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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.

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.

Photo essay: Art of Chicago/Galway sister city relationship

Chicago and Galway agreed their Sister Cities International relationship in 1997. Ten years later, the Grainne (“Grace,” in Gaelic) sculpture (top photo) by artist Maurice Harron was dedicated at Heritage Green Park across the street from Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago (bottom photo). Seven mosaic stone carvings representing Celtic culture that surround the statue were designed and crafted by Dennis Goggin and Reamonn Flaherty. The images, in descending order, are the Claddagh Ring; Irish Harp; Galway Hooker, Triskele (triple spiral); Celtic Knot; Tree of Life; and Celtic Sun. See photos of Old St. Patrick’s from this March 2019 visit. MH

Guest post: ‘Milkman’ is dark, grim & terrifically funny

I always welcome guest posts, especially from my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, who maintains her own excellent, if intermittent, blog. Angie’s last post here was a review of Sally Rooney’ Conversation with Friends.

***

Anna Burns is the latest in a long line of acerbic Irish writers who are able to cast jaundiced eyes on the hypocrisies and shortcomings of their own community because they know it so intimately from the inside out.

Belfast-born Burns, whose Milkman won last year’s Man Booker Prize for literature, said she based the novel on life experiences.

“I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could,” she said.

Milkman is a winding, stream-of-conscious narrative set in Northern Ireland’s Troubles of the 1970s or 1980s. We are plunged straight in: The narrator has a gun held to her chest, and the wielder of the gun is Somebody McSomebody, because the hit squads killed the milkman. But, she hastens to inform us, the so-called relationship between her and the milkman never existed. It was wanted by him and gossiped into existence by the community, but never real. That surreal set-up is gradually unspooled, logically and relentlessly, over the novel’s 350 pages.

Violence, paranoia and depression hover over the community like a fog. As we come to know the narrator, we learn she is an 18-year-old woman who variously carries the roles of middle daughter, maybe girlfriend, middle sister, oldest friend. She likes to read old books — Ivanhoe, Vanity Fair — as a means of escape, and sometimes she even reads while she walks.

The reading-while-walking is an act of defiance within the confines of a suffocating community, but it’s not a true escape from the ever-present political and religious divisions. Plus, it will get you branded as one of the beyond-the-pales, as Burns puts it. Here’s a passage where the narrator gets a scolding from a friend.

‘You brought it on yourself, longest friend. I informed you and informed you. I mean for the longest time ever since primary school I’ve been warning you to kill out that habit you insist on and that now I suspect you’re addicted to – that reading in public as you’re walking about.’ ‘But -’ I said. ‘Not natural,’ she said. But -’ I said. ‘Unnerving behavior,’ she said. But -’ I said. But -’ I said. ‘I thought you meant in case of traffic, in case I walked into traffic.’ ‘Not traffic,’ she said. ‘More stigmatic than traffic. But too late. The community has pronounced its diagnosis on you now.’

It’s a long Irish tradition to be dark and grim while being terrifically funny. Milkman delivers.

For more on Anna Burns’ Milkman:

Ron Charles of the Washington Post reviews the novel for an American audience: “Lovers of modernist fiction by William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce — I know you’re out there, waiting for a book to slake your thirst for something strange and complex — Milkman is for you.”

The New York Times profiles Anna Burns, outlining her struggles as a writer (both financial problems and health issues) and her thoughts on Northern Ireland.  

Claire Armitstead at The Guardian says of the novel’s Man Booker Prize win: “Milkman may not be the best novel in contention this year, but it is certainly a plucky and challenging one – also one that speaks directly to the #MeToo era and to political anxieties over hard borders in Ireland and around the more recently troubled world.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

The March 29 deadline for Brexit has come and gone. Now, facing an April 12 red line, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and the impact on both sides of the Irish border seems as shapeless as the “mists and squalls of Ireland” at the start of the Great War. Several Brexit selections begin this month’s roundup, followed by other news and features.

  • Anti-Brexit campaigners protested at six different points of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland on [March 30], fearing a return of customs checks could risk peace, jobs and their way of life, Reuters reported.
  • “It’s a further measure of the Brexiteers’ naïveté that they don’t realize that by forcing Northern Ireland to choose between the United Kingdom and Europe, they may have inadvertently hastened the eventual reunification of Ireland.” Patrick Radden Keefe in The New York Times.
  • “Their own culpable ignorance of Northern Ireland will not stop the Brexit zealots from blaming the Irish for the mess. In their eyes, Brexit would always have been a triumph were it not for the crazy complications of John Bull’s Other Island. Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times, published in The Washington Post.”

The Irish border has nearly 300 crossings. Credit: PA Graphics

Other stories:

  • Everything you need to know about Ireland’s economy” (and aren’t afraid to ask) from the World Economic Forum.
  • Conor McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest star and one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, is under investigation in Ireland after a woman accused him of sexual assault, several media outlets reported. He was arrested in January but has not been charged. McGregor also announced his U.F.C. retirement, though a spokeswoman said it was unrelated to the investigation.
  • John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” militant convicted in 2002 of supporting the terrorist organization, is due to be freed in May … and he’s moving to Ireland. Fox News and other outlets have recently recycled the  2017 Foreign Policy story that Lindh obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 through family’s ancestry.
  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum on April 11 will celebrate the return of over 50 pieces of art that traveled throughout Ireland in the Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger exhibition. The touring collection drew more than 100,000 people since last year.

“An Irish Peasant and her Child,” Alfred Downing Fripp, Watercolor on paper, 1846, from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum.

March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera and two other Sinn Féin revolutionaries escaped from Lincoln Gaol (prison) in England on Feb. 4, 1919. The Irish republican leader was spirited back to Ireland on Feb. 20, where he balanced the need to evade British authorities with the desire to communicate with the Irish people, including the diaspora in America, which he knew was critical to support for the fledgling republic.

American journalist Ralph F. Couch, a United Press correspondent, claimed he “found” de Valera, or was provided the opportunity to interview the escapee. The reporter was taken on a two-hour, late-night drive on winding country roads near Dublin, pushed into a second car, his cap pulled over his eyes, before finally being ushered up a stairway and let into a room.

“Before the great fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall man in a baggy black suit, with a black silk handkerchief around his throat instead of a collar. He wore rubber sole slippers. This was de Valera,” Couch reported.1

Couch obtained a signed statement from de Valera, smuggled it out of Ireland, and returned to the United States, “thus insuring safe delivery to New York of his information without interference by the censors,” United Press reported. The Feb. 24 interview was not published until the middle of March.

In addition to appearing in mainstream U.S. dailies, the interview was published on the front page of the March 15 issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government.

DE VALERA INTERVIEWED IN HIDING

Secret Meeting With Newspaper Correspondent Near Dublin.

Issues Message to America

“Violence will be the only alternative remaining to Irish Patriots if the Peace Conference at Paris fails to take steps to extend self-determination to Ireland. The means continued revolution until Ireland’s rights are recognized,” de Valera said in the interview, now two months after the first meeting of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the provisional republic, and early skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence.

The story noted that de Valera was the “American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.” Some versions say that de Valera’s “black eyes flashed” when he spoke the quote above, “his big jaw squared. He spoke quietly. Nevertheless he was emphatic.” 

Eamon de Valera during his 1919 tour of America.

De Valera’s Feb. 25 statement to Couch was datelined “Somewhere in Ireland.” It began:

“England has no right in Ireland. England’s de facto government here rests solely on the number of her bayonets. We challenge England to allow Ireland the principal of self-determination.”

On March 27, de valera arrived at Mansion House in Dublin, where he was received by the Lord Mayor. The Associated Press reported “that owing to the attitude of the censors [de Valera said] it would be useless to make a statement at present, but that he would take the opportunity later to express his views.”2

Within days, an interview by Henry Hyde of the Chicago Tribune was syndicated in U.S. newspapers. “I had an interview with de Valera shortly before he entered Dublin,” it began. “Up to a certain point he proved a very mild and constitutional rebel with his eyes fixed on Paris.”3

Another Chicago correspondent, Ruth Russell of the Daily News, also interviewed de Valera in late March.

“In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows … the tall, pale man, 37 years of age, stood against the glow of a grate fire and spoke with a student’s concentration. He was slightly breathless, as he had just arrived and was about to leave again. His white silk muffler was still pinned with a bar about his throat.”4

The reporter promised that soon “de Valera will let himself be seen in Dublin.” On April 1, he was named president of the second Dáil Éireann. In June, he sailed secretly to America to begin a campaign for political recognition and funding for Ireland.

From Marconi to Twitter in 100 years

My only obstacle to calling Ireland is coordinating the time difference. From my iPhone, I reach out to family and friends from home, office, or while traveling. The device’s digital connection also allows me to text and Tweet, and read The Irish Times as easily as The Washington Post.

Communications were not always so instant, as just remembered at the north Kerry seaside town of Ballybunion. There, on the eastern edge of the Atlantic, on March 19, 1919, an engineer working for Guglielmo Marconi  transmitted the first spoken words across the ocean to Nova Scotia.

“Hello Canada, hello Canada.”

Ballybunion “pulled out all the stops” for the recent centenary, the Ballybunion News boasted, including a visit by Marconi’s 89-year-old daughter, Princess Elettra Marconi Giovanelli, who recreated the famous greeting. The Kerryman reported:

Sadly, the original wooden wireless station hasn’t been around since the Civil War era, but the Irish College made for a perfect replacement as all decamped there for the repeat broadcast. It was successfully picked up at a station close to the original receiver in Nova Scotia in a communication that gave many present a thrilling sense of the history – not least the numerous amateur and professional radio operators from across the county and region gathered.

Three months after the original transmission from Ballybunion, British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to Clifden in County Galway, about 100 miles north of Ballybunion. Their trip in an open cockpit took just under 16 hours.

Today, I fly from Washington, D.C. to Dublin in less than seven hours. Even as airline seating has become more cramped, the safety and amenities of commercial aviation is taken for granted.

A century ago, communications and travel each entered a new age.

Covering the countess’s return to Dublin, 1919

When Constance Georgine Markievicz became the first woman elected to the British parliament in December 1918, she was far from the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency she won with two thirds of  the vote. The republican leader known as Countess Markievicz was held at Holloway Prison, in England, for her role in anti-conscription protests earlier in the year, before the Great War ended in November.

Upon her release from the prison 15 March, 1919, Markievicz returned to Dublin, where she was greeted by cheering supporters. The Irish Times, on page 6 of its St. Patrick’s Day issue, reported:

A demonstration of welcome had been organized at Liberty Hall for Madame Markievicz, and at 6 p.m. a large crowd assembled at Beresford place, where a procession was formed by the Citizen Army, headed by the St. James band, and including such bodies as the Cuman na mBan, Fianna, Irish Women’s Franchise League, Sinn Fein bodies, Irish Volunteers, and trades organizations. … She entered Liberty Hall amidst loud cheers and the waving of Sinn Fein flags from the windows. Addressing the crowd from one of the windows as “Fellow Rebels” … she said that it was worthwhile going to prison to find such a reception awaiting her … and advised them to work for an Irish republic.  

The Times reported “a strong force of policemen was on duty,” but “the proceedings passed off without any incident of a disorderly character, and when the procession had passed by, the crowd rapidly melted away.”

The Irish Independent of 17 March, page 5, published the photo at the top of this post under the headline, “Warm Welcome Home From Prison.” The caption underneath said, “A big demonstration of welcome was accorded to Countess Markievicz on her arrival in Dublin on Sat. evening. In the photo … taken at Liberty Hall, she is in the center with bouquet.”

Markievicz’s release was largely ignored in the American press, including the New York Times and Washington Post, except for one or two lines in wire service stories. The Chicago Daily News, however, published an account from its own correspondent, Ruth Russell, who had arrived in Dublin about the same time. Here is some of Russell’s reporting from the 18 March 1919, issue of the Daily News. Note how the American female reporter places herself inside Liberty Hall, close enough for the Irish female politician to make a personal aside:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. About them were grouped laborers shamrocked for St. Patrick’s day. On the railway bridge that spans the Liffey above Butt bridge soldiers on night patrol were silhouetted against the moon whitened sky, impatiently the crowd awaited the coming of the Countess Markievicz, released eight years before the expiration of her term in Holloway jail.  … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the two-month-old Dáil Éireann, suggested that “it seemed as though everyone in the Irish metropolis had turned out to do honor to this notable Irish woman patriot.” The story disputed wire service reports that Markievicz would take her seat in the British House of Commons. 

Photo essay: Visiting Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago

Old St. Patrick’s parish in Chicago was founded by Irish immigrants on Easter Sunday, 1846, at the onset of the Great Famine. The current church building was dedicated on Christmas morning, 1856. The church’s website timeline provides more history. The church also is detailed in the 1997 book, At the Crossroads: Old Saint Patrick’s and the Chicago Irish, by Ellen Skerret.

Images below from March 15, 2019. See the more than 20 St. Patrick’s churches that I have visited in America and Europe.

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1919

UPDATE:

Against the backdrop of Brexit chaos, the classic “England Get Out of Ireland” banner in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day is damaging political discourse, Stephen Collins writes in The Irish Times. Plus, a 2018 New York Times piece about the sign. See bullet points below.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar March 14 at the White House, continuing a St. Patrick’s week tradition that began in 1952. Things were much different in 1919: the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann, had been established for two months; skirmishes and ambushes in the War of Independence flared across Ireland; more than 5,000 supporters of Irish independence gathered in late February in Philadelphia to bring attention to the cause; and the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of March passed a resolution in favor of Irish self-determination. All of this nationalist activity on both sides of the Atlantic influenced 1919’s annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Trump and Varadkar in 2018. White House photo

Below, a look at March 1919 coverage in the Irish-American and mainstream press. MH


“Irish freedom was demanded, and the league of nations, as proposed at present, was condemned at a mass meeting last night at Liberty Hut under the auspices of the United Irish Societies of the District that was the climax of the National Capital’s celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Ten thousand people were packed in the spacious auditorium, while more than 5,000 other clamored for admission to the most wildly enthusiastic meeting ever held in Washington in the cause of Irish independence. There was almost constant applause as the speakers extolled the virtues of Ireland and her sons.” The Washington Post, March 18, page 1

Of course, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City drew plenty of press attention:

“The existence of the Irish Republic, and the demand that it be recognized as one of the sovereign nations of the earth, were proclaimed by the great demonstration held [in New York City]. Probably the most notable feature of the parade, and one in which it differed considerably from the processions of earlier days, was display of thousands upon thousands of tri-colored flags, the emblem of the Republic of Ireland. The old green flag with the harp on it was entirely abandoned … ” The Irish Press, Philadelphia, March 22, page 1

The New York Times coverage of the massive parade, placed on page 4 of the March 18 issue, said “it was a perfect day” for the event, and “not a single unpleasant incident marred the celebration.” Rather than noting the change of flags, the report made an extensive inventory of political banners carried by the marchers. These included:

  • England–Damn your concessions. We want our country.
  • “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it has no desire to live.”–President Woodrow Wilson
  • There will be no peace while Ireland is ruled by a foreign force.
  • If there is right and justice in the world, then Ireland should have its share.
  • A true American is a true Sinn Feiner.

More mainstream celebrations occurred in the American heartland:

“Ireland and St. Patrick were by no means forgotten on Monday, the greatest of Irish holidays, in Minneapolis. Many store windows were dressed up in green in honor of the day. The shamrock, the harp, and many other emblems of the old sod were seen in generous abundance.” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., March 22, page 1

“In a room hung with the green flag of old Ireland, and the three-colored flag of the hopes for a new Ireland, intermingled with shamrocks and entwined around the Stars and Stripes of America, 450 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sand the songs of old Erin, and cheered and applauded each expression of faith in the hoped-for republic, when the annual St. Patrick’s day dinner of the order was held in the Fort Pitt Hotel last night.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, page 11

“Native born and American born Irish men and women of Louisville paid fitting and credible tribute to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. The religious observances began with the Ladies Auxiliary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians who filled St. Patrick’s Church early Sunday morning … Monday night there were numerous attractions … but it remained for the AOH to eclipse it all with their celebration at Bertrand Hall, which was profusely decorated with the national colors and the flag of the Irish republic and flags and banners of the Ancient Order.” Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Ky., March 22, page 1

Washington, D.C. in 1919.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events: