A few years back I was an extra in a film entitled 'Rebel Heart' that was shot in Glasnevin cemetery. The production dealt with the move towards Irish independence between the 1916 Easter Rising and the Civil War of 1922.

While the actor who was playing the part of Michael Collins was giving a graveside oration, an elderly woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked 'Where is de Valera buried?'. At that precise moment I was conscious that all of us extras should be as silent as mice and did not answer her. When the cameras stopped rolling for a few moments, I noticed that other people were being asked about the exact final resting place of the man who was to the forefront of Irish politics for 50 years.

During his life, and now in death, Eamon de Valera has remained a towering figure for some, but, yet, his contribution to Irish society stirs up many debates, not least of all, his involvement in the Treaty of Independence, Ireland's stance of neutrality and the economic stagnation of the 1950s.

Out of all this, can you argue that he was the 'bad cop' as opposed to Michael Collins' 'good cop' and why did it take until after he left the office of Taoiseach for the country to finally move forward economically thanks to Sean Lemass and TK Whitaker?

To say that Eamon de Valera was a polarising figure is an under statement, but Diarmaid Ferriter's reassessment certainly does wipe the slate clean. Using released documents from the National Archives, de Valera's own private papers and the published work of others, Ferriter looks again at the conclusions already reached about de Valera.

Across 16 chapters he seeks to challenge the myriad of opinions, while finally imparting his own thesis on a life certainly well lived. The end product is highly informative, and no doubt will be of interest to students of history. Yet its appeal may even reach wider, as the text is interspersed by many photographs of de Valera, as the freedom fighter, statesman and loving husband and father.

Also of note are copies of the letters and other illustrations that are made reference to. One such letter from President Nixon to the Áras in 1972 was deep in admiration for President de Valera, while also eschewing the virtues of the then Governor of California Ronald Regan as "a friend of Ireland".

Another correspondence sent to the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch in early 1973 outlined de Valera's financial worries and continued poor health. This prompted Lynch to increase the Presidential pension from £5,000 to £11,000 only a few months before de Valera exited public life. On a more humorous note, the proposed visit by Muhammad Ali to Áras an Uachtaráin in the summer of 1972 was met with some opposition from Áras staff who were not enamoured at the prospect of such a bombastic man visiting the President.

While Ferriter has sought to find the middle ground in assessing the role of his subject, you can't but help detect his fondness for the man. He describes him as a 'unique' politician. Ferriter also concludes that the death of Michael Collins ultimately cast an unfair shadow over de Valera's career – a career that spanned that many decades.

The need for reappraisal runs like a torrent through this challenging series of debates – a challenge that is certainly worth sticking with, even if one is still wedded to the politics of the Civil War.

James McMahon