Happy St. Patrick’s Day, 2018

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s my annual holiday round up of news and features about the Irish and Irish America.

Annual Washington Festivities

Barack and Enda … Enda and Donald … Donald and Leo. The mid-March Washington meeting of U.S. president and Irish taoiseach has changed each of the last three years. Given the political uncertainties for both leaders, we could see another pairing in 2019. What’s more important is that Ireland, including the north, continues to receive this annual day of unmatched attention.

Coverage of this year’s early meeting:

St. Patrick’s Parades
  • In the digital age, it’s possible to watch the Dublin parade from anywhere in the world via Ireland’s RTÉ Player.
  • In New York City, marchers will carry a banner demanding “England Get Out of Ireland” for the 70th year, the New York Times reports.

For several years I’ve made an extra effort to visit St. Patrick’s churches in my travels. See my full list. Here are a few favorites:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland: Given the city’s long history of sectarian strife, the opportunity to practice my Catholic faith felt infused with extra meaning and significance.
  • Rome, Italy: The church’s foundation stone was laid 130 years ago as Irish tenant farmers battled absentee landlords. The Vatican’s response to the trouble wasn’t welcomed back home.
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Typical of the Eastern U.S., the parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when Irish immigrants helped to build a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes. A new building and vibrant Irish-American community were established by the early 20th century.

Stain glass image of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa. church.

Fading of the Green

“The ranks of Americans who trace their ancestry back to Ireland – long one of the most prominent subgroups in American society – are slowly declining,” Pew Research reported a year ago, citing U.S. Census Bureau figure in an update of its original 2015 post.

The trend continues. The latest available data in the 2016 American FactFinder shows 32.3 million American identify as having Irish heritage, down from nearly 36 million in 2006. This map used to be much greener:

The American Conservative offered a review of Breandan Mac Suibhne’s book, The End of Outrage, which “studies the Irish habit of ambivalently accepting the present while willfully forgetting the past.”

Under the headline “Slow Fade of Pennsylvania Irish,” the review by Charles F. McElwee III continues:

The dispersing of Irish Catholic hamlets to suburbia, accompanied by the closure or demographic change of parishes, has further erased remnants of this once identifiable cultural tribe. … Millennials will likely be the last generation to fully comprehend … [Irish Catholic] tribal qualities. The Irish Catholic experience peaked during the Second Vatican Council, but has slowly faded with the death of older relatives, the changed cultural makeup of urban neighborhoods, the dissolution of cash-strapped and scandal-ridden parishes, and an overall indifference towards tradition in this modern era.

Euros and Greenbacks

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ireland released “U.S.-Ireland Business 2018: A Two-Way Relationship.” The 92-page report tells the story of how over 700 established and new U.S. companies continue to invest in Ireland; and how up to 400 Irish firms now have operations in the U.S., while 300 more export to America. U.S. firms employ more than 155,000 people in Ireland; Irish affiliated entities have more than 100,000 workers on their payrolls in all 50 states.

Fields of Green
  • There’s been a small uproar (tempest in a pint?) since January, when ESPN’s Max Kellerman suggested Notre Dame University should ditch its “Fighting Irish” mascot as a “pernicious, negative stereotype of marginalized people.” Writing in the The Federalist, Matthew Boomer responded: “As an Irish-American and Notre Dame alumnus I am happy to explain why calling for the leprechaun’s head, far from being a blow for justice, is an utterly futile and self-serving exercise in which one attempts to establish progressive bona fides by tearing down an actual symbol of progress.”
  • With baseball season just a few weeks away, former news researcher Bill Lucey bats home a nice post about “Baseball and its Irish Roots” on his DailyNewsGems blog.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Hurlbert who?

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“ … [A]ll my observations and comments have been made from an American, not from a British or an Irish point of view.  How or by whom Ireland shall be governed concerns me only in so far as … [it] may tend to affect the future of my country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

William Henry Hurlbert

My posts about Hurlbert’s reporting in Ireland have now covered the contents of Volume 1 of his book, roughly the one-month period from his late January 1888 arrival in Dublin through the third week of February, 1888. Before starting Volume 2, I want to take a break from the text to focus some attention on the author. This will serve as a foundation for later posts on his views about Ireland and the Irish in America.

