Tag Archives: Dublin Castle

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Meeting Balfour

(This is part 3 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited )

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“What you expect is the thing you never find in Ireland.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Within hours of arriving in Dublin, Hurlbert visited Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour at Dublin Castle. The American described the seat of the British government administration in Ireland as “no more of a palace than it is of a castle … People go in and out of it as freely as through the City Hall in New York.”

Dublin Castle

Balfour, then 39, was “in excellent spirits; certainly the mildest mannered and most sensible despot who ever trampled the liberties of a free people,” Hurlbert wrote, tongue only partly in cheek. “He was quite delightful about the abuse which is now daily heaped upon him in speeches and in the press.”

The American asked Balfour about agrarian agitator Micheal Davitt’s statement the previous evening at Rathkeale, where he urged his supporters to stop using the phrase “bloody Balfour.”

“Davitt is quite right, the thing must be getting to be a bore to the people, who are not such fools as the speakers take them to be,” Balfour replied. “One of the stenographers told me the other day that they had to invent a special sign for the phrase ‘bloody and brutal Balfour,’ it is used so often in the speeches.”

This sounds a little dubious, a self-aggrandizing anecdote by the up-and-coming politician to the visiting journalist. It appears from the book passage that the interview did not last very long, but Hurlbert later insisted that Balfour had “obviously unaffected interest in Ireland.”

Historian Lewis Perry Curtis Jr. later noted: “For Balfour the struggle in Ireland was between the forces of law and decency on the one hand and those of organized rebellion and robbery on the other.” A week after Hurlbert’s visit, Balfour wrote to a Parliamentary colleague, “To allow the latter to win is simply to give up on civilization.”

Hurlbert also sought an interview with Davitt, “who was not to be found at the [Irish] National League headquarters, nor yet at the Imperial Hotel, which is his usual resort …” He admitted to “sharing the usual and foolish aversion of my sex to asking questions on the highway” and being confused about the name of the major Dublin thoroughfare then transitioning from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street.

The Imperial Hotel on Sackville/O’Connell Street. Archiseek.com.

When the reporter settled on sending a note to the revolutionary, an unnamed companion warned him to seal it with wax.

Why?

“All the letters to well-know people that are  not opened by the police are opened by the nationalists clerks in the Post-Office. ‘Tis a way we’ve always had with us in Ireland.”

NEXT: Home Rule

NOTES: This post is based on pages 42 to 53 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Page 408 of Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880-1892, by Lewis Perry Curtis Jr.,  Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1963. Cites letter from Balfour to J. Roberts, 6 February 1888. This citation added May 17, 2018, four months after original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ellis Island, Annie Moore and other Irish news of 1892

Happy New Year!  Today is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Ellis Island immigration center in New York. Cork teenager Annie Moore, joined by two younger brothers, was the first immigrant to enter this busy portal to America. She stepped off a steamship gangplank and into the massive building, where she was greeted by U.S. government officials.

The “rosy-cheeked Irish girl” was handed a $10 gold piece in a brief ceremony scaled back from earlier plans for a “pretentious opening,” The New York Times reported. Her arrival in America also was noted a few days later in a one-paragraph brief on page 2 of the Irish Examiner.

The attention didn’t last long.

“Annie may have stepped off the boat and into American legend—the first of 12 million to pass through Ellis Island in its 62 years of operation—but as an actual person she seemed to dissolve the minute she reached Manhattan,” Jesse Green wrote in this 2010 New York magazine piece that explores the fact and fiction of the popular immigration story.

The Times story that helped make Annie a legend also reported that Ellen King, “on her way from Waterford, Ireland, to a small town in Minnesota,” was the first to purchase a railroad ticket at Ellis Island. And it hinted ominously of detained immigrants placed “in a wire-screened inclosure (sic).”

The arrival of these immigrants at Ellis Island was not the only Ireland-related news reported by the Times in the first days of January 1892. Other stories included:

  • The  wreck of the schooner Catherine Richards off the coast of county Kerry on 29 December 1891, killing six crew.  The sailing vessel was carrying a cargo of grain from Africa to Limerick.
  • The 31 December 1891, explosion at Dublin Castle, two months after the death of Charles Stuart Parnell, which stirred “whisperings that the ‘physical force’ party were tired of their enforced inactivity and had given up all hope of Ireland gaining her independence through Parliamentary agitation.”
  • The pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Supreme Court of Nebraska and allow James E. Boyd to become governor of the state. Boyd was born county Tyrone in 1834 and emigrated to America 10 years later with his family. Boyd’s father applied for U.S. citizenship in Ohio but never completed the process, later moving the family to Nebraska, where his son become involved in business and politics. Once Boyd won the 1890 governor’s contest, outgoing Gov. John M. Thayer challenged his citizenship and refused to yield the office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Boyd and other residents of Nebraska gained citizenship when the state joined the union in 1867.

Five years after opening, the Ellis Island center that welcomed Annie Moore burned to the ground in a massive fire that also consumed 40 year of federal and state immigration records. It is the replacement building opened in December 1900 that became the iconic symbol of U.S. immigration through 1954. This is where my Kerry-born maternal grandmother and grandfather arrived in 1912 and 1913, respectively. Today, it operates as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

The original immigration center at Ellis Island, top, opened New Year’s Day, 1892. It burned to the ground five years later. It was replaced by the iconic building, below, that is now a national museum of immigration.