This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited
“…I could neither ask, nor, if I asked, could expect to get from him.”
–William Henry Hurlbert
Hulbert recognized that Michael Davitt was not going to divulge the latest strategies inside the Irish agrarian and nationalist movements. Based on the five pages Hurlbert devoted to his one hour interview with Davitt, it appears the American reporter did not ask many tough questions about such activities. He focused on other issues.
Hurlbert reported that Davitt’s thoughts were occupied with managing a wool export business, which the author believed could penetrate the American markets despite a tariff at the time.
“He has gone into it with all his usual earnestness and ability,” Hurlbert said of Davitt. “This is not a matter of politics with him, but of patriotism and of business. He tells me he has already secured very large orders from the United States.”
The day before his 15 February 1888, meeting with Hurlbert in London, Davitt wrote in his diary:
Attended Woolen Co. meeting. While doing fairly well in America, orders not as large as expected though. Visit was another loss for season.
The Irish Woolen Manufacturing & Export Company was established in spring 1887 with backing from about 20 Dublin business men. Davitt told the Freeman’s Journal that the enterprise would buy wool from small mills, pay owners on delivery of orders, “and in that way increase their confidence and help them to extend their works, improve the workmanship of their goods, and gradually multiply their hands.”
Hurlbert also suggested that Davitt was “quite awake” to the possibility of developing granite quarries in counties Donegal and in his native Mayo:
This bent of his mind towards the material improvement of the condition of the Irish people, and the development of the resources of Ireland, is not only a mark of his superiority to the rank and file of Irish politicians–it goes far to explain the stronger hold which he undoubtedly has on the people of Ireland.
The American reporter recognized Davitt’s interest in cultivating native industries. Davitt wrote a series of articles between November 1885 and January 1886 for the Dublin Evening Telegraph that “advanced practical proposals on industrial rejuvenation at a time when Dublin industries were moribund,” historian Laurence Marley has noted. Marley continued:
Davitt had spoken of the need for Irish industrial development after his release from Dartmoor [prison]. … He undertook a number of industrial ventures, incurring considerable financial costs. His practical interventions met with little success, but the ideas which he expounded were nevertheless significant.
Davitt did not mention his interview with Hurlbert in his diary entries for February 1888, which include the passage about the Woolen Co. He also made more mundane notations, such as “Sick” ; “At home gardening all day” ; and “Wrote 25 letters since 8 last night.” His diary, notebooks, letters and other papers are held at Trinity College Dublin.
During his October 1889 testimony before the Special Commission on “Parnellism and Crime,” Davitt made a passing reference to Hurlbert as having attended a July 1882 speech he gave in New York. He described the American journalist as “at the time editor of a New York newspaper, now Coercionist chronicler for Mr. Balfour in Ireland.”
In his 1904 book, The fall of feudalism in Ireland; or, The story of the land league revolution, Davitt again briefly mentioned Hurlbert, by then dead for nine years:
Ireland Under Coercion … was intended to show that Mr. Parnell and the National League, not Mr. Balfour and Dublin Castle, were the true coercionists in Ireland. What the purpose or motive of the book was has remained a mystery.
Though Davitt did not mention his meeting Hurlbert in his diary, he certainly paid attention to his coverage in the press, including his 29 January 1888, speech in Rathkeale, County Limerick. In the diary, Davitt wrote:
Splendid report in yesterday’s London Times of my Rathkeale speech. Freeman[‘s Journal] had left out references to boycotting etc. Times leader strangely complimentary–which means, if it has any meaning–put this man in Tullamore.
Hurlbert commented about the Freeman’s coverage of Davitt’s speech upon his arrival in Dublin, as noted in my earlier post. The author made other references to Davitt throughout his book, which I’ll explore in later posts, as appropriate.
NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I reviewed Davitt’s diary 21 February 2018 at Trinity College Dublin. (Thanks to the helpful staff.) Davitt’s Special Commission quote from page 152 of The Times Parnell Commission Speech Delivered by Michael Davitt in Defense of the Land League. Davitt’s second quote about Hurlbert from page 559 of The fall of feudalism in Ireland. Details about Davitt’s business interests from pages 130 and 156-158 of “Davitt and Irish economic development: ideas and interventions” chapter of Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur, by Laurence Marley, Four Courts Press, 2007. … The paragraph about Davitt’s quote at the Special Commission added during revision, about a week after the original post.
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Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan