Category Archives: History

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

Irish-American press on Sinn Fein election

The new year–1919–began with new hope for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the old nationalist home rule party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring aggressively lobbied President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support Ireland’s cause at the upcoming Paris peace conference.

Unofficial results of the Dec. 14, 1918, election reached large American daily newspapers before Christmas. The official election count was delayed until Dec. 28, however, so the outstanding votes of soldiers still serving overseas could be included in the final tally. Substantial election coverage in the Irish-American weekly press did not begin until the first week of January 1919. Here are two examples.

The Irish Press, published in Philadelphia, offered these banner headlines across the top front page of its Jan. 4, 1919 issue:

IRELAND SEVERS CONNECTION WITH BRITAIN

People of Ireland, by Exercise of Inherent Right of Self-Determination, Proclaim Their Independence

McCartan

A “Proclamation” boxed at the center of the page was addressed to “citizens of the Irish Republic who are at present resident in the United States and Canada” and signed by Patrick McCartan, the Irish provisional government’s envoy to America (and editor of the newspaper). He declared: 

Dec. 28, 1918, will forever rank in the history of Ireland as July 4, 1776, ranks in the history of America; as July 14, 1789, ranks in the history of France, as the day of the birth of Liberty ranks in the history of every free people.

The proclamation was flanked by these headlines, Complete Victory for Sinn Féin and The Irish Republic Endorsed, which filled the front page. Inside, the page 4 editorial proclaimed: Long Live the Irish Republic!

The election just completed in Ireland is one of the most momentous that has ever been held in any country. It is the first practical demonstration of President Wilson’s great principal of Self-Determination, and the results show that the Irish people were thoroughly cognizant of the great issues at stake. The question they were called upon to decide was: “Shall Britain continue to exercise sovereignty over Ireland?” And they answered with an emphatic, “No!” thus giving the lie direct to Britain’s paid horde of propagandists who had been telling the world for generations past that the Irish can never agree among themselves.

About 700 miles southwest of Philadelphia, in Lexington, Kentucky,  the Kentucky Irish American, offered more subdued coverage in its Jan. 4, 1919 issue. Stories about Ireland filled the left and right rails of the seven-column front page, sandwiching other news about domestic politics and religion.

At right, a roundup of Associated Press dispatches “to the American Sunday papers” appeared under the headline stack:

SINN FEIN

Scores a Sweeping Victory in the Election for Members of Parliament

Will Proclaim an Irish Republic and Establish Central Council in Dublin

Release of Sinn Feiners Interred In England Expected at Once

COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ WINS

Kelly

At left was a column by Rev. Francis C. Kelly, editor of the Chicago-based Catholic Church Extension Magazine. He wrote:

I am a sincere and and fully convinced advocate of self-determination for Ireland for her own sake, for the sake of democracy, but for England’s sake as well. I do not desire the downfall of Great Britain, but her tardy repentance. Ireland unfreed is England’s death warrant. She may succeed in keeping the Irish question out of the peace conference. I think she will. But she can not keep it out of the mind of a world from which the chains have been struck. It will live to accuse, to condemn and to execute. A victory of Great Britain over Ireland at Versailles will be no victory, but a defeat. It will be the signal for a new battle, the tactics of which have been taught the Irish race by England herself in her propaganda.

The Irish American‘s page 2 editorial was headlined, What Ireland Wants. 

We said some weeks ago that the demand for self-determination—and this accurately defined—should come from Ireland. Those of Irish blood America and all lovers of liberty can then support that demand. That is the method of procedure which we should naturally expect. Instead we have the demand coming from the Irish In America—and this demand is couched in varying and ambiguous terms. In some cases it means home rule—some cases it means total separation and complete independence. What we need first of all is to find out what Ireland itself wants. … With that programme in hand we shall be able to give an intelligent expression of our support of It. As it is we are beating the air and accomplishing very little. The Irish people themselves must map out their own programme of self-government. We in America can have our own ideas regarding the matter—but we must not presume to dictate to the people of Ireland what they should do.

In the following weeks and months of 1919, these two newspapers (and others in the Irish-American press) continued to be filled with stories about major events in Ireland’s struggle for independence, including key figures and developments in America. For this 2019 centennial, I will explore these people and events through the coverage in these two papers, in addition to other sources.

NEXT: About the papers and their publishers.

See American Reporting of Irish Independence for earlier work in this series.

Best of the Blog, 2018

Welcome to the sixth annual Best of the Blog. This has been a productive and successful year, thanks to two trips to Ireland and several new projects and features. Average daily site visits increased 52 percent over last year, and total traffic for the year by November surpassed the 2016 benchmark. Thank you, loyal readers and new visitors, for your interest and support. See more detailed acknowledgments at the bottom of the post. First, our yearly roundup:

Ireland Under Coercion, RevisitedThis project explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. The series followed Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip to Ireland, from his views about the agrarian agitation and home rule politics of the period, to his descriptions of Irish landscapes and landmarks. * I retraced some of Hurlbert’s footsteps during my February and November trips to Ireland. * A condensed version of my research appeared under the headline “An American Journalist in Ireland Meets Michael Davitt & Arthur Balfour” on The Irish Story website. * The work was recognized in the American Journalism Historian Association’s “News & Notes” feature.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

Ireland’s Famine Children “Born at Sea”My research of the online Famine Irish Passenger Record Data File held by the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) resulted in a Winter 2017/18 story in NARA’s Prologue Magazine. * In September, I gave a presentation about the story at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.

Pittsburgh Irish: I added a new section to the blog that collects my original work related to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my native city and state, a 19th and early 20th century hub for Irish immigrants. This year’s work included several pieces about World War I and its aftermath:

Another two-part piece, Troublesome Men: The Irish Nationalist Feud in Western Pennsylvania, 1894-1896,explored divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania ahead of the 1895 Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago. Two members of the Pittsburgh delegation were ousted from the meeting. See PART 1 & PART 2.

Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Other Popular Stories in 2018:

Catching Up With Modern Ireland: I introduced a monthly roundup of aggregated news, feature, and opinion content from Irish and Irish-American media. Coverage included the May repeal of Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban; the August visit of Pope Francis to Ireland; and the October re-election of Irish President Michael D. Higgins. … Brexit and the sidelined Northern Ireland Assembly remained in the news throughout 2018, the former a key issue for 2019. …  Former President Bill Clinton received the Freedom of Belfast honor for the Good Friday Agreement; Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan was floated as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, a post that remains unfilled; and Irish-American gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was murdered in federal prison. … Fáilte Ireland unveiled its “Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands” tourism brand to drive visitor growth across the Midlands region. … Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland; “Black ’47,” a fictional film treatment of the Great Famine debuted to generally good reviews; and the “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., toured Ireland. …. I’ll post a December update before the new year.

 

AOH and other Irish Americans dedicated a new statue of St. Patrick in the garden outside Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, top, and the twin spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I visited both churches in 2018. More in the St. Patrick’s Churches section of the blog.

Go raibh maith agat…

Many people assisted me in producing the blog this year, in America and in my travels to Ireland. My dear wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, is my biggest supporter. She edits some of the longer pieces and provides technical assistance. Most importantly, she encourages my work, including reminding me when “it’s time to turn off the computer.”

These people and institutions also helped in 2018: 

IN IRELAND: the Michael Davitt Musuem, Straide, Co. Mayo; National University of Ireland, Galway, ArchivesTrinity College Dublin, Archives; National Library of Ireland, Dublin; National Print Museum, Dublin; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, especially co-founder Felix Larkin, who helped with the Hurlbert project and welcomed me at NPHFI’s annual conference in Galway. Another round of applause for all the conference’s excellent presenters. … Also, thanks for the continued friendship and assistance of John Dorney at The Irish Story; Kay Caball at My Kerry Ancestors; and Mary Cogan at Listowel Connection. … Special thanks to my relations, Michael & Nancy Lynch of Navan, for their hospitality, and for the gift of a 40-page F.S.L. Lyons’ pamphlet, Parnell, dated from 1963.  

IN AMERICA: the National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Md., and the editors at Prologue Magazine; Luke McCusker at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore; historian Daniel W. Crofts, who helped with the Hurlbert project; and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which published my story about Frederick Douglass. … Also, Amy Brunner and Christopher Lemery of the University of Pittsburgh Library System, on separate requests through the “Historic Pittsburgh” website. … In Washington, D.C., Georgetown University and Catholic University of America libraries, especially Shane MacDonald at CUA’s Research Center and University Archives; the arts group Solas Nua; and Dan Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. and the Irish Embassy staff, who always warmly welcome Irish Network-DC. … The Arlington Public Library, Arlington, Va., provided several books from university library collections via its Interlibrary Loan service. … Apologies if I’ve missed any person or institution.

Finally, thanks again to all those who visited the blog, especially email subscribers (at right) and those who follow me on Twitter and retweet the content. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Best wishes for 2019.

Previous Years of “Best of the Blog”

The road leading to Killone Abbey in County Clare. The ruin was visited by American journalist William Henry Hurlbert in 1888, and by myself in November 2018.

December 1918: U.S. Press on Sinn Féin Win

This is the final post in a series exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. (Earlier posts are linked at bottom.) In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their effortsMH

***

First reports of the Sinn Féin victory in the Dec. 14, 1918, British parliamentary election reached large American newspapers the next day. The official election count was delayed until Dec. 28, so that outstanding votes from soldiers still serving overseas could be included in the final tally. Early U.S. press coverage of the election faded by Christmas, then resumed in the final days of 1918. Election coverage in the weekly Irish-American press generally did not begin until the January 1919 issues.

Below are samples of the early coverage in U.S. dailies, with additional context provided after some of the selections. A few editorial passages are included toward the bottom:

“A Dublin dispatch says the Irish Times predicts the Sinn Féin will win at least 60 seats in the present election and will be invited to sit at Westminster and vote with the British labor party in return for the labor parties support of home rule. The Irish Times says the Sinn Féin may accept this offer because of its policy of keeping away from Westminster must injure important Irish interests and soon become highly unpopular.”–Dec. 13 “special cable” from the London Times (via Public Ledger Co.), published in the Dec. 14 issue of The Washington Post, page 1.

Sinn Féin won 73 of 105 contested seats, but four of its candidates were elected in two constituencies, thus 69 individuals. The party did not take its seats at Westminster.

***

“Reports from Ireland say the Sinn Féin is believed to have swept the country. In Ireland also the keenness of the women voters was noteworthy.”–Dec. 14 London dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 15 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, page 1.

The British parliament extended the vote to women age 30 or older, householders, and university graduates, earlier in the year. The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) won seven of 57 contested seats.

***

“Polling in the greater part of Ireland passed quietly except for minor collisions between Sinn Féiners and [IPP] Nationalists. A close analysis of the voting shows that the Nationalists have been hopelessly beaten by the Sinn Féin, even in places supposed to be Nationalist strongholds.”–Dec. 14 London dispatch from the Associated Press, published in the Dec. 15 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, page 2.

Election-related “violence was worst not between nationalists and unionists but between rival nationalists of Sinn Féin and the IPP,” historian John Dorney writes in The Irish Story.

***

“The defeat of John Dillon, the Irish Nationalist leader, in East Mayo is anticipated when the final count is completed. The Sinn Féiners polled a heavy vote in the county and city of Dublin and Cork. In Northwest Ulster the Sinn Féiners will carry the City of Derry, three seats in Donegal, and South Fermanagh and Northwest Tyrone. The Unionists expect to retain all their seats in the North. Joseph Devlin, Nationalist for West Belfast, has been re-elected by several thousand vote.”–Dec. 15 Belfast dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 16 issue of the Times, page 1.

Dillon was defeated by Éamon de Valera and replaced by Devlin as leader of the diminished IPP. Devlin defeated de Valera in the other constituency.

Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, left, and (Irish Party leader John Dillon addressed the May 1918 anti-conscription rally in Ballaghderreen, County Roscommon. RTÉ Archives

“The broad features of the election results announced today are the sweeping triumph of the Lloyd George coalition, the complete route of the Asquithians, the pacifists and the women candidates and, perhaps most significant of all, the victory of the Sinn Féiners all along the line.”–Dec. 28 dispatch by the Associated Press, published in the Dec. 29 issue of The Washington Post, page 1.

***

Markievicz

“Of 14 women candidates, only one will be entitled to sit in the House of Commons, namely, a Sinn Féiner, Countess Markievicz, who was elected for St. Patrick’s Division of Dublin city. But, as the Sinn Féiners refuse to sit at Westminster, the House of Commons will, as hitherto, be composed entirely of males.”–Dec. 28 London dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 29 issue of the Times, page 1.

EDITORIALS

“The sweeping Sinn Féin victory is a plain referendum for revolution. … It seems impossible to contemplate the success of a revolution for the independence of 4 million people against a nation of 45 million people only 25 miles away. Yet is it possible in these days for a civilized nation to be ruled by naked force? … The situation in Ireland is an international scandal. The British government has entangled itself, and that government must find a way out. Championship of ‘the rights of small nations’ properly begins within one’s own political household. … Friends of Ireland and of England are loath to believe that there can be a repetition of the bloody scenes of the Easter revolution. But if there should be, it would not be Ireland that a watching world would blame.”The Boston Globe, Dec. 30, 1918, page 8.

***

“Apparently the Sinn Féin is going to establish Irish independence without waiting for the peace conference or action by parliament. There will be the same old trouble–Ulster doesn’t want to be independent.”-The Decatur (Illinois) Herald, Dec. 29, page 6.

***

“The winning party has new ideas, new methods, a different ruling spirit. … What Parnell demanded England has conceded to Canada, to Australia, to South Africa, and could concede to Ireland without danger to herself. What the Sinn Féiners demand could not and cannot concede while self-defense is the first law of nature. Hence the movement is either Quixotic, or abortive, or both; probably both. Yet it contributes a new feature to the drama of British politics, and a new feature to the troubled history of Ireland.”The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 30, page 6.

Previous posts in this series:

December 1918: Pittsburgh rally for Irish freedom

This is the third in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their effortsMH

***

On Sunday evening, Dec. 15, 1918, “friends of Irish liberty … crowding every available space in the Lyceum Theater,” a Pittsburgh vaudeville house, demanded that President Woodrow Wilson support their cause in the upcoming Paris peace conference.1 The event was one of the last of the nationwide “Self-Determination for Ireland Week,” which included a New York City rally that drew 25,000 to Madison Square Garden, and a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “the Irish question” in the U.S. Congress.

“A mass meeting in Pittsburgh” was foretold to the committee in a letter signed by representatives of the city’s United Irish Societies and Duquesne University, a Catholic institution.2 The committee also received letters from Pittsburgh’s Allied Irish-American societies and friends; Friends of Ireland; Ulster Society of Pittsburgh; and Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.3

This was the second time in seven months that Pittsburgh’s Irish packed the Lyceum. In the spring, they protested the forced conscription of their countrymen while Britain withheld limited domestic political autonomy, called home rule, from Ireland. The arrangement had been approved in 1914, but immediately suspended with the outbreak of the Great War.

Bishop Canevin

Dioceses of Pittsburgh Bishop Regis Canevin headlined the December rally, following the example of Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell at the Madison Square Garden event, and other Catholic clergy at the Washington hearing. Canevin echoed the theme that Ireland deserved the right of self determination for small nations, which Wilson proclaimed earlier in the year.

“Shall Ireland be free, or shall she be the only exception?,” Canevin asked. “If Ireland be the exception, then lasting peace is doomed to defeat. No pledges to other nations can be kept without freedom of Ireland.”4

Canevin asserted that despite seven centuries of “political oppression and tyranny,” Ireland remained deeply Christian (avoiding Catholic/Protestant division), with distinct literature, music, and other national characteristics. “Ireland had her place on the map for centuries as a nation.” 

Mary McWhorter, Chicago-based president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also emphasized Ireland’s geographic separation from Britain: “The boundary line of the Irish nation is clearly defined: God, Himself, took care of that,” she said.

Three days earlier in Washington, McWhorter told the congressional committee of her travels to dozens of cities and towns in 30 states to visit Irish mothers with sons fighting with the American forces.5  

The Pittsburgh rally came a day after the Irish Sinn Féin political party won a record number of parliamentary seats in the first British election since the war began in 1914. Many of those in attendance would have read Pittsburgh newspaper coverage of the old-guard home rule party being “hopelessly beaten” by Sinn Féin, even in the moderate nationalists’ former strongholds.6 No longer willing to settle for home rule, Sinn Fein  refused to take their seats in London, declared an Irish republic, and established their own parliament in Dublin.

Anti-conscription rally

The “overflow audience” of the May 1918 anti-conscription rally “brought out the strong attachment that exists between the Irish cause and the Irish people and their beloved priests.”7 Rev. Patrick O’Connor of nearby St. Mary of Mercy Catholic Church, an Irish immigrant parish since the Great Famine, spoke of “the glorious record of past generations of Irishmen in defense of this great country.”

When America entered the war in 1917, Pittsburgh’s Irishmen ages 18 to 31 registered for the military, my grandfather among them. At the time, the city’s population of native Irish was falling from a post-Famine high of 27,000 in 1890, to about 14,000 in 1920.8

Thomas Enright

First generation Irish Americans now outnumbered their parents. Thomas F. Enright, the son on Irish immigrants in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield district, was among the war’s first U.S. casualties. At first buried on the French battlefield were he died, his remains later were returned to Pittsburgh and re-interred with military honors at St. Mary Cemetery.

Irish and Irish Americans not only sacrificed their blood, Father O’Connor told the Lyceum crowd, but also their treasure. He spoke of an Irish workman who earned $80 a month and purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds, or half his annual salary.

People without parallel

It is unknown to me, and probably unknowable, whether my grandfather, Willie Diggin, was among the 4,000 or so attendees at either of the 1918 Irish rallies at the Lyceum. He turned 23 a few months before he registered for the military in June 1917, four years after his arrival in Pittsburgh from Kerry. He was not drafted. 

Willie Diggin

In 1918 he was still six years from marriage. He was established in his job as a streetcar motorman with a regular route that terminated at St. Mary of Mercy, a few blocks from the Lyceum, and thus familiar with these streets. On Dec. 17, 1941–23 years after the second Lyceum rally–he died of a heart attack in front of the church; a priest summoned from inside to give him the last rites aboard the streetcar. He was a month shy of 48.

In the week before Christmas 1918, a month after the armistice and a month before the Irish War of Independence, a “burst of enthusiasm took place” among Irish freedom supporters packed inside the Lyceum as two soldiers marched onstage; one holding the red, white, and blue of Old Glory; the other bearing the green, white, and orange of the new flag of the Irish Republic. The Irish Club Orchestra, with pipes, and several soloists, performed patriotic and sentimental tunes between speeches.9

Perhaps Pittsburgh City Councilman P. J. McArdle best captured the spirit of the evening, and this brief period of peace between two wars: “We are here to make known the appeal without parallel for a people without parallel.”

The Lyceum Theater in Pittsburgh, at middle of the block, in 1914.

NEXT: U.S. Press on Sinn Féin Win

PREVIOUS:

House hearing on’The Irish Question’

The bishop & the president

December 1918: House hearing on ‘The Irish Question’

This is the second in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their effortsMH

*** 

The U.S. Congress intensified its activism on behalf of Ireland once America entered the Great War in April 1917. “Members seized the moment to revive the issue of Irish independence, which had failed to gain traction in the House a year earlier when Missouri Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer (R) insisted that Congress support the Easter Rising,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives blog.

It took until a month after the war ended, however, before the Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on “The Irish Question.”  Congress was in a “lame duck” session, between the Nov. 5 midterm election and new members taking their seats in early March. Republicans won control of the House and Senate from the Democrats, the party of President Woodrow Wilson.

Dec. 12, 1918, was a Thursday, a fair, late fall day with temperatures in the capital settled into the mid-30s. Post-war news dominated the front page of the The Washington Post, including the projected $120 billion cost of the fight in Europe, and Wilson’s plans for the upcoming Paris peace conference.1

Virginia Rep. Henry D. Flood (D), the committee chairman, opened the hearing at 10 a.m. He set a hour-hour limit on the testimony.

A diverse array of citizens, local politicians, and representatives of civic organizations and labor unions traveled to Washington to submit testimony in favor of Irish independence. Witnesses highlighted the intertwined histories of Ireland and the United States as a reason for intervention. Many also stressed that the United States played a decisive role in ending the war, which thereby endowed the President—and Congress—with the power to request that Britain grant Ireland a seat at the negotiating table in Paris.2

Gallagher

Illinois Rep. Thomas Gallagher (D), one of several members to put forward resolutions supporting Irish “self determination,” Wilson’s phrase, gave the first statement. He noted the issue had been introduced nearly two years earlier, and, as the result, “quite an agitation has gone over the country urging legislative action” on behalf of Ireland. He recognized the “large delegations from different sections of the United States here this morning.”3

Illinois Circuit Court Judge Kickham Scanlan of Chicago was the first witness. His speech, like many of the others that followed, emphasized Irish contributions to the United States:

Scanlan

The Irish helped make America in 1776. The British Parliament said that but for the aid of the people of Ireland the freedom of America would not have been won. And in every war from that day to this they have stood by America, and they stood by America to a man in the last war. Do not let any paper, do not let any propaganda in the world, every make any member of this committee think that there was any man of Irish blood in America who could dream for one moment of anything but the success of America. We kept the faith.4

One-by-one, the following witnesses gave their statements and introduced into the record letters from other individuals and resolutions passed by groups at earlier public meetings. Some highlights include:

  • A letter from former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne, who in a few months time would travel to the Paris peace talk as one of three representatives of the American Commission on Irish Independence.
  • The Madison Square Garden address of Cardinal William Henry O’Connell of Boston, delivered two nights earlier to some 25,000 supporters of Irish freedom.
  • “Ireland’s Plea for Freedom,” by William J.M.A. Maloney, M.D., a former British Army captain.
  • The Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
  • The Sinn Féin platform of October 1917. The hearing came two days before the party’s massive wins in the first British elections since 1914.

