Tag Archives: Cork

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

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

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Missed train

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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“Our return trip to Cork in the ‘light railway,’ with a warm red sunset lighting up the river Lea, and throwing its glamour over the varied and picturesque scenery through which we ran, was not the least delightful of a very delightful excursion.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert traveled hundreds of miles by railways during his six-month reporting trip in Ireland. The island’s first “iron roads” were laid a half century earlier. Hurlbert crossed the River Boyne at Drogheda on “one of the finest viaducts in Europe,” which was completed in 1855, or 33 years earlier.

The Drogheda viaduct, as seen in my February 2018, trip.

The opening quotation is from Hurlbert’s 26 February 1888, entry on his way to learn about the troubles at the Ponsonby Estate. He ended the chapter: “From Lismore [County Waterford] I came back by the railway through Fermoy [County Cork.]” The next entry, dated 28 February, begins: “I left Cork by the early train to-day, and passing through the counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Queen’s [now Laois] and King’s [now Offaly], reached this place [Portumna, County Galway] after dark on a car from Parsonstown [now Birr].”

During the 1880s, nearly two dozen railroad segments opened in Ireland, including numerous “light railways,” or short-distance spurs connecting remote areas and larger stations on the main lines. The quotation at the top likely refers to the Cork and Muskerry Light Railway, which opened in 1887. “No doubt it will be a great thing for Donegal when ‘light railways’ are laid down here,” Hurlbert wrote during his January 1888, visit to the northwest county.

The American journalist missed an opportunity to report on one of the most unique railways in Irish history, which opened the week of his travels around Portumna. The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway was a 9-mile monorail. Pannier-like cars rode on a single rail atop A-shaped trestles set over the bogs and pastures of north County Kerry. The unusual model was designed by French engineer Charles Lartigue, who attended the opening ceremony on 29 February, 1888–Leap Year Day.

“It seems strange, but it is not less true that a remote village on the coast at Kerry should have been selected for the first experiment in a railway system which promises a revolution in the construction of our iron roads,” The Irish Times reported.  “The Lartigue system is about as different from all preconceived notions of railways as it is possible to imagine.”

Read my 2009 History Magazine article to learn more about the unusual line.

It’s too bad that Hurlbert missed riding this train. Contemporary travelers to Kerry can visit the Lartigue Monorail museum and hop aboard the demonstration replica of the original line, which closed in 1924.

The Lartigue monorail in North Kerry opened on Leap Year Day, 1888. Hurlbert was 90 miles away in Partumna.

NOTES: From pages 233, 115, 248-249, and 252 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Two nicknames

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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

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].”

***  

“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

Outside views: Brexit, taxes and tourism

Following my last post about Irish media, it’s always interesting to see how media outside of Ireland covers the island. Here are three recent examples:

1917: Year of shipwrecks off Irish coast

(NOTE: This post dates before the release of the National Monuments Service “Wreck Viewer” and database.)

More than three dozen ships were sunk off the Irish coast in 1917, most in German attacks related to World War I. About 600 people, including merchant crews and civilian passengers, died in these episodes, but the toll likely was much higher. Some survived these ordeals.

The Irish Shipwrecks Database (ISD) lists 41 vessels as sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel in 1917. Some of the wrecks were more than 100 miles off the coast, others within sight of shore. My review of other sources indicates the database is missing at least a few navy ships and cargo vessels sunk by German submarines, and also does not included a few of the U-boats destroyed in Irish waters by the U.S. and British navy.

About half the vessels listed in the ISD were torpedoed by German submarines. Others struck mines floating in the sea lanes. A few vessels were captured, stripped of food and other valuables, then scuttled. The wrecked watercraft included cargo ships under steam and sail, merchant cruisers, minesweepers and fishing trawlers.

The 41 shipwrecks in 1917 is the third highest total in the ISD behind 64 sunken vessels in 1867 and the same number in 1852. The ISD shows five shipwrecks in both 1918 and 1916, including the Aud.

Germany renewed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 after restricting such activity in the wake of sinking the British liner Lusitania in May 1915. America entered the war in April 1917, and a month later the U.S. Navy arrived at Cork. The war continued through November 1918.

The deadliest episode of 1917 was the 25 January sinking of the Laurentic at Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The British steam ship, which had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser, hit a mine about 90 minutes after leaving the harbor. One hundred twenty one men were rescued from the crew of 475.

S.S. Laurentic

The Laurentic was carrying a valuable cargo of gold ingots. As of October 2017, 542 of the gold bars had been recovered from the original load of 3,211 as high-tech salvage crews continue searching the bottom for the rest of the treasure.

The second deadliest 1917 Irish shipwreck occurred two weeks after the Laurentic, on 7 February, when the passenger steamer California was torpedoed 38 miles from Fastnet Rock, off the Cork coast. A total of 43 people were killed–30 crew and 13 passengers–among the 205 aboard.

While these episodes were widely reported in Irish newspapers, other ship sinkings were not mentioned at all, or matter-of-factly. For example, on 24 April, this story appeared on page 5 of the Freemans Journal:

IRISH STEAMER SUNK

Another Irish ship, with a cargo of grain, flour and general merchandise, for an Irish port, has been sunk by a German submarine. It is understood that the crew was rescued.

The 1917 Irish shipwrecks are getting some contemporary media attention at this year’s centenary:

Ill-fated Irish Convention opened 100 years ago

Delegates to the Irish Convention outside Trinity College Dublin in July 1917.

A British government-backed convention to resolve “the Irish question” opened 25 July 1917, in Dublin. Delegates met through March 1918 as World War I continued to rage on the continent.

Sometimes called “Lloyd George’s Irish Convention,” after the British prime minister, it “was marked by his characteristic defects as a statesman,” County Cork’s William O’Brien wrote in his 1923 history, The Irish Revolution. “It was improvised, it was uncandid, and it was open to be changed into something quite different at a moment’s notice.”

And It failed.

I wanted to read U.S. newspaper coverage of the convention opening, especially in Pittsburgh. My maternal grandparents and other relations from Kerry arrived in the city shortly before the 1916 Easter Rising. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered this 26 July, 1917, editorial assessment:

There will be no disappointment if the Irish Convention which opened in Dublin yesterday to try to formulate a Home Rule plan fails of agreement, for there is no hope that anything like a conclusion acceptable to all can be reached. … If [politicians of opposing views] can meet once and part without having engaged in a fist fight and widening the breach between the factions … they can meet again. And the oftener they meet … the better chance there is that there eventually will be a meeting of the minds leading to concessions, compromise and a willingness to give a trial to some scheme of self-government that will put an end to the factional fight of centuries’ duration.

The convention’s effort to deliver Home Rule, which had been promised just before the war began in 1914, was derailed in spring 1918, as London linked the deal to enforced conscription in Ireland. (Many Irishmen voluntarily served in the British military.) The death blow came after the war, as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson abandoned the Irish at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Irish War of Independence began soon after.

The 4-minute video below contains soundbites from several speakers at a Trinity College Dublin centenary symposium about the convention. In addition to their various historical points, it’s worth listening to the diversity of Irish accents.

U.S. Navy steamed into Ireland 100 years ago

With vital sea lanes to protect from German U-boats, the U.S. Navy arrived in Ireland 100 years ago as America entered World War I. The first ships reached the harbour at Queenstown (now Cobh) on 4 May 1917, and included six destroyers from the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Division Eight, led by Commander Joseph K Taussig on board the USS Wadsworth.

“They braved rough waters, gale-force winds, and German U-boats to protect commercial ships around Great Britain and France,” Tim Forsyth, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ireland said during a centennial  commemoration. “Unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans was a huge threat and the sinking of the Lusitania and several other U.S. merchant ships was on everyone’s minds.”

Other conferences, exhibits and articles about the American naval presence in Ireland include:

The U.S. Navy arrived in Queenstown in May 1917. Story and more photos at Visit Cobh. The church in left background is St. Coleman’s Cathedral.

Irish labor built Pennsylvania’s famous Horseshoe Curve

ALTOONA~As the Great Famine began to ease in the early 1850s, about 450 Irishmen began working on an extraordinary engineering project in south-central Pennsylvania. Their accomplishment remains in place today as a vital segment of the American economy.

Working with only picks, shovels and some explosives–but no machinery–the men shaved the face of adjoining mountains to fill in two ravines and lay the grade for a railroad line. They built the Horseshoe Curve for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

A display at this National Historical Landmark, about 10 miles west of Altoona, offers only a few details about the men. They are said to have been recruited for the job because they were “former mine workers,” mostly from counties Cork, Mayo and Antrim. Keep in mind this project was completed 20 years before the Molly Maguire unrest began in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, some 200 miles to the northeast.

The 2,375-foot curve, which opened to freight and passenger traffic in February 1854, reduced the trip between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from 20 days by wagon to about 15 hours by train. It remains part of the nation’s critical east-west rail corridor.

A westbound freight train climbs the grade through a light rain in this July 2017 image. Below, trees obscure the entrance of the road tunnel.