Category Archives: Journalism

Easter 1919: Rising remembered & rally for Republic

The Irish in America commemorated the third anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising with renewed intensity. It was the first Easter of the post-war era and came just three months after Irish republicans established their own government in Dublin. Three Irish Americans had just arrived in Paris to press U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and other world leaders to recognize Irish self determination. As with St. Patrick’s Day a month earlier, Easter 1919 was an opportunity to rally support for the cause. Here is a select roundup of activity across the USA as reported in the mainstream and Irish-American press. MH

***

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government in Dublin through editor Patrick McCartan, published an April 19, 1919, editorial headlined Recognition Week:

Easter week this year is to be commemorated in a very fitting way: not alone by ceremonials aimed merely to honor the names of those who died during and after that glorious week, but by a determined effort to  bring about the completion of the work for which they gave their all. … It is fitting therefore that Easter Week should be celebrated by demonstrations all over the United States demanding recognition of the existing Republic of Ireland. It is only by this step that justice … can be done to Ireland … The success of the demonstrations is a foregone conclusion, for Americans, whether of Irish blood or not, recognize the Irish Republic, and wish to see its elected government allowed to perform its functions without foreign interference.

At the Lexington Theater in New York City, the Friends of Irish Freedom/Clan na Gael passed resolutions supporting the Irish republic and demanding that Ireland’s delegates be admitted to the Paris peace conference. A cablegram was sent to the three-member American Commission for Irish Freedom assuring them of the support.1

Elsewhere:

  • In Buffalo, N.Y., Irish supporters distributed over 30,000 green, white, and orange buttons outside Catholic churches after Easter services.2
  • In Pittsburgh, a Protestant minister “criticized the failure of the peace conference to provide self-determination for Ireland, and asserted that without proper recognition of Ireland the peace would be a failure and there would be no league of nations.” The stage of the city’s Lyceum Theater, scene of earlier pro-Ireland rallies, “was handsomely set to represent the Emerald Isle and the Irish flag was conspicuously displayed” along with a picture of Rising martyr Padraic Pearse.3
  • In Butte, Montana, an Easter Sunday parade featured several bands, drum corps, and recently discharged U.S. soldiers. Others carried banners demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland and the release of American political prisoners.4
  • The Unbroken Tradition, by Nora Connolly, was offered at a mail order discount price $1.25 per copy (normally $1.50) by New Appeal Book Department in Girard, Kansas.5 She was the daughter of martyred Rising leader James Connolly. “Her impressions were gathered at first hand and make thrilling reading,” the advert said. “In this book on gets the inside story of the sensational uprising for Irish freedom.” President Wilson banned the book when the United States entered the war in Europe. Today, it’s available online for $12.48.
  • Another “eyewitness” account of the Rising by Thomas F. Nolan dominated nearly the full April 19, 1919, front page of The Irish Standard in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Just three years ago the blood of Irishmen was put a tingling by the news of an Insurrection in Dublin,” Nolan began.
  • On Easter Monday, about 5,000 supporters gathered at the historic Boston Common passed a resolution “to commemorate the third anniversary of Ireland’s historic Easter Week, congratulate the Irish people upon the establishment of a republic form of Government in Ireland, and we pledge them our continued support and cooperation in their endeavor to secure recognition for that republic.”6

In June, Irish leader Éamon de Valera arrived in the United States, creating new opportunities for the Irish in America to stage massive rallies on behalf of the homeland.

***

See my 2016 posts on the Rising centenary and ongoing American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin.

Journalist slain in Derry as ‘troubles’ freshen

An IRA splinter group is being blamed for the 19 April killing of journalist, Lyra McKee, 29, who was covering a night of violent unrest in (London)Derry. Her death comes at the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement; 103rd anniversary of the Easter Rising; and as Brexit uncertainty threatens peace at the Irish border. More on all that in a future post.

