Category Archives: Religion

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.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Cork tourism

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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“Nothing can be lovelier than the country around Cork and the valley of the Lea.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the course of producing this blog serial I’ve taken several breaks from weighty topics such as tenant evictions and the nationalist struggle to consider Hurlbert’s comments about Irish landscapes and landmarks. The quotes below are from his travels around Cork city and surrounding area:

“The fine broad streets which Cork owes to the filling up and bridging over of the canals which in the last century made her a kind of Irish Venice, give the city a comely and even stately aspect. But they are not much better kept and looked after than the streets of New York. And they are certainly less busy and animated than when I last was here, five years ago [1883].”

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“In the city we visited the new Protestant cathedral of St. Finbar, a very fine church [opened in 1879] … We visited also two fine Catholic churches, one of St. Vincent de Paul, and the other the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a grandly proportioned and imposing edifice. … This noble church is rather ignobly hidden away behind crowed houses and shops, and the contrast was very striking when we emerged from its dim religious space and silence into the thronged and rather noisy streets.”

Map of Cork city, 1893, five years after Hurlbert’s visit.

In the days of King William III, Blarney Castle must have been a magnificent stronghold. It stands very finely on a well-wooded height, and dominates the land for miles around. … The Blarney Stone does not seem to be a hundred years old, but the stone itself is one of the front battlements of the grand old tower, which has more than once fallen to the ground from the giddy height at which it was originally set. It is now made fast there by iron clamps, in such a position that to kiss it one should be a Japanese acrobat, or a volunteer rifleman shooting for the championship of the world.”

Kissing the Blarney Stone in the 1890s.

“[By train from Cork] I had many fine views of the shore and the sea as we ran along, and the site of Youghal itself is very fine. It is an old seaport town, and once was a place of considerable trade, especially in wool. … [We walked] to Sir Walter Raleigh’s house, now he property of Sir John Pope Hennessey. …St. Mary of Youghal … is worth a journey to see. … It contains a fine Jacobean tomb of Richard, the ‘great Earl of Cork,’ who died here in September 1643.”

Vintage postcard image of Sir Walter Raleigh’s house.

NOTES: From pages 217, 230, 232-233, 234, 242-243 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.

NEXT: Ponsonby Estate

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, 2018

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s my annual holiday round up of news and features about the Irish and Irish America.

Annual Washington Festivities

Barack and Enda … Enda and Donald … Donald and Leo. The mid-March Washington meeting of U.S. president and Irish taoiseach has changed each of the last three years. Given the political uncertainties for both leaders, we could see another pairing in 2019. What’s more important is that Ireland, including the north, continues to receive this annual day of unmatched attention.

Coverage of this year’s early meeting:

St. Patrick’s Parades
  • In the digital age, it’s possible to watch the Dublin parade from anywhere in the world via Ireland’s RTÉ Player.
  • In New York City, marchers will carry a banner demanding “England Get Out of Ireland” for the 70th year, the New York Times reports.

For several years I’ve made an extra effort to visit St. Patrick’s churches in my travels. See my full list. Here are a few favorites:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland: Given the city’s long history of sectarian strife, the opportunity to practice my Catholic faith felt infused with extra meaning and significance.
  • Rome, Italy: The church’s foundation stone was laid 130 years ago as Irish tenant farmers battled absentee landlords. The Vatican’s response to the trouble wasn’t welcomed back home.
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Typical of the Eastern U.S., the parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when Irish immigrants helped to build a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes. A new building and vibrant Irish-American community were established by the early 20th century.

Stain glass image of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa. church.

Fading of the Green

“The ranks of Americans who trace their ancestry back to Ireland – long one of the most prominent subgroups in American society – are slowly declining,” Pew Research reported a year ago, citing U.S. Census Bureau figure in an update of its original 2015 post.

The trend continues. The latest available data in the 2016 American FactFinder shows 32.3 million American identify as having Irish heritage, down from nearly 36 million in 2006. This map used to be much greener:

The American Conservative offered a review of Breandan Mac Suibhne’s book, The End of Outrage, which “studies the Irish habit of ambivalently accepting the present while willfully forgetting the past.”

Under the headline “Slow Fade of Pennsylvania Irish,” the review by Charles F. McElwee III continues:

The dispersing of Irish Catholic hamlets to suburbia, accompanied by the closure or demographic change of parishes, has further erased remnants of this once identifiable cultural tribe. … Millennials will likely be the last generation to fully comprehend … [Irish Catholic] tribal qualities. 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.

Euros and Greenbacks

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ireland released “U.S.-Ireland Business 2018: A Two-Way Relationship.” The 92-page report tells the story of how over 700 established and new U.S. companies continue to invest in Ireland; and how up to 400 Irish firms now have operations in the U.S., while 300 more export to America. U.S. firms employ more than 155,000 people in Ireland; Irish affiliated entities have more than 100,000 workers on their payrolls in all 50 states.

Fields of Green
  • There’s been a small uproar (tempest in a pint?) since January, when ESPN’s Max Kellerman suggested Notre Dame University should ditch its “Fighting Irish” mascot as a “pernicious, negative stereotype of marginalized people.” Writing in the The Federalist, Matthew Boomer responded: “As an Irish-American and Notre Dame alumnus I am happy to explain why calling for the leprechaun’s head, far from being a blow for justice, is an utterly futile and self-serving exercise in which one attempts to establish progressive bona fides by tearing down an actual symbol of progress.”
  • With baseball season just a few weeks away, former news researcher Bill Lucey bats home a nice post about “Baseball and its Irish Roots” on his DailyNewsGems blog.

Ireland Under Coercion: Killone Abbey

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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“In the afternoon we took a delightful walk to Killone Abbey, a pile of monastic ruins on a lovely site near a very picturesque lake.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert visited numerous places and sites in Ireland 130 years ago that remain tourist attractions today. In Clare, this included Killone Abbey, about three miles south of Ennis. Like similar Irish ruins, the former Augustinian abbey was converted into a graveyard used “not only by the people of Ennis, but by the farmers and villagers for many miles around,” Hurlbert wrote.

But he was appalled by the conditions:

The graves are, for the most part, shallow, and closely huddled together. The cemetery, in truth, is a ghastly slum, a ‘tenement-house’ of the dead. The dead of to-day literally elbow the dead of yesterday out of their resting-places, to be in their turn displaced by the dead of to-morrow. Instead of the crosses and the fresh garlands, and the inscriptions full of loving thoughtfulness [of German and English cemeteries] … all here is confusion, squalor and neglect.

Hulbert and his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Stacepoole, also found skull with “a clean round bullet hole in the very center of the frontal bone,” the American wrote. “Was it the skull of a patriot or of a policeman? of a “Whiteboy” or of a “landlord”?

Father Patrick White, in Hurlbert unmasked, mocked the scene, writing that Hurlbert “had not read his ‘Hamlet’ in vain.” The priest was bothered that Hurlbert sarcastically answered his own question by suggesting the shooting victim had been “some peasant selfishly and recklessly bent on paying his rent.” The American reporter was taking his own shot at the Land League.

Killone Abbey. Image by John Armagh.

Hurlbert’s party moved on:

Near the ruins of Killone is a curious ancient shrine of St John, beside a spring known as the holy well. All about the rude little altar in the open air simple votive offerings were displayed, and Mrs. Stacpoole tells me pilgrims come here from Galway and Connemara to climb the hill upon their knees, and drink of the water. Last year for the first time within the memory of man the well went dry. Such was the distress caused in Ennis by this news, that on the eve of St John certain pious persons came out from the town, drew water from the lake, and poured it into the well!

The County Clare Library has additional resources about Killone Abbey Graveyard and St. John’s Well.

NOTES:  From pages 176-179 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American; page 11 of Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ .

NEXT: Hurlbert who?

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland

Another St. Patrick’s Day is nearing, so it must be time for another story about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Last March, Fordham University’s former Irish Studies Director John P. McCarthy wrote the dirge in The Catholic World Report. Later in the year new CSO data confirmed the diminishing demographics of Catholic Ireland. Now, America, the Jesuit Review, Senior Editor James T. Keane takes on the dreary duty of considering “The Future of Catholic Ireland.” (The online version of this headline adds the adjective “uncertain” before future.)

Cover of the March 5, 2018, issue of America.

The magazine cover features a lovely photo of St. Coleman’s Cathedral towering behind the almost equally famous pastel houses of nearby West View in Cobh. I will never forget my first visit there nearly 20 years ago. (My photos are prints, not digital!)

It was a sunny May afternoon highlighted by walking the waterfront where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated in September 1912 and May 1913, respectively. They were both deeply Catholic, at least in the superficial ways of their generation. I do not know what was in their hearts regarding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the Pope, then Pius X. I do not doubt, though I can not prove, that St. Coleman’s was the last church each visited on Irish soil, to light a votive, whisper a prayer, and bless themselves.

St. Coleman’s spire under construction in 1914.

There is a small detail about St. Coleman’s that I learned on that first visit that has remained with me ever since. The great bulk of the church was completed after more than 40 years of construction when my grandparents made their way from north Kerry to Cobh, then Queenstown. But the gracefully tapering spire was still wrapped in scaffolding. This last segment of external work was not finished until 1915.

Is there is a metaphor here? The church then under construction is now over a century old; the once teenage emigrants are now dead for decades. But lead me not into the temptation of sentimentality. As Keane writes near the end of his America piece:

[Dublin] Archbishop [Diarmuid] Martin (See his 2014 St. Patrick’s Day post in America.) also cautioned against equating the reality of Irish life with the cultural perceptions of what he called “the Auld Sod brigade,” Irish-American descendants of emigrants whose sentimental memories (real or not) of Ireland are not always or often shared by the nation’s residents. The world of potato farms improbably coaxed out of rocky soil, or of Gothic Revival chapels full of sturdy peasants on the path to the priesthood, has more life in those sentimental memories than in reality. The church may never again look as it did in [the seminary of St. Patrick’s College at] Maynooth 100 years ago, but the history of places like the Aran Islands suggest it will persist in some vital way.  … [T]he future of Irish Catholicism, whatever it may be, is tied up with the future of an Ireland that is now far different from what many Americans imagine. … The Irish are Europeans now.

I suggest the ranks of “the Auld Sod brigade” are as depleted as the pews of Archbishop Martin’s Dublin churches. Keane writes that reports of “physical abuse in Irish schools, orphanages, Magdalene laundries and other church institutions have been legion in the Irish media in recent years.” Does he think that Irish Americans have missed these stories? … or the reports of Ireland’s 2015 approval of a same-sex marriage? … or the current coverage leading up to the likely May repeal of its constitutional ban on most abortions? Nearly every one of these accounts includes an obligatory context paragraph about the changed church in “once conservative” Ireland.

Certainly the decline of the church is not news to those of us who regularly visit Ireland and still practice the faith. We have seen the empty pews and accepted the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of priests native to Asia or Africa, instead of Kerry or Kildare. For the most part, we embrace the more liberal, modern, “European” Ireland.

These reports about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland have become hackneyed.  I am more interested in what Keane describes as “some unanticipated future” of the faith in Ireland. The day after his America piece was published, author Angela Hanley, writing in The Irish Times, described “a small, quiet revolution taking place” within the church.

People who have been totally alienated from the Roman imperial model of church are still seeking to express their Catholic faith within community, because they truly understand this is most authentic place for faith practice. They are finding this community, which may or may not include priests, not in the formal structure of church but in homes.

That’s the Holy Spirit at work, in Ireland, in America and elsewhere. It gives me hope for the future rather than more hand wringing that “romantic [Catholic] Ireland’s dead and gone.”

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: On boycotting

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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“The author … tells a story … of ‘boycotting’ long before Boycott.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert mentioned “boycott” about two dozen times in his book, which is somewhat remarkable considering the word had not existed eight years earlier. It resulted from the 1880 social and commercial ostracism of County Mayo land agent Captain Charles Boycott in a key early protest of the decade’s agrarian agitation in Ireland.

In his discussion about boycotting in Milltown Malbay (See previous post), Hurlbert referenced a passage from the 1852 book Fortnight in Ireland, by  Sir Francis Head. The book was based on Head’s one-week visit to the island, his first, near the end of the Great Famine.

In a description of religion conversion efforts tied to charity (“Protestant missionary zeal with Protestant donations of meal”, in Hurlbert’s phrasing), Head noted 36 years earlier:

Any Roman Catholic who listens to a Protestant clergyman, or to a Scripture reader, is denounced as a marked man, and people are forbidden to have any dealings with him in trade or business, to sell him food or buy it from him.

A boycott! The phenomenon is even older, however, according to Samuel Clark in his seminal work, Social Origins of the Irish Land War:

The practice was obviously not invented by Irish farmers in 1880. For centuries, in all parts of the world, it had been employed by active combinations [social groups] for a variety of purposes. In rural Ireland itself the practice of refusing to bid for involuntarily vacated farms or for distrained livestock had a long history, as did the ostracism of landgrabbers. Even during the Land War, the tactic was used well before the Boycott affair; and it had been advocated on numerous occasions before [Charles Stewart] Parnell recommended it in September 1880.

Parnell

It seems an oversight by Hurlbert that as he reported about boycotting in County Clare, he did not reference Parnell’s speech eight years earlier at Ennis. Parnell spoke weeks before Boycott’s troubles began in the Lough Mask area of Mayo, 80 miles to the north. Parnell said:

When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.

Davitt

Michael Davitt also used the image of a leper in his 29 January 1888, speech at Rathkeale; the oration about not overusing the term “Bloody Balfour” that caught Hurlbert’s attention upon his arrival in Ireland. Davitt also said:

I maintain that a landgrabber is a thief, when he covets and steals his unfortunate neighbor’s holdings, and I want to say once more, what I repeated on a hundred platforms, that the landgrabber incurred malediction in the days when the Holy Bible was written: ‘Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark.’ He is a cowardly, slimy renegade, a man who should be look upon as a social leper, contact with whom should be considered a stigma and a reproach.

As noted in an earlier post, Davitt complained in his diary that the Freeman’s Journal (and other papers) did not report this portion of his speech. It was, however, quoted in Parliament the week that Hurlbert was in Clare.

In Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert reported that some landlords and their workers suggested they were able to withstand boycotts without much impact. In places such as Kerry, however, he noted that the “dual government” of the Land League “enforce[d] their decrees by various forms of outrage, ranging from the boycott, in its simplest forms, up to direct outrages upon property and the person.”

This included the murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice, two days after Davitt’s Rathkeale speech. See my earlier post.

Period illustration of the January 1888 murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice in front of his daughter Nora. She was not physically harmed.

I’ll give the last word to Father Patrick White, parish priest of Milltown Malbay, who Hurlbert reported as being “the moving spirit” behind a series of boycotts in Clare. Father White denied the allegation in his rebuttal booklet, Hurlbert unmasked: an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ . He explained:

There was unquestionably boycotting in the district, and as [local Land League] president … I had to take note of it. The people, goaded by desperation by the terrible distress of [18] ’78, ’79 and ’80, were up in arms against the heartlessness and the cruelties of the Landlord system, which had paved the way to it. … Against such an obstacle as this neither an appeal to justice nor argument of was of any value whatsoever, so boycotting was resorted to. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies … The people fully appreciated my difficulty [as a priest] acting as president with them, and never pressed me to accept, or put from the chair, any boycotting resolution.

I’ll return to this issue in a future post about another word that came out of the late 19th century agrarian agitation in Ireland: moonlighting.

NOTES:  Hurlbert referenced Fortnight on page 172 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Quote about “dual government,” etc., on page 219. Quote from Head on page 155 of Fortnight. Quote from Clark on page 311 of Social Origins. Quote from Father White on pages 17-18 of Hurlbert Unmasked.

NEXT: Killone Abbey

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion: Milltown Malbay

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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“Only yesterday no fewer than 23 of these publicans from Milltown Malbay appeared at Ennis here to be tried for ‘boycotting’ the police. … An important feature of this case is the conduct of Father White, the parish priest.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

One of the more controversial aspects of Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion was his coverage of boycotting activity in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis in County Clare. Citing government officials and reports, Hurlbert accused Father Patrick White of helping to organize the activity.

Father White strongly rebutted Hurlbert’s characterizations in his own booklet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ , published in 1890 or 1891, about two years after Hurlbert’s book.

Hurlbert arrived in Ennis on 18 February 1888, a few days after his London meeting with Michael Davitt. (See post 15 and post 16). The American reporter had left Ireland four days earlier for an unexplained side trip to Paris, which suddenly became “unnecessary.”

At Ennis, Hurlbert connected with Colonel Alfred Turner, a high-ranking police commissioner; Cecil Roach, a resident magistrate from neighboring County Kerry, and Richard Stacpoole, “a gentleman of position and estate” who had welcomed London journalist Bernard Becker to the region eight years earlier.

“I was struck by the extraordinary number of public houses in Ennis,” Hurlbert remarked. He reported being told by a police sergeant that Milltown Malby, with a population of 1,400, had 36 pubs, and that 23 of the publicans had boycotted the police. Hurlbert reported that during their trials, one was acquitted; one discharged; 10 signed guarantees in court to refrain from further conspiracies; and 11 were sent to the gaol (jail).

Main Street in Milltown Malbay, circa 1890, a few years after Hurlbert’s visit. Image from The Lawrence Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland.

Col. Turner told Hurlbert that Father White “was the moving spirit” of the local boycotting activity. Hurlbert wrote:

All this to an American resembles a tempest in a tea-pot. But it is a serious matter to see a priest of the Church assisting laymen to put their fellow-men under a social interdict … [I]t is a serious scandal that a parish priest should lay himself open to the imputation of acting in concert with any political body whatever, on any pretext whatever, to encourage such proceedings.

In three days of diary entries and 30 pages of the book, Hurlbert weaved in and out of the case. He reproduced the full police report of a related case handed to him by Col. Turner, as well as letters between Col. Turner and Father White. As the book was going to press later that year, the policeman and the priest each provided additional letters to Hurlbert to further clarify their positions. These were published in the Appendix.

Father White devoted half of his 32-page pamphlet to rebutting Hurlbert’s characterization of himself and the situation in Milltown Malbay. “He has libeled me, and libeled me unsparingly,” the priest wrote. He considered taking Hurlbert to court, “but legal friends … dissuaded me” because a Tory or Unionist sympathizer on the jury would probably nix a favorable verdict.

The tit-for-tat of the episode is too tedious to detail here. It does illustrate how local tensions between police and communities unfolded against the national developments of the Land War and Home Rule movement. In fact, as Hurlbert noted, the case of one boycotted family in Milltown Malbay was raised in Parliament in a debate between John Redmond, then a nationalist M.P. for Wexford North, and Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour.

The Clare County Library has compiled a number of resources about Milltown Malbay, including the relevant extract from Hurlbert’s book and an article about the July 1888 evictions on the Vandeleur Estate, Kilrush. Unfortunately, Hurlbert unmasked is not so easy to access.

NOTES: Pages 165 to 195 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I obtained a copy of Hurlbert unmasked thanks to an inter-library loan from Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. The pamphlet is also available at the National Library of Ireland.

NEXT: On boycotting

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan