Irish-American press on partition parliament, June 1921

I’m researching a few projects this summer and posting less frequently. Please check back for updates. Visit my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series and other site content. MH

Partitioned Ireland

The Northern Ireland parliament sat for the first time on June 7, 1921. Two weeks earlier, the Ulster Unionist Party won a two-thirds majority of votes cast and 40 of the 52 seats in the new assembly. Two weeks later, King George V traveled to Belfast for the parliament’s ceremonial opening. 

The partition of six northeastern counties began with passage of Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. A  treaty creating the Irish Free State from the remaining 26 counties would be reached in December 1921.

The three editorials below are from June 1921 issues of the Irish-American press. All three publications were strongly pro-independence and against the island’s political division. David Lloyd George was the British prime minister from 1916-1922. Publication dates are linked to digital scans of the original editorial and the remaining pages of each issue.

Partition vs. Commonsense

The performances in connection with the attempted enforcement of Lloyd George’s farcical partition act in Northeast Ulster have served little other purpose than to expose, more clearly perhaps than ever before, the simple fact that partition is not an Irish but an English-made issue—a patent device to keep in existence an artificially engendered feud. But the logic of events and of the present situation is moving swiftly to convince the most sceptical that commonsense and common interests point clearly to the fact that independence of foreign rule and intrigue is the only solution of this so-called difficulty. 

The Belfast area is in reality the spearhead of English intrigue in Ireland. But the Belfast area cannot live and thrive cut off from the rest of the island. Its new partition parliament will be a parliament without an opposition party to serve as a mask for the true nature of the English intrigue at its heart. It will be a parliament staggering from the outset under an over burden of taxation for tribute. Thus it is clear that partition can no longer be mistaken for anything but the betrayal of Irish rights. It is clearly the Irish Republicans who are the defenders of the inalienable rights of the whole Irish people, in Antrim as well as in Cork, in Down as well as in Kerry.

–News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, June 4, 1921

Lloyd George’s Game In Ulster

What Lloyd George is aiming at is an artificial “Ulster” controlled by the British Government of the day. If he include the whole Northern Province there would be a majority, including Protestant Nationalists, against England, so he grouped the six Northeastern Counties together, called them “Ulster,” gerrymandered the electoral districts and placed the election machinery in the hands of the Carsonites so that a safe majority for England’s purposes might be secured. It was secured in the last election by gross fraud and intimidation. 

The next move in the game will be a “settlement” based on “an agreement between North and South,” in which the fraudulently created Ulster of six counties will have an equal vote with the other twenty-six counties of Ireland–which means a Veto on the decisions of the majority. 

–The Gaelic American, June 11, 1921

The “Six County” Parliament

The Loyalists elected to the “six-county” parliament held their first meeting last week. In the coming into existence under British law, of this body, some in the press on this side of the water pretends to see a factor tending to make what it calls a confusing situation still more confusing. “Southern” Ireland, the papers tell us, would have accepted “Home Rule” in 1914; today, the same part of Ireland will not accept it under any conditions. And, say those who seek to puzzle by their explanations, these same six counties seven years ago were ready to take up arms before they would allow “Home Rule” to be forced upon them, but today they are the only part of Ireland willing to have that same “Home Rule.” 

–The Irish Press, June 18, 1921

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

When Bloomsday feels like doomsday

This post was originally published June 15, 2016. MH

It’s 16 June: BloomsdayThe nearly global celebration marks the day in 1904 when the character Leopold Bloom treks through Dublin in James Joyce’s ”Ulysses.” Think literary St. Patrick’s Day with nicer weather.

Now, however, the date has a darker meaning in Ireland. It’s the anniversary of the 2015 collapse of a fifth-floor apartment balcony in Berkeley, Calif. Five Dublin students and an Irish-American woman were killed, another seven were injured. Most were in the U.S. on J-1 Summer Work and Travel visas.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin F. O’Malley issued a statement to media, which said in part:

On the first anniversary of the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded in Berkeley, California on June 16 last year and affected all of Irish society, the people of the United States extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured. In a remembrance ceremony today in Ballsbridge with U.S. Embassy personnel, we planted an apple tree in the Embassy’s front courtyard and unveiled a memorial plaque to serve as a living tribute to those affected by the tragedy.

As serious readers of “Ulysses” know, the novel references the horrific fire and sinking of the steamboat “General Slocum,” which occurred a day earlier in New York City. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers were killed, mostly German-American women and school children, though some historians suggest the death toll was higher. It was the worst disaster in New York history until 9/11.

general_slocum_1.jpg (744×447)

The “General Slocum,” before the 1904 tragedy.

In The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper in Ireland until 1924, the story was reported on page 5 of the 16 June 1904 edition. Contemporaries of Leopold Bloom read these multi-deck headlines:

Appalling American Disaster

Excursion Steamer on Fire

500 Lives Lost

Wild Scene of Panic

Children Thrown Overboard

Women Trampled to Death

Here’s the passage from “Ulysses,” which was serialized between 1918 and 1920, before being published in full in 1922:

Terrible affair that “General Slocum” explosion. Terrible, terrible. A thousand casualties. And heartrending scenes. Men trampling down women and children. Most brutal thing. What do they say was the cause? Spontaneous combustion. Most scandalous revelation. Not a single lifeboat would float and the fire hose all burst. What I can’t understand is how the inspectors ever allowed a boat like that . . .

Or how 111 years later Berkeley inspectors ever allowed a balcony like that …

Biden, Boris, and Brixit, oh, my!

This is a developing story. I’ll update this post as appropriate over the course of Biden’s European trip. Email subscribers should visit markholan.org directly to see the updates. MH

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UPDATE 2:

Transcript readout of U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan aboard Air Force One en route to Brussels, Belgium.

REPORTER: On Northern Ireland, did the President say anything in his conversations with Prime Minister Johnson about whether a U.S.-UK trade deal would be at risk if he doesn’t protect the Good Friday Agreement?  Did he ask Boris Johnson not to renege on Brexit — on the Brexit pact?  Or can you share a little bit about what the President told Boris Johnson about —

SULLIVAN:  All I’m going to say: They did discuss this issue.  They had a candid discussion of it in private.  The President naturally, and with, you know, deep sincerity, encouraged the Prime Minister to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the progress made under it.  The specifics beyond that, I’m not going to get into.

UPDATE 1:

The Biden vs. Boris showdown over Brexit has become a bit of a bust. The U.S president apparently seems content to have allowed his top diplomat to voice America’s position before the G7 meeting, as described below. It’s still possible Biden will name a special envoy to Northern Ireland to oversee how Brexit impacts the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Great Britain and the European Union appear headed to a trade war, which media has nicknamed “sausage war” because of particular dispute over the E.U.’s decision to ban chilled meats from crossing the Irish Sea.  The British prime minister has threatened to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol–which he and his country negotiated and agreed–that was supposed to ease trade over the U.K.’s only land border with the E.U.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S President Joe Biden has met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G7 summit. While the meeting is described as cordial, Brexit and Northern Ireland remain a thorny issue between the two leaders.

Last week a top U.S. diplomat in London expressed the administration’s concerns about Britain’s threats to renege on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the regulatory and trade mechanism agreed by Britain and the European Union to avoid a hard customs border between Northern Ireland, part of the Brexit, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the E.U. The New York Times reported:

News of that meeting surfaced in the Times of London on [June 9] just as Mr. Biden was arriving in the country. While some analysts predicted it would overshadow Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Johnson, others pointed out that it served a purpose — publicly registering American concerns in a way that spared Mr. Biden the need to emphasize the point in person.

The tensions are driven by the confluence of Biden’s strong Irish-American identity, bipartisan U.S. political support for the Good Friday Agreement, and Britain’s desire for a free-trade deal with the U.S. Sporadic violence–mostly by Northern Irish loyalists angry over what they describe as being set adrift from the U.K. by the protocol–has already flared ahead of the usual sectarian tensions of the July 12 Protestant marching season. And for added measure, Northern Ireland is marking the centenary of its political partition.

Union Jacks flutter outside a housing estate on the loyalist Shankill Road during my July 2019, visit to Belfast. 

Irish President Michael D. Higgins addresses ACIS

Irish President Michael D. Higgins has delivered “Of Heritage, Home and Healing”, his keynote address to the American Conference of Irish Studies (ACIS) 2021 conference. The full 52-minute speech video is posted below this one passage, which I wanted to highlight:

As to scholarly work on Ireland, may I say that there is a debt, never to be forgotten, as to what we owe to the American scholarship on Ireland for at least two centuries, and particularly when at the end of the 19th and through the first half of the 20th centuries, that such scholarship filled a void in relation to the late-19th century for which we in Ireland are indebted. For the work of so many, of those who crossed the Atlantic when our research was underfunded and slow, scholars such as Samuel Clark, J.S. Donnelly, L.F. Curtis, Kerby Miller, Emmet Larkin, Barbara Solow, and so many more. Their work is where so much of the work of Ireland in the 19th century begins as source and method, and I am so glad that through the work of the A.C.I.S. it continues with such range, flair and enthusiasm.

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Ireland is slowly emerging from COVID-19 lockdown. Outdoor dining for pubs and restaurants resumes June 7; indoor service is set to begin in early July. Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development agency, launched a €4 million “Keep Discovering” marketing campaign to drive domestic holidays and help to reboot the industry. Foreign visitors still face restrictions, though many are expected to begin easing in July. … Nearly 7,100 people have died in the Republic (4,941) and Northern Ireland (2,153).

The Press Council of Ireland & Office of the Press Ombudsman declared in its annual report: “The Irish media’s response to the challenge of reporting on the first pandemic for over a hundred years was overwhelmingly professional with the provision of objective information, analysis and debate. This considerable achievement was made against a backdrop of significant declining resources and the need for remote working.”

More from May:

  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) selected Edwin Poots as its new leader. On the one hand, he is seen in the mold of the late Ian Paisley; on the other, some observers say he could be surprisingly open minded. Potts is opposed to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade barriers (the Irish Sea “protocol”) and conservative on social issues. Potts pledged to unite the bickering strands of unionism to fight the Brexit deal and keep the province in the United Kingdom. … Doug Beattie, a British army veteran, was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in an uncontested race.
  • Britain announced plans for legislation to give greater legal protection to former soldiers who served during during The Troubles. sparking angry opposition from victims and lawmakers. The announcement came the day a judge-led inquiry in Northern Ireland found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of up to 10 innocent people in Belfast in 1971.
  • Irish and British government ministers are to meet for a formal summit on Northern Ireland in June in the first British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in two years.
  • Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities. An amendment that sought to impose sanctions on Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador failed.
  • Ireland’s Health Service Executive and Department of Health experienced cyber attacks.
  • A pair of cranes are nesting on a revitalized peat bog in the Irish Midlands. It is hoped they could be the first of the species to breed on the island in some 300 years. …. Ireland has ceased industrial peat harvesting and begun rehabilitating thousands of hectares of boglands by rewetting the drained sites and recreating crane habitat.
  • Scientists at NUI Galway have found an alarming rise in Noble False Widow spiders and confirm their bites can require hospitalization.
  • Pedalmania: 32 cycle routes in Ireland, one in every county.
  • A decade has passed since U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ireland. In a May 23, 2011 address in Dublin, he offered “hearty greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans who proudly trace their heritage to this small island.” Full remarks.
  • Image: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry, from Tourism Ireland.

ACIS presentation & leaning into the summer

I will attend and present a paper at the American Conference for Irish Studies, June 2-5. Unfortunately, the conference is switched to virtual from in-person at Derry city, Northern Ireland, as originally scheduled. I am taking some time away from the blog to finalize my presentation about the Irish diaspora witnesses at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings, 1920-21. I will post a limited amount of new content this summer as I work on several projects. As the weather warms and COVID restrictions continue ease, it’s a good time to get outside and away from the screens that have become too ubiquitous in our lives. Below, some of my work from the first part of the year. MH

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited

Wilfrid Ewart

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. This series revisits aspects of his journey at its 100th anniversary, though the book was not published until a year later.

American Committee for Relief in Ireland

I’ve written three posts about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and intend to add a few more before the end of the year.

Cardinal Gibbons Centenary

Cardinal Gibbons

I gave a virtual presentation in March about Cardinal James Gibbons for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore. He was born in the Maryland city in 1834, lived in Ireland with his family during the Great Famine, then returned to America. Cardinal Gibbons became involved in the cause of Irish freedom and humanitarian relief as the leading churchman in the United States. He died March 24, 1921, age 86.

My story for the Catholic Review (Baltimore):

Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to Ireland

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Final thoughts

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, which also includes my earlier work on Ruth Russell. By coincidence, Russell is included in the just released ‘Toward America‘ video at the new Mná100 website, part of the Irish government’s Decade of Centenaries commemorative program.

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Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919, shortly after the separatist Dáil Éireann opened in Dublin and the first shots of the War of Independence. Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland in spring 1921, shortly before the truce that helped end the war later that year.

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Both journalists recorded their observations of Ireland for newspapers: Russell in America, Ewart in Britain. Each expanded their work into books that combined their journalism with literary flourishes: Russell’s What’s The Matter With Ireland?, and Ewart’s A Journey In Ireland, 1921.

The two books are complementary, similarly-styled snapshots from opposite ends of the war. Both reporters interviewed and quoted key people who are still remembered in histories of the period. Both also mingled with the Irish living in the shadows of the revolution: Russell among women and children of the Dublin slums and the west of Ireland; Ewart with characters he encountered on several 20-mile walks between towns and at markets and rail stations. Both journalists sought to calculate nationalist and unionist enthusiasm and measure Catholic and Protestant division.

Though written two decades into the 20th century, the two books each offer glimpses of the long dusk of 19th century Irish rural life. They also offer wartime descriptions of Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Dublin.

From Russell:

In the evening I heard the murmur of revolution. With the shawled mothers who line the lane on a pleasant evening, I stood between the widow and a twenty-year-old girl who held her tiny blind baby in her arms. Across the narrow street with its water-filled gutters, barefoot children in holey sweaters or with burlap tied about their shoulders, slapped their feet as they jigged, or jumped at hop-scotch. Back of them in typical Dublin decay rose the stables of an anciently prosperous shipping concern; in the v dip of the roofless walls, spiky grass grew and through the barred windows the wet gray sky was slotted. 

From Ewart:

When night did finally close down and as curfew hour approached, the tide of the people set hurrying, over O’Connell Bridge towards the tram junction at the Nelson Pillar. The street lamps were lit and there were vague, shadowy crowds through which one had to press one’s way. Black motor cars containing mysterious-looking men rushed out of College Green at breakneck speed like bats or night-insects. Half an hour later–silence. I looked out of a window high up and saw spires, chimneys, rooftops bathed in moonlight, and heard one sound–a rifle shot.

Wilfrid Ewart

Both writers were college educated. Neither arrived in Ireland as wide-eyed innocents, nor were they as hardened and cynical as many journalists and politicians. Russell, 29, was the daughter of a Chicago newspaper editor who cut her reporting teeth on undercover assignments about women munitions plant workers. Ewart, 28, witnessed the horrors of Great War battlefields, where he survived wounds and illness. 

To be sure, Russell and Ewart each missed some nuisances of Irish revolutionary politics. Both appear to have allowed some personal bias to creep into their reporting. The same could probably be said of most journalists or historians.

On her return to America, Russell joined a Washington, D.C. protest against British rule in Ireland and testified about her experiences at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Ewart, a former British military officer, published an acclaimed debut novel about the Great War. 

Year-long delays in publishing their Ireland books and rapidly evolving events minimized the impact of their reporting in the country. Russell disappeared into the career of a Chicago public school teacher; Ewart was accidentally killed at the end of 1922. His book has received more attention and reissues than hers. One reason could be a sexist bias for the male military officer over the American woman. Another, I believe, is that Ewart wrote the better book.

This blog occasionally considers the cinematic possibilities of Irish history, such as the 1913 travels of two French women who produced the first color photographs of the country, and the Lartigue monorail of County Kerry. There is an opportunity for a movie about Russell and Ewart traveling through revolutionary Ireland, at the same time instead of two years apart. They compete for scoops, dodge danger, and, of course, fall in love. The film has either a tragic ending amid the ambushes and reprisals, or a happy one at the threshold of Irish independence.

For now, their accounts stand together as companions on my bookshelf.

Below: Adverts for Russell’s and Ewart’s Ireland books.

 

A Journey in Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ewart reviewed

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 can be found in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

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Wilfrid Ewart from a painting by Nora Cundell, used as front matter in Stephen Graham’s 1924 biography.

In his Introduction to Journey, Edward Turnour, the 6th Earl Winterton, writes that Ewart made “an honest attempt to record, without prejudice, the extraordinary conflict of views and of right in present-day Ireland.” Winterton also makes an insensitive, if unintentional, comment that “any man or woman with two eyes” could have seen Ireland’s condition in 1921 was “a disgrace to civilization and an outrage upon humanity.”

Ewart was blind in one eye.

Punch, the acerbic London weekly, noted that many people traveled to Ireland during the war, “but they intelligently refrained from writing books about it.” The review continued:

If Captain Ewart had published his experiences immediately after his return to England in May 1921, they might have had some interest for the general English reader, who at that time was amiably prepared to swallow any Irish propaganda that was served out to him. Captain Ewart is not a propagandist, but his experiences consisted of talking to Irishmen who are propagandists … The strange thing is not that Captain Ewart was being gulled from the day he set foot in Ireland, but that he should have decided, a whole year after this event, to erect this literary monument to his own gullibility.[1]“A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.

Ewart biographer Stephen Graham revealed the book’s publisher delayed Journey‘s release to avoid conflicting with his friend’s 1921 novel, The Way of Revelation. Journey should have “appeared within a few weeks to be of any news value,” Graham wrote in 1924, two years after the author’s accidental death at age 30. “Excellent as it is, [Journey] fell flat, as it was really out of date. Ireland by then had entered a new phase,”[2]Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.

Irish reviews 

Ewart’s book enjoyed a measure of success among Irish and American readers.

The Irish Examiner praised how Ewart “obtained the views of prominent citizens of all shades of opinion” and presented their views “with fairness and impartiality.” It said the book “will interest the reader to note how far the prophecies and the prognostications, the diagnoses, the recommendations, the hopes and fears expressed in it, have come within reach of realization, or been discounted.”[3]“The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922. That remains more true 100 years later.

Screenshot of scanned original edition cuts off bottom portion.

Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien, wife of Irish nationalist William O’Brien, said that Ewart sent her husband an account of the April 1921 interview at their home “for revision”, followed later by a copy of the published book. It “was a very friendly one and gave a very good impression of the author,” she wrote. A friend of the couple was so “charmed” that he “carried it off,” presumably never to be returned.[4]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

Ewart also interviewed Irish nationalist George Russell in April 1921. The Irish Homestead, the weekly edited by Russell, reviewed Ewart’s book in summer 1922, but I have not been able to access an archived copy.[5]This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.

 American reaction

In the United States, reviews and advertisements for Journey also appeared in summer 1922. Many reviews were just blurbs. Several mention The Way of Revelation, or Ewart’s U.S. travels with Graham at the time.

North Carolina educator and historian William Thornton Whitsett syndicated his review to newspapers a few weeks after the Aug. 22, 1922, assassination of Michael Collins. Whitsett found “extraordinary timeliness” in Journey’s publication “for a world stunned by such a catastrophe … and altogether baffled by the whole bloody course of events in Ireland.[6]“Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.

Anna L. Hooper, literary editor of the Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, offered the contradictory conclusion that Journey “is not a book of any great weight or value, but it is an entertaining and unbiased account of conditions during a very important period in modern history, and it is well worth reading.”[7]“New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.

The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle included Journey in a roundup with two other Irish books: Andrew Gerrie’s Ireland’s Woes and Britain’s Wiles, and Ronald McNeill’s Ulster’s Stand For Freedom. Reviewer F.W. Davidson said Ewart’s book:

…is as almost detached as were the writings of [William] Wordsworth in the days of the French revolution. Such detachment of mind is a great service to the present moment … [but] Ewart has no theory to advance in this volume; he has no remedy to propose for quieting and better government of the country.[8]“Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.

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

Modern reviews

In a review of the 2009 University College Dublin Press edition of Journey, Rory Brennan opined:

Ewart comes across as a decent man, if a plodding writer. These pedestrian attributes tend to make him a credible commentator, one not to over-egg the pudding with orange or green additives.[9]”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.

At the 2003 release of The Tourist Gaze: Travelers to Ireland: 1800-2000, reviewer Willie Nolan wrote “my favorite piece in this anthology has to be the extract from” Ewart’s Journey.[10]“The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260. Gaze contains 72 selections.

As mentioned earlier in this series, Maurice Walsh included Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and also quoted from it in his 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. I’m sure there are other academic citations and reviews.

Abe Books advertises a G. P. Putnam, London, first edition hardback in very good condition for $99. Other sites offer used first editions for as little as $10. In addition to on-demand reprints, A Journey In Ireland, 1921 is digitized.

NEXT: Final thoughts

References

References
1 “A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.
2 Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.
3 “The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922.
4 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.
5 This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.
6 “Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.
7 “New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.
8 “Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.
9 ”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.
10 “The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Mysterious Mr. X.

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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Journalists faced danger and intimidation in Ireland throughout the revolutionary period. Examples include:

  • In March 1919, Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News wrote of being secreted to an interview with Irish leader Eamon de Valera, then on the run after escaping from an English prison.[1]Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 58, p.105.
  • In early 1920, Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe reported on growing violence by government authorities and Sinn Féin rebels, including suppression of the Irish press and seizure of American newspapers.[2]“British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest”, New York Globe, March 24, 1920.
  • By late 1920, embattled police pointed guns and threatened the life of Hugh Martin of the Daily News, London. His reporting of episodes in Dublin and Kerry aroused international condemnation and sparked parliamentary debate about the safety of journalists in Ireland, as detailed by Walsh.[3]Daily News, Oct. 25, 1920, Nov. 3, 1920, and Nov. 4, 1920; Martin, Hugh, Ireland In Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, Daniel O’Connor, London, 1921, pp. 133-134, 142-144. Walsh, News, … Continue reading

In spring 1921, Ewart dodged peril first at the hands of the police and British military, then from a gang of young Irish republicans, as detailed in my earlier “Twice detained” post. Released unharmed in  both instances, he faced recurring intimidation from “Mr. X.”, a mystery man first encountered in Cork.

Tough-looking customer

Ewart writes:

Mr. X. was a tall man of fine physique, dressed in a grey tweed suit, and he always wore a black tie with a rather flash-looking pearl pin. On the street he wore a “billycock”; he never carried a stick, umbrella, or gloves. He had a hard, bony face, a short bristly mustache, and a devil-may-care expression which boded ill for anyone who should cross him. Altogether a tough-looking customer.

He appeared to have plenty of money too, and nothing to do all day but chaff the waiters, drink whiskies-and-sodas and stand at the door of the hotel with his hands in his pockets. Once or twice I met him in the street, standing out- side some tea-shop or lounging along the pavement treating the world to a defiant sneer. If by chance one fell into conversation with the hall-porter of the hotel or any of its residents, this individual appeared from nowhere; you would suddenly find him lighting a cigar at your elbow or looking out of the window within hearing distance, or he would frankly seat himself opposite and order a drink.

We had a conversation about nothing. We regarded one another with hostility. I never discovered anything about X. except that he had served in the South African War and had held a commission during the European War. To the end of my journey — and we were often to meet — X. remained a mystery.[4]Journey, pp. 26-27.

The shadowy figure reappears at the Charleville Junction rail station on the border of Cork and Limerick counties, in Limerick city, and in Belfast. He was probably a Special Branch agent assigned to keep an eye on Ewart. The government probably wanted to avoid more negative attention like that generated by Martin. The book version of his newspaper reporting published just before Ewart arrived in Ireland.[5]Reviews of Martin’s Ireland in Insurrection began to appear in February 1921. Coincidentally, Martin refers to a Mr. X., “an American journalist of high standing,” clearly a … Continue reading

Cork-Bandon railway terminus, Cork city, 1920. (Cork City Library)

Mr. X. may have been the hidden hand that waved approval for Ewart’s release from police authorities in Mallow. He does not seem to have been near the author’s encounter with five republican youths on the road to Tullamore. Had that episode turned violent against Ewart, a former British military officer, it surely would have been exploited for propaganda.

Other journalists

In Journey, Ewart complains how “propaganda and partisanship persistently vied” for attention in Ireland, and “newspapers contradict each other” in their coverage of the war.[6]Journey, p.ix. In addition to his encounters with Mr. X., the author also crosses paths with other journalists during his travels.

He stops in a Dublin newspaper office to ask about a curfew pass and interviews “a Cork newspaperman” who defends the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. One journalist in Limerick discusses “the temperamental difference between Englishman and Irishman”, another reporter in the city tells Ewart it “was a bad day for Ireland when the shooting began.”[7]Journey, pp. 8, 76, 118, 135, respectively. Ewart interviews Irish nationalists George Russell, editor of the Irish Homestead, and former United Ireland editor William O’Brien, but does not mention if they discussed journalism.

The author alludes to “a special correspondent of one of the great London newspapers,” without naming the individual or the publication, in regard to reporting about the two murdered mayors of Limerick. He cites the Illustrated Sunday Herald and the Morning Post.[8]Ibid, pp. 153, 101, 230. 

Ewart reproduces the multi-headlined street placard of an unnamed Cork newspaper. Newsboys on Grafton Street shout about “Another Dublin Bombing”; in Belfast, they hawk the “early sixth” edition of the Freeman’s Journal.[9]Ibid, pp. 51, 3, 232. 

Ewart’s accounts of his April-May 1921 travels in Ireland appeared in the Times and Sunday Times, London, and Westminster Gazette nearly a year before his book published in 1922. In the front matter, he thanks Freeman’s editor Patrick Joseph Hooper for his assistance in preparing the book. Hooper had been the paper’s assistant correspondent in London from 1897 to 1912, then chief correspondent from 1912 to 1916, making him a natural contact for British journalists in Ireland.[10]Journey, Preface, p. x. Hooper referenced by title, not by name. “Hooper, Patrick Joseph” by Felix M Larkin in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and my correspondence with Larkin.

Delayed publication

In a March 23, 1922, “Note” for the front matter of Journey, Ewart blames the book’s delay on the protracted negotiations between the British government and Irish separatists that began in July 1921. [Earlier, according to his own reporting.] He says it was “inadvisable in the public interest” to publish sooner. This is dubious. Biographer Stephen Graham wrote that Journey was delayed to avoid conflicts with Ewart’s debut novel, The Way of Revelation.

Dublin Castle

I wonder if there is another possibility:

  • Did Dublin Castle or London, still smarting from bad experiences with Martin and other reporters beyond the government’s control, exert pressure on Ewart or his publisher for the delay?
  • Had Mr. X. obtained some compromising detail about Ewart’s travels in Ireland, perhaps threatening the author’s military pension, in order to enforce the delay or alter the content?
  • Did Ewart know or learn the identity of his stalker before he published Journey, contradicting his declaration that no incident of any interest or significance was “suppressed” from his book?  

Of course, Mr. X. may have been a fiction, a literary feint to create narrative tension and personify “the somber realities of Ireland, 1921,” which Ewart writes late in the book “could not be ignored, even in Belfast.” There, as in other parts of the country, armored lorries and tenders and vansful of soldiers careened about the streets, so familiar “that one hardly noticed them.” Spies and suspicion of spies seemed to be everywhere. Tensions grew between unionists and republicans, Protestants and Catholics. It is in Belfast that Ewart encounters Mr. X’s “defiant sneer at the world” for the last time.[11]Journey, p. 251.

The identity of Mr. X is unknown and probably unknowable. Ewart was accidental killed on Dec. 31,1922, age 30. Graham’s 1924 biography does not offer any clues about Ewart being followed in Ireland; he simply describes his friend as “an intrepid foreign correspondent or war correspondent in embryo … [who] showed great personal courage.”[12]Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, p. 159.

NEXT: Ewart reviewed

References

References
1 Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 58, p.105.
2 “British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest”, New York Globe, March 24, 1920.
3 Daily News, Oct. 25, 1920, Nov. 3, 1920, and Nov. 4, 1920; Martin, Hugh, Ireland In Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, Daniel O’Connor, London, 1921, pp. 133-134, 142-144. Walsh, News, pp. 74-75, 87-92.
4 Journey, pp. 26-27.
5 Reviews of Martin’s Ireland in Insurrection began to appear in February 1921. Coincidentally, Martin refers to a Mr. X., “an American journalist of high standing,” clearly a different person. Insurrection, p. 138.
6 Journey, p.ix.
7 Journey, pp. 8, 76, 118, 135, respectively.
8 Ibid, pp. 153, 101, 230.
9 Ibid, pp. 51, 3, 232.
10 Journey, Preface, p. x. Hooper referenced by title, not by name. “Hooper, Patrick Joseph” by Felix M Larkin in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and my correspondence with Larkin.
11 Journey, p. 251.
12 Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, p. 159.

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.

***

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.