U.S. press attention to Ireland waned after the country’s year-long civil war ended in May 1923. Americans focused on domestic politics, including the Aug. 2 heart attack death of President Warren G. Harding and transfer of power to Calvin Coolidge. But American newspapers revived their coverage of Ireland with the Aug. 15 arrest of republican leader Éamon de Valera two weeks before the country’s first general election of the post-revolutionary period.
De Valera had been in hiding for months, but he continued to promote the republican cause. In mid-July 1923 he issued a statement that was widely reported in U.S. papers, in part for the drama that it had been smuggled from Ireland to France by airplane. The statement was delivered to Webb Miller, European correspondent of United Press. The Michigan native, then 32, began his career as a criminal courts reporter at the Chicago American. As a freelance correspondent in 1916 he followed U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. That reporting led to Miller’s job with United Press, which assigned him to Europe as America entered World War I.Webb Miller, I Found No Peace, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936); and “Webb Miller” in Robert B. Downs and Jane B. Downs, Journalists of the United States: Biographical Sketches of Print and … Continue reading He reported periodically from Ireland, including several dispatches during the 1918 conscription crisis.
Miller’s story noted that de Valera was wanted for arrest by the Irish Free State government he opposed. The exiled leader’s statement predicted “the full strength of the republicans will not appear in the coming elections” in late August. ”De Valera Sends Statement Into Paris By Plane”, Stockton (Calif.) Record, July 17, 1923, shown in this post, and other papers.
De Valera also complained about the Free State government’s suppression of the press, the same tactic the British had used against republicans earlier in the revolutionary period. And he thanked Americans for their financial support of the republican cause and assured the money was “applied strictly to the purposes for which they were subscribed.”
The Gaelic American, edited by de Valera’s arch antagonist John Devoy, described the statement as a “cheap publicity stunt.” It ridiculed the strategy of “clinging to the old mystery game” by delivering the text in “his phantom airplane.” The real reason for de Valera’s statement, the Gaelic American insisted, was to encourage the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to send money across the Atlantic for the upcoming election. De Valera created the AARIR in the late 1920 split with the Devoy-backed Friends of Irish Freedom.”De Valera Drops His ‘Idealism;’ Politician Now”, The Gaelic American, July 28, 1923. The two men also took opposite sides on whether to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921.
Free State troops arrested de Valera a month later, minutes after he began speaking on a campaign platform in Ennis, County Clare. The Associated Press described the “sensational circumstances” in a dispatch that made the front pages of many American newspapers later the same day.”De Valera Made Prisoner By Free Staters At Ennis”, The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 15, 1923, and other papers. In some papers the AP story was a brief among other foreign and domestic news, in others the arrest grabbed the top headline:
The Gaelic American missed the arrest in its edition of three days later, an example of how the more robust financial resources and access to syndicated cable networks gave the daily papers an advantage over smaller weeklies. A front page story in the Devoy paper noted that de Valera was expected to resurface at the Aug. 15 campaign event in Ennis. In its next issue a week later, the Gaelic American declared “De Valera Is Laid By The Heels At Last” across the top of the front page. And maintaining its frequent role of media watchdog, the story noted:
There are several versions of the event, but all agree in the main details, and each contains a record of some incidents not contained in the others. The Associated Press report is the fullest, but the (New York) Times and the (Hearst-owned New York) American supply many interesting details. The main difference between the various reports is whether de Valera fainted when Free State troops fired a blank volley over the heads of those on the platform” … while other versions say he threw himself down or was knocked down by others. “In either case the picture which his friends have drawn of the cool, calm, self-controlled man who faces danger with an iron nerve disappeared forever.”De Valera Is Laid By The Heels At Last“, The Gaelic American, Aug. 25, 1923.
About a month after the arrest, another version of the event was reported in the Boston Globe by Chester A. Arthur, Jr., grandson of the late 19th century U.S. president, who attended the Ennis rally with his wife. As Free State troops opened fire, “all the men and women near (de Valera) flung themselves upon him and he is born down, obviously against his will,” Arthur wrote.”Bullets Flew When De Valera Was Taken”, The Boston Globe, Sept. 14, 1923.
A week before his arrest de Valera gave an in-person interview to Dr. Edward Dewitt Jones, Texas-born pastor of the Central Christian Church in Detroit and a prolific writer, including five books. Jones reported the interview process began with the usual exchange of written questions and replies delivered through de Valera’s trusted messengers. Their meeting was arranged, Jones continued, with the benefit of a letter of introduction he held from “a distinguished Irish American.” Jones did not name this person in his story, but it quite possibly was Henry Ford. The automobile tycoon had opened a tractor factory near Cork city in 1919 and met privately with de Valera that October, during the Irish leader’s American tour. Jones interviewed Ford for a syndicated newspaper story before leaving for Ireland in July 1920.
The preacher wrote that he asked the automaker if he had any advice for the people of Ireland.
“Sure. Tell them to lay down the shillalah (sic, shillelagh) and take up the saw,” Ford replied.”Ford Says Prohibition Is But Smoke Screen Of Crafty Politicians”, The Scranton (Pa.) Times, July 21, 1923.
Jones detailed the elaborate precautions he was required to take enroute to meeting “the Irish pimpernel.””De Valera, Disguised By Beard, Lived Safely In Heart of Dublin”, The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1923, and other papers. This included switching taxies and cars that drove circuitous routes through Dublin and its suburbs. Though Jones does not mention being blindfolded, the drama is similar to what other American reporters experienced to interview de Valera in early 1919, after his escape from Lincoln prison.See my 2019 piece, March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera.
When they came face-to-face, De Valera sported “a heavy brown beard” that “made him look like a Frenchman,” Jones reported, then added the whiskers were shaved by the time he was arrested eight days later. The American, who was 46, described the 41-year-old de Valera as appearing older than he expected, yet “courteous, conciliatory in speech, stubborn in his opinions, spirited even in eclipse, but not embittered.” De Valera’s message to Jones mirrored the statement he sent to Miller: the 1922 election that upheld the Irish Free State was unfair, and the upcoming contest would be, too.
The North American Newspaper Alliance distributed the interview. The alliance had been created a year earlier by more than four dozen papers in the United States and Canada, led by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Among the papers that used the de Valera interview, most appear to have published it on Aug. 28, the day after the Irish election.
Many anti-treaty republicans, including de Valera, from the losing side of the civil war remained imprisoned during the election campaign. Most were committed to not participate in the legislature, even if elected. Cumann na nGaedheal, successor party of the pro-treaty wing of Sinn Féin, won the election and went on to form the government.
The Associated Press cited “Dublin correspondents of the London newspapers” as the source of its descriptions of “slow and steady” turnout in the capital while “reports from the provinces indicate the day passed peacefully.””Sixty Percent Of Irish Vote In Free State Elections”, The Buffalo (NY) Evening Times, Aug. 28,1923, and other papers. The wire story included that republican Countess Markievicz had been pelted with an egg at Rathmines, while in Waterford four brass bands representing competing political parties played over each other in an “old time election day amusement.” Markievicz and de Valera prevailed in their races. “A remarkable feature of the elections is the absence of the influence of Jim Larkin, a radical labor leader,” wrote Hugh Curran of the Dublin-based Irish Times, also a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune‘s Foreign News Service.”Erin Peaceful As Vote Is Taken; Ballot Is Heavy”, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 28, 1923. Larkin, a socialist and communist agitator, had returned to Ireland earlier in the year after being released from the New York prison where he was sentenced on conviction of criminal anarchy.
“The fact that about 60 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls shows an interest which compares favorably with that evinced in American elections,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorialized.”A Peaceful Election In Ireland”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 29, 1923.. “On the whole, the election bodes nothing but good for the Irish people.”
The Gaelic American cited election coverage from Denis O’Connell, an Irish-born correspondent for the Heart-owned Universal Service news wire, and the Associated Press, in its issue five days after the election.”‘Model Election,’ Is The Verdict On Contest In Ireland”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 1, 1923. The paper provided more comprehensive coverage the following week. It concluded:
Notwithstanding, in view of the fact that on its shoulders fell the heavy burden of restoring order to a country reduced to a state of anarchy by the de Valera tactics, the result, taking it all in all, is a sweeping victory for government by sanity, and the fact, in contradiction to de Valera’s protest that the election would not be a free election, that there was complete freedom on the part of every voter … coupled with the order that prevailed at the polls, is a happy augur for the future.”Griffith And Collins Vindicated By Result Of Election In Ireland”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 8, 1923.
The Gaelic American also recommended and reprinted election coverage from Irish journalist Stephen Gwynn, which appeared in the New York Times. A Protestant nationalist, Gwynn had represented Galway city in the British Parliament as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1906 to 1918. He supported John Redmond’s call for the Irish Volunteers to support the British and Allied military effort in the Great War, where he served as a captain.
Gwynn’s Sept. 2, 1923, story is linked from its headline, “Irish Vote Assures Stable Government.”
The De Valera papers at University College Dublin contain more than 50 pages of statements that he issued to foreign correspondents, or content they sent to him for approval prior to publication, during this period. The collection includes statements issued to Miller, Jones, and Joe Toye of The Boston Herald-Traveller.Eamon de Valera Papers, P150. See 22. REORGANISATION OF SINN FÉIN, PEACE MOVES AND CEASEFIRE, November 1922 – August 1923, Box 1790, p. 660
- See all my work on American Reporting of Irish Independence.
|↑1||Webb Miller, I Found No Peace, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936); and “Webb Miller” in Robert B. Downs and Jane B. Downs, Journalists of the United States: Biographical Sketches of Print and Broadcast New Shapers from the Late 17th Century to the Present, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1991.), p 239.|
|↑2||”De Valera Sends Statement Into Paris By Plane”, Stockton (Calif.) Record, July 17, 1923, shown in this post, and other papers.|
|↑3||”De Valera Drops His ‘Idealism;’ Politician Now”, The Gaelic American, July 28, 1923.|
|↑4||”De Valera Made Prisoner By Free Staters At Ennis”, The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 15, 1923, and other papers.|
|↑5||”De Valera Is Laid By The Heels At Last“, The Gaelic American, Aug. 25, 1923.|
|↑6||”Bullets Flew When De Valera Was Taken”, The Boston Globe, Sept. 14, 1923.|
|↑7||”Ford Says Prohibition Is But Smoke Screen Of Crafty Politicians”, The Scranton (Pa.) Times, July 21, 1923.|
|↑8||”De Valera, Disguised By Beard, Lived Safely In Heart of Dublin”, The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1923, and other papers.|
|↑9||See my 2019 piece, March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera.|
|↑10||”Sixty Percent Of Irish Vote In Free State Elections”, The Buffalo (NY) Evening Times, Aug. 28,1923, and other papers.|
|↑11||”Erin Peaceful As Vote Is Taken; Ballot Is Heavy”, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 28, 1923.|
|↑12||”A Peaceful Election In Ireland”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 29, 1923.|
|↑13||”‘Model Election,’ Is The Verdict On Contest In Ireland”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 1, 1923.|
|↑14||”Griffith And Collins Vindicated By Result Of Election In Ireland”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 8, 1923.|
|↑15||Eamon de Valera Papers, P150. See 22. REORGANISATION OF SINN FÉIN, PEACE MOVES AND CEASEFIRE, November 1922 – August 1923, Box 1790, p. 660|