Category Archives: Religion

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Final thoughts

This is the last post in a blog serial that has explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. All of the hyperlinks below are to earlier posts in the series. All of the posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. Thanks for supporting #IUCRevisited.

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“I went to Ireland … to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

I discovered the digital edition of Ireland Under Coercion several years ago while researching the 1888 Kerry murders of James Fitzmaurice and John Foran. The former was shot at dawn, 31 January 1888, at Lixnaw, as Hurlbert awoke in Dublin for his first full day in Ireland. He mentions the murder several times in the book. Foran was shot in late July, as the first edition of IUC was in production for its August 1888 release.

Period illustration of the murder of James Fitzmaurice, survived by his daughter Nora, which occurred in January 1888 as Hurlbert began his six-month travels in Ireland.

I was intrigued by the book from an American journalist traveling in Ireland during a flare up in the decade-long Land War. Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip began shortly after the Times of London published its “Parnellism and Crime” series and ended just as a special judicial commission began hearings that largely disproved the newspaper’s allegations. He was in Ireland as the Vatican issued the Papal decree against boycotting and the rent-withholding Plan of Campaign. Tenant evictions continued on several large estates during this period. The rapidly growing number of nationalist newspapers that covered these events, Hurlbert asserted, did so less for domestic consumption than for foreign audiences. Across the Atlantic, the Irish in America played a significant role in their homeland politics as mass emigration continued from Ireland.

Like other journalists who wrote books about their visits to Ireland during this period, Hurlbert described the beauty of the landscape. He also detailed the sights of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny and smaller towns. Today, there is a romantic, late 19th century aura to his travels by rail and jaunting car. One of my favorite passages in the book:

“I pity the traveler of the future here, if he is never to know the delight of traversing these wild and picturesque wastes in such weather as we have had today, on a [jaunting] car, well-balanced by a single pleasant companion, drinking, as he goes, deep draughts of the Atlantic air.”

A rural road in Donegal. Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

Hurlbert’s main focus was the big issues of the day: Home Rule, boycotting and moonlighting. He interviewed numerous people who shaped the period: Land League leader Michael Davitt; Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour; Catholic clergy and tenant activists Father James McFadden of Donegal, Father Patrick White of Clare, and Father Daniel Keller of Cork; Ulster Protestant clergymen and unionist supporters Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna and Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, both in Belfast; physically-challenged Irish aristocrat Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh; and the aging Fenian John O’Leary

To be sure, there are challenges to reading Hurlbert’s book. His conservative, pro-landlord, pro-unionist views frequently come across as smug, elitist and–history shows–wrong. He didn’t write the ugliest Irish stereotypes of the day, but they lurk between the lines. Many of his references to Irish and other world history, literature, and the law will be obscure to most modern readers.

Title page from digitized edition of Ireland Under Coercion.

Hurlbert’s 19th century writing style, meandering prose often filled with personal asides and other tangents, is grammatically correct; yet can be cumbersome for 21st century readers who prefer shorter sentences. Too many of the journal-dated sections of the book lack smooth transitions between paragraphs and could have benefited from subheads. Near the end of the book, Hurlbert accommodated the eleventh-hour request from one of his hosts to protect sources by replacing their names or other identifying information with clusters of * * * * *. It’s an unacceptable contrivance for a piece of journalism.

I don’t doubt that Hurlbert’s grave concerns about the outcome of Irish agrarian agitation and nationalist movements were deeply influenced by his experiences of witnessing the terrible American Civil War. Neither do I disagree with the contemporary critics who charged that Ireland Under Coercion was the American expat’s barely-disguised bid to cozy up to the British establishment. The project apparently generated some late-career income for Hurlbert after what appears to have been a comfortable and enjoyable tour of Ireland. He would need it, as his private life was soon caught up in a public scandal.

There is certainly more material in the book than I have been able to explore in the 40 previous posts of this series. I expect to return to this project in the future. For now, however, I’m moving on to other work. Thanks again for supporting Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited. MH

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NOTES: Top quote from page 10 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.  

