Category Archives: Journalism

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

I made my second trip of the year to Ireland in November. As in February, the weather was delightfully mild and mostly dry. As in America, more and more people seemed transfixed by their smart phones. In the West of Ireland, I noticed more wind turbines sprouting from fields and hilltops to supply electrical power to keep those phones charged. At several churches, Mass attendance remained thin, especially at the massive Galway Cathedral. (Below and bottom of the post.)

Here’s the monthly roundup for November:

      • “Successive Irish Governments have abandoned rural Ireland. Their vision is of a prosperous elite, big cities and a trickle down of wealth. A trickle that runs dry before it reaches rural Ireland,” Sinn Féin  President Mary Lou McDonald said. … “Rural Ireland isn’t dying. … The situation is far from perfect, but in contrast to the grim days when rural Ireland raised its sons and daughters for the boat, these days a mix of foreign and indigenous industrial employers has penetrated deep into provincial Ireland with high-quality, interesting and engaging, jobs,” Donal O’Donovan wrote in the Irish Independent.
      • Medical devices now make up almost 10 percent of all Irish exports. The Republic is second only to Germany as the largest European exporter of such equipment, The Irish Times reported. Most of the firms are clustered around Galway.
      • “Lessons from Northern Ireland for Americans who see political opponents as the enemy,op-ed in The Hill.
      • Ireland is moving to reinstate birthright citizenship, bucking the trend in other Western countries to tighten restrictions on immigration, The New York Times reported.
      • Tourism Ireland announced it will increase 2019 spending by €10 million, to €45 million, and will launch its first new global advertising campaign in seven years to help attract more overseas visitors to the island of Ireland. The “Fill your Heart with Ireland” campaign will launch during December in the United States, Britain, France and Germany, then roll out more than 20 other markets in the new year. The promotional boost is driven in part by concerns about Brexit.
      • “Is Ireland Really A Startup Nation?”, column in Forbes.
      • The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating the 9 November spotting by several commercial airline pilots of an unidentified flying object over the Republic. Some have speculated the fast-moving lights were probably meteorites entering Earth at a low angle. 

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

***

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.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Killone photos

ENNIS ~ My “Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited” series explores aspects of the book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert.

The Charleston, S.C.-born, Harvard-educated, New York City newspaper editor traveled around Ireland during the first six months of 1888, a period of resurgent agrarian violence and nationalist political agitation. His book, published later that year, focused on these topics. Like most visitors to Ireland, however, Hurlbert also explored the country’s landscapes and landmarks, including the ruins of Killone Abbey in County Clare.

The American journalist leveraged his visit to the abbey ruins to criticize the violence in the land reform movement, as discussed in my original post about this section of Hurlbert’s diary. A year later, an Irish priest mocked the characterization in his Hurlbert unmasked rebuttal pamphlet.

See black and white images of the abbey, circa 1865, or more than 20 years before Hurlbert’s visit, at this link to the Robert French photography collection at the National Library of Ireland. Below, photos from my 11 November 2018 visit to the site, 130 years after Hurlbert.

Approach to Killone Abbey, November 2018.

The abbey opened in 1190 and abandoned in the 17th century.

Looking back toward the photo vantage above.

During his 1888 visit, American journalist William Henry Hurlbert commented about the “picturesque lake” and the “confusion, squalor and neglect” of the abbey graveyard.

I’m always drawn to the view from the surviving window frames of ancient ruins.

NPHFI 2018 Conference: Women, press & the vote

GALWAY ~ The Irish Citizen, a Dublin-based feminist newspaper published from 1912 to 1920, not only covered women’s struggle to obtain the right to vote, but also produced ground-breaking reporting about sexual assault and other abuses, especially among domestic servants. The paper was 100 years ahead of the #MeToo Movement.

As alternative media, the Citizen “privileged a journalism wedded to social responsibility rather than the ideology of objectivity” claimed by the mainstream press, Louis Ryan, professor of sociology at the University of Sheffield, told the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland 2018 Conference, “The Press and the Vote.”

Irish suffragettes faced a more complex struggle than their British sisters, Ryan said. When Irish women sought support from the Irish Parliamentary Party, then trying to secure Home Rule, the male politicians said wait until Ireland secured domestic political autonomy. Militant Irish republicans criticized the feminists for wanting any franchise at all with the London government.

Women on both shores of the Irish Sea obtained limited voting rights in February 1918. In December 1918, Irish nationalist Constance Markeivicz, who was jailed for her role in an anti-conscription protest, became the first woman elected to the British House of Common. She refused to take the seat, instead joining the revolutionary parliament in Dublin and the ensuing Irish War of Independence.

The Citizen, which survived the turmoil of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Great War on the continent, folded before the Irish conflict was resolved a few years later. But the paper left an invaluable feminist archive, Ryan said.

