Category Archives: IUC, Revisted

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dublin slums

This is post 5 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited 

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“[In the 18th century,] “the Irish landlords were more fond of living in Dublin than a good many of the Irish nationalists [are in 1888].”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert’s first three days in Ireland were spent in Dublin, mostly talking with unionist M.P.s and government administrators such as Arthur Balfour. He also took some time to explore the city:

“During the day I walked through many of the worst quarters of Dublin. I met fewer beggars in proposition than one encounters in [some parts of London], but I was struck by the number of persons–and particularly of women–who wore that most pathetic of all the liveries of distress, the look of having seen better days. In the most wretched streets I traversed there was more squalor than suffering–the dirtiest and most ragged people in them showing no signs of starvation, or even insufficient rations; and certainly in the most dismal alleys and by-streets, I came upon nothing so revolting as the hives of crowded misery which make certain of the tenement house quarters of New York more gruesome than the Cour des Miracles (17th century Paris slums) itself used to be.”

A German map of Dublin from 1888, the year Hurlbert visited the city.

In 1888, Dublin’s population was about 419,000, behind the 438,000 residents of Cork, larger than the 255,000 people in Belfast. Dublin’s growth was stunted after the Irish parliament was dissolved by the 1800 Act of Union. As History Ireland explained:

The removal of the parliamentarians, who would now leapfrog Dublin en route to Westminster, had two immediate effects. The first was that the elegant townhouses built as the urban residences of the Ascendancy became redundant (a century later many would be tenements); the second was that the service industries and consumer culture that had developed around the parliament were stripped away. This social and economic hammer blow, when combined with newly established absentee governance from London, precipitated Dublin’s long decline from second city of the empire to provincial center within the U.K. And within the U.K., Dublin’s primary function was as a transit point for the export of food and people, and the importation of British goods: a perpetual motion driven by the imperatives of Britain’s industrial centers, and which also starved Dublin of the wherewithal to develop its own manufacturing base. In the mid-19th century this economic stagnation was accompanied by one of the most significant social developments in the city’s history, as the emergent Catholic (and remaining Protestant) middle classes abandoned the city between the canals and relocated to new townships such as Clontarf and Rathmines. In the vacuum left behind, the tenements flourished.

As poor, post-Famine rural residents packed the once elegant Georgian townhouses, the wealthy targeted the structures for salvage. In his book, Hurlbert reported that Dublin-born M.P. Lord Ashbourne (Edward Gibson), author of an 1885 Irish land law known as the Ashbourne Act, spent his free time poking around the city slums “to look up some fine old wooden mantelpieces and wainscotings … A brisk trade it seems has for some time been driven in such relics of the departed splendor of the Irish capital.”

It wasn’t until the September 1913 collapse of two houses on Church Street killed seven people that serious attention was focused on Dublin’s dismal tenements. Photographer John Cooke produced a series of startling images about the city’s squalid living conditions, which he titled “Darkest Dublin.” The substandard housing, however, persisted into the second half of the 20th century.

Hurlbert did not name the streets or neighborhoods he visited on his walks. Church Street and other “between the canals” locations photographed a quarter century later by Cooke were within a mile or so of the Kildare Street hotel where Hurlbert stayed through 3 February 1888. Then, with Lord Ernest William Hamilton, he boarded the 7:25 a.m. train for Strabane, leaving behind the Dublin slums.

John Cooke photo of Dublin tenement life in 1913.

NEXT: Sion Mills

NOTES: This post is based on pages 59 and 72 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Home Rule

This is post 4 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited 

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“It is not in accordance with the American doctrine of ‘Home Rule’ that ‘Home Rule’ of any sort for Ireland should be organized in New York or in Chicago by expatriated Irishmen.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the early 1880s, agrarian agitator Michael Davitt and Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell partnered in an bid to secure domestic political autonomy for Ireland–Home Rule. The effort got financial and political support from the Irish in America, roused by visits from Davitt and Parnell. Despite the support of Liberal British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, however, the legislation was defeated by unionists in 1886, two years before Hurlbert’s arrival in Ireland.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Hurlbert wrote the 1886 bill would have made Gladstone and the British government “the ally and the instrument of Mr. Parnell in carrying out the plans of Mr. Davitt, Mr. Henry George, and the active Irish organizations of the United States.” Hurlbert also recognized the Home Rule effort was not over:

“How or by whom Ireland shall be governed concerns me only in so far as the government of Ireland may affect the character and the tendencies of the Irish people, and thereby, the close, intimate, and increasing connection between the Irish people and the people of the United States, may tend to affect the future of my country. … [In the wake of the failed 1886 bill] ‘Home Rule for Ireland’ is not now a plan–nor so much as a proposition. It is merely a polemical phrase, of little importance to persons really interested in the condition of Ireland, however invaluable it may be to the makers of party platforms in my own country, or to Parliamentary candidates on this side of the Atlantic. … [It] has unquestionably been the aim of every active Irish organization in the United States for the last twenty years … [and] Parnell is understood in America to have pledged himself that he will do anything to further and nothing to impede.”

