Category: Archive

Checkin’ in with Dev — again

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Yes, it is true that Marilyn Monroe’s skirt fluttered heavenwards as she stood on the subway ventilation grating on the northwest corner.
And yes, it is true that Eamon de Valera, a man well known for his thoughts on maidens at road intersections, was born in a hospital at the southeastern corner.
What is murkier, and may well be nothing more than smog-shrouded legend, is that the plaque marking the location of Dev’s naissance ended up in an apartment in Queens.
Or maybe the Bronx or Yonkers.
This at least was the talk of the assembled crowd last week as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed up to unveil the refurbished, revamped and better-than-ever plaque marking the arrival in the world of the man considered by many as Ireland’s greatest statesman of the 20th century.
What was described in the taoiseach’s prepared notes as variously a “re-dedication, refurbishment and re-erection” took place at the Doubletree Hotel.
De Valera was born here on Oct. 14, 1882 to an Irish mother and Spanish father, a combination that Mayor Bloomberg noted — to a laugh and round of applause — would be combination potent enough to encourage a latter day Dev to plunge into Big Apple politics as opposed to the native Irish kind.
The taoiseach, meanwhile, added a little to what most attending the event knew about de Valera’s early years as a New Yorker.
The man who would become known as “the chief,” and who would found Fianna F_il, was baptized on Dec. 3, 1882 at St. Agnes’s Church, a few blocks to the south and across from today’s Grand Central Station.
De Valera, said Ahern, spent the first three years of his life at the spot now adorned by the famous Chrysler Building.
It was the death of his father, Vivian Juan de Valera, that prompted his mother, Limerick native Catherine Coll, to take the future 1916 leader, taoiseach and president back with her to Ireland.
As for the new gleaming plaque?
Ahern said he would like to express his thanks to all who were involved in having “this plaque” erected on the same spot back in 1989.
This assertion seemed to knock the whispered story on the head a bit.
At that time the hotel was run as a Loews Summit so perhaps it was fitting that the plaque was revealed anew to the world in the week of a high summit at the nearby United Nations.
The urban legend surrounding the plaque, meanwhile, goes like this: When the hotel was itself being revamped and refurbished a few years back some of the construction workers were lads from Ireland.
Spotting the plaque with the famous name on it, one of them decided that it would look well back in the apartment and nicked the blessed thing.
Not the case at all, said an Irish diplomatic spokesman.
The plaque had ended up in the hotel manager’s office as the time of the renovations and had lain there since waiting for a suitable time and visitor to unveil it anew to the world.
Either way, the plaque is now firmly nailed to the wall on the right hand side as a visitor enters the foyer of the Doubletree.
What is not firmly attached to anything, however, is the street sign that back in 1989 proclaimed 51st Street between Lexington and Third Avenues as “Eamon de Valera Place.”
The sign was a temporary one set up for the day of the plaque unveiling.
The mayor at the time, Ed Koch, promised that the City Council would move to erect a permanent street sign to partner the plaque.
Alas, that never transpired and the name of de Valera is today as sadly missing from 51st and Lex. as the lovely Miss Monroe.

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