Kent State at 50: The view from 1970 Ireland

May 4 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1970 shooting deaths of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest against the Vietnam War. Eleven days later, two more students were shot by police on the Jackson State University campus in Mississippi.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were filled with unrest and violence in America … and in Ireland. The first 16 deaths of The Troubles occurred in 1969, with 42 more added in 1970; a figure that quadrupled the following year.1

Following my previous post about Irish journalists in America, I checked the digital archives to review Irish newspaper coverage of Kent State. Most of the reporting came from wire services. John Horgan of The Irish Times, writing from New York days after the shootings, described America as “a clumsy giant trying to escape from a coil of barbed wire, every movement only adds to the agony.”2 A week later, Horgan filed a two-part feature about how American academics were beginning to assess the political conflict in Northern Ireland.3

In Ireland, the Union of Students issued  a letter condemning “the brutal murder of four American students.” They criticized U.S. President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and his “contempt for the right of dissent … the shooting themselves are largely due to the type of attacks he has made on those who oppose his lunatic and criminal policy.” The Irish students asked the American Embassy in Dublin to convey their sympathy to the families of the dead.4

Iconic image of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of the slain student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University, May 4, 1970. John Paul Filo/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In an editorial, the Times wrote:

Inside America the mobilization of student protest goes on, tragically assisting by the shooting death of four people at Kent State University in Ohio. Nothing could be more calculated to arouse the emotions of the ‘campus bums,’ to use Mr. Nixon’s unhappy phrase of condemnation. This is hardly the time to attempt to denigrate American youth, or to pretend obliquely that the only patriots among them are those fighting in Indo-China.

Not all the protesters are patriots: neither are all the soldiers, the bulk of whom are conscripts. The campuses are not the only source from which rejection of the President’s tactics and strategy is emerging. The American people as a whole are troubled and confused. They sense that they are faced with a crisis of leadership, and are understandably afraid.5

The same day as the editorial, Irish Taoiseach Jack Lynch sacked government ministers Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney over allegations they helped send illegal arms to the Irish Republican Army. Both men were found not guilty before the end of the year.6

Nixon resigned in August 1974, and the Vietnam War ended in April 1975. In Northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday arrived in January 1972, the deadliest year of The Troubles, which lasted until 1998, with nearly 3,500 people killed.

  1. Ulster University, CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet): Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland, Malcolm Sutton, An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland, Chronology List of Deaths.
  2. “A Clumsy Giant in Agony” , The Irish Times, May 9, 1970.
  3. “Little of the Blarney Sticks in Carbondale, Illinois” , The Irish Times, May 15, 1970, and “Scholarly Views of Northern Political Conflicts,” The Irish Times, May 16, 1970.
  4. “Dail Discussion Ruled Out”, The Irish Press, May 6, 1970.
  5. “Flood-tide”, The Irish Times, May 6, 1970.
  6. CAIN, Chronology of the Conflict, 1970.

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