Tag Archives: Michael Davitt

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: Hurlbert researched

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 we are dealing not with the history of Ireland in the past, but with the condition of Ireland at present … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the 130 years since Hurlbert published his Irish political journal and travelogue, contemporary historians have occasionally, but sparingly, cited his reporting in their works about the Land War period.

Hurlbert

Among the earliest references was The fall of feudalism in Ireland; or, The story of the land league revolution, the 1904 book by Michael Davitt. Hurlbert briefly interviewed the agrarian activist. (See series posts Meeting Davitt and More Davitt.) In his book, the Irishman made a few brief mentions of the American, by then dead for nine years:

Ireland Under Coercion … was intended to show that Mr. Parnell and the National League, not Mr. Balfour and Dublin Castle, were the true coercionists in Ireland. What the purpose or motive of the book was has remained a mystery.

Here are three more recent examples:

  • Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880-1892, by Lewis Perry Curtis Jr., 1963. Citing an August 1888 letter from Arthur Balfour, Perry reported that Hurlbert “ingratiated himself” to the Irish chief secretary and other unionists “by professing his willingness to educate the American public about the ‘true’ nature of Irish nationalism.” (Curtis also referenced Hurlbert in his 2011 book, The Depictions of Eviction in Ireland, 1845-1910.)
  • Irish Terrorism in the Atlantic Community, 1865-1922, by Jonathan Gantt, 2010. In a one paragraph summary of IUC in his section about the Land War, Gantt noted that “…according to Hurlbert, the presence of ferocious agrarianism represented a failure for all concerned and marked a breakdown in civilization.”
  • Mr. Parnell’s Rottweiler: Censorship and the United Ireland Newspaper, 1881-1891, by Myles Dungan, 2014. Dungan wrote of Hurlbert:

He rejected the nationalist narrative of extreme agrarian distress and cited the significant rise in savings bank deposits in areas where the Plan [of Campaign] was in operation as proof of the capacity, and unwillingness, of tenant farmers to pay even arbitrated rents. He was also highly skeptical of the nationalist narrative of press suppression, suggesting there were greater abuses of press freedom by the Lincoln administration during the American Civil War.

Ireland Under Coercion is probably referenced in a few more history books, but not too many. Hurlbert’s work was absent from dozens of books and websites that I consulted in researching this blog series. I suspect he has been overlooked either because he was an American, or because of his pro-landlord, pro-unionist views.

“There is another and more important factor,” Irish historian Felix M. Larkin, co-founder and former chairman of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, wrote in an email: “Historians are loath to use contemporary press reports and journalists’ memoirs as sources.”

Larkin just wrote a piece for The Irish Catholic newspaper that criticizes the new, four-volume Cambridge History of Ireland for ignoring the print media. Hurlbert isn’t cited in its index, either, he wrote.

Nevertheless, the online availability of Hurlbert’s book may prompt some fresh looks at his travels in Ireland. As noted earlier in this series, Hurlbert’s quote about Sion Mills is included in a 2014 BBC online profile of the village; and extended passages of his visit to Milltown Malbay are posted on the County Clare Library website.

Ireland Under Coercion also figures into two books about the mystery of “The Diary of a Public Man.” The anonymously-authored North American Review article about the eve of the U.S. Civil War was published in 1879. The mystery of “a public man,” a historical detective storya 1948 book by Frank Maloy Anderson, and  A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public mana 2010 exploration by Daniel W. Crofts, each reference Hurlbert’s 1888 Ireland book. Crofts concluded that Hurlbert wrote the magazine piece nine years earlier.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Hurlbert’s trip to Ireland is detailed in Travellers’ Accounts as Source-Material for Irish Historians, a reference by Christopher J. Woods, and The Tourist’s Gaze, Travellers to Ireland, 1800 to 2000, edited by Glen Hooper, which features a passage from IUC.

Hurlbert and his Ireland work are long gone, but not completely forgotten.

Title page from digitized edition of Ireland Under Coercion.

NOTES: Top quote from page 291 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanDavitt, page 559; Curtis, page 263; Gantt, page 125; and Dungan, pages 291-93. Crofts, especially pages 180-187.

NEXT: Final thoughts

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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

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“…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

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: On boycotting

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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“The author … tells a story … of ‘boycotting’ long before Boycott.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert mentioned “boycott” about two dozen times in his book, which is somewhat remarkable considering the word had not existed eight years earlier. It resulted from the 1880 social and commercial ostracism of County Mayo land agent Captain Charles Boycott in a key early protest of the decade’s agrarian agitation in Ireland.

In his discussion about boycotting in Milltown Malbay (See previous post), Hurlbert referenced a passage from the 1852 book Fortnight in Ireland, by  Sir Francis Head. The book was based on Head’s one-week visit to the island, his first, near the end of the Great Famine.

In a description of religion conversion efforts tied to charity (“Protestant missionary zeal with Protestant donations of meal”, in Hurlbert’s phrasing), Head noted 36 years earlier:

Any Roman Catholic who listens to a Protestant clergyman, or to a Scripture reader, is denounced as a marked man, and people are forbidden to have any dealings with him in trade or business, to sell him food or buy it from him.

A boycott! The phenomenon is even older, however, according to Samuel Clark in his seminal work, Social Origins of the Irish Land War:

The practice was obviously not invented by Irish farmers in 1880. For centuries, in all parts of the world, it had been employed by active combinations [social groups] for a variety of purposes. In rural Ireland itself the practice of refusing to bid for involuntarily vacated farms or for distrained livestock had a long history, as did the ostracism of landgrabbers. Even during the Land War, the tactic was used well before the Boycott affair; and it had been advocated on numerous occasions before [Charles Stewart] Parnell recommended it in September 1880.

Parnell

It seems an oversight by Hurlbert that as he reported about boycotting in County Clare, he did not reference Parnell’s speech eight years earlier at Ennis. Parnell spoke weeks before Boycott’s troubles began in the Lough Mask area of Mayo, 80 miles to the north. Parnell said:

When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.

Davitt

Michael Davitt also used the image of a leper in his 29 January 1888, speech at Rathkeale; the oration about not overusing the term “Bloody Balfour” that caught Hurlbert’s attention upon his arrival in Ireland. Davitt also said:

I maintain that a landgrabber is a thief, when he covets and steals his unfortunate neighbor’s holdings, and I want to say once more, what I repeated on a hundred platforms, that the landgrabber incurred malediction in the days when the Holy Bible was written: ‘Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark.’ He is a cowardly, slimy renegade, a man who should be look upon as a social leper, contact with whom should be considered a stigma and a reproach.

As noted in an earlier post, Davitt complained in his diary that the Freeman’s Journal (and other papers) did not report this portion of his speech. It was, however, quoted in Parliament the week that Hurlbert was in Clare.

In Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert reported that some landlords and their workers suggested they were able to withstand boycotts without much impact. In places such as Kerry, however, he noted that the “dual government” of the Land League “enforce[d] their decrees by various forms of outrage, ranging from the boycott, in its simplest forms, up to direct outrages upon property and the person.”

This included the murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice, two days after Davitt’s Rathkeale speech. See my earlier post.

Period illustration of the January 1888 murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice in front of his daughter Nora. She was not physically harmed.

I’ll give the last word to Father Patrick White, parish priest of Milltown Malbay, who Hurlbert reported as being “the moving spirit” behind a series of boycotts in Clare. Father White denied the allegation in his rebuttal booklet, Hurlbert unmasked: an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ . He explained:

There was unquestionably boycotting in the district, and as [local Land League] president … I had to take note of it. The people, goaded by desperation by the terrible distress of [18] ’78, ’79 and ’80, were up in arms against the heartlessness and the cruelties of the Landlord system, which had paved the way to it. … Against such an obstacle as this neither an appeal to justice nor argument of was of any value whatsoever, so boycotting was resorted to. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies … The people fully appreciated my difficulty [as a priest] acting as president with them, and never pressed me to accept, or put from the chair, any boycotting resolution.

I’ll return to this issue in a future post about another word that came out of the late 19th century agrarian agitation in Ireland: moonlighting.

NOTES:  Hurlbert referenced Fortnight on page 172 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Quote about “dual government,” etc., on page 219. Quote from Head on page 155 of Fortnight. Quote from Clark on page 311 of Social Origins. Quote from Father White on pages 17-18 of Hurlbert Unmasked.

NEXT: Killone Abbey

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: More Davitt

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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“…I could neither ask, nor, if I asked, could expect to get from him.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hulbert recognized that Michael Davitt was not going to divulge the latest strategies inside the Irish agrarian and nationalist movements. Based on the five pages Hurlbert devoted to his one hour interview with Davitt, it appears the American reporter did not ask many tough questions about such activities. He focused on other issues.

Davitt

Hurlbert reported that Davitt’s thoughts were occupied with managing a wool export business, which the author believed could penetrate the American markets despite a tariff at the time.

“He has gone into it with all his usual earnestness and ability,” Hurlbert said of Davitt. “This is not a matter of politics with him, but of patriotism and of business. He tells me he has already secured very large orders from the United States.”

The day before his 15 February 1888, meeting with Hurlbert in London, Davitt wrote in his diary:

Attended Woolen Co. meeting. While doing fairly well in America, orders not as large as expected though. Visit was another loss for season.

The Irish Woolen Manufacturing & Export Company was established in spring 1887 with backing from about 20 Dublin business men. Davitt told the Freeman’s Journal that the enterprise would buy wool from small mills, pay owners on delivery of orders, “and in that way increase their confidence and help them to extend their works, improve the workmanship of their goods, and gradually multiply their hands.”

Hurlbert also suggested that Davitt was “quite awake” to the possibility of developing granite quarries in counties Donegal and in his native Mayo:

This bent of his mind towards the material improvement of the condition of the Irish people, and the development of the resources of Ireland, is not only a mark of his superiority to the rank and file of Irish politicians–it goes far to explain the stronger hold which he undoubtedly has on the people of Ireland.

The American reporter recognized Davitt’s interest in cultivating native industries. Davitt wrote a series of articles between November 1885 and January 1886 for the Dublin Evening Telegraph that “advanced practical proposals on industrial rejuvenation at a time when Dublin industries were moribund,”  historian Laurence Marley has noted. Marley continued:

Davitt had spoken of the need for Irish industrial development after his release from Dartmoor [prison]. … He undertook a number of industrial ventures, incurring considerable financial costs. His practical interventions met with little success, but the ideas which he expounded were nevertheless significant.

Davitt did not mention his interview with Hurlbert in his diary entries for February 1888, which include the passage about the Woolen Co. He also made more mundane notations, such as “Sick” ; “At home gardening all day” ; and “Wrote 25 letters since 8 last night.” His diary, notebooks, letters and other papers are held at Trinity College Dublin.

During his October 1889 testimony before the Special Commission on “Parnellism and Crime,” Davitt made a passing reference to Hurlbert as having attended a July 1882 speech he gave in New York. He described the American journalist as “at the time editor of a New York newspaper, now Coercionist chronicler for Mr. Balfour in Ireland.”

In his 1904 book, The fall of feudalism in Ireland; or, The story of the land league revolution, Davitt again briefly mentioned Hurlbert, by then dead for nine years:

Ireland Under Coercion … was intended to show that Mr. Parnell and the National League, not Mr. Balfour and Dublin Castle, were the true coercionists in Ireland. What the purpose or motive of the book was has remained a mystery.

Though Davitt did not mention his meeting Hurlbert in his diary, he certainly paid attention to his coverage in the press, including his 29 January 1888, speech in Rathkeale, County Limerick. In the diary, Davitt wrote:

Splendid report in yesterday’s London Times of my Rathkeale speech. Freeman[‘s Journal] had left out references to boycotting etc. Times leader strangely complimentary–which means, if it has any meaning–put this man in Tullamore.

Hurlbert commented about the Freeman’s coverage of Davitt’s speech upon his arrival in Dublin, as noted in my earlier post. The author made other references to Davitt throughout his book, which I’ll explore in later posts, as appropriate.

Davitt’s grave, Straide, County Mayo, February 2018.

NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I reviewed Davitt’s diary 21 February 2018 at Trinity College Dublin. (Thanks to the helpful staff.) Davitt’s Special Commission quote from page 152 of The Times Parnell Commission Speech Delivered by Michael Davitt in Defense of the Land League. Davitt’s second quote about Hurlbert from page 559 of  The fall of feudalism in Ireland. Details about Davitt’s business interests from pages 130 and 156-158 of “Davitt and Irish economic development: ideas and interventions” chapter of Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur, by Laurence Marley, Four Courts Press, 2007. … The paragraph about Davitt’s quote at the Special Commission added during revision, about a week after the original post.

NEXT: Milltown Malbay

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Meeting Davitt

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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“Mr. Davitt spent an hour with me today, and we had a most interesting conversation.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert sought to interview Michael Davitt since his late January arrival in Dublin. The American journalist finally connected with the agrarian activist nearly three weeks later in London; Hurlbert having been called away from his travels in Ireland for reasons he did not explain in the book.

Hulbert reported that he had followed Davitt’s career “with lively personal interest” since they met in 1878 during the Irishman’s first visit to America. Davitt had just received his “ticket of leave,” or parole, from Dartmoor Prison, where he had served half of a 15-year sentence for treason related to his Fenian activities.

Davitt

Davitt returned to Ireland in 1879 and helped found the Irish National Land League. Hurlbert, then editor of the New York World, said he dispatched a correspondent to Ireland to interview Davitt. He quotes Davitt from the nine-year-old interview as saying “the only issue upon which Home Rulers, Nationalists, Obstructionists, and each and every shade of opinion existing in Ireland could be united was the Land Question.”

(Davitt wrote at least one piece about the Land League for the New York World, on 4 June 1884, a year after the newspaper changed owners and Hurlbert departed as editor.)

In the 1888 London interview, Hurlbert reported that Davitt, then 42, was supporting English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in an upcoming by-election in Deptford, England. Blunt had become a supporter of Irish nationalism a few years earlier. According to Hurlbert, the parliamentary candidate told Davitt that Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour “meant to lock up and kill” the four “pivots” of the Irish movement: William O’Brien, Timothy Harrington, John Dillon and Davitt.

“How did you take it?” Hurlbert asked.

“Oh, I only laughed, and told him it would take more than Mr. Balfour to kill me, at any rate by putting me in prison,” Davitt replied. “As for being locked up, I prefer Cunninghame Graham‘s way of taking it, that he meant ‘to beat the record on oakum.’ ”

Graham was a journalist, socialist and Scottish nationalist M.P. who spent six weeks in prison for participating in the November 1887  Trafalgar Square Riots against unemployment and coercion in Ireland. He reportedly displayed great stoicism and refused to accept special privileges while incarcerated. As for oakum, the hard labor of unraveling old ropes was a common punishment in Victorian prisons; work Davitt had done during his Dartmoor imprisonment, despite having lost one arm in an industrial accident at age 11.

Statue of Michael Davitt outside the museum in his honor at Straide, County Mayo, his birth and burial place. Note the armless right sleeve of his jacket.

Blunt lost the by-election two weeks after Davitt’s interview with Hurlbert. In his own book about the Land War in Ireland, published in 1912, Blunt recalled his first meeting with Davitt in 1886 at the Imperial Hotel in Dublin:

“He is a most superior man, with more of the true patriot about him than any of those I have yet met. He knows the west of Ireland well, and is more interested in the Land Question even than Home Rule; an odd looking man, dark, sallow, gaunt, disfigured by the loss of his right arm, which is gone from the shoulder.”

Hurlbert also praised Davitt:

“If all the Irish ‘leaders’ were made of the same stuff with Mr. Davitt, the day of a great Democratic revolution [in Ireland] … might be a good deal nearer than anything in the signs of the times now show it to be. … I have always regarded him as the soul of the Irish agitation, of the war against ‘landlordism’  … and of the movement towards Irish independence. Whether agitation, the war, and the movement have gone entirely in accordance with his views and wishes is quite another matter. … [But] he has never made revenge and retaliation upon England either the inspiration or the aim of his revolutionary policy.”

NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Davitt’s 1879 quote on page 17. Blunt quote from page 50 of The Land War in Ireland: Being a Personal Narrative of Events. Davitt’s 1884 freelance story noted in Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World, by George Juergens, Princeton University Press, 2015, pages 258-259.

NEXT: More Davitt 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 2

Two statues, two graves.

Michael Davitt, 1846-1906, native of County Mayo, was an agrarian activist, journalist, MP and humanitarian.

Douglas Hyde, 1860-1949, native of County Roscommon, was the first president of the Gaelic League and the first president of Ireland.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Father McFadden

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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“Whatever ‘landlordism’ may mean elsewhere in Ireland, it is plain enough that in the history of Gweedore it has meant the difference between savage squalor and civilization.”
–William Henry Hurlbert”

Hurlbert reached Gweedore, in western Donegal, where he visited Father James McFadden, a tenant activist. Their discussion about the priest’s recent arrest would foreshadow a more famous event one year later.

Hurlbert begins this section of the book with a detailed history of Gweedore since Lord George Hill arrived 50 years earlier and “made up his mind to see what could be done with this forgotten corner of the world. … The old rundale plan of dividing up the land among the children was put a stop to, and every tenant was encouraged not to make his holding smaller, but to add to and enlarge it.”

Hurlbert’s description of rural peasants as “children,” above and below, once again demonstrates his pro-landlord, anti-tenant bias. He continued:

“Clearly in Gweedore I have a case not of the children of the soil despoiled and trampled upon by the stranger, but of the honest investment of alien capital in Irish land, and of the administration by the proprietor himself of the Irish property so acquired for the benefit alike of the owner and the occupiers of the land. That the deplorable state in which he found the people was mainly due to their own improvidence and gregarious incapacity is also tolerably clear.”

Hill certainly made improvements in the area: drainage, roads, and mills, which he detailed in his 1845 book, Facts from Gweedore. He died in 1879, the year Micheal Davitt, Charles Stewart Parnell and others launched the Irish National Land League to reduce rents, facilitate tenant ownership and foster Irish nationalism. Father McFadden took a leadership role in the League’s local chapter, which challenged the heir, Captain Arthur Hill, and other landlords.

Father James McFadden

In January 1888, Father McFadden was arrested on a charge of inciting tenants to withhold their rents under the Plan of Campaign, an activist strategy begun in late 1886 by Irish nationalists and their supporters in America. He was waiting to begin his sentence when Hurlburt arrived on 5 February 1888.

The priest “spoke freely and without undue heat” about his arrest and trial, Hurlbert reported. Father McFadden did complain that the court clerk read in eight minutes “a speech which it took me an hour and twenty minutes to deliver.”

Hurlbert is silent about whether he asked Father McFadden if he made the inflammatory statement, “I am the law in Gweedore; I despise the recent [1887] Coercion Act.” In his meeting with Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour earlier in the book, Hurlbert claimed he was shown the government’s evidence, which contained the statement.  

Hurlbert asked the priest if the Plan of Campaign “did not in effect abrogate the moral duty of a man to meet the legal obligations he had voluntarily incurred?”

Father McFadden replied: “If a man can pay a fair year’s rent out of the produce of his holding, he is bound to pay it. But if the rent be a rack-rent, imposed on the tenant against his will, or if the holding does not produce the rent, then I don’t think that is a strict obligation of conscience.”

Their meeting ended on a friendly note, as Hurlbert accepted a glass of wine from the priest.

***

Six days later, at Baron’s Court, County Tyrone, Hurlbert interviewed Sergeant Owen Mahony, the R.I.C. constable who provided the testimony that convicted Father McFadden.

Mahony said that he was selected to monitor Father McFadden’s speech at the Land League rally at Doe, 20 miles northeast of Gweedore, because he spoke Irish, the language used by the priest; and because he also had stenographic skills.

“What I did was to put down in English words what I heard said in Irish,” Mahony told Hurlbert. “This I had to do because I have no stenographic signs for the Irish words. … [Father McFadden] said that ‘he is the law in Gweedore, and they should heed no other’ … He dislikes me because I am living proof that he is not the only law in Gweedore.”

Father McFadden was incarcerated in April 1888 at Derry, his original three month sentence doubled during appeal. He was released in October and greeted by a cheering crowd. “He declared the imprisonment had broken neither his health nor his spirits, and that he would continue to denounce the landlords’ government,” according to a news cable from Ireland.

Hurlbert’s coverage of Father McFadden was criticized as the American’s just-published book was being “devoured by the gullible people of England.”

***

On 3 February 1889, a year after Hurlbert’s visit, R.I.C. Inspector William Martin tried to arrest Father McFadden at Derryberg, four miles west of Greedore, in connection with further agrarian agitation. The priest reportedly was still wearing his vestments and carrying the Holy Eucharist in a ciborium. A crowd surrounded Martin and beat him to death. Father McFadden and several parishioners were soon arrested for murder.

At their highly publicized trial, the priest plead guilty to a lesser charge, while the others received manslaughter sentences, according to Tim O’Sullivan’s online history of Gweedore. Father McFadden was prohibited from further political activities and later transferred him to another parish.

The priest in 1889 published his own book, The Present and The Past of The Agrarian Struggle in Gweedore,” in which he criticized Lord George Hill’s title as “Fictions from Gweedore.” He did not mention Hurlbert’s book.

The chapel at Derryberg.

NEXT: Landscapes & landmarks

NOTES: This post is based on pages 46 (Balfour meeting), and 77 to 140 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Quote about release of Father McFadden from 6 October 1888, issue of The Kingston (N.Y.) Daily Freeman. Quote about Hurlbert’s book from 8 September 1888 issue of the Dundalk Democrat.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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 )

***

“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

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dublin arrival

(This is part 2 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 )

***

“I had expected to come upon unusual things and people in Ireland … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert arrived in Ireland on 30 January 1888, having departed from London the previous evening. He had been to Rome earlier, which is important for reasons that will become clear later in the book.

“We made a quick quit passage to Kingstown,” (Dún Laoghaire since 1920), across the Irish Sea from Holyhead, Wales, arriving in the morning. “A step from the boat at Kingstown puts you into the train for Dublin,” about nine miles to the north.

Kingstown in the 1890s, a few years after Hurlbert’s arrival.

Hurlbert was accompanied by Lord Ernest Hamilton, elected three years earlier as M.P. for North Tyrone. A dockside news vendor who recognized the Conservative member of parliament “promptly recommended us to buy the Irish Times and the Express,” then “smiled approval when I asked for the Freeman’s Journal also,” the American wrote. The first two papers were unionist; the third moderately nationalist.

Hurlbert’s attention was drawn to the Journal‘s report about the previous evening’s nationalist demonstration in Rathkeale, County Limerick, about 20 miles southwest of Limerick city. Thousands of men from counties Limerick, Kerry and Clare attended the rally, which featured a speech by agrarian activist Michael Davitt. To Hurlbert, it was “chiefly remarkable for a sensible protest against the ridiculous and rantipole abuse lavished upon Mr. [Authur] Balfour by the nationalist orators and newspapers.”

Balfour

In March 1887, just 10 months earlier, Balfour had been appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle, Lord Salisbury, then the British Prime Minister. Balfour quickly introduced, and Parliament approved, a tough new law to crack down on resurgent agrarian violence and political protests in Ireland. In September 1887, three people were killed at Mitchelstown, County Cork, when officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) fired into a crowd of demonstrators. Thereafter, the Chief Secretary was nicknamed “bloody Balfour.”

According to the Journal‘s page 6 story, Davitt said that Balfour:

“…is not a man who cares very much about the names he is called, and calling names, let me add, is not a very scientific method of fighting Mr. Balfour’s policy. Calling him ‘bloody Balfour’ may be a truthful description … but its constant use in newspapers and on platforms is becoming what the Americans term a ‘stale chestnut.’ … What we have got to recognize is the policy of this man, and what we have got to do is, to beat that policy by cool, calculating resistance.”

Davitt

Hurlbert says that “Davitt has the stuff in him of a serious revolutionary leader … bent on bringing about a thorough Democratic revolution in Ireland. I believe him to be too able a man to imagine … this can be done without the consent of Democratic England [and he knows] that to abuse an executive officer for determination and vigour is the surest way to make him popular.”

In fact, Davitt also criticized Balfour during the Rathkeale speech. Davitt noted that at the current pace of arrests under the 1887 law, it would take the chief secretary more than 500 years to imprison all supporters of Irish nationalism and tenant rights:

“If we judge of what he can do to save the life of Irish landlordism by all he has performed up to the present, we need have very little apprehension about the final result. … He will discover, if he has not done so already, that imprisonment will not beget loyalty, nor plank beds gratitude to the power he represents. It is with a nation, as with an individual, a tussle with persecution brings out great qualities of endurance, the courage of conviction, and a faith which scorns to abdicate to brute force.”

From the Dublin rail station, Hurlbert and Hamilton rode an “outside car,” a two-seat, two-wheeled, horse-pulled carriage also known as a jaunting car, to the Maples Hotel on Kildare Street, “a large, old-fashioned but clear and comfortable house.” (It was mentioned by James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916; then torn down after World War II to make way for the Department of Industry and Commerce building.) Hurlbert also writes of the nearby Leinster Hall theater, “the fashionable and hospitable Kildare Street Club,” a hideaway of Dublin’s Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and the Shelburne Hotel, “known to all Americans” and “furbished up since I last saw it.”

NEXT: Meeting Balfour

NOTES: This post is based on pages 35 to 41 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanAccess to the Freeman’s Journal via Irish Newspaper Archive. Most hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. Dublin locations mentioned in the last paragraph are hyperlinked to images in the National Library of Ireland.

The time element of the arrival from Holyhead was revised from the original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan