A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Rising & Partition

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

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Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and less than five months after the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, began the island’s political partition. In Dublin, the author observes “the ruined Post Office in Sackville [O’Connell] Street was the only standing reminder of what had gone before.”[1]Journey, p. 8. The iconic building at the center of the 1916 rebellion would not reopen until 1929.

On May 3, 1921, the official enactment day of partition, Ewart boarded a train “for the Northeast, being entertained throughout the journey by one of those merry old Irishmen who per se proclaim ‘Ireland a nation.’ ” The passenger also warns the author of the ” ‘narrow-minded Northern bigots … the men you are going to meet.’ “[2]Journey, pp.209-210. Ewart observes campaigning for the new Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast, but returns to England before the election.

Wilfrid Ewart

In some of his other writing, “Ewart expresses concern that the British interpretation of the Irish conflict made so little impact on world opinion as to raise questions of whether there was any  coherent justification for British actions,” Bew/Maume say. “It is clear Ewart supported a compromise settlement [in Ireland, and] … clearly feels more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists he interviews, who are leaning towards a Dominion settlement in hopes of saving something from the wreckage, than their more confident and intransigent Ulster brethren.”[3]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Like other journalists who visited Ireland during the war, Ewart made an honest effort to report a range of Irish opinions–from combatants, political and social leaders, and regular citizens–on both sides of the independence question and both sides of the new border. Unsurprising for the time, he did not devote much attention to the views of women.

Below are direct quotations from some of the people Ewart interviewed, or his reporting of their remarks, about the 1916 rising and 1921 partition. Most are identified by name and key background details, including the relevant pages in Journey. Read 100 years later, some were more prescient than others.

Rising:

Liam de Róiste

“The Easter Rebellion in spite of its failure drew all Irishmen together, and the executions that followed made an enduring impression. All the while we were told we were fighting for the principle of Self-Determination and the Rights of Small Nations. Then came the Peace Conference, ‘Wilsonism,’ and the League of Nations. These set people thinking and gave a constructive impetus to the movement. Since 1916, you must understand, the state of affairs has become steadily worse. The real change of feeling in this city began with the murder of Lord Mayor MacCurtain. The Government’s militant policy has had exactly the reverse effect of that intended.”Sinn Féin official Liam de Róiste in Cork, p. 41.

“Cork used to be a good enough place to live in. We prospered under the Union–till 1916.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

William O’Brien

“I have said my say. My friends and myself warned them of what was coming years ago. We could have shown them the way out through a policy of conference and conciliation. They paid no heed to us. Now they’ve gone back to it again, but they’ve got to deal with men who act first and talk afterwards.”–Former home rule M.P., newspaper editor, and semi-retired Irish nationalist William O’Brien in Mallow, p. 57

“The Easter Rebellion was condemned as a useless waste of life by many Irishmen. It raised the cry of ‘England’s tyranny’ certainly; it gave the impetus to violence. But it was the executions afterwards that left a rankling bitterness.  … The rising of 1916 gave a new soul to Ireland; she found her soul that day. ”Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, pp. 87-88

They got on well with their neighbors, taking no interest in politics, but keeping outside them as much as possible. The first change occurred after the 1916 rebellion. A subtle hostility began to manifest itself among the neighbors; custom fell off; when the W.’s went into other shops, they were told English customers were not wanted. In 1917, when Mr. de Valera visited the district, definite signs of enmity became apparent. One day a procession passed their windows, shouting ‘Bloody Protestants!’ [and] ‘To hell with the King!’Ewart’s reporting of “W.”, age 69, and his wife, who moved from England to Limerick in about 1908, pp. 106-107

“The Easter Rebellion, and the executions after it, brought the whole country to its feet. Coming to later days, the repeated executions–in Cork and Dublin–and the rule of the Crown Forces have made for greater and more bitter resentment every day. ”–An unnamed citizen at the Birr market, County Offaly, as Ewart leaves the South and enters “the less actively rebellious but more problematic Midlands,” p. 114.

The General Post Office in Dublin immediately after the 1916 Rising. It was still closed when Ewart visited in April 1921.

Partition:

“Who wants the Government of Ireland Act? Why, of 102 Irish M.P.’s not one has voted for it!”–Irish nationalist writer and poet George Russell, p. 19.

His defense of the Government of Ireland Act–and he seemed to be its only defender was based on the belief that if the Irish people as a whole desired a Republic or a Dominion, they desired one thing more–a settlement. He regarded the Act, moreover, as a good one in itself, not indeed as an instrument capable of settling the Irish Question, but as a transition measure which by bringing the parties together and as a pledge–that pledge so often demanded of the Government by the irreconcilables–contained the germ and the promise of better things.–Ewart describing the views of “a Cork newspaperman,” p. 50

“No interest is taken in the Partition Act here because it divides the country, because that division would become accentuated instead of the reverse, and because it would express itself through the boycott of Belfast, as at present, and by means of retaliation between Protestant and Catholic.Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, p. 85.

“Nobody has any use for the Government of Ireland Act hereabouts. It will fail.”Unnamed citizen at the Birr market, p. 114

John P. Hayden

“[The Act is] no good in its present form. The Southern Irish see in it two things: (1) Partition; (2) Plunder. It divides the country on sectarian lines and imposes a huge tribute on us. Ireland, mind you, has to pay for all services, some of which she will not control herself … Is it fair that six counties should have the same representation as 26, as in the Council for All Ireland? Another extraordinary thing about the Act is that there should be a Senate in each Parliament nominated by the Crown in the case of the South and elected by the dominant party in the case of the North?”John P . Hayden, Irish nationalist M.P. for South Roscommon and a leading resident Mullingar, pp. 136-137.

“The present Act of Parliament is the only form of Home Rule acceptable to us. We never asked for the Government of Ireland Act, but in my opinion it’s a good Act, and we mean loyally to work it, whatever happens. In doing that we’re only carrying out the law. … Through the Council of Ireland … North and South would be brought into constant contact, and the possibilities of ultimate union are on the whole great.”Hugh Pollack, Northern Ireland finance minister-designate, pp. 156-157.

“There can be no question of a lasting settlement through the Partition Act. Under it, the British Government keeps everything that matters for the commercial and industrial prosperity of Ireland. The number of our members at Westminster is reduced. No common trade arrangements are possible while you have one form of Government in the North and another in the South. On the other hand, we have to pay eighteen millions a year to the English Exchequer, and England generously returns a small proportion of it! The root of the matter is that it is not to the interest of England to have us as a commercial rival.”–Professor Robert M. Henry of Queens University Belfast, p. 164.

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921, a month after Ewart’s departure.

“Nobody wants the Partition Act, nobody in the South cares a brass button for it. Good or bad, it’s no use giving a man something he doesn’t want  … And the finance of the thing is rotten. … The dual legislature is enough in itself to ruin this unfortunate country.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

“Ulster remains as ever, the crux of the question. But I am convinced that if a Parliament sat in Dublin, Ulster would soon want to come into it. The Partition Act is useless if only because nobody in the country wants it except Antrim, Armagh, and Down. Far from making for a united Ireland, under it North and South would steadily drift apart.”John Dooley, member of the Kings (now Offaly) County Council and representative at the 1917 Irish Convention, p. 116

“Nobody trusts the present Government. The Partition Act is a useless farce; nobody wants it. A terrible account lies at Sir Edward Carson’s door.”Archdeacon Arthur Ryan of Birr, p. 120.

NEXT: Mysterious Mr. X.

References

References
1 Journey, p. 8.
2 Journey, pp.209-210.
3 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ulster attitude

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

In their “Introduction” to the 2009 UCD Press edition of Journey, Paul Bew and Patrick Maume devote considerable attention to Ewart’s time in what today is Northern Ireland. They note the author’s reference to his September 1913 visit to an Ulster Volunteer Force rally in Newry. It is unclear, they comment, whether Ewart, then 21, “was there for political sympathy, personal connection with the participants, or journalistic curiosity, though he speaks of ‘marching with the Covenanters’ which implies a certain degree of participation.”[1]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii. A year earlier, unionists signed the Ulster Covenant to protest Ireland leaving the United Kingdom under home rule, as proposed at the time.

Ewart’s material from his 1921 visit to Belfast, Bew/Maume continue, “is perhaps the most fascinating in the book,” and they provide considerable analysis of the events he covers.[2]Ibid, p. xvii. The author arrives in the northeast portion of Ireland as Ulster Unionist chief James Craig meets with Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, and three weeks before the first general election of the new Northern Ireland parliament.

“All Befast was talking of the Craig-de Valera meeting, girding itself with an illusive expectancy, girding sometimes at its own leader [Craig], tending to lose sight of the major question in the momentary issue,” Ewart writes.[3]Journey, p. 156.

This meeting and the outcome of the election are well documented. More striking 100 years later is the unchanged and unmistakable political and cultural attitude of the region Ewart describes in Journey. It is personified by Sir Dawson Bates, then secretary of the Irish Unionist Alliance, “a downright hardheaded zealot, with a clear-cut horizon and no sentiment to spare,” Ewart says. “He speaks and looks and thinks and is–Belfast.”

At the Orange hall rally Ewart attends in East Belfast, Bates bellows:

We don’t want a United Ireland, we want a United Kingdom. … Some people hope that Ulster is going to make a mess of things. Failure means handing our bodies and souls over to Sinn Féin and the Roman Catholic Church. We’ve had enough of Dublin in the past. If we can crush Sinn Féin at the forthcoming elections, there’s a bright future for Ulster.[4]Journey, p.152-153.

A month later, Bates became Northern Ireland’s first minister for home affairs, a post he held for nearly 22 years. “His conspicuous distrust of the nationalist minority frustrated initial attempts to secure its cooperation, helped to minimize its power in local government, and encouraged an overtly discriminatory administrative style,” the Dictionary of Irish Biography says.[5]Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Northern Ireland Cabinet, 1921. Sir Dawson Bates at left, James Craig third from left. Others, l. to r, are Marquess of Londonderry, Hugh McDowell Pollock, E. M. Archdale, and J. M. Andrews. Ewart interviewed Pollock, who was finance minister.

Ewart also interviews finance minister-designated Hugh McDowell Pollock,  whom he characterizes as uncompromising and inflexible, a man who “can hardly be described as concessionable.” Pollock proclaims, “English people are stupid” because they fail to see that Ulster is “the only bulwark between them and the complete dissolution of the British Empire.” The people of southern Ireland, he says, are “full of sentimental ideas about nationalism.”[6]Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.

Bew/Maume detail how Ewart selectively reports “his vision of Ulster Unionist intransigence” by excluding moderate portions of the Craig speech he attends. They suggest Ewart was “more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists” who were willing to accept some form of Dominion status than the “more confident and intransigent” Ulstermen.[7]“Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.

The attitude expressed by Bates and Pollock prevailed in the region from the 1912 Ulster Covenant through the sectarian Troubles of the late 20th century, when it was personified by Ian Paisley. True, Paisley moderated his views after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, even developed an unlikely partnership with Irish republican Martin McGuinness. Echoes of Bates and Pollock reverberate in current outcries over Brexit’s impact on the region and increased talk of a united Ireland. More hard-line rhetoric is likely to be heard in the months ahead as the Democratic Unionist Party’s replaces resigned leader Arlene Foster.  

The next post in this series will catalog more of Ewart’s interview quotes from Belfast and other parts of Ireland on the two key subjects: the island’s 1921 partition, and the Easter Rising that preceded it in 1916.

Curious errors

In his chapters about Northern Ireland, Ewart’s book contains two historical errors: 

Cecil Doughty image of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders.

He suggests the first deaths of the Irish War of Independence, the Jan. 21, 1919, ambush of RIC officers James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, shared an anniversary date with the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.[8]Journey, p. 143.

This is incorrect. The Dublin killings occurred nearly 40 years early, on May 6, 1882, during Ireland’s Land War period. 

A few pages later, Ewart quotes an unnamed “high official” in Belfast who criticizes de Valera, citing the quote: “If the Unionists do not come in on our side they will have to go under.” Ewart, in parentheses, attributes the comment to a July 5, 1919, speech at Killaloe, County Clare.

This place and date are correct, but the year was 1917, as de Valera campaigned in a special by-election for the seat opened by the death of Irish Parliamentary Party incumbent Willie Redmond. The Sinn Féin candidate won in a landslide five days later. Two years later, De Valera was in the early weeks of his 18-month tour of America to raise money and political support of the Irish republic.

As with most fact errors–and I have made my share–it is not so remarkable that mistakes were made in the first place, but that they survived the copy editing of other readers before publication.

NEXT: Rising & Partition

References

References
1 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii.
2 Ibid, p. xvii.
3 Journey, p. 156.
4 Journey, p.152-153.
5 Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.
6 Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.
7 “Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.
8 Journey, p. 143.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Murdered mayors

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence

***

Ewart arrived in Limerick on April 27, less than two months after the city’s mayor and his predecessor were murdered. The visitor interviewed Stephen O’Mara, 76, the city’s first Irish nationalist mayor, from 1885. He tells Ewart that his same-name son, 37, the current Limerick mayor, has just been imprisoned by the British military for not complying with orders.

All of this, Ewart writes, is “very characteristic of Ireland in 1921.”

In January 1921, George Clancy succeeded Michael O’Callaghan as Limerick mayor. Then, between late evening March 6 and early morning March 7, both men were shot dead at their homes. A third man, an Irish Volunteer, also was killed that night, and Clancy’s wife was wounded. The killers belonged to a Royal Irish Constabulary auxiliary unit, potentially in collusion with military authorities, historians say. 

At the time of Ewart’s visit, however, the crimes were as unresolved and divisive as the Irish war. He wrote:

Nothing remains more strange, and nothing more sinister, in a long history of Irish crime than the murders of the two Mayors of Limerick. Strange and sinister in particular, because here are two of the most prominent citizens of one of the largest towns in Ireland done to death in the same night — and to this day none shall say by whom. … A world of intrigue, of punishment or reprisal, of accusation and counter accusation, of suspicion, and semi-certainty then again doubt. … Who shall unravel the truth, or will it ever be unravelled? Will it ever see the light of day?[1]Journey, p. 100.

The two mayors had publicly defended Limerick’s citizens against military and police harassment. Their killings were retaliation for earlier Irish republican attacks, and also intended to terrorize the population.

Michael O’Callaghan, left, and George Clancy.

As Bew/Maume note, Ewart too quickly “entertains the possibility” the two mayors were “killed by IRA hardliners, rather than Crown forces, when he is told this by a fellow British officer.” He fails to show the skepticism he demonstrated about official versions of the burning of Cork.[2]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv. See In Cork. Pointing fingers at the IRA simply diverted attention from the auxiliaries and sowed doubt and division among Irish separatists. 

Ewart is told this story during a visit to the military’s New Barracks, where he also attempts to unravel the dispute between the authorities and Mayor Stephen M. O’Mara, Jr., Clancy’s successor. An officer says O’Mara, Jr., opted for a week’s imprisonment rather than paying a £10 fine for breaking curfew regulations. Ewart asks to see the imprisoned mayor, but a guard refuses him access and insists O’Mara doesn’t want to receive visitors.

Within days of this episode, the authorities released young O’Mara from jail. He soon sailed to the United States to replace another brother, James, as a fiscal agent in raising funds for the Irish Republic.

Economic conditions

Ewart describes Limerick as an “ugly” place, its “abiding impression” that of a garrison town with limited commerce.  

“The economic history of Limerick was that of the majority of Irish towns in 1921 – you could read it in the look of the place,” Ewart writes. “Trade bad, nobody buying, no ships coming up the river … not a ship to be seen along the quays … progressive decay had set in before the war. Limerick lacks energy, lacks healthy vitality.”[3]Journey, p.78.

Limerick waterfront in the 1920s.

Throughout his travels in Ireland, Ewart repeatedly asks his interview subjects whether Bolshevism is playing a role in the Sinn Féin revolution. “No,” he is told, including by O’Mara, Sr., “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer.”

Ewart does not mention the Limerick soviet of two years earlier. The headline-making general strike by trade unionists protested the military’s heavy-handed lock-down of the city. American journalist Ruth Russell, in the city at the time, highlighted the workers’ strong ties to the Catholic Church, which made their soviet less radical than other Marxist factions.

In her Ireland book, Russell observes how the red-badged guards rose to bless themselves on hearing the tolling Angelus bells of St. Munchkin’s chapel. “Isn’t it well that communism is to be Christianized?”, Bishop Michael Fogarty replies when she describes the scene.[4]Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 136 and 142.

Russell also interviewed Alphonsus O’Mara; another son of Stephen, Sr., brother of Stephen, Jr., and predecessor of the murdered O’Callaghan. As Limerick mayor in April 1919, “Phons” helped to end the soviet after two weeks.[5]Ibid, p. 133, and “Will Ireland Go On Strike”, Russell’s April 21, 1919, dispatch from Limerick, Kansas City Star, April 21, 1919. Russell’s Limerick reporting also cited by … Continue reading

In 1921, a century before Brexit, O’Mara, Sr. tells Ewart that England is the “natural market” for Ireland’s eggs, butter, bacon, cattle, and linen. “We might find other markets for ourselves, but England is the natural one and always will be,” he says.[6]Journey, p.88.

NEXT: Ulster attitude

References

References
1 Journey, p. 100.
2 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv. See In Cork.
3 Journey, p.78.
4 Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 136 and 142.
5 Ibid, p. 133, and “Will Ireland Go On Strike”, Russell’s April 21, 1919, dispatch from Limerick, Kansas City Star, April 21, 1919. Russell’s Limerick reporting also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, p. 171.
6 Journey, p.88.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Twice detained

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence

***

Ewart literally walks into being detained by combatants on each side of the Irish war twice in a six-day stretch. He is lucky to escape imprisonment, a beating, or death.

Though he used rail for segments of his journey, Ewart intended to make his journey in Ireland a walking tour, an “incredibly risky” idea, Bew/Maume say. The historians continue:

The British habit of sending soldiers in mufti, sometimes presenting themselves as deserters, to scout the countryside, and the IRA tendency to regard tramps and outsiders as potential spies placed Ewart at serious risk of being killed. An ex-officer [such as Ewart] might be thought to be in less danger from Crown forces … but the well-documented practice of shooting passers-by at random and the fact that many soldiers and police regarded journalists as natural enemies meant Ewart might have been killed before he could explain himself …”[1]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.

Walsh notes “the war of reprisals” between the IRA and British forces “had become notorious” by the time Ewart visited Ireland. His “pilgrim-like” rambles in the Irish countryside contained “lyrical descriptions of landscapes and nature,” but “within these passages of pastoral ecstasy are physical reminders of the troubles.”[2]News, pp.162-163.

Royal Irish Constabulary and British military vehicles outside Limerick in 1920.

Ewart describes the trenching of rural roads “just wide enough and just deep enough to wreck any vehicle that should attempt to compass it” and shell-hole deep triangulation “leaving a narrow pathway for the foot-passenger, but ensuring certain perdition to bicycle or car.” Trees and other debris are strewn across roads. Near Tullamore, he has to wade a stream because the bridge is “so thoroughly demolished … as to leave a chasm too wide to jump.”[3]Journey, pp. 187-188, and p. 195.

Mallow barracks

Ewart walks 20 miles from Cork city to Mallow, where “eyes follow one fearfully rather than angrily.” An unidentified resident describes the IRA’s Sept. 28, 1920, attack on the local military barracks.[4]Journey, pp. 61-71. That morning, some 50 armed republicans waited until most of the 17th Lancers stationed there left to exercise their horses. The attackers killed one guard and raided 25 rifles, two machine guns, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 20 swords and lances, and boots and other equipment. Mallow was “perhaps the best example of a successful attack on a military barracks,” Major John Charles Street concluded in The Administration of Ireland, 1920, published about the time Ewart was in Ireland.[5]Journey, p. 62, and Street, Major John Charles, writing under the pseudonym “I.O.”, for Information Officer, The Administration of Ireland, 1920, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1921, pp. … Continue reading

Curious, Ewart “sought out the barracks … with a view to reconstructing September’s daring coup.” As he approaches, the tip of a sentry’s bayonet suddenly levels at his face. A plain-clothes constable approaches from behind and orders Ewart to the police station, where he is searched and questioned.

His pass and photograph “signed, sealed, and delivered by Dublin Castle” do not impress the officers.

“These things can be faked,” one says.

Worse, the Sinn Féin “pass” and typewritten document he obtained from republicans in Cork raise greater suspicion.

“These are seditious documents,” says a District Inspector.

“I saw visions of days, a week even, spent in Victoria Barracks, Cork,” Ewart writes. Four months earlier, Auxiliary forces implicated in the city’s burning stationed at this military base. Two days after Ewart’s troubles in Mallow, four republican Volunteers would be executed at the barracks.

Finally, an officer from the South Staffordshire Regiment enters the room with what Ewart describes as an embarrassed look. It appears that someone confirmed he was a veteran of the Great War, though this is not stated.

Ewart is transferred by military tender to GHQ Buttevant, County Cork, about eight miles north, a drive “full of interest.” The author sits in front between the driver and a young officer who tightly grabs his revolver each time the vehicle rounds a corner. There are signs of earlier ambushes on the road. “Rifles were raised” each time the convoy approaches civilians in the fading dusk.

Ewart describes the Buttevant barracks as orderly and bleak, but soon is “hospitably entertained at dinner.” A colonel commandant describes the conditions of service in Ireland:

People in England don’t seem to realize what things are like over here–or else they don’t care. Most of the newspapers damn us or take side with the other people. You’ve seen for yourself the conditions we are under. We can’t go outside the barracks without the risk of being shot in the back.

Another officer tells Ewart about Private Fielding of the East Lancashire Regiment, killed that day near the barracks. “A mere boy” of 19, according to newspaper reports, Fielding was shot on the road to Churchtown, five miles northwest, having gone for a walk about 10 a.m., “not in the company of any of his comrades.”[6]”Soldier Shot Dead”, Evening Echo, April 27, 1921.

Tullamore troubles

Six days later, Ewart set out on a 22-mile hike from Birr to Tullamore. A group of young men in Kilcormac village “eyed me suspiciously,” he writes. “Signs of Republican activity became more apparent,” such as felled trees over trenched roads.[7]Journey, pp. 125-129.

Contemporary Irish road. Shutterstock.

He encounters “a dark-haired handsome girl accompanied by a child” who mistakes him for an itinerant fiddler. An “unkempt peasant woman” brings him a glass of milk and refuses payment, but he notices a young man inside her cabin. Someone watches Ewart from the hillside. A middle-aged peasant man joins him briefly, then departs with “a rather sinister grin.”

Soon, five young men ride up on bicycles from behind.

“Stop! Hands up,” they shout.

They seize Ewart by the arms and roughly remove his rucksack, which they search. He writes:

The half-hour that followed was much less than pleasant. … My eyes wandered repeatedly to the bog and my thoughts to the number of people who had lately been found in bogs with brief notes attached to them. On a parallel road just a week ago a police inspector had been kidnapped and not been heard of since.

At last, the leader declares “the man’s all right,” and they return Ewart’s papers and other possessions, even “lifted my rucksack onto my shoulders.” He continues the final two miles to his destination:

But, walking into Tullamore rather conspicuously dusty and a traveler, battery after battery of coldly hostile glances were directed at me by men who scowled as I passed, scowled after me, scowled up at the window of the inn where I sat at dinner. Everybody wanted to see an English stranger a potential spy.

The next morning, Ewart takes the train to Clara.

O’Brien’s prescience

William O’Brien

A day before the Mallow barrack episode, Irish nationalist politician and newspaper editor William O’Brien warned Ewart of the dangers he would soon encounter. Sophia Raffalovich O’Brien later wrote that her husband declared Ewart’s walking tour “a very dangerous plan” and was unimpressed by the papers he obtained from Dublin Castle and Sinn Féin leaders.

” ‘That will seem all the more suspicious’ my husband told him ‘and you will be arrested and goodness knows what may happen to you at the hands of both parties,’ ” Sophia recalled.

Ewart later wrote to William O’Brien to confirm his prescience. “After having been arrested by English troops and by Volunteers, he had thought it wiser to give up his walking tour and had used less dangerous means of locomotion,” Sophia remembered of the visitor’s letter.[8]”Introduction”, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

NEXT: Murdered mayors

References

References
1 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.
2 News, pp.162-163.
3 Journey, pp. 187-188, and p. 195.
4 Journey, pp. 61-71.
5 Journey, p. 62, and Street, Major John Charles, writing under the pseudonym “I.O.”, for Information Officer, The Administration of Ireland, 1920, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1921, pp. 205-206.
6 ”Soldier Shot Dead”, Evening Echo, April 27, 1921.
7 Journey, pp. 125-129.
8 ”Introduction”, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: In Cork

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

Ewart traveled by train from Dublin to Cork city on April 23. “That Cork was full of spies and that a stray Englishman bent upon an apparently aimless mission was bound to be taken for one, soon became evident,” he wrote. 

He mentioned that morning’s citywide holdup of 32 postmen by groups of four or five men who robbed more than 7,300 letters “in the name of the IRA,” the Skibbereen Eagle reported a week later. There was no violence, the paper said, but it was “extraordinary that the coup was accomplished without attracting the attention of police and military patrols.”[1]“7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.

And yet, to Ewart, “Cork city seemed quiet after Dublin.” He noticed the burned out buildings on St. Patrick Street, remembered the devastation he had seen in Europe during the war, and realized such sights were “inconspicuous because they had grown normal and customary in seven years, because ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921.”[2]Journey, pp. 27-28.

Nevertheless, “the site of the burnings demanded a first-hand explanation.” He found Cork three residents willing to discuss the city’s Dec. 11-12, 1920, conflagration. The unnamed witnesses accused the military’s K Division of the arson, scoffed at the name of Chief Secretary of Ireland Sir Hamar Greenwood, and said a few other “rude things,” Ewart reported.

Cork city after the December 1920 fires set by the authorities. Ewart visited four months later. “Ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921,” he wrote.

Like the three witnesses, Ewart realized that Greenwood’s Dec. 14, 1920, House of Commons explanation of the Cork fires was a lie. The author discredited the Chief Secretary’s assertion the fire spread unchecked from Grant & Co. on Patrick Street to the Carnegie Library and City Hall by observing the wide span of unburnt territory during a 5-minute walk between the two points.[3]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.

Republican interviews

Ewart interviewed Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Barry M. Egan and Alderman Liam de Róiste (William Roach) of the Irish Industrial Development Association. The two men “appear to have been the main Sinn Féin contacts for visiting journalists in this period,” including a late 1920 interview with Russell Browning of United Press.[4]Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. … Continue reading

Ewart’s Cork interviews occurred two days after Irish republican leader Eamon de Valera and Edward George Villars Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, met privately in Dublin to discuss a possible peace settlement. Lord Derby’s visit to Catholic Church hierarchy was reported at the time, though whether he met with any Dáil Éireann representative was less clear. Ewart mentioned these “unofficial negotiations” to Egan, who replied:

This is a question for the Irish people. It is a question for ‘we ourselves’ (Sinn Féin) English politicians had much better keep out of it. I believe Lord Derby is an honest man and a gentleman; no doubt he means well. But anything this is done had got to be done ‘over the counter.’ We want no secret negotiations. President de Valera has made that clear.[5]Journey, p. 36.

The Irish leader and Lord Derby “had tea and discussed the situation for two or three hours,” according to de Valera biographer David McCullagh. “While the discussion did not produce much movement, de Valera regarded it as the first important contact with the British and as an indication that they ‘desired to make peace if satisfactory terms could be arranged.’ ”[6]McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.

Barry M. Egan

Egan later wrote a letter to the Westminster Gazette to “protest in a mild and unembittered way” Ewart’s description of him in the paper. “Your report … amused and puzzled me,” the Cork mayor wrote, as also reported in the Freeman’s Journal. “I do not think I am a thin-lipped doctrinaire, nor like a symbolist of the French Revolution. I do not think I am personally embittered. What loss I have suffered personally has seemed a small thing compared to my predecessors, Thomas MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney.”[7]Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, … Continue reading 

De Róiste echoed what George Russell had told Ewart: “We feel no hostility to the English people or to the Army; only to the Irregular Forces of the Crown and other instruments of your Government.”[8]Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series. A 1903 co-founder of the Industrial Development Association,[9]De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB. de Róiste conceded that while Irish agriculture was “stimulated by the war … industrially, we’ve probably gone back, if anything.”  

Ford shutdown

Ewart, like Ruth Russell and Harry Guest and other journalists, noted the Ford tractor plant in Cork. When Russell visited in spring 1919, shortly before the plant opened, she observed: “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men. Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”[10]“New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?

In late March 1921, a few weeks before Ewart’s visit, the two-year-old plant closed suddenly, “without any explanation from management,” the Freeman’s Journal reported. The paper suggested this was “a mere temporary suspension, rendered necessary by the exceptional economic circumstances of the moment.”[11]“Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.

Ewart described the impact:

There were to be seen at all hours, it is true, an extraordinary number of young and middle- aged, able-bodied men standing about the streets; and that seemed typical of Cork, as of most other Irish towns. It was due, in part, to the slackness of the port and of business generally, but mainly to the closing down of Ford’s Works which had been established to supply agricultural tractors for the whole of Ireland and had hitherto employed between 700 and 800 men.[12]Journey, p. 28-29. 

He later described “a long queue of respectable-looking people … waiting to receive their dole (£1 to £2 a week) from the fund subscribed by the United States of America and the City of Cork for sufferers in the ‘war.’ They looked the sort of people who, in peaceable times would have enjoyed an income of £1 to £2 a day.”[13]Journey, p. 35.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork city, 1919.

The length of the 1921 Ford shutdown is unclear, but the plant reopened by late summer, according to contemporary newspaper accounts. The Cork District Committee distributed £170,398 of “personal relief” from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland through its city and county branches from 1921 through August 1922.[14]Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87. 

 “Best commentary”

Ewart wrote “the best commentary on daily life in Cork” was a local newspaper placard at a street corner, which read:

THE WEEK’S WARFARE

MURDER BY INSANE PROFESSOR

CAUGHT AT DRILL

FIVE CIVILIANS KILLED

GARDENING AND POULTRY NOTES

TALKS ON HEALTH

ALL THE USUAL FEATURES

The Skibbereen Eagle published this observation and Ewart’s other descriptions of Cork on its front page a month after his visit.[15]“A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921. The piece was attributed to The Times, London, without the author’s byline. It did not include his interviews with Egan or de Róiste.

NEXT: Twice detained

References

References
1 “7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.
2 Journey, pp. 27-28.
3 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.
4 Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. newspapers.
5 Journey, p. 36.
6 McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.
7 Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, June 20, 1921, and “Amused and Puzzled”, Freeman’s Journal, June 24, 1921.
8 Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series.
9 De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB.
10 “New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?
11 “Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.
12 Journey, p. 28-29.
13 Journey, p. 35.
14 Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87.
15 “A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Dublin arrival

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and three months before the truce that ended the fighting between Irish separatists and the British military. He opens the book by describing an April 18 bombing in Dublin, just hours after his arrival. Ewart heard the blast while eating dinner at a hotel near St. Stephen’s Green, probably the Shelbourne.

“No one took much interest in the matter,” he writes, which “conveyed two facts–that the incident really was a normal one in the city’s life and that the bomb, by reason of the hollowness of its explosion, was not heavily charged but was probably a casing detonated.” On this latter “fact,” Ewart draws from his experience on World War I battlefields. 

The next day’s Irish Independent reported three people were injured when a bomb exploded about 7:45 p.m. as a “large, armour-plated, wire-netted military lorry” turned the corner from Duke Street to Grafton Street heading toward St. Stephen’s Green. “The lorry dashed on, and there was no firing from soldiers.”[1]”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.

Newsboys on Grafton Street shouted, “Another Dublin Ambush,” Ewart writes. Two nights earlier, insurrectionists hurled three bombs at Crown forces on Eden Quay as “armed civilians opened fire with revolvers from concealed positions” the Irish Examiner reported.[2]”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921. Such attacks were common.

Armored military truck in Dublin. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Describing Dublin

“The abiding impression of Dublin at this time was the recurring contrast between the ordinary workaday life of a modern city and the queer forces which lurked such a little way beneath” Ewart wrote. He described old men dozing at benches and nursery-maids reading novelettes as they minded children playing on the grass at Phoenix Park, while lorries tear along the streets at 25 mph, “their dark green or khaki loads bristling with rifles.” He observed the high-end French restaurant Jammett’s half empty at luncheon-time, “yet contrived to maintain the illusion of a segregated and civilized society. He noted an Abbey Theatre revival of St John Greer Ervine’s “Mixed Marriage,” a 1911 play about sectarian strife in Belfast, and speculated “about that other deadly warfare of the protesting North.”[3]Journey, p. 6.

Ewart wrote:

… there was civility and to spare in the shops, but … [elsewhere, he] encountered that furtive, half-cowed and half-hostile attitude of the people which subsequently dogged your footsteps through Ireland. … [People] wear a shamed look as their their houses do, as the gray, peeling walls and dirty striped mattresses hanging out of windows do, as those wretched creatures in shreds of cloth or shawls, down-at-heel slippers, and frowsy hair, those hordes of filthy children happy in their ignorance … [At the North Dublin refuse heaps] things like wasps crawl on mountains of rubbish … They are old men, women, girls, children–Dublin’s ghouls.[4]Journey, p. 11.  

Two Interviews

During his five days in Dublin, Ewart interviewed representatives from each side of the war. At Dublin Castle, seat of British authority in Ireland, he spoke with government “mouthpiece” Basil Clarke, a former journalist, “through the service of whose intelligence all Irish news (and propaganda) passed.”

As efforts to settle the conflict warmed in April 1921, Clarke acknowledged to Ewart that “indirect” negotiations were underway “continuously” since June 1920, though “always” wrecked by the “extremist wing of Sinn Fein.”[5]Journey, pp. 8-9. Bew/Maume note that Clarke “denies the existence of a substantial Sinn Fein/Bolshevik connection at the very moment the papers were full of it,” including claims fed to American journalist Carl Ackerman by Scotland Yard.[6]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.

Ewart also called at the “red-brick Georgian house on Merrion Square” of Irish writer, poet, and painter George William Russell, known by the pseudonym Æ. Here, Ewart followed the footsteps of American reporter Ruth Russell [no relation to George], who in 1919 visited the artist at his home and Irish Homestead office.[7]Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109. This was not a coincidence. Teas with George Russell, historian Alice Stopford Green, and other “intellectual apologists” sympathetic to the nationalist cause were arranged for visiting reporters by Desmond FitzGerald and other Sinn Fein propagandists in what Dublin Castle derisively called the “republican scenic railway.”[8]Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice … Continue reading 

In his conversation with Ewart, Russell said:

All governments are rotten–though their individual members may be honest men–because they act not upon what is right but in obedience to forces more powerful than themselves. We Irish have no hatred of the English; our hatred is of the English government which treats Ireland, and so treated her through the centuries, as a slave race.[9]Journey, p. 18.

Bew/Maume suggest that in some unrecorded part of the conversation Ewart must have disclosed more of his war experience than is revealed in print. They cite Russell’s comments comparing IRA violence to English soldiers shooting German prisoners: “Such things happen in war and always will. People in England seem to forget or not to realize that a state of war prevails in this country.”[10]“Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.

British soldier harassing a Dublin civilian. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Curfew Parliament

Facing a 10 p.m. curfew, “the sinister boundary of every Irishman’s horizon in April 1921”[11]Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017. Ewart spent his evenings seated in front of the hotel fire with a small group of regulars he called the “Curfew Parliament.” They included an Irish lawyer who “kept his own counsel”; an American consular official who “contributed little”; a middle-aged land agent; a young medical student; and an “elderly landowner, descendant of [Henry] Grattan … with his weather-beaten face, sunken eyes and picturesque untidiness.” This last man shook his fist and denounced the Crown government and its police and military forces.

“Remember, it’s a vendetta! It’s blood for blood and life for life,” he says. “I tell you, the Irish people will not forget this thing for generations–unto the third and fourth generation.”

Others seated around the fire tell Ewart not to pay too much attention to the speaker. But the author is reluctant to dismiss the “grim old Nationalist”:

The deep-set eyes, the dull light that smoldered in them, the rugged face and powerful jaw with their suggestion of fanaticism, expressed a resentment that rankled deep and a determination that would brook no wrong. On the whole, this grim old Nationalist stood for the kind of man who for better or worse has suffered, fought, and in some cases died for Ireland during later periods of her history.[12]Journey, p.23-24

NEXT: In Cork

References

References
1 ”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.
2 ”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921.
3 Journey, p. 6.
4 Journey, p. 11.
5 Journey, pp. 8-9.
6 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.
7 Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109.
8 Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice Walsh, “Shredding the Paper Wall: Republican Propaganda and International Press Coverage” in The Irish Revolution, 1919-21: A Global History, History Ireland Publications, 2019. p. 46.
9 Journey, p. 18.
10 “Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.
11 Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017.
12 Journey, p.23-24

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: An introduction

Wilfrid Ewart, from January 1923 Illustrated London News, weeks after his death at age 30.

English novelist and journalist Wilfrid Herbert Gore Ewart traveled throughout Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. He filed dispatches for the Times and Sunday Times (London) and the Westminster Gazette; then revised his reporting as the book A Journey In Ireland, 1921, published a year later.[1]Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.

Ewart wrote that his 22-day journey during the guerrilla war between Irish separatists and British military forces was conducted:

…with the single object of studying the state of the country and the state of feeling in the country, as to which newspapers contradict each other and propaganda and partisanship persistently vied. How far this could be done in so short a space of time the reader may judge for himself.[2]Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.

This series will review and give context to Ewart’s travels and writing, either by chronology or topic. I, too, will allow readers to judge the success of either of us.

The original book contained a map of Ewart’s travels on the cover. This screenshot of scanned edition cuts off the bottom portion.

Ewart insisted that no incident of any interest or significance was “suppressed” from his book. He attributed its year-long delay to the July 1921 truce in the Irish war and the “protracted negotiations which followed … making it inadvisable (in the public interest) to publish an account, however non-partisan, of a journey through a country at its stormiest period.”[3]Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.

Several publishers have reissued A Journey In Ireland, 1921 since the original from G. P. Putnam’s Sons, including a 2009 University College Dublin Press edition with an introduction by Paul Bew and Patrick Maume. Maurice Walsh includes Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. Journey is also included 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, an anthology edited by Glen Hooper. I’ll cite these and other sources in this series.

Journey is a quick and engaging read, an accessible middle ground between the usual daily newspaper reports and more advanced literary styles. “Ewart’s love of detail made him a good interview,” Bew/Maume say.[4]”Introduction”, p. xv. Ewart reports he jotted notes of his conversations “in some cases literally as they were spoken” or immediately afterward. When stopped and searched on the road by five Irish republicans, he writes that one perused “the hieroglyphics in my notebook.”[5]Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.

Journalists in Ireland

Many journalists and writers were attracted to Ireland’s War of Independence. It was one of the next big stories in the aftermath of the Great War, one steeped in centuries of history. Walsh notes some writers wanted to “examine one of the great moral questions of the day: the justice of British rule” and also explore “the paradox of revolution in a society that otherwise appears stable.”[6]Walsh, News, p. 154, 177. It generated strong interest among the Irish diaspora in the United States and the United Kingdom, and with other readers in other places.

Though Ewart was English, I can’t resist the opportunity to retrace his travels for my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” centenary series, where future installments will be collected. His approach is similar to Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March to June 1919, then refreshed her work as the 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? The New York Globe‘s Harry F. Guest spent January and February 1920 in Ireland, then produced a 12-part series upon his return to America. Both are profiled in my linked series.

Other journalists who visited Ireland during this period include:

  • London-based reporter Hugh Martin published Ireland in Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, based on his 1920 reporting, about the same time Ewart was traveling through through the country.
  • Kilkenny native and naturalized American citizen Francis Hackett, associate editor at The New Republic, reported from his homeland in 1920 for the New York World; testified later that year about his observations to the American Commission on  Conditions in Ireland; then produced the 1922 book, The Story of the Irish Nation.
  • New York-based author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy sailed to Ireland with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland delegation in February 1921. He wrote the group’s report on return to America, then went back to Ireland and produced a newspaper series about the end of the war, which was published in 1922.
  • Americans Dorothy Thompson, Carl Ackerman, and Charles Grasty, among others, also filed important dispatches from revolutionary Ireland.

Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.

Ewart biography

Ewart was born in 1892 in London. At a boarding school in the Sussex countryside, “he grew introverted and acutely sensitive to criticism,” according to the finding guide biography for a collection of Ewart’s papers at the University of Texas. Soon, Ewart:

began to write about the English rural life around him and developed a love for the writings of Thomas Hardy. While still in his teens, he became one of the country’s leading experts on hens. He collaborated with John Stephen Hicks on a book titled The Possibilities of Modern Poultry Farming (1909), based on his previously serialized articles for Farm Life. He also began writing satirical pieces about the London society and manners he encountered on his visits back to the city.

Ewart joined the army in the summer of 1914. He obtained a commission, serving as a captain in the Scots Guards. … During the war, Ewart wrote articles, sometimes pseudonymously, about the Scots Guards and combat. After the war, he published a novel, The Way of Revelation; A Novel of Five Years (1921), which drew on his wartime experiences. It became a bestseller and was highly praised even at a time when readers were becoming weary of war memoirs and novels.

Ewart concluded his trip to Ireland a week before he turned 29, a year younger than Russell. Like Guest, 41, Ewart was blind in one eye. The Englishman was killed on Dec. 31, 1922, in Mexico, when hit by a stray bullet fired in the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Over the coming few weeks I’ll explore multiple aspects of A Journey in Ireland, 1921, at the 100th anniversary of Ewart’s travels. NEXT: Dublin arrival.

References

References
1 Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.
2 Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.
3 Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.
4 ”Introduction”, p. xv.
5 Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.
6 Walsh, News, p. 154, 177.

Troubles & Trimble return to Northern Ireland

The 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) arrives with a surge of violence in Northern Ireland. Though not a 10-year or quarter-century mark that would normally draw attention, events of the past week make this post as unavoidable as the media coverage from Belfast.

As The Washington Post reported, the violence has been “triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world.” Then, “hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, which led to the deaths of 3,500 civilians, British security personnel and paramilitary members.”

David Trimble, left, and the late John Hume after winning the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Irish Times photo.

One early opinion piece about the latest round of troubles comes from David Trimble, the former unionist leader, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with the late nationalist John Hume for their work leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Trimble says the GFA:

protected the union and put the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its people. Voters put their trust in my assurances and supported the agreement. Now this promise of self-determination is under threat due to the Northern Ireland protocol …

The protocol doesn’t safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. It demolishes the agreement’s central premise by removing the assurance that democratic consent is required to change Northern Ireland’s status. That is why I feel betrayed personally by the protocol; it is also why the unionists in Northern Ireland are so incensed at its imposition.

Unsurprisingly, Trimble’s piece is pocked by selective memory and self-promotion.

  • He spits about the terrorism of Irish republicans but ignores the murders and other violence committed by Northern Ireland’s loyalist mobs in collusion with British police and military officers.
  • He avoids mentioning that that majority of people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit … they wanted to remain in the EU … but got drag in by the conservative xenophobes of the English Midlands.
  • He neglects to say that PM Boris Johnson and the British government that he and other unionists are so attached to (along with the monarchy) negotiated and agreed to this protocol.
  • Finally, he willfully ignores the fact that Johnson and many MPs in Parliament would be happy to jettison the six counties of the North, which are a drag on the British treasury.

Trimble should work to facilitate the smooth reunification of Ireland, which would eliminate all the trade barriers he ostensibly worries about. More importantly, it would help bring about the healing of the now 100-year-old division of the island of Ireland. This ultimately would be more in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’m not saying this would be easy. But it is the best solution for the future.

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The eight-member American delegation to Ireland visited 95 cities, towns, and villages, including the Aran Islands, in 22 of 32 counties, from mid-February to late March 1921. Now, the team prepared to report its investigation of Irish humanitarian needs to the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), its New York-based sending organization.

Delegation leader Clemens J. France, brother of a U.S. senator, and Oren Wilbur, a creamery and dairy farming expert, would remain in Dublin to help oversee the distribution of funds from America through the Irish White Cross. The other members disbursed in pairs:

  • attorney Walter C. Longstretch and architect William Price left by mid-March;
  • agricultural specialist John C. Baker and housing expert Philip W. Furnas sailed at the end of the month for France and Germany to meet their colleagues from the American Friends Services Committee, the Quaker humanitarian organization; and
  • former Friends Intelligencer editor R. Barclay Spicer and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy on April 1 boarded the Cunard liner Aquitania for America.[1]”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.

Simultaneously, the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) released a 152-page report based on its November 1920 through January 1921 hearings in Washington, D.C. The non-U.S. government panel interviewed three dozen Irish, English, and American witnesses, including the widow and sister of Irish hunger strike martyr Terence MacSwiney. The ACCI report concluded that “Imperial British forces” in Ireland had created a state of “terror” that deprived Irish citizen of legal and moral protection.

An image from the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

The British Embassy in Washington immediately rebutted the ACCI report as “biased and wholly misleading.” The embassy statement said that Ireland, “so far from being a devastated country, is the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom, and probably the whole of Europe.”

The statement also insisted that “widespread misapprehension appears to exist in regard to the necessity of raising funds from United States sources for relief work in Ireland. … [though] … banking and tax returns show Ireland as a whole has never been more prosperous. … Apart from … genuine unemployment, common to all countries at the present moment, and … normal poverty … every case of distress and destitution is directly due to the effects of the Sinn Féin in Ireland.[2]Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.

The ACRI responded with its own lengthy, at times, rambling, statement, which was reported in news stories and placed in paid advertising. [Bottom of post.] “Since its organization [in December 1920] our Committee has been closely in touch with conditions in Ireland, and the unit of workers in charitable relief, some of whom had experience in other war devastated countries, which our Committee sent to Ireland, has brought us closely in touch with this situation. From this unit [and other sources] … we unhesitatingly state that [the British Embassy statements are] inaccurate and unfounded.”[3]“To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.

Distress in Ireland

Original report linked in text.

McCoy released the ACRI delegation’s 14-page “Distress in Ireland” report on April 16 in New York. Many U.S. newspapers published an Associated Press story about its findings.

The delegation estimated that 25,000 families, or about 100,000 “men, women and children … are in pitiful need of instant help from the American people.” The report anticipated the skepticism of British and U.S. government officials, pro-British or anti-Sinn Féin journalists, and segments of the general public:

We are quite aware that the ordinary traveler through Ireland, going only by train, and not visiting two or three communities, would be unaware that any such degree of distress exists. From his train window he would see only green and fertile countryside, of immense agricultural wealth, and fully supporting its population. In towns he might visit he would see, in his casual walks through their busy streets, little that would lead him to believe that acute distress exists.

But if he looked beneath the surface, if he went from house to house, outside the beaten paths of travel, eliminating, though he might, all the distress from unemployment resulting from trade depression, and all the distress of the habitual mendicant class–he would still find in every little village that he entered two, three, or a half dozen families which had never before been in want and which, but for the fact that they had come face to face with starvation, would never let their need be guessed.[4]”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.  

The delegation’s report estimated the damage to Irish homes, shops, factories, and creameries totaled $20 million, about $294 million a century later.[5]Per U.S. Inflation Calculator. It noted extensive damage to Ireland’s important agricultural sector, including 55 attacks on creameries.

“I wish to express my conviction that the creameries and their auxiliaries are the most important of all the immediate relief needs which the American people can help,” the report quoted Wilbur, the dairy farming expert who remained in Ireland.

McCoy concluded the report with a personal thought about British military reprisals on Irish residences. “As an individual,” he wrote, “I am entirely convinced that many of these people were entirely innocent of any complicity in the acts for which they were punished by having their homes burnt.”

Behind the scenes

Samuel D. McCoy

Five days after the report’s public release McCoy met in Washington with an executive assistant to U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. McCoy proposed the American government help distribute the relief money for Ireland. He alleged the British had reneged on a promise to allow non-partisan relief to be distributed in Ireland. He suggested the State Department could allay British concerns about the partisanship of the Irish White Cross by supervising the relief in Ireland, as it had done in Belgium during the war.[6]Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: … Continue reading

Behind the scenes, forces had been quietly working against the ACRI before McCoy’s visit to the State Department. The U.S. consul in Dublin, Frederick T. F. Dumont, who had met the visiting ACRI delegation, sent several cables to Washington that suggested the group was being exploited by Sinn Féin operatives within the Irish White Cross. Other government insiders in Washington insisted the relief group was anti-British. The American Friends Services Committee and the American Red Cross backed off their earlier support of ACRI for the same reason.

Nevertheless, “the regular accounts in the newspapers, the findings of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, and the statistics produced in the reports of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish Write Cross provided persuasive evidence that there was a substantial measure of destruction and dislocation as the result of the fighting,” Carroll has noted.[7]Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40. ACRI’s network of state committees continued the fundraising efforts launched during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The campaign pushed forward, and the group continued to send money to the Irish White Cross.

New York Herald, April 7, 1921. Click to enlarge.

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This is the third post about the ACRI. Find previous stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Relief quotas” will examine state fundraising goals, and how well each did. I’ll publish this installment in June. 

References

References
1 ”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.
2 Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.
3 “To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.
4 ”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.
5 Per U.S. Inflation Calculator.
6 Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, See Ch. 8, “Harding, Irish Relief Aid And Recognition”, pp. 326-327.
7 Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

Two of the blog’s sharp-eyed email subscribers, both journalists, tipped me on two of the stories in this month’s roundup, which includes news about an old building in New York City, and a new building in Cork city. Enjoy. MH

  • For the second year, St. Patrick’s Day parades and related events were either cancelled, downsized, or made virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 6,800 people have died in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the pandemic began a year ago.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has agreed to review the proposed sale of the American Irish Historical Society building in Manhattan. The 1901 Gilded Age mansion has been the society’s home for 80 years. The Irish government, which has given nearly $1 million to the society since 2008, has decried the proposed sale, and dozens of prominent artists and business leaders have joined nearly 30,000 others in petitioning James to step in. (Thanks Gary S.)

American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK.

  • Marty Walsh, the Irish-American mayor of Boston since 2014, was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. His parents were 1950s emigrants of County Galway.
  • Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), is said to be on President Joe Biden’s short list for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Others include Chicago lawyer John Cooney, New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, former Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick,  Massachusetts state rep Clare Cronin, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tommy O’Neill, son of former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, according to IrishCentral.
  • Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Biden ally earlier believed to be in line for the ambassador’s post, instead joined the Irish executive consultancy and lobbying firm Teneo as a senior adviser.
  • Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement is under threat and a “Pandora’s box” of protest and political crisis will be opened unless the European Union agrees to significant changes in the Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. At issue is a dispute over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in the Irish Sea, which is designed to prevent a hard land border with the Irish Republic. Militant unionists in the north complain the arrangement segregates them from the rest of the U.K..
  • The Journal.ie attempted to answer, “How would a united Ireland do economically?
  • The Republic announced “Our Rural Future, 2021-2025” plan, which calls for 20 percent of government employees to work remotely  or mixed city center and rural locations by December, with further decentralization in following years.
  • Old Ireland in Colour, a collection of 170 black and white photos colorized through a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and old fashioned historical research, has been enjoying huge sales since its 2020 release. CNN and the Daily Mail published the latest features. (Thanks Bill T.)
  • Pope Francis elevated to International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine status the church and grounds at Knock, County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • Technology firm Intel announced it will create 1,600 permanent high-tech jobs at its Leixlip campus in County Kildare.
  • Cork city officials and business leaders have applauded the decision by An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national planning review board, to grant permission for a 34-story hotel and commercial tower on the site of the former Port of Cork. It would become Ireland’s tallest building. An Taisce, Ireland’s national historic trust, complained it will create “enormous change in the character of the city’s skyline.”

Artist rending of Cork city tower.