Category Archives: History

Ireland’s Famine Children “Born at Sea”

An 1868 illustration by Henry Doyle.

Anne Kerny wailed and moaned as the Garrick sailed to America during the worst winter of Ireland’s Great Famine. Somewhere in the Atlantic, before the ship reached New York City on January 20, 1848, the cries of the baby she delivered also filled the steerage compartment.

Bridget Kerny was not the only newborn of the 40-day journey from Liverpool. The Garrick was nearly a nursery, with 33 children born at sea among the 478 aboard, according to the Famine Irish Passenger Record Data File held at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Two of the babies died before the ship nudged the dock.

The online database shows 8,075 births at sea among more than 410,000 Irish passengers to arrive in New York from January 1846 through December 1851, the teeth of the Famine years. Of these newborns, 452 died, among 2,883 total reported fatalities. That’s a nearly three-to-one ratio of births-to-deaths, and an extra 7,623 passengers who did not embark from Irish or English ports.

Read the rest of this story, which I just published in Prologue Magazine, the official publication of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Battling books

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

***

“This sort of ostrich fury is common enough among the regular drumbeaters of the Irish agitation.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

An earlier post in this series mentioned Hurlbert’s reference to French journalist Paschal Grousset’s 1887 newspaper dispatches from Ireland, which were collected into the book Ireland’s Disease, the English in Ireland. It was among numerous books published during the 1880s by visitors to Ireland, including Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion.

In a late February 1888 diary entry from Partumna, County Galway, Hurlbert discussed two other recently published books about Ireland, also both written in French: Chez Paddy (Paddy at Home), by Baron Edmond de Mandat-Grancey, and the rebuttal, Pour l’Irlande (For Ireland), by Emile Piché, a French-Canadian priest. The former book favored the conservative government in London, the latter title was sympathetic to Irish tenants.

Hurlbert’s view of Piché’s book is summarized by his quote at the top. He scoffed at Pour l’Irlande’s  frontispiece, which featured a three-headed Cerberus-type monster with three collars labeled, in French, “Flattery,” “Famine,” and “Coercion.” The creature stands atop a pedestal with the inscription: “1800 to 1887. Erected by the grateful Irish to the English Government.”

The year 1800 refers to the Act of Union, which dissolved the Irish parliament and created direct rule from London, which prompted the Home Rule efforts of the 1880s. The labeling of one of beast’s collars as “coercion” refers to government actions against the agrarian uprising. It is opposite of how Hurlbert used the word in his book’s title and throughout its text to refer to the tactics of the Land League and other agrarian activists against landlords and the government.

Hurlbert complained that Piché’s description of the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions wasn’t fair to the land agent or the police. Remember, he had just visited Glenbeigh a few weeks earlier to report about landlord-tenant relations. The American also wrote he was “quite certain” that de Mandat-Grancey came to Ireland “with no prejudice in favor of the English Government, or against Nationalists.”

In discussing other contemporary reporting about Irish issues, Hurlbert knew that his own book would face scrutiny when it was published later that year. The conservative Times of London would write that Ireland Under Coercion was “quite different in character” but “not less interesting” than Chez Paddy, largely because both opposed Home Rule and agrarian reforms. The pro-Nationalist United Ireland described Hurlbert’s “libelous book” as being “fit to take its place amongst other grotesque foreign commentaries [such as] Chez Paddy.” In his criticism of Pour l’Irlande, Hurlbert described United Ireland as “that dumb organ of a downtrodden people.”

More reviews and reactions to Hurlbert’s book in a future post.

NOTES: From pages 249-252 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Times of London, 18 August 1888, and United Ireland, 25 August, 1888.

NEXT: Pope’s decree

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Two nicknames

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 found a good car at the railway station, and set off at once for Portumna.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In late February 1888, Hurlbert traveled from Cork city to Portumna in western County Galway, in the Irish Midlands. He stopped in Parsonstown, noting its ancient (and present) Irish name of Birr, from St. Brendan’s Abbey of Biorra. The American reporter described the town as “a clean prosperous place, carefully looked after by the chief landlord of the region, the Earl of Rosse,” a peerage of the Parsons family, and thus the town’s name in the 19th century.

This historic limestone boulder in Birr is referred to as the ‘Navel of Ireland’ and is often considered to mark the center of Ireland.

Hurlbert also mentioned that Sir William Petty called the place Umbilicus Hiberniae, or the “Navel of Ireland,” in his 1650s Survey of Ireland, since it was believed to be the center of Ireland. Other references to this nickname date to the 12th century.

The true geographic center of Ireland is actually 35 miles to the north, in Carnagh East townland, County Roscommon, near Altlone. The town straddles the River Shannon and also includes portion of County Westmeath.

***

Hurlbert made his way to Portmuna Castle on the estate of the Marquis of Clanricarde, where he was the guest of land agent Edward Shaw Tener. As they discussed the agrarian agitation in Ireland, Tener stated that he knew the agent’s job came with personal risk. Hurlbert then referenced an earlier passage of his book:

But he [Tener] takes this part of the contract very coolly, telling me that the only real danger, he thinks, is incurred when he makes a journey of which he has to send a notice by telegraph–a remark which recalled to me the curious advice given me in Dublin to seal my letters, as protection against ‘ the Nationalist clerks in the post offices.’ “

Portumna Castle

Tener said that his precautions were required “not at all against the tenants  … nor the people here at Portumna, but from mischievous and dangerous persons at Loughrea and Woodford,” outside the estate. “Woodford … got the name of the ‘cockpit of Ireland‘, because it was there that Mr. [John] Dillon, in October 1886, opened the ‘war against the landlords’ with the ‘Plan of Campaign’.”

NOTES: From pages 249 to 257, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Battling books

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Good Friday Agreement, now 20, also heralded digital age

In April 1998 I was working as a reporter at the Mobile Register newspaper in Alabama. My newsroom was not yet connected to the Internet, and I was still two years away from owning my own laptop computer.

Anxious to learn about the eleventh-hour efforts to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, I drove to one of the city’s few Internet cafes. There, using a  dial-up connection, I navigated to the New York Times, which had gone online two years earlier. That is how I learned that Irish nationalists and unionists, and the British and Irish governments, had reached a deal to end 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.

My datebook for 10 April 1998, shows only the Delta airlines’ flight number and arrival time of a childhood friend making an Easter weekend birding trip to the Alabama Gulf coast. I did not note the historic peace deal. In the coming days and weeks, however, I did clip newspaper and magazine articles about the agreement, which I added to a folder of hard copy stories about Ireland that I had kept since the 1980s.

Today–after seven trips to the island of Ireland–I read Irish news from Irish media with a tap on my smart phone. I follow Irish politicians and political parties on Twitter. Sadly, I discarded most of my old clip file in the haste of a move, the result of mistaken thinking that the yellowing stories were no longer relevant. I did keep the front section of the 24 May 1998, issue of the New York Times, which reported the favorable vote on both sides of the Irish border to ratify the deal. It began:

The voters of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have given overwhelming support to the peace agreement aimed at settling the sectarian conflict that has convulsed their island for centuries. … The referendum on the historic compromise was the first time since 1918 that Irish throughout the island had voted at the same time on the same issue, and the ballot counting today came on the 200th anniversary of one of the island’s many violent events, the first day of the Rising of 1798, in which Irish rebels tried to free their island from the British.

At a graffiti-covered “peace wall” separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 2016. Note William of Orange, “King Billy,” charging on white horse in the mural at right, which indicates what side I was on at the moment.

In the spirit online news reading, here are just a few of stories about the 20th anniversary of the GFA:

  • The Journal.ie offers this background piece on the deal.
  • Kerrie Hope Patterson was born in Northern Ireland less then 30 minutes after the agreement was signed, the Belfast Telegraph reports. Today, the “peace baby” is a student at Trinity College Dublin.
  • The Agreement “ended the bloodshed in Northern Ireland but has failed to achieve broader reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist political parties,” Padraig O’Malley writes in the Boston Globe.

Rare Irish atlas stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

In May 1798, British authorities preemptively arrested senior leaders of the United Irishmen in Dublin at the beginning of a summer-long rebellion that killed tens of thousands. It resulted in repeal of the Irish parliament, direct rule from London, and more than a century of additional uprisings.

Also in May 1798, London book publishers Robert Laurie and Jason Whittle produced a new edition of An Hibernian Atlas: or General Description of the Kingdom of Ireland, which first appeared in 1776, the year of another revolution against Britain. The book’s full subtitle described the detailed information contained between its leather-bound covers:

Divided into Provinces; with Its Sub-Divisions of Counties, Baronies, &c. Boundaries, Extent, Soil, Produce, Contents, Measure, Members of Parliament, and Number of Inhabitants; Also the Cities, Boroughs, Villages, Mountains, Bogs, Lakes, Rivers and Natural Curiosities Together with the Great and Bye Post Roads. The whole taken from actual Surveys and Observations By Bernard Scale, Land Surveyor and beautifully engraved on 78 Copper Plates by Messrs. Ellis and Palmer.

