James Dillon (Fine Gael politician)

James Matthew Dillon (26 September 1902 – 10 February 1986) was an Irish Fine Gael politician who served as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.[1]

James Dillon
James Dillon circa 1930s.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
In office
21 October 1959 – 21 April 1965
PresidentÉamon de Valera
TaoiseachSeán Lemass
Preceded byJohn A. Costello
Succeeded byLiam Cosgrave
Leader of Fine Gael
In office
21 March 1959 – 21 April 1965
Preceded byRichard Mulcahy
Succeeded byLiam Cosgrave
Minister for Agriculture
In office
2 June 1954 – 20 March 1957
TaoiseachJohn A. Costello
Preceded byThomas Walsh
Succeeded byFrank Aiken
In office
18 February 1948 – 13 June 1951
TaoiseachJohn A. Costello
Preceded byPatrick Smith
Succeeded byThomas Walsh
Teachta Dála
In office
July 1937 – June 1969
In office
February 1932 – July 1937
Personal details
James Matthew Dillon

(1902-09-26)26 September 1902
Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland
Died10 February 1986(1986-02-10) (aged 83)
Malahide, Dublin, Ireland
Political partyNational Centre (1932-1933)
Fine Gael (1933-1942, 1953-1986)
Independent (1942-1953)
Spouse(s)Rita Downy (m. 1935; d. 1986)
RelationsJohn Dillon (Father)
Alma mater

He was the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1918), which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election, and Elizabeth Mathew.

Early lifeEdit

Dillon was born in Dublin. He was educated at Mount St Benedict's, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King's Inns. He qualified as a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1931. Dillon studied business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field's in Chicago he returned to Ireland where he became manager of the family business known as Monica Duff's in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Political careerEdit

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon served as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. Dillon played a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and would become a key member of the party in later years. He remained as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969.[2] Dillon became deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

He resigned from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supported the government's decision to stay out of the war, Dillon urged the government to side with the Allies. A passionate anti-Nazi, Dillon described the Nazi creed as "the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency". His zeal against Hitler drew him the ire of the German minister to Ireland Eduard Hempel, who denounced him as a "Jew" and "German-hater".[3] Even Eamonn De Valera, then Taoiseach, was not spared the fierceness of Dillon's rhetoric; when the Taoiseach ridiculed Dillon's stark support for the Allies, noting this meant he had to adopt a Pro-British stance, Dillon defiantly retorted

my ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.[4][5]

Dillon had a personally eventful 1942: While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he met one Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two were engaged and six weeks after that the pair were married. James was 40, Maura 22 years of age.[6]

Dillon was one of the independents who supported the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and was appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, Dillon was responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money was spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increased.[citation needed]

Dillon rejoined Fine Gael in 1953. He became Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 Dillon became leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He became president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael lost the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties won 69 seats to Fianna Fáil's 72. Had the other parties won four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stood down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

On Northern Ireland, while Dillon stood against Partition, he equally opposed any "armed solution" or militant nationalist policy, stating:

We have got to win, not only the barren acres of Ulster, but the hearts of the people who live in it[3]

Dillon was a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and was noted for his high standard of oratory. He remained a TD until 1969, when he retired from politics. He died in Dublin in 1986 at the age of 83.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "James Dillon". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  2. ^ "James Dillon". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b MCCARTNEY, DONAL (16 October 1999). "A decent patriot". Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  4. ^ https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irishman-s-diary-on-censorship-and-the-oireachtas-1.2232376
  5. ^ http://www.loughgaralakesandlegends.ie/contribution-page/a-tale-of-three-dillons-1816-1986-bealach-an-doirin-ballagh-gala-reunion-1998
  6. ^ https://www.irishtimes.com/news/dillon-s-wedding-vow-1.234157

Further readingEdit

  • Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Wolfhound Press, 2000) ISBN 0-86327-823-X
Political offices
Preceded by
Paddy Smith
Minister for Agriculture
Succeeded by
Thomas Walsh
Preceded by
Thomas Walsh
Minister for Agriculture
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Mulcahy
Leader of Fine Gael
Succeeded by
Liam Cosgrave
Preceded by
John A. Costello
Leader of the Opposition