Within months of Hurlbert’s visit to Ireland, Parnell would face a special commission called to investigate his alleged links to two 1882 political murders. Though cleared two years later, he soon was scandalized by revelations of his extramarital affair with the wife of one of his parliamentary colleagues. He died in 1891, two years before a second Home Rule bill was raised (and defeated) in parliament.

Col. Edward James Saunderson

During his second and third days in Dublin, Hurlbert met with several members of the British administration and M.P.s who opposed any form of separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom. An unidentified Catholic unionist from southern Ireland told him it would be “madness to hand Ireland over to the Home Rule of the ‘uncrowned king’ (Parnell’s nickname).”

Later, Hurlbert attended a meeting of Irish unionists, where he heard a speech by Colonel Edward James Saunderson. The M.P. for North Armagh (now part of Northern Ireland) asked the audience whether they could ever imagine being governed by “such wretches” as the Parnellite nationalists?

“Never,” the crowd replied in what Hurlbert described as “a low deep growl like the final notice served by a bull-dog.” Ian Paisley and his unionist supporters echoed the response 97 years later outside the Belfast City Hall.

NEXT: Dublin slums

NOTES: This post is based on the Prologue and pages 53 to 70 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Meeting Balfour

(This is part 3 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited )

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“What you expect is the thing you never find in Ireland.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Within hours of arriving in Dublin, Hurlbert visited Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour at Dublin Castle. The American described the seat of the British government administration in Ireland as “no more of a palace than it is of a castle … People go in and out of it as freely as through the City Hall in New York.”

Dublin Castle

Balfour, then 39, was “in excellent spirits; certainly the mildest mannered and most sensible despot who ever trampled the liberties of a free people,” Hurlbert wrote, tongue only partly in cheek. “He was quite delightful about the abuse which is now daily heaped upon him in speeches and in the press.”

The American asked Balfour about agrarian agitator Micheal Davitt’s statement the previous evening at Rathkeale, where he urged his supporters to stop using the phrase “bloody Balfour.”

“Davitt is quite right, the thing must be getting to be a bore to the people, who are not such fools as the speakers take them to be,” Balfour replied. “One of the stenographers told me the other day that they had to invent a special sign for the phrase ‘bloody and brutal Balfour,’ it is used so often in the speeches.”

This sounds a little dubious, a self-aggrandizing anecdote by the up-and-coming politician to the visiting journalist. It appears from the book passage that the interview did not last very long, but Hurlbert later insisted that Balfour had “obviously unaffected interest in Ireland.”

Hurlbert also sought an interview with Davitt, “who was not to be found at the [Irish] National League headquarters, nor yet at the Imperial Hotel, which is his usual resort …” He admitted to “sharing the usual and foolish aversion of my sex to asking questions on the highway” and being confused about the name of the major Dublin thoroughfare then transitioning from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street.

The Imperial Hotel on Sackville/O’Connell Street. Archiseek.com.

When the reporter settled on sending a note to the revolutionary, an unnamed companion warned him to seal it with wax.

Why?

“All the letters to well-know people that are  not opened by the police are opened by the nationalists clerks in the Post-Office. ‘Tis a way we’ve always had with us in Ireland.”

NEXT: Home Rule

NOTES: This post is based on pages 42 to 53 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dublin arrival

(This is part 2 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited )

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“I had expected to come upon unusual things and people in Ireland … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert arrived in Ireland on 30 January 1888, having departed from London the previous evening. He had been to Rome earlier, which is important for reasons that will become clear later in the book.

“We made a quick quit passage to Kingstown,” (Dún Laoghaire since 1920), across the Irish Sea from Holyhead, Wales, arriving in the morning. “A step from the boat at Kingstown puts you into the train for Dublin,” about nine miles to the north.

Kingstown in the 1890s, a few years after Hurlbert’s arrival.

Hurlbert was accompanied by Lord Ernest Hamilton, elected three years earlier as M.P. for North Tyrone. A dockside news vendor who recognized the Conservative member of parliament “promptly recommended us to buy the Irish Times and the Express,” then “smiled approval when I asked for the Freeman’s Journal also,” the American wrote. The first two papers were unionist; the third moderately nationalist.

Hurlbert’s attention was drawn to the Journal‘s report about the previous evening’s nationalist demonstration in Rathkeale, County Limerick, about 20 miles southwest of Limerick city. Thousands of men from counties Limerick, Kerry and Clare attended the rally, which featured a speech by agrarian activist Michael Davitt. To Hurlbert, it was “chiefly remarkable for a sensible protest against the ridiculous and rantipole abuse lavished upon Mr. [Authur] Balfour by the nationalist orators and newspapers.”

Balfour

In March 1887, just 10 months earlier, Balfour had been appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle, Lord Salisbury, then the British Prime Minister. Balfour quickly introduced, and Parliament approved, a tough new law to crack down on resurgent agrarian violence and political protests in Ireland. In September 1887, three people were killed at Mitchelstown, County Cork, when officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) fired into a crowd of demonstrators. Thereafter, the Chief Secretary was nicknamed “bloody Balfour.”

According to the Journal‘s page 6 story, Davitt said that Balfour:

“…is not a man who cares very much about the names he is called, and calling names, let me add, is not a very scientific method of fighting Mr. Balfour’s policy. Calling him ‘bloody Balfour’ may be a truthful description … but its constant use in newspapers and on platforms is becoming what the Americans term a ‘stale chestnut.’ … What we have got to recognize is the policy of this man, and what we have got to do is, to beat that policy by cool, calculating resistance.”

Davitt

Hurlbert says that “Davitt has the stuff in him of a serious revolutionary leader … bent on bringing about a thorough Democratic revolution in Ireland. I believe him to be too able a man to imagine … this can be done without the consent of Democratic England [and he knows] that to abuse an executive officer for determination and vigour is the surest way to make him popular.”

In fact, Davitt also criticized Balfour during the Rathkeale speech. Davitt noted that at the current pace of arrests under the 1887 law, it would take the chief secretary more than 500 years to imprison all supporters of Irish nationalism and tenant rights:

“If we judge of what he can do to save the life of Irish landlordism by all he has performed up to the present, we need have very little apprehension about the final result. … He will discover, if he has not done so already, that imprisonment will not beget loyalty, nor plank beds gratitude to the power he represents. It is with a nation, as with an individual, a tussle with persecution brings out great qualities of endurance, the courage of conviction, and a faith which scorns to abdicate to brute force.”

From the Dublin rail station, Hurlbert and Hamilton rode an “outside car,” a two-seat, two-wheeled, horse-pulled carriage also known as a jaunting car, to the Maples Hotel on Kildare Street, “a large, old-fashioned but clear and comfortable house.” (It was mentioned by James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916; then torn down after World War II to make way for the Department of Industry and Commerce building.) Hurlbert also writes of the nearby Leinster Hall theater, “the fashionable and hospitable Kildare Street Club,” a hideaway of Dublin’s Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and the Shelburne Hotel, “known to all Americans” and “furbished up since I last saw it.”

NEXT: Meeting Balfour

NOTES: This post is based on pages 35 to 41 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanAccess to the Freeman’s Journal via Irish Newspaper Archive. Most hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. Dublin locations mentioned in the last paragraph are hyperlinked to images in the National Library of Ireland.

The time element of the arrival from Holyhead was revised from the original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: An Introduction

Happy New Year. For 2018, I’m producing an open-ended, work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by William Henry Hurlbert. #IUCRevisited.

William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert was 60 when he traveled around Ireland during the first six months of 1888, a period of resurgent agrarian violence and nationalist political agitation. The Charleston, S.C.-born, Harvard-educated, veteran New York City newspaperman supported the private property interests of Ireland’s mostly absentee landlords and the law-and-order response of London’s ruling conservative Tory government. He soon drew the scorn of Irish nationalists, including an 1889 rebuttal pamphlet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’

This blog serial will explore late 19th century Ireland through the people, places and events Hurlbert detailed in his travels. I will supplement his original text with background material and my own 21st century perspectives. The posts not only will cover the Land War and Home Rule conflicts of the day, but also other aspects of life in Ireland at the time, and Hurlbert’s numerous references to the Irish in America and the November 1888 U.S. presidential election.

In his Prologue, Hurlbert writes:

I went to Ireland, not to find some achromatic meaning for a prismatic phrase, which is flashed at you fifty times in England and America where you encounter it once in Ireland, but to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country. … I have done little more than set down, as fully and clearly as I could, what I actually saw and heard in Ireland. … As I had no case to make for or against any political party or any theory of government in Ireland, I took things great and small, and people high and low [especially] with those classes of the Irish people of whom we see least in America … “

The book is written in a travel diary format, beginning with his 30 January 1888, arrival in Dublin, and ending with a 26 June 1888, entry from Belfast. The Preface is dated 21 September 1888. I will quote extensively from the passages, but edit Hurlbert’s frequently meandering sentences.

I am 81 pages into the 475-page book. As I get deeper in the text, I will begin to cross-reference and circle back to earlier book passages and blog posts, as appropriate to understanding the material. Reader questions and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for joining me–and William Henry Hurlbert–on this adventure through “Ireland Under Coercion,” Revisited.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NEXT: Dublin arrival

NOTES: Quotes from pages 8 and 10 of the Prologue to Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanMost hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. I am maintaining a People, Places & Events reference on the project landing page.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan