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
“Only yesterday no fewer than 23 of these publicans from Milltown Malbay appeared at Ennis here to be tried for ‘boycotting’ the police. … An important feature of this case is the conduct of Father White, the parish priest.”
–William Henry Hurlbert
One of the more controversial aspects of Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion was his coverage of boycotting activity in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis in County Clare. Citing government officials and reports, Hurlbert accused Father Patrick White of helping to organize the activity.
Father White strongly rebutted Hurlbert’s characterizations in his own booklet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ , published in 1890 or 1891, about two years after Hurlbert’s book.
Hurlbert arrived in Ennis on 18 February 1888, a few days after his London meeting with Michael Davitt. (See post 15 and post 16). The American reporter had left Ireland four days earlier for an unexplained side trip to Paris, which suddenly became “unnecessary.”
At Ennis, Hurlbert connected with Colonel Alfred Turner, a high-ranking police commissioner; Cecil Roach, a resident magistrate from neighboring County Kerry, and Richard Stacpoole, “a gentleman of position and estate” who had welcomed London journalist Bernard Becker to the region eight years earlier.
“I was struck by the extraordinary number of public houses in Ennis,” Hurlbert remarked. He reported being told by a police sergeant that Milltown Malby, with a population of 1,400, had 36 pubs, and that 23 of the publicans had boycotted the police. Hurlbert reported that during their trials, one was acquitted; one discharged; 10 signed guarantees in court to refrain from further conspiracies; and 11 were sent to the gaol (jail).
Col. Turner told Hurlbert that Father White “was the moving spirit” of the local boycotting activity. Hurlbert wrote:
All this to an American resembles a tempest in a tea-pot. But it is a serious matter to see a priest of the Church assisting laymen to put their fellow-men under a social interdict … [I]t is a serious scandal that a parish priest should lay himself open to the imputation of acting in concert with any political body whatever, on any pretext whatever, to encourage such proceedings.
In three days of diary entries and 30 pages of the book, Hurlbert weaved in and out of the case. He reproduced the full police report of a related case handed to him by Col. Turner, as well as letters between Col. Turner and Father White. As the book was going to press later that year, the policeman and the priest each provided additional letters to Hurlbert to further clarify their positions. These were published in the Appendix.
Father White devoted half of his 32-page pamphlet to rebutting Hurlbert’s characterization of himself and the situation in Milltown Malbay. “He has libeled me, and libeled me unsparingly,” the priest wrote. He considered taking Hurlbert to court, “but legal friends … dissuaded me” because a Tory or Unionist sympathizer on the jury would probably nix a favorable verdict.
The tit-for-tat of the episode is too tedious to detail here. It does illustrate how local tensions between police and communities unfolded against the national developments of the Land War and Home Rule movement. In fact, as Hurlbert noted, the case of one boycotted family in Milltown Malbay was raised in Parliament in a debate between John Redmond, then a nationalist M.P. for Wexford North, and Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour.
The Clare County Library has compiled a number of resources about Milltown Malbay, including the relevant extract from Hurlbert’s book and an article about the July 1888 evictions on the Vandeleur Estate, Kilrush. Unfortunately, Hurlbert unmasked is not so easy to access.
NOTES: Pages 165 to 195 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I obtained a copy of Hurlbert unmasked thanks to an inter-library loan from Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. The pamphlet is also available at the National Library of Ireland.
NEXT: On boycotting
Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan