Three Anglo-Irish Treaty supporters from Ireland visited Pittsburgh in early May 1922 to make the case for the agreement, as detailed in a guest post by Dr. Anne Good Forrestal, granddaughter of one of the delegates. An anti-treaty delegation headlined by Rev. Michael O’Flanagan arrived in the city at the end of the month.
“The so-called Irish Free State treaty is not a treaty for it does not establish a free State,” Rev. O’Flanagan said upon his arrival. “It will not be acceptable to the Irish people and it positively will not establish peace between Ireland and Great Britain, as English rulers think,” ” ‘Fighting Priest’ Here From Ireland; To Speak in Lyceum”, Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch, May 28, 1922.
Rev. O’Flanagan, of County Roscommon, was no stranger to America. He toured the country almost continuously between 1906 and 1910. On return to Ireland, he became active with Sinn Féin from 1911 through the Easter Rising and War of Independence. In November 1921, the party sent him to North America on a fund-raising tour. He remained away from Ireland until April 1925.”O’Flanagan, Michael” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.
The Pittsburgh chapter of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) hosted Rev. O’Flanagan and writer Peter Golden. Éamon de Valera established the national group in November 1920 in the split with the Friends of Irish Freedom. The association’s publicity material for Rev. O’Flanagan’s visit explained his nickname as “the fighting priest”:
While Father O’Flanagan never carried a gun or a sword, and never led a company of the Irish Republican Army, the fact that he was actually under fire on several occasions when attempts were made on his life and his courage in carrying on his work for the Republic in the most dangerous sections and periods won for him his title. … His visit to Pittsburgh will form part of a tour embracing the entire country during which his fiery oratory has inspired crowded houses in all the principal cities.From John B. Collins Papers, 1913-1976 AIS.1977.17, University of Pittsburgh, ULS Archives & Special Collections, American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, 1921-1932, Box … Continue reading
The publicity material was mailed to Sarah Moffit, 45, an 1895 Irish immigrant and member of the Pittsburgh AARIR chapter. Her husband, 12 years older, was an 1883 Irish immigrant who worked as a gas company pipe fitter, according to the 1920 U.S. Census. The couple were joined by three step children, a nephew, and two “roomers” at the same address seen in the letter below.1920 U.S. Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 22, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1524; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 673.
In a reflection of the city’s Irish community at the time, six of the 50 people shown on the same census sheet for the city’s North Side neighborhood were born in Ireland, while 10 others born in America had at least one Irish immigrant parent. Pittsburgh’s 14,000 native Irish in 1920, down from 19,000 in 1910, was 2.4 percent of the city population.
Moffit and the AARIR secured advance newspaper publicity about Rev. O’Flanagan’s visit, but the local press did not cover his speech; the last significant Irish event in the city before the civil war erupted in June 1922. The AARIR chapter remained active until at least 1925, according to contemporary newspaper reports.
|↑1||” ‘Fighting Priest’ Here From Ireland; To Speak in Lyceum”, Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch, May 28, 1922.|
|↑2||”O’Flanagan, Michael” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.|
|↑3||From John B. Collins Papers, 1913-1976 AIS.1977.17, University of Pittsburgh, ULS Archives & Special Collections, American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, 1921-1932, Box 1 Folder 5. Digital scans of 16 pages relating to O’Flanagan’s May 1922 Pittsburgh visit, including cited newspaper quote, provided March 30, 2022.|
|↑4||1920 U.S. Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 22, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1524; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 673.|