On Nov. 19, 1919, a year and a week after the armistice ending World War I, the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations. The same day, 2,670 miles west of Washington, D.C., Éamon de Valera was hammered by negative headlines in the Los Angeles Times as he arrived in the California city.
Sims Denounces De Valera and Sinn Fein Plotters
Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, commander of the U.S. overseas fleet, said “this brotherhood is attempting to stir up hatred against our allies in the war.”
Irishman Near Collapse
“According to physicians, the Irish leader suffered a near-collapse that may necessitate his cancelling” other stops in California. Doctors in San Francisco had ordered de Valera to rest, but he pressed on to L.A.1
De Valera Unwelcome: Protest Against the Sinn Fein Leader by Societies Shows City’s Stand
“American Legion posts, church bodies and British societies have been particularly active in denouncing the Sinn Fein leader and have adopted resolutions declaring him a traitor to the cause of the Allies in the war and charging him with attempting to stir up enmity between the United States and England.”
San Diego Blow for De Valera
The city’s mayor said he would not greet the visitor on his next stop. “I am part Irish myself and he does not represent that part of me at all.”
Shriners Protest Use of Hall by De Valera
The philanthropic arm of the Masons cashed a rental deposit check from Irish supporters, then claimed they were unaware the event featured de Valera. Their change of mind appeared to be prompted by the Times’ amplified harangue against him.
Great Citrus Belt Hits Hard at Sinn Feiner
The Associated Chambers of Commerce of the San Gabriel Valley, representing 17 smaller towns, passed a resolution denouncing de Valera as a traitor.
No Music for Paraders: Pasadena and Long Beach Bands Refuse to Play for De Valera Today
The decision was driven in part by protests from a group of U.S. Civil War veterans, who compared de Valera and Sinn Fein to the Copperheads of the 1860s.
As Dave Hannigan explains:
The degree of vitriol directed toward de Valera can be traced to the publisher Harry Chandler, who a couple of months earlier had described his interest in the Versailles Treaty thus: “as far as the Los Angeles Times is concerned, the League [of Nations] is not our politics now but our religion.” Chandler obviously believed this Irishman was preaching a blasphemous doctrine against the League and had to be dealt with accordingly; not to mention that his visit was being sponsored, at least in part, by a rival paper, the Los Angeles Examiner.2
That night, the crowd gathered outside the Shrine Auditorium to see de Valera was prohibited from entering the building. The Irish leader, who gave a speech earlier in day at his hotel, avoided the scene and departed the next morning for San Diego, despite the expected snub by the city’s mayor.
Four days later, de Valera returned to Los Angeles for a rescheduled appearance at a minor league baseball stadium. The outdoor event drew a larger crowd than would have seen him at the indoor venue. The Times’ page 13 story described de Valera as “the mythical ‘president’ of a mythical Irish ‘republic.’ “3 The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, months earlier complained about the demeaning device of using quotes around the words such as president and republic.
The same day’s Times front page declared: “Sinn Fein Terrorist Rule Ireland With Hate“. The story by American correspondent George Seldes opened with this quote from a British military officer:
“Ireland is terrorized. It is seething with crime. Let me tell you one thing, it is no longer safe to go about in the King’s uniform.”
The generally negative portrait of Irish republican efforts nevertheless recognized the arrests and imprisonment without trial of members of Dáil Éireann. Seldes concluded: “Despite all this crime, a stranger in Ireland goes about freely and safely.”
Irish-American press reaction
Irish-American newspapers, though slowed by their weekly publication schedules and commitments to other news content, responded vehemently to the Times‘ L.A. coverage.
The Friends of Irish Freedom’s News Letter said the Times “certainly is more English than American” and had “done its utmost to stir up an un-American sentiment against” de Valera and the Irish Republic. “The American Newspaper Publishers Association, a body of sturdy Americans, might do well if it undertook a little Americanization work amidst its own ranks, for the benefit of its few anti-American members.”4
The Irish Press of Philadelphia, with its direct links de Valera and the separatist government in Dublin, described the daily as “the best-known labor-hating and pro-British sheet in the west.” The Press continued:
The Times engaged for four weeks in the bitterest and most malignant campaign of misrepresentation and hatred that has been witnessed in this country in years. Lies–on several occasions six columns of them in one edition–were hurled at de Valera and the Irish people. Editorially and in news columns deliberately incited to mob violence.5
The Kentucky Irish American headlined “Notorious Sheet Exposed” (the Times) and noted the Hearst-owned Examiner “made a special fight in favor of a fair hearing and the other papers of that district were friendly to the lecture.”6
The Irish Standard barely mentioned the Times, except that “de Valera made only one reference to the newspaper which boasted of having prevented his appearance at the Shrine Auditorium, when he said, speaking of the Irish movement:
It is not racial, it is not religious. You are told it is religious. Now, it is very easy to see that it is not, and so difficult would it be to prove it religious that even the Los Angeles Times admits it is not a religious issue.7
The Gaelic American of New York City ignored the Times, but described the city’s negative reception in a brief story headlined: Los Angeles Bigots Show Their Ugly Fangs.8
De Valera and his supporters returned to New York from California, taking a short break from the coast-to-coast tour that began in June before tackling other problems. Hannigan writes:
By any standard of measurement, this extended cross-country jaunt was the most successful aspect of de Valera’s stay in America. In terms of raising awareness and drawing the attention of newspapers and the public alike, it was a fantastic achievement. For the duration of the tour and a good while after, coverage of all things Irish, especially in regional press, exploded.9
- McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, page 170.
- Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, page 88. The Examiner archive was not immediately available at Newspapers.com, or the U.S. Library of Congress digital archive, Chronicling America.
- “De Valera Is Heard By Many”, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 24, 1919.
- The News Letter of the Irish National Bureau, No. 21, Nov. 21, 1919, p. 5.
- “West Acclaims Pres. De Valera”, The Irish Times, Nov. 29, 1919, page 1.
- “Religion Not a Question in the Cause of Ireland’s Fight for Freedom” , Kentucky Irish American, Dec. 6, 1919, page 1.
- “De Valera Speaks to 12,000 People at Los Angeles” , The Irish Standard, Dec. 13, 1919, page 2.
- “Los Angeles Bigots Show Their Ugly Fangs” , The Gaelic American, Nov. 29, 1919.
- Hannigan, De Valera in America, page 91.