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.”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.
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.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.”“To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.
Distress in Ireland
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.”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.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
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.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.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.
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.
|↑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.|