The Harp Without the Crown – Eamon De Valera


Welcome to this edition of the Harp Without the Crown, where I will be taking a look at early Butte history and the Butte Irish community when Eamon de Valera visited Butte on July 26, 1919. De Valera is most known for his involvement in the Irish independence movement of the 1900s and is considered to be one of the most dominant political leaders of the 20th century in Ireland.  He served as president and prime minister of Ireland and was a battalion commander with the Irish volunteers during the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916, during which the Irish proclamation for independence was read on the steps of the general post office in Dublin. His visit to butte was considered to be one of the most notable visits in Butte history. 

It is remarkable that he came to Butte just three years after being sentenced to be executed and then later released for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising.  De Valera started his American trip in June 1919 and was warmly greeted along the way. He spoke to 40,000 people in Chicago and was unable to talk to that gathering for 26 minutes due to a constant applause.  He spoke to a crowd of 17,000 in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Butte would match these larger cities where he addressed 10,000 people at Hebgen field at the corner of Second and Oregon streets in Butte.  He was greeted at the train station by the Anaconda Company mine band that played Irish and American airs for the festive occasion. Police had difficulty in clearing the way as de Valera walked slowly from the train station to Front street where he was met by Montana Lt. Governor W.W. McDowell and Butte Mayor Stodden. The Anaconda Standard reported ‘that…. It was a welcome such has been accorded few men on their arrival to Butte, even comparing it to the visit by William Jennings Bryan, who had run for president. A semi holiday was declared and people from Great Falls, Missoula, Helena, and Billings were in town for the event. Anaconda stores closed for the day and sent a delegation of 500, headed by James H. Murphy for the speech and presented an invitation for de Valera to visit their city. Another account stated that… ‘Butte’s ever ready hand of welcome was extended full length …never before in the history of Montana has an Irish leader of similar rank visited the state ….it is likely that no more spontaneous or enthusiastic welcome was ever accorded an Irish leader.  An Anaconda Standard editorial compared de Valera to George Washington. A parade for de Valera and his delegation started from the train station, up Utah street, and was attended by 5,000 people and eventually made its way to the courthouse by way of east Park, north Montana, and Granite streets, where de Valera was met by a group of 300 Butte school children under the direction of Mrs. Frances Harte-Parks singing patriotic songs.  He later made it to the Finlen Hotel for dinner and prepared for his talk that evening at Hebgen field.  Hundreds were reported outside the Finlen to meet him or at least catch a glimpse of him before his speech later that evening. Excitement filled Hebgen field where the audience started to show up as early as 6 pm for the 8 pm address. The grandstand became crowded and space in the park became filled with automobiles. The event began with the playing of the star-spangled banner by the Anaconda Mine Band. Butte judge Jerimiah Lynch, founder of the local Patrick Pearse club, introduced de Valera as a man of solid patriotism. De Valera was met by an eight-minute applause and he remarked… ‘on that occasion was the most marvelous I have ever witnessed.’ His speech was continuously interrupted by wild applause.  Even though de Valera was struggling with laryngitis and facing a stiff wind that cut the address short, he detailed what America and Butte could do for Irish independence. The strong wind might have made it hard for some to hear the entirety of the speech, but there were huge cheers at every mention of Irish freedom never before heard at a mass meeting in Butte, especially when de Valera  said, “Irishmen want their country and they want freedom.”

What did de Valera accomplish in Butte? De Valera presented to the Butte Irish the moral and legal reasons for the establishment of an Irish republic free from England’s rule and most importantly he presented concrete ways for Butte to assist in achieving the goal of Irish independence. He emphasized that the push for Irish independence required active participation on the part of the Butte Irish to lobby their political leaders at all levels on Ireland’s behalf. De Valera recognized more than anyone the emerging power of America in the area of foreign affairs and that the US government, if pushed by an energized Irish American population, could convince England to grant Irish independence. Both Montana US senators Murray and Walsh implemented de Valera’s instructions by advocating for Irish independence on the floor of the US Senate. Local Butte Irish organizations such as the Robert Emmet Literary Association and the Ancient order of Hibernians became involved in this effort to lobby elected officials, mainly by massive letter writing campaigns to political officials. It is important to note that he raised significant amounts of money while in Butte to direct toward Irish independence. By November 1919, de Valera had raised over $12,000 from his three trips to Butte for the Irish independence fund. Although it would take almost 30 more years after de Valera’s visit to Butte for Ireland to achieve complete independence from England, his visit to Butte was received by an informed Butte Irish community still wanting and willing to keep active in the drive for Irish independence. It was a great day to be Irish when Eamon de Valera came to Butte.

This has been John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin that airs on KBMF in Butte, Montana. Thanks for listening to this installment of The Harp Without the Crown.