Here are a few key coverage links and quotes:

  • The Derry Journal (Derry, Northern Ireland)
  • “Many people have grown to dislike the use of the word “war” to describe what happened here. The term “The Conflict” became a more acceptable alternative, even if it made a 30-year battle sound like a lover’s tiff. It’s got the ring of a euphemism, the kind one might use to refer to a shameful family secret during a reunion lunch… I witnessed its last years, as armed campaigns died and gave way to an uneasy tension we natives of Northern Ireland have named “peace”, and I lived with its legacy, watching friends and family members cope with the trauma of what they could not forget.” — Lyra McKee (From her agent’s statement.)
  • The New York Times (USA)
  • “Lyra McKee was not the intended victim of the bullet that took her life. In so far as there was any specific objective, it was to kill or injure a member of the police service. But there was another target too: the ideal of a better Northern Ireland where two communities can build the shared future sought by the overwhelming majority. That is the vision rejected by a small minority who, in pursuit of a warped republicanism and brazen criminality, fire shots into crowds and leave car bombs on streets. The grim inevitability is that life will be lost.” The Irish Times (Dublin, Republic of Ireland)
  • Contribute to Gofundme campaign for family funeral expenses, etc.
  • Also remembering Martin O’Hagan, a Dublin investigative reporter murdered by Protestant extremists in 2001; and Veronica Guerin, an Irish crime reporter who was murdered by drug lords in 1996. They are among 2,323 reporters, photographers and broadcasters killed in the course of their work (through 2017) who are honored at the Newseum’s Journalist Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Now, sadly, another name will be added to the list.

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

The March 29 deadline for Brexit has come and gone. Now, facing an April 12 red line, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and the impact on both sides of the Irish border seems as shapeless as the “mists and squalls of Ireland” at the start of the Great War. Several Brexit selections begin this month’s roundup, followed by other news and features.

  • Anti-Brexit campaigners protested at six different points of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland on [March 30], fearing a return of customs checks could risk peace, jobs and their way of life, Reuters reported.
  • “It’s a further measure of the Brexiteers’ naïveté that they don’t realize that by forcing Northern Ireland to choose between the United Kingdom and Europe, they may have inadvertently hastened the eventual reunification of Ireland.” Patrick Radden Keefe in The New York Times.
  • “Their own culpable ignorance of Northern Ireland will not stop the Brexit zealots from blaming the Irish for the mess. In their eyes, Brexit would always have been a triumph were it not for the crazy complications of John Bull’s Other Island. Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times, published in The Washington Post.”

The Irish border has nearly 300 crossings. Credit: PA Graphics

Other stories:

  • Everything you need to know about Ireland’s economy” (and aren’t afraid to ask) from the World Economic Forum.
  • Conor McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest star and one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, is under investigation in Ireland after a woman accused him of sexual assault, several media outlets reported. He was arrested in January but has not been charged. McGregor also announced his U.F.C. retirement, though a spokeswoman said it was unrelated to the investigation.
  • John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” militant convicted in 2002 of supporting the terrorist organization, is due to be freed in May … and he’s moving to Ireland. Fox News and other outlets have recently recycled the  2017 Foreign Policy story that Lindh obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 through family’s ancestry.
  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum on April 11 will celebrate the return of over 50 pieces of art that traveled throughout Ireland in the Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger exhibition. The touring collection drew more than 100,000 people since last year.

“An Irish Peasant and her Child,” Alfred Downing Fripp, Watercolor on paper, 1846, from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum.

March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera and two other Sinn Féin revolutionaries escaped from Lincoln Gaol (prison) in England on Feb. 4, 1919. The Irish republican leader was spirited back to Ireland on Feb. 20, where he balanced the need to evade British authorities with the desire to communicate with the Irish people, including the diaspora in America, which he knew was critical to support for the fledgling republic.

American journalist Ralph F. Couch, a United Press correspondent, claimed he “found” de Valera, or was provided the opportunity to interview the escapee. The reporter was taken on a two-hour, late-night drive on winding country roads near Dublin, pushed into a second car, his cap pulled over his eyes, before finally being ushered up a stairway and let into a room.

“Before the great fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall man in a baggy black suit, with a black silk handkerchief around his throat instead of a collar. He wore rubber sole slippers. This was de Valera,” Couch reported.1

Couch obtained a signed statement from de Valera, smuggled it out of Ireland, and returned to the United States, “thus insuring safe delivery to New York of his information without interference by the censors,” United Press reported. The Feb. 24 interview was not published until the middle of March.

In addition to appearing in mainstream U.S. dailies, the interview was published on the front page of the March 15 issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government.

DE VALERA INTERVIEWED IN HIDING

Secret Meeting With Newspaper Correspondent Near Dublin.

Issues Message to America

“Violence will be the only alternative remaining to Irish Patriots if the Peace Conference at Paris fails to take steps to extend self-determination to Ireland. The means continued revolution until Ireland’s rights are recognized,” de Valera said in the interview, now two months after the first meeting of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the provisional republic, and early skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence.

The story noted that de Valera was the “American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.” Some versions say that de Valera’s “black eyes flashed” when he spoke the quote above, “his big jaw squared. He spoke quietly. Nevertheless he was emphatic.” 

Eamon de Valera during his 1919 tour of America.

De Valera’s Feb. 25 statement to Couch was datelined “Somewhere in Ireland.” It began:

“England has no right in Ireland. England’s de facto government here rests solely on the number of her bayonets. We challenge England to allow Ireland the principal of self-determination.”

On March 27, de valera arrived at Mansion House in Dublin, where he was received by the Lord Mayor. The Associated Press reported “that owing to the attitude of the censors [de Valera said] it would be useless to make a statement at present, but that he would take the opportunity later to express his views.”2

Within days, an interview by Henry Hyde of the Chicago Tribune was syndicated in U.S. newspapers. “I had an interview with de Valera shortly before he entered Dublin,” it began. “Up to a certain point he proved a very mild and constitutional rebel with his eyes fixed on Paris.”3

Another Chicago correspondent, Ruth Russell of the Daily News, also interviewed de Valera in late March.

“In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows … the tall, pale man, 37 years of age, stood against the glow of a grate fire and spoke with a student’s concentration. He was slightly breathless, as he had just arrived and was about to leave again. His white silk muffler was still pinned with a bar about his throat.”4

The reporter promised that soon “de Valera will let himself be seen in Dublin.” On April 1, he was named president of the second Dáil Éireann. In June, he sailed secretly to America to begin a campaign for political recognition and funding for Ireland.

Covering the countess’s return to Dublin, 1919

When Constance Georgine Markievicz became the first woman elected to the British parliament in December 1918, she was far from the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency she won with two thirds of  the vote. The republican leader known as Countess Markievicz was held at Holloway Prison, in England, for her role in anti-conscription protests earlier in the year, before the Great War ended in November.

Upon her release from the prison 15 March, 1919, Markievicz returned to Dublin, where she was greeted by cheering supporters. The Irish Times, on page 6 of its St. Patrick’s Day issue, reported:

A demonstration of welcome had been organized at Liberty Hall for Madame Markievicz, and at 6 p.m. a large crowd assembled at Beresford place, where a procession was formed by the Citizen Army, headed by the St. James band, and including such bodies as the Cuman na mBan, Fianna, Irish Women’s Franchise League, Sinn Fein bodies, Irish Volunteers, and trades organizations. … She entered Liberty Hall amidst loud cheers and the waving of Sinn Fein flags from the windows. Addressing the crowd from one of the windows as “Fellow Rebels” … she said that it was worthwhile going to prison to find such a reception awaiting her … and advised them to work for an Irish republic.  

The Times reported “a strong force of policemen was on duty,” but “the proceedings passed off without any incident of a disorderly character, and when the procession had passed by, the crowd rapidly melted away.”

The Irish Independent of 17 March, page 5, published the photo at the top of this post under the headline, “Warm Welcome Home From Prison.” The caption underneath said, “A big demonstration of welcome was accorded to Countess Markievicz on her arrival in Dublin on Sat. evening. In the photo … taken at Liberty Hall, she is in the center with bouquet.”

Markievicz’s release was largely ignored in the American press, including the New York Times and Washington Post, except for one or two lines in wire service stories. The Chicago Daily News, however, published an account from its own correspondent, Ruth Russell, who had arrived in Dublin about the same time. Here is some of Russell’s reporting from the 18 March 1919, issue of the Daily News. Note how the American female reporter places herself inside Liberty Hall, close enough for the Irish female politician to make a personal aside:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. About them were grouped laborers shamrocked for St. Patrick’s day. On the railway bridge that spans the Liffey above Butt bridge soldiers on night patrol were silhouetted against the moon whitened sky, impatiently the crowd awaited the coming of the Countess Markievicz, released eight years before the expiration of her term in Holloway jail.  … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the two-month-old Dáil Éireann, suggested that “it seemed as though everyone in the Irish metropolis had turned out to do honor to this notable Irish woman patriot.” The story disputed wire service reports that Markievicz would take her seat in the British House of Commons. 

