Category Archives: Irish America

On new Oscar Wilde biography and old newspapers

Dublin-born writer Oscar Wilde in 1882 made a yearlong, coast-to-coast lecture tour of America. It’s the focus of a new book, Making Oscar Wilde, by Michèle Mendelssohn. In the Jan. 25 issue of America magazine, reviewer Jeffrey Myers says the author:

developed a new approach to biographical research. Vast online archives and databases provided a digital treasure trove of local newspapers in the obscure towns where Wilde had lectured that was unavailable to previous life-writers. Her innovative approach and exploration of unsuspected territory has yielded rich results, illuminating new aspects of Wilde’s life and afterlife.

Wilde, in 1882, the year of his U.S. tour.

Digitized database and online newspaper archives are fairly recent conveniences, to be sure. But the material was always there for earlier biographers; it just required more time, travel, and tribulation to dig from bound, clipped, or microfilmed editions of the old papers.

As a journalist, I once did this sort of thing all the time in what where called “morgues,” usually a musty back corner of the newsroom. It’s important to know the past, the back story, whether writing about today’s news developments or yesterday’s events.

The work can be tedious. In his Jan. 28 essay for The New Yorker, L.B.J. biographer Robert A. Caro recalls the advice he received from one of his early newspaper editors about doing investigative research; in Caro’s case, a cache of government records. “Turn every page,” the editor said. “Never assume anything. Turn every goddamn page.”

Digital searching quickly and seductively whisks you to what the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software finds. But it may bypass misspellings; pages that are smudged and damaged; or relevant stories that don’t contain your search term(s).

Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland co-founder Felix Larkin addressed other concerns in our November 2018 interview:

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.

I’ve been scrolling through microfilm of 1919 Chicago newspapers for a project I’ll unveil later this year. Seeing the surrounding headlines puts the Irish stories in wider context. And there are delightful distractions, such as following the game-by-game performance of Chicago baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson in the months before that year’s controversial World Series.

I have benefited from digital access to old newspapers since 2008, when I found the 1941 account of my Kerry-born grandfather’s death in Pittsburgh. It prompted me to write his biography. I am currently reading digitized 1919 editions of The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and similar ethnic papers to explore U.S. reporting of Ireland’s revolutionary period.

But I still love viewing original records inside archives and libraries. The undigitized material forces me to turn every goddamn page; every … faded … page.

Irish-American files in the Thomas J. Shahan Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Names & numbers: 1919 Irish Race Convention, Philadelphia

As the first Dáil Éireann met in Dublin, the Friends of Irish Freedom in America called for a mass meeting to discuss the December 1918 Sinn Féin victory, declaration of the Irish Republic, and the U.S. role on behalf of Ireland at the Paris peace conference. About 5,000 delegates would attend the Feb. 22-23 “Irish Race Convention” in Philadelphia.

More about the convention in coming posts.

First, I want to present the roster of 311 FOIF national officers at the time, as published in the official organization booklet shown at the top. Several of these officers were national figures in America’s Irish republican movement, such as Joseph McGarrity and John Devoy. More of the people on the list were well-known only within their local Irish communities. Do not assume that every person on the list below traveled to Philadelphia.

Here is a quick by-the-numbers breakdown of the roster, followed by seven pages of names, as photographed from the booklet. I hope it is useful to other researchers and genealogists.

74: members from New York City and its boroughs, about 24 percent

57: women, or 18 percent

55: members of the clergy

37: states represented, of 48 at the time

27: members from Philadelphia

This booklet is part of the Thomas J. Shahan Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Tyrone-born publisher of Philadelphia’s Irish Press

Joseph McGarrity, publisher of The Irish Press in Philadelphia, played a more direct role in America’s effort to secure Irish independence than William M. Higgins, publisher of the Kentucky Irish American in Louisville. [See earlier posts on the series landing page.]

Joseph McGarrity, circa 1900.

McGarrity was born in 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, 22 years after Higgins in Syracuse, N.Y., to Famine-era Irish immigrants. McGarrity immigrated to America in 1892, a year after Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. The 18-year-old McGarrity settled in Philadelphia, where he lived until 1940–15 year longer than Higgins.

The same name Irish Press in Dublin, begun nine years after McGarrity folded his Philadelphia journal, published this description at his death:

Joseph McGarrity was big in everything. Well over six feet in his socks, with the proportions of an athlete, and the strength of a lion, he was an Irishman good to look upon. Vigour radiated from him. In his talk … he could not keep still–the hands, the toss of the head, the sudden pacing of the floor, all drove home the point he was making. His voice–the American accent making musical the hard speech of his native Tyrone–was big, too, and he did not hesitate to use it to drown yours if the day was to be won by emphasis. Yet this virile person could suddenly become as gentle as a woman.1

McGarrity pursued business enterprises, including liquor wholesaling and real estate in Philadelphia and nearby New York and Atlantic City, N.J. He also was a leading member of the Clan na Gael, the secretive Irish republican organization in the United States that worked closely with the separatist movement in Ireland.

In March 1918, a week after St. Patrick’s Day, McGarrity launched The Irish Press as the U.S. Post Office, “yielding to British diplomatic pressure,”2 banned the New York-based Irish World and the Gaelic American newspapers from the mail due to war-related suspicions of espionage.

Patrick McCartan, another Tyrone native who McGarrity picked as editor of The Irish Press, recalled in his 1932 monograph:

He believed an Irish paper with a circulation of even two thousand would keep our flag flying [in Philadelphia], till the war ended. … [Clan na Gael members] sold the Irish Press at the doors of the churches, with the result that the circulation soon passed ten thousand. … [V]olunteers took the Irish Press in suit cases, or my motor express to New York, where they sold it at the churches.3

Circulating The Irish Press in New York City aggravated the feud between McGarrity and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist in America and publisher of the Gaelic American. “Even through the [mail] ban on the Gaelic American had lapsed, the new paper competed with Devoy’s as the voice of the militant exiles,” Devoy biographer Terry Goloway wrote.4

The core of the Devoy-McGarrity fight centered on how, or whether, America should recognize the newly proclaimed Irish Republic as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson negotiated the post-war order in Paris; how funds raised in America should be used to help the Irish; and who should control the message and the money. These tensions mounted in the weeks before the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia, and the June 1919 U.S. arrival of Irish President Eamon de Valera. Golway continued:

…this distrust, verging on paranoia and evident on all sides, would cripple the American movement. As war raged in Ireland, Irish rebels in America would watch each other with studied care, looking for nuances, hints, and suggestions that the war in Ireland might conclude with something less than the Republic the men of Easter [1916] had proclaimed and died for. It was as though they knew that the end would be bitter, that compromise would taint the purity of victory–and that somebody would have to bear the blame.5

More on McGarrity and Devoy and their newspapers as this series continues.

***

Joseph McGarrity’s papers are held at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin. The McGarrity Collection at Villanova University, Philadelphia, contains monographs focusing on Irish history, literature, folklore, travel, music, and Irish-American history, in addition to microfilm of his papers held in Dublin. A selection of the material, including digitized copies of The Irish Press, is available in an online collection.

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The unresolved Brexit deal remains the top story on the island of Ireland and leads the monthly roundup below. … More posts coming soon in my exploration of how mainstream American newspapers and the ethnic Irish-American press reported the historic events of 1919.  Visit the project landing page. … Thanks for supporting the blog, which in January set a record high for average daily visits and total monthly traffic. MH

  • “There has been increasing speculation that the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 29 March could eventually lead to the unification of the Republic and Northern Ireland,” TheJournal.ie said in reporting a national poll showing a narrow plurality of Irish people favor holding a referendum on the issue.
  • A car bomb in Derry , Northern Ireland, was attributed to an attack by the New IRA, said to be “just one of a number of dissident republican groupings,” according to The Irish Times. Four people have been arrested.
  • Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Ireland has “closed down” tax loopholes and is bringing in more corporation tax as a result, TheJournal.ie reported.
  • Salesforce announced the expansion of 1,500 staff over the next five years; and Facebook said it would add 1,000 jobs this year, the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland announced.
  • “My job in this country as I see it is to tell Ireland’s story – and to listen to America’s story – and to connect the two stories,” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Muhall said in a USA Today profile.
  • Israel warned Ireland that a boycott of imported West Bank settlement products would have “severe ramifications” on mutual relations if the proposed Dáil legislation is adopted. The administration has opposed the legislation and warned that it contravenes E.U. law and puts U.S. investment in Ireland at risk.
  • The New York Times reported “Irish women are now discovering the mere passage of a law [last May, repealing national abortion restrictions] cannot wipe away deeply held beliefs” and that pro-life activists are using “United States-style tactics like fake abortion clinics and protests outside legitimate ones” to thwart the now-legal procedure.
  • An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, published a first-ever list of the country’s Top 10 Most-at-Risk Buildings. (The buildings-at-risk project is not new.) “These are all buildings of national importance, buildings that lie vacant and are in such a state of disrepair that they may be dangerous or have no identifiable new use,” the agency says.

Atkins Hall, Cork, is an historic building at risk. PHOTO: Alison Killilea (flickr.com)

America’s Irish press reports first Dáil…and more

The Jan. 25, 1919, front pages of the The Irish Press, Philadelphia, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, each reported the opening of the first Dáil Éireann four days earlier in Dublin. Both papers also announced the upcoming Irish Race Convention, Feb. 22-23, in Philadelphia.

“The gathering will undoubtedly be the most momentous ever held by the Irish race outside of Ireland,” TIP proclaimed. “All Irish-American societies in good standing with their national organizations are entitled to five delegates each,” the KIA told its readers.

More about the Philadelphia convention in future posts.

Awith their coverage three weeks earlier of the Sinn Féin election sweep in Ireland, reporting of the first Dáil in these two Irish-American newspapers demonstrated the differences of their editorial missions and audiences.

The Press, with its direct links to the revolutionary government, was writing to Irish activists on both sides of the Atlantic. It carried seven stories about Ireland on the front page under the top banner CONGRESS OF IRISH REPUBLIC MEETS. The coverage including the inaugural meeting of the American Council on Ireland, which occurred a few days earlier Philadelphia.

“It marks a new era in the history of the fight for Irish independence carried on in America,” the Press reported. “It is surely a matter of great significance to find Americans of non-Irish affiliations organizing a movement to champion the cause of Ireland.”

The Irish American’s front page story about the first Dáil appeared in the right-side column, a prominent placement, under a five-deck headline topped by IRELAND. The KIA appealed to a wider demographic–if smaller geographic–audience than The Irish Press with its mix of local, national, and international news. The stories included:

  • “Dangerous Extension of Eugenist Propaganda” on the left-side column.
  • Coverage of local Forward League Democrats and “old line Republicans” political meetings.
  • A republished letter from Father Francis P. Duffy in Europe, “teaming with interest and good humor.”
  • Several briefs, such as a Louisville’s couple’s golden wedding anniversary; a child’s death from an appendicitis; the honorable discharges of several soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Zachary Taylor; and the annual meeting of the Holy Name Society.

The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a pro-Catholic but not religious newspaper, is another example of this balanced coverage. Its Jan. 25, 1919, issue featured the bold headline, Ireland a Republic in the Eyes of World, at the top center of the front page, with more Irish coverage inside, including a supportive editorial. Also above the front fold: a Catholic Press Association story about Rome’s postponement of the unification of Catechetical texts; and a piece about the lack of jobs for servicemen returning from the war.

We prefer to believe it is the suddenness of this happening rather than any lack of appreciation of the glorious work your fighting Yanks have been doing that is responsible for the present deplorable situation. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to recall the promises and pledges made to these young men as they went out on their great crusade to save the civilization of the world.

The Kentucky Irish American was more progressive about using photographs than the Press, Standard, and most newspapers in 1919. The front of the KIA‘s first Dáil issue included images of the former German Crown Prince and his dog; Queen Elizabeth, of Belgium, and Mrs. Poincare, wife of the French president, riding in a carriage through the Paris streets; Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.; Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, and Mrs. Vincent Astor, all returning from France; and renowned pianist Ignacy Paderewski, the Polish foreign affairs minister at the Paris peace conference.

As discussed in my last post, these ethnic newspapers complained about mainstream American press coverage of Irish issues. “News dispatches pertaining to affairs in Ireland, as distributed by some of the great American press agencies, continue to bear prima facie evidence of gross unfairness and inaccuracy,” the Standard declared in its editorialThe Press editorial offered hope for better future coverage:

Hitherto the American daily press has viewed the Sinn Féin program as something to be mocked and jeered at; but now that the Irish people have proved to the world that they are in earnest in their fight for international recognition as a sovereign nation, the tone of the great dailies has undergone something of a change.

This is only a snapshot of Irish-American newspaper coverage in January 1919, of course, not a complete or extensive analysis. Some Irish titles published at that time appear to be lost forever, while others are not yet digitized for review outside limited library and archive collections. 

American press coverage of first Dáil Éireann

Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, on 21 January 1919, adopted the fledgling nation’s Declaration of Independence at Mansion House, Dublin. The political statement and same day IRA ambush of Royal Irish Constabulary officers (British police) at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, marked the start of Ireland’s War of Independence.

