Tag Archives: Dáil Éireann

America’s Irish press reports first Dáil…and more

The Jan. 25, 1919, front pages of the The Irish Press, Philadelphia, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, each reported the opening of the first Dáil Éireann four days earlier in Dublin. Both papers also announced the upcoming Irish Race Convention, Feb. 22-23, in Philadelphia.

“The gathering will undoubtedly be the most momentous ever held by the Irish race outside of Ireland,” TIP proclaimed. “All Irish-American societies in good standing with their national organizations are entitled to five delegates each,” the KIA told its readers.

More about the Philadelphia convention in future posts.

Awith their coverage three weeks earlier of the Sinn Féin election sweep in Ireland, reporting of the first Dáil in these two Irish-American newspapers demonstrated the differences of their editorial missions and audiences.

The Press, with its direct links to the revolutionary government, was writing to Irish activists on both sides of the Atlantic. It carried seven stories about Ireland on the front page under the top banner CONGRESS OF IRISH REPUBLIC MEETS. The coverage including the inaugural meeting of the American Council on Ireland, which occurred a few days earlier Philadelphia.

“It marks a new era in the history of the fight for Irish independence carried on in America,” the Press reported. “It is surely a matter of great significance to find Americans of non-Irish affiliations organizing a movement to champion the cause of Ireland.”

The Irish American’s front page story about the first Dáil appeared in the right-side column, a prominent placement, under a five-deck headline topped by IRELAND. The KIA appealed to a wider demographic–if smaller geographic–audience than The Irish Press with its mix of local, national, and international news. The stories included:

  • “Dangerous Extension of Eugenist Propaganda” on the left-side column.
  • Coverage of local Forward League Democrats and “old line Republicans” political meetings.
  • A republished letter from Father Francis P. Duffy in Europe, “teaming with interest and good humor.”
  • Several briefs, such as a Louisville’s couple’s golden wedding anniversary; a child’s death from an appendicitis; the honorable discharges of several soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Zachary Taylor; and the annual meeting of the Holy Name Society.

The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a pro-Catholic but not religious newspaper, is another example of this balanced coverage. Its Jan. 25, 1919, issue featured the bold headline, Ireland a Republic in the Eyes of World, at the top center of the front page, with more Irish coverage inside, including a supportive editorial. Also above the front fold: a Catholic Press Association story about Rome’s postponement of the unification of Catechetical texts; and a piece about the lack of jobs for servicemen returning from the war.

We prefer to believe it is the suddenness of this happening rather than any lack of appreciation of the glorious work your fighting Yanks have been doing that is responsible for the present deplorable situation. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to recall the promises and pledges made to these young men as they went out on their great crusade to save the civilization of the world.

The Kentucky Irish American was more progressive about using photographs than the Press, Standard, and most newspapers in 1919. The front of the KIA‘s first Dáil issue included images of the former German Crown Prince and his dog; Queen Elizabeth, of Belgium, and Mrs. Poincare, wife of the French president, riding in a carriage through the Paris streets; Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.; Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, and Mrs. Vincent Astor, all returning from France; and renowned pianist Ignacy Paderewski, the Polish foreign affairs minister at the Paris peace conference.

As discussed in my last post, these ethnic newspapers complained about mainstream American press coverage of Irish issues. “News dispatches pertaining to affairs in Ireland, as distributed by some of the great American press agencies, continue to bear prima facie evidence of gross unfairness and inaccuracy,” the Standard declared in its editorialThe Press editorial offered hope for better future coverage:

Hitherto the American daily press has viewed the Sinn Féin program as something to be mocked and jeered at; but now that the Irish people have proved to the world that they are in earnest in their fight for international recognition as a sovereign nation, the tone of the great dailies has undergone something of a change.

This is only a snapshot of Irish-American newspaper coverage in January 1919, of course, not a complete or extensive analysis. Some Irish titles published at that time appear to be lost forever, while others are not yet digitized for review outside limited library and archive collections. 

First Dáil Éireann recalled at Embassy of Ireland, USA

The centenary of the first Dáil Éireann and preceding December 1918 election that swept Sinn Féin to power were marked at the Embassy of Ireland, USA. Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall said the two events are often “overshadowed” by the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence.

Sinn Féin‘s use of the phrase Declaration of Independence “was not by accident,” Mulhall said, but deliberately meant to evoke the American political statement of July 4, 1776. The Irish declaration, however, was very much inspired by the Irish Proclamation of 1916.

As he wrote in a recent Embassy blog post:

The Declaration is best seen perhaps as a reiteration of the 1916 Proclamation. The difference between the two documents is the context in which they were issued. When it occurred, the Easter Rising expressed the will of a relatively small minority of Irish nationalists, whereas in January 1919 the members of the First Dáil had the wind in their sails in the wake of that decisive election result a month before. The quest for some form of independence now had the undoubted support of a majority of the Irish electorate.

Irish Ambassador to the USA Dan Mulhall, standing, joined by, left to right, Dr. Jennifer Wells of George Washington University; RTÉ Washington correspondent Brian O’Donovan, the panel moderator; and Dr. Shirley Graham of George Washington University.

Mulhall noted the Irish electorate in December 1918 was three times larger than in the 1910 general election, last before the Great War. Dr. Shirley Graham, a gender equality and international affairs associate professor at George Washington University, emphasized that women were a major factor in the 1918 outcome.

Before the British Parliament granted limited suffrage earlier in 1918, “Irish women were invisible, unknown, and without voice,” Graham said. Their decades-long fight for the vote, radicalized during the war years, was finally realized at the polls, if only to be set back in the new Irish state.

Dr. Jennifer Wells, assistant professor of History at George Washington University, noted Irish newspapers had mixed reactions to the first Dáil; from the “dismay” of The Irish Times; to the “bold and novel move” described by the Independent; and Cork Examiner‘s exclamation that 21 January 1919, was “a date that marked a turning point in the history of Ireland.”

[See my ongoing series about U.S. and Irish-American press reporting on these events.]

None of the papers were fully right, or completely wrong, said Wells, who warned not to “fetishize the assembly” a century later. The Dáil‘s “chaos created the inevitability of partition,” she said; but its members also “appealed quite brilliantly” to President Woodrow Wilson’s highest aspirations for the rights of small nations, and they “laid bare the gross tyranny” of the British Empire.

Ireland was the first and only country to secure independence from one of the prevailing powers of the war, rather than one of the defeated empires, Mulhall said. The first Dáil became the foundation for a century of parliamentary democracy.

“Who could have imagined that group could set the stage for the last 100 years,” he said, adding that London’s initial view was, “This thing isn’t serious; it’s just a bit of play acting.”

“From then on,” Mulhall said, “the clock would not be turned back.”

American press coverage of first Dáil Éireann

Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, on 21 January 1919, adopted the fledgling nation’s Declaration of Independence at Mansion House, Dublin. The political statement and same day IRA ambush of Royal Irish Constabulary officers (British police) at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, marked the start of Ireland’s War of Independence.

“Nearly 100 American and European journalists are in Dublin” to cover the parliamentary meeting, The Washington (Washington, D.C.) Herald reported a day earlier. Their wire service dispatches and other cables appeared in newspapers across America, home to more than 1 million Irish immigrants and 3.1 million U.S. citizens with at least one parent from Ireland.1 Many of the stories read like mashups from multiple sources, with key details and phrases either rewritten or reordered in the long columns, typically without source attribution.

Some Irish Americans complained about the coverage. At a public gathering in Chicago, supporters of Irish independence suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.”2

In Louisville, 300 miles south, the Kentucky Irish American editorialized under the headline:

England’s Tools

The majority of the reports of the convention in Ireland appearing in the American press are filled with slurs of the Irish people and their rights to freedom. They bear all the earmarks of being doctored in London, and only emphasize the fact that the English propagandists in this country are but hearkening to their master’s voice.3

In Philadelphia, The Irish Press bristled at perceived slights. Noting the declaration was read in Irish, the Press complained, “Some of the newspaper dispatches speak of the Irish language as ‘dead.’ … The correspondent evidently regards no language as living unless he can understand it.”4

The Irish Press had direct ties to the revolutionary government through its editor and Dáil Éireann member, Patrick McCartan. In his 1932 monograph (which some historians have criticized as mistake-filled and self-serving5), McCartan recalled, “To keep the Republic prominently before Irish-Americans, the Staff of the Irish Press were instructed to substitute the words Irish Republic for Ireland, as far possible, in all articles that appeared in the newspaper.”6 By this and other steps, he wrote, the American public was prepared for Ireland’s Declaration of Independence.

We were no longer an English domestic issue. Home Rule, Dominion Self Government, and such like phrases, in which the Irish issue had hitherto been concealed, had little meaning for Americans and no appeal to their republican tradition and sympathies. Now, for the first time, with a fearless demand for recognition, of the existing Irish Republic, the Irish issue was stated in terms that commanded American interest and respect.7 

In Ireland, the Dáil soon launched its official organ, The Irish Bulletin. “[T]he stenciled news sheet of the revolutionary movement … written in the restrained, neutral tone of the news itself” became part of a larger publicity operation devoted to the care of “potentially sympathetic correspondents.”8 In America, the Friends of Irish Freedom’s National Bureau of Information (or Irish National Bureau) also “supplied political and literary articles to Catholic papers and sympathetic politicians free of charge.”9 

Below are some colorful and controversial passages of U.S. press coverage of the first DáilThe stories were datelined 21 January 1919, and published in the next day’s editions of big city dailies. 

The New York Times, page 1

“The rotunda of the Mansion House, where the congress met, is a dingy old place, lighted by stained glass windows overhead. The platform and half the floor were fitted with tables for officers and delegates. The remainder of the floor and the circular gallery were reserved for the public, admission being by ticket. A large portion of the audience consisted of women. The number of young priests was conspicuous. … The youthfulness of the Sinn Féin leaders was their most noticeable characteristic. There were hardly a half dozen gray heads in the group (of 27).”

Pittsburgh Daily Post, page 1

“Infuriated over their detention in jail while their comrades were inaugurating the ‘Irish parliament,’ and declaring their independence, Sinn Féin  prisoners–how many is not known–in jail at Belfast started a riot today. The police intervened and quelled the rioters. … The declaration of independence read to the assemblage and thunderous and constant cheers, asserts that ‘the Irish people alone have the power to make the laws binding on the Irish people.’ ”

The Chicago Tribune, page 2

“Some of their names may be made famous by future results of today’s work but none of the (Sinn Féin ) delegates impressed outsiders as national figures of the calibre of Redmond, Dillon, Healey, Devlin and other Nationalists, who in the epoch now apparently closed fought for home rule along constitutional and legal paths. The Dáil Éireann begins a new page in the many chaptered history of Irish protest against government by Great Britain. It throws down the gauntlet to British law. What may be the consequences to its members, if there be any consequences, no one in Dublin can foresee or predict. Dublin’s everyday life was undisturbed by the defiance to the government registered at Mansion House.”

The Houston Post, page 1

“Perhaps no country except Ireland could present an episode as remarkable as the assembly of the Dáil Éireann … Perhaps no writer except an Irishman like George Bernard Shaw could do justice to the paradoxical nature of the proceedings.”

The San Francisco Examiner, page 1

“The atmosphere … is tremendously charged. Any moment may bring an explosion. A spirit of restiveness, daring and defiance is sweeping the Isle of Erin on this, the day which the Sinn Féin proclaim the greatest in Irish history. The trouble near Tipperary is all that has been reported so far in the way of violence. One thing seems certain–that if there is any sort of recurrence of the disturbances and the bloodshed of Easter, 1916, some absolutely unexpected provocative action from either side will be responsible.”

***

More coverage of the Dáil Éireann opening in the Kentucky Irish American and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, in a future post. Project home page.