Describing Éamon de Valera before social media

Éamon de Valera in 1919.

In June 1919, commercial film, radio, and television were still in their infancy. Photography, after nearly a century, was on the verge of overcoming its earlier technical limitations and moving into widespread use. 

It was not until 1919, with the launching of New York’s Illustrated Daily News, that American newspapers began to feature photographs routinely. The lighter cameras and “faster” lenses introduced in the 1920s brought about a revolution in news photography, ushering in the age of photojournalism.1

The dozens of reporters who gathered at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the American debut of Éamon de Valera as the president of Ireland had to describe their subject as well as detail his pronouncements. There would be photos of de Valera’s U.S. tour, to be sure, but they were not disseminated as widely or as easily as today’s digital and broadcast media. 

Below are some of the reporters’ descriptions of de Valera published in June 24, 1919, editions of U.S. newspapers. Some are from wire service dispatches and appeared in numerous papers across America. I’ve highlighted some common reference points. This roundup begins with the best description I found, and ends with a quote that hints of the shift to journalism bolstered by images in addition to words:

Standing six feet, one inch tall, he easily overlooked the crowd about him. He was clad in a dark business suit, with white waistcoat, and wore a turn-down collar with a dark four-in-hand tie. But for all his pleasantry, his face has the look of one who has seen more than thirty-seven years ordinarily betoken.

His visage is thin, doubtless so because of his harrowing prison life, and the deep, long seams about his mouth spell a knowledge of troublous, weary days. Behind his nose glasses, his sharp eyes, deep set, penetrate his auditors, giving the impression of unflinching determination.

As he stood addressing the reporters … he looked much like the pedagogue, as indeed he has been, and doubtless the clear, crisp, studied enunciation, with its touch of brogue, comes as the result of his teaching days.

Brooklyn (New York) Times Union

Here are a few more:

He wears glasses, his brown-black eyes are deep set, his nose is rather prominent, his upper lip is clean shaven, and the general expression of his face is one of eagerness. Upon arrival yesterday he was attired in a salt-and-pepper tweedish mixture, wore a collar almost of collegian highness and a big blue tied tied in a big knot. … a brogue that was just an echo of a brogue was apparent.” The New York Times

“…a tall man with a face lean and lined with care. … [his] brogue is most pronounced. When he used the word “merchant,” for example, it sounded like “mare-chint” and when he said “reduced” it sounded like “rejuiced.” New York Tribune

“Mr. De Valera, a tall, smooth-faced, clear-eyed, young Irishman, was born in New York in 1882, but said he “renounced” his American citizenship when he became an Irish soldier.” Pittsburgh Daily Post

“… a tall, bronzed, smooth shaven man wearing eyeglasses … with a smile and speaking with well modulated voice with a mellow Irish brogue …” The San Francisco Examiner

“By those who had seen portraits and moving pictures of the professor he was easily distinguished and recognized.” St. Louis Star and Times, which included a photo of de Valera addressing an 1918 anti-conscription meeting in Ireland, with inset images of Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith.

  1. Pictorial Journalism” in Prints and Photographs: An Illustrated Guide, The Library of Congress online.

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