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About admin

I am a proud Irish-American journalist living in metro Washington, D.C. In 1997 I claimed Irish citizenship through my maternal grandparents from Lahardane townland (Ballybunion) and Kilelton townland (Ballylongford) in north County Kerry. I have made five trips to Ireland since 2000, exploring most of the island, including the partitioned north. I have published numerous articles about Ireland in newspapers, magazines and websites, including my online blog. I received a Journalism Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund of the United States that paid for a month-long reporting trip to Ireland in 2001. I generally support the reunification of the island of Ireland for reasons of historical and geographic integrity. I recognize there are vast differences in the religious, social and political traditions of north and south, just as I realize there are differences between native Irish and Irish Americans.

‘The Irish Press’ withheld news of de Valera’s U.S. arrival

In June 1919, The Irish Press of Philadelphia obtained one of the biggest international news scoops since the end of the Great War. It sat on the story.

Irish leader Éamon de Valera, who evaded British authorities to sneak aboard the S.S. Lapland at Liverpool, arrived June 11 in New York City. Reports that he was missing from Ireland and possibly heading to America were just beginning to appear in U.S. newspapers.

Éamon de Valera

For a dozen days, de Valera’s whereabouts remained a secret kept by a small circle of supporters, including  Joseph McGarrity and Dr. Patrick McCartan, publisher and editor of the Press, respectively. McGarrity met de Valera on his first night in New York. A few days later he welcomed de Valera to his home in Philadelphia, where McCartan briefed the visitor on American efforts to help Ireland.1

Joseph McGarrity

McGarrity and McCartan were both natives of Ireland: the publisher used his business fortune to bankroll the newspaper and other nationalist efforts, the editor was an elected member of the first Dáil Éireann. The “primary concern in the Irish Press remained the cause of recognition of the Irish Republic in the United States,” McCartan wrote of this period.2 A look at the paper’s June 14 and June 21 issues reveals just how deeply they deceived their readers to serve that cause, rather than transparent journalism.

Harry Boland

The front page of the June 14 issue reported that Harry Boland, another member of the Dáil, “recently arrived” in the U.S. as “special envoy” to America. In fact, Boland had been in the country for over a month. Shortly after his arrival he met with McGarrity and McCartan in Philadelphia.3 Boland also joined McGarrity to welcome de Valera the night of June 11 in New York .

Even more audacious, however, was the page 3 guest column by the Irish leader: Application of Our Principals Means Free Erin, Says De Valera.  The sub-headline, “President of the Irish Republic Forwards Statement to People of the United States,” implied that de Valera had mailed the commentary from Ireland. It is unclear when, from where, or even if he penned the piece:

All liberty-loving nations of the world owe to the Irish the recognition of the independence of Ireland, not only because of the indisputable right of the people of Ireland to govern their own national destinies, but also because that right is deprived by England on grounds which are a negation of national liberty everywhere, and subversive to international peace and order.

The deceit continued in the June 21 issue of the Press. Tucked in the bottom right corner of the front page were two small briefs that speculated about de Valera’s whereabouts:

  • The first, dated June 17, suggested “well-informed circles” in Paris reported he was in Switzerland, but “the nature of the mission could not be learned.”
  • A June 11 Universal Services dispatch from Dublin suggested de Valera left Ireland June 1 “on an unknown mission” to England. “The news comes as a surprise to all Ireland. Speculation as to the purpose of his trip and his present whereabouts is intense.”

Dr. Patrick McCartan

This was pure nonsense and misdirection, truly “fake news,” from McGarrity and McCartan, who knew de Valera had been in America for 10 days. Their newspaper was just playing along with similar stories in the mainstream U.S. press. McCartan wrote:

We kept secret the manner of his coming. His arrival when announced, created a great sensation, and the mysterious ease with which he had eluded the British added to the popular interest in him. … Nothing was lacking to make him a popular hero. And America was eager to see him and to do him homage.4

Finally, in its June 28 issue, the Press headlined:

Irish President Reaches America

Eamon de Valera, Head of Republic, Arrives in New York.

To Work for Recognition.

The story was dated June 25, two days after de Valera’s public debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. McGarrity and McCartan were among the hundreds of supporters packed into the ballroom reception.5 The Press story was silent as to when de Valera arrived in America, but noted that speculation about him “had been reported for some days … [and] concoctions of all sorts had been published in the newspapers.”

The Irish Press had perpetrated the biggest concoction of all.

Hiding Disney’s Florida land deals

Other newspapers have withheld information from their readers for what publishers believed to be a greater good. In the early 1960s, for example, Orlando, Florida, newspaper publisher Martin Andersen tamped down news that entertainment entrepreneur Walt Disney was buying huge tracks of acreage in the central part of the state for a second Disneyland theme park. The Orlando Sentinel recalls the story.

The other Irish aboard the ‘Lapland’ with de Valera

Stowaway Éamon de Valera was the most famous passenger aboard the S.S. Lapland’s early June 1919 voyage to America. He was smuggled aboard in Liverpool, suffered seasickness crossing the Atlantic, then secreted down the gangway at New York. It was the start of his 18-month tour of America, which I’ll return to in future posts through December 2020.

At least three dozen fare-paying Irish, detailed below, also sailed aboard the Lapland.1 They were among the rebuilding wave of emigrants to leave Ireland during the War of Independence and Civil War.

In 1918, the final year of the Great War, fewer than 400 people emigrated from Ireland. That was less than one one-hundredth of the previous 10-year high of 51,000 in 1910.2 The 1915 sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania and similar attacks at sea, and other factors related to the war, caused the reduced flow.

In 1919, however, Irish emigration surged tenfold to more than 4,300, with slightly more than half bound for America. It increased to 30,500 in 1920, as slightly more than three quarters sailed to U.S. ports. During the five-year War of Independence and Civil War period, 1919-1923, a total 115,477 people left Ireland (an average of 23,000 per year), with 73 percent (84,051) destined for America.3

As for the Lapland, it was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, and launched in 1908. In April 1912, the Titanic’s surviving crew returned to England aboard the ship. It was requisitioned during the war as a troop transport; then returned to commercial service between Liverpool and New York within weeks of the armistice being signed in November 1918.

S.S. Lapland

Author Dave Hannigan set the scene as the Lapland made its way through the Narrows and up the Hudson River. As de Valera remained hidden below decks waiting for the cover of darkness:

… hundreds of passengers percolated to the top deck to catch a better glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, coming into view on the port side of the boat. … Manhattan lay off to their right, already steaming in the early morning of June 11, 1919, a shimmering monument to the progress in the still-young century. … From the soldiers returning from Europe to resume live interrupted, to the immigrants dreaming of their new lives, the reactions were similar as the skyline took their breath away. Awe. Excitement. Joy. Relief. Their destination was at hand 4

Below are the names of the Lapland‘s Irish passengers who arrived in New York on June 11, 1919. Most were from locations in today’s Northern Ireland, or northwest portions of the Republic. Several had visited America before the war, just as de Valera was returning the country of his birth.

I’ve included the last place of residence, age, marital status, who going to see and where, and the length of stay, according to the manifest. Some planned to return within weeks or months; “always” and “permanent” were each used for those who intended to stay. There were probably additional Irish passengers aboard the ship among those listed with “British ethnicity” but no recorded place of residency.

I hope genealogists or relations of these passengers will be inspired to search for more details. Please contact me with any new information, which I’ll be happy to report in a future post.

  • John Bethune Armstrong, Belfast, 18, single, Uncle S. Murdock in Ridgemoor, N.J., 1 year.
  • Florence Carlisle, Belfast, 34, single, Sister Mrs. C.W. Salmond, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1 year.
  • Frank William Chambers, Dublin, 42, married, MacAlpine Hotel, New York, N.Y., 6 weeks.
  • William Mitchell Cooke, Belfast, 21, single, Friend Mr. Jackson, New York, 1 year/uncertain.
  • Agnes Copley, Dublin, 26, single, Sister Mrs. Howe, Brooklyn, N.Y., uncertain, See John James Black Mason below.
  • Minnie Courtney, Moy, 30, married, Brother (illegible), Philadelphia, uncertain.
  • Christopher Courtney, Moy, 3, See above.
  • Annie Dempster, Belfast, 47, married, Husband William Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Elizabeth Dempster, Belfast, 27, married, Father-in-law Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., uncertain.
  • John Dempster, Belfast, 25, married, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Margaret Dempster, Belfast, 17, single, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • William Goag Dempster, Belfast, 13, single, Father Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • John Russell Dempster, Belfast, six months, Grandfather Wm. Dempster, New York, N.Y., permanent.
  • Alice Ferguson, Stradbully, 30, married, Husband William Ferguson, Villanova, Pa., always.
  • William Ferguson, Stradbully, 4, Father Wm. Ferguson, See above.
  • William Dudley Fielding, Dublin, 17, single, Grandfather C. Mallow, Elgin, Ill., uncertain.
  • Delia Gorman, Killkee, 25, married, Husband T.J. Gorman, Kansas City, Mo., always.
  • Thomas J. Gorman, Killkee, 3, Father T. J. Gorman, See above.
  • John Peter Hayes, Roscrea, 35, single, Friend Bishop Schinner, Spokane, Wash., permanent.
  • Winifred Lynch, Ballyhaunis, 32, married, Husband Thomas Lynch, U.S. Army, permanent.
  • John James Black Mason, Belfast, 57, single, Sister Mrs. Howe, Brooklyn, N.Y., uncertain, See Agnes Copley above.
  • Harry A. McCormick, Belfast, 36, single, Mr. Ward, Sausalito, Calif., 1 month.
  • Alfred McClintock, Bruckless, 32, single, Brother-in-law Rev. F. Timperley, Brooks, Maine, 6 months.
  • Patrick Joseph McGrady, Dronmore, 28, married, Friend J. McPoland, Pittsburgh, Pa., permanent.
  • Anna Kathleen McGrady, Dromore, 25, married. See above.
  • Michael O’Connell, Knocklong, 26, single, Right Rev. Bishop Grace, Sacramento, Calif., permanent.
  • Kate Reilly, Belfast, 52, single, Sister Miss Mary Reilly, New York, N.Y., always.
  • Amy Torpey, Kenmare, 30, married, Husband Michael Torpey, Philadelphia, always.
  • Sarah F. Torpey, Kenmare, 3, Father Michael Torpey, See above.
  • Catherine Walsh, Belfast, 60, married, Daughter Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Margaret Walsh, Belfast, 35, single, Sister Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Bridget Walsh, Belfast, 19, single, Sister Mrs. Campbell, Newark, N.J., always.
  • Norman F. Webb, Randalstown, 33, single, Imperial Hotel, New York, N.Y., 7 weeks.
  • William Hubert Webb, Randalstown, 47, married, Imperial Hotel, New York, N.Y., 7 weeks.
  • John Whelan, Youghal, 31, single, Sister Lena Doolan, Elizabeth, N.J., always.
  • Elizabeth White, Tallyearl, 40, single, Uncle George Mano, Philadelphia, Pa., always.

The hair was in Clare (Trump in Ireland)

(This post is now closed. Thanks for following our coverage. MH)

SELECT COVERAGE:

  • “Whether or not each succeeded is up for debate – but any suggestion that the reception from official Ireland was on the fawning side ignores the fact that it was pretty muted compared to US presidential visits.” From TheJournal.ie.
  • “President Trump’s visit to Ireland also highlighted the fact that he is a polarising figure. I see this regularly in the US. In the media, in Congress and on the streets, you encounter a level of admiration from his staunch supporters matched only by the level of disdain from his detractors.” Brian O’Donovan, RTE Washington correspondent.
  • A Washington-based government watchdog group complained that Trump’s Doonbeg golf resport used its Twitter feed to promote the president’s visit, blurring the line between business and government interests, The Hill reports. @TrumpDoonbeg  later deleted its two tweets. @realDonaldTrump has not mention of Ireland on his feed.‏
  • Trump walked off the fairway at his Doonbeg golf resort Friday morning in the middle of his round to visit with a small group of children and teachers from the Clohanes National School, which adjoins the links. “They were are absolutely gobsmacked; they just can’t believe it,” one of the teachers said.
  • About 50 U.S. journalists covered Trump’s visit to Ireland, and media organisations from around Europe also sent correspondents, though not as many as Irish officials had been expecting, The Irish Times reported. It’s roundup of U.S. coverage highlighted The Washington Post’s description of Trump’s “money-losing golf course threatened by climate change.”
  • About 3,000 demonstrators inflated a six-meter tall Trump baby blimp Thursday in Dublin to protest the president’s visit to Ireland. The demonstration took place at the Garden of Remembrance and was organised by a coalition of civil society organisations, political parties and campaign groups who said the protest was designed to show solidarity with those “damaged” by President Trump’s policies, RTE reported.
  • “The Irish … have some colorful phrases for inveterate bullshitters. A “gasman” is someone whose patter can be funny. A “gobshite” merely spouts nonsense. Since Trump is only unintentionally amusing, the latter term is the one that is best applied to him …” A Gobshite American President in Ireland, from The New Yorker.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump is in Ireland for a two-night stay at his golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare.

“Doonbeg’s residents decked the streets in American flags and stars and stripes bunting, crediting Trump with securing their livelihoods when in 2014 he bought the nearby golf resort where he will spend the next two nights,” Reuters reported. “While the main protest for Trump’s Irish visit is planned for Dublin on Thursday, on Wednesday it was the adoring locals in Doonbeg who outnumbered the demonstrators that greeted the U.S. president upon his arrival at Shannon Airport.”

Trump arrived at the Limerick airport after a few days in London. On Thursday, he will attend D-Day commemorations in France, return to Doonbeg in the evening, then play a round of golf Friday before flying home.

Trump was greeted at Shannon by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The two leaders discussed E3 visas for Irish citizens, Ireland trade surplus with the U.S., and Brexit, according to The Irish Times. It also emerged that the U.S. Senate will vote next week to confirm Ohio billionaire Edward F. Crawford as ambassador to Ireland. The position since Trump became president more than two years ago.

From the Times‘ Mariam Lord:

For the most part, the Taoiseach’s face remained frozen in a polite smile. Leo Varadkar was a study in statesmanlike serenity, face tilted attentively towards Donald Trump as the U.S. president blithely spouted off-kilter comments about Brexit.

There was almost a Melania-like quality to Leo’s sangfroid in the face of Trump’s witless remarks comparing the controversy over the border in Ireland to his controversial plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico. …

“I think it will work out and it will all work out very well. Also, for you, with your wall, your border. . .” [Trump said. My emphasis.]

There was a quiet gasp from the Irish.

“We have a border situation in the United States and you have one over here, but it’s going to work out very well. I think it’s both going to work out very well.”

Here is the official White House transcript of public comments by Trump and Varadkar. Read it … and weep.

The rain swept view to the sea from the clubhouse at Trump’s Doonbeg golf resort, taken during my July 2016 visit, four months before he was elected president. Trump’s name is above the clock face.

June 1919: U.S. editorials on Senate support for Ireland

On June 6, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution requesting the Paris peace conference to give a hearing to the delegation appointed by Dáil Éireann, and expressing sympathy with the “aspirations of the Irish people for a government of their own choice.” The U.S. House of Representatives had voted in favor of self-determination for Ireland in early March, on the last day of the previous legislative session, but a parliamentary maneuver by opponents delayed consideration in the Senate.

The combined legislative action “prove that there is in this country a general feeling in favor of having the case of Ireland presented at the peace conference,” The Washington Post editorialized a day after the Senate vote.1 The capital daily continued:

The present condition of Ireland—with a dwindling population, industries destroyed, law flouted, and her people on the ragged edge of rebellion kept down only by a large army of occupation—is altogether anomalous and … alarming.  It surely is not expecting too much of the peace conference to ask it to clean off the slate in this matter before it brings its labors to a close. … It is inconceivable that President Wilson and the other members of the American delegation at Paris will not heed the combined appeal of the Senate and the House.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1919.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to Ireland’s revolutionary government, correctly noted that such resolutions did not have the full force of legislation sent to Wilson to sign into law. It said such passage was critical, and continued:

If some step is not now taken by the United States to aid Ireland, there is little reason to hope that a situation will again soon present itself where anything can be done by the American government. … We have come to the end of a war in which the victory has rested with the powers which declared that they fought for world freedom and especially the rights of small nations. The spokesman of the United States [Wilson] has made very clear and specific declarations on this point. The people of Ireland have voted for separation from Great Britain, and have set up a government of their own. If under these conditions the government of this county does not take some action, it is hardly to be expected that it will do anything when the conditions are less favorable, as they undoubtedly will be later.2

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Irish Standard wondered if Ireland would have received her freedom at the peace conference if she had been among the oppressed nations of the German and Austrian empires.

But because the despotism under which she is groaning is the British brand, it is not to be interfered with. Was it then to curb the tyranny and autocracy of certain particular nations only that the world war was fought, or was it against all such anachronisms of government wherever found? … The world’s wounds are about to be sewed up while at least one dangerous source of infection is left within—that of the rankling Irish discontent at British domination.3

In Louisville, the Kentucky Irish American suggested that Britain’s “domineering and bulldog tactics” regarding Ireland and other matters “has aroused much indignation in this country. … Despite the efforts of the pro-English press on this side, the American public as a whole is fast discovering the hypocrisy and hoggishness of the English nation.”4

On June 17 in Dublin, Dáil Éireann passed a motion of thanks to the Senate to “assure the people of America that the ties of blood and friendship which subsisted between both nations in the days of their subjection to one common oppressor have endured and are indissoluble.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ve been away most of the month working on long-term projects. Thanks for supporting our archived content. Here’s the monthly roundup. MH

  • U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on June 6 at Shannon Airport. Trump wanted the meeting at his Doonbeg golf resort in County Clare, where he will layover on his return from the U.K. earlier in the week. Varadkar wanted the meeting at Dromoland Castle Hotel, a neutral site that has hosted similar sessions with American leaders. Shannon was the compromise, Vox reports, citing the Washington Post. With Trump, of course, anything could happen. He scratched an announced November visit to Ireland.
  • Killarney National Park’s keystone oak woodlands are threatened by invasive rhododendron, The Irish Times warned. Earlier this year, wildfires damaged nearly 200 acres of heath and forest in or near the County Kerry park.
  • “Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to ease restrictions on divorce, taking another step toward liberalizing a Constitution that was once dominated by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” The New York Times reported after the measure was overwhelmingly passed in a May 24 referendum.
  • Thousands marched in Belfast to support same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, including the partner of slain journalist Lyra McKee.
  • In European Union and local elections, the Green Party made gains at the expense of Varadkar’s Fine Gael. So far, right-wing Euroskeptics have not reached the Irish ballot box. … A recount of 750,000 votes is underway for the MEP seat representing Ireland South will begin June 4 and could take the rest of the month, TheJournal.ie says.
  • An RTÉ story has detailed high turnover rates in the Irish Defense Forces.
  • Fáilte Ireland’s new €150 million “Platforms for Growth” initiative will “transform the tourism landscape across the country” CEO Paul Kelly said in a release. The first “platform” will focus on developing Immersive Heritage and Cultural Attractions that include more hands-on experiences to bring local culture and heritage to life.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”

Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2

“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3

In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.

Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:

Also see:

Revisiting Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted

I am working to complete a paper for the American Journalism Historians Association, due June 1. The project doesn’t leave much time to write fresh content for the blog. Please visit (or revisit) my 2018 Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series, which follows the 1888 travels in Ireland of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Thanks for your support. MH

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

Irish film celebrates archives & ordinary lives

I  got to watch “Keepers of the Flame,” a 2018 documentary about some of the more than 85,000 people who in the 1920s applied for state pensions based on their actions in the 1916 Easter Rising, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, and Irish Civil War. Only 18,000 received any money.

The Irish Military Service Pensions Archive became public in 2017. Most of the massive collection of government forms, personal letters, and related materials is available online.

“We need those archives, not just in Ireland, but everywhere. And we need those archives in order to come to some sort of an approximation of who we are are,” Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter says in the film. He co-wrote the script with director Nuala O’Connor.

Read the Irish Independent‘s 2018 interview for more of Ferriter’s views about the project.

The Irish pension archive, like the similar American Civil War archives that Damian Shiels has expertly mined for Irish immigrant stories, is remarkable because it contains fragments of so many lives forgotten in most historical accounts. Such stories “humanize and enrich history by reminding us that the study of the past should include the study of the lives of ordinary people, their attitudes, beliefs, motives, experiences and actions,” Bill McDowell wrote in “Historical Research: A Guide for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, Articles and Books.”

Among some of my own works in this effort:

I leave debates about the “archival sliver” versus “total archives” to others. If you love exploring archives, as I do, you must see this film. As someone said after the screening I attended: panning shots of shelves of boxes in temperature-controlled rooms never looked so good.

Below, the official trailer for “Keepers of the Flame.”

Irish nationalism’s “troublesome men,” Part 2 of 2

This two-part post, first published in 2018, explores the late 19th century feud among Irish nationalists in America. The 1895 Chicago convention of the Irish National Alliance is well recorded, but the divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania leading to it, and the ouster of the Pittsburgh delegation, is a lost story of this period. This account is based on letters to exiled nationalist John Devoy, held at the National Library of Ireland, contemporary newspaper coverage, and other sources. Read Part 1MH

View of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Newspapers across America reported the August 1895 Irish nationalists rally in Pittsburgh, including its criticism of the upcoming Chicago convention. In London, The Times carried a Reuters dispatch that attracted the attention of Andrew Carnegie.1 It “had naturally an unusual interest for me,” the industrialist wrote to the establishment newspaper from Cluny Castle in Scotland’s central Highlands. He lamented that “the Irish question is not exclusively a British, but, also, unfortunately, an American question, casting over our politics its baneful influence.”2

Carnegie certainly didn’t want more unrest in Pittsburgh, the city where he made his fortune. Only three years had passed since the bloody strike at his Homestead steel plant. Three months ahead, he would return to the city to open a new library, museum and art gallery “to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light.”3

His letter to the Times was not his first about Ireland to a prominent newspaper.4 In 1885, the businessman wrote to The New York Times in lieu of accepting an invitation to address the Irish League of Pittsburgh.

Andrew Carnegie

“I am indeed a friend to Ireland,” Carnegie penned from his summer home in Cresson, Pennsylvania, a mountain resort 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. “All that the wildest Irish patriot has urged against English rule is warranted. ‘The sacred right of rebellion’ cannot be denied to the Irish people. Resistance to English rule is a solemn duty.”5

Carnegie advocated an American-style federalist system, with Ireland “as a state of the British union, equal with England and Scotland.” An Irish republic of 5 million people “would be ridiculous,” he said. “I am as determined an opponent of secession in Britain as I am in America.”6

Chicago convention

As the opening of the Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago neared, more opposition to it surfaced beyond the Pittsburgh rally. In Philadelphia, the Ancient Order of Hibernians passed a resolution that accused the INA of trying to “forge to the front as politicians to further their own interests.”7 Altoona’s Robert Emmett Literary Society declared the Chicago meeting was only “to serve the selfish ends of certain persons, and not as avowed, to do any good for Ireland.”8

Irishmen gathered Sept. 20, 1895, at Pittsburgh’s city hall passed a second resolution to bolster their statement from the August rally. It said the Chicago organizers should be “watched with jealous care and attention” because “hundreds of thousands of dollars of hard earned money of Irish American servant girls and men of our race, in the mills, mines and factories of this broad land have been squandered by American politicians.” To keep an eye on the proceedings, the group selected Paul Sheedy, John Madden and Humphrey Lynch as delegates to the Chicago convention.9

Four days later, the Irish National Alliance convention opened inside a YMCA auditorium in Chicago. Portraits of Irish nationalist heroes decorated the hall, including Robert Emmet, executed in 1803 for treason after leading a failed rebellion against Britain, and the Manchester martyrs. Banners of the coat of arms for each of Ireland’s four provinces hung over the stage.10

Divisions among Irish nationalists were as noticeable as the decorations. “For over a year there have been mutterings of discontent among a large portion of the Irish race in this country,” The Pittsburgh Press reported. While “Irish societies of all kinds, political, social, beneficial and literary” were invited to the convention, the offer was “antagonized by an element of the race on the ground that it was more the forerunner of an Irish American political movement than a genuine effort on behalf of the mother isle.”11

Attention was turning to the 1896 U.S. presidential election as the nation remained mired in an economic depression that began a few years earlier. In Western Pennsylvania, basic industries remained hard hit, and mills and mines were either closed or worked only part time.12 High unemployment sparked frequent labor unrest.

At the same time, “a significant percentage” of Irish Americans had become integrated into the middle classes and were more concerned about acting as political spokesmen for the Catholic community than having anything to do with Ireland.13 Some of the Chicago convention leaders had ties to the U.S. Republican Party, which would nominate and elect William McKinley as president in 1896. The Irish National Alliance attracted lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians and businessmen primarily from the Midwest, South and Western states. Most East Coast Irish remained indifferent or hostile to the effort.14

Several Western Pennsylvania individuals and Irish organizations wired supportive telegrams to the convention, including John J. O’Donnell of Homestead; John Kellon and Phillip Duke of Irwin; Patrick McCarthy of Sharon; T. G. Herbert of Altoona, and a half dozen well wishers from Erie.15 About 50 men from Pennsylvania attended in person.16

The Philadelphia contingent included city son James Talbot O’Callahan, owner of a silk badge and banner firm;17  Henry Boylan, a County Fermanagh-born liquor wholesaler;18 Dublin native Martin P. Moroney;19 and Patrick O’Neill, referenced earlier as an enemy of John Devoy. Altoona’s Thomas Greevy and John O’Toole traveled to Chicago. The Western Pennsylvania delegation included Homestead councilman John J. Rattigan; County Kerry native and Pittsburgh hotel operator Cornelius Horgan; and John Flannery, a former miners’ organizer who became editor of the Pittsburgh-based Irish Pennsylvanian newspaper,20 as well as Madden, Sheedy and Lynch.

Chicago in the 1890s.

Troublesome men

The convention’s credentials committee, chaired by Philadelphia’s Moroney, denied Sheedy and Madden access to the hall. “These credentials were presented on behalf of some association of the AOH on a small piece of paper by somebody,” scoffed a Montana delegate. “We thought if we accepted such a thing as that we might have the whole of Chicago in.”21

Convention Secretary M. F. Fanning of Chicago was more blunt: “You can go to ____, but you can’t go into the convention.”22

Lynch and Flannery challenged the ruling. Flannery noted that he attended the Pittsburgh meeting that selected Lynch, Madden and Sheedy. “I think it is a disgrace that we should not be treated with some justice,” he said.23

An 1895 Chicago newspaper illustration of Madden and Sheedy.

Madden and Sheedy issued a protest statement, which pointed out that Lynch “was elected in precisely the same way, and was admitted on credentials exactly similar to ours.”24 They blamed their exclusion on William Lyman, the Sullivan ally they challenged the previous fall.

“There are plain indications of fraud in the methods of making up the convention, and that fraud is in the interest of the men whose action in the past has brought disgrace and shame to the national cause,” their statement said. “We warn all true Nationalists of the danger that confronts our cause, and ask them to take the proper steps to avert it.”25

Word quickly reached Pittsburgh that Madden and Sheedy were expelled from the convention. An emergency meeting of the city’s Irish groups was convened in the Wilkinsburg neighborhood.26 Carrick read a letter from Madden, dated a few days earlier, which predicted the rebuke. Others made “bitter speeches” and “roundly denounced” the convention.

The group sent a telegram to Chicago on behalf of “Irish citizens of Allegheny County, Pa., [to] demand the reasons for the rejection.” Another telegram to Madden and Sheedy said “the Irish organizations of Allegheny County are with you to a man.”27

Lynch attributed his colleagues’ rejection to their role in the Pittsburgh rally the previous month. When Lynch asked a convention official if the telegram from Pittsburgh was received, he received a curt reply: “It may have come, but if it has not it makes no difference.”28

The Chicago Tribune named two other Allegheny County delegates as having their credentials denied at the convention, and “the four men were excluded.”29 No reporting of two other men being ousted from the meeting appears in Pittsburgh newspaper coverage, however, and it is not mentioned in the convention’s official report, only Madden and Sheedy.

The wire service account of their rejection from the convention was widely published in U.S. newspapers, including the quote that they were “troublesome men.” The Los Angeles Times carried a brief about the hometown reaction headlined “Disgruntled Pittsburghers.”30 Most of the newspaper coverage focused on the militant rhetoric of John Finerty, a former Illinois Congressman and the convention chairman. “We’ll circle England with a wall of fire, which shall never be extinguished until Ireland is free.”31

The ouster of Madden and Sheedy was absent in Irish and British newspaper coverage of the convention, and the London press waved off Finerty’s speeches. The Pall Mall Gazette said his “threats only stiffen our back and dull our hearing.” The Times discerned the domestic political effort “to muster as many Irish societies as they can beneath the banner of their presidential candidate.”32

The aftermath

On Oct. 8, 1895, about 50 Irishmen gathered again at Pittsburgh’s city hall to voice their “indignation” about the Chicago convention. Some Irish National Alliance supporters also attended, creating a spirited atmosphere.33

Sheedy alleged the convention was packed with “ward heelers,” truck drivers and “men from the stockyards” who were paid to sit in place of prominent Irish businessmen who never set foot in the hall. He suggested many of the supportive telegrams also were bogus. “The convention was a fiasco and the movement it inaugurated was a farce,” he declared.34

A few weeks later, Sheedy and Madden traveled to Philadelphia to address the pro-Devoy United Irish Societies, which also condemned the Chicago convention.35 Madden ridiculed the idea that the U.S. government would allow any domestic organization to recruit an army to invade England for the purpose of liberating Ireland, as suggested in Chicago. “But there is no fear of the alliance ever amounting to anything,” he said.36

Privately, Madden wrote to Devoy that the Chicago organizers were “show patriots” who “made us appear ridiculous in the eyes of the American people.” He added: “I am proud that my section was not caught in the trap.”37

Sheedy informed Devoy that Flannery, the Irish Pennsylvanian editor who supported him and Madden in the credentials fight, had turned against them in a column published in the Chicago Citizen, an Irish newspaper owned by Finerty, the convention chairman. “I suspect [Flannery] was paid by Lyman to do his dirty work. He is ready to do anything for a dollar.”38

John Devoy

Devoy tasked Sheedy with mailing “circulars” to the presidents of 500 U.S. and Canadian AOH groups about an upcoming meeting. “It is pretty tedious work,” the doctor complained. “You are the choice of the men here, but I told them I did not think you could come.”39

Sheedy continued writing to Devoy into 1896. He inquired about Devoy’s health, opined about political developments in Ireland, and recommended potential new Clan “camps” in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Wheeling, West Virginia. He also invited Devoy to a 5 August Irish event he was organizing at Calhoun Park, near Homestead.40

“We meet in auspicious times, and no man in whose veins flows Celtic blood need be ashamed,” Sheedy said in a speech to about 2,000 people. “Ireland has had a great, but painful history; she is destined to a magnificent future.”41 

Five months later, he died of pneumonia, not yet 30. John Sheedy had his younger brother’s body returned to Altoona for the wake at his house. Rev. Sheedy presided at the funeral Mass, attended by delegations from several Irish groups.42

Devoy continued to work behind the scenes. By Sheedy’s January 1897 burial, his loyalists in the Clan na Gael had more than doubled to nearly 10,000 nationwide from about 4,000 in 1894.43 Madden, Lynch and other Irish nationalists in Western Pennsylvania lived to see Devoy reestablish control of the group as the rival Irish National Alliance faded into obscurity.

Pittsburgh’s “troublesome men” had picked the right side.

(Footnotes in this post are 47 – 90 of the full piece. They are listed 1 -43 here because the citation plugin code cannot account for the piece being divided into two parts. See Part 1.)

Troublesome men: The Irish nationalist feud in Western Pennsylvania, 1894-1896

This two-part post was originally published in 2018. It explores the late 19th century feud among Irish nationalists in America. The 1895 Chicago convention of the Irish National Alliance is well recorded, but the divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania leading to it, and the ouster of the Pittsburgh delegation, is a lost story of this period. This account is based on letters to exiled nationalist John Devoy, held at the National Library of Ireland, contemporary newspaper coverage, and other sources. MH

Drawing of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

In September 1895, two Pittsburgh delegates to a highly-publicized Irish nationalists convention in Chicago were kicked out of the meeting hall. “They are troublesome men; we don’t want them,” someone shouted.1

Lawyer John Madden and physician Paul Sheedy, both Ireland natives who supported the convention’s goal of overthrowing British rule in their homeland, expected the boot.2 Six weeks earlier, they proclaimed their opposition to the convention at an Irish rally near Pittsburgh.3 Thousands of cheering supporters endorsed their resolution, which described the upcoming Chicago event as “for no other purpose than to deceive our people, and advance the special and political interests of its originators.”4

Internal division was rife among Irish nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 19th century. In 1893, the London parliament defeated a second legislative attempt to give Ireland limited domestic autonomy, called Home Rule. The rejection prompted new calls to use terror-style violence to break from Britain once and for all. For the Irish in America, debate over how to support their homeland also was increasingly tangled in U.S. domestic politics.

An 1895 Chicago newspaper illustration of Madden and Sheedy.

Madden’s and Sheedy’s conflict with the Chicago convention leaders sprang from their loyalty to Irish nationalist leader John Devoy, who was exiled to America in 1871 for treason against Britain. In the 1890s, Devoy and rival Alexander Sullivan were locked in a feud for control of the Clan na Gael (Family of the Gaels), a U.S.-based fraternal organization intent on establishing an Irish republic.

Their fight began in the 1880s as Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell made the first attempt for a Home Rule deal with British Prime Minister William Gladstone. A Sullivan-supported “dynamite campaign” directed at civilian targets in England became a fiasco of negative publicity. One of Devoy’s associates alleged the Sullivan faction embezzled $100,000 of Clan funds. Sullivan’s side claimed the accuser was a British spy, and his murder soon after deepened the feud. Then, in 1890, revelations of Parnell’s extramarital affair derailed Home Rule and split his political party. The disgraced leader died the following year.

Afterward, “a disillusioned and embittered Ireland turned from parliamentary politics” and entered “a long gestation” toward the violent revolution that erupted from 1913 to 1923.5 In America, the Clan feud simmered, mostly behind the scenes, but is revealed in the numerous letters to Devoy from Sheedy, Madden and others in Western Pennsylvania in the months before the 1895 Pittsburgh rally and Chicago convention. Their surviving correspondence, held at the National Library of Ireland,6  documents the Clan’s organizational strategies, finances, recruitment, internal fighting, gossip, and even a death threat.

“Madden and I are thoroughly in sympathy with your side,” Sheedy wrote to Devoy on Oct. 31, 1894. He vowed to “remain in the organization and fight things out until the bitter end.”7

Key participants

Sheedy, Madden and other key participants in the 1895 events immigrated to Western Pennsylvania after Ireland’s Great Famine. Most were educated men with successful professional careers, the vanguard of a growing Irish middle class. They had the money, connections, and inclination to get involved with politics in Ireland and America.

Paul Sheedy was the youngest and last of three brothers to arrive in the region from Liscarroll, County Cork. Morgan Sheedy, the oldest, was a Catholic priest, ordained in 1876.8 He became rector of St. Mary of Mercy Church at the corner of Third Avenue and Ferry (now Stanwix) Street, gateway to Pittsburgh’s “Point” district, then an Irish ghetto with an “unenviable reputation” as “the underworld,” as the priest recalled.9

Rev. Sheedy attended an April 1887 Pittsburgh rally against injustice in Ireland, and signed letters supporting Parnell and Gladstone.10 On St. Patrick’s Day 1891, at a “Faith and Fatherland” talk at a packed church hall in Altoona, he recalled the “English-made famine” of 40 years earlier, criticized oppressive coercion laws, and suggested “the present difficulty in the Irish party is only transitory and will soon pass away.”11

John Sheedy obtained a medical degree from the Royal University of Ireland. He got married in August 1884, and immigrated to Altoona later that year.12 In May 1889, he and other volunteer physicians from Altoona traveled 40 miles to flood-devastated Johnstown to give of their “time and abilities to the cause of distressed humanity … and soothe the agonies of many sufferers.”13

In September 1894, Dr. Sheedy helped to organize the first “Irish reunion” of the John Boyle O’Reilly Literary Society, named after the Irish nationalist poet and journalist who in 1875 conspired with Devoy to help six Irish rebels escape from an Australian prison. Altoona newspapers did not report any political speeches at the reunion, held at the Wopsononock resort in the Allegheny Mountains west of Altoona,14 but Irish freedom was surely discussed among the 1,500 people who enjoyed music and dancing, bicycle and foot races.

Altoona in the late 19th century, with Pennsylvania Railroad shops in the foreground.

Paul Sheedy also became a physician. He emigrated in 1892, about age 24,15 and briefly practiced medicine with his brother John from the same Altoona address.16 By 1894, Paul moved to Pittsburgh’s Wilkinsburg neighborhood,17near his other brother, Morgan, the St. Mary’s pastor.

All three Sheedy brothers mixed at social and political events with other Irish nationalists. Among them: 

  • John Madden, an 1868 Drogheda, County Louth, emigrant who was admitted to the Allegheny County (Pennsulvania) Bar in 1879, and belonged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish-Catholic fraternal group.18
  • Limerick-born Michael Patrick “M.P.” Carrick, a leading painters and paperhangers labor organizer.19
  • Cork native Humphrey Lynch, a shoemaker later elected alderman in Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh’s North Side.20

Paul Sheedy, the young newcomer, did not shy from voicing his opinions among these older, more established men. In October 1894, he “created quite a stir” for criticizing an Irish nationalist member of the London parliament. Carrick “strongly denounced” Sheedy as “trying to import dissensions and contentions from Ireland to the Irish people of Pittsburgh.”21

The letters

In addition to their public activity covered by newspapers, Paul and John Sheedy, Madden, and Carrick also knew each other from their membership inside secretive Clan na Gael chapters, called “camps.” Their surviving correspondence to Devoy begins in October 1894.

John Sheedy wrote of his camp’s upcoming vote on whether to follow Devoy or the Chicago-based Sullivan faction. “I am worried it means causing a split,” Sheedy said.22 A few days later, he wrote again to say that a committee was appointed to investigate “one among them who was trying everything in his power to break up the organization.”23

Paul Sheedy wrote to Devoy about his confrontation with William Lyman, a Brooklyn building contractor and owner of the Irish Republic newspaper. Lyman was running Sullivan’s ground operation and had become the faction’s effective leader by the time he visited Western Pennsylvania.

“I attacked him [with questions] very pointedly, assisted by John Madden and others,” Sheedy wrote.24 Lyman “could not give a direct or satisfactory answer and he contradicted himself several times. His visit did greater injury to his cause than if he had remained at home. He had thought there would be a lot of jackasses in Pittsburgh.”

John and Paul Sheedy wrote several November 1894 letters to Devoy about a “black list” of defectors to Sullivan and Lyman. They invited Devoy to address an upcoming commemoration of the 1867 execution of three Irish rebels accused of shooting a prison guard while trying to help another nationalist to escape in Manchester, England. “It would be a good opportunity for you to speak to the members about the split of men running the organization to which we belong,” Paul Sheedy wrote.25

To reassert his control, Devoy spent most of the winter of 1894-95 traveling to Irish-dominated cities in the Northeast and Midwest.26 He attended the Nov. 25, 1894, “Manchester Martyrs” commemoration in Pittsburgh.27 Paul Sheedy advised him to stay at the Central Hotel in Altoona (“the owner is an Irishman”) during December 1894,28 as agitation intensified between the Clan factions in Western Pennsylvania.

When anti-Devoy forces charged Paul Sheedy, Madden, Carrick and others with “treachery,” the accused members shifted to John Sheedy’s camp.29 It is unclear from the letters whether these groups were based in Pittsburgh or Altoona, but the 120 mile distance between the two cities was easily mitigated by up to a dozen scheduled daily trains.30

John Devoy

Carrick warned Devoy that “O’Neill of Philadelphia” is “pumping you” for information. “…I am convinced these people are going to whip you by manipulation. I hope you understand who you are dealing with in this state,” Carrick wrote as he pledged loyalty to Devoy. “If you leave here the battle throughout the country will be lost.”31

Madden received an anonymous note with a pencil drawing of a skull and crossbones at the top. It contained this threat:

If you try to breake [sic] up our camp you will meet the fate of Cronin32and other spies. Warn Carrick, Sheedy and the others that the revolvr [sic] and bludgeon is ready. Signed Rory

Madden reported the threat to Devoy. “I am certain that the coward who sent it does not know me, if he did he would know that fear is not part of my nature,” he wrote. “[The threat] is the best weapon in my hand to accomplish the end desired … If the coward had been a friend of mine he would not have helped me half so well.”33

Then on the evening of Dec. 12, 1894, Carrick was attacked as he left Humphrey Lynch’s home in Allegheny City. “Two men grabbed him and dragged him through an open gate into a yard in the rear of a vacant house. … Quite a tussle followed, during which Mr. Carrick’s clothes were badly torn,” the Post-Gazette reported.34Carrick and Lynch had met to discuss the squandering of Clan funds,35 likely the “thousands of dollars [used for] political and gambling purposes” alleged at a Dec. 9 meeting.36 After the attack, Carrick “lost his head completely,” Paul Sheedy wrote to Devoy.37

Sheedy also admitted to being “a little dubious” about Madden, supposedly his ally. “The other side might promise him things and flattery has great sway with him.”38

Devoy’s reply to these letters, if made in writing rather than through messengers, is not available. As an experienced nationalist leader, he was a secretive man who gathered more information than he shared. Devoy did not mention these episodes in his memoir, “Recollections of an Irish Rebel.”

Divided Irish

By autumn 1894, word spread that the Sullivan/Lyman faction intended to launch a “new movement,” called the Irish National Alliance (INA). By spring 1895, these “physical force Irishmen” declared the parliamentary movement was dead and that many people believed “the time has come for Irish Americans to inaugurate a new and bolder policy in the interest of Irish independence.”39They wanted to raise an army to drive the British from Ireland.

Newspapers named more than three dozen prominent Irishmen who supported the group’s inaugural national convention in Chicago. From Altoona, supporters included Mayor Samuel M. Hoyer; attorney Thomas Greevy, the son of County Roscommon parents;40and alderman and magistrate John O’Toole, formerly of County Armagh.41 Patrick O’Neill of Philadelphia, the man Carrick warned Devoy about, was named, but no supporters from Pittsburgh were listed.42

Photo of Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Devoy prepared his Pittsburgh loyalists for a preemptive strike against his rivals’ upcoming convention.43 Part of that effort included the Aug. 15, 1895, Irish rally at McKees Rocks, five miles west of Pittsburgh.

At the time, McKees Rocks was an industrial suburb growing from less than 2,000 residents in 1890 to more than 6,000 in 1900. Streetcar service to the area began in 1894, which is probably how most people reached the rally at Phoenix Park, which shared the name of the historic Dublin green where in 1882 Irish rebels murdered two British officials.

Bernard McKenna, Pittsburgh’s first Irish Catholic mayor,44presided over the rally. John Madden and Paul Sheedy called on “all true Irishmen and Irish-Americans … to unite to strike an effective and decisive blow, by any and all means within our power, at England’s domination in Ireland.” They also warned against the deceptive, self-serving “military convention” at Chicago.45

Stories about the rally appeared in newspapers across America, the crowd typically estimated at several thousand. In Ireland, a Reuters account noted the Pittsburghers’ willingness to use physical force, and their denunciation of the Chicago convention.46 In Scotland, the coverage also caught the attention of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in Pittsburgh.

NEXT: Andrew Carnegie’s view, the Chicago INA convention, and the aftermath in Pittsburgh. Read Part 2.