Sinn Féin as the main Republican party. While still imprisoned, he was selected to stand for Dáil Éireann as the TD for Roscommon, Harry's old seat, for the 1923 general election, in which he was successful.[7] Boland was amongst those in Kilmainham Gaol who went on hunger strike in October 1923. The hunger strike did not result in his release and Boland credits his practice of Yoga with keeping him alive at that time.[3]

Boland was eventually released from the custody of the state in July 1924. Upon his release, Boland became secretary of Sinn Féin and stood on the executive of the party.

Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil[edit]

Boland was amongst the first in Sinn Féin to call for an end of the party's abstentionism from Dail Eireann, believing it to be a political dead end.[3] Party leader Éamon de Valera proposed that the party abandon this policy and take their seats in the Dáil if changes were made to the oath of allegiance to the British monarch. His proposal was defeated and de Valera and his supporters, including Boland, left Sinn Féin. Shortly after this split, a new party emerged called Fianna Fáil, with de Valera acting as leader and the other disillusioned Republican TDs joining. Boland was vital in transferring many members from Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil briefly also had an abstentionist policy but in 1927 a new law forced Fianna Fáil TDs to take the oath of allegiance and take their seats in the Dáil. Fianna Fáil dismissed the Oath as "an empty formula".

Boland worked alongside Seán Lemass in building up Fianna Fáil's grassroots support and organisation, with Boland giving particular attention to the party's rural apparatus.[3] In the September 1927 general election Fianna Fáil came within four seats of the ruling Cumann na nGaedheal party. The latter formed a coalition of sorts with the Farmers' Party and returned to government.

In cabinet[edit]

Boland as part of Fianna Fáil's first ever cabinet

Following the 1932 general election, Fianna Fáil formed a new government. Boland was appointed Government Chief Whip, a position which allowed him to attend cabinet meetings but not vote at them.

Fianna Fáil remained in power with an increased mandate following the 1933 general election and Boland was promoted to the position of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In spite of being the Minister in charge of the postal service, Boland did not own a telephone until some time later. During his tenure, the postal service made considerable progress. It was also during this time that the Post Office became a paying concern. During his time as minister, Boland oversaw a major expansion of the telephone service in Ireland, improvements in the transmission capacity of Radio Éireann, and construction of new provincial post offices and a new central postal sorting office.[3]

Boland was acting minister of Justice briefly for a time when P. J. Ruttledge was ill. It was during this time that Boland declared the Irish Republican Army a proscribed organisation.[3]

A cabinet reshuffle in 1936 saw Boland become Minister for Lands, before later taking on responsibility for Fisheries. As Minister for Lands Boland introduced a land act in 1939 which reformed land distribution. The act broadened the criteria by which the state could take control over undeveloped land while offering the tenant of the land more favourable terms of compensation. Boland was critical of Lemass' policy of centralising industrial development in Dublin, he instead wished to see a more decentralised economy based around food production. The differing viewpoint caused a rift between Boland and Lemass, but despite this Boland favoured Lemass's policy of state intervention in the economy over Seán MacEntee's more Laissez-faire approach.[3]

In 1937 Boland was highly vocal during the drafting of a new constitution of Ireland by Fianna Fáil against any word which would have given the Catholic Church special status, something heavily considered at the time. Boland declared that if the constitution elevated the position of the Catholic Church above others, it would be sectarian, anti-republican, and a hindrance to any prospects of Irish reunification. As a compromise, the term ‘special relationship’ was used in the final version of the draft.[3]

Minister for Justice[edit]

The outbreak of World War II in 1939, known as the Emergency in Ireland, resulted in a number of new cabinet appointments and Boland became Minister for Justice. He took over at a time when the IRA had once again declared war against the British state and had begun their Sabotage Campaign. Boland was charged with the task of crushing the organisation and preventing the IRA from drawing the Irish state into conflict with the UK. Although Boland always considered himself a Republican, he took a hardline against the IRA and used his powers to order the internment of hundreds of IRA members before introducing military courts and special criminal courts.[3]

In 1940, a number of imprisoned IRA members went on hunger strike, Boland, however, refused to grant their release. Two of the men eventually died, one of whom was the nephew of one of Boland's Fianna Fáil colleagues. Tony D'Arcy died as a result of a 52 day Hunger-strike (16 April 1940) at the age of 32 and Jack McNeela died three days later (19 April 1940) after 55 days on hunger strike.[8] These deaths sparked reprisals by the IRA on the Garda Síochána. Boland subsequently introduced tougher measures by setting up a military court with the death penalty with no provision for appeal except for a review by the government. In all, twelve men were found guilty with six of them facing death and the remaining six having their sentences changed to imprisonment. Amongst those executed was Charlie Kerins, an acting Chief of Staff of the IRA.[3]

As Minister of Justice, Boland was also asked to enforce policies of wartime censorship, however, finding the idea of the state censorship distasteful he established a censorship board to avoid accusations of bias.[3]

During the Emergency, Boland was also responsible for the detention of several foreign agents in pursuit of Ireland's strict policy of neutrality. During this time some 500 individuals were interned and 600 were sentenced under the newly introduced Offences against the State Act, 1939. By 1943 the IRA were in disarray, particularly after the Chief of Staff was arrested and imprisoned, leaving the organisation without leadership. Boland and Fianna Fáil felt their hardline was backed by the electorate following strong returns for the party at the 1944 general election.[3]

In 1947, Boland was amongst four leading Fianna Fáil figures (including de Valera) of being involved in the "Locke's Distillery Scandal", an accusation brought by Oliver J. Flanagan that foreign businessmen were bribing members of Fianna Fáil in order to gain the right to purchase the distillery. A tribunal of inquiry found no evidence to support the claims, but nonetheless event tainted the public's view of Fianna Fáil.[3]

Second term as Minister of Justice[edit]

By 1948, Fianna Fáil had been in government for an uninterrupted 16 years. With World War II finally over, the electorate sought change and a fresh start. Arising to meet this desire was the new political party Clann na Poblachta. Led by Seán MacBride, this new party sought to kick off a new post-war political era in Ireland, and to do this meant removing Fianna Fáil from power. Many in Clann na Poblachta had Republican backgrounds and in some ways the party could be partially described as an organic reaction to Fianna Fáil and Boland's hardline stance during the war years. Many in political circles, including inside Fianna Fáil, thought Clann na Poblachta could be a new force to reckon with.

However, de Valera always held a reputation for being cunning in selecting the dates of general elections, and he once again cemented that notion when he called for a general election in early 1948, before Clann na Poblachta was completely ready to contest a national election. At the 1948 general election Clann na Poblachta and other Fianna Fáil opponents did well, but not as well as expected. In order to remove Fianna Fáil from government, every single party in the Dáil and a number of independents had to form the unwieldy "First Inter-Party Government". The coalition saw Clann na Poblachta forced to work with Fine Gael, considered the traditional "enemy" of Irish Republicanism. By 1951 the coalition collapsed and Fianna Fáil returned to government following that year's election, with Boland re-appointed Minister for Justice.

Later years[edit]

Boland did not seek ministerial office in 1957 when Fianna Fáil returned to power after its defeat in 1954. However, his son, Kevin, was appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Defence at the beginning of his first term in the Dáil. By this stage, Boland was beginning to be seen as an ageing warhorse, with his base in Roscommon started to slip and Fianna Fáil unhappy that Boland was unable to get a Fianna Fáil running mate elected alongside himself.[3]

At the 1961 general election, Boland was defeated for the first time in fourteen general election campaigns. In spite of losing his Dáil seat, he subsequently secured election to Seanad Éireann. Four years later in 1965, he returned to the Seanad, this time as a nominee by the Taoiseach Seán Lemass.

In 1970, the outbreak of the Arms Crisis saw Kevin Boland resign as a Minister and as Secretary of Fianna Fáil in protest at the government's policy on Northern Ireland and in response to the sackings of Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney from the cabinet over allegations they had arranged for weapons to be provided to the Provisional IRA. Gerald Boland, in a similar protest, resigned as a vice-president and as a trustee of Fianna Fáil, although he remained a member of the party. He also articulated his loss of confidence in the leadership of Taoiseach Jack Lynch.[3]


Boland's grave in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin

Gerald Boland died in Dublin at the age of 87 on 5 January 1973. His wife, Annie Boland, predeceased him in 1970. He was survived by his three daughters and four sons.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Residents of a house 26.2 in Lennox St. (Fitzwilliam, Dublin)". The National Archives of Ireland 1911 Census. Archived from the original on 17 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  2. ^ "Gerald Boland". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s White, Lawrence William. "Boland, Gerald". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  4. ^ Fitzpatrick, David (2004). Harry Boland's Irish Revolution (illustrated ed.). Cork University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-85918-386-1.
  5. ^ "History Ireland: Women active in IRA flying columns?". 6 March 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  6. ^ Irish Military Archives, Military Service (1916-1923) Pension Collection, Gerald Boland, MSP34REF15471. Available online at
  7. ^ "Gerald Boland". Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  8. ^ O'Malley, Padraig (1990), Biting at the Grave, Boston: Beacon Press, p. 97. ISBN 0-8070-0208-9
Political offices
Preceded by Government Chief Whip
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Posts and Telegraphs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Lands
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Justice
Succeeded by