MacDermot, Francis Charles (‘Frank’) (1886–1975), politician and author was born 25 November 1886, tenth among thirteen children (and eighth and youngest son) of Hugh Hyacinth O'Rorke MacDermot (qv), QC, The MacDermot of Coolavin, Co. Sligo, and his wife Mary, daughter of Edward Howley, JP, of Belleek Castle. He was educated at Downside (the Benedictine public school in Somerset) and Queen's College, Oxford (BA 1909).Called to the English bar in 1911, he became a vocal proponent of Irish home rule. In the first world war he served in the Royal Army Service Corps, was mentioned in despatches on four occasions, and ended the war with the rank of major. His wartime experiences made him contemptuous of armchair militarism. Between 1919 and 1927 he worked as a banker in New York with Huth & Co., marrying (1925) Elaine Thayer, a widow and a daughter of Seth Alexander Orr of New York, a wealthy financier. While returning home by ship he befriended Sir John Lavery (qv) and Lady Lavery (qv); they were to introduce him to leading political figures in the Irish Free State. However, he first sought election in 1929 as a nationalist candidate for Belfast West in the UK general election. While he performed well (boosting the nationalist vote to over 24,000), he failed to be elected. Less than three years later in the 1932 general election to Dáil Éireann, campaigning against civil war politics, he was elected, with the support of the National Farmers and Ratepayers Association, as an independent TD in the Roscommon constituency.
During 1932 meetings of the main opposition party, Cumann na nGaedheal, were disrupted with increasing frequency. Many of those involved in the disturbances were newly released IRA prisoners. In August 1932 the Army Comrades’ Association, a group of ex-servicemen loyal to the previous government of W. T. Cosgrave (qv), was formed. Some months later the ACA decided to adopt a distinctive uniform, the blue shirt. It made its first appearance at a meeting in Kilkenny, in an echo of events occurring elsewhere in Europe. In July 1933 the former garda commissioner, Gen. Eoin O'Duffy (qv), was invited to take over as head of the ACA – O'Duffy had been dismissed as police chief by the incoming government of Éamon de Valera (qv) in 1932. O'Duffy soon became a highly controversial, if not sinister, figure on the political scene for a brief period.
MacDermot was strongly critical of the new Fianna Fáil government's decision to embark on a policy of confrontation with the British government over the land annuities, which was to lead to the outbreak of the economic war, with its crippling effects on sections of the farming community. In October 1932 he formed the National Farmers’ and Ratepayers’ League. When de Valera called a snap general election in January 1933, MacDermot and James Dillon (qv) formed the Centre Party, which enjoyed unexpected success, winning eleven seats. But in the growing atmosphere of political violence in 1933, MacDermot and Dillon came under increasing pressure to seek an alliance with W. T. Cosgrave and his party. In September 1933 the Centre Party merged with Cumann na nGaedheal and the National Guard of Gen. Eoin O'Duffy to form the United Ireland Party (subsequently Fine Gael). MacDermot was reputed to have come up with the name for the new party, and was one of its vice-presidents. In a serious error of judgment the party elected O'Duffy as its president and became temporarily associated with the apparently fascist leanings of the Blueshirts. During the winter of 1933–4 the country experienced serious political violence, and in February 1934 legislation banning the wearing of uniforms was introduced. By the summer O'Duffy's behaviour – in particular, his open questioning of democracy after a poor result in the local elections – provoked a sharp response from the strongly constitutional MacDermot and others in Fine Gael. Under growing pressure from the party establishment, O'Duffy resigned as party president in September 1934.
Despite O'Duffy's departure, MacDermot felt increasingly out of sympathy with Fine Gael. In 1935, when de Valera's condemnation at the League of Nations of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia drew fire from leading Fine Gael politicians, MacDermot resigned from the party. A frequent visitor to his London home, where his wife lived, he became increasingly detached from the Irish political scene, preferring (as he put it) to ‘plough his lonely furrow’. Many of MacDermot's old colleagues in Fine Gael fell out with him. James Dillon described him as ‘the perfect personification of egocentricity’. During 1937, however, he played a major part in the dáil debates on de Valera's new constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. He strongly defended the state's continued membership of the British commonwealth, arguing that it enhanced Irish prestige and promoted both trade and employment opportunities. He put down over one hundred amendments: in particular, he objected to the recognition of Irish as the first official language and to the idea that a ‘special position’ should be accorded to the Roman catholic church. He favoured direct elections to the seanad (senate) and argued that citizens of Northern Ireland should be allowed to participate in the referendum on the constitution. Literacy, he argued, should be made a condition of the right to vote. The size of each constituency should be at least five seats.
MacDermot did not contest the 1938 general election. He and de Valera had gradually developed a mutual respect, in part due to a recognition by MacDermot that Fianna Fáil had become more responsible once installed in office. De Valera nominated him to the new seanad as one of the taoiseach's eleven nominees. During the second world war he attempted unsuccessfully to promote contacts between de Valera and the Northern Ireland prime minister, Lord Craigavon (qv). But since 1938 he had gradually withdrawn from Irish politics; he resigned as a senator in 1942. A journalist with the Sunday Times from 1938, first in Dublin and then in New York from 1942, where he lived for much of the war, he was chief Paris correspondent 1945–50. In 1939 his life of Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) was published. It attracted favourable comment from (among others) the historian R. B. McDowell, who praised the author for throwing fresh light on Tone's political views and life as a young man.
After retiring from active journalism, Frank MacDermot grew increasingly distant from the Irish political scene. He had become estranged from his closest political confidant, James Dillon. Through the efforts of Dillon's wife, Maura, however, the two men were eventually reconciled, holidaying together in the late 1960s. MacDermot continued to live in Paris. He died on a visit to London on 24 June 1975. His wife predeceased him (24 July 1974). They had one son, Brian Hugh Dermot (b. 1930), a member of the London stock exchange.
MacDermot was proud of his family and its roots in Coolavin, Co. Sligo. He was a single-minded figure from a cosmopolitan background, who combined a strong belief in internationalism with a dedication to the idea that Irish unity could be achieved by the consent of both communities on either side of the border. He was ultimately too much of an individualist to thrive over the long term in Irish party politics.