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Irish voters overturned a 35-year-old constitutional abortion ban by a decisive two thirds margin. More about that at the bottom of this post. First, a quick look at some other Irish news in May, from both sides of the Atlantic:

Let me make it plain: the departure from the EU of our nearest neighbour is not a good thing for Ireland. This development generates unwelcome challenges and uncertainties for us. It deprives Ireland of an influential, like-minded country around the EU negotiating table. It complicates our bilateral relations with Britain at a time when we continue to need to work closely together as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement so as to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. 

  • Researchers in universities across Ireland are embarking on an effort to help Irish bees survive and thrive. Their work grows from the 2015 All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
  • Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” over several weeks. The “project” is  actually two short plays about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland – D.C.-based Psalmayene 24’s An Eloquent Fugitive Slave Flees to Ireland, which deals with Douglass’s life before his eastward journey across the Atlantic, and Dublin-based Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Notes, which explores his arrival. As The Irish Times reported:

The aim of the production is to highlight this critically-important time in Douglass’s life to an American audience. “This is about exploring the parallels of the Irish and African-American experience – Douglass arrived in Ireland during the Famine – but it is also about what happens when two worlds meet and the perceptions and misperceptions that both sides hold,” said Rex Daugherty, the show’s artistic director.

My wife and I enjoyed the production. I think it would do well in Ireland, where there is probably more awareness of Douglass’ 1845 visit than in America. The themes of human subjugation are universal, as made more clear in Kinahan’s play.

Is Catholic Ireland dead and gone? Probably not

The most predictable commentary about the 25 May abortion referendum has focused on the diminished role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Some examples:

The New York Times headlined the referendum result as a “Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” A follow up story described Ireland as “a country that is clearly part of Europe’s secular sprint out of the Roman Catholic fold” and noted Pope Francis’ focus on the Southern Hemisphere. But an opinion piece by Eamon Maher, co-editor of the 2017 title Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism: From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, offered more nuisance:

The importance of Friday’s vote as a blow to the institutional Catholic Church should not be understated.  … But if it’s clear that the institution of the church no longer commands the moral authority or the loyalty in Ireland that it once did, the end of Catholic Ireland, too, is an overstatement. Ireland remains defined by its relationship with Catholicism, because it has yet to develop another way to be.

Patsy McGarry, the religious affairs correspondent at The Irish Times since 1997, added some historical perspective in his column, which described as “out of kilter” those observations that the referendum outcome represents the end of Catholic Ireland:

More accurately, what it illustrated was an end to a particular model of clerically dominated Catholic Church in Ireland. … What we are witnessing is the disappearance of what might be described as “the church that Paul built,” a reference to Cardinal Paul Cullen. Archbishop of Dublin from 1852, he “Romanised” the church, centralized its structures, and introduced processions and devotions from Europe. He laid the foundations for an Irish Catholic Church which became a powerful alternative institution in the late 19th century so that by independence in 1922 it was more powerful than the new state itself, particularly in education and healthcare. It dominated Ireland through most of the 20th century. [That institution may be gone, but with] 78.3 per cent of Irish people still identified as Catholic … reports of the death of Catholicism in Ireland are, to borrow from Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”

Finally, some voices from the Irish Catholic Church itself, as reported in Crux:

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said the referendum result “confirms that we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland. For the Church it is indeed a missionary time, a time for new evangelization.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin added, “The Irish Church after the Referendum must renew its commitment to support life. … Reshaping the Church of tomorrow must be marked by a radical rediscovery of its roots.”

There will more about this issue in the run up to Pope Francis’ scheduled August visit to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.

 

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Ulster booster

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

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“To dream of establishing the independence of Ireland against the will of Ulster appears to me to be little short of madness.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert concluded his travels in Ireland with a trip to Belfast. The late June visit on “the very eve of the battle month of the Boyne” confirmed his establishment sympathies as he reported on the thorniest problem of the “Irish Question” — the pro-union Protestants of Ulster.

“In this part of Ireland,” he wrote, “the fate of the island has been more than once settled by the arbitrament of arms; and if Parliamentary England throws up the sponge in the wrestle with the [Land] League, it is probably enough that the old story will come to be told over again here. … There are good reasons in the physical geography of the British Islands for this controlling interest of Ulster over the affairs of Ireland, which it seems to me a serious mistake to overlook. … [I]t is hard to see how, even with the consent of Ulster, the independence of Ireland could be maintained against the interest and the will of Scotland, as it is easy to see why Leinster, Munster, and Connaught have been so difficult of control and assimilation by England.”

Hurlbert stated his purpose for the trip was to interview “some of the representative men of this great Protestant stronghold.” He met a “kindly, intelligent Ulsterman” who worried that if England approved Home Rule for Ireland it would rob him and other others of their property rights and leave them “trampled underfoot by the most worthless vagabonds in our own island … [and] a war against the Protestants and all the decent people there are among the Catholics.”

Hanna

As mentioned in an earlier post about the Papal decree against the agrarian agitation, Hurlbert also visited Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna, a Presbyterian clergyman and staunch unionist. “Like most Ulstermen I have met, he has a firm faith, not only in the power of the Protestant North to protect itself, but in its determination to protect itself against the consequences which the northern Protestants believe must inevitably follow any attempt to establish an Irish nationality. … He … firmly believes that an Irish Parliament in Dublin would now mean civil war in Ireland.”

Kane

Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, the “Grand Master of the Orangemen in Belfast,” predicted the upcoming 12th of July demonstrations would be “on a greater scale and more imposing than ever.” He told Hurlbert that Northern Protestants “were never so determined as they are now not to tolerate anything remotely looking to the constitution of a separate and separatist Government in Dublin.”

These views foreshadowed the opposition to Home Rule efforts in 1893, 1914, and 1920, the last of which resulted in the partition of Northern Ireland. (Six counties remain tied to Great Britain, while three counties of the province of Ulster are part of the Republic of Ireland.) The threatened “civil war” never erupted along the North versus South front anticipated or implied by these comments, but instead manifested itself in the sectarian “troubles” of the last third of the 20th century.

The final passage of Hurlbert’s travel journal (followed by an Epilogue and Appendix) ended on this note of Ulster boosterism and bias toward the Protestant unionists over Catholic nationalists:

With such resources as its wealth and industry, better educated, better equipped, and holding a practically impregnable position in the North of Ireland, with Scotland and the sea at its back, Ulster is very much stronger relative to the rest of Ireland than La Vendée was relative to the rest of the French Republic in the last century. In a struggle for independence against the rest of Ireland it would have nothing to fear from the United States … [W]hile the chief contributions, so far, of America to Southern Ireland have been alms and agitation, the chief contribution of Scotland to Northern Ireland have been skilled agriculture and successful activity. It is surely not without meaning that the only steamers of Irish build which now traverse the Atlantic come from the dockyards, not of Galway nor of Cork, the natural gateways of Ireland to the west, but of Belfast, the natural gateway to the north.

This early 20th century anti-Home Rule postcard reflects the geography and the views expressed by Hurlbert and the unionists he interviewed in Belfast in 1888. The northwest and north central (upper left and middle protrusion) sections of Ulster shown in orange did not become part of Northern Ireland. From National Museums Northern Ireland collection.

NOTES: From pages 404-416 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Beautiful Belfast

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Irish voters repeals abortion amendment

Irish voters have overwhelmingly overturned a 35-year-old constitutional ban on abortion.

The margin was 66.4 percent to 33.6 percent. Only one constituency, Donegal, voted to retain the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal value to the life of the mother and her unborn child.

Turnout was just over 64 percent. The government is expected to quickly pass legislation to allow the procedure. Coverage by The Irish Times begins here.

The margin is nearly 5 percentage points higher than three years ago when the Republic approved same-sex marriage. The vote is viewed as another rebuke to the Catholic Church in particular and conservative values in general. It comes as other parts of the world, including America, seem to be turning more to the right.

I’m traveling now, but will return to this issue shortly with more analysis of the referendum.

As abortion referendum nears, Ireland seems divided

Republic of Ireland voters head to the polls Friday, 25 May, for a referendum to decide whether to repeal or retain the anti-abortion Eighth Amendment in the country’s constitution, which gives equal value to the life of the fetus and the woman.

Early polling showed the repeal side favored to prevail, but the margin has narrowed in recent weeks, and anything is possible in the final days of the campaign on such an emotionally charged issue.

Here’s a short roundup of news and commentary as of 20 May, starting with a background piece:

History lesson: What happened during the 1983 abortion referendum?

An extremely strong campaign had emerged early in the 1980s to lobby the government to introduce a ‘Pro-Life amendment’. The move came in the wake of the Roe versus Wade verdict in the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed for the introduction of less restrictive regimes. There was genuine fear in Ireland that the courts could do something similar here unless a Constitutional provision prohibiting abortion was introduced. … [The Eighth Amendment] passed on 7 September 1983 with a 67 percent majority. It was signed into law just one month later.

From TheJournal.ie

As polls narrow before the [2018] abortion vote, is rural Ireland setting up a Brexit moment?

The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. … The long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. … The final result is expected to hinge on the one in five voters still undecided.

Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian

‘Dark ads’ cast a shadow over Ireland’s referendum on abortion

Attempts by Facebook and Google to tackle ‘dark ads’ and foreign interference in the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on abortion haven’t been entirely successful, according to an online transparency group.

From CNN

The Irish Exception

[Repealing the amendment] would put an end to an all-but-unique experiment in Western public policy: an attempt to combine explicitly pro-life laws and generally pro-family policy making with a liberalized modern economy and the encouragement of female independence and advancement.

Ross Douthat, The New York Times

Irish abortion referendum: Abortions could be offered to NI women

Women from Northern Ireland could cross the border to have an abortion if there is a yes vote in the upcoming referendum. … Abortions are only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally. Currently women from Northern Ireland can travel to England to have a free NHS abortion after charges were abolished in June 2017.

From the BBC

Legalizing abortion would betray Ireland’s future

In Ireland, one might suspect that on a sociopolitical level this referendum is further evidence of a longer-term reaction against the Catholic Church, whose decline in authority and influence in Ireland has been paralleled by referendums in 1995 that legalized divorce and in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. If so, there will be no small irony involved: that the Catholic Church’s support for the Eighth Amendment will hurt the amendment’s chances in Ireland.

The Editors, America, the Jesuit Review

One way or the other, the referendum will change Irish politics

If it is a No vote … the consequences for Leo Varadkar’s Government will be calamitous. This shaky and unsure coalition is almost certainly in its last year – actually probably its last six months – … and a defeat on Friday would be sufficiently destabilizing to bring the end closer, and maybe much closer. It is hard to see how the Government could muster the political capital to do anything after such a devastating defeat. … [A Yes vote] will reinforce the image of Varadkar as a young, liberal, progressive leader – and crucially as one who wins elections … [and] would carry the Government through the forthcoming Brexit travails and into the autumn budget.

Pat Leahy, The Irish Times

Which side will prevail in Ireland’s abortion referendum? Image from the BBC.com

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The April roundup of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland includes a few history items, plus a look ahead to the May 25 national referendum on abortion. The same day, Ireland begins to enforce tough data protection rules. The National Planning Framework attempts to imagine Ireland in 2040.

My Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert, will continue in May.

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  • Two significant anniversaries were noted in April: 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and 100 years since the start of Ireland’s World War I conscription crisis.
  • Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, will become the “top cop” for enforcement of U.S. tech giants operating in Europe when new privacy regime comes into force on May 25, The Washington Post reported.
  • Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced that he will not seek re-election in November, thus relinquishing the spot of second in line for the presidency. A poll in TheJournal.ie showed a slight majority opposed the idea of Ryan as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, which remains unfilled 15 months into the Trump administration.
  • Catholics could outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland by 2021, the centenary of partition, according to researcher Paul Nolan.
  • The National Planning Framework under Project Ireland 2040, released in February, “sets out a strategy to relieve pressures on Dublin by making other cities an attractive home for business and individuals,” The Irish Times reported.
  • Less than a month remains until voters in Ireland decide whether or not to replace the country’s abortion ban. Mid-April polling showed repeal will be supported by about the same margin as the successful same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.
  • Bloomberg featured the “bivalve bucket list” for eating oysters in Ireland.
  • Fáilte Ireland unveiled its “Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands” tourism brand to drive visitor growth across the Midlands region. It joins the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East tourism campaigns.

 

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Pope’s decree

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

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“…[T]he real issues of to-day [are] between the Church speaking through the papal decree of April 20, 1888, and the National League of Ireland acting through the Plan of Campaign.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

One of the most extraordinary developments of the Irish Land War period unfolded as Hurlbert traveled in the country during the first half of 1888 and published his diary later that year. Pope Leo XIII issued a decree that condemned the “mode of warfare called the Plan of Campaign” and the associated violence of “a form of proscription … known as boycotting.”

Pope Leo XIII

So began “perhaps the worst period in the whole history of Irish relations with the Holy See,” historian Emmet Larkin wrote.

As described in earlier posts of this blog serial, Hurlbert encountered several Catholic priests in Ireland who supported the agrarian agitation of their parishioners. Their bishops either publicly backed these efforts, or refrained from restricting such activism.

The British government quietly lobbied the Holy See to help suppress this aspect of their Ireland problem, as distinct from the Home Rule activism of nationalists in Parliament and the militancy of Irish newspaper editors, often the same people. Envoys from London and Dublin Castle traveled to Rome to dangle the possibility of opening a Catholic university in Ireland, as well as fully restoring diplomatic ties with Westminster for the first time since the founding of the Anglican Church.

In 1887, Leo XIII sent his personal emissary to Ireland to report on the agrarian strife and nationalist efforts. The Irish bishops were well aware of the papal mission, which was discussed during 1 February 1888, ceremonies to lay the foundation stone of St. Patrick’s Church in Rome. They quickly soured on the decree that followed two months later.

Hurlbert raised the decree with several people he met in Ireland. He reported that one unnamed laborer told him many Irish people regarded the decree as “a kind of attack on their liberties, and that they are quite as likely to resit as to obey it.” Another man, a “keen-eyed, hawk-billed, wiry veteran” of the Rising of 1848 quipped: “Hasn’t [the pope] enough, sure, to mind in Rome? … It was some of them Englishmen wheedled it out of him, you may be sure, sir.”

Hurlbert also sat down with Presbyterian clergyman and anti-Catholic agitator Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna. The churchman “spoke respectfully of the papal decree … but he seems to think it will not command the respect of the masses of the Catholic population, nor be really enforced by the clergy.” Hanna and Hurlbert probably snickered a little about the situation, though that isn’t recorded in the book.

Hurlbert wrote this passage from Belfast on 25 June 1888. A day earlier, the Vatican reinforced its April decree through an encyclical, Saepe Nos, which complained that the message of two months earlier was “grievously perverted by means of forced interpretations.” Rome reminded its Irish readers that the pontiff had “carefully inquired” to “obtain full and reliable knowledge of the state of your affairs, and of the causes of popular discontent.”

In other words, Leo XIII was standing by his original orders against boycotting and the Plan.

Irish nationalists were furious. They demanded separation of church and state, and accused the London government of ” ‘drawing a veil’ over the pope’s eyes in order to succor rackrenting landlords,” historian Lewis Perry Curtis, Jr. has noted. Hurlbert described  the “contemptuous and angry repudiation” of the decree by agrarian activist Michael Davitt.