The best source of information about Hurlbert is Daniel W. Crofts’ 2010 book,  A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public man”Crofts writes in his Preview:

His name will not be familiar—hardly anyone today ever has heard of this eccentric nineteenth-century genius. Sic transit gloria mundi. (Thus passes the glory of the world.) Acclaimed at his height as “the most brilliant talent of the New York press” and “the only artist among American journalists,” Hurlbert once commanded attention.

The quotes cited by Crofts are from 1869, nearly 20 years before Ireland Under Coercion and a decade before “The diary of a public man,” his most consequential work, was published in The North American Review. The Diary, as Crofts wrote in this 2011 piece for The New York Times:

…offered verbatim accounts of behind-the-scenes discussions at the very highest levels during the winter of 1860 and ’61. Its pithy quotations attributed to the key principals — Stephen A. Douglas, William H. Seward and especially Abraham Lincoln — have been endlessly recycled by historians. But the author of the diary remained cloaked in anonymity … [and] the purported diary was not an actual diary … [it] was a fictional construct … rooted in reality.

Crofts surveyed the “enormous printed output” of Hurlbert’s journalism career, before and after the Diary was published, to establish as well as possible more than 100 years later that he was the mysterious author. Crofts also worked with statistician David Holmes to subject the Diary to an analysis of literary style known as “stylometry,” which quantifies frequently used words and patterns of words.

Ireland Under Coercion had “important implications” for their analysis, Crofts wrote. Hurlbert’s vocabulary and alliterations in the 1888 book were “strikingly reminiscent” of the Diary published nine years earlier.

Other highlights of Hurlbert’s life from Crofts’ book:

  • Born in 1827 in Charleston, South Carolina. His family moved to Philadelphia in 1831 and remained there through 1843, then went back to South Carolina after Hurlbert’s father died.
  • Hurlbert attended Harvard College from 1845 through 1849, obtaining undergraduate and divinity degrees. “He appears to have been … a young man of enormous talent, plainly destined for great success.”
  • After college, Hurlbert traveled in Europe, served a brief stint as a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, and finally began working as a journalist, joining The New York Times in 1856.
  • Between 1857 and 1869, Hurlbert was portrayed as a fictional character in three novels by people who knew him. These portrayals offered “a baffling mix of qualities,” from “warmly ingratiating and intellectually brilliant” to “secretive, self-centered and ultimately self-destructive,” according to Crofts.
  • A Douglas supporter, Hurlbert’s personal peacekeeping mission in 1861 resulted in his 13-month imprisonment by the Confederates in Richmond, Virginia. He escaped, returned to the North, and soon joined the New York World, which he subsequently edited.
  • As he was writing the Diary in 1879, Hurlbert also led the successful campaign to move a 3,500-year-old obelisk, “Cleopatra’s Needle,” from Egypt to New York City’s Central Park, where it remains today.
  • After being ousted from the World in 1883 by new ownership, Hurlbert married and moved to Europe. He quickly followed Ireland Under Coercion with another book about France. But Hurlbert soon got caught up an extramarital affair and highly-publicized court case that scandalized his waning reputation. He died in Italy in 1895, “an exile [and] a fugitive from the law.”

As suggested above, future posts will deal with Hurlbert’s views of the Irish in America and how his experiences with the American Civil War influenced his views on the agrarian agitation and Home Rule movement in Ireland. I’ll also look at the U.S. and European reviews of Ireland Under Coercion.

New York City in the 1880s. After Hurlbert”s U.S. newspaper career peaked in 1883, he moved to Europe. He traveled in Ireland during the first half of 1888.

NOTES:  Opening quote from page 8 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Other material from A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public man by Daniel W. Crofts.

