Tag Archives: John Devoy

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish America

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

***

“…The most important support given by the Irish in America to the Nationalists is solicited by their agents on the express ground that they are really laboring to establish an Irish Republic … .”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert made numerous references to the Irish in America throughout his book, often associating the entire cohort with its most radical and violent separatist elements. He also challenged more conventional political action.

This passage is from his Prologue:

It is undoubtedly the opinion of every Irish American who possesses any real influence with the people of his race in my country, that the rights and liberties of Ireland can only be effectually secured by a complete political separation from Great Britain. Nor can the right of Irish American citizens, holding this opinion, to express their sympathy with Irishmen striving in Ireland to bring about such a result … be questioned. … But for all American citizens of whatever race, the expression of such sympathies ceases to be legitimate when it assumes the shape of action transcending the limits set by local or by international law. It is of the essence of American constitutionalism that one community shall not lay hands upon the domestic affairs of another; and it is an undeniable fact that they sympathy of the great body of American people with Irish efforts for self-government has been diminished, not increased, since 1848, by the gradual transfer of head-quarters and machinery of those efforts from Ireland to the United States. … 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.

Davitt

Hurlbert was a Harvard undergraduate when waves of Famine immigrants arrived in America and the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 was suppressed in Ireland. His newspaper career spanned the rise of the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish Know Nothing Party, the New York arrival of the Cuba Five, and the 1880 American tours of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell.

As the two nationalists gave their speeches that year, an estimated 1.85 million Irish-born people lived in the United States, with another 3.24 million born in America to Irish parents, a total of just over 10 percent of the population. Another 655,000 Irish immigrants arrived during the 1880s.

Parnell

“The Irish were firmly enmeshed in American political, social and economic life,” historian Ely M. Janis wrote. “Irish America was coming of age in the 1880s, and Parnell’s visit both coincided with and consolidated the growing assertiveness of Irish Americans.”

In addition to Parnell and Davitt’s travels in America, Hurlbert also mentioned events such as the 1880 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia and 1886 Irish National Convention in Chicago, addressed by John Redmond. Prime Minister William Gladstone’s 1886 Home Rule bill, he wrote, “was simply intoxicating” to Irish America.

Hurlbert devoted attention early in the book to the relationship between Davitt and the socialist land views and activities of Henry George and Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn. He made only a single reference each to Patrick Ford, “the most influential leader of the American Irish”; O’Donovan Rossa, “wielding all the terrors of dynamite from beyond the Atlantic”; and John Devoy, who with Davitt in 1878 outlined the “scheme for overthrowing British rule in Ireland by revolutionizing the ownership of land.”

Hurlbert did little to distinguish the competing strands of Irish nationalism in America or Ireland. Instead, he focused on its most radical elements, as expressed in this passage from the Appendix.

The relation of Mr. Parnell and his Parliamentary associates to what is called the extreme and “criminal” section of the Irish American Revolutionary Party can only be understood by those who understand that it is the ultimate object of this party not to effect reforms in the administration of Ireland as an integral part of the British Empire, but to sever absolutely the political connection between Ireland and the British Empire. … If Mr. Parnell and his Parliamentary associates were to declare in unequivocal terms their absolute loyalty to the British Crown, they might or might not retain their hold on Mr. Davitt and upon their constituents in Ireland, but they would certainly put themselves beyond the pale of support by the great Irish American organizations. Nor do I believe they could retain the confidence of those organizations if it were supposed that they really regarded the most extreme and violent of the Irish Revolutionists, the “Invincibles” and the “dynamiters” as “criminals,” in the sense in which the Invincible and the dynamiters are so regarded by the rest of the civilized world.

Irish population in the United States, 1880. Hewes, Fletcher W, and Henry Gannett. Scribner’s statistical atlas of the United States, showing by graphic methods their present condition and their political, social and industrial development. [New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1883] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

NOTES: From pages x (Ford, in Preface), 2-3 (Prologue), 14 (Devoy), 386 (Rossa), 432-433 (Appendix), and 466 (Top quote), of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Pages 9 and 37 of A Greater Ireland: The Land League and Transatlantic Nationalism in Gilded Age America, by Ely M. Janis, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 2015.

NEXT: Ulster booster

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Reading Devoy’s “Recollections” at the library, and online

Recollections Of An Irish Rebel, John Devoy’s “personal narrative” of his life as an Irish nationalist from the 1850s to the 1920s, was first published in 1929, a year after his death. “A few days before his death,” however, Devoy signed 100 copies of the book’s dedication page.

Irish University Press published a facsimile of the original in 1969. That’s the edition I sat down with recently at Catholic University of America’s Mullen Library. Here is the dedication page, followed below by one of my favorite quotes from Devoy:

“The strong individuality of the Irishman is his best quality, but it often turns out to be his most dangerous one. He is always inclined to ‘butt in,’ convinced that he could do things better than those entrusted with the task. Old members of the Clan-na- Gael were mostly free from this defect of a fine national quality. They were like soldiers, trained in habits of discipline and respect for authority, and they had confidence that the Executive would properly take care of the interests of the organization and the Cause. There were some exceptions, but these were mostly comparatively new members. But the Clan-na-Gael was only a very small part of the Irish population of the United States, and large numbers who belonged to no organization were keenly alive to the opportunity presented to Ireland by the war and were anxious to ‘do something.’ ”

Here is a digital version of Devoy’s Recollections.

Devoy’s grave at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

 

Visiting Glasnevin, part 2: More Irish heroes

DUBLIN~Here are gravestones of leading characters from the late 19th/early 20th century struggle for Irish independence. From top to bottom: Charles Stewart Parnell, Éamon de Valera, John Devoy,  Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Michael Collins.

Many, many other political heroes, plus more than 1.5 million regular Irishmen and Irishwomen, are buried at this historic cemetery.

File_000 (9)File_000 (10)File_000 (11)File_000 (12)File_000 (14)

No Easter Rising without the Irish in America

There would have been no 1916 Easter Rising without Irish America.

That’s a frequent theme in the research and writings of New York University Professor Joe Lee. He lectured on the topic 24 March for Irish Network-DC.

Lee noted that home rule champion John Redmond’s 20 September 1914 speech at Woodenbridge, County Wicklow, “stuck in the craw” of John Devoy and other Fenians in America.

Redmond supported Britain in the Great War, infamously expressed by his urging Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends.” This created a backlash in still neutral America, Lee said, that shifted opinion away from home rule and toward militant Irish nationalism.

Support came immediately in the form of “a colossal amount of money” to fund an Irish rebellion, most of it raised in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

“Irish America was ahead of Ireland,” Lee said.

The Proclamation of an Irish Republic read outside the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916 noted that Ireland was “supported by her exiled children in America.” But Lee said this “grossly understates American contributions” to Irish freedom.

Lee engaged in a little speculation about what what might have happened if the Irish rebels had been able to last longer against British troops, generating more attention in America heading into the 1916 presidential campaign. Home rule, passed by Parliament in 1914 but suspended at the outbreak of World War I, was still on the table, Lee noted. Devoy and his followers might have been able to exert more pressure on Woodrow Wilson to make a deal for Irish independence as Britain worked to bring America into the war.

It didn’t work out that way, of course, just as the plans for the Rising didn’t unfold according to plan. Here’s a recent piece by Lee in the Irish Examiner about what might have happened in April 1916 if they had.

 

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P1)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 1: Before the Rising & afterward

St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. The Washington Post reported that President Woodrow Wilson was wearing “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader.”

Woodrow-Wilson_Health-Crisis_HD_768x432-16x9.jpg (768×432)

Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in November 1916.

The Post also published a short message from Redmond, datelined London: “Ireland stands united with the allies in the cause of liberty and civilization, and looks forward with confidence to the union of all her sons in the service of their common country under home rule at the termination of the war.”

The events of April 1916 made sure home rule never came to pass as the war on the continent dragged longer than Redmond and others imagined.

Whether the reporting about Wilson’s sartorial selections for St. Patrick’s Day was accurate or a bit of strategic blarney is impossible to know. But in the years following the Rising the descendant of Ulster Protestants, “deceived Irish America and ignored the execution of Roger Casement,” charges Robert Schmuhl, the author of “Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising.”

In an adaption from his book for Irish Central, Schmuhl writes:

For too long as president, Wilson refused to concentrate on the Irish question. Despite the leadership he tried to exert on the world stage and the radical changes within Ireland after the Easter Rising that deserved his attention, he kept ducking and dodging in public while fuming and fulminating in private. Over time, he appeared weak and indecisive.

Public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere crystallized that Wilson was not inclined to do anything for Ireland. Though he blamed the American Irish for the failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and involve the United States in the League of Nations, they, in turn, blamed him for abandoning Ireland at a critical time.

More on Wilson, Irish exile John Devoy and American poet Joyce Kilmer in this 2012 piece by Schmuhl: ‘All Changed, Changed Utterly’: Easter 1916 and America.

For something less political, read about Wilson’s ancestral home near Strabane, County Tyrone.

Statue of John Devoy planned for Kildare

Irish Central posted a story about efforts to erect a life-size bronze statue of Irish rebel John Devoy in his hometown of Naas, County Kildare. Plans call for raising $45,000 for the commission and installation, which is targeted for September 2015, six month before the Easter Rising centennial.

DEVOY2Here’s a quick glimpse at Devoy’s fascinating life, from his 1871 exile to America as a convicted Fenian to organizing the rescue of other Irish rebels imprisoned in Australia. He influenced Irish politics through the Land War period, the Rising and War of Independence. I highly recommend Terry Golway’s excellent biography, “Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Irish Freedom.”

Here’s a link to the John Devoy Memorial Fund to contribute.