By Alison Martin
Over the years, much has been written about Éamon de Valera. Relatively little by comparison, has been written about the life and career of his wife, Sinéad. Unbeknown to many however, Sinéad had her own varied career, first as a teacher and amateur actress, and then as a children’s author.
Sinéad, or Jane Flanagan, as she was originally known, was born in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin, in June, 1878.
She was the second eldest of five surviving children born to Margaret Byrne and Laurence Flanagan, a carpenter who later became a clerk of works with the building firm of Kiernan of Talbot Street.
When Sinéad was seven, the family moved to Munster Street, Phibsboro in order for her father to take up an appointment overseeing the building of St. Peter’s church. Sinéad was educated at St Francis Xavier School in Drumcondra, where from a young age her love for acting was readily apparent. Having written down some memories of her early life for her youngest son Terry’s memoirs, Sinéad later recalled that as a young girl ‘my wish was for the stage’.
According to her later recollections, she ‘always had a part in the school plays’. Moreover by the age of twelve, she had already begun to compose her own. She also developed an interest in teaching and at the age of twelve, she became a school monitor.
In 1896, at the age of eighteen, she enrolled at the teacher training college in Baggot Street. Whilst studying at the college, she also continued to pursue her interest in acting and recalled having important parts in two of the drama productions.