March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera and two other Sinn Féin revolutionaries escaped from Lincoln Gaol (prison) in England on Feb. 4, 1919. The Irish republican leader was spirited back to Ireland on Feb. 20, where he balanced the need to evade British authorities with the desire to communicate with the Irish people, including the diaspora in America, which he knew was critical to support for the fledgling republic.

American journalist Ralph F. Couch, a United Press correspondent, claimed he “found” de Valera, or was provided the opportunity to interview the escapee. The reporter was taken on a two-hour, late-night drive on winding country roads near Dublin, pushed into a second car, his cap pulled over his eyes, before finally being ushered up a stairway and let into a room.

“Before the great fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall man in a baggy black suit, with a black silk handkerchief around his throat instead of a collar. He wore rubber sole slippers. This was de Valera,” Couch reported.1

Couch obtained a signed statement from de Valera, smuggled it out of Ireland, and returned to the United States, “thus insuring safe delivery to New York of his information without interference by the censors,” United Press reported. The Feb. 24 interview was not published until the middle of March.

In addition to appearing in mainstream U.S. dailies, the interview was published on the front page of the March 15 issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government.

DE VALERA INTERVIEWED IN HIDING

Secret Meeting With Newspaper Correspondent Near Dublin.

Issues Message to America

“Violence will be the only alternative remaining to Irish Patriots if the Peace Conference at Paris fails to take steps to extend self-determination to Ireland. The means continued revolution until Ireland’s rights are recognized,” de Valera said in the interview, now two months after the first meeting of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the provisional republic, and early skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence.

The story noted that de Valera was the “American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.” Some versions say that de Valera’s “black eyes flashed” when he spoke the quote above, “his big jaw squared. He spoke quietly. Nevertheless he was emphatic.” 

Eamon de Valera during his 1919 tour of America.

De Valera’s Feb. 25 statement to Couch was datelined “Somewhere in Ireland.” It began:

“England has no right in Ireland. England’s de facto government here rests solely on the number of her bayonets. We challenge England to allow Ireland the principal of self-determination.”

On March 27, de valera arrived at Mansion House in Dublin, where he was received by the Lord Mayor. The Associated Press reported “that owing to the attitude of the censors [de Valera said] it would be useless to make a statement at present, but that he would take the opportunity later to express his views.”2

Within days, an interview by Henry Hyde of the Chicago Tribune was syndicated in U.S. newspapers. “I had an interview with de Valera shortly before he entered Dublin,” it began. “Up to a certain point he proved a very mild and constitutional rebel with his eyes fixed on Paris.”3

Another Chicago correspondent, Ruth Russell of the Daily News, also interviewed de Valera in late March.

“In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows … the tall, pale man, 37 years of age, stood against the glow of a grate fire and spoke with a student’s concentration. He was slightly breathless, as he had just arrived and was about to leave again. His white silk muffler was still pinned with a bar about his throat.”4

The reporter promised that soon “de Valera will let himself be seen in Dublin.” On April 1, he was named president of the second Dáil Éireann. In June, he sailed secretly to America to begin a campaign for political recognition and funding for Ireland.

  1. United Press story in the St. Louis Star and Times, March 12, 1919, page 1
  2. AP in The Boston Globe, March 28, 1919 p. 7, and other papers.
  3. The New York Times, March 29, p. 3. Story is datelined March 28, 1919. It has no byline; Houston Post, March 30, 1919, p. 48, with byline.
  4. Chicago Daily News, March 29, 1919, p. 4.

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