American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH
English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds1
“In investigating industrial conditions in Ireland, I found that Irish manufacturers and farmers had been and were being discriminated against by the British government and by powerful business interests in England in various ways,” Guest reported. “Some of the discriminations were of comparatively recent date, having their origin in the war and imposed under the Defense of the Realm Act. Others went further back. All of them, however, gave substance to the charges that England, deliberately or otherwise, is hampering the industrial development of Ireland.”
Guest detailed the system of grading and price and controls on Irish-grown flax, used to manufacture linen. He wrote that he witnessed the Jan. 22, 1920, Ballynahinch, County Down, market confrontation between flax seller Samuel King of Crossgar, and the Flax Control Board grader. An aggravated crowd of growers, their laborers, and other sympathizers, which Guest estimated at “upwards of 200” and the Freeman’s Journal described as “numbering 500”2, helped King wrest his flax cart away from the grader and some Royal Irish Constabulary officers. Heated words were exchanged, but no blows, according to both newspaper stories.
“I can assure you that I didn’t go to Ballynahinch to make trouble,” King said afterward; an interview that occurred at a public house, Guest wrote. “All I wanted was a fair, reasonable price for my flax.”3
King was fined £10 for unlawful removal of the flax, and the penalty was upheld on appeal.4 His bad luck continued later that summer when a fire caused by an engine spark destroyed his scutching mill.5
Guest also reported how wool rationing and restrictions on cattle exports contributed to Irish manufacturers being left to “the mercy of the English ‘shipping ring’ which forces them to pay [the] burden of excessive ‘channel charges’ on imports from the United States and elsewhere.” American exports to Ireland were required to first go to England, he noted, which “added considerably” to freight charges and lost time.
In September 1919, the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines began shipping from Philadelphia to Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. Guest reported the company was required to pay harbor, cartage, and other fees, as if its steamers stopped at Liverpool. United Press reporter Russell Browning detailed this problem later in a 1920 in a widely-published story that included an interview with Sinn Féin‘s Liam de Róiste. The Irishman said: “We believe they [Moore-McCormack] will attempt to safeguard their interest henceforth against matters of this kind.”6
By 1925, however, the American shipping company discontinued its Ireland service due to insufficient cargo for the westbound crossing.7
Irish Unrest Being Fanned By Neglect of Resources8
In this story Guest focused on Ireland’s reliance on imported coal and cement as examples of the country’s failure to develop its own natural resources and industries. He cited statistics and statement in reports of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Dublin Industrial Development Association, and quoted an unidentified “Irish manufacturer” and “contractor in Cork,” to illustrate his point.
“There is no question of the industrial possibilities of Ireland,” Guest wrote, “but to develop them into realities will require vision, stabilized government, energy, faith in the future of the country, and money. … The Sinn Féin party was the first political body in Ireland … to appreciate how vitally the country needed an industrial housecleaning and reorganization, and to take steps in this direction it appointed a non-partisan national commission to investigate the country’s resources, but the English government has refused to permit the Irish newspapers to publish any reports of its activities and has frequently suppressed its meetings.”9
NEXT: “Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem” and other stories from the conclusion of Guest’s series.
- Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, March 27, 1920.
- “Flax-Market Scenes” , Freeman’s Journal, Jan. 29, 1920.
- Was it a coincidence that Guest and perhaps a reporter from the Freeman’s Journal just happened to attend the Ballynahinch flax market? Might the episode have been a show for the press? More cynically, did Guest–who sourced some of his other reporting to Irish newspapers–simply rewrite the Freeman’s story on his return to America? The Irish paper did not attribute its description of the event other than to the interview with King.
- ”Compulsory Sale of Flax”, Belfast Newsletter, Feb. 19, 1920, and “Flax Control”, Freeman’s Journal, July 1, 1920.
- “Mill Fire In County Down”, Belfast Newsletter, Aug. 3, 1920.
- “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other newspapers.
- Robert E. O’Brien, “Moore-McCormack Lines Began A New Era of Shipping” in Sealift magazine, Volume XXVI, No. 4, April 1976, p. 17.
- Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, March 30, 1920.
- Guest is referencing the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland, discussed in my earlier ‘Dora’ post. Also see my my Newspapers post.