NEXT: An eviction

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion: Killone Abbey

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“In the afternoon we took a delightful walk to Killone Abbey, a pile of monastic ruins on a lovely site near a very picturesque lake.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert visited numerous places and sites in Ireland 130 years ago that remain tourist attractions today. In Clare, this included Killone Abbey, about three miles south of Ennis. Like similar Irish ruins, the former Augustinian abbey was converted into a graveyard used “not only by the people of Ennis, but by the farmers and villagers for many miles around,” Hurlbert wrote.

But he was appalled by the conditions:

The graves are, for the most part, shallow, and closely huddled together. The cemetery, in truth, is a ghastly slum, a ‘tenement-house’ of the dead. The dead of to-day literally elbow the dead of yesterday out of their resting-places, to be in their turn displaced by the dead of to-morrow. Instead of the crosses and the fresh garlands, and the inscriptions full of loving thoughtfulness [of German and English cemeteries] … all here is confusion, squalor and neglect.

Hulbert and his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Stacepoole, also found skull with “a clean round bullet hole in the very center of the frontal bone,” the American wrote. “Was it the skull of a patriot or of a policeman? of a “Whiteboy” or of a “landlord”?

Father Patrick White, in Hurlbert unmasked, mocked the scene, writing that Hurlbert “had not read his ‘Hamlet’ in vain.” The priest was bothered that Hurlbert sarcastically answered his own question by suggesting the shooting victim had been “some peasant selfishly and recklessly bent on paying his rent.” The American reporter was taking his own shot at the Land League.

Killone Abbey. Image by John Armagh.

Hurlbert’s party moved on:

Near the ruins of Killone is a curious ancient shrine of St John, beside a spring known as the holy well. All about the rude little altar in the open air simple votive offerings were displayed, and Mrs. Stacpoole tells me pilgrims come here from Galway and Connemara to climb the hill upon their knees, and drink of the water. Last year for the first time within the memory of man the well went dry. Such was the distress caused in Ennis by this news, that on the eve of St John certain pious persons came out from the town, drew water from the lake, and poured it into the well!

The County Clare Library has additional resources about Killone Abbey Graveyard and St. John’s Well.

NOTES:  From pages 176-179 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American; page 11 of Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ .

NEXT: Hurlbert who?

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland

Another St. Patrick’s Day is nearing, so it must be time for another story about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Last March, Fordham University’s former Irish Studies Director John P. McCarthy wrote the dirge in The Catholic World Report. Later in the year new CSO data confirmed the diminishing demographics of Catholic Ireland. Now, America, the Jesuit Review, Senior Editor James T. Keane takes on the dreary duty of considering “The Future of Catholic Ireland.” (The online version of this headline adds the adjective “uncertain” before future.)

Cover of the March 5, 2018, issue of America.

The magazine cover features a lovely photo of St. Coleman’s Cathedral towering behind the almost equally famous pastel houses of nearby West View in Cobh. I will never forget my first visit there nearly 20 years ago. (My photos are prints, not digital!)

It was a sunny May afternoon highlighted by walking the waterfront where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated in September 1912 and May 1913, respectively. They were both deeply Catholic, at least in the superficial ways of their generation. I do not know what was in their hearts regarding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the Pope, then Pius X. I do not doubt, though I can not prove, that St. Coleman’s was the last church each visited on Irish soil, to light a votive, whisper a prayer, and bless themselves.

St. Coleman’s spire under construction in 1914.

There is a small detail about St. Coleman’s that I learned on that first visit that has remained with me ever since. The great bulk of the church was completed after more than 40 years of construction when my grandparents made their way from north Kerry to Cobh, then Queenstown. But the gracefully tapering spire was still wrapped in scaffolding. This last segment of external work was not finished until 1915.

Is there is a metaphor here? The church then under construction is now over a century old; the once teenage emigrants are now dead for decades. But lead me not into the temptation of sentimentality. As Keane writes near the end of his America piece:

[Dublin] Archbishop [Diarmuid] Martin (See his 2014 St. Patrick’s Day post in America.) also cautioned against equating the reality of Irish life with the cultural perceptions of what he called “the Auld Sod brigade,” Irish-American descendants of emigrants whose sentimental memories (real or not) of Ireland are not always or often shared by the nation’s residents. The world of potato farms improbably coaxed out of rocky soil, or of Gothic Revival chapels full of sturdy peasants on the path to the priesthood, has more life in those sentimental memories than in reality. The church may never again look as it did in [the seminary of St. Patrick’s College at] Maynooth 100 years ago, but the history of places like the Aran Islands suggest it will persist in some vital way.  … [T]he future of Irish Catholicism, whatever it may be, is tied up with the future of an Ireland that is now far different from what many Americans imagine. … The Irish are Europeans now.

I suggest the ranks of “the Auld Sod brigade” are as depleted as the pews of Archbishop Martin’s Dublin churches. Keane writes that reports of “physical abuse in Irish schools, orphanages, Magdalene laundries and other church institutions have been legion in the Irish media in recent years.” Does he think that Irish Americans have missed these stories? … or the reports of Ireland’s 2015 approval of a same-sex marriage? … or the current coverage leading up to the likely May repeal of its constitutional ban on most abortions? Nearly every one of these accounts includes an obligatory context paragraph about the changed church in “once conservative” Ireland.

Certainly the decline of the church is not news to those of us who regularly visit Ireland and still practice the faith. We have seen the empty pews and accepted the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of priests native to Asia or Africa, instead of Kerry or Kildare. For the most part, we embrace the more liberal, modern, “European” Ireland.

These reports about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland have become hackneyed.  I am more interested in what Keane describes as “some unanticipated future” of the faith in Ireland. The day after his America piece was published, author Angela Hanley, writing in The Irish Times, described “a small, quiet revolution taking place” within the church.

People who have been totally alienated from the Roman imperial model of church are still seeking to express their Catholic faith within community, because they truly understand this is most authentic place for faith practice. They are finding this community, which may or may not include priests, not in the formal structure of church but in homes.

That’s the Holy Spirit at work, in Ireland, in America and elsewhere. It gives me hope for the future rather than more hand wringing that “romantic [Catholic] Ireland’s dead and gone.”

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: On boycotting

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“The author … tells a story … of ‘boycotting’ long before Boycott.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert mentioned “boycott” about two dozen times in his book, which is somewhat remarkable considering the word had not existed eight years earlier. It resulted from the 1880 social and commercial ostracism of County Mayo land agent Captain Charles Boycott in a key early protest of the decade’s agrarian agitation in Ireland.

In his discussion about boycotting in Milltown Malbay (See previous post), Hurlbert referenced a passage from the 1852 book Fortnight in Ireland, by  Sir Francis Head. The book was based on Head’s one-week visit to the island, his first, near the end of the Great Famine.

In a description of religion conversion efforts tied to charity (“Protestant missionary zeal with Protestant donations of meal”, in Hurlbert’s phrasing), Head noted 36 years earlier:

Any Roman Catholic who listens to a Protestant clergyman, or to a Scripture reader, is denounced as a marked man, and people are forbidden to have any dealings with him in trade or business, to sell him food or buy it from him.

A boycott! The phenomenon is even older, however, according to Samuel Clark in his seminal work, Social Origins of the Irish Land War:

The practice was obviously not invented by Irish farmers in 1880. For centuries, in all parts of the world, it had been employed by active combinations [social groups] for a variety of purposes. In rural Ireland itself the practice of refusing to bid for involuntarily vacated farms or for distrained livestock had a long history, as did the ostracism of landgrabbers. Even during the Land War, the tactic was used well before the Boycott affair; and it had been advocated on numerous occasions before [Charles Stewart] Parnell recommended it in September 1880.


It seems an oversight by Hurlbert that as he reported about boycotting in County Clare, he did not reference Parnell’s speech eight years earlier at Ennis. Parnell spoke weeks before Boycott’s troubles began in the Lough Mask area of Mayo, 80 miles to the north. Parnell said:

When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.


