The Irish question, April 1919

Below are three opinions about “the Irish question” published in mainstream U.S. newspapers at the end of April 1919. Each includes a nod to America’s role in solving the problem. The first and third selections represent the views of contemporary Irish politicians; the third is from the review of an Irish-themed play in New York City. MH

Stephen L. Gwynn was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Galway city from 1909-1918, and a British Army officer during the war. His moderate Irish nationalism had fallen from favor by the time he wrote this April 28, 1919, piece for the Universal Services newspaper syndicate.

Gwynn

The only thing certain about the present situation in Ireland is that it will not last. The phalanx of Ulster Unionist members remains unbroken … [but] nobody seriously believes that the country can be ruled in permanence, as at the present, through a military occupation in force. Even setting aside all the protestations which have been made about the freedom of nationalities, government through a garrison of 70,000 or 80,000 troops is too costly a method. … At present, neither Ulster nor the rest of Ireland believes any threat or any promise issued by Great Britain. And who can blame them? … If America cannot help, I see nothing ahead by chaotic ferment … 1

New York-born journalist Heywood Broun in the 1930s would help found the American Newspaper Guild (later The Newspaper Guild). As drama critic at the New York Tribune, he filed this April 1919 review about the debut of the play “Dark Rosaleen,” (after the 19th century poem by James Clarence Mangan), which closed in July after 87 performances.

None of the possibilities of the Irish question is allowed to go by the boards. Whenever the playwrights have been in any doubt as to what to do next they have almost invariably decided to let somebody say something about Ireland fettered or Ireland free. Pessimistic summaries of Ireland’s present state and optimistic prophecies are received with equal enthusiasm. Personally, we can see no good reason why Ireland should not be free, but at the same time we never have been able to understand the emotional stimulus which audiences of Irish extraction or sympathies seem to derive from the sight of a number of comic characters in the play sitting about and weeping in their beer for the wrongs of poor old Erin. We never could figure out just how this was supposed to help along the cause of self-determination for the mush distressed country. However, there seems to be no doubt that material of this sort is sure fire in the theater, and do it proved last night.2

American journalist Harold E. Bechtold, managing editor of the Newspaper Enterprise Association, interviewed Seán Thomas O’Kelly, Irish envoy to the Paris peace conference. He later became the second president of Ireland.

O’Kelly

I asked him what would happen if the peace conference did not take up the Irish question or refused to recognize Ireland’s claim of independence. “In that case,” O’Kelly said, “Ireland will use every means that human ingenuity can devise to make the British government impossible in Ireland. I am also satisfied that the war will be carried out into the enemy camp and that England will have brought home to her own doors in most unwelcome form, vivid evidence of the Irish antipathy to English rule. Arms have been storied in every town and village in Ireland. … Irish people in the United States … all love Ireland, and if I know them correctly they will work with all their power to help Ireland gain her freedom.”3

  1. Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 29, 1919, p. 11.
  2. New York Tribune, April 24, 1919, p. 11.
  3. The Arkansas City (Kansas) Daily News, April 25, 1919, p. 6.

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