In a late May 1888, speech at Bray (25 miles south of Dublin), Davitt said:

Irish Catholic laymen are no more bound by the Pope’s ideas or decision outside of purely doctrinal matters than they are by the views or commands of any other foreign potentate; and the day on which they would be cowardly enough to submit to a far worse kind of political subserviency than that against which we are fighting, we would write ourselves down before the self-governed nations of the world as being too slavish in disposition to merit the enjoyment of liberty, and too recreant to the spirit of our ancestors to be worthy of anything else but the contempt of freemen.

As an American, Hurlbert also recounted how Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn, the New York-born son of Irish immigrants, was excommunicated in 1887 because he supported the land views of socialist Henry George. “It is clear that clerical agitators, high and low, must soon elect between Mr. George, Dr. McGlynn, and Mr. Davitt, and obeying fully the papal decree,” Hurlbert wrote in the 21 September, 1888, Preface of his book.

In the book’s undated Epilogue, he continued:

The papal decree has  gone forth. Those who profess to accept it will be compelled to obey it. Those who reject it, whatever their place in the hierarchy of the Church may be, must sooner or later find themselves where Dr. McGlynn of New York now is. Catholic Ireland can only continue to be Catholic on the conditions of obedience, not formal but real, not in matters indifferent, but in matters vital and important, to the Head of the Catholic Church. (Leo XIII lifted Father McGlynn’s excommunication in 1892.)

As Hurlbert’s book went to press, the Irish hierarchy decided its formal response to the decree. As described by Larkin:

When, in early September, the bishops received yet another letter from the pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Rampolla, charging that they were wanting both in loyalty and in dutifulness, they had indeed had enough. At their annual general meeting in early October 1888, they decided to send a collective letter to the ope. The letter, which was finally sent off in early December, signed by 28 of the 30 Irish bishops, was exceedingly strong. In effect, they told the pope that they knew more about the situation in Ireland than he did and that they could “not enforce the decree without jeopardizing both his and their own authority in Ireland.” This collective letter obviously had the intended effect on the pope and his advisers, for they ceased to insist that the Bishops take a strong line on the Plan and Boycotting.

For the British government, the decree “was only a scrap of paper so long as the Holy See took no steps to enforce it,” Curtis wrote. One one hand, the decree, combined with enforcement of the 1887 coercion laws and better crops, did help tamp down agrarian violence. On the other hand, “initial enthusiasm” about the decree “soon gave way to discouragement … [because] the effects of the order upon the priesthood were slow to manifest themselves … [but] at least slowed down the momentum of the Plan.”

Period illustration of the Papal Rescript, or decree, by Sir John Tenniel in Punch.

NOTES: From pages vii, xi, 25-27, 31, 365-367, 406, 410-411, and 425 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. …Pages 3-4 of The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Fall of Parnell, 1888-1891, by Emmet Larkin, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979. … Pages 65, 270-277, and 388 of Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880-1892, by Lewis Perry Curtis, Jr., Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. … Davitt quote from The Nation, June 2, 1888, page 1.

NEXT: Meeting Kavanagh

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Good Friday Agreement, now 20, also heralded digital age

In April 1998 I was working as a reporter at the Mobile Register newspaper in Alabama. My newsroom was not yet connected to the Internet, and I was still two years away from owning my own laptop computer.

Anxious to learn about the eleventh-hour efforts to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, I drove to one of the city’s few Internet cafes. There, using a  dial-up connection, I navigated to the New York Times, which had gone online two years earlier. That is how I learned that Irish nationalists and unionists, and the British and Irish governments, had reached a deal to end 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.

My datebook for 10 April 1998, shows only the Delta airlines’ flight number and arrival time of a childhood friend making an Easter weekend birding trip to the Alabama Gulf coast. I did not note the historic peace deal. In the coming days and weeks, however, I did clip newspaper and magazine articles about the agreement, which I added to a folder of hard copy stories about Ireland that I had kept since the 1980s.

Today–after seven trips to the island of Ireland–I read Irish news from Irish media with a tap on my smart phone. I follow Irish politicians and political parties on Twitter. Sadly, I discarded most of my old clip file in the haste of a move, the result of mistaken thinking that the yellowing stories were no longer relevant. I did keep the front section of the 24 May 1998, issue of the New York Times, which reported the favorable vote on both sides of the Irish border to ratify the deal. It began:

The voters of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have given overwhelming support to the peace agreement aimed at settling the sectarian conflict that has convulsed their island for centuries. … The referendum on the historic compromise was the first time since 1918 that Irish throughout the island had voted at the same time on the same issue, and the ballot counting today came on the 200th anniversary of one of the island’s many violent events, the first day of the Rising of 1798, in which Irish rebels tried to free their island from the British.

At a graffiti-covered “peace wall” separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 2016. Note William of Orange, “King Billy,” charging on white horse in the mural at right, which indicates what side I was on at the moment.

In the spirit online news reading, here are just a few of stories about the 20th anniversary of the GFA:

  • The Journal.ie offers this background piece on the deal.
  • Kerrie Hope Patterson was born in Northern Ireland less then 30 minutes after the agreement was signed, the Belfast Telegraph reports. Today, the “peace baby” is a student at Trinity College Dublin.
  • The Agreement “ended the bloodshed in Northern Ireland but has failed to achieve broader reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist political parties,” Padraig O’Malley writes in the Boston Globe.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Ponsonby Estate

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

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“As to the troubles of the Ponsonby estate, Father Keller spoke freely. He divided the responsibility for them between the untractableness of the agent, and the absenteeism of the owner.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert’s interview with Father Daniel Keller in Youghal, County Cork, provided another glimpse of a local Catholic priest involved in the land struggles of the 1880s. It added to Hurlbert’s earlier encounters with Father James McFadden in Gweedore, County Donegal, and Father Patrick White in Milltown Malby, County Clare. In all three cases, the American journalist arrived with some aspects of the story already developed, with more elements to come after he left Ireland.

The 10,000-acre estate of Charles Talbot Ponsonby, about 30 miles east Cork city, in November 1886 became the first property targeted for the Plan of Campaign, the Irish nationalist strategy to force landlords to reduce rents. If landlords refused to lower rates, the rent was placed in a fund used to assist evicted tenants. In March 1887, Father Keller was summoned to testify about the fund because authorities believed he was the secret trustee.

Calling the priest into court stirred a riot in Youghal that left Patrick Hanlon, a young fisherman, bayoneted to death by police. When Father Keller refused to testify about the fund, he was cited for contempt of court and jailed for two months at Kilmainhan Gaol. The first tenant evictions on the Ponsonby estate occurred shortly after the priest’s release in May 1887.

The troubled simmered until Hurlbert arrived in late February 1888. He described Father Keller as “the best dressed and most distinguished-looking priest I have yet seen in Ireland, with … the erect bearing of a soldier.” The priest, he wrote, “stands firmly by the position which earned him a sentence of imprisonment last year.”

Father Keller told Hurlbert that “it was by the tenants themselves that the determination was taken to adopt” the Plan of Campaign. He described his own role as “peace-maker” and blamed Ponsonby for not accepting the “reasonable rental” offered by the tenants. The priest continued:

Instead of this, look at the law costs arising out of bankruptcy proceedings and sheriff’s sales and writs and processes, and the whole district thrown in to disorder and confusion, and the industrious people now put out of holdings, and forced into idleness. … [T]he unfortunate incident of the loss of Hanlon’s life would never have occurred had I been duly appraised of what was going on in the town. … Pray understand that I do not say all landlords stand at all where Mr. Ponsonby has been put by his agent, for that is not the case; but the action of many landlords in the county Cork is sustaining Mr. Ponsonby, whose estate is and has been as badly rack-rented an estate as can be found, is, in my judgement, most unwise, and threatening to the peace and happiness of Ireland.

Father Keller gave Hurlbert a copy of his 18-page pamphlet, “The Struggle for Life on the Ponsonby Estate.” Hurlbert, in the appendix of his book, said the tract was “so circumstantial and elaborate” that he reached out to Ponsonby for comment. He met the landlord 15 May 1888, in London.

Park House, part of the Ponsonby Estate. [Cork Past and Present .IE]

Ponsonby dismissed Father Keller as “a newcomer at Youghal” [The priest arrived three years earlier.] who was “hardly so much of an authority” about the estate he acquired 20 years earlier. Ponsonby showed Hurlbert the May 1868 letter of welcome signed by 50 of his tenants. In part, it said:

We will not disguise from you the conviction generally entertained that the improvement of landed property, and the condition of its occupiers, is best promoted under the personal observation and supervision of the proprietor, and your tenantry on that account hail with satisfaction the promise your presence affords of future intercourse between you and them.

Ponsonby said he immediately borrowed 2,000 pounds to make drainage improvements on the land, with the estate’s 300 tenants agreed to pay half the interest on the loan. “As a matter of fact some never paid at all, and I afterwards wiped out the claims against them,” the landlord said.

Ponsonby said it was “nonsense” for Father Keller to describe his rates as rack renting, and that prior to the Plan of Campaign he had never evicted any tenants for being less than three years in arrears. Since then, he said, tenants selected for eviction were not those who could not pay, but those who could pay, “and who were led, or, I believe in most cases, ‘coerced’ into refusing to pay by agitators with Mr. [William John] Lane, MP, to inspire them, and Canon Keller, PP, to glorify them in tracts.”

The landlord’s use of “coercion” matched Hurlbert’s own deployment of the word in the title of his book, and throughout the text. Ponsonby also made another point that Hurlbert noted in other parts of his book: that even as tenants refused their rents, the landlords still had to pay taxes.

By January 1889, Ponsonby was broke. He sold the estate two months later to a syndicate of wealthy men secretly organized by Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour. That summer, the new owners evicted more tenants, who were unable to draw money from the depleted Plan of Campaign fund. The standoff continued until early 1892, when over 100 tenants accepted the terms of the new owners and returned to the estate, much to the dismay of Father Keller.

NOTES: From pages 236-242, and 448-454, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Also, “Canon Keller of Youghal,” by Felix M. Larkin, pages 154-163 in Defying The Law of the Land: Agrarian Radicals in Irish History, edited by Brian Casey, The History Press, Ireland, 2013. … Cork Past and Present.IE.

NEXT: Missed train 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

I’ve now spent most of the first quarter of the year producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Before continuing the series, here’s another end of the month wrap up of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • Pubs in the Republic opened on Good Friday (30 March) for the first time in 91 years, the result of repealing a 1927 law that also banned alcohol sales on Christmas Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The March 17, booze ban was lifted in 1960. Good Friday liquor sales remain prohibited in Northern Ireland.

Irish pubs opened on Good Friday for the first time in 91 years. This Dublin establishment photographed during my February visit. Note E.U., Irish and U.S. flags.

  • Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my annual roundup. Also from this month, my piece on “More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland.”
  • Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will receive the Freedom of Belfast honor 10 April, in ceremonies that mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He also will visit Dublin.
  • Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat, joining the U.K., U.S. and other nations in a growing feud with Moscow. The Russians promptly ordered the Irish envoy to its capital to return to Dublin.
  • The Republic’s referendum on whether to repeal the country’s constitutional ban on abortion is now set for May 25.
  • A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland cleared a hurdle in Parliament. Such unions are already legalized in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Republic.
  • The U.K. is set to leave the E.U. at the end of March 2019. Resolving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains a major sticking point of the Brexit, according to this Q & A from the BBC.
  • Hawk Cliff Beach, about 30 minutes south of Dublin, is becoming Ireland’s first “clothing optional” beach.
  • Atlas Obscure published the photo feature, “A Last Look at Ireland’s Disappearing Storefronts.” Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been built his collection of images over eight years, including this 2014 feature in the TheJournal.ie.

Butcher shop in Waterford, County Waterford. Photo by Trevor Finnegan.