Born in James’s Street, Dublin and educated at Francis Street Christian Brothers School, In his youth he was a member of Sinn Féin and joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in 1913. Cosgrave was present at the landing of the Howth rifles and served under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union during the Rising.
He was sentenced to death for his part in the insurrection but this was later reduced to life imprisonment. Cosgrave was interned at Frongoch in Wales until January 1917, when he was released under a general amnesty. Cosgrave supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty and succeeded Michael Collins as chairman of the Provisional Government and in September 1922 became the first president of the executive council of the Irish Free State.
Leading a distinguished political career, in April 1923, shortly before the General Election Cosgrave founded Cumann na nGaedheal and became its first leader. During its term of office, Cosgrave’s government help lay the foundations of the new State. Between 1923-27 Cosgrave’s government was responsible for the foundation of ESB and the unarmed Garda Síochána replaced the RIC.
District Courts were established and County Courts were replaced by Circuit Courts. The High Courts, Court of Criminal Appeal and Supreme Courts were at the top end of the legal scale. Agricultural reform was tackled with the Land Act of 1923. Cosgrave brought Ireland into the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.
He was criticised for the 1915 Boundary Commission fiasco, and labelled pro-British as the world entered economic depression he was replaced by Eoin O’Duffy as leader when Fine Gael was formed in 1933.
He died in Dublin on November 16, 1965 and is buried at Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore, Co Dublin. Winston Churchill said of Cosgrave: “To the courage of Collins he added the matter-of-fact fidelity of Griffith and a knowledge of practical administration and State policy all is own.” His son, Liam, was Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael in the 1970s.