Michael Davitt also used the image of a leper in his 29 January 1888, speech at Rathkeale; the oration about not overusing the term “Bloody Balfour” that caught Hurlbert’s attention upon his arrival in Ireland. Davitt also said:

I maintain that a landgrabber is a thief, when he covets and steals his unfortunate neighbor’s holdings, and I want to say once more, what I repeated on a hundred platforms, that the landgrabber incurred malediction in the days when the Holy Bible was written: ‘Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark.’ He is a cowardly, slimy renegade, a man who should be look upon as a social leper, contact with whom should be considered a stigma and a reproach.

As noted in an earlier post, Davitt complained in his diary that the Freeman’s Journal (and other papers) did not report this portion of his speech. It was, however, quoted in Parliament the week that Hurlbert was in Clare.

In Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert reported that some landlords and their workers suggested they were able to withstand boycotts without much impact. In places such as Kerry, however, he noted that the “dual government” of the Land League “enforce[d] their decrees by various forms of outrage, ranging from the boycott, in its simplest forms, up to direct outrages upon property and the person.”

This included the murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice, two days after Davitt’s Rathkeale speech. See my earlier post.

Period illustration of the January 1888 murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice in front of his daughter Nora. She was not physically harmed.

I’ll give the last word to Father Patrick White, parish priest of Milltown Malbay, who Hurlbert reported as being “the moving spirit” behind a series of boycotts in Clare. Father White denied the allegation in his rebuttal booklet, Hurlbert unmasked: an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ . He explained:

There was unquestionably boycotting in the district, and as [local Land League] president … I had to take note of it. The people, goaded by desperation by the terrible distress of [18] ’78, ’79 and ’80, were up in arms against the heartlessness and the cruelties of the Landlord system, which had paved the way to it. … Against such an obstacle as this neither an appeal to justice nor argument of was of any value whatsoever, so boycotting was resorted to. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies … The people fully appreciated my difficulty [as a priest] acting as president with them, and never pressed me to accept, or put from the chair, any boycotting resolution.

I’ll return to this issue in a future post about another word that came out of the late 19th century agrarian agitation in Ireland: moonlighting.

NOTES:  Hurlbert referenced Fortnight on page 172 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Quote about “dual government,” etc., on page 219. Quote from Head on page 155 of Fortnight. Quote from Clark on page 311 of Social Origins. Quote from Father White on pages 17-18 of Hurlbert Unmasked.

NEXT: Killone Abbey

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion: Milltown Malbay

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“Only yesterday no fewer than 23 of these publicans from Milltown Malbay appeared at Ennis here to be tried for ‘boycotting’ the police. … An important feature of this case is the conduct of Father White, the parish priest.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

One of the more controversial aspects of Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion was his coverage of boycotting activity in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis in County Clare. Citing government officials and reports, Hurlbert accused Father Patrick White of helping to organize the activity.

Father White strongly rebutted Hurlbert’s characterizations in his own booklet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ , published in 1890 or 1891, about two years after Hurlbert’s book.

Hurlbert arrived in Ennis on 18 February 1888, a few days after his London meeting with Michael Davitt. (See post 15 and post 16). The American reporter had left Ireland four days earlier for an unexplained side trip to Paris, which suddenly became “unnecessary.”

At Ennis, Hurlbert connected with Colonel Alfred Turner, a high-ranking police commissioner; Cecil Roach, a resident magistrate from neighboring County Kerry, and Richard Stacpoole, “a gentleman of position and estate” who had welcomed London journalist Bernard Becker to the region eight years earlier.

“I was struck by the extraordinary number of public houses in Ennis,” Hurlbert remarked. He reported being told by a police sergeant that Milltown Malby, with a population of 1,400, had 36 pubs, and that 23 of the publicans had boycotted the police. Hurlbert reported that during their trials, one was acquitted; one discharged; 10 signed guarantees in court to refrain from further conspiracies; and 11 were sent to the gaol (jail).

Main Street in Milltown Malbay, circa 1890, a few years after Hurlbert’s visit. Image from The Lawrence Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland.

Col. Turner told Hurlbert that Father White “was the moving spirit” of the local boycotting activity. Hurlbert wrote:

All this to an American resembles a tempest in a tea-pot. But it is a serious matter to see a priest of the Church assisting laymen to put their fellow-men under a social interdict … [I]t is a serious scandal that a parish priest should lay himself open to the imputation of acting in concert with any political body whatever, on any pretext whatever, to encourage such proceedings.

In three days of diary entries and 30 pages of the book, Hurlbert weaved in and out of the case. He reproduced the full police report of a related case handed to him by Col. Turner, as well as letters between Col. Turner and Father White. As the book was going to press later that year, the policeman and the priest each provided additional letters to Hurlbert to further clarify their positions. These were published in the Appendix.

Father White devoted half of his 32-page pamphlet to rebutting Hurlbert’s characterization of himself and the situation in Milltown Malbay. “He has libeled me, and libeled me unsparingly,” the priest wrote. He considered taking Hurlbert to court, “but legal friends … dissuaded me” because a Tory or Unionist sympathizer on the jury would probably nix a favorable verdict.

The tit-for-tat of the episode is too tedious to detail here. It does illustrate how local tensions between police and communities unfolded against the national developments of the Land War and Home Rule movement. In fact, as Hurlbert noted, the case of one boycotted family in Milltown Malbay was raised in Parliament in a debate between John Redmond, then a nationalist M.P. for Wexford North, and Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour.

The Clare County Library has compiled a number of resources about Milltown Malbay, including the relevant extract from Hurlbert’s book and an article about the July 1888 evictions on the Vandeleur Estate, Kilrush. Unfortunately, Hurlbert unmasked is not so easy to access.

NOTES: Pages 165 to 195 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I obtained a copy of Hurlbert unmasked thanks to an inter-library loan from Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. The pamphlet is also available at the National Library of Ireland.

NEXT: On boycotting

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: More Davitt

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“…I could neither ask, nor, if I asked, could expect to get from him.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hulbert recognized that Michael Davitt was not going to divulge the latest strategies inside the Irish agrarian and nationalist movements. Based on the five pages Hurlbert devoted to his one hour interview with Davitt, it appears the American reporter did not ask many tough questions about such activities. He focused on other issues.


Hurlbert reported that Davitt’s thoughts were occupied with managing a wool export business, which the author believed could penetrate the American markets despite a tariff at the time.

“He has gone into it with all his usual earnestness and ability,” Hurlbert said of Davitt. “This is not a matter of politics with him, but of patriotism and of business. He tells me he has already secured very large orders from the United States.”

The day before his 15 February 1888, meeting with Hurlbert in London, Davitt wrote in his diary:

Attended Woolen Co. meeting. While doing fairly well in America, orders not as large as expected though. Visit was another loss for season.

The Irish Woolen Manufacturing & Export Company was established in spring 1887 with backing from about 20 Dublin business men. Davitt told the Freeman’s Journal that the enterprise would buy wool from small mills, pay owners on delivery of orders, “and in that way increase their confidence and help them to extend their works, improve the workmanship of their goods, and gradually multiply their hands.”

Hurlbert also suggested that Davitt was “quite awake” to the possibility of developing granite quarries in counties Donegal and in his native Mayo:

This bent of his mind towards the material improvement of the condition of the Irish people, and the development of the resources of Ireland, is not only a mark of his superiority to the rank and file of Irish politicians–it goes far to explain the stronger hold which he undoubtedly has on the people of Ireland.

The American reporter recognized Davitt’s interest in cultivating native industries. Davitt wrote a series of articles between November 1885 and January 1886 for the Dublin Evening Telegraph that “advanced practical proposals on industrial rejuvenation at a time when Dublin industries were moribund,”  historian Laurence Marley has noted. Marley continued:

Davitt had spoken of the need for Irish industrial development after his release from Dartmoor [prison]. … He undertook a number of industrial ventures, incurring considerable financial costs. His practical interventions met with little success, but the ideas which he expounded were nevertheless significant.

Davitt did not mention his interview with Hurlbert in his diary entries for February 1888, which include the passage about the Woolen Co. He also made more mundane notations, such as “Sick” ; “At home gardening all day” ; and “Wrote 25 letters since 8 last night.” His diary, notebooks, letters and other papers are held at Trinity College Dublin.

During his October 1889 testimony before the Special Commission on “Parnellism and Crime,” Davitt made a passing reference to Hurlbert as having attended a July 1882 speech he gave in New York. He described the American journalist as “at the time editor of a New York newspaper, now Coercionist chronicler for Mr. Balfour in Ireland.”

In his 1904 book, The fall of feudalism in Ireland; or, The story of the land league revolution, Davitt again briefly mentioned Hurlbert, by then dead for nine years:

Ireland Under Coercion … was intended to show that Mr. Parnell and the National League, not Mr. Balfour and Dublin Castle, were the true coercionists in Ireland. What the purpose or motive of the book was has remained a mystery.

Though Davitt did not mention his meeting Hurlbert in his diary, he certainly paid attention to his coverage in the press, including his 29 January 1888, speech in Rathkeale, County Limerick. In the diary, Davitt wrote:

Splendid report in yesterday’s London Times of my Rathkeale speech. Freeman[‘s Journal] had left out references to boycotting etc. Times leader strangely complimentary–which means, if it has any meaning–put this man in Tullamore.

Hurlbert commented about the Freeman’s coverage of Davitt’s speech upon his arrival in Dublin, as noted in my earlier post. The author made other references to Davitt throughout his book, which I’ll explore in later posts, as appropriate.

Davitt’s grave, Straide, County Mayo, February 2018.

NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I reviewed Davitt’s diary 21 February 2018 at Trinity College Dublin. (Thanks to the helpful staff.) Davitt’s Special Commission quote from page 152 of The Times Parnell Commission Speech Delivered by Michael Davitt in Defense of the Land League. Davitt’s second quote about Hurlbert from page 559 of  The fall of feudalism in Ireland. Details about Davitt’s business interests from pages 130 and 156-158 of “Davitt and Irish economic development: ideas and interventions” chapter of Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur, by Laurence Marley, Four Courts Press, 2007. … The paragraph about Davitt’s quote at the Special Commission added during revision, about a week after the original post.

NEXT: Milltown Malbay

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Meeting Davitt

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited


“Mr. Davitt spent an hour with me today, and we had a most interesting conversation.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert sought to interview Michael Davitt since his late January arrival in Dublin. The American journalist finally connected with the agrarian activist nearly three weeks later in London; Hurlbert having been called away from his travels in Ireland for reasons he did not explain in the book.

Hulbert reported that he had followed Davitt’s career “with lively personal interest” since they met in 1878 during the Irishman’s first visit to America. Davitt had just received his “ticket of leave,” or parole, from Dartmoor Prison, where he had served half of a 15-year sentence for treason related to his Fenian activities.


Davitt returned to Ireland in 1879 and helped found the Irish National Land League. Hurlbert, then editor of the New York World, said he dispatched a correspondent to Ireland to interview Davitt. He quotes Davitt from the nine-year-old interview as saying “the only issue upon which Home Rulers, Nationalists, Obstructionists, and each and every shade of opinion existing in Ireland could be united was the Land Question.”

(Davitt wrote at least one piece about the Land League for the New York World, on 4 June 1894, a year after the newspaper changed owners and Hurlbert departed as editor.)

In the 1888 London interview, Hurlbert reported that Davitt, then 42, was supporting English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in an upcoming by-election in Deptford, England. Blunt had become a supporter of Irish nationalism a few years earlier. According to Hurlbert, the parliamentary candidate told Davitt that Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour “meant to lock up and kill” the four “pivots” of the Irish movement: William O’Brien, Timothy Harrington, John Dillon and Davitt.

“How did you take it?” Hurlbert asked.

“Oh, I only laughed, and told him it would take more than Mr. Balfour to kill me, at any rate by putting me in prison,” Davitt replied. “As for being locked up, I prefer Cunninghame Graham‘s way of taking it, that he meant ‘to beat the record on oakum.’ ”

Graham was a journalist, socialist and Scottish nationalist M.P. who spent six weeks in prison for participating in the November 1887  Trafalgar Square Riots against unemployment and coercion in Ireland. He reportedly displayed great stoicism and refused to accept special privileges while incarcerated. As for oakum, the hard labor of unraveling old ropes was a common punishment in Victorian prisons; work Davitt had done during his Dartmoor imprisonment, despite having lost one arm in an industrial accident at age 11.

Statue of Michael Davitt outside the museum in his honor at Straide, County Mayo, his birth and burial place. Note the armless right sleeve of his jacket.

Blunt lost the by-election two weeks after Davitt’s interview with Hurlbert. In his own book about the Land War in Ireland, published in 1912, Blunt recalled his first meeting with Davitt in 1886 at the Imperial Hotel in Dublin:

“He is a most superior man, with more of the true patriot about him than any of those I have yet met. He knows the west of Ireland well, and is more interested in the Land Question even than Home Rule; an odd looking man, dark, sallow, gaunt, disfigured by the loss of his right arm, which is gone from the shoulder.”

Hurlbert also praised Davitt:

“If all the Irish ‘leaders’ were made of the same stuff with Mr. Davitt, the day of a great Democratic revolution [in Ireland] … might be a good deal nearer than anything in the signs of the times now show it to be. … I have always regarded him as the soul of the Irish agitation, of the war against ‘landlordism’  … and of the movement towards Irish independence. Whether agitation, the war, and the movement have gone entirely in accordance with his views and wishes is quite another matter. … [But] he has never made revenge and retaliation upon England either the inspiration or the aim of his revolutionary policy.”

NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Davitt’s 1879 quote on page 17. Blunt quote from page 50 of The Land War in Ireland: Being a Personal Narrative of Events. Davitt’s 1884 freelance story noted in Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World, by George Juergens, Princeton University Press, 2015, pages 258-259.

NEXT: More Davitt 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

I spent February producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. I also traveled to Ireland for a week of research and visiting relations in Dublin, Navan and Mayo. Before continuing my exploration of Hurlbert’s book, let’s catch up on developments about modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • 6 February was the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Ireland and Great Britain. Here’s an overview from John Dorney of The Irish Story.
  • Should there be an “Irexit” of Ireland from the European Union? A poll from TheJournal.ie said no.
  • The Washington Post reported on the battle over the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
  • Team Ireland had five athletes at the Winter Olympics: two from Ireland; one from America; one from France; and one from Norway. None won a medal.
  • The New York Times offered a feature story about the Great Western Greenway in Mayo.
  • I was blessed with mild weather during my visit. February ended with the island getting pummeled by a fierce winter storm.

A mild February afternoon in Mayo.

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 3

The final set of photos in this series from my just completed seventh visit to Ireland has a religious theme. I’ll be returning to my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series, and other history and contemporary issues shortly. As always, thanks for spending some time on my blog. MH

I returned to Knock, County Mayo, for the first time since 2001. The Basilica in 2016 added a giant mosaic of the 1879 apparition. The original church is being restored in anticipation of a potential visit by Pope Francis this August. Here’s my June 2017 piece on Knock’s vision visitors.

A giant mosaic unveiled in 2016 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock (Mayo) depicts the 1879 apparition.

After visiting the National Museum of Country Life near Castlebar, Mayo, I made the short drive to the Turlough Round Tower. It was built in the 9th century, with the church graveyard added to the grounds in the 18th century church.

This crucifixion plaque dates to 1625 (The numbers are barely visible below the figures).

I stopped at historic Saint Muredach’s Catholic Cathedral,facing the River Moy in Ballina, Mayo. I found two of Ireland’s patron saints in stained glass.

St. Patrick and St. Briget.