In recent times commentators have fallen over themselves to scapegoat Éamon de Valera for the sins of his generation, and Rob Brown's excoriation was no exception (News, 16 January). De Valera was, first and foremost, a consummate politician. He swam very much in the mainstream of rural, conservative Irish society. His vision for the country may have been inspirational to his followers, but it captured the zeitgeist rather than manipulating it.

Like Lincoln, de Valera had a profound understanding of the art of the possible in a democratic society, and his ability to lead from the centre helped to ensure that Ireland remained a stable parliamentary democracy despite the growth of fascism and the Second World War. For Lloyd George to liken his dealings with de Valera to eating soup with a fork was as much an encomium to a formidable opponent as an expression of irritation. It is salutary to note that almost all Lloyd George's newly-forged nations collapsed in the ashes of Versailles, while Ireland remains.

De Valera's rejection of the Treaty undoubtedly played into the hands of the hawks. It is hard to imagine a scenario where civil war would not have occurred, but de Valera's endorsement undoubtedly galvanised support for the anti-Treaty forces. His grasp of economics was limited, but that was true for most of his contemporaries, including US?presidents Coolidge and Hoover. Britain remained in recession from the beginning of the 1920s, and did not have to grapple with decades of underinvestment in infrastructure, the destruction of industry during the Tan War, or the mass slum clearances that occurred in Ireland. In that light the expansion of water and electricity, as well as the drop in child mortality, were considerable achievements.

It's hard to tell whether most critics of de Valera disliked him or merely disliked Ireland. He stayed in power too long, but if anything his beliefs were a reflection of the society he lived in, rather than at the conservative fringes of it. His legacy, and that of his political opponents, was a democracy which reflected the will of the people. Rob Brown might not have liked this Ireland, but it was also clear that the people had spoken – the bastards.

Éamonn Toland

Blackrock, Co Dublin