Éamon de Valera // Canada

Unknown Photographer
Éamon de Valera fund-raising trip June 1919 – December 1920

Contributed by Dr. Orla Fitzpatrick from her collection

In June 1919, Éamon de Valera arrived in the United States for what turned out to be an 18-month stay. He had recently staged a daring escape from Lincoln jail in England. A duplicate key had been smuggled into the jail hidden in a cake and he made his getaway in women’s clothes. De Valera’s plan for this visit was to gain recognition for the emerging Irish nation, raise money with the sale of bonds, and to pressurise the U.S. government to take a position on Irish independence. De Valera’s official itinerary was confined to the United States, as represented by photographs of rallies, protests and Irish games.
The images in this snapshot album which document de Valera’s 6,000 mile tour across America were taken between June 1919 and December 1920. Not all images were captioned, though group photographs show members of the Irish American Dramatic Association and Conradh na Gaeilge, as well as Seán Nunan, de Valera’s secretary during this period.

The tour was gruelling, but hugely successful with the Irish diaspora. Vast crowds gathered at lectures and tours, providing a powerful manifestation of Irish-American collective identity and power at its peak. The album also contains a contrasting series of off-duty family photographs and more relaxed, touristic scenes from a brief visit to Canada. The Canadian-American border also has an important place in the history of Irish Republicanism as the site of several ill-fated Fenian incursions in the 19th century.

Visits to Niagara Falls are of course a ubiquitous subject in many Canadian albums, particularly those of new arrivals to the country, eager to see the sights. These more personal photographs reveal a keen artistic eye and an understanding of image-making beyond that of the casual snapshot.

Overall, de Valera’s 18-month stay was a financial success, raising $5m for the cause, some of which he eventually used to found the Irish Press. The trip did, however, cause a bitter feud and irrevocably split Irish-American opinion just a few months before the split over the Treaty back home in Ireland.