The book contained 37 hand-colored maps: a general map of Ireland, four province maps, and 32 county maps; with the county maps colored by baronies, the provinces by counties and the general map by provinces. An imprint at the foot of each map read “Published 12th May, 1798”.

Today, one of the 1798 editions of An Hibernian Atlas is among 173 rare books believed stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. More than 590 maps and 3,230 plates from another 130 antiquarian books are also missing from the library’s special collection.

As if the theft of this historical material was not bad enough, it turns out that library officials were warned in 1991 (Yes, 27 years ago!) that the valuable collection of centuries-old maps and rare books would be much safer and better preserved in more secure, nearby research libraries, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Nothing happened, except the suspected crime.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish immigrant who forged his fortune in Pittsburgh’s 19th century steel industry, endowed 2,509 public libraries in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. His mission was to make books and other cultural material more widely available to the working class, including those who toiled in his mills. In Ireland, 80 branches were opened between 1897 and 1913, a decade before the island’s partition in the finally successful revolution against Britain. Many survive today.

Carnegie Library Falls Road, Belfast, during my 2016 visit.

In Pittsburgh, the missing books and maps were pilfered from the Carnegie’s “main branch,” which opened in 1895. The library and adjoining Carnegie music hall and art gallery are very familiar to me. My father introduced me to culture here in the 1960s. I researched Ireland for a book about my Kerry-born grandparents at this library, and it is now part of the collection.

A 1798 edition of An Hibernian Atlas was listed for $8,500 (7,125 Euros) on Abe.Books.co.uk, as I published this post. Another online dealer offered a 1809 edition for $2,453. Several dozen copies of various 18th and 19th century editions of the book can be found at libraries around the world. Trinity College Dublin has also made it available online.

It’s a shame, however, that the copy is missing from my native city’s Carnegie library. It also appears to be a very serious crime.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Missed train

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

***

“Our return trip to Cork in the ‘light railway,’ with a warm red sunset lighting up the river Lea, and throwing its glamour over the varied and picturesque scenery through which we ran, was not the least delightful of a very delightful excursion.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert traveled hundreds of miles by railways during his six-month reporting trip in Ireland. The island’s first “iron roads” were laid a half century earlier. Hurlbert crossed the River Boyne at Drogheda on “one of the finest viaducts in Europe,” which was completed in 1855, or 33 years earlier.

The Drogheda viaduct, as seen in my February 2018, trip.

The opening quotation is from Hurlbert’s 26 February 1888, entry on his way to learn about the troubles at the Ponsonby Estate. He ended the chapter: “From Lismore [County Waterford] I came back by the railway through Fermoy [County Cork.]” The next entry, dated 28 February, begins: “I left Cork by the early train to-day, and passing through the counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Queen’s [now Laois] and King’s [now Offaly], reached this place [Portumna, County Galway] after dark on a car from Parsonstown [now Birr].”

During the 1880s, nearly two dozen railroad segments opened in Ireland, including numerous “light railways,” or short-distance spurs connecting remote areas and larger stations on the main lines. The quotation at the top likely refers to the Cork and Muskerry Light Railway, which opened in 1887. “No doubt it will be a great thing for Donegal when ‘light railways’ are laid down here,” Hurlbert wrote during his January 1888, visit to the northwest county.

The American journalist missed an opportunity to report on one of the most unique railways in Irish history, which opened the week of his travels around Portumna. The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway was a 9-mile monorail. Pannier-like cars rode on a single rail atop A-shaped trestles set over the bogs and pastures of north County Kerry. The unusual model was designed by French engineer Charles Lartigue, who attended the opening ceremony on 29 February, 1888–Leap Year Day.

“It seems strange, but it is not less true that a remote village on the coast at Kerry should have been selected for the first experiment in a railway system which promises a revolution in the construction of our iron roads,” The Irish Times reported.  “The Lartigue system is about as different from all preconceived notions of railways as it is possible to imagine.”

Read my 2009 History Magazine article to learn more about the unusual line.

It’s too bad that Hurlbert missed riding this train. Contemporary travelers to Kerry can visit the Lartigue Monorail museum and hop aboard the demonstration replica of the original line, which closed in 1924.

The Lartigue monorail in North Kerry opened on Leap Year Day, 1888. Hurlbert was 90 miles away in Partumna.

NOTES: From pages 233, 115, 248-249, and 252 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Two nicknames

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Ponsonby Estate

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

***

“As to the troubles of the Ponsonby estate, Father Keller spoke freely. He divided the responsibility for them between the untractableness of the agent, and the absenteeism of the owner.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert’s interview with Father Daniel Keller in Youghal, County Cork, provided another glimpse of a local Catholic priest involved in the land struggles of the 1880s. It added to Hurlbert’s earlier encounters with Father James McFadden in Gweedore, County Donegal, and Father Patrick White in Milltown Malby, County Clare. In all three cases, the American journalist arrived with some aspects of the story already developed, with more elements to come after he left Ireland.

The 10,000-acre estate of Charles Talbot Ponsonby, about 30 miles east Cork city, in November 1886 became the first property targeted for the Plan of Campaign, the Irish nationalist strategy to force landlords to reduce rents. If landlords refused to lower rates, the rent was placed in a fund used to assist evicted tenants. In March 1887, Father Keller was summoned to testify about the fund because authorities believed he was the secret trustee.

Calling the priest into court stirred a riot in Youghal that left Patrick Hanlon, a young fisherman, bayoneted to death by police. When Father Keller refused to testify about the fund, he was cited for contempt of court and jailed for two months at Kilmainhan Gaol. The first tenant evictions on the Ponsonby estate occurred shortly after the priest’s release in May 1887.

The troubled simmered until Hurlbert arrived in late February 1888. He described Father Keller as “the best dressed and most distinguished-looking priest I have yet seen in Ireland, with … the erect bearing of a soldier.” The priest, he wrote, “stands firmly by the position which earned him a sentence of imprisonment last year.”

Father Keller told Hurlbert that “it was by the tenants themselves that the determination was taken to adopt” the Plan of Campaign. He described his own role as “peace-maker” and blamed Ponsonby for not accepting the “reasonable rental” offered by the tenants. The priest continued:

Instead of this, look at the law costs arising out of bankruptcy proceedings and sheriff’s sales and writs and processes, and the whole district thrown in to disorder and confusion, and the industrious people now put out of holdings, and forced into idleness. … [T]he unfortunate incident of the loss of Hanlon’s life would never have occurred had I been duly appraised of what was going on in the town. … Pray understand that I do not say all landlords stand at all where Mr. Ponsonby has been put by his agent, for that is not the case; but the action of many landlords in the county Cork is sustaining Mr. Ponsonby, whose estate is and has been as badly rack-rented an estate as can be found, is, in my judgement, most unwise, and threatening to the peace and happiness of Ireland.

Father Keller gave Hurlbert a copy of his 18-page pamphlet, “The Struggle for Life on the Ponsonby Estate.” Hurlbert, in the appendix of his book, said the tract was “so circumstantial and elaborate” that he reached out to Ponsonby for comment. He met the landlord 15 May 1888, in London.

Park House, part of the Ponsonby Estate. [Cork Past and Present .IE]

Ponsonby dismissed Father Keller as “a newcomer at Youghal” [The priest arrived three years earlier.] who was “hardly so much of an authority” about the estate he acquired 20 years earlier. Ponsonby showed Hurlbert the May 1868 letter of welcome signed by 50 of his tenants. In part, it said:

We will not disguise from you the conviction generally entertained that the improvement of landed property, and the condition of its occupiers, is best promoted under the personal observation and supervision of the proprietor, and your tenantry on that account hail with satisfaction the promise your presence affords of future intercourse between you and them.

Ponsonby said he immediately borrowed 2,000 pounds to make drainage improvements on the land, with the estate’s 300 tenants agreed to pay half the interest on the loan. “As a matter of fact some never paid at all, and I afterwards wiped out the claims against them,” the landlord said.

Ponsonby said it was “nonsense” for Father Keller to describe his rates as rack renting, and that prior to the Plan of Campaign he had never evicted any tenants for being less than three years in arrears. Since then, he said, tenants selected for eviction were not those who could not pay, but those who could pay, “and who were led, or, I believe in most cases, ‘coerced’ into refusing to pay by agitators with Mr. [William John] Lane, MP, to inspire them, and Canon Keller, PP, to glorify them in tracts.”

The landlord’s use of “coercion” matched Hurlbert’s own deployment of the word in the title of his book, and throughout the text. Ponsonby also made another point that Hurlbert noted in other parts of his book: that even as tenants refused their rents, the landlords still had to pay taxes.

By January 1889, Ponsonby was broke. He sold the estate two months later to a syndicate of wealthy men secretly organized by Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour. That summer, the new owners evicted more tenants, who were unable to draw money from the depleted Plan of Campaign fund. The standoff continued until early 1892, when over 100 tenants accepted the terms of the new owners and returned to the estate, much to the dismay of Father Keller.

NOTES: From pages 236-242, and 448-454, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Also, “Canon Keller of Youghal,” by Felix M. Larkin, pages 154-163 in Defying The Law of the Land: Agrarian Radicals in Irish History, edited by Brian Casey, The History Press, Ireland, 2013. … Cork Past and Present.IE.

NEXT: Missed train 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

I’ve now spent most of the first quarter of the year 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. Before continuing the series, here’s another end of the month wrap up of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • Pubs in the Republic opened on Good Friday (30 March) for the first time in 91 years, the result of repealing a 1927 law that also banned alcohol sales on Christmas Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The March 17, booze ban was lifted in 1960. Good Friday liquor sales remain prohibited in Northern Ireland.

Irish pubs opened on Good Friday for the first time in 91 years. This Dublin establishment photographed during my February visit. Note E.U., Irish and U.S. flags.

  • Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my annual roundup. Also from this month, my piece on “More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland.”
  • Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will receive the Freedom of Belfast honor 10 April, in ceremonies that mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He also will visit Dublin.
  • Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat, joining the U.K., U.S. and other nations in a growing feud with Moscow. The Russians promptly ordered the Irish envoy to its capital to return to Dublin.
  • The Republic’s referendum on whether to repeal the country’s constitutional ban on abortion is now set for May 25.
  • A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland cleared a hurdle in Parliament. Such unions are already legalized in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Republic.
  • The U.K. is set to leave the E.U. at the end of March 2019. Resolving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains a major sticking point of the Brexit, according to this Q & A from the BBC.
  • Hawk Cliff Beach, about 30 minutes south of Dublin, is becoming Ireland’s first “clothing optional” beach.
  • Atlas Obscure published the photo feature, “A Last Look at Ireland’s Disappearing Storefronts.” Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been built his collection of images over eight years, including this 2014 feature in the TheJournal.ie.

Butcher shop in Waterford, County Waterford. Photo by Trevor Finnegan.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Cork tourism

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

***

“Nothing can be lovelier than the country around Cork and the valley of the Lea.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the course of producing this blog serial I’ve taken several breaks from weighty topics such as tenant evictions and the nationalist struggle to consider Hurlbert’s comments about Irish landscapes and landmarks. The quotes below are from his travels around Cork city and surrounding area:

“The fine broad streets which Cork owes to the filling up and bridging over of the canals which in the last century made her a kind of Irish Venice, give the city a comely and even stately aspect. But they are not much better kept and looked after than the streets of New York. And they are certainly less busy and animated than when I last was here, five years ago [1883].”

***  

“In the city we visited the new Protestant cathedral of St. Finbar, a very fine church [opened in 1879] … We visited also two fine Catholic churches, one of St. Vincent de Paul, and the other the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a grandly proportioned and imposing edifice. … This noble church is rather ignobly hidden away behind crowed houses and shops, and the contrast was very striking when we emerged from its dim religious space and silence into the thronged and rather noisy streets.”

Map of Cork city, 1893, five years after Hurlbert’s visit.

In the days of King William III, Blarney Castle must have been a magnificent stronghold. It stands very finely on a well-wooded height, and dominates the land for miles around. … The Blarney Stone does not seem to be a hundred years old, but the stone itself is one of the front battlements of the grand old tower, which has more than once fallen to the ground from the giddy height at which it was originally set. It is now made fast there by iron clamps, in such a position that to kiss it one should be a Japanese acrobat, or a volunteer rifleman shooting for the championship of the world.”

Kissing the Blarney Stone in the 1890s.

“[By train from Cork] I had many fine views of the shore and the sea as we ran along, and the site of Youghal itself is very fine. It is an old seaport town, and once was a place of considerable trade, especially in wool. … [We walked] to Sir Walter Raleigh’s house, now he property of Sir John Pope Hennessey. …St. Mary of Youghal … is worth a journey to see. … It contains a fine Jacobean tomb of Richard, the ‘great Earl of Cork,’ who died here in September 1643.”

Vintage postcard image of Sir Walter Raleigh’s house.

NOTES: From pages 217, 230, 232-233, 234, 242-243 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.

NEXT: Ponsonby Estate

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish press

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

***

“It was difficult to recognize the [eviction] events yesterday witnessed by us at Glenbehy [Glenbeigh] in the accounts which we read of them to-day when we got the newspapers.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Few newspaper readers pay as close attention to press coverage as reporters who cover the same topics and events for competing publications. Hurlbert, the veteran New York City journalist, was no exception.

As detailed in my previous post, Hurlbert witnessed the 22 February 1888, eviction of tenant farmer James Griffin in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, which he described as being “as dull as a parish meeting.” The American reporter, whose coverage revealed his own conservative, pro-landlord bias, was wary of Irish nationalist propaganda. “I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote.

In the 23 February 1888, entry of Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert does not name the newspaper coverage of the Griffin eviction he found “difficult to recognize.” He suggested that because “these accounts are obviously intended to be read, not in Ireland, where nobody seems to take the least interest in Irish affairs beyond their own bailiwick, but in England and America, it is only natural, I suppose, that they should be coloured to suit the taste of the market for which they are destined.”

There is a grain of truth here. News of Irish tenant evictions and the Home Rule struggle certainly attracted the attention of politicians and large immigrant communities across the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

But Irish newspaper readership was growing in the 1880s. As noted by Marie-Louise Legg and other historians, Ireland’s literacy rate increased as its population declined since the mid-century Famine. About 31 new papers, a 25 percent increase, began circulating during the period. “An important feature of the 1880s was not just the increase in numbers of provincial newspapers, but the increase in the number of newspapers which claimed to have nationalist politics,” Legg observed.

The Irish press “performed a central and essential role in the spread of the Land League,” Legg wrote. Agrarian activism “flourished on a network of communications dependent on the press, and newspaper proprietors and editors were major Land League politicians.”

James Daly of the Connaught Telegraph helped to organize the League’s first meeting in County Mayo in 1879. In Kerry, brothers Edward and Timothy Harrington, owners of the Kerry Sentinel, were both Irish nationalist MPs. North Meath MP Pierce O’Mahony generated considerable attention about mass evictions at Glenbeigh in 1887 with his newspaper article “The Truth About Glenbeigh” (where at least one reporter was assaulted as the authorities removed tenants.)

An evicted family in Glenbeigh, probably 1887.

Hurlbert probably read the 23 February 1888, issue of The Irish Examiner, published in nearby Cork. Under the headline “An Extraordinary Display of Force,” Griffin was said to have “naturally anticipated a little extra persecution on the part of the landlord,” and the tenant took the eviction “calmly and even cheerfully.” Where Hurlbert concluded that Griffin was “very well off” for not paying rent, the Examiner described his farm as “good land, as land goes in Glenbeigh,” where “the chief crop seems to be rock.”

Published beneath the page 3 news story was a letter from Father Thomas Quilter, the Glenbeigh parish priest who calmed neighboring tenants during the Griffin eviction. Quilter wrote the episode was another example of “the hydra of landlordism.” In a nod to one of Aesop’s Fables, Quilter also wrote the eviction “was a fiasco, the mountain in labor with the tiny product.”

The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper, recalled the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions in its next-day, page 5 story about Griffin. It suggested that his removal was “the first shot in a new [eviction] campaign.”

Two days later, the weekly Kerry Sentinel said the booing, horn-blowing neighbors who watched the eviction from the hillside, which Hurlbert described, “had by their presence shown their sympathy for Mr. Griffin, and that was all that was required of them, and their was no use in their coming into unnecessary collision with the police.”

All three of these pro-tenant papers confirmed that Griffin was an active leader in National League agitation, who in fact owed quite a lot of back rent. They also portrayed the 50 or so police and military on hand to carry out the eviction as brusque and heavy-handed.

On 27 February 1888, The Times of London, hardly sympathetic to tenant activism, noted Griffin’s eviction near the end of a page 7 roundup of Irish news. The story made the point the same Hurlbert did in his book: while Griffin refused to pay rent on the farm he occupied illegally since his first eviction in 1883, the landlord Rowland Winn remained liable for all the property taxes.

Griffin’s eviction does not appear to have been reported in the American press, according to my search of three newspaper databases containing hundreds of titles. Plenty of other cases during this period, including the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions, were covered in detail.

NOTES: From page 215 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Pages 119-120, 125, and 135 (reporter assaulted at Glenbeigh) of Newspaper and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850 – 1892, by Marie-Louise Legg, Four Courts Press, 1999. .. Newspapers accessed via Irish Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com.

NEXT: Cork tourism

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan