Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. Below are short biographies of three native Irish writers and excerpts from columns they had published in October 1919.
Frank Harris (1855-1931) was born in Galway and emigrated to America in 1869, age 13. He worked odd jobs and eventually moved west and earned a law degree. Harris returned to Europe and began his journalism career as a correspondent for U.S. newspapers before settling in London, where he worked at several publications. He began to write novels in the early 20th century; returned to America at the outbreak of the Great War; and became the editor at Pearson’s, a left-leaning monthly featuring fiction and arts and political coverage. In 1917, he wrote an essay “An Englishman on Ireland”. The column below was originally published in Pearson’s (linked) and syndicated to U.S. newspapers in October 1919. Two years later, Harris wrote another essay, “The Reign of Terror in Ireland”, and also became an American citizen.
How England Robs Ireland, from Pearson’s magazine
If I have fought for the ‘underdog’ all my life, and have championed lost causes continually without hope of success; if, as Bernard Shaw says, I have been wise by dint of pity, it is partly because in Ireland pity is a religion and the general atmosphere is softer and more affectionate than in any country I know, with the possible exception of Russia. … I can live in England with pleasure; I couldn’t live in Ireland or face Irish life for a year; it is too poor and drab. … Yet I am a Sinn Feiner and want to see an Irish republic, though twenty years ago I should have been satisfied with Home Rule; for I know that England is incapable of justice to Ireland … When (Ireland) appeals to kith and in in America she is insulted … America deserts you! or rather Mr. Wilson!”
Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) was born in County Waterford. An early (possibly first) novel, “Democracy”, was published in 1919. In a review, American author Upton Sinclair wrote “the work is deeply felt and intensely sincere.”1 Desmond went on to write more than 60 books, many of them about psychic phenomena, the occult, and spiritualism.
U.S. Converting Englishmen to Irish Freedom, from the New York Herald, Oct. 12, 1919
This is Ireland’s hour. There is not an Irishman throughout the world who does not feel it. England herself is feeling it. … In the twilight of the gods that to-day broods over Ireland the Irishman, whether Ulsterman or Southerner feels it. It is a feeling that rises above economic contentions, above policy, above reason itself. …
[Conservatives in Parliament] are astonished to find that Americans without distinction are ardent “Irishmen” whether they have Irish blood or not. When they hear of the Sinn Fein colors being carried down Fifth Avenue by New York regiments who are as anti-German as any Conservative among them they think it a horrible dream. To them it is as insoluble as so many other things American.
Ireland has put out the Sinn Fein constructive programme, which a prominent American lawyer told me the other day could be taken to any bank in Wall Street and money raised on it. Behind that programme is the brain of the movement–Arthur Griffith–for de Valera is only the inspirer. … I believe that Griffith and de Valera … feeling that the hour, which, if allowed to pass, may not return, has come, the psychological moment when Ireland has the ear of the world, are determined to put all on a throw of the dice. … We believe that English democracy has been educated to the point which has rendered Ireland’s self-government assured; that a way can be found out of the Ulster impasse; and that a little more patience will see the full fruition of Ireland’s hopes.
Seumas MacManus (1867-1960) was born in Mountcharles, County Donegal. The author, dramatist, and poet began writing for U.S. publications in the 1890s, including a 1907 piece for the North American Review, “Sinn Fein“: “Very quietly and silently, during the past decade, a change has been coming over the face of things political in Ireland … one of the greatest, most revolutionizing, that Ireland has known for a century…” In 1917, he published Ireland’s Cause. His book Lo, And Behold Ye!, “of kings and peasants, of saints and sinners, of fairies and others of the tribes of little folk in a maze of bewitching Irishry”2 was making its U.S. debut at the time this column was published.
Forces Opposed to Sinn Fein in Ireland Are in State of Collapse, from The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), Oct. 25, 1919
Ireland is the land of pilgrims. And the season just ended together with the year 1918 have been far and away the most wonderful pilgrimage seasons Ireland has known since the Middle Ages. The 1918 threatened conscription–Irishmen fighting under England’s flag–made wonderful impetus for the pilgrimage movement, and hundreds of thousands journeyed in prayer and penance to their favorite holy places. …
The most significant sign of the times in Ireland is the fact that the Freeman’s Journal, the oldest newspaper in Ireland and a newspaper that for long years had carried by far the greatest sway in Ireland, has just gone under and disappeared.3 While Sinn Fein was growing the Freeman’s Journal was prone to libel the character of the movement and the men. This was done only to prevent the virile new movement from indecently hurrying the demise of the played out [Irish Parliamentary Party, which supported late 19th century home rule.]
See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.
- ”Sinclar on ‘Democracy’ ” , New York Tribune, July 26, 1919, p. 5.
- “Reviews of New Books”, The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Oct. 5, 1919, p. 65
- Correcting my original note, historian Felix Larkin informs me: The old Irish Parliamentary Party company that ran the Freeman went into liquidation in October 1919; then the paper was bought by Dublin businessman Martin Fitzgerald, who ran it until 1924, when it closed for good. The Belfast News Letter, launched in 1737, was 26 years older than the Freeman.