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1919

UPDATE:

Against the backdrop of Brexit chaos, the classic “England Get Out of Ireland” banner in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day is damaging political discourse, Stephen Collins writes in The Irish Times. Plus, a 2018 New York Times piece about the sign. See bullet points below.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar March 14 at the White House, continuing a St. Patrick’s week tradition that began in 1952. Things were much different in 1919: the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann, had been established for two months; skirmishes and ambushes in the War of Independence flared across Ireland; more than 5,000 supporters of Irish independence gathered in late February in Philadelphia to bring attention to the cause; and the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of March passed a resolution in favor of Irish self-determination. All of this nationalist activity on both sides of the Atlantic influenced 1919’s annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Trump and Varadkar in 2018. White House photo

Below, a look at March 1919 coverage in the Irish-American and mainstream press. MH


“Irish freedom was demanded, and the league of nations, as proposed at present, was condemned at a mass meeting last night at Liberty Hut under the auspices of the United Irish Societies of the District that was the climax of the National Capital’s celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Ten thousand people were packed in the spacious auditorium, while more than 5,000 other clamored for admission to the most wildly enthusiastic meeting ever held in Washington in the cause of Irish independence. There was almost constant applause as the speakers extolled the virtues of Ireland and her sons.” The Washington Post, March 18, page 1

Of course, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City drew plenty of press attention:

“The existence of the Irish Republic, and the demand that it be recognized as one of the sovereign nations of the earth, were proclaimed by the great demonstration held [in New York City]. Probably the most notable feature of the parade, and one in which it differed considerably from the processions of earlier days, was display of thousands upon thousands of tri-colored flags, the emblem of the Republic of Ireland. The old green flag with the harp on it was entirely abandoned … ” The Irish Press, Philadelphia, March 22, page 1

The New York Times coverage of the massive parade, placed on page 4 of the March 18 issue, said “it was a perfect day” for the event, and “not a single unpleasant incident marred the celebration.” Rather than noting the change of flags, the report made an extensive inventory of political banners carried by the marchers. These included:

  • England–Damn your concessions. We want our country.
  • “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it has no desire to live.”–President Woodrow Wilson
  • There will be no peace while Ireland is ruled by a foreign force.
  • If there is right and justice in the world, then Ireland should have its share.
  • A true American is a true Sinn Feiner.

More mainstream celebrations occurred in the American heartland:

“Ireland and St. Patrick were by no means forgotten on Monday, the greatest of Irish holidays, in Minneapolis. Many store windows were dressed up in green in honor of the day. The shamrock, the harp, and many other emblems of the old sod were seen in generous abundance.” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., March 22, page 1

“In a room hung with the green flag of old Ireland, and the three-colored flag of the hopes for a new Ireland, intermingled with shamrocks and entwined around the Stars and Stripes of America, 450 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sand the songs of old Erin, and cheered and applauded each expression of faith in the hoped-for republic, when the annual St. Patrick’s day dinner of the order was held in the Fort Pitt Hotel last night.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, page 11

“Native born and American born Irish men and women of Louisville paid fitting and credible tribute to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. The religious observances began with the Ladies Auxiliary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians who filled St. Patrick’s Church early Sunday morning … Monday night there were numerous attractions … but it remained for the AOH to eclipse it all with their celebration at Bertrand Hall, which was profusely decorated with the national colors and the flag of the Irish republic and flags and banners of the Ancient Order.” Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Ky., March 22, page 1

Washington, D.C. in 1919.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events:

‘Intrigue of Deception’ at Catholic University of America, 1919

A Philadelphia newspaper in early 1919 alleged that “some prominent men” at Catholic University of America were conspiring with British Embassy officials.1 The aim of their Washington, D.C.-based “plot,” the story said, was to keep Ireland within the British Empire rather than establish an independent republic.

“So far the scheme has met with some success and is receiving consideration,” The Irish Press, a nationalist weekly, reported Jan. 4, 1919, in a page 4 story headlined “An Intrigue of Deception.”

Irish voters had just elected 73 separatist Sinn Féin candidates who had no intention of claiming their seats in the London parliament. Instead, within weeks of the Press story, they would form their own government in Dublin. A gorilla war of independence erupted at the same time. In America, Congress debated “the Irish question” as President Woodrow Wilson prepared to sail to Paris to join his British allies in helping to reshape the post-world war global order.

The Irish Press reported:

“It is understood that the scheme will be launched by the publication of a letter written by President Wilson on the eve of his departure for Europe to a prominent man at the Catholic University at Washington. The gentleman concerned is a sincere friend of Ireland and it is to be hoped that he will sever his connection with the British plot and persuade his colleagues to do likewise. Their action will not affect Ireland but we hope for the reputation of the one big and sincere man connected with the scheme that he will refuse at this critical juncture to play false to the cause so dear to his heart.”

The newspaper did not name anyone at Catholic University, but faculty member Joseph Dunn wrote a private letter to challenge the allegation. “To say that the article in question surprised and provoked me is putting it mildly,” he wrote to Dr. Patrick McCartan, the Press editor.2

Shahan

Dunn was a Celtic language and literature professor and a supporter of Irish independence. A few weeks earlier he had appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Ireland.3 Dunn entered into the record the Nov. 30, 1918, letter from the university’s rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, to President Wilson. It cited the president’s professed commitment to “self-determination” for small nations.

“We hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate,” Shahan wrote. “Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.”4

Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.” This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, reply; barely 100 typed words of generalities on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name.5 Wilson wrote:

Wilson

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

Shahan was a national vice president of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a U.S.-based group of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and other supporters of the separatist cause. Dunn was a national trustee.6 As events accelerated in Ireland, the Friends were being torn apart by internal feuding over the best way to help the homeland.

The Irish Press was in the middle of this fight, as personified by the growing hostility between McCartan, Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and their supporters; and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist and publisher of the New York City-based Gaelic American, and his allies. Dunn acknowledged these crosscurrents in his letter.

Dunn told McCartan that he did not show the Press article to Shahan, “who, I suppose, is meant by the words ‘a prominent man at Catholic University’ ” … “to spare him the pain of reading it, it is so unfair to those of us who have kept the faith at this institution.” Like Dunn, the bishop would have been troubled by the allegation of conspiring with the British, especially as the Friends of Irish Freedom developed plans for an upcoming national strategy meeting in Philadelphia.

“The harm done is not irreparable, however, if you take occasion in the very next issue of ‘The Press’ to correct it and give prominence in a good strong article to the denial,” Dunn wrote in the typed body of his letter. After the “faithfully yours” closing and his signature, he hand wrote, “You realize, of course, how much the University might suffer if that your yarn is not corrected.”

McCartan’s reply to Dunn carried the same Jan. 11, 1919, date as the professor’s letter.7 

McCartan

“I was very glad to get your letter and your assurances that nobody connected with the University has anything to do with the British Embassy Plot,” McCartan wrote under his newspaper’s letterhead. “I realize that your letter is authoritative, and we here are glad to learn that instead of cooperating with the plotters you are taking steps to counteract them.”

McCartan, a native of Ireland, was among more than 30 Sinn Féin separatists elected the previous month while either living outside Ireland or held in prison. In addition to his role as editor, he also described himself as “envoy of the provisional government of Ireland.” This was news to the U.S. State Department, which claimed it “knew nothing of Patrick McCartan.”8

McCartan wrote to Dunn that he would be “delighted to correct the error we made last week as you request.” The editor acknowledged he was responsible for all of the newspaper’s stories, “even though I do not write them all, or even read them before publication.”

On Jan. 18, 1919, The Irish Press published this “correction” under another “Intrigue of Deception” headline, once again without naming any names.9

“We have now on the very best authority” that no one at Catholic University was cooperating with the British, the story said. “The existence of the plot is known there but those in that institution who are interested in the subject take the same view of the Irish question as The Irish Press.”

A few weeks later, the Press reported on Shahan’s speech at Gazanga Hall in Washington, D.C. “Ireland is a nation, not a province of the British Empire,” it quoted him under the headline “Bishop Upholds Irish Republic.”10

Dunn and Shahan remained active in Irish nationalist politics. The professor taught at Catholic University until 1931.11 The bishop died the following year and is interred in the crypt level of the neighboring Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Irish Press folded in 1922 as Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State, an interim status that later became today’s full republic, and Northern Ireland, which remains part of Britain. McCartan returned to Ireland.


EXTRA NOTES: Top image, “Proposed Plan,” is a 1914 photo gelatin view of the Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C. produced by the Albertype Company of Brooklyn, New York. I have been unable to locate an image of Joseph Dunn. Thanks to Shane MacDonald at CUA’s American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and to James Harte at the National Library of Ireland for their assistance. 

First words on the 1919 Irish Race Convention

Below are the ledes of front-page stories about the Feb. 22-23, 1919, Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The stories appeared in U.S. newspapers, either during or the day after the convention, except the Irish weeklies (hyperlinked), which published March 1, 1919. I’ve edited references to dates and Philadelphia, and added a few other notes. Convention meetings were held in multiple venues, as can be seen on the agenda at bottom. Visit the project landing page. MH


“A platform declaring that a state of war exists between England and Ireland were passed … [during the convention] with numerous overflow meetings. One and a half million dollars, in round figures, was subscribed for the purpose of carrying forward the Irish movement to enforce the principle of self-determination. Of that amount, New York, Massachusetts, Chicago, Philadelphia and the women of the Ancient Order of Hibernians pledged $150,000 each, while communities organizations and individuals underwrote lesser amounts.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the host city’s several dailies.

“England was bitterly denounced and the new ‘Irish Republic’ praised by more than 5,000 delegates attending the Irish race convention … . The convention was held in the mammoth Second regiment armory, which was decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the orange, white and green flags of the Sinn Fein republic.”

The Washington Times, Washington, D.C.

Cardinal Gibbons

“A resolution presented by Cardinal Gibbons urging the peace conference to apply to Ireland the doctrine of national self-determination, and a declaration of principals demanding that if any league of nations be created, all feature which may infringe on the traditional policy, including the Monroe doctrine, shall be eliminated, were adopted unanimously today at the closing session of the convention of the Irish race in America.”

Associated Press story appeared in Feb. 24, 1919, issues of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and many other papers. It was probably the most widely distributed account of the convention.

“One of the most important steps taken by the Irish Race Convention … was its demand that President Wilson secure from the Peace Conference for the envoys chosen by the Dáil Éireann, the Parliament of the Irish Republic, the same status and recognition which have been accorded to those of other small nations. … The convention also decided, if necessary, to send to Paris, if necessary, delegates who will assist the representatives of the Irish Republic in securing for the Irish Government recognition of its sovereign claims.”

The Irish Press, Philadelphia. The paper’s editor and publisher were deeply involved in planning the convention. The three-member American Commission for Irish Independence soon traveled to Paris and Ireland.

“With all their inherent passion and humor, with all the love of Erin and freedom and hatred of England that have been smoldering for generations, the more than 5,000 delegates to the two-day Irish Race Convention of the Friends of Irish Freedom … responded enthusiastically to the fervent appeals for Ireland’s self-determination made by distinguished members of the clergy and laity from every part of the United States, as well as from “the old country.”

“Special Dispatch” in The Boston Globe and other papers.

“Men and women of Irish birth and descent, more than 5,000 in number, gathered … and by acclamation adopted resolutions which said a state of war exists between England and Ireland. These resolutions were passed with a storm of cheers and applause. … The Peace Conference at Paris, the resolution stated, cannot ignore this state of war; and President Wilson’s task of establishing permanent peace will not be completed until the Irish question is settled on those principals of self-determination to which he as committed himself and the United States.”

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis.

“The convention of the Irish race … adopted a platform of self-determination for Ireland. … [that] was read before thousands of delegates in the Academy of Music, amid a scene of unsurpassed enthusiasm, and was adopted without a dissenting voice.”

Universal Services report in the The San Francisco Examiner.

“[The convention was] the greatest and most influential gathering of representatives and friends of Irish freedom for Ireland in the history of America, the delegates coming from all classes and nearly every State in the Union.”

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville.

Below, the agenda for the Third Irish Race Convention. See the full 76-page program from the Villanova University digital collection.