Two Irish-American newspapers, one epic story

Ireland’s War of Independence, including key people and events in America, made frequent headlines from 1919 through 1922 in U.S. daily newspapers and the Irish-American press. My ongoing exploration of the period is focused on coverage in two of these ethnic papers: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia weekly with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; and the Kentucky Irish American, published in Louisville from 1898 to 1968, which offered more mainstream support for Ireland’s cause. Digitized collections of both papers allow links to the historical pages. The study also considers other U.S. and Irish-American newspapers and additional resources. MH

KENTUCKY IRISH AMERICAN

The Kentucky Irish American debuted in Louisville on July 4, 1898, a Monday. “We started off on the Fourth of July just to cheer up our patriotic Irish-American friends, but Saturday will be the regular publication day,” the newspaper’s first editorial informed readers. It continued:

It will be the policy of this paper to speak for the Irish interests in Louisville and Kentucky. We do not mean by this that they should be advanced to the exclusion of others, but shall maintain that they have their just dues in public and private life. … We shall go on the principle that “the truth will make you free,” and we propose to stick to that.

First-generation Irish-American William M. Higgins, a 46-year-old typesetter transplanted from Syracuse, New York, founded the paper. He was listed as “manager” on the masthead under the motto: “Devoted to the Moral and Social Advancement of All Irish Americans.” Higgins was assisted by John J. Barry, a 21-year-old from Louisville’s heavily-Irish Limerick neighborhood, named after the home county of many of its immigrants.

Louisville, circa 1910.

The front page of the inaugural issue featured photos of three Kentucky delegates to the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ national convention in Trenton, New Jersey. In the years ahead, the paper became strongly Democratic, Irish, and Catholic, “always ready to rebut those who challenged Catholic patriotism or allegiance to American democracy. … [Its] editorial policy was consistently pro-labor but anti-socialist [and] its most steady and consistent enemies included the Republican Party, the anti-immigrant American Protective Association, the Ku Klux Klan, Great Britain, and the [rival daily] Currier-Journal. … [The KIA] strongly opposed prohibition, woman suffrage, and talk of a League of Nations.”1

The Irish American provided extensive coverage of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, beginning with its May 6 issue:

Despite the censored dispatches from London as to the rebellion in Ireland against English rule Irish separatists in this country do not believe that the uprising in Dublin was the formal planned beginning of a revolution, and they scout the idea that the capture of the British Postoffice and the severing of telegraph wires In the Irish capital were financed or instigated by the Germans, or was timed with reference to the attempted raid by Sir Roger Casement. But they do believe that Ireland’s golden opportunity for revolution has come, and that the Dublin incident, whether or not a part of a formal programme, will serve very well for the historian of a free Ireland as a picturesque point of departure in short, another Boston Tea Party or battle of Lexington.

The Irish American’s coverage of Sinn Féin‘s December 1918 election victory, including hyperlinks to the pages, can be found in my earlier post.

THE IRISH PRESS

The Kentucky weekly was 20 years old by the time The Irish Press of Philadelphia (not to be confused with the same name Dublin journal, 1931-1995) published its first issue on March 23, 1918, just missing a St. Patrick’s Day debut. “A journal of Irish news, Irish opinions and Irish literature, published in the interest of an independent Ireland” declared the motto below the nameplate. A profile photo of Patrick Pearse, executed 22 months earlier for his role in the Rising, was the lone image on the  front page.

The maiden editorial explained the paper’s mission:

The Irish Press will be an Irish Ireland journal, and its support will be given to all movements having for their object the national regeneration of Ireland. It will support everything that deserves support and criticize everything that needs criticism. … [It] will make a specialty of Irish country news. … It will be equal to you receiving a score or more Irish papers from home weekly.

The Press emerged in the waning months of the Great War as several established Irish-American newspapers, notably the New York-based Gaelic American, faced U.S. government censorship for their alleged ties to the German enemy. At the same time, a split among Irish nationalists in America pit the Gaelic American‘s John Devoy and his ally Daniel F. Cohalan, against Press publisher Joseph McGarrity and his editor, Patrick McCartan.

McGarrity, 44, and McCartan, 40, each hailed from Carrickmore, County Tyrone, in today’s Northern Ireland. Both men were members of the Clan na Gael, the American offshoot of the Irish Republican Brotherhood; insiders who shaped Irish events on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as report them in the newspaper. McCartan was among the Sinn Féin winners in the 1918 election.

The Irish Press quickly became “the voice of Ireland,” which provided “an amazingly detailed record of contemporary events in the story of Ireland” and “unstinted support” for Éamon de Valera during his 18-month tour of America, beginning June 1919.2

More about the founders and editors of both newspapers, and the Irish communities of Louisville and Philadelphia, in future posts.

Philadelphia, 1913

  1. From “Introduction: A Brief History of the Kentucky Irish American” in Mike Barry and the Kentucky Irish American: An Anthology, Clyde F. Crews, ed. University Press of Kentucky, 1995, via jstor.org
  2.  Assignment America: De Valera’s Mission to the United States, Katherine O’Doherty. DeTanko Publishers, New York, 1957, p. 26

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