Liam Cosgrave (1920-2017) was an Irish politician who served as taoiseach of the Republic between 1973 and 1977. With regard to Northern Ireland, he is best known for signing the Sunningdale Agreement in December 1973. Cosgrave was born into a family of Republican revolutionaries. His father W. T. Cosgrave was a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising and became head of the Irish Free State provisional government after the assassination of Michael Collins in 1922. Liam Cosgrave was educated at Castleknock College in Dublin. At the age of 23 he won a seat in the Dáil Éireann (Irish lower house), where he sat alongside his father. Cosgrave held ministries in the coalition governments of the 1950s. He became leader of the Fine Gail party in 1965 and taoiseach in March 1973.
Cosgrave was less interested in the problem of Northern Ireland than his predecessors, however circumstances drew his attention there. A week after his election as taoiseach the British government released its white paper on political reform and power-sharing in Ulster. This led to further negotiations and the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement eight months later. Cosgrave was pessimistic about Sunningdale and power-sharing – but he was more fearful of the British withdrawing from Northern Ireland and a civil war erupting on the Republic’s northern borders. In May 1974 Ulster Loyalists protesting the Sunningdale Agreement detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 34 people. Cosgrave and his government were criticised for their restrained response to the bombings. In 1976 Dublin passed emergency legislation cracking down on the Provisional IRA, Cosgrave calling the group a “conspiracy of hate and evil”.
Cosgrave’s anti-terror laws and cuts to government spending were unpopular with the Irish public. His Fine Gael party was voted out of power in July 1977 and Cosgrave was replaced as taoiseach by Jack Lynch. He retired from politics in 1981, his seat in the Dáil Éireann filled at election by his son Liam Junior. Cosgrave died in October 2017, aged 97, making him Ireland’s longest-lived taoiseach.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “Liam Cosgrave”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/northernireland/liam-cosgrave/.