Irish separatist Harry Boland urged a “race vendetta” against the British empire during a Jan. 6, 1921, speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The U.S. press jumped on his comment, reported in several variations, as highlighted:
- “If England does not stop its campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta among the millions of Irish throughout the world and take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Times“Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.
- “If England does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta all over the world, and when an Irishman is killed we will demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Herald“Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921
- “I say as calmly and deliberately as I can, that if Britain does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland, then we will preach to our millions scattered all over the world, a race vendetta, and demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The Irish Times, Philadelphia“No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the … Continue reading
Some papers simply quoted the phrase “race vendetta” in the headlines or body of their story, then used other direct quotes from the speech. Either way, Boland’s remark added to the swirl of Irish news in the American press at the start of 1921:
- Lord Mayor of Cork Donal O’Callaghan on Jan. 4 arrived as a stowaway aboard a commercial ship at Newport News, Virginia. He became the subject of a deportation debate as U.S. officials also renewed their attention on Boland’s status in the country without a passport.
- The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland continued its hearings on allegations of British atrocities in the two-year-old Anglo-Irish War. The American Committee for Relief in Ireland launched a separate effort to raise money for civilian victims of the war.
- The upstart American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) and the established Friends of Irish Freedom publicly feuded over the best way for the Irish in America to secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.
One of the first complaints about Boland’s broadside came from Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation magazine and a key supporter of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Villard addressed a letter to Boland, which the writer released to the press, to “protest most vigorously” the race vendetta comments “if they are correctly reported in the press.”Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Villard quoted Boland as calling for “a race vendetta in America” on behalf of the Irish cause. His letter continued:
…any suggestion that the (Irish) struggle be transferred to this side of the ocean will be resented throughout this country by all right-thinking Americans. The one hope of winning large numbers of Americans to the Irish cause is first to prove the justice of it, and second, to refrain from any acts of violence either in Ireland or here. … If any considerable number of our citizens of Irish birth and sympathies should act upon your advice and start a vendetta in this country against things or persons English over here, a justified wave of resentment would sweep from one side of the nation to the other and make it impossible for the Irish cause to obtain further hearing. Do not make any mistake; American interest in self-determination for Ireland does not imply hostility to England.Ibid.
The New York Tribune editorialized that Boland’s “ravings” should not to be taken seriously and were just another example of Ireland being “attacked from the rear by fool friends.”“The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921 The paper suggested “a committee of friends of Ireland might attend him on his tours as a guard, ready to yank him to his seat when signs come that his temperament is about to boil over.”
The New York Times, regularly critical of the Irish cause and dubious of the American Commission, praised Villard for drawing a “broad and clear” line against “Bolandism or Bolandery or whatever that incitement to violence may be called.”“Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921. The Times suggested that the “right-thinking Americans” described by Villard “are well aware that England will not grant complete independence to Ireland” for the same reasons the U.S. government would not grant sovereignty to Long Island, New York, “no matter how fiercely they might demand it.”
A third editorial, which was syndicated nationwide, noted Villard’s “friendliness to the Irish cause cannot be questioned” and praised his letter as “good advice … administered with rare effectiveness.” The editorial “hoped that Irish leaders who, perhaps unwittingly, have been offending against American traditions and interests, and thereby hurting their own cause, will be more circumspect hereafter.”“Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.
But the harshest editorial criticism came from John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic American, who regularly sparred with Boland and his boss, Irish President Eamon de Valera. The pair had created the AARIR only weeks before Boland’s Garden speech, shortly before de Valera returned to Ireland. The strategy of confrontation with Devoy and the Friends of Irish Freedom was de Valera’s, but Boland was largely responsible for its execution, according to Boland biographer David Fitzpatrick. While this alienated many old supporters of the Irish cause in America, it also mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans, including those without Irish heritage, behind the demand for self-determination.David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.
Devoy reported Boland’s controversial comment as: “If Britain does not stop her campaign of murder we will start a race vendetta, take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and I tell you again that you should tear down everything English in America if this does not stop.”“Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921. Devoy acknowledged that Boland described himself as speaking “calmly,” but the editorialist insisted the speaker “was very much heated up” and “shouted” his remarks. Devoy continued:
The restraining hand of de Valera has been withdrawn, and Boland is free to wag his tongue and make a fool of himself. Men who really contemplate vendettas and exacting ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth’ don’t swagger about it on public platforms and enable the enemy to take precautions and get evidence to secure convictions. Someone close to Boland ought to take Daniel O’Connell’s saying to heart when he was interrupted by a fool at a public meeting: ‘Will someone stuff a wisp of hay in that calf’s mouth.’”The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.
Boland acknowledged to his diary that he had been in “bad form” and “made an error” in the speech, which brought a “full blast” from the press. He told de Valera that he had “let my heart run away with my head.” Boland attempted to walk back his remark over the next few months, even as he insisted that he was “sadly misquoted.” Others urged him to let the matter rest.David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.
Over the next year Boland returned briefly to Ireland, came back to United States, then went back to Ireland again. He was shot while fighting against government forces during the Irish Civil War and died Aug. 1, 1922, age 35.
- See all my work on American Reporting of Irish Independence.
|↑1||“Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.|
|↑2||“Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921|
|↑3||“No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the speech, but is not identified as such.|
|↑4||Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.|
|↑6||“The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921|
|↑7||“Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921.|
|↑8||“Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.|
|↑9||David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.|
|↑10||“Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921.|
|↑11||The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.|
|↑12||David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.|