For this year’s centennial, she has published an updated and revised edition of her 1996 book, Winning the Vote for Women: The Irish Citizen newspaper and the suffrage movement in Ireland, available from Four Courts Press. Listen to an April 2018 podcast on Dublin City FM’s Mediascope.

Louise Ryan

The first day of the NPHFI Conference featured nine other excellent presentations about the role of newspapers in the 1918 British elections, corrupt elections practices in 20th century Ireland, the Catholic Standard newspaper’s anti-communism campaign in the 1950s, and other topics. Nine more presentations are scheduled for 10 November.

See the full agenda.

Pennsylvania pledges to Irish freedom in 1918 U.S. election

A month before the 1918 U.S. elections, a Philadelphia chapter of the Friends of Irish Freedom sent a questionnaire to Pennsylvania candidates for state and federal office that asked whether they would make this pledge:

Will you, if elected to the public office for which you are a candidate, openly and unequivocally support Ireland’s claim to Complete Independence–the form of Government to be determined by the whole male and female population of Ireland?

The Irish Press published the questionnaire,1 which featured seven “historical facts” about England’s subjugation of Ireland “based on force,” including a 250,000-troop “army of occupation … equipped with all the ruthless machinery of modern warfare.” English prisons were “full of Irish men and women” who refused to follow her “tyrannical decrees.”

Wilson

The questionnaire also noted that over 500,000 men of the Irish race were serving in “Uncle Sam’s Army and Navy.” And it included two 27 September 1918, quotes from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson about the rights of smaller, weaker countries to be free from the rule of larger, stronger nations.

Friends of Irish Freedom and other Irish groups had been building support for Irish self-determination since January, when Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress. He said the world should “be made safe for every peace-loving nation, which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world…”

Mass meetings and petition drives mounted through the spring and summer, especially as it became clear that Wilson’s statement likely included only those nation’s controlled by Germany and its allies. “It must be remembered that while President Wilson did not include Ireland, he said nothing about excluding [it],” was the hopeful formulation of one speaker at a May 1918 Friends’ rally at the Lyceum Theater in Pittsburgh.2

As the November election neared, the Irish Press reported that responses to the Friends’ questionnaire were “gratifying to all friends of the cause” and also showed “in a conclusive manner” that 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters were “heartily in favor” of an Irish Republic. The Press continued:

This result should put a little ginger and backbone into the weak and vacillating men of our race who are willing to take anything that England should see fit to grant as a favor. Let our motto be that in the matter of self-determination nothing is too good for the Irish.

It is unclear how the Press determined the 70 percent support figure. There is no reference to voter polling independent of those candidates who returned the questionnaire. In two issues before the 5 November election, the Press named nine congressional candidates, plus the Democrat and Republican contenders for governor, as supportive of Ireland. Over 100 candidates were on the ballot for 33 congressional seats; plus dozens more for state legislative offices.

Letters of support

Focht

The Press reproduced two letters of support from congressional candidates.

“I wish to advise that I believe Ireland has suffered only too long the oppression of a foreign power, and that the day has come for her liberation …,” Republican Congressman Benjamin K. Focht wrote in a letter published on the front page of the Press. Focht was editor and publisher of the Lewisburg Saturday News in his district 60 miles north of the state capitol in Harrisburg.

Hulings

The paper also published a letter from Willis J. Hulings of Oil City, Pa., who was attempting to return to Congress after a two-year absence. Hulings said that he favored Irish freedom and that “sympathy with Irish patriots has been part of my life.”3 However, he did not see how “the United States Congress has any right of interference until after the Irish people have unitedly demanded separation from Great Britain.”

The Press editors acknowledged that Hulings position was shared “by many other honest Americans.” It added:

If Ireland must wait for freedom until Great Britain gives the Irish people an opportunity to unitedly demand separation, we should look for the establishment of the Irish Republic somewhere around the Greek calends.

Historian Joseph P. O’Grady noted that “what influence this [questionnaire and news coverage] had upon the campaign is difficult to assess; but the fact that candidates for high office would publicly endorse such statements [as the pledge] indicates, to some extent, the political power of the Irish at election time.”4

In the election, Democrats lost both chambers of Congress to the Republicans, a bad omen for Wilson, who had cast the midterm in strident personal and national security terms. Only three of the nine congressional candidates named in the Press, including Focht and Hulings, were elected. As the war in Europe ended the following week, the pressure campaign by Irish America continued to heat. The results of British Parliamentary elections in Ireland the following month would have an even bigger impact on the issue.

See archived stories about the Irish in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

As of 30 October, traffic on this site surpassed our highest annual total, in 2016. Thanks very much for your readership and support, including several of you who emailed suggestions for this month’s roundup, which starts in arts and ends in crime:

  • Anna Burns became the first Northern Irish author to win the Man Booker prize, for Milkman, a novel about a young woman being sexually harassed by a powerful man during the Troubles. Authors John Banville, Anne Enright, and Roddy Doyle of the Irish Republic won the prize earlier.
  • On Broadway, Jez Butterworth’s “thrilling new play” The Ferryman “mines the folksy clichés of Irish archetypes — as garrulous, drink-loving, pugilistic souls — to find the crueler patterns of a centuries-old cycle of violence and vengeance,” according to this New York Times review.
  • “The extent to which many English people are ignorant about Ireland has become painfully clear. … I’ve noticed a tonal shift in the way I and other Irish people speak about the English. Our anger is more sincere. We are more ready to call them out on all those centuries of excess.” I Didn’t Hate the English — Until Now
  • An Bord Pleanála approved a 25-story residential tower in Cork city. If built, it would become the county’s tallest tower.
  • Ireland ranked 5th on the 2018 CAF World Giving Index, behind the U.S. and ahead of the U.K.
  • The Republic will impose tobacco-style health warning labels on alcohol as part of a sweeping package of restrictions intended to tackle one of the world’s worst rates of binge drinking.
  • “When confronted with a film that identified prime suspects in a massacre of unarmed British citizens [Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994], the authorities made no apparent effort to further question those suspects—and arrested the filmmakers instead.” Why Were a Filmmaker and a Journalist Arrested in Northern Ireland?
  • In a case that reminds me of the “agrarian outrages” of the late 19th century, north Kerry bachelor dairy farmer Michael Ferris, 63, of Rattoo, was found guilty of manslaughter for the 2017 death of John Anthony O’Mahony, an unmarried tillage farmer, 73, of Ardoughter, Ballyduff.  Ferris drove the pallet forks of his teleporter into the car occupied by O’Mahony, apparently enraged by the older man’s use of a crow banger, according to the Irish Examiner.
  • In America, the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger, 89, once head of Boston’s Irish mob, was killed in federal prison. Read my “Southie memories” piece from his 2013 trial.

James “Whitey” Bulger in 1959, early in his criminal career.

Note to Readers: Peace and the Irish wars at 100

Now through May 2023 will be packed with the 100th anniversaries of major milestones in Ireland’s struggle for independence and the island’s partition. I’ll be doing original research and reporting about the period, and aggregating the work of others.

Subscribe to the blog via email, at right, and bookmark the site.

The 11 November centennial of the armistice ending World War I, and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, will get plenty of global attention in the coming weeks and months. “The mood during that [1918-19] winter was pregnant with hopes and fears for the future,” historian John Horne wrote in an overview for The Irish Times. “… Paris produced dreams and disillusion in equal measure.”

U.S. and British elections of 5 November and 14 December, 1918, respectively, each had a big impact on the Paris conference and with Irish relations in Washington and London. The Irish War of Independence began on 21 January, 1919, and wasn’t resolved until the end of the Irish Civil War on 24 May, 1923. The island was divided into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

My posts about this period will focus more on how the Irish in America influenced and were impacted by events in their homeland. I’ll be looking for untold stories of how Irish immigrants in America were touched by the upheaval. I intend to access historical materials at the National Archives & Records Administration, Library of Congress, and Irish collections in the U.S.

I also will be attending the 9-10 November Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland conference, “The Press and The Vote,” in Galway, which will focus on the December 1918 U.K. general election. I hope there will be other future trips to Ireland.

This is a fascinating period of history. Please join me in exploring it. Your ideas and comments are very welcome.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was 6 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.

T. Roosevelt’s letters to the Davitts, and more, now online

In February 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt thanked Irish activist Michael Davitt for the gift of “two blackthorns, which, at the beginning of a Presidential year, I shall accept as good omens.”1 Nine months later, Roosevelt won re-election.

Halfway through that second term, the American president wrote to Davitt’s American-born wife, the former Mary Yore of St. Joseph, Michigan, to express condolences about his death two days earlier in Dublin.  

Theodore Roosevelt

“It was my good fortune to number among my friends your late husband, Mr. Michael Davitt,” Roosevelt wrote.2 “I valued his, and I beg that you will accept my most sincere sympathy in your great bereavement.”

Both letters are part of the massive Theodore Roosevelt Collection, released online 17 October by the Library of Congress. The digital collection contains about 276,000 documents, including letters, speeches, executive orders, scrapbooks, diaries, White House reception records and press releases of his administration, as well as family records, and about 461,000 images.

Michael Davitt

Roosevelt’s 1904 thank you note to Davitt is mentioned in Laurence Marley’s 2007 biography of the County Mayo native.3 The author cites the Papers of Michael Davitt Collection at Trinity College Dublin, which is not fully digitized. Marley also noted Roosevelt’s 1906 letter Davitt’s widow.4 His source for this is an 8 June Reuter’s dispatch from Boston published in the Freemans Journal.

A day earlier, The New York Times reported that Roosevelt declined an invitation by the United Irish League to attend a memorial service for Davitt in Boston.5 The Times reprinted a 4 June letter from Roosevelt that said, “Mr. Davitt was a personal friend of mine, and I sincerely regret his loss. I have written to Mrs. Davitt to express my sympathy.”

These examples illustrate how the digitized Roosevelt papers, part of the ever-expanding universe of similar online collections, is widening historical research opportunities. I’m fortunate to have done in-person research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and at Trinity College Dublin, where I reviewed a one-year portion of the Davitt collection for my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series. (See posts 15 & 16.) But not everyone has the chance to make such onsite visits.

The Roosevelt collection contains other Ireland-related letters and documents. These include correspondence from:

  • Irish Folk Song Society, 1910
  • Irish Gaelic League, 1913
  • Irish National Foresters, 1910
  • Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, 1911
  • Irish Unionist Alliance, 1918
  • United Irish-American Society, 1911

I’m sure there is much, much more. I still getting familiar with the collection, as you should, too.

Davitt’s grave, Straide, County Mayo, February 2018.

Irish nationalism’s “troublesome men,” Part 2 of 2

This two-part post explores the late 19th century feud among Irish nationalists in America. The 1895 Chicago convention of the Irish National Alliance is well recorded, but the divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania leading to it, and the ouster of the Pittsburgh delegation, is a lost story of this period. This account is based on letters to exiled nationalist John Devoy, held at the National Library of Ireland, contemporary newspaper coverage, and other sources. Read Part 1MH

View of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Newspapers across America reported the August 1895 Irish nationalists rally in Pittsburgh, including its criticism of the upcoming Chicago convention. In London, The Times carried a Reuters dispatch that attracted the attention of Andrew Carnegie.1 It “had naturally an unusual interest for me,” the industrialist wrote to the establishment newspaper from Cluny Castle in Scotland’s central Highlands. He lamented that “the Irish question is not exclusively a British, but, also, unfortunately, an American question, casting over our politics its baneful influence.”2

Carnegie certainly didn’t want more unrest in Pittsburgh, the city where he made his fortune. Only three years had passed since the bloody strike at his Homestead steel plant. Three months ahead, he would return to the city to open a new library, museum and art gallery “to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light.”3

His letter to the Times was not his first about Ireland to a prominent newspaper.4 In 1885, the businessman wrote to The New York Times in lieu of accepting an invitation to address the Irish League of Pittsburgh.

Andrew Carnegie

“I am indeed a friend to Ireland,” Carnegie penned from his summer home in Cresson, Pennsylvania, a mountain resort 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. “All that the wildest Irish patriot has urged against English rule is warranted. ‘The sacred right of rebellion’ cannot be denied to the Irish people. Resistance to English rule is a solemn duty.”5

Carnegie advocated an American-style federalist system, with Ireland “as a state of the British union, equal with England and Scotland.” An Irish republic of 5 million people “would be ridiculous,” he said. “I am as determined an opponent of secession in Britain as I am in America.”6

Chicago convention

As the opening of the Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago neared, more opposition to it surfaced beyond the Pittsburgh rally. In Philadelphia, the Ancient Order of Hibernians passed a resolution that accused the INA of trying to “forge to the front as politicians to further their own interests.”7 Altoona’s Robert Emmett Literary Society declared the Chicago meeting was only “to serve the selfish ends of certain persons, and not as avowed, to do any good for Ireland.”8

Irishmen gathered Sept. 20, 1895, at Pittsburgh’s city hall passed a second resolution to bolster their statement from the August rally. It said the Chicago organizers should be “watched with jealous care and attention” because “hundreds of thousands of dollars of hard earned money of Irish American servant girls and men of our race, in the mills, mines and factories of this broad land have been squandered by American politicians.” To keep an eye on the proceedings, the group selected Paul Sheedy, John Madden and Humphrey Lynch as delegates to the Chicago convention.9

Four days later, the Irish National Alliance convention opened inside a YMCA auditorium in Chicago. Portraits of Irish nationalist heroes decorated the hall, including Robert Emmet, executed in 1803 for treason after leading a failed rebellion against Britain, and the Manchester martyrs. Banners of the coat of arms for each of Ireland’s four provinces hung over the stage.10

Divisions among Irish nationalists were as noticeable as the decorations. “For over a year there have been mutterings of discontent among a large portion of the Irish race in this country,” The Pittsburgh Press reported. While “Irish societies of all kinds, political, social, beneficial and literary” were invited to the convention, the offer was “antagonized by an element of the race on the ground that it was more the forerunner of an Irish American political movement than a genuine effort on behalf of the mother isle.”11

Attention was turning to the 1896 U.S. presidential election as the nation remained mired in an economic depression that began a few years earlier. In Western Pennsylvania, basic industries remained hard hit, and mills and mines were either closed or worked only part time.12 High unemployment sparked frequent labor unrest.

At the same time, “a significant percentage” of Irish Americans had become integrated into the middle classes and were more concerned about acting as political spokesmen for the Catholic community than having anything to do with Ireland.13 Some of the Chicago convention leaders had ties to the U.S. Republican Party, which would nominate and elect William McKinley as president in 1896. The Irish National Alliance attracted lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians and businessmen primarily from the Midwest, South and Western states. Most East Coast Irish remained indifferent or hostile to the effort.14

Several Western Pennsylvania individuals and Irish organizations wired supportive telegrams to the convention, including John J. O’Donnell of Homestead; John Kellon and Phillip Duke of Irwin; Patrick McCarthy of Sharon; T. G. Herbert of Altoona, and a half dozen well wishers from Erie.15 About 50 men from Pennsylvania attended in person.16

The Philadelphia contingent included city son James Talbot O’Callahan, owner of a silk badge and banner firm;17  Henry Boylan, a County Fermanagh-born liquor wholesaler;18 Dublin native Martin P. Moroney;19 and Patrick O’Neill, referenced earlier as an enemy of John Devoy. Altoona’s Thomas Greevy and John O’Toole traveled to Chicago. The Western Pennsylvania delegation included Homestead councilman John J. Rattigan; County Kerry native and Pittsburgh hotel operator Cornelius Horgan; and John Flannery, a former miners’ organizer who became editor of the Pittsburgh-based Irish Pennsylvanian newspaper,20 as well as Madden, Sheedy and Lynch.

Chicago in the 1890s.

Troublesome men

The convention’s credentials committee, chaired by Philadelphia’s Moroney, denied Sheedy and Madden access to the hall. “These credentials were presented on behalf of some association of the AOH on a small piece of paper by somebody,” scoffed a Montana delegate. “We thought if we accepted such a thing as that we might have the whole of Chicago in.”21

Convention Secretary M. F. Fanning of Chicago was more blunt: “You can go to ____, but you can’t go into the convention.”22

Lynch and Flannery challenged the ruling. Flannery noted that he attended the Pittsburgh meeting that selected Lynch, Madden and Sheedy. “I think it is a disgrace that we should not be treated with some justice,” he said.23

An 1895 Chicago newspaper illustration of Madden and Sheedy.

Madden and Sheedy issued a protest statement, which pointed out that Lynch “was elected in precisely the same way, and was admitted on credentials exactly similar to ours.”24 They blamed their exclusion on William Lyman, the Sullivan ally they challenged the previous fall.

“There are plain indications of fraud in the methods of making up the convention, and that fraud is in the interest of the men whose action in the past has brought disgrace and shame to the national cause,” their statement said. “We warn all true Nationalists of the danger that confronts our cause, and ask them to take the proper steps to avert it.”25

Word quickly reached Pittsburgh that Madden and Sheedy were expelled from the convention. An emergency meeting of the city’s Irish groups was convened in the Wilkinsburg neighborhood.26 Carrick read a letter from Madden, dated a few days earlier, which predicted the rebuke. Others made “bitter speeches” and “roundly denounced” the convention.

The group sent a telegram to Chicago on behalf of “Irish citizens of Allegheny County, Pa., [to] demand the reasons for the rejection.” Another telegram to Madden and Sheedy said “the Irish organizations of Allegheny County are with you to a man.”27

Lynch attributed his colleagues’ rejection to their role in the Pittsburgh rally the previous month. When Lynch asked a convention official if the telegram from Pittsburgh was received, he received a curt reply: “It may have come, but if it has not it makes no difference.”28

The Chicago Tribune named two other Allegheny County delegates as having their credentials denied at the convention, and “the four men were excluded.”29 No reporting of two other men being ousted from the meeting appears in Pittsburgh newspaper coverage, however, and it is not mentioned in the convention’s official report, only Madden and Sheedy.

The wire service account of their rejection from the convention was widely published in U.S. newspapers, including the quote that they were “troublesome men.” The Los Angeles Times carried a brief about the hometown reaction headlined “Disgruntled Pittsburghers.”30 Most of the newspaper coverage focused on the militant rhetoric of John Finerty, a former Illinois Congressman and the convention chairman. “We’ll circle England with a wall of fire, which shall never be extinguished until Ireland is free.”31

The ouster of Madden and Sheedy was absent in Irish and British newspaper coverage of the convention, and the London press waved off Finerty’s speeches. The Pall Mall Gazette said his “threats only stiffen our back and dull our hearing.” The Times discerned the domestic political effort “to muster as many Irish societies as they can beneath the banner of their presidential candidate.”32

The aftermath

On Oct. 8, 1895, about 50 Irishmen gathered again at Pittsburgh’s city hall to voice their “indignation” about the Chicago convention. Some Irish National Alliance supporters also attended, creating a spirited atmosphere.33

Sheedy alleged the convention was packed with “ward heelers,” truck drivers and “men from the stockyards” who were paid to sit in place of prominent Irish businessmen who never set foot in the hall. He suggested many of the supportive telegrams also were bogus. “The convention was a fiasco and the movement it inaugurated was a farce,” he declared.34

A few weeks later, Sheedy and Madden traveled to Philadelphia to address the pro-Devoy United Irish Societies, which also condemned the Chicago convention.35 Madden ridiculed the idea that the U.S. government would allow any domestic organization to recruit an army to invade England for the purpose of liberating Ireland, as suggested in Chicago. “But there is no fear of the alliance ever amounting to anything,” he said.36

Privately, Madden wrote to Devoy that the Chicago organizers were “show patriots” who “made us appear ridiculous in the eyes of the American people.” He added: “I am proud that my section was not caught in the trap.”37

Sheedy informed Devoy that Flannery, the Irish Pennsylvanian editor who supported him and Madden in the credentials fight, had turned against them in a column published in the Chicago Citizen, an Irish newspaper owned by Finerty, the convention chairman. “I suspect [Flannery] was paid by Lyman to do his dirty work. He is ready to do anything for a dollar.”38

John Devoy

Devoy tasked Sheedy with mailing “circulars” to the presidents of 500 U.S. and Canadian AOH groups about an upcoming meeting. “It is pretty tedious work,” the doctor complained. “You are the choice of the men here, but I told them I did not think you could come.”39

Sheedy continued writing to Devoy into 1896. He inquired about Devoy’s health, opined about political developments in Ireland, and recommended potential new Clan “camps” in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Wheeling, West Virginia. He also invited Devoy to a 5 August Irish event he was organizing at Calhoun Park, near Homestead.40

“We meet in auspicious times, and no man in whose veins flows Celtic blood need be ashamed,” Sheedy said in a speech to about 2,000 people. “Ireland has had a great, but painful history; she is destined to a magnificent future.”41 

Five months later, he died of pneumonia, not yet 30. John Sheedy had his younger brother’s body returned to Altoona for the wake at his house. Rev. Sheedy presided at the funeral Mass, attended by delegations from several Irish groups.42

Devoy continued to work behind the scenes. By Sheedy’s January 1897 burial, his loyalists in the Clan na Gael had more than doubled to nearly 10,000 nationwide from about 4,000 in 1894.43 Madden, Lynch and other Irish nationalists in Western Pennsylvania lived to see Devoy reestablish control of the group as the rival Irish National Alliance faded into obscurity.

Pittsburgh’s “troublesome men” had picked the right side.

(Footnotes in this post are 47 – 90 of the full piece. They are listed 1 -43 here because the citation plugin code cannot account for the piece being divided into two parts. See Part 1.)

Troublesome men: The Irish nationalist feud in Western Pennsylvania, 1894-1896

This two-part post explores the late 19th century feud among Irish nationalists in America. The 1895 Chicago convention of the Irish National Alliance is well recorded, but the divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania leading to it, and the ouster of the Pittsburgh delegation, is a lost story of this period. This account is based on letters to exiled nationalist John Devoy, held at the National Library of Ireland, contemporary newspaper coverage, and other sources. MH

Drawing of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

In September 1895, two Pittsburgh delegates to a highly-publicized Irish nationalists convention in Chicago were kicked out of the meeting hall. “They are troublesome men; we don’t want them,” someone shouted.1

Lawyer John Madden and physician Paul Sheedy, both Ireland natives who supported the convention’s goal of overthrowing British rule in their homeland, expected the boot.2 Six weeks earlier, they proclaimed their opposition to the convention at an Irish rally near Pittsburgh.3 Thousands of cheering supporters endorsed their resolution, which described the upcoming Chicago event as “for no other purpose than to deceive our people, and advance the special and political interests of its originators.”4

Internal division was rife among Irish nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 19th century. In 1893, the London parliament defeated a second legislative attempt to give Ireland limited domestic autonomy, called Home Rule. The rejection prompted new calls to use terror-style violence to break from Britain once and for all. For the Irish in America, debate over how to support their homeland also was increasingly tangled in U.S. domestic politics.

An 1895 Chicago newspaper illustration of Madden and Sheedy.

Madden’s and Sheedy’s conflict with the Chicago convention leaders sprang from their loyalty to Irish nationalist leader John Devoy, who was exiled to America in 1871 for treason against Britain. In the 1890s, Devoy and rival Alexander Sullivan were locked in a feud for control of the Clan na Gael (Family of the Gaels), a U.S.-based fraternal organization intent on establishing an Irish republic.

Their fight began in the 1880s as Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell made the first attempt for a Home Rule deal with British Prime Minister William Gladstone. A Sullivan-supported “dynamite campaign” directed at civilian targets in England became a fiasco of negative publicity. One of Devoy’s associates alleged the Sullivan faction embezzled $100,000 of Clan funds. Sullivan’s side claimed the accuser was a British spy, and his murder soon after deepened the feud. Then, in 1890, revelations of Parnell’s extramarital affair derailed Home Rule and split his political party. The disgraced leader died the following year.

Afterward, “a disillusioned and embittered Ireland turned from parliamentary politics” and entered “a long gestation” toward the violent revolution that erupted from 1913 to 1923.5 In America, the Clan feud simmered, mostly behind the scenes, but is revealed in the numerous letters to Devoy from Sheedy, Madden and others in Western Pennsylvania in the months before the 1895 Pittsburgh rally and Chicago convention. Their surviving correspondence, held at the National Library of Ireland,6  documents the Clan’s organizational strategies, finances, recruitment, internal fighting, gossip, and even a death threat.

“Madden and I are thoroughly in sympathy with your side,” Sheedy wrote to Devoy on Oct. 31, 1894. He vowed to “remain in the organization and fight things out until the bitter end.”7

Key participants

Sheedy, Madden and other key participants in the 1895 events immigrated to Western Pennsylvania after Ireland’s Great Famine. Most were educated men with successful professional careers, the vanguard of a growing Irish middle class. They had the money, connections, and inclination to get involved with politics in Ireland and America.

Paul Sheedy was the youngest and last of three brothers to arrive in the region from Liscarroll, County Cork. Morgan Sheedy, the oldest, was a Catholic priest, ordained in 1876.8 He became rector of St. Mary of Mercy Church at the corner of Third Avenue and Ferry (now Stanwix) Street, gateway to the Pittsburgh’s “Point,” then an Irish ghetto with an “unenviable reputation” as “the underworld,” as the priest recalled.9

Rev. Sheedy attended an April 1887 Pittsburgh rally against injustice in Ireland, and signed letters supporting Parnell and Gladstone.10 On St. Patrick’s Day 1891, at a “Faith and Fatherland” talk at a packed church hall in Altoona, he recalled the “English-made famine” of 40 years earlier, criticized oppressive coercion laws, and suggested “the present difficulty in the Irish party is only transitory and will soon pass away.”11

John Sheedy obtained a medical degree from the Royal University of Ireland. He got married in August 1884, and immigrated to Altoona later that year.12 In May 1889, he and other volunteer physicians from Altoona traveled 40 miles to flood-devastated Johnstown to give of their “time and abilities to the cause of distressed humanity … and soothe the agonies of many sufferers.”13

In September 1894, Dr. Sheedy helped to organize the first “Irish reunion” of the John Boyle O’Reilly Literary Society, named after the Irish nationalist poet and journalist who in 1875 conspired with Devoy to help six Irish rebels escape from an Australian prison. Altoona newspapers did not report any political speeches at the reunion, held at the Wopsononock resort in the Allegheny Mountains west of Altoona,14 but Irish freedom was surely discussed among the 1,500 people who enjoyed music and dancing, bicycle and foot races.

Altoona in the late 19th century, with Pennsylvania Railroad shops in the foreground.

Paul Sheedy also became a physician. He emigrated in 1892, about age 24,15 and briefly practiced medicine with his brother John from the same Altoona address.16 By 1894, Paul moved to Pittsburgh’s Wilkinsburg neighborhood,17near his other brother, Morgan, the St. Mary’s pastor.

All three Sheedy brothers mixed at social and political events with other Irish nationalists. Among them: 

  • John Madden, an 1868 Drogheda, County Louth, emigrant who was admitted to the Allegheny County (Pennsulvania) Bar in 1879, and belonged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish-Catholic fraternal group.18
  • Limerick-born Michael Patrick “M.P.” Carrick, a leading painters and paperhangers labor organizer.19
  • Cork native Humphrey Lynch, a shoemaker later elected alderman in Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh’s North Side.20

Paul Sheedy, the young newcomer, did not shy from voicing his opinions among these older, more established men. In October 1894, he “created quite a stir” for criticizing an Irish nationalist member of the London parliament. Carrick “strongly denounced” Sheedy as “trying to import dissensions and contentions from Ireland to the Irish people of Pittsburgh.”21

The letters

In addition to their public activity covered by newspapers, Paul and John Sheedy, Madden, and Carrick also knew each other from their membership inside secretive Clan na Gael chapters, called “camps.” Their surviving correspondence to Devoy begins in October 1894.

John Sheedy wrote of his camp’s upcoming vote on whether to follow Devoy or the Chicago-based Sullivan faction. “I am worried it means causing a split,” Sheedy said.22 A few days later, he wrote again to say that a committee was appointed to investigate “one among them who was trying everything in his power to break up the organization.”23

Paul Sheedy wrote to Devoy about his confrontation with William Lyman, a Brooklyn building contractor and owner of the Irish Republic newspaper. Lyman was running Sullivan’s ground operation and had become the faction’s effective leader by the time he visited Western Pennsylvania.

“I attacked him [with questions] very pointedly, assisted by John Madden and others,” Sheedy wrote.24 Lyman “could not give a direct or satisfactory answer and he contradicted himself several times. His visit did greater injury to his cause than if he had remained at home. He had thought there would be a lot of jackasses in Pittsburgh.”

John and Paul Sheedy wrote several November 1894 letters to Devoy about a “black list” of defectors to Sullivan and Lyman. They invited Devoy to address an upcoming commemoration of the 1867 execution of three Irish rebels accused of shooting a prison guard while trying to help another nationalist to escape in Manchester, England. “It would be a good opportunity for you to speak to the members about the split of men running the organization to which we belong,” Paul Sheedy wrote.25

To reassert his control, Devoy spent most of the winter of 1894-95 traveling to Irish-dominated cities in the Northeast and Midwest.26 He attended the Nov. 25, 1894, “Manchester Martyrs” commemoration in Pittsburgh.27 Paul Sheedy advised him to stay at the Central Hotel in Altoona (“the owner is an Irishman”) during December 1894,28 as agitation intensified between the Clan factions in Western Pennsylvania.

When anti-Devoy forces charged Paul Sheedy, Madden, Carrick and others with “treachery,” the accused members shifted to John Sheedy’s camp.29 It is unclear from the letters whether these groups were based in Pittsburgh or Altoona, but the 120 mile distance between the two cities was easily mitigated by up to a dozen scheduled daily trains.30

John Devoy

Carrick warned Devoy that “O’Neill of Philadelphia” is “pumping you” for information. “…I am convinced these people are going to whip you by manipulation. I hope you understand who you are dealing with in this state,” Carrick wrote as he pledged loyalty to Devoy. “If you leave here the battle throughout the country will be lost.”31

Madden received an anonymous note with a pencil drawing of a skull and crossbones at the top. It contained this threat:

If you try to breake [sic] up our camp you will meet the fate of Cronin32and other spies. Warn Carrick, Sheedy and the others that the revolvr [sic] and bludgeon is ready. Signed Rory

Madden reported the threat to Devoy. “I am certain that the coward who sent it does not know me, if he did he would know that fear is not part of my nature,” he wrote. “[The threat] is the best weapon in my hand to accomplish the end desired … If the coward had been a friend of mine he would not have helped me half so well.”33

Then on the evening of Dec. 12, 1894, Carrick was attacked as he left Humphrey Lynch’s home in Allegheny City. “Two men grabbed him and dragged him through an open gate into a yard in the rear of a vacant house. … Quite a tussle followed, during which Mr. Carrick’s clothes were badly torn,” the Post-Gazette reported.34Carrick and Lynch had met to discuss the squandering of Clan funds,35 likely the “thousands of dollars [used for] political and gambling purposes” alleged at a Dec. 9 meeting.36 After the attack, Carrick “lost his head completely,” Paul Sheedy wrote to Devoy.37

Sheedy also admitted to being “a little dubious” about Madden, supposedly his ally. “The other side might promise him things and flattery has great sway with him.”38

Devoy’s reply to these letters, if made in writing rather than through messengers, is not available. As an experienced nationalist leader, he was a secretive man who gathered more information than he shared. Devoy did not mention these episodes in his memoir, “Recollections of an Irish Rebel.”

Divided Irish

By autumn 1894, word spread that the Sullivan/Lyman faction intended to launch a “new movement,” called the Irish National Alliance (INA). By spring 1895, these “physical force Irishmen” declared the parliamentary movement was dead and that many people believed “the time has come for Irish Americans to inaugurate a new and bolder policy in the interest of Irish independence.”39They wanted to raise an army to drive the British from Ireland.

Newspapers named more than three dozen prominent Irishmen who supported the group’s inaugural national convention in Chicago. From Altoona, supporters included Mayor Samuel M. Hoyer; attorney Thomas Greevy, the son of County Roscommon parents;40and alderman and magistrate John O’Toole, formerly of County Armagh.41 Patrick O’Neill of Philadelphia, the man Carrick warned Devoy about, was named, but no supporters from Pittsburgh were listed.42

Photo of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Devoy prepared his Pittsburgh loyalists for a preemptive strike against his rivals’ upcoming convention.43 Part of that effort included the Aug. 15, 1895, Irish rally at McKees Rocks, five miles west of Pittsburgh.

At the time, McKees Rocks was an industrial suburb growing from less than 2,000 residents in 1890 to more than 6,000 in 1900. Streetcar service to the area began in 1894, which is probably how most people reached the rally at Phoenix Park, which shared the name of the historic Dublin green where in 1882 Irish rebels murdered two British officials.

Bernard McKenna, Pittsburgh’s first Irish Catholic mayor,44presided over the rally. John Madden and Paul Sheedy called on “all true Irishmen and Irish-Americans … to unite to strike an effective and decisive blow, by any and all means within our power, at England’s domination in Ireland.” They also warned against the deceptive, self-serving “military convention” at Chicago.45

Stories about the rally appeared in newspapers across America, the crowd typically estimated at several thousand. In Ireland, a Reuters account noted the Pittsburghers’ willingness to use physical force, and their denunciation of the Chicago convention.46 In Scotland, the coverage also caught the attention of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in Pittsburgh.

NEXT: Andrew Carnegie’s view, the Chicago INA convention, and the aftermath in Pittsburgh. Read Part 2.