Tag Archives: Home Rule

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Home Rule

This is post 4 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 


“It is not in accordance with the American doctrine of ‘Home Rule’ that ‘Home Rule’ of any sort for Ireland should be organized in New York or in Chicago by expatriated Irishmen.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the early 1880s, agrarian agitator Michael Davitt and Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell partnered in an bid to secure domestic political autonomy for Ireland–Home Rule. The effort got financial and political support from the Irish in America, roused by visits from Davitt and Parnell. Despite the support of Liberal British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, however, the legislation was defeated by unionists in 1886, two years before Hurlbert’s arrival in Ireland.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Hurlbert wrote the 1886 bill would have made Gladstone and the British government “the ally and the instrument of Mr. Parnell in carrying out the plans of Mr. Davitt, Mr. Henry George, and the active Irish organizations of the United States.” Hurlbert also recognized the Home Rule effort was not over:

“How or by whom Ireland shall be governed concerns me only in so far as the government of Ireland may affect the character and the tendencies of the Irish people, and thereby, the close, intimate, and increasing connection between the Irish people and the people of the United States, may tend to affect the future of my country. … [In the wake of the failed 1886 bill] ‘Home Rule for Ireland’ is not now a plan–nor so much as a proposition. It is merely a polemical phrase, of little importance to persons really interested in the condition of Ireland, however invaluable it may be to the makers of party platforms in my own country, or to Parliamentary candidates on this side of the Atlantic. … [It] has unquestionably been the aim of every active Irish organization in the United States for the last twenty years … [and] Parnell is understood in America to have pledged himself that he will do anything to further and nothing to impede.”

Within months of Hurlbert’s visit to Ireland, Parnell would face a special commission called to investigate his alleged links to two 1882 political murders. Though cleared two years later, he soon was scandalized by revelations of his extramarital affair with the wife of one of his parliamentary colleagues. He died in 1891, two years before a second Home Rule bill was raised (and defeated) in parliament.

Col. Edward James Saunderson

During his second and third days in Dublin, Hurlbert met with several members of the British administration and M.P.s who opposed any form of separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom. An unidentified Catholic unionist from southern Ireland told him it would be “madness to hand Ireland over to the Home Rule of the ‘uncrowned king’ (Parnell’s nickname).”

Later, Hurlbert attended a meeting of Irish unionists, where he heard a speech by Colonel Edward James Saunderson. The M.P. for North Armagh (now part of Northern Ireland) asked the audience whether they could ever imagine being governed by “such wretches” as the Parnellite nationalists?

“Never,” the crowd replied in what Hurlbert described as “a low deep growl like the final notice served by a bull-dog.” Ian Paisley and his unionist supporters echoed the response 97 years later outside the Belfast City Hall.

NEXT: Dublin slums

NOTES: This post is based on the Prologue and pages 53 to 70 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: An Introduction

Happy New Year. For 2018, I’m producing an open-ended, work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by William Henry Hurlbert. #IUCRevisited.

William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert was 60 when he traveled around Ireland during the first six months of 1888, a period of resurgent agrarian violence and nationalist political agitation. The Charleston, S.C.-born, Harvard-educated, veteran New York City newspaperman supported the private property interests of Ireland’s mostly absentee landlords and the law-and-order response of London’s ruling conservative Tory government. He soon drew the scorn of Irish nationalists, including a rebuttal pamphlet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’

This blog serial will explore late 19th century Ireland through the people, places and events Hurlbert detailed in his travels. I will supplement his original text with background material and my own 21st century perspectives. The posts not only will cover the Land War and Home Rule conflicts of the day, but also other aspects of life in Ireland at the time, and Hurlbert’s numerous references to the Irish in America and the November 1888 U.S. presidential election.

In his Prologue, Hurlbert writes:

I went to Ireland, not to find some achromatic meaning for a prismatic phrase, which is flashed at you fifty times in England and America where you encounter it once in Ireland, but 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. … I have done little more than set down, as fully and clearly as I could, what I actually saw and heard in Ireland. … As I had no case to make for or against any political party or any theory of government in Ireland, I took things great and small, and people high and low [especially] with those classes of the Irish people of whom we see least in America … “

The book is written in a travel diary format, beginning with his 30 January 1888, arrival in Dublin, and ending with a 26 June 1888, entry from Belfast. The Preface is dated 21 September 1888. I will quote extensively from the passages, but edit Hurlbert’s frequently meandering sentences.

I am 81 pages into the 475-page book. As I get deeper in the text, I will begin to cross-reference and circle back to earlier book passages and blog posts, as appropriate to understanding the material. Reader questions and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for joining me–and William Henry Hurlbert–on this adventure through “Ireland Under Coercion,” Revisited.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NEXT: Dublin arrival

NOTES: Quotes from pages 8 and 10 of the Prologue to Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanMost hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. I am maintaining a People, Places & Events reference on the project landing page.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Irish reaction as America entered World War I

One hundred years ago, during the first week of April 1917, the United States entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson could no long maintain his pledge of neutrality since the war began in 1914, and Congress supported his decision. The American draft began in June 1917.

“Ireland’s interest in the great decision is obvious,” the Freeman’s Journal editorialized. The moderate nationalist newspaper viewed America’s entry in the war as “vindication” for John Redmond, who in 1914 urged Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends” in support of Britain. His call shifted Irish American support from home rule toward more militant Irish nationalism and Germany.

“America today is Ireland’s ally, as desired by Sinn Féiners, but she is Ireland’s ally because the Irish leader from the beginning set Ireland’s feet on the one path that every friend of freedom was bound to tread,” the Freeman’s Journal concluded in April 1917.

Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party believed that America’s presence not only ensured victory on the battlefield, but also guaranteed the implementation of home rule, the limited domestic autonomy for Ireland approved just before the war, but put on hold because of the outbreak. The IPP’s view was mistaken. Militant Irish nationalism, fueled by the 1916 Easter Rising and Britain’s execution of the rebel leaders, continued to manifest with Sinn Féin‘s 1918 electoral victories and the Irish War of Independence. The time for home rule had passed.

Across the Atlantic, Irish America rallied behind Wilson, putting aside criticism that he hadn’t done enough on behalf of the cause of Irish independence after the Rising and the executions of the leaders, historian Robert Schmuhl writes at RTE‘s Century Ireland. He continues:

The president understood that Irish Americans were a loyal constituency of his Democratic Party; however, he viewed the situation in Ireland as an internal matter to be resolved by the government of the United Kingdom. Bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, Wilson hoped he wouldn’t alienate any segment of Irish America. His political ducking and dodging worked to his advantage for just so long.

Following the Armistice, Wilson once again faced the appeals of Irish-Americans to recognize Ireland as one of what he had called the ‘small states’ that deserved ‘self-determination’. … At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which ultimately produced the Treaty of Versailles and created the League of Nations, Wilson refused to allow the subject of an Ireland divorced from the United Kingdom to enter the formal post-war deliberations and discussions. Despite persistent efforts by the American Commission on Irish Independence to get the president to realize how his numerous calls for ‘self-determination’ had rallied the Irish and Irish-Americans throughout the Great War, the obstinate Wilson remained steadfast in his opposition to raising the fate of Ireland.

The revolution will be colorized

A 90-minute documentary tells the story of Ireland’s struggle for independence from Home Rule to Civil War through beautifully colorized newsreel and photos.

British Pathé is offering online subscription access to “Revolution in Color” for $8 a month. It is narrated by Allen Leech, who played Branson, the Irish nationalist chauffeur on television’s “Downtown Abbey.”

“When you watch black and white, you are detached from the personalities and the history,” said director Martin Dwan. “There is something about color that triggers empathy with people.”

British Pathé, one of the world’s largest newsreel archives, attempted to make a similar film in 1935. It was blocked by Éamon De Valera’s Irish government at the time, in part because of the violence of the Civil War period, according to The Irish Times.

Watch the trailer: