‘Born at Sea’ talk coming Sept. 15 in Baltimore

I’m giving a Sept. 15 presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore about “Ireland’s Famine Children Born at Sea.” It is based on my story of the same headline in the Winter 2017/18 issue of the National Archives & Records Administration’s Prologue magazine.

The talk will including additional research that I’ve done since the story’s publication earlier this year. Register for the free event, which begins at 11 a.m. The museum is located near downtown Baltimore at 918 Lemon St., a group of five alley houses where many Irish immigrants who worked for the nearby B&O Railroad lived from the mid-19th century.

Here’s my earlier post about the museum, which is worth visiting anytime.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

A modern reference to a 130-year-old Kerry murder

Earlier this year, flying home to Washington, D.C., from Dublin, I opened Fergal Keane’s Wounds: a memoir of war and love, about the struggles of life and death in North Kerry, primarily in the 19th and early 20th century.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, and on page 74 of the book, I was gobsmacked to read a short passage about the summer 1888 murder of John Foran, a Kerry farmer shot in front of his young son and other witnesses on the road near Listowel. It was the first time I had seen a contemporary reference to the 130-year-old murder since I began writing about the case a decade ago.

In addition to period newspaper accounts, Keane references Bertha Beatty’s (nee Creagh) 1930s Kerry Memories, which contains her claim of seeing some “serious”-looking men talking at the crossroads hours before the fatal shots occurred at the site. I was not familiar with this source.

“The investigation followed a familiar pattern,” Keane writes of the Foran case. “There were arrests and court hearings, but nobody was convicted. The witnesses kept the law of silence.”

Keane, Africa editor for BBC News, has family ties to North Kerry through his father. Historian Diarmaid Ferriter reviewed Wounds in The Irish Times shortly after it was published last September.

Here is my work on the Foran murder, archived on this blog under the title Nora’s Sorrow, for the victim’s daughter who later wrote numerous letters to authorities about the case from America:

I am always looking for new information on sources or references to this crime, whether historic or contemporary. I am convinced there is more to learn about the case, including through the still publicly unavailable Irish Land Commission records, which date to 1881. Thanks to Kay Caball of My Kerry Ancestors for her assistance on the Beatty book and other help over the years.

Late 19th century view of countryside near Listowel. Knocanore Hill in the background.

Catching up with modern Ireland: July

I’m publishing this month’s roundup a little early due to travel. Upcoming posts will remain minimal through early September as I work on other projects. Thanks for supporting the blog. MH

  • Northern Ireland would be better off financially as part of a united Ireland, according to the “Northern Ireland’s Income and Expenditure in a Reunification Scenario” report by Gunther Thurmann, who worked on the German desk at the International Monteary Fund during German reunification, and Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly. The new report includes the December 2016 analysis by the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Research Office, requested by Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), in the wake of the Brexit vote.
  • “There’s no such thing as Irish science; there’s only global science.” — Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, at a 25 July, Irish Network-DC event at the Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D.C. SFI was created by a 1998 government initiative and has put Ireland at the forefront of scientific research and development. Ferguson said he sees new opportunities for Ireland resulting from Brexit.
  • In a reflection of the diversity of modern Ireland, a new graveyard for all denominations – and for none – opened in Killarney, County Kerry, The Irish Times reported.
  • A previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, was spotted by an historian flying a drone over the Boyne Valley, County Meath. Unusually dry weather caused the outlines of the site to emerge like subterranean shadows.
  • Friday, 27 July, offered a night of stargazing in Ireland, with a total lunar eclipse, a “blood moon,” and rare looks at Mars, Jupiter and the International Space Station.
  • “We used to blame everything on the British. Now we blame the church.” — Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in America magazine story, “What is Ireland’s future after repealing its ban on abortion?
  • The touring “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., opened this month in Skibbereen, County Cork, where it will remain through 13 October. The exhibit opened in Dublin earlier this year. It will show in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first quarter of 2019.

“Derrynane,” a 1927 oil on canvas by Jack B. Yeats, is part of the “Coming Home” exhibit.

An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918

The veteran’s grave needed tending. Robust June grass encroached on all sides of the metal marker flush to the ground, where a small American flag placed at Memorial Day also designated his final resting place.  

The twin sharp points of the hand-clippers I used to trim grass around a nearby family tombstone helped perforate the overgrowth. Soon, I peeled away the creeping grass and rubbed away the dirt. The bronze, beveled edges of the marker gleamed again in the sun. I saluted:

JOHN WARE

Pvt. U.S. Army
World War I
1886 – 1982

He was among 4.7 million soldiers and sailors, including immigrants like himself, mobilized in America for the early 20th century battle of 19th century empires. It began with an assassination in 1914, and quickly escalated into a toxic mix of nationalism, imperialism and militarism. By the war’s end in November 1918, the casualty count was measured in millions, with nearly 117,000 U.S. fatalities and more than 200,000 U.S. wounded.

John Ware, in 1918 or 1919.

These were the dangers 31-year-old John Ware faced 100 summers ago as he joined the army and shipped off to the European front. Regretfully, I never asked him about his service before he died at age 96, when I was in my early 20s, a missed opportunity of long-ago Christmas dinners and other family gatherings.

My trip to Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh prompted me to take a closer look at some family documents and photos of John, with additional research. This is his story:

He was born in County Kerry, Ireland, near Ballylongford. He immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; worked as a streetcar conductor from the Frankstown Avenue car barn in the city’s Homewood district; and worshiped at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Two sisters followed him to Pittsburgh. One wed another Kerryman, who became John’s brother-in-law and my grandfather. The other sister, like her older brother, never married. All four of these Irish immigrants are buried within a few feet of each other at Calvary.

In June 1917, two months after America entered the war, John registered in the first round of the U.S. military draft. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to sign up, both U.S. citizens and resident aliens who had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen. John was already well into that process, and he was naturalized a month later.

Immigrants who had not filed a declaration of intent were exempt from the draft, but many of them volunteered for the military. The federal government soon offered fast-track citizenship to these soldiers and sailors.

John was drafted into the army on April 28, 1918. The surviving record notes his transformation from citizen to soldier occurred at 4:30 that Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. That day, one of the city’s newspaper headlines declared:

Allies Halt German Drive At The Threshold of Ypres

Enemy’s Slight Gains Made At Cost of Staggering Losses

The next morning, John and his address at 7115 Kelly St. were listed in the Pittsburgh papers with other “Names of Those Who Go.” That afternoon, he and 287 other area draftees entrained to Camp Lee, Virginia, a year-old combat training base south of Richmond.

Irish soldiers

That spring, Irish immigrants and their supporters were making other headlines in Pittsburgh. On May 5, 1918, thousands gathered at the downtown Lyceum Theater to protest British conscription of their countrymen without the benefit of limited domestic political autonomy, called home rule. They passed a resolution calling on President Woodrow Wilson to demand freedom for Ireland.

Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor of nearby St. Mary of Mercy Church, an historically Irish immigrant parish since the Great Famine, reminded the Lyceum audience of “the glorious record of past generations of Irishmen in defense of this great country.”

It was not only blood the Irish were sacrificing, O’Connor said, but also treasure. He told the story of an Irish workman earning $80 a month who had purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds, or half his annual salary.

During the last week of June 1918, an Irish socialite known as the “Countess of Kingston” visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items: “German Uniforms, Helmets, Military Equipment, Hand Grenades, Propaganda Literature, Iron Cross, Lusitania medal, British Battleship Vindictive Souvenir, German Prison Bread, and a Wonderful Collection of British War Pictures,” according to newspaper promotions.

The exhibit, staged at Kaufmann’s 11th floor auditorium, was intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers in the British army. Pittsburgh was selected for the debut because of the generous reception Lady Kingston received during a previous fundraising stop.

Honest and faithful

As Pittsburghers visited the Irish war exhibit, John shipped off to Europe with the 145th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Division. The unit fought through the summer and fall. John’s record says he was in the Alsace Lorraine Sector, a disputed territory between northeast France and southwest Germany.

A few more details can be gleaned from John’s military record

Wounds received in service: “None.”

Character: “Very good.”

Remarks: “Service honest and faithful. No A.W.O.L., nor absence.”

John’s tour of duty ended Jan. 30, 1919, about 10 weeks after the armistice. He was released two weeks later, on Valentines Day, from Camp Dix, New Jersey. The Army issued him $53.54 in travel pay (about $500 today) for the 350 mile return to Pittsburgh. Perhaps he remembered a similar westbound train trip as the last leg of his journey from Ireland nine years earlier.

Like many soldiers, he sat for a photograph in his uniform. The image survives with his Honorable Discharge record.

John returned to his streetcar job. For the next few years he read newspaper accounts of Ireland’s war of independence from Britain, which resulted in the island’s partition, and a brutal civil war. The following decades brought World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

More death and injury.

John was luckier than tens of millions of soldiers and civilians in all those places. His 65 years after WWI was twice as long as the life he easily could have lost in France that perilous summer 100 years ago.

Tending his grave at this year’s centennial seemed the least I could do.

Grave of John Ware, Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, June 2018.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

Blogiversary: Six years, and a summer break

July marks the blog’s sixth anniversary.

Before publishing my next post, which will be my 600th, I want to thank my readers for their support. I appreciate those who subscribe to the blog via email, share the posts on social media, or just drop by from time-to-time. Special thanks to Angie Drobnic Holan, my lovely wife, who contributes to the effort as volunteer editor and webmaster.

The Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited project, which dominated my work the first half of this year with over 40 posts, was well received. January through June traffic on the site was 70 percent of the 2017 full-year total.

Over the next two months, I’ll be posting less frequently in order to enjoy the summer and work on several long-term projects. The latter includes:

  • Preparing for a 15 September presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, in Baltimore, based on my Prologue magazine story, Ireland’s Famine Children ‘Born at Sea’.
  • Additional research and editing of the Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, project for an e-book version.
  • Planning for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November, and the following Irish War of Independence centenaries. I will attend the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland‘s 10th Anniversary Conference, 9-10 November, in Galway. It will explore the 1918 British elections under the theme “The Press and the Vote”.

I will post a few history stories on the blog over the summer, including a new serialized version of my “Nora’s Sorrow” project, and keep up with contemporary events, such as Brexit and Pope Francis’ August visit to Ireland.

For now, however, thanks again for all of your support since 2012. Keep coming back!

Vintage presses displayed at the National Print Museum in Dublin, February 2018.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

No sooner were the votes counted in last month’s successful repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, than feminists and other liberals turned their attention to a new referendum. This time the targets are removing language about blasphemy and the women’s role in the home.

The Republic’s constitution “recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Regarding blasphemy, the constitution says, “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

The referendum, likely in October, would be held alongside the presidential election – if one is called, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said in a government statement. Both referendum issues are expected to cruise to easy passage with only minimal opposition.

But is the pendulum swinging too far to the left? As Father Gerard Moloney wrote in The Irish Times:

Now there is a sense that we have replaced one form of intolerance with another. Just as it was difficult to speak out against the cozy religious, social and moral consensus of 50 years ago, it is difficult to speak out against the dominant cultural mindset of today. … A new secular judgmentalism has replaced the old religious judgmentalism of yesteryear.

Also in June:

  • The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland released polling data showing that that 84 percent of the Irish population believe U.S. companies are critical to the economic future.  Over 155,000 Irish work for American companies.
  • The same week as the survey release (coincidence?), Amazon opened a 170,000-square-foot building in Dublin and announced that it will add 1,000 jobs to the 2,500 people it already employees in Ireland.
  • Another Irish-British handshake: While not the same magnitude as the 2012 palm-to-white-gloved-palm between Martin McGuinness and the Queen, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and former IRA bomber and Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly shook right mitts in Belfast.
  • This headline over a Derek Scally column in The Irish Times put a modern spin on an historic phrase: German’s difficulty could be Ireland’s opportunity.
  • For the second time in as many months, Irish Ferries was forced to cancel thousands of bookings as it postponed the inaugural sailing of the WB Yeats at least until September.
  • In case you are wondering: The impasse over restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly has reached 18 months, and debate also continues on the post-Brexit fate of the border between the North and the Republic.
  • Why both matter: Northern Ireland sends almost double the amount of trade to the Republic that it receives in return, according to a Cross-Border Supply Chain survey the by Northern Ireland Statistical & Research Agency and the Department for the Economy. (Click graphic to see more detail.)

Shamrock Fund and the Irish War Exhibit of 1918

In the last week of June 1918, the “Countess of Kingston” visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers. The collection included “German Uniforms, Helmets, Military Equipment, Hand Grenades, Propaganda Literature, Iron Cross, Lusitania medal, British Battleship Vindictive Souvenir, German Prison Bread, and a Wonderful Collection of British War Pictures,” according to newspaper promotions.

Ethel Lisette King-Tenison, nee Walker was the daughter of the late Sir Andrew Harclay Walker, a brewer and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool. In 1897, she married Henry Edwyn King-Tenison, 9th Earl of Kingston, a captain in the Irish Guards. He was wounded in September 1914 at the Marne, the first major battle of the Great War, and recovered at their home, Kilronan Castle, in County Roscommon.

Lady Kingston, then in her 40s, established the Shamrock Fund soon after. As she recalled after the war:

When our soldiers began returning from the western front in France and from the barren waste of Gallipoli the horrors that we had shrinkingly read about were to be met face to face on our streets in Ireland. Men without eyesight, legless, armless men, wrecks of men it seemed for whom a miracle must be worked if they were ever to be restored to usefulness in this world. They might be restored, but it required money, and where was it to come from? We could not find it in Ireland, we could not burden England, already carrying an awful weight, and it was then I said: ‘I shall go to the United States, where there is plenty of money and plenty of Irishmen.

She arrived 5 November 1916, in New York City, for her first visit to America. The United States’ entry into the fight in Europe was five months ahead, the Easter Rising in Ireland seven months past. The New York Times reported “the countess said that the trouble was quieting down and that the streets of Dublin had been cleared of debris preparatory to erecting new buildings in place of those destroyed in the rebellion.”

She disembarked the ocean liner St. Louis “with a large supply of shamrocks and the names of many people, patrons and patronesses of her society, among them many Americans now living on the other side who are aiding her work,” the Times told its readers. For small sums, donors received paper shamrocks with pins; those who gave $1 or more received finer pieces of enamel. As for herself, the countess frequently wore a wedding gift shamrock, “in green enamel, set with diamonds, a K for Kingston, L for Lisette, her own name, a solitaire diamond dewdrop in the center and a coronet surmounting the whole.”

Lady Kingston told the Times that about 800 men were being cared for by the Shamrock Fund, but the numbers were growing daily. Men who lost limbs in the war received pensions sufficient for their support, but soldiers with lesser injuries received only $1.25 to $2.50 per week, she said, which was “inadequate” for their civilian survival.

“Our chief object is to start a home for men who have been discharged for tuberculosis, which they contract through the exposure in the trenches,” the countess said. “After the war there will be thousands of Irish soldiers and sailors who will need assistance.”

She was right about that. Some 200,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British military from 1914 to 1918. Upwards of 49,000 were killed, and tens of thousands more were injured, both physically and psychologically. As with all wars, casualty figures are highly imprecise.

Money for Soldiers

The Shamrock Fund opened an office at 39 E. 58th St., New York. later moved to 14 E. 60th St. In Ireland, the effort was coordinated through an office at 30 Molesworth St, Dublin. In October 1917, the fund was listed among dozens of other “war relief charities rendering satisfactory financial accountings,” according to the U.S.-based Charity Organization Society.

From November 1916 until shortly after the November 1918 armistice, Lady Kingston crisscrossed the United States to enlist the financial and volunteer support of high society women and others in the cause helping disabled Irish soldiers. There were a few missteps along the way. Actor Charlie Chaplin failed to show for a New York concert, generating discontent among those who bought their tickets in advance. Some volunteers in Spokane, Washington state, were arrested for “aggressive fundraising” when they charged $4 for a sprig of shamrock.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Shamrock Fund also drew the attention of Parliament. In May 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McCalmont, an Antrim East M.P., raised questions about “the necessity for such an appeal to another country.” Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Pensions, told members the Shamrock Fund had donated £5,000 to the government’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society (Irish Branch), which was providing its own training and help for disabled soldiers to secure employment.

The Irish War Exhibit was part of a new effort to raise $350,000. The Pittsburgh Daily Post reported that because of the assistance Lady Kingston received during her 1917 visit to the Pennsylvania city, then a major Irish immigrant hub, “and because of their interest, Pittsburgh was selected as the city in which the drive would be launched.” The display was free to the public 24-29 June, in the 11th floor auditorium of the Kaufmann’s department store. Someone donated a 200-year-old “Irish lace Limerick veil” for later auction, and at least $1,000 was raised in one day, according to newspaper reports.

From Pittsburgh, the countess and the war exhibit traveled west to Elgin, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa, during July; Butte, Montana, and Salt Lake City, Utah, in August; Seattle, Washington, in October; and Portland, Oregon, in November, among other stops, also typically at department stores. The war was ended by the time Lady Kingston and her collection of war curios reached the O’Connor, Moffat & Co., store in San Francisco, California, in early December.

As she prepared to return to Ireland in March 1919, Lady Kingston reported the fund had raised an audited sum of $71,400 and secured jobs for 2,630 men. A special hospital to help wounded soldiers also was established in Bray, County Wicklow. The countess said:

I have been everywhere and everywhere found friends and support. … While these broken men live their claim on Irish men and women is sacred, coming before every other claim. We Irish women (she reportedly was born in Scotland) realize what we owe them, and all we can do is pay something on account by showing them how to take up life again.

In the trenches of World War I.

NOTES:

Lady Kingston quotes and Dublin office address, New York Herald, March 23, 1919, page 58. … The New York Times, Nov. 6, 1916, page 11; Nov. 12, 1916, page 40; and Oct. 7, 1917, page 27. … Occasional fundraising troubles, from Little Book of Bray and Enniskerry, by Brian White, The History Press of Ireland, Dublin, 2016. No page numbers in online edition. … Parliamentary attention in May 1918, links to Hansard, the Official Report. … Pittsburgh details from Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 23, 1918, page 16; Pittsburgh Press, June 29, 1918, page 2. … Irish War Exhibit itinerary based on other local newspaper coverage, viewed via Newspapers.com.

Missing in plain sight: the case of ‘Sea Lark’

The “Wreck Viewer” digital mapping tool released by Ireland’s National Monument Service is generating media attention and interest among historians, divers and others. Nearly 4,000 wrecks are featured in the interactive map, from prehistoric log boats found in inland lakes and rivers; to the RMS Lusitania torpedoed in May 1915 by a German U-boat; up to a 62-foot fishing vessel that sank in January 2017.

But sail with caution. As the Monument Service notes:

…the development of the Wreck Viewer is an ongoing project and the Viewer should not be relied upon as a definitive listing or display of all known wreck data. Records will be added to, refined, and updated on an ongoing basis and as new information becomes available.

Shipwrecks with known locations shown on the map are only about 22 percent of the total number of records contained in the agency’s database. The locations of approximately 14,000 more wrecks remain to be confirmed, though some details about them are available in a downloadable database.

National Monument Service’s “Wreck Viewer.”

The Sea Lark is a case in point. The 19 November 1846, wreck at Ballybunion, County Kerry is part of the Monument Service database, but it is not shown on the map. It is missing from the Irish Shipwrecks website, but found at IrishWrecksOnline.net, both independently produced listings.

The cargo schooner set out from Tarbert as the Great Famine settled on Ireland. Once it washed ashore near the mouth of the River Cashen, the Sea Lark was ravaged “by myriads of the country people whose first work was to lacerate her sides in order to effect the business of destruction and plunder with more ease and effect,” according to a contemporary account in the Tralee Chronicle. Moreover, “the most unscrupulous robbery was committed not by labourers or small farmers alone but by men of apparent wealth and respectability.”

Bryan MacMahon details the Sea Lark‘s plunder in The Great Famine in Tralee and North Kerry, Mercier Press, 2017Fin Dwyer wrote about the episode in Irish Central. The wreck is also referenced by Danny Houlihan in Ballybunion: An Illustrated History, The History Press Ireland, 2011.

