Boland, Gerald (1885–1973), republican soldier and politician, was born 25 May 1885 in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, England, second child and eldest son among three sons and two daughters of James Boland (qv), a peripatetic Manchester native of Co. Roscommon extraction, and Catherine Boland (née Woods), a fellow Mancunian of Cooley, Co. Louth ancestry. The family on both sides were staunchly nationalist. His father, a Fenian in his youth, and later a fervent Parnellite, was prominent in both the GAA and the IRB; after moving from Manchester to Dublin (c.1880), he fled to New York for a time owing to his links with members of the Invincibles. His wife seems to have preceded him back to Manchester for Gerald's birth, shortly after which the family moved permanently to Dublin, where James Boland worked as a foreman pavement-layer with Dublin corporation. After James's death (1895) his widow made a bare living running a small tobacconist's shop on Wexford St., opened with proceeds of a fund raised by the GAA.
Educated at CBS, Clontarf, and the O'Brien Institute, Fairview, Gerald became an apprentice fitter on the Midland and Great Western Railway (1900–07), while taking evening classes at Kevin St. technical schools; on qualifying, he was employed as an engine fitter by Dublin corporation. Studying Irish language and history at night, he joined the Celtic Literary Society (1902), and was sworn into the IRB (1904), becoming secretary of his circle. With his younger brothers Harry (qv) and Edmund (‘Ned’) (1893–1928), he joined the Irish Volunteers shortly after their inception (1913), becoming first lieutenant of B Coy, 2nd Dublin Bn. About this time he renounced meat, dairy products, alcohol, and tobacco, to purify mind and body the better to serve the national cause. Missing the Easter Monday 1916 mobilisation owing to the countermand issued by Eoin MacNeill (qv), on hearing news of the rising he left his job in Crooksling, Co. Dublin, and hastened to his battalion's posting in Jacob's factory. Interned after the rising in Knutsford and Frongoch camps, he was released in the general amnesty (24 December 1916). Resuming his corporation employment, he joined the reorganised Volunteers, but, unlike Harry, disdained to rejoin the IRB, contending that a secret oath-bound society was redundant in the altered political climate. Arrested for drilling in the Dublin mountains, he was imprisoned for six months in Belfast jail (1918). He made the duplicate key used by Michael Collins (qv) to facilitate the escape of Éamon de Valera (qv) from Lincoln jail (1919). Active in the IRA during the Anglo–Irish war, he became commandant of the newly formed 7th Dublin Bn (May 1921), serving in that capacity on the Dublin brigade council. Opposed to the Anglo–Irish treaty, during the civil war he briefly commanded the 3rd South Dublin Bn in the Blessington, Co. Wicklow, area before his capture (July 1922) and two years’ incarceration. Selected as replacement candidate in Roscommon for his brother Harry – anti-treaty TD killed by Free State troops in August 1922 – he was returned in the 1923 general election while still interned, commencing a thirty-eight-year tenure during which he most often topped the poll (1923–61). While in Kilmainham jail he participated in the forty-day republican prisoners' hunger strike (October–November 1923), asserting in later years that his practice of yoga disciplined him to withstand the rigours. He was among the last prisoners to be released from the Curragh internment camp (July 1924).
Elected to the Sinn Féin executive, Boland was one of the first in the party to articulate the need to abandon the policy of dogmatic abstentionism and devise a method of utilising Free State political institutions to achieve republican aspirations. As a trusted and level-headed ally, he was assigned by de Valera to join an IRA delegation to Moscow in a futile effort to secure training and equipment from the Communist International (1924). Among the first of de Valera's supporters to resign from Sinn Féin (March 1926), he was a founder of Fianna Fáil, serving on its initial policy committee and elected at the party's first ard-fheis (November 1926) joint honorary secretary with Seán Lemass (qv), an office he would occupy for many years. Tapping the vast pool of disaffected republicans, he and Lemass worked closely in building the party's formidable national constituency organisation; more adept than the direct and impatient Lemass at the discursive style of rural confabulation, Boland soon was the field operative with Lemass as headquarters coordinator. Their complementary organisational and administrative abilities, combined with de Valera's populist charisma, were the chief factors behind Fianna Fáil's rapid success, resulting in strong showings in both 1927 general elections, and laying the foundations of the party's sixteen-year tenure in government from 1932.
Fianna Fáil chief whip (1927–32) following the party's assumption of their dáil seats, during the first Fianna Fáil administration Boland served de Valera directly as parliamentary secretary to the president of the executive council (1932–3). Entering cabinet as minister for posts and telegraphs (1933–6), he oversaw major expansion of the telephone service, improvements in the transmission capacity of Radio Éireann, and construction of new provincial post offices and a new central postal sorting office. During a brief tenure as acting minister for justice during the illness of P. J. Ruttledge (qv), Boland banned the IRA (1936). As minister for lands (1936–9), he reinvigorated afforestation, and carried a land act (1939) intended to complete the programme of land distribution; the act extended the purposes for which unvested land might be resumed by the state, while affording the unvested tenant more favourable terms of compensation in land. Highly critical within cabinet of the industrial policy of Lemass – to their lasting personal estrangement – while endorsing Lemass's interventionism against the economic conservatism of Seán MacEntee (qv), he opposed the bias towards small manufacturing units concentrated in the Dublin area, favouring decentralised industrial development based on native resources, especially foods. Fearful of the effect on policy, he expressed disquiet with the party's increasing practice of accepting financial subscriptions from business leaders. His vociferous opposition within cabinet to the religion article in de Valera's draft 1937 constitution, which he described as sectarian, anti-republican, and a hindrance to prospects for national reunification, resulted in the compromise ‘special relationship’ wording in the final text.
On the commencement of the second world war, Boland – deemed the better suited temperamentally and ideologically for the task – replaced Ruttledge as minister for justice (1939–48), responsible for implementing a hard-line security policy against the IRA, intended to safeguard Ireland's neutrality. Regretting an early decision (December 1939) to release hunger striker Patrick McGrath, a noted Easter Week veteran, which conciliation only hardened IRA intransigence, Boland pressed ahead relentlessly with such coercive measures as press censorship, special criminal courts, military courts without right of appeal, and internment without trial. Six IRA volunteers were executed after trial in the new courts (six other death sentences were commuted on government review), three died on hunger strike, and six were killed in gun battles with gardaí or in prison riots. Some 500 individuals were interned and 600 sentenced under the Offences against the State Act, 1939. By 1943 the IRA was in total disarray. Despite trenchant criticism from republicans and opposition TDs, the electorate initially ratified Boland's firm policy with healthy personal and party votes. Boland also implemented improvements in conditions of service of the Gárda Síochána, achieved modest amelioration of prison and borstal conditions, and launched new initiatives in juvenile justice, including the children's court. Finding censorship of publications distasteful, he established the censorship board to depoliticise the process. Public disquiet over the controversial execution (1944), following two years of IRA inactivity, of Charlie Kerins (qv), and the death on hunger strike of Sean McCaughey after cessation of the wartime emergency (1946), contributed to the rise of the new republican party, Clann na Poblachta. Boland was among four leading Fianna Fáil figures (including de Valera) implicated in the sensational 1947 allegations by TD Oliver J. Flanagan (qv) of bribery and corruption in the proposed sale to foreign nationals of Locke's distillery, Kilbeggan, another contributing factor to Fianna Fáil's defeat in the 1948 election.
The most notable achievement of Boland's second tenure as minister for justice (1951–4) was passage with all-party agreement of a legal adoption act after years of catholic church reservations and ministerial prevarication. Owing to a sharp decline in his personal vote, and his failure through three elections to secure a second Fianna Fáil Roscommon seat, he was eased out of government in 1957 by the appointment of his son Kevin Boland (qv) as minister for defence on his first day in the dáil. After losing his dáil seat in 1961 to the youthful Lemass protegé Brian Lenihan (qv), he served in Seanad Éireann (1961–9). When in 1970 Kevin Boland resigned from cabinet and as secretary of Fianna Fáil over disagreement with the party's Northern Ireland policy, and in solidarity with fellow ministers dismissed over the arms-conspiracy controversy, Gerald Boland resigned as Fianna Fáil vice-president and trustee, expressing disillusionment with the leadership of Jack Lynch (qv).
Slight in build, forthright in speech, Boland had a homely, plebeian manner that concealed considerable culture and erudition, and a reflective disposition. With a working knowledge of German and French, he was widely read in the humanities, and had a lifelong interest in eastern philosophies. A Knight of St Columbanus, while devout in his catholicism he was dissident in many of his views. His recreations were gardening and handiwork. ‘Surrounded by crawthumpers’, as he put it (Ir. Times, 19 Oct. 1968), throughout years in power he compromised his social liberalism with policies that he regarded as being politically feasible given the profound social conservatism of his party and the broader populace. It is among the ironies of recent Irish history that a man of such comparatively liberal instincts should be remembered foremost for a draconian policy against subversive violence at a time of national emergency.
Boland married (1915) Annie Keating (d. 1970), an activist in Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League; they had four sons and three daughters, and resided at 102 Howth Road, Clontarf. He died in Dublin on 5 January 1973.