De Valera in America | June 1919 | Irish War of Independence


Welcome to the Irish Revolution! Last month, May 1919, we looked at the Knocklong
ambush and the first Dáil courts. Wel also spoke a little bit about the Paris Peace Conference. This month, June 1919, will see Eamon de Valera
leave for the United States in an effort to gain official recognition from the American
government and to raise money for the cause. We’ll also speak a little about the Paris
Peace Conference and a few shootings and ambushes. BIOS We talked about Eamon de Valera and Harry
Boland back in February. This month we’ll cover Liam Mellows and John
Devoy. Mellows, because he would spend so much time in America with de Valera and Boland
and Devoy because he was the most important Irish-American figure of the age. Liam Mellows was born in England and his family
moved to Ireland when he was 3 years old. Mellows would go on to be an active IRB man
and was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers despite being only 21 years old at the time.
Mellows would command the so-called western division of the Irish Volunteers during the
Easter Rising. He led around 700 men in attacks around Galway and briefly occupied the town
of Athenry before his poorly equipped force dispersed in the face of advancing British
forces. He participated in de Valera’s campaign in America and would return to Ireland later
to become ‘Director of Supplies’ of the IRA, responsible for purchasing arms. John Devoy was a leading light of Clan na
Gael, the largest Irish-American political organisation of the time, and the editor of
the Gaelic American newspaper, which had a large readership. He had been around for a
long time by this stage, having met and worked with Charles Stewart Parnell in what seemed
like ancient history. He was unusual among the revolutionary generation for his age,
as most prominent figures were younger men. The American Mission Eamon de Valera, President of the Republic,
arrived in New York on June 11th after getting smuggled onto a boat from Liverpool. Harry
Boland, who would go on to play such a key role in the American mission along with Liam
Mellows, arrived in America a month before in order to lay the grounwork for his president.
I talk about the American mission in great detail in another episode but allow me to
give a quick summary. The Republican delegation hoped to gain diplomatic
recognition of the Irish Republic, spread propaganda and raise general consciousness
amongst the American population (The Irish American population outnumbered the population
on the island of Ireland) and to raise money. Diplomatic recognition always seemed like
a long shot and the closest they would come to was an amendment to the treaty of Versailles
which would have implicitly recognised the Irish Republic. In the end, the Treaty was
voted down by the US congress so this turned out to be a moot point. Something that the
Republican delegation was at one stage rather worried about was a Unionist delegation from
Ulster, and while there was a power Irish American catholic movement in America, America
was still at this time a very Protestant country and this Ulster delegation found useful friends
such as the Vice-President, Thomas Marshall and also the future President Calvin Coolidge
who was at this time the governor of Massachussets. Despite everything however the delegation
would go on to be a gigantic success, raising 5 million dollars for the cause (although
this money was more fantastical than reality, as I explain in the other episode) and galvanising
Irish America, utilising their soft power. How much impact it had on British policy is
highly debatable, but I tend to think that it pushed for a moderating influence on British
policy in Ireland. Ambushes & Shootings Although we’re far away from the ‘war’ part
of this conflict, there were still intermittent clashes. There was an ambush at Rathklarin
in West Cork this month that won local rebels 5 lee-enfield rifles. They had used only one
shotgun and one revolver in the hold-up. Other units, with far more weaponry would do very
little. Units with very few weapons would prove to be imaginative. How much did local
leadership determine the course of the conflict? It was everything. This will not be the last
time we hear of the adventures in Co. Cork.1 It’s called the rebel county for a reason
boi (CORK ACCENT YEROO) On 23rd June a district inspector in Thurles,
Co. Tipperary was shot by Jim Stapleton, a notorious gunman already linked to several
shootings and attacks. No-one in the locality came to the inspector’s aid – he was believed
to have information on the Knocklong killers, who we talked about last month.2 These kind
of hold-ups, ambushes and isolated shooting incidents went on throughout the country on
a smaller scale and they had a cumulative effect on public opinion. The intensity of
the conflict was nothing like it would be next year but it would not be accurate to
describe Ireland as being ‘at peace’ either. Paris Peace Conference This will probably the last time I talk about
the Paris Peace Conference, which was then ongoing. There had been a lot of hope that
the peace conference would deliver something for Ireland and some apparantly believed that
US President Woodrow Wilson would back up his grand principles of the rights of small
nations to self determination. But it wasn’t to be. There was never any realistic chance
that the British Empire, a victorious power, would be pressured to give up Ireland. Frankly there was never even any realistic
hope that Ireland would even get a hearing in Paris, though an Irish-American delegation
to the President did do its best. President Wilson put pressure on Lloyd George
to resolve the Irish question, but only in private. The Irish American lobby within the
democratic party was a source of problems, but for the time being at least they were
managable. Wilson argued with George, quite presciently as it turned out, that the Irish
question was allowing a certain prejudice against the League of Nations to grow. Wilson
ultimately would not be able to get congressional approval for American entry into the League
of Nations – a truly catastophic outcome. The Irish American delegation would have two
interviews with Wilson, both quite testy. During the second of those meetings in this
month, Wilson lectured the delegation on the realities of diplomacy, saying that all he
could offer was unofficial pressure, what one might call today ‘quiet diplomacy’. He
was quoted as saying: “Of course Ireland’s case from the point
of view of population, from the point of view of the struggle they have made… is the outstanding
case of a small nationality. You do not know and cannot appreciate the anxieties that I
have experienced as the result of the many millions of people having their hopes raised
by what I said.”3 Soon after this meeting the delegation were
officially told that the Irish case would not be considered, but I doubt that anybody
was surprised at this point. The historian Michael Hopkinson summarised it well when
he wrote: “The failure in Paris drove Irish-American
opinion into the arms of the opposition to the League of Nations in the US, and the Irish-American
delegation’s work promoted the view in Ireland that the US was the key to any aspirations
of international recognition of the Dáil.”4 There was essentially two types of Republicans
at this point. The lads out in the country getting weapons, shooting at people, and preparing
themselves for war. And there was the big beasts, thinking in terms of international
recognition, international diplomacy, establishing a counter state, forming revolutionary courts
and parliaments. Both strands of the movement were indeed one and the same but I always
think it’s interesting how little contact the lads out in the countryside had with the
leaders, and to the great extent to which local leaders were dictating the day to day
operations of the Irish revolution. Thanks so much for watching! See you soon.2

5 thoughts on “De Valera in America | June 1919 | Irish War of Independence

  • Another great upload! Always a fascinating watch. I like the regional breakdowns on the map during the ambushes and shootings section. Once you start covering the conflict in earnest, I’d love to see more of this! Maybe even images of the localities in which they took place? I look foreword to the next one

  • I don`t realy understand the principles IRA stands right now. Are they nationalists or socialists? How IRA sees development program of free Irland, does this program exist? Will be greatfull for explanation

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