George Fox, a New Haven, Conn., university teacher, voiced rare opposition to the overwhelming support for the Irish cause. He said:

…these men come in here and ask the Congress of the United States to adopt a joint resolution that they have no right to ask the Congress to adopt, and which they have no right to present. If Germany had won, they would have had to go before some other peace conference aligned with Germany, but when the empire which they have supported was beaten they switch around and ask the United States to go to the peace conference in their behalf. … I take the position … that it is entirely a matter for England to decide.5

The Foreign Affairs Committee cleared a bill of support for Ireland to the floor, where it was debated March 4, 1919, the last day of the 65th Congress. Texas Rep. Thomas Connally (D), echoing Fox, reminded his colleagues that Great Britain was an ally in the war, and the principle of self-determination championed by Wilson only applied to countries “under the dominion of our enemies.”  Wilson adopted a similar stance in Paris.

The House passed a resolution by a vote 216 to 45, but the Senate did not take up the issue before the session ended. The upper chamber did pass a separate measure early in the 66th Congress. “Ultimately, the long battle in the House over the ‘Irish question’ did not have a decisive effect on the peace process in 1919 or the political status of Ireland.”6

Nevertheless, the support of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and others is worth remembering 100 years later. Click the cover image below to see the full hearing transcript.

 

NEXT: Pittsburgh rally for Irish freedom

PREVIOUS: The bishop & the president

December 1918: The bishop & the president

This is the first in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH

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Ireland and other small nations seeking independence from imperial rulers seized on the January 1918 words of President Woodrow Wilson: “National aspirations must be respected. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”

Supporters of Irish independence in Ireland and in America, whether immigrants or their offspring, embraced “self-determination” more than any other ethnic group. And they weren’t shy about demanding it.

Shahan

Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote a Nov. 30 letter to Wilson.1

In keeping these words of truth, we hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate. Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.

A similar appeal by “the principal Irish societies of Washington” also was delivered to the Wilson White House, The Washington Post reported.2 “It voices the opinion of a public meeting, held by representatives of the Irish societies, that the American nation, through its president, has a unique opportunity to enforce this fundamental principal for the freedom of Ireland at the upcoming peace table, and the president is petitioned to use his good office to that end.” 

The signatory groups included the Friends of Irish Freedom; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH; Irish-American Union; Gaelic Society; Irish History Society; Irish History Study Club; and Shamrock Club.

At the time, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. capital, representing about one fifth of all foreigners.3 Nationwide, Irish immigrants were about 10 percent of the foreign-born population, down from the one third post-Famine peak of 50 years earlier. First-generation Irish Americans far outnumbered their immigrant parents.

Bishop Shahan was the New Hampshire-born son of Irish immigrants. His letter to Wilson (grandson of an Ulster-Scot) was read at the Dec. 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Irish Question” by  Professor Joseph Dunn of the Catholic University of America faculty. Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.”4

Wilson

This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, note to Shahan; barely 100 typed words on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name, only generalities:5

…it will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.

Once Wilson got to Paris, the self-determination of countries formerly ruled by vanquished Germany was easier to support than pressing ally Britain to loosen its grip on Ireland. By summer 1919, Wilson’s reluctance to support Ireland disappointed the Irish, by then at war with Britain. 

Shahan remained an “ardent supporter of Irish independence,” according to the Catholic University of America archives of his papers. His concerns were “not only as a source of personal interest, but also because religious matters were inextricably bound into the struggle for freedom and recognition for Ireland.”

NEXT: House hearing on the ‘Irish Question’  

Irish ambassador, film producer discuss “Black ’47”

“Black ’47,” a fictional big-screen treatment of the Great Famine, debuted in March at the Berlin Film Festival; opened in September in Ireland; and has shown since October on limited U.S. screens. The New York Times described the film as an “occasionally exhilarating action-revenge plot” set against the bleak historical period. John Dorney at The Irish Story wrote:

Essentially it is a kind of revenge western epic – imagine a cross between Clint Eastwood’s the “Outlaw Josey Wales” and Quentin Tarnatino’s “Django Unchained” – but set in Famine era Ireland.

Think of “Rambo” in mid-19th century Ireland, with single-shot pistols and rifles (which more than once fail to fire), rather than automatic weapons.

My wife and I attended a 2 December screening at the American Film Institute’s “European Union Film Showcase.” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall spoke about the Famine before the lights dimmed, and Jonathan Loughran, one of the film’s producers, participated in a Q & A session after the credits rolled.

The Famine is “fundamental to any understanding of Ireland’s story,” Mulhall said, and also is the “origin story” of more than 33 million Irish Americans.

With more than 1 million dead and 1 million emigrated, it was “a food crisis of unparalleled scale,” he said, the last mass hunger event in the Western world. Ireland’s population was 8.5 million at the time, a level not expected to recover until 2045, nearly 200 years later.

Loughran, originally from Dublin, said working on the film “re-woke feelings I forgot” in leaning about the Famine as a child. He said reactions to the film have been better than expected, especially among the Irish.

“It stoked some republican feelings in people,” Loughran said.

He praised Australian actor James Frecheville, who plays former Connaught Ranger Martin Feeney, for learning Irish, which is spoken by various characters the film, their words either interpreted by others in the scene, or shown in subtitles.

“Black ’47” is said to be the first feature film about the Famine, and Loughran thinks there is room for more treatments. “It could become its own genre, there are so many stories to be told.”

Here’s the official trailer:

A few of my previous posts about the Famine:

JFK, Ireland, and the Sixth Floor Museum

U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 55 years ago 22 November. In May, I visited the scene of that historic crime, now The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

The scene of the crime. Assassin shot from far right window, square, not arched. Sixth floor is one floor below top row of windows.

A museum about any murder would be a sad place. This one is particularly depressing (though well designed), since it also represented a huge loss of American innocence and idealism. In my opinion, it also marked the end of an Irish-American century that began with massive immigration of the Great Famine.

The museum doesn’t display much about JFK’s Irish heritage or his June 1963 homecoming. One video display quickly flashes the day after the assassination front page of The Irish Press, which contained a statement from Irish President Éamon de Valera:

During his recent visit here we came to regard the President as one of ourselves … We were proud of him as being of our race.”

Four oral histories held by the museum do contain Irish connections in interviews with:

  • Peter Rice, an Army presidential helicopter pilot who accompanied Kennedy on the 1963 trip to Ireland.

  • Rosian Zerner, who was in Dublin, Ireland, at the time of the assassination.

  • Eamon Kennedy, an Ireland native and photographer at the Dallas Times Herald during the assassination.

  • Dr. Peadar Cremin, who as a 14-year-old boy witnessed JFK in Ireland.

Kennedy was flawed, I know, and it’s easy to slip into sentimentality about him. But my stop at the Dallas museum seemed inevitable and necessary, the completion of a history trail on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have visited the Kennedy Homestead in County Wexford, where JFK made his triumphant June 1963 homecoming, five months before the murder, and seen the Kennedy tributes in Galway, his last stop in Ireland. I have been inside the Dáil Éireann chamber, where he gave a memorable speech.

When I lived in Boston, I explored the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, but skipped the boyhood home tour.

I have attended Mass at Holy Trinity, St. Stephen Martyr, and St. Matthew’s churches in Washington, D.C., where he worshiped in the Roman Catholic faith. Kennedy’s former presence is recognized at all three churches, most notably St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where a marble plaque is imposed in the floor in front of the sanctuary. This is the spot where Kennedy’s casket was stationed during his funeral Mass.

Most movingly, I have stood at the eternal flame next JFK’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Now, too, the Philip Johnson-design cenotaph in Dallas.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, Dallas.

Q & A with Felix Larkin, Irish newspaper historian

Historian Felix M. Larkin specializes in the study of Irish newspapers, including editorial cartoons. He is an expert on the Freeman’s Journal, the prominent Dublin newspaper published from 1763 to 1924. His work is widely published in books and journals. See Larkin’s website for more details of his biography and bibliography.

In 2008, Larkin helped found the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (NPHFI), a “very cumbersome name – which, however, does have the merit of accurately describing what the focus of our activities is,” he said in a 2013 address. The organization’s mission, as stated on its homepage, is to facilitate contact between researchers and writers in the field of newspaper, periodical, journalism and printing history, and strengthen the links between teaching and research institutions, libraries, and other organizations concerned with media history.

I met Larkin earlier this month at NPHFI’s 2018 conference at the National University of Ireland/Galway. In the Q & A below, conducted via email shortly afterward, Larkin discusses the importance of studying history through newspapers; weighs the advantages and pitfalls of such research in the digital age; and cautions about “State-sponsored jamborees relating to supposedly iconic anniversaries,” such as the Irish War of Independence and Civil War over the next five years. MH

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You helped found the NPHFI in 2008. What are your surprises, insights, delights, or disappointments about its first decade? What would you like see happen with the Forum by 2028?

LARKIN: I have been genuinely surprised by the success of the NPHFI, as newspaper history is really a niche subject. We have had 11 successful annual conferences, and have inspired six essay collections and at least two more that are in preparation. In addition, we have put together and maintain the immensely useful on-line Irish Bibliography of Press History, which is a great resource for scholars.

The insight that I have gained from my experience with the NPHFI is the extent to which journalism history benefits from an inter-disciplinary approach – and I say this as someone who is trained as a historian and deeply respects the rigorous methodology of history. The delights are, of course, the very interesting people I have met through the NPHFI and the friendships that I have made.

My only real disappointment is that, notwithstanding the NPHFI’s 10 years of effort, mainstream history does not yet acknowledge the importance of newspapers in the social and political life of the last two centuries. Thus, for example, the new Cambridge History of Ireland doesn’t have a chapter, or even a dedicated subsection within a chapter, on newspapers. (Editor’s note: See Larkin’s 7 June 2018 piece in The Irish Catholic.)

As regards 2028, my main hope is that I will still be around to enjoy the proceedings of the NPHFI conferences! My hope more generally for the future of the NPHFI is that it will remain faithful to its focus on the print media – newspapers and periodicals – as distinct from broadcasting and the electronic media which receive quite enough attention in other forums. Ironically, as newspapers decline in popularity and influence, it is all the more necessary to have a place specifically dedicated to the study of their history – lest they fall off our radar completely.

Digital newspaper archives are more common today than in 2008, allowing more people to access the content. What tips or cautions would you offer about historical research of newspapers/periodicals? Any specific advice for those exploring Irish papers, especially regarding the run of War of Independence and Civil War centenaries over the next five years?

LARKIN: I have always believed that one of the reasons why so few people have worked on newspaper history is the sheer quantity of material to be waded through – whether you are using the print editions, microfilm or a digital archive. Obviously, being able to search a digital newspaper archive makes the task easier, but there is a danger that it makes researchers lazy in two respects: first, they may be inclined to disregard newspapers and periodicals that have not yet been digitized and so fail to take account of important strands of opinion; and secondly, they may be content simply to find what it is that they are looking for and so miss other items – shall we call them the “unknown unknowns” (quoting Donald Rumsfeld) – that may be equally or more important.

Using a digital archive also means that you miss out on a sense of what the paper looked like – its size and general appearance – and this is important for context, especially for specialist newspaper historians.

As regards newspapers in the period of the War of Independence and the Civil War, during such periods of great conflict there is a tendency for newspapers to become more partisan than in normal times – and there is a greater risk of censorship and intimidation – and so historians using newspapers as a source need to be even more conscious of bias in newspaper coverage than they would ordinarily be.

Are there any periods of history, or types of stories, or kinds of research, that you think are under-explored in the realm of Irish newspapers and periodicals?

LARKIN: Oh yes! There is relatively little work done on Irish newspapers before the 1840s. I accept that newspapers don’t reach the zenith of their power and influence until the second half of the 19th century, but there is a rich earlier history of the press to be explored – and we have not done that. For instance, only one early-period paper was offered in response to the Call for Papers for the most recent NPHFI annual conference – and we were very glad to have it.

A century from now, will there be a Digital Content History Forum of Ireland? Your thoughts about the shrinking contemporary newspaper industry, and whether today’s digital content will even be available for future research, given the rapid evolution of technology?

LARKIN: Well, I am a historian – not a fortune-teller. I find it difficult enough to deal with the past without worrying about the future. So I would be very reluctant to speculate about the future of newspapers as a print medium – or about what aspects of the media, print or otherwise, will interest historians in future years.

What does concern me, however, is the declining quality of journalism in the print media – e.g. the jettisoning of sub-editing and other “checking” functions in the interests of cutting expenditure – which means that newspapers are an increasingly less reliable source for future historians, as well as for their current readers. We seem to have come a long way from the Woodward & Bernstein standard of “the best obtainable version of the truth”.

As regards access to digital sources, I am old enough to remember accessing music on vinyl, then tape cassette, then CD and now via my computer – such rapid change, and nothing was compatible with the previous iteration of the technology. The same thing will inevitably happen with today’s digital portals. We can only hope that libraries will retain – and maintain in working order – obsolete equipment so that data can be recovered as technology progresses and made available in whatever new forms emerge. But I am not optimistic on that score.

Other thoughts or comments about NFPHI … or the upcoming centenary period?

LARKIN: There have been four chairpersons of the NPHFI to date, and each of us was a founding member. The term of office of our current chair, Regina Uí Chollatáin, ends next year – and we will have to find her successor from the ranks of those who have come on board in the years since our foundation. The baton is being passed to the next generation, and this will bring its challenges – but it is also healthy, an opportunity for renewal. We have a great crop of younger scholars who work with the NPHFI and I am satisfied that the NPHFI will be in good hands for many years to come.

On the upcoming centenary period, suffice it to say that I am not much in favor of commemorating or celebrating historical events. It is more important to try to understand the past in all its complexity. That’s the responsibility of the historian, and historians should be very uneasy when faced with State-sponsored jamborees relating to supposedly iconic anniversaries. Such jamborees rarely add anything to the sum of human knowledge.