“Nearly 100 American and European journalists are in Dublin” to cover the parliamentary meeting, The Washington (Washington, D.C.) Herald reported a day earlier. Their wire service dispatches and other cables appeared in newspapers across America, home to more than 1 million Irish immigrants and 3.1 million U.S. citizens with at least one parent from Ireland.1 Many of the stories read like mashups from multiple sources, with key details and phrases either rewritten or reordered in the long columns, typically without source attribution.

Some Irish Americans complained about the coverage. At a public gathering in Chicago, supporters of Irish independence suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.”2

In Louisville, 300 miles south, the Kentucky Irish American editorialized under the headline:

England’s Tools

The majority of the reports of the convention in Ireland appearing in the American press are filled with slurs of the Irish people and their rights to freedom. They bear all the earmarks of being doctored in London, and only emphasize the fact that the English propagandists in this country are but hearkening to their master’s voice.3

In Philadelphia, The Irish Press bristled at perceived slights. Noting the declaration was read in Irish, the Press complained, “Some of the newspaper dispatches speak of the Irish language as ‘dead.’ … The correspondent evidently regards no language as living unless he can understand it.”4

The Irish Press had direct ties to the revolutionary government through its editor and Dáil Éireann member, Patrick McCartan. In his 1932 monograph (which some historians have criticized as mistake-filled and self-serving5), McCartan recalled, “To keep the Republic prominently before Irish-Americans, the Staff of the Irish Press were instructed to substitute the words Irish Republic for Ireland, as far possible, in all articles that appeared in the newspaper.”6 By this and other steps, he wrote, the American public was prepared for Ireland’s Declaration of Independence.

We were no longer an English domestic issue. Home Rule, Dominion Self Government, and such like phrases, in which the Irish issue had hitherto been concealed, had little meaning for Americans and no appeal to their republican tradition and sympathies. Now, for the first time, with a fearless demand for recognition, of the existing Irish Republic, the Irish issue was stated in terms that commanded American interest and respect.7 

In Ireland, the Dáil soon launched its official organ, The Irish Bulletin. “[T]he stenciled news sheet of the revolutionary movement … written in the restrained, neutral tone of the news itself” became part of a larger publicity operation devoted to the care of “potentially sympathetic correspondents.”8 In America, the Friends of Irish Freedom’s National Bureau of Information (or Irish National Bureau) also “supplied political and literary articles to Catholic papers and sympathetic politicians free of charge.”9 

Below are some colorful and controversial passages of U.S. press coverage of the first DáilThe stories were datelined 21 January 1919, and published in the next day’s editions of big city dailies. 

The New York Times, page 1

“The rotunda of the Mansion House, where the congress met, is a dingy old place, lighted by stained glass windows overhead. The platform and half the floor were fitted with tables for officers and delegates. The remainder of the floor and the circular gallery were reserved for the public, admission being by ticket. A large portion of the audience consisted of women. The number of young priests was conspicuous. … The youthfulness of the Sinn Féin leaders was their most noticeable characteristic. There were hardly a half dozen gray heads in the group (of 27).”

Pittsburgh Daily Post, page 1

“Infuriated over their detention in jail while their comrades were inaugurating the ‘Irish parliament,’ and declaring their independence, Sinn Féin  prisoners–how many is not known–in jail at Belfast started a riot today. The police intervened and quelled the rioters. … The declaration of independence read to the assemblage and thunderous and constant cheers, asserts that ‘the Irish people alone have the power to make the laws binding on the Irish people.’ ”

The Chicago Tribune, page 2

“Some of their names may be made famous by future results of today’s work but none of the (Sinn Féin ) delegates impressed outsiders as national figures of the calibre of Redmond, Dillon, Healey, Devlin and other Nationalists, who in the epoch now apparently closed fought for home rule along constitutional and legal paths. The Dáil Éireann begins a new page in the many chaptered history of Irish protest against government by Great Britain. It throws down the gauntlet to British law. What may be the consequences to its members, if there be any consequences, no one in Dublin can foresee or predict. Dublin’s everyday life was undisturbed by the defiance to the government registered at Mansion House.”

The Houston Post, page 1

“Perhaps no country except Ireland could present an episode as remarkable as the assembly of the Dáil Éireann … Perhaps no writer except an Irishman like George Bernard Shaw could do justice to the paradoxical nature of the proceedings.”

The San Francisco Examiner, page 1

“The atmosphere … is tremendously charged. Any moment may bring an explosion. A spirit of restiveness, daring and defiance is sweeping the Isle of Erin on this, the day which the Sinn Féin proclaim the greatest in Irish history. The trouble near Tipperary is all that has been reported so far in the way of violence. One thing seems certain–that if there is any sort of recurrence of the disturbances and the bloodshed of Easter, 1916, some absolutely unexpected provocative action from either side will be responsible.”

***

More coverage of the Dáil Éireann opening in the Kentucky Irish American and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, in a future post. Project home page.

‘Irish American’ publisher’s Irish-American story

Kentucky Irish American Publisher William M. Higgins served on the official committee that Oct. 10, 1919, welcomed Irish President Eamon de Valera to Louisville.1 The city’s enthusiastic reception for the rebel leader demonstrated the “feelings of the American people who know and appreciate the blessings of freedom with the people of Ireland who are striving to obtain the same boon,” his newspaper editorialized a week later.2

Higgins and de Valera shared more than their desire for an independent Ireland. By coincidence, the 67-year-old host and the 37-year-old guest were both natives of New York State, some 700 miles away. In later years, de Valera’s American birth to an Irish mother and Spanish father prompted hostile challenges about his Irishness. Higgins, the son of Great Famine immigrants, easily balanced both sides of his hyphenated heritage.

Obituary image in The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.), June 10, 1925.

He was a devout Catholic, active in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and “an ardent advocate of freedom for Ireland,”3 He also was president of printers’ union local and “one of the sponsors and chief boosters of the Amateur Baseball Federation.”4

Higgins was a husband and the father of eight children. He attended the weddings of two of his three daughters; and the funerals of two of his five sons; one who died by drowning; the other by self-inflicted gunshot, whether intentional or accidental is unclear.5

Saint Louis Cemetery, Louisville, Ky.

Higgins dropped dead in his newsroom, age 72, in 1925. It was shortly after creation of the Irish Free State, partition of the island, and end of Ireland’s civil war. The Irish American had turned more of its coverage to local issues.

“Louisville lost a real citizen, a man who always stood up for what he thought was right,” one rival newspaper said of Higgins. “While he was not a native, he practically grew up with the town,” another local columnist said. 6

Immigrant parents

Hugh Higgins, William’s father, emigrated to America from Rivertown, County Sligo in 1848.7 His mother, Mary, departed from Drumlace, County Leitrim, in 1849, “the year when the tide of immigration from Ireland brought thousands of her good, Christian kind to build up this country,” the Syracuse Catholic Sun said in an obituary re-published on the front page of her son’s then year-old newspaper.8

From 1848 to 1855, over 5,000 Irish immigrants settled in Upstate New York’s Onondaga County; about 40 percent in Syracuse.9 William’s parents married in Auburn, New York, about 25 miles east of Syracuse, where they settled.10 He grew up hearing first-hand accounts of the Famine, and the stories of earlier Irish immigrants who dug the nearby Erie Canal, opened in 1825 and enlarged during his boyhood.

Nine of 50 people listed on the 1870 census page showing the Higgins family were born in Ireland, and many of those born in America had immigrant parents.11 The census form indicates only whether each person’s mother and father was foreign born, but not the country, as recorded in later editions of the decennial count.

Louisville move

By 1880, 28-year-old Higgins lived at 289 Seventh St. in Louisville. He was married to Mary; with then 2-year-old, and 2-month old, sons, the children he later buried.12 It is unclear why he moved south; perhaps he or his New York-born wife had family in Louisville.

Higgins also might have relocated to further his career as a printer, which began in Syracuse. In Louisville, he worked in the composing room of The Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. He also became president of the Typographical Union No. 10.13

Louisville experienced a “second wave” of Irish immigration during the 1880s.14 As a newspaperman, Higgins would have been aware of Charles Stewart Parnell’s Feb. 19, 1880, visit to Louisville. The Irish MP lectured at Liederkranz Hall “for the benefit of the Irish relief fund.”15 Perhaps Higgins joined the local branch of the American Land League.16

Parnell

Parnell arrived the day after visiting the capitol at Frankfort, where it was said “Kentucky is the Ireland of America”; not for being oppressed, but because of the “genial, hearty good nature, the hospitality, the love of fair-play, the pluck and courage” of its people. He was welcomed to Louisville as “a city that always greets with open arms, without regards to politics or opinions, every honest man who loves and serves as country.” 17

Thirty-eight years later, the example probably influenced the welcome that Higgins and other Irish Americans in Louisville extended to Eamon de Valera. By then, he was the established publisher of the Kentucky Irish American for 20 years.

***

More on Louisville’s Irish community and the Kentucky Irish American’s coverage of the Irish War of Independence in a future post. Project home page.

Two found books about Northern Ireland

Since the current troubles in Northern Ireland began in 1968, there has been an explosion of research on the area. Hundreds of books and an even larger number of articles have been published. … It is quite possible that, in proportion to size, Northern Ireland is the most heavily researched area on earth.
–John Whyte, in the Preface of Interpreting Northern Ireland, January 1990

It’s now two years since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in a feud between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, an unfortunate anniversary overshadowed by concerns about how the impending Brexit will impact the north’s border with the Republic of Ireland.

My neighborhood book kiosk.

By coincidence, two books about Northern Ireland just arrived at my reading chair, both published before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. My wife plucked them from the “Little Free Library” outside the Episcopal church near our apartment building.

Maybe you’ve seen one of these literary kiosks, typically emblazoned with the motto: “Take a book. Leave a book.” We’ve done both.

In addition to Whyte’s 1990 Interpreting Northern Ireland is The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland by Sean McPhilemy, which was published in February 1998, two months before the historic peace accord.

Both books are among over 18,800 reference materials relevant to the Northern Ireland “Troubles” listed in the CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) Bibliography, last updated in April 2016. Entries mainly refer to books, but also include journal and newspaper articles, pamphlets, and dissertations. (Allow me to link to my own 2001 piece for the Mobile (Ala.) Register, written as part of a German Marshall Fund journalism grant.)

At 21 and nearly 30 years old, the books are dated, thought not rare or antiquarian. As should be the aim of any good journalism (McPhilemy) and scholarship (Whyte), each attempted to provide the fullest picture of reality with the best information available at the time. 

Whyte’s bibliography stretches 27 pages. His concluding chapter includes a subtitle: “Has Research on the Northern Ireland Problem Been Worth While?” He notes there was not nearly as much academic attention to revolutionary Ireland in the period 1916-1923.

Yet the people muddled through to some kind of settlement. From Irish experience one might deduce that research actually does harm: that the more work is done on a problem, the longer it takes to solve it. I do not put that forward altogether seriously–there were other reasons besides a mere absence of academics why the last round of troubles proved easier to bring to an end. But it could be argued from Irish experience that research does not seem to do much good.

Whyte died in May 1990, just a few months after his book was published; felled by a heart attack at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on his way to a conference in Virginia. He was traveling with Garret FitzGerald, the former Fine Gael Taoiseach, who two months later wrote the Forward of Interpreting Northern Ireland:

It is a tribute to the comprehensive and objective character of this work that one can say with assurance that no one is likely to be able to write intelligently about the Northern Ireland conflict in future without having first taken account of John Whyte’s last book.

McPhilemy’s 1998 book is based on his 1991 “sensation documentary” for British television. Both alleged to reveal that Unionist members of the Northern Ireland business community, Protestant clergy, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and British security forces colluded with Loyalist terrorists to murder Irish Republicans and other Irish nationalists.

Irish America magazine publisher Niall O’Dowd and U.S. Congressman Peter King each qualified their promotional blurbs on the dust jacket with “If McPhilemy is right…”, and “If McPhilemy’s allegations are true…” , respectively. 

As it turned out, the book has spent more time under the noses of judges and juries than regular readers. Its post-publication history is a long docket of libel cases based on its central allegations and due to complexities that emerged in the then new “age of the Internet and global book publishing,” as The New York Times reported in 1999

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, alleged to have assisted the secret loyalist committee, was the most high-profile plaintiff. He won two judgements against online retailer Amazon.com for distributing The Committee via its online platform. The book was published in America by Roberts Rinehart Publishers, which also was sued and settled.

It probably didn’t hurt Trimble’s case(s) that he co-won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday Agreement. He also became the first “first minister” of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1998-2002.

Online sales of The Committee were supposed to have stopped, but the book is still available from Amazon. The full text can be viewed on the Internet Archive. Here in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress has a copy; as does the Ralph J. Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State; and most university libraries. Digital and print versions are also available at Queen’s University Belfast, and at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

I understand that reputations can be damaged by shoddy or malicious reporting or scholarship. I respect libel laws, but suspect they too often are used as a cudgel to suppress information. I am encouraged that it is difficult to disappear books; whether recently created or a little aged; whether posted online; sold in a store; shelved at a library; or placed in the neighborhood book kiosk.

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.