Chicago and Galway agreed their Sister Cities International relationship in 1997. Ten years later, the Grainne (“Grace,” in Gaelic) sculpture (top photo) by artist Maurice Harron was dedicated at Heritage Green Park across the street from Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago (bottom photo). Seven mosaic stone carvings representing Celtic culture that surround the statue were designed and crafted by Dennis Goggin and Reamonn Flaherty. The images, in descending order, are the Claddagh Ring; Irish Harp; Galway Hooker, Triskele (triple spiral); Celtic Knot; Tree of Life; and Celtic Sun. See photos of Old St. Patrick’s from this March 2019 visit. MH
Old St. Patrick’s parish in Chicago was founded by Irish immigrants on Easter Sunday, 1846, at the onset of the Great Famine. The current church building was dedicated on Christmas morning, 1856. The church’s website timeline provides more history. The church also is detailed in the 1997 book, At the Crossroads: Old Saint Patrick’s and the Chicago Irish, by Ellen Skerret.
Images below from March 15, 2019. See the more than 20 St. Patrick’s churches that I have visited in America and Europe.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
“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
“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.”
“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.
A short roundup for a short month. … Just over two week until St. Patrick’s Day, and less than a month until the scheduled Brexit. As I publish, however, there is growing talk of postponing the split until June. We’ll see.
- Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has until June 2020 to become self-sustaining, Quinnipiac University President Judy Olian announced. The Hamden, Conn., school also withdrew its financial support and participation in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade after 30 years.
This is more than just an institutional belt-tightening story; it’s another example of the “fading of the green.” As Charles F. McElwee III wrote last year in The American Conservative: “The Irish Catholic experience peaked during the Second Vatican Council, but has slowly faded with the death of older relatives, the changed cultural makeup of urban neighborhoods, the dissolution of cash-strapped and scandal-ridden parishes, and an overall indifference towards tradition in this modern era.”
Don’t be fooled by the upcoming St. Patrick’s celebrations.
- Irish workers were described as the most productive in the world, adding an average of $99.50 (€87) to the value of the economy every hour they work, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Republic’s rate was higher than its biggest trading partners, the United States ($72) and the United Kingdom ($61.10), and nearly twice the OECD average of $54.80. … The Irish Central Statistics Office, however, cautioned that Irish workers in the domestic sector, which excludes multinationals, added an average $54.20, just below the OECD average.
- Irish novelist John Banville defended Irish actor Liam Neeson’s comments about wanting to revenge kill any “black bastard” 40 years ago after his friend was raped. Neeson apologized on Good Morning America. “I am not a racist,” he said.
- The head of an 800-year-old mummy known as “The Crusader” was stolen from its crypt below St. Michan’s Church in Dublin.
- The 17.3 C. (65 F.) 23 February temperature in Roscommon was shy of the record 18.1 C., set 23 February, 1891, in Dublin. Met Éireann forecaster Siobhán Ryan told the Times the high temperature was not attributable to global warming, but more likely the result of natural variability in the weather.
- The first teaser for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was screened during the Academy Awards. The movie tells the story of Irish hoodlum Frank Sheeran, who claimed to have killed American union boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. The release date is unclear.
- Finally, the end of February is the anniversary of the 1888 opening of Kerry’s unique Lartigue monorail, a favorite historical curiosity.
AT TOP: St. Patrick and St. Briget at Saint Muredach’s Catholic Cathedral,facing the River Moy in Ballina, Mayo. February 2018.
Welcome to the sixth annual Best of the Blog. This has been a productive and successful year, thanks to two trips to Ireland and several new projects and features. Average daily site visits increased 52 percent over last year, and total traffic for the year by November surpassed the 2016 benchmark. Thank you, loyal readers and new visitors, for your interest and support. See more detailed acknowledgments at the bottom of the post. First, our yearly roundup:
Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: This project explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. The series followed Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip to Ireland, from his views about the agrarian agitation and home rule politics of the period, to his descriptions of Irish landscapes and landmarks. * I retraced some of Hurlbert’s footsteps during my February and November trips to Ireland. * A condensed version of my research appeared under the headline “An American Journalist in Ireland Meets Michael Davitt & Arthur Balfour” on The Irish Story website. * The work was recognized in the American Journalism Historian Association’s “News & Notes” feature.
Ireland’s Famine Children “Born at Sea”: My research of the online Famine Irish Passenger Record Data File held by the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) resulted in a Winter 2017/18 story in NARA’s Prologue Magazine. * In September, I gave a presentation about the story at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.
Pittsburgh Irish: I added a new section to the blog that collects my original work related to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my native city and state, a 19th and early 20th century hub for Irish immigrants. This year’s work included several pieces about World War I and its aftermath:
- December 1918: Pittsburgh rally for Irish freedom The city’s Irish community gathered at the Lyceum Theater for the second time in seven months, part of the nationwide “Self-Determination for Ireland Week.”
- Pennsylvania pledges to Irish freedom in 1918 U.S. election “Will you, if elected to the public office for which you are a candidate, openly and unequivocally support Ireland’s claim to Complete Independence?”
- An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918 Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910. Eight years later, he was shipped to the battlefields of France.
- Shamrock Fund and the Irish War Exhibit of 1918 An Irish socialite visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers.
Another two-part piece, Troublesome Men: The Irish Nationalist Feud in Western Pennsylvania, 1894-1896,explored divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania ahead of the 1895 Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago. Two members of the Pittsburgh delegation were ousted from the meeting. See PART 1 & PART 2.
Other Popular Stories in 2018:
Catching Up With Modern Ireland: I introduced a monthly roundup of aggregated news, feature, and opinion content from Irish and Irish-American media. Coverage included the May repeal of Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban; the August visit of Pope Francis to Ireland; and the October re-election of Irish President Michael D. Higgins. … Brexit and the sidelined Northern Ireland Assembly remained in the news throughout 2018, the former a key issue for 2019. … Former President Bill Clinton received the Freedom of Belfast honor for the Good Friday Agreement; Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan was floated as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, a post that remains unfilled; and Irish-American gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was murdered in federal prison. … Fáilte Ireland unveiled its “Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands” tourism brand to drive visitor growth across the Midlands region. … Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland; “Black ’47,” a fictional film treatment of the Great Famine debuted to generally good reviews; and the “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., toured Ireland. …. I’ll post a December update before the new year.
Go raibh maith agat…
Many people assisted me in producing the blog this year, in America and in my travels to Ireland. My dear wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, is my biggest supporter. She edits some of the longer pieces and provides technical assistance. Most importantly, she encourages my work, including reminding me when “it’s time to turn off the computer.”
These people and institutions also helped in 2018:
IN IRELAND: the Michael Davitt Musuem, Straide, Co. Mayo; National University of Ireland, Galway, Archives; Trinity College Dublin, Archives; National Library of Ireland, Dublin; National Print Museum, Dublin; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, especially co-founder Felix Larkin, who helped with the Hurlbert project and welcomed me at NPHFI’s annual conference in Galway. Another round of applause for all the conference’s excellent presenters. … Also, thanks for the continued friendship and assistance of John Dorney at The Irish Story; Kay Caball at My Kerry Ancestors; and Mary Cogan at Listowel Connection. … Special thanks to my relations, Michael & Nancy Lynch of Navan, for their hospitality, and for the gift of a 40-page F.S.L. Lyons’ pamphlet, Parnell, dated from 1963.
IN AMERICA: the National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Md., and the editors at Prologue Magazine; Luke McCusker at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore; historian Daniel W. Crofts, who helped with the Hurlbert project; and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which published my story about Frederick Douglass. … Also, Amy Brunner and Christopher Lemery of the University of Pittsburgh Library System, on separate requests through the “Historic Pittsburgh” website. … In Washington, D.C., Georgetown University and Catholic University of America libraries, especially Shane MacDonald at CUA’s Research Center and University Archives; the arts group Solas Nua; and Dan Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. and the Irish Embassy staff, who always warmly welcome Irish Network-DC. … The Arlington Public Library, Arlington, Va., provided several books from university library collections via its Interlibrary Loan service. … Apologies if I’ve missed any person or institution.
Finally, thanks again to all those who visited the blog, especially email subscribers (at right) and those who follow me on Twitter and retweet the content. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
Best wishes for 2019.
This is the third in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH
On Sunday evening, Dec. 15, 1918, “friends of Irish liberty … crowding every available space in the Lyceum Theater,” a Pittsburgh vaudeville house, demanded that President Woodrow Wilson support their cause in the upcoming Paris peace conference.1 The event was one of the last of the nationwide “Self-Determination for Ireland Week,” which included a New York City rally that drew 25,000 to Madison Square Garden, and a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “the Irish question” in the U.S. Congress.
“A mass meeting in Pittsburgh” was foretold to the committee in a letter signed by representatives of the city’s United Irish Societies and Duquesne University, a Catholic institution.2 The committee also received letters from Pittsburgh’s Allied Irish-American societies and friends; Friends of Ireland; Ulster Society of Pittsburgh; and Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.3
This was the second time in seven months that Pittsburgh’s Irish packed the Lyceum. In the spring, they protested the forced conscription of their countrymen while Britain withheld limited domestic political autonomy, called home rule, from Ireland. The arrangement had been approved in 1914, but immediately suspended with the outbreak of the Great War.
Dioceses of Pittsburgh Bishop Regis Canevin headlined the December rally, following the example of Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell at the Madison Square Garden event, and other Catholic clergy at the Washington hearing. Canevin echoed the theme that Ireland deserved the right of self determination for small nations, which Wilson proclaimed earlier in the year.
“Shall Ireland be free, or shall she be the only exception?,” Canevin asked. “If Ireland be the exception, then lasting peace is doomed to defeat. No pledges to other nations can be kept without freedom of Ireland.”4
Canevin asserted that despite seven centuries of “political oppression and tyranny,” Ireland remained deeply Christian (avoiding Catholic/Protestant division), with distinct literature, music, and other national characteristics. “Ireland had her place on the map for centuries as a nation.”
Mary McWhorter, Chicago-based president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also emphasized Ireland’s geographic separation from Britain: “The boundary line of the Irish nation is clearly defined: God, Himself, took care of that,” she said.
Three days earlier in Washington, McWhorter told the congressional committee of her travels to dozens of cities and towns in 30 states to visit Irish mothers with sons fighting with the American forces.5
The Pittsburgh rally came a day after the Irish Sinn Féin political party won a record number of parliamentary seats in the first British election since the war began in 1914. Many of those in attendance would have read Pittsburgh newspaper coverage of the old-guard home rule party being “hopelessly beaten” by Sinn Féin, even in the moderate nationalists’ former strongholds.6 No longer willing to settle for home rule, Sinn Fein refused to take their seats in London, declared an Irish republic, and established their own parliament in Dublin.
The “overflow audience” of the May 1918 anti-conscription rally “brought out the strong attachment that exists between the Irish cause and the Irish people and their beloved priests.”7 Rev. Patrick O’Connor of nearby St. Mary of Mercy Catholic Church, an Irish immigrant parish since the Great Famine, spoke of “the glorious record of past generations of Irishmen in defense of this great country.”
When America entered the war in 1917, Pittsburgh’s Irishmen ages 18 to 31 registered for the military, my grandfather among them. At the time, the city’s population of native Irish was falling from a post-Famine high of 27,000 in 1890, to about 14,000 in 1920.8
First generation Irish Americans now outnumbered their parents. Thomas F. Enright, the son on Irish immigrants in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield district, was among the war’s first U.S. casualties. At first buried on the French battlefield were he died, his remains later were returned to Pittsburgh and re-interred with military honors at St. Mary Cemetery.
Irish and Irish Americans not only sacrificed their blood, Father O’Connor told the Lyceum crowd, but also their treasure. He spoke of an Irish workman who earned $80 a month and purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds, or half his annual salary.
People without parallel
It is unknown to me, and probably unknowable, whether my grandfather, Willie Diggin, was among the 4,000 or so attendees at either of the 1918 Irish rallies at the Lyceum. He turned 23 a few months before he registered for the military in June 1917, four years after his arrival in Pittsburgh from Kerry. He was not drafted.
In 1918 he was still six years from marriage. He was established in his job as a streetcar motorman with a regular route that terminated at St. Mary of Mercy, a few blocks from the Lyceum, and thus familiar with these streets. On Dec. 17, 1941–23 years after the second Lyceum rally–he died of a heart attack in front of the church; a priest summoned from inside to give him the last rites aboard the streetcar. He was a month shy of 48.
In the week before Christmas 1918, a month after the armistice and a month before the Irish War of Independence, a “burst of enthusiasm took place” among Irish freedom supporters packed inside the Lyceum as two soldiers marched onstage; one holding the red, white, and blue of Old Glory; the other bearing the green, white, and orange of the new flag of the Irish Republic. The Irish Club Orchestra, with pipes, and several soloists, performed patriotic and sentimental tunes between speeches.9
Perhaps Pittsburgh City Councilman P. J. McArdle best captured the spirit of the evening, and this brief period of peace between two wars: “We are here to make known the appeal without parallel for a people without parallel.”
NEXT: U.S. Press on Sinn Féin Win
This is the second in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH
The U.S. Congress intensified its activism on behalf of Ireland once America entered the Great War in April 1917. “Members seized the moment to revive the issue of Irish independence, which had failed to gain traction in the House a year earlier when Missouri Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer (R) insisted that Congress support the Easter Rising,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives blog.
It took until a month after the war ended, however, before the Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on “The Irish Question.” Congress was in a “lame duck” session, between the Nov. 5 midterm election and new members taking their seats in early March. Republicans won control of the House and Senate from the Democrats, the party of President Woodrow Wilson.
Dec. 12, 1918, was a Thursday, a fair, late fall day with temperatures in the capital settled into the mid-30s. Post-war news dominated the front page of the The Washington Post, including the projected $120 billion cost of the fight in Europe, and Wilson’s plans for the upcoming Paris peace conference.1
Virginia Rep. Henry D. Flood (D), the committee chairman, opened the hearing at 10 a.m. He set a hour-hour limit on the testimony.
A diverse array of citizens, local politicians, and representatives of civic organizations and labor unions traveled to Washington to submit testimony in favor of Irish independence. Witnesses highlighted the intertwined histories of Ireland and the United States as a reason for intervention. Many also stressed that the United States played a decisive role in ending the war, which thereby endowed the President—and Congress—with the power to request that Britain grant Ireland a seat at the negotiating table in Paris.2
Illinois Rep. Thomas Gallagher (D), one of several members to put forward resolutions supporting Irish “self determination,” Wilson’s phrase, gave the first statement. He noted the issue had been introduced nearly two years earlier, and, as the result, “quite an agitation has gone over the country urging legislative action” on behalf of Ireland. He recognized the “large delegations from different sections of the United States here this morning.”3
Illinois Circuit Court Judge Kickham Scanlan of Chicago was the first witness. His speech, like many of the others that followed, emphasized Irish contributions to the United States:
The Irish helped make America in 1776. The British Parliament said that but for the aid of the people of Ireland the freedom of America would not have been won. And in every war from that day to this they have stood by America, and they stood by America to a man in the last war. Do not let any paper, do not let any propaganda in the world, every make any member of this committee think that there was any man of Irish blood in America who could dream for one moment of anything but the success of America. We kept the faith.4
One-by-one, the following witnesses gave their statements and introduced into the record letters from other individuals and resolutions passed by groups at earlier public meetings. Some highlights include:
- A letter from former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne, who in a few months time would travel to the Paris peace talk as one of three representatives of the American Commission on Irish Independence.
- The Madison Square Garden address of Cardinal William Henry O’Connell of Boston, delivered two nights earlier to some 25,000 supporters of Irish freedom.
- “Ireland’s Plea for Freedom,” by William J.M.A. Maloney, M.D., a former British Army captain.
- The Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
- The Sinn Féin platform of October 1917. The hearing came two days before the party’s massive wins in the first British elections since 1914.
George Fox, a New Haven, Conn., university teacher, voiced rare opposition to the overwhelming support for the Irish cause. He said:
…these men come in here and ask the Congress of the United States to adopt a joint resolution that they have no right to ask the Congress to adopt, and which they have no right to present. If Germany had won, they would have had to go before some other peace conference aligned with Germany, but when the empire which they have supported was beaten they switch around and ask the United States to go to the peace conference in their behalf. … I take the position … that it is entirely a matter for England to decide.5
The Foreign Affairs Committee cleared a bill of support for Ireland to the floor, where it was debated March 4, 1919, the last day of the 65th Congress. Texas Rep. Thomas Connally (D), echoing Fox, reminded his colleagues that Great Britain was an ally in the war, and the principle of self-determination championed by Wilson only applied to countries “under the dominion of our enemies.” Wilson adopted a similar stance in Paris.
The House passed a resolution by a vote 216 to 45, but the Senate did not take up the issue before the session ended. The upper chamber did pass a separate measure early in the 66th Congress. “Ultimately, the long battle in the House over the ‘Irish question’ did not have a decisive effect on the peace process in 1919 or the political status of Ireland.”6
Nevertheless, the support of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and others is worth remembering 100 years later. Click the cover image below to see the full hearing transcript.
NEXT: Pittsburgh rally for Irish freedom
PREVIOUS: The bishop & the president
This is the first in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH
Ireland and other small nations seeking independence from imperial rulers seized on the January 1918 words of President Woodrow Wilson: “National aspirations must be respected. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”
Supporters of Irish independence in Ireland and in America, whether immigrants or their offspring, embraced “self-determination” more than any other ethnic group. And they weren’t shy about demanding it.
Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote a Nov. 30 letter to Wilson.1
In keeping these words of truth, 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. Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.
A similar appeal by “the principal Irish societies of Washington” also was delivered to the Wilson White House, The Washington Post reported.2 “It voices the opinion of a public meeting, held by representatives of the Irish societies, that the American nation, through its president, has a unique opportunity to enforce this fundamental principal for the freedom of Ireland at the upcoming peace table, and the president is petitioned to use his good office to that end.”
The signatory groups included the Friends of Irish Freedom; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH; Irish-American Union; Gaelic Society; Irish History Society; Irish History Study Club; and Shamrock Club.
At the time, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. capital, representing about one fifth of all foreigners.3 Nationwide, Irish immigrants were about 10 percent of the foreign-born population, down from the one third post-Famine peak of 50 years earlier. First-generation Irish Americans far outnumbered their immigrant parents.
Bishop Shahan was the New Hampshire-born son of Irish immigrants. His letter to Wilson (grandson of an Ulster-Scot) was read at the Dec. 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Irish Question” by Professor Joseph Dunn of the Catholic University of America faculty. 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.”4
This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, note to Shahan; barely 100 typed words on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name, only generalities:5
…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.
Once Wilson got to Paris, the self-determination of countries formerly ruled by vanquished Germany was easier to support than pressing ally Britain to loosen its grip on Ireland. By summer 1919, Wilson’s reluctance to support Ireland disappointed the Irish, by then at war with Britain.
Shahan remained an “ardent supporter of Irish independence,” according to the Catholic University of America archives of his papers. His concerns were “not only as a source of personal interest, but also because religious matters were inextricably bound into the struggle for freedom and recognition for Ireland.”
NEXT: House hearing on the ‘Irish Question’
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.