1920 - 2017

Liam Cosgrave

RTÉ News looks back at the key moments of Liam Cosgrave's political career.


Political Family

Liam Cosgrave was born into a tradition of public service. His father, W.T. Cosgrave, was head of the State's first Government from 1922 to 1932.

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From Father to Son

Liam Cosgrave recalls how his father's position influenced their family life and his career in public service.

Video: RTÉ Archives

Officer and Barrister

Cosgrave joined the army in 1940 and went on to be a commissioned officer. In 1943, he was called to the Bar, but politics was his true calling and he was elected to the Dáil in the same year.


Ireland at the UN

He served as Parliamentary Secretary in the first inter-party government of 1948-51. As Minister for External Affairs in the second inter-party government, he led Ireland's first delegation to the United Nations.

Photo © The United Nations

Leader of the Opposition

Cosgrave succeeded James Dillon as Fine Gael leader and held off a number of challenges to his leadership before and after the 1969 election defeat.


Poised for Power

By the early 1970s, the party was in a stronger position and Cosgrave had consolidated his leadership after his handling of the Arms Crisis and new security legislation in response to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

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The Power of TV

Television cameras follow the Fine Gael leader on the campaign trail during the 1973 election. “People made up their minds by what they saw on television.”

Video: RTÉ Archives
March 1973

Seal of Office

President Éamon de Valera presents the seal of office at Áras an Uachtaráin after Cosgrave led the National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour to a narrow majority. It ended 16 years of Fianna Fáil rule.

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National Coalition

Cosgrave led a Cabinet of strong-willed ministers who faced a range of economic and security challenges.

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Sunningdale Agreement

One of the first tasks was to negotiate the Sunningdale Agreement on powersharing in Northern Ireland. Although Cosgrave declared that there were “no winners and no losers”, the agreement collapsed in 1974 in the face of fierce Unionist opposition.

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Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

In May 1974, a series of car bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 34 people. Cosgrave made a national address expressing sympathy but his government was criticised for its handling of the investigation.

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Mourning de Valera

Cosgrave and his wife Vera are among the mourners at the funeral of Éamon de Valera at Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery.

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A Thundering Disgrace

A constitutional crisis erupted when President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh resigned from office following criticism from Defence Minister Patrick Donegan. He called the President a “thundering disgrace” for referring the Government’s Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

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Change of Government

The Coalition had redrawn constituency boundaries hoping to achieve a greater majority, but it backfired as Fianna Fáil and Jack Lynch swept back into power with a landslide victory. Cosgrave admitted defeat on live TV and later resigned as party leader after 12 years.

Video: RTÉ Archives

End of an Era

Liam Cosgrave stepped down from full-time politics in 1981 when he left the Dáil. He enjoyed a quiet retirement as he focused on his family and his interest in horses.

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