By Alison Martin
Aside from his role in politics, Éamon de Valera is usually associated with either his passion for the Irish language or his interest in mathematics. Unbeknown to many however, de Valera was once an enthusiastic rugby player who even secured a trail with Munster, in 1905.
De Valera had been born in New York in 1882 but was raised from the age of three by his mother’s family in Limerick. In 1898, his fortunes improved, when at the age of fifteen he was accepted as a pupil at Blackrock College on the outskirts of Dublin. Although rugby was the dominant sport at Blackrock, de Valera appeared to have little experience of the game before arriving at the school. Indeed, during an early match between the prefects and the scholastics, his ignorance of the technique of tackling resulted in one of his ears being so badly mangled that he was rushed to the infirmary for stitches.
Such early experiences did little to deter him from the sport. Nevertheless, it would be several years before de Valera developed into a competent rugby player.
At the turn of the century, de Valera finished his secondary school education and enrolled at University College, Blackrock. Whilst still studying for his degree, he was offered a position as a replacement teacher of mathematics and physics at Rockwell College, near Cashel, Co Tipperary.
In common with his former school, rugby was an important part of life at the college. When de Valera first arrived, many wondered whether his slight build would stand up to the strenuous type of Munster play. However, he soon impressed them with his dedication to training, even asking the Rockwell cobbler to add bits of leather to his boots in order to improve his performance.