The Monument Service database contains some details of 73 wrecks in Irish waters during 1846, but only two unnamed vessels are shown on its map: a February loss 190 miles southwest of Baltimore, County Cork; and a September sinking more than 300 miles southwest of the same coast. The Irish Shipwrecks database lists three vessels lost in 1846; two off Down and one at Wexford.

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Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Final thoughts

This is the last post in a blog serial that has explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. All of the hyperlinks below are to earlier posts in the series. All of the posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. Thanks for supporting #IUCRevisited.

***

“I went to Ireland … to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

I discovered the digital edition of Ireland Under Coercion several years ago while researching the 1888 Kerry murders of James Fitzmaurice and John Foran. The former was shot at dawn, 31 January 1888, at Lixnaw, as Hurlbert awoke in Dublin for his first full day in Ireland. He mentions the murder several times in the book. Foran was shot in late July, as the first edition of IUC was in production for its August 1888 release.

Period illustration of the murder of James Fitzmaurice, survived by his daughter Nora, which occurred in January 1888 as Hurlbert began his six-month travels in Ireland.

I was intrigued by the book from an American journalist traveling in Ireland during a flare up in the decade-long Land War. Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip began shortly after the Times of London published its “Parnellism and Crime” series and ended just as a special judicial commission began hearings that largely disproved the newspaper’s allegations. He was in Ireland as the Vatican issued the Papal decree against boycotting and the rent-withholding Plan of Campaign. Tenant evictions continued on several large estates during this period. The rapidly growing number of nationalist newspapers that covered these events, Hurlbert asserted, did so less for domestic consumption than for foreign audiences. Across the Atlantic, the Irish in America played a significant role in their homeland politics as mass emigration continued from Ireland.

Like other journalists who wrote books about their visits to Ireland during this period, Hurlbert described the beauty of the landscape. He also detailed the sights of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny and smaller towns. Today, there is a romantic, late 19th century aura to his travels by rail and jaunting car. One of my favorite passages in the book:

“I pity the traveler of the future here, if he is never to know the delight of traversing these wild and picturesque wastes in such weather as we have had today, on a [jaunting] car, well-balanced by a single pleasant companion, drinking, as he goes, deep draughts of the Atlantic air.”

A rural road in Donegal. Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

Hurlbert’s main focus was the big issues of the day: Home Rule, boycotting and moonlighting. He interviewed numerous people who shaped the period: Land League leader Michael Davitt; Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour; Catholic clergy and tenant activists Father James McFadden of Donegal, Father Patrick White of Clare, and Father Daniel Keller of Cork; Ulster Protestant clergymen and unionist supporters Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna and Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, both in Belfast; physically-challenged Irish aristocrat Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh; and the aging Fenian John O’Leary

To be sure, there are challenges to reading Hurlbert’s book. His conservative, pro-landlord, pro-unionist views frequently come across as smug, elitist and–history shows–wrong. He didn’t write the ugliest Irish stereotypes of the day, but they lurk between the lines. Many of his references to Irish and other world history, literature, and the law will be obscure to most modern readers.

Title page from digitized edition of Ireland Under Coercion.

Hurlbert’s 19th century writing style, meandering prose often filled with personal asides and other tangents, is grammatically correct; yet can be cumbersome for 21st century readers who prefer shorter sentences. Too many of the journal-dated sections of the book lack smooth transitions between paragraphs and could have benefited from subheads. Near the end of the book, Hurlbert accommodated the eleventh-hour request from one of his hosts to protect sources by replacing their names or other identifying information with clusters of * * * * *. It’s an unacceptable contrivance for a piece of journalism.

I don’t doubt that Hurlbert’s grave concerns about the outcome of Irish agrarian agitation and nationalist movements were deeply influenced by his experiences of witnessing the terrible American Civil War. Neither do I disagree with the contemporary critics who charged that Ireland Under Coercion was the American expat’s barely-disguised bid to cozy up to the British establishment. The project apparently generated some late-career income for Hurlbert after what appears to have been a comfortable and enjoyable tour of Ireland. He would need it, as his private life was soon caught up in a public scandal.

There is certainly more material in the book than I have been able to explore in the 40 previous posts of this series. I expect to return to this project in the future. For now, however, I’m moving on to other work. Thanks again for supporting Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited. MH

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NOTES: Top quote from page 10 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.  

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan