Author Archives: admin

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 Ireland that fills my heart

With more than 11 million annual visitors kept home by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Ireland has released a short video to remind prospective travelers they “can still dream of future holidays and adventures.” The campaign, titled I will return: Fill your heart with Ireland,” arrives at the 20th anniversary of my first visit in May 2000.

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

At Dublin Airport, I handed my new Irish/E.U. passport to the customs agent, having obtained citizenship through foreign birth registration. He waved me into the country without question. Then, as I waited for my luggage, I thought I heard my name called on the public address system.

“That couldn’t be me,” I thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

I took a taxi to my bed and breakfast in Portmarnock. The room wasn’t ready, but the innkeeper secured my suitcase and I took a mid-morning walk on the nearby strand.

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

The voice at the other end of the line–and it was still a line–belonged to a woman in her 60s, a retired school teacher, the unmarried daughter of a North Kerry man. His brother was my mother’s father, who emigrated shortly before the Easter Rising.

My grandfather married a North Kerry women in Pittsburgh, where several of their siblings and other relations also lived. Because of these connections to Ireland, deepened by the citizenship through decent process, I shared my travel itinerary with my mother. She passed the details to her sister, who maintained regular contact with the woman on the phone, the one who had me paged at Dublin Airport. Her name was Eithne.

My plans to meet the Irish relations were unformed, something to be figured out during the trip, if any of them even cared to meet me. A holy trinity of Irish and Irish-American women assured those introductions. My plans changed within an hour of my arrival. Eithne insisted that I lodge with her.

The B&B host graciously released me from my booking. Eithne’s Jack Russell Terrier, named Beano, sniffed me suspiciously, but deigned that I enter the house on Griffith Avenue, Dublin, near Corpus Christi Catholic Church. I was very welcome in Ireland.

***

In the 50-second “I will return” video, edited from earlier campaigns, only a few people are seen among the verdant landscapes and historic sites; mostly from behind, all of them individually, none in groups. A few turn to the camera and motion as if to say “come over here,” suggesting an unseen companion outside the view and a metaphor of the “return to Ireland” dream theme of the promotional work. Like them, I have enjoyed solitary walks along Ireland’s “wandering lanes, and rugged cliffs, her fields laced with streams”, as the narrator intones. Conspicuous by its absence, however, are scenes of people-packed pubs and festivals. 

Over the last two months, relations and friends on both sides of the Irish border have shared their quarantine stories with me. Long term, I can’t imagine a socially-distanced Ireland. I want to be crowded around a Galway city busker, surrounded at an Abbey intermission, bumped into by other bookstore browsers, elbowed by relations around a kitchen table.

The “I will return” narrator is confident of being “welcomed in at every turn, into her kind embrace,” the pronoun a reference to Ireland at large. That welcome does not come from solitary exploration of unpopulated landscapes, lovely as they are. The Céad Míle Fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes, comes from the Irish people. 

Before she died in 2016, Eithne introduced me to dozens of relations. I have enjoyed spending time with them during nine more visits to Ireland, three with my wife, whom I had not yet met in 2000. I’ve added new friends and professional contacts on my own. And I’ve enjoyed random encounters with farmers and merchants, archivists and waitresses, and many others working in the island’s important tourism industry. 

Collectively, they are the Ireland that fills my heart. It is to them I will return, to once again hear my name called in welcome.

Remembering Oliver Plunkett’s May 1920 beatification

A century ago, Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) was beatified in Rome, the penultimate step to his canonization as a saint, which occurred in 1975. As the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the County Meath-born Plunkett was the last of 22 martyrs in the “Popish Plot,” a conspiracy theory run amok in England’s anti-Catholic legal system. He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In May 1920 in Rome, the Church of St. Agata became headquarters for three days of festivities for pilgrims who wore “badges and Irish emblems.”1 St. Agata is said to be the final resting place for the heart of Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s early 19th century leader of Catholic emancipation. O’Connell’s famous burial request was, “My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My soul to Heaven.” There is some dispute whether the organ was ever interred … or still remains at the church.  

St. Agata belonged to the Pontifical Irish College. In 1920, County Wicklow-born Monsignor John Hagan was completing his first year as rector of the College, which hosted 20 Irish bishops for the beatification.2 The finding guides for Hagan’s correspondence offer several glimpses of the behind-the-scenes activities and the tenor of the times in revolutionary Ireland. For example:

  • In January 1920, Irish Cardinal Michael Logue wrote to Hagan saying he did not want to delay Plunkett’s beatification by a year because he would like to be present and could not vouch for 1921. Logue said he did not expect a great number of Irish people to attend the event.3
  • In April, Hagan sent a letter to the Irish bishops with advice on travel and weather. “A good warm rug is always a useful travelling companion,” he wrote, adding instructions about the necessary vestments and discouraging more clergy or laity from making the 1,200-mile journey.4
  • May correspondence from Waterford Corporation to Hagan and Bishop Hackett of Waterford and Lismore contained a resolution that expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XV on the [May 16, 1920] canonization of Joan of Arc and for Plunkett’s beatification, “’both of whom were brutally murdered by the English Government.” The letters plead that a special form of universal devotion may help end hostilities in the world, “especially that the persecuted Irish people may be freed from the callous tyranny and military aggression of their cruel, [relentless] and implacable foe, Pagan England.”5

Canonization image hung from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the canonization ceremony in 1975. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

An estimated 300 Irish pilgrims, including nationalist politician Count George Noble Plunkett and his wife, assembled at the Consistorial Hall at the Vatican for an audience with Benedict XV, who had decreed Plunkett’s beatification on St. Patrick’s Day, 1918.6 The pontiff told the audience that Plunkett’s new designation came at a time when Ireland needed Heaven’s special help to “attain her lawful right … without neglecting her duties.” He continued:

As charity commands us to attend in the first place those nearest to us, no doubt the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, now more than ever, will prove an efficacious patron of his countrymen. Before God, let us, therefore, hope that the beatification of Blessed Oliver  will be an augury of more joyful days for Ireland.7

Monsignor Hagan

The event was a major propaganda coup for Irish separatists and became known as “Sinn Féin Week in Rome,” Marc Phelan wrote in a 2016 Irish Times column. Monsignor Hagan mentored the Sinn Féin diplomat and future president of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly, in his dealings with the Roman Curia. O’Kelly reportedly lectured Benedict XV that one of his predecessors, Pope Leo XIII, had damaged church interests in Ireland by condemning the Land War of the 1880s. (See my 2017 post, The troubled foundation of St. Patrick’s in Rome, 1888.)

Several paintings and banners of Plunkett decorated the Basilica of St. Peter’s for the May 23 ceremony: the cleric dressed in a purple cope, surrounded by angels; another standing before his judges; one ascending the scaffold and forgiving his executioners; and one with the rope around his neck.8 (The image in this post hung outside St. Peter’s at Plunkett’s 1975 canonization.) Monsignor Hagan delivered the names of the postulators to the pope, as well as a reliquary–shaped like St. Patrick’s Bell–containing bone fragments of the martyred archbishop.9

The Irish Independent published a display of four photos from Rome, still something of an extravagance at the time.10 Religious services also were held across Ireland, including the martyr’s home district of Ballybarrack near Dundalk, and a procession in London.11

***     

More than a year after the ceremony, Bishop Michael Fogarty of Ennis, County Clare, wrote to Monsignor Hagan and asked that he tell Pope Benedict XV “how marvelous it was” that the July 11 ceasefire in Ireland began on Plunkett’s feast day. Fogarty added, “the truce is a relief though peace not a foregone conclusion.”12

Plunkett was canonized on Oct 12, 1975, the first Irish saint since St. Lawrence O’Toole in 1225. An estimated 12,000 Irish, many waving tricolors, packed into St. Peter’s Square. A pastoral letter from the Irish Bishops Conference cited Plunkett as “an example in these troubled times”–six years into The Troubles in Northern Ireland–for his work for reconciliation.”13

Plunkett’s beatification seems to have helped end the War of Independence quicker than his canonization resolved The Troubles. Alas, saints can only do so much.

Today in Ireland, more than a dozen parishes, another dozen primary schools, plus sports venues and teams, streets and roads, and an Aer Lingus airplane, are named after Saint Oliver Plunkett. Lean more from the National Shrine to Saint Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda.

Memorial church ruin of Saint Oliver Plunkett at Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, County Meath. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

 

Greens join government coalition talks in Ireland

Three months after the Republic of Ireland’s Feb. 8 general election, three-party negotiations could lead to a new coalition government … or not.

First, center-right Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties agreed to govern together for the first time in order to block left-wing Sinn Féin, which topped the polling, from power. Now, the two historic rivals have invited the Green Party to join a coalition to control Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament.

The Dail chamber. Photo: Irish Times

The Greens’ insistence on tackling climate change and Fianna Fáil‘s concerns about the impact of that on farming and rural communities is a potential deal breaker. There also is reported tensions within the Greens about whether to enter such a coalition.

Even if elected lawmakers reach an agreement, the deal must be approved by two thirds of the Green’s grassroots members. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need majority approval from their members.

Pat Leahy, political editor at The Irish Times, writes:

They may or may not come out with a government, though history suggests so. Normally if a party goes into negotiations on a program for government, it comes out with a program for government. And normally if a party produces a program for government, its members approve its adoption. Though these are not, of course, normal times. (My emphasis.)

The three-way talks are expected to last until the end of the month. Sinn Féin says it remains open to forming a left coalition government with the Greens, independents, and other minor party progressives. Don’t bet on it. Given the massive disruptions and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be easier to sit in opposition for several years and build toward a majority in the next election, when life hopefully will have returned closer to normal.

Ireland has been in political deadlock since the inconclusive election in February. The caretaker government of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael has been forced to implement costly and extensive fiscal and political policies in response to the health crisis. The country is taking its first small steps toward reopening from quarantine.

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.

Irish correspondents in America, today & yesterday

UPDATE:

The National Union of Journalist (Ireland & U.K.) has proposed technology firms should pay a 6 percent “windfall tax” towards a rescue package for the embattled media industry. Despite soaring online traffic, national and local media have been hit hard by declining advertising revenues since the start of coronavirus crisis. Many outlets have cut jobs or reduced pay. Lynch and O’Donovan raised these concerns in their conversation with IN-DC.

ORIGINAL POST:

A New York Times profile of 41 foreign correspondents working in the United States included Suzanne Lynch of The Irish Times and Brian O’Donovan of RTÉ News. Two weeks after the story published in April, both reporters discussed their roles at an Irish Network-DC virtual meeting.

“In this tumultuous period of American politics, there are perhaps more foreign correspondents in Washington, D.C., than ever before,” the Times wrote in The Journalists. “What unites them is their fight against the threat of misinformation and their struggle to accurately inform their fellow citizens about what’s happening here — and how it might affect them.”

Notwithstanding such high-minded missions, Lynch, 41, and O’Donovan, 40, told IN-DC that “Trump is gold” for online clicks and viewer ratings back in Ireland. “He keeps on giving as a story,” O’Donovan said. Lynch added the U.S. president has become “so all-consuming” that he often cuts into other coverage.

Lynch

In the Times piece, Lynch said she “was taken aback by how open the [political] system” is in America. “On Capitol Hill in particular, you can really walk around the halls of power, go into the offices of members of Congress and talk to them directly.”

O’Donovan

O’Donovan told the paper that the four-year RTÉ posting in Washington is “one of the best jobs within the station,” and that he is very aware “this will be remembered as a unique time, and I’m privileged to be covering it and watching it firsthand.”

During the IN-DC discussion, both correspondents shared how they are now frustrated and challenged by the social distancing and travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Irish audiences love stories of the real America,” said Lynch, who nevertheless filed nearly 50 stories during April.

She also noted how the health crisis has distracted U.S. political attention (already waning in the Trump administration) from the restored power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland and the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. RTÉ‘s Caitríona Perry, who preceded O’Donovan in Washington, last fall published a book from the opposite perspective, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics.

Earlier correspondents

Dillon

“Ireland has had a long established tradition of excellence in foreign news coverage,” Kevin Rafter, head of Dublin College University’s School of Communications, has written.1 He includes William Howard Russell, Francis McCullagh and Emile Joseph Dillon among a “very impressive group” of late 19th and early 20th century Irish foreign correspondents.

Ford

Another group, Irish immigrants in America who owned or wrote for U.S. newspapers, also influenced audiences back in the homeland. These include Jerome Collins, John Devoy, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan.2

Russell

A century ago, as Ruth Russell, Harry Guest, and other U.S. journalists filed dispatches from revolutionary Ireland, Irish papers included stories about American politics, business, society and events. Much of this reporting came from un-bylined and now forgotten correspondents; either Irish, British, or American writers, often working for wire services and other cooperative arrangements between papers.

I encourage readers to share the names of Irish correspondents who were on assignment in the United States during this period.

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The COVID-19 pandemic remains the dominant story in Ireland, as it is in most of the world. Wish there was happier, more diverse news in this month’s roundup … maybe May:

  • As of April 27, the coronavirus death rate was roughly the same in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: 1,102 deaths, or 22 per 100,000 population in the south; 405 deaths, or 21 per 100,000, in the north, according to The Irish Times. (The number of cases and fatalities reported by media and government varies widely.)
  • Reunification of the island of Ireland through cooperative pandemic exit strategy? “Happily, there is now an official agreement between the two jurisdictions that could facilitate the achievement of a harmonized approach,” one public health official wrote to the Times. “… there is a ‘compelling case’ for ‘a common approach to action in both jurisdictions’ where appropriate.”
  • On the other hand, Foreign Policy reported, “Not Even Coronavirus Pandemic Can Overcome Northern Ireland’s Divisions.”
  • Ireland said it would quadruple its contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would cut American funding.
  • Trump’s Doonbeg, County Clare, golf course has accepted Irish government relief to help pay furloughed workers.
  • First the St. Patrick’s Day parades, now the Twelfth of July parades: The Orange Order cancelled 17 Northern Ireland parades that commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. Locally organized Eleventh Night bonfires also are being discouraged.
  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejoined the medical register to help out in the crisis. Varadkar studied medicine and worked as a doctor for seven years before leaving the profession for politics. He was removed from the medical register in 2013. The New York Times wrote an April 11 story about how the pandemic “Rescued the Image of Ireland’s Political Leader.”
  • Politicians in the Republic are still trying to form a coalition government from the outcome of the February elections.
  • The scheduled Aug. 29 college football game between the University of Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin has not yet been cancelled, despite the city’s ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
  • Dublin’s Abbey Theatre is producing and posting on its YouTube channel a series of 50 pandemic-themed “theatrical postcards” called “Dear Ireland.”

When bigots tried to ban Dev from Birmingham, Alabama

Éamon de Valera faced one of the most hostile receptions of his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland during an April 21, 1920, stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

De Valera in 1919

An American Legion post in the southern industrial city urged Alabama Gov. Thomas E. Kilby to declare de Valera persona non grata, in part because Irish separatists had sought German assistance during the late world war, when America allied with Britain. A Pennsylvania chapter of the patriotic veterans organization began grumbling about de Valera as he visited Pittsburgh in October 1919. Similar rhetoric surfaced a month later in Los Angeles

Now, however, the strongest opposition to de Valera’s appearance was driven by “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hatred of Catholics that prevailed in Birmingham during the second and third decades of the twentieth century,” David B. Franklin wrote in a 2004 History Ireland article. “The Irish-American population in particular was an insidious threat, [because unlike blacks] that ethnic group mixed so freely with the WASP majority in all situations except religion.”

Kilby declined to grant the Legion’s requested declaration and steered away from overt anti-Catholicism. Instead, he released a statement that said the Sinn Féin leader should be deported by the U.S. State Department. And he suggested that some “patriotic Americans” were “seriously misled” in their “zeal for a cause which involves the internal affairs of a friendly nation [Britain].”1

Frank J. Thompson, state chairman of the American Commission on Irish Independence, rebuked Kilby on grounds of patriotism and politics:

The time is coming, whether Governor Kilby realizes it or not, when the same moral law that governs man shall govern nations and when robber nations, like the burglarious individual, will have to realize the truth of the principle and be governed by it. … [He should] familiarize himself more thoroughly with the attributes of a real American and the history of our country, before he attempts to catalogue or classify those who sympathize with the aspirations of the Irish people.”2

Thompson, leader of Alabama’s Irish bond drive effort, a few days earlier had welcomed de Valera to Mobile, the state’s more heavily Catholic port city, where there were no protests. Despite the agitation in Birmingham, de Valera was allowed to make his speech. He was joined by Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of County Antrim, who said that Irish freedom was not only a Catholic concern.

Anti-Catholic bigots tried to block Éamon de Valera from making an April 1920 speech at this Birmingham, Alabama, playhouse, then the Jefferson Theatre, later renamed Erlanger. Birmingham Public Library

Kilby and the Legion got more press attention before de Valera’s visit than the speech received afterward, according to a review of available digital newspaper archives. The New York Times reported de Valera “was greeted with mingled applause and shouts of ‘throw him out’ ” and that “objectors caused considerable confusion inside the crowded theatre.”3 The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to Sinn Féin leadership in Ireland, declared “a great throng crowded Jefferson Theatre to its utmost capacity … despite an organized attempt of bigots to prevent the meeting…”4

The Birmingham episode received only minimal attention in Irish newspapers, which focused more coverage on the deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama and other U.S. southern states in the same week.

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, I received a telephone call at my Washington, D.C., office from Michael Larkin in County Mayo, Ireland. He found me through this blog, and reached me on my mobile device, which is so much more than a phone.

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

It turned out that Michael and I share a connection to Pittsburgh, the city of my birth; the destination of my Kerry emigrant grandparents; and the place where his ancestor, Thomas Larkin, secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and became one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America. (Today–April 25–is National Telephone Day.)  

Michael, a health services professional, is the author of the 2019 book, Making the Right Connections. As he describes:

The book depicts the emigrant journey of Thomas Larkin, as well as themes relating to emigration, transatlantic connectivity, evolution of telecommunications, predictions made regarding the early telephones and an overview of the social history of Ireland and Irish America in the early 1900s.

While Thomas Larkin was just another Irish immigrant hoping to find employment of any kind in the USA, the words ‘connection’,  ‘connectedness’, etc., are particularly apt in the context of Irish American connectivity and also in the context of the early telephones, when the services of an operator were required to ‘make the connection’ in order for a telephone conversation to occur. 

“Believe me, the day will come when you will be able to ‘see’ the person who you are speaking to on the telephone”.

When Thomas Larkin uttered the above words, following his retirement from the Bell Telephone Company and return to a predominantly rural Ireland, they were greeted with suspicion and doubt. Perhaps if he could now ‘see’ the advances in telecommunications, or realize that some of his almost forgotten telephone memorabilia items illustrates and symbolizes Irish American connectivity in its many facets, he might simply say, “I told you so”. 

While my phone conversation with Michael was a “simple” voice connection, we just as easily could have seen each other across the Atlantic on Zoom, Skype or other digital platforms, which so many of us now use as we huddle in quarantine. I also connect with Michael, and with other friends and family in Ireland, via email and Twitter messages, sending words, images, and video in addition to voice. I can do it all on my “phone.”

Perhaps because of that incredible technology, and the extraordinary times we find ourselves living in, I am fond of the trove of my family’s hand-written letters between Ireland and Pittsburgh. The earliest date from the 1920s. The writers mention wars and sickness, economic hardships and other challenges. They also confirm good health, and share news of marriages, babies, graduations and other joys. We are often separated and unable to be with the each other, and yet always find ways to remain connected.

Making the Right Connections is available through Book Hub Publishing  and Mayo Books.

Many Irish Americans have found their ancestor’s name on these documents.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Reactions

Harry F. Guest

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. This is the last of 10 posts in this series. Earlier posts and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence are found at the linked project landing page. MH

***

Near the end of his series on Ireland, Guest wrote that “extremists of both sides have been busy writing letters to the editor” of the New York Globe.1 He continued:

First, the articles were damned by one group as ‘British propaganda,’ and later denounced by the other camp as briefs for the Sinn Féin cause. At the same time there were letters from Englishmen and Irishmen, and from Americans who were free enough from prejudice and sufficiently fairminded to appreciate that blame probably attached to both sides, and that an unbiased presentation of the facts would perhaps contribute to better understanding all around. As the Globe has pointed out editorially, it is to these middle-grounders that both Ireland and England must look for a solution of the Irish question.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been unable to access the original 1920 New York Globe series on microfilm at the Library of Congress.2 Instead, I have reviewed Guest’s stories as published in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, both available online. Such digital sources also reveal some of the reactions to his stories. Here are three examples; the first two critical, the third more nuanced :

  • In The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct links to the separatist Sinn Féin government in Ireland, Associate Editor Joseph A. Sexton accused the Globe of publishing the series “for the evident purpose of influencing American opinion in favor of English domination in Ireland. We make mention of these articles, not because such of them that have come to our attention are essentially different from the usual anti-Irish article, but rather because on the contrary they are of just the type that has become so common … [filled with] the stock tale of outrages, of secret societies and so forth.”3 Sexton published these comments two weeks before the Guest series was concluded.

 

  • In The Baltimore Sun, which published some but not all of Guest’s stories, “Two Youthful Sinn Féiners” wrote a letter to the editor that suggested the reporter “compiled his series from stories he heard during his stay in London.” The writers described Irish bond buyers in America as “men and women of stout Irish lineage and we are sure that reports of ‘such shocking outrages’ will not cause them to withdraw their subscriptions.”4

 

  • More significantly, Irish-born writer Ernest A. Boyd referenced Guest’s “excellent articles” in an April 30, 1920, dispatch from Dublin, also published in the Sun. “That there are crimes and outrages nobody can deny,” Boyd wrote. “If the government department concerned produces statistics, what can one do but reprint them? Mr. Guest did so, and was accordingly denounced as a sinister agent of John Bull.”5

Boyd warned:

To understand these statistics it is essential to have an idea of the peculiar position of the English administration in Ireland … [which is] to prove that Sinn Féin is a criminal conspiracy. … In official circles all Irish crimes are now Sinn Féin crimes, just as they were all Nationalist crimes in the days of Parnell. … It is easy to conceive the impossible position of a special correspondent who has to rely for information upon informants of this type.

To partisans and propagandists, Boyd noted, “the journalist who accepts their own dope is an unbiased champion of truth and justice; the journalist who accepts the other fellow’s is a scoundrel. The illusion is inevitable and human. … For many obvious reasons the American press has given the best outside accounts of current affairs in Ireland.”

It should also be remembered that Guest’s series debuted a month after the New York Globe published a controversial story about Éamon de Valera’s views on foreign policy. The Sinn Féin leader, then touring America to raise money and political support for Ireland, made an awkward comparison of U.S. government relations with Cuba under the Monroe Doctrine to potential British recognition of Ireland, provided Ireland agreed to avoid international alliances hostile to Britain.

De Valera had given a draft of his views to the American correspondent for The Westminster Gazette, presumably hoping to influence prominent politicians back in London. He didn’t realize the Gazette had a cooperative arrangement with the Globe, which Feb. 6, 1920, published a story under the headline “De Valera Opens the Door”. De Valera’s enemies in America seized on the Globe’s (mis)interpretation, which widened hostilities among pro-Irish independence factions.6 The episode also might have biased reactions to Guest’s series, at least among Sinn Féin supporters.

The outcome of Guest’s Ireland trip and reporting differed from the simultaneous 1920 experiences of Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News. He did not turn his Ireland reporting into a book, as she did. He was not invited to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, which in November 1920 opened public hearings in Washington, D.C., as she was.

British forces confront Irish republican rally in Dublin, 1920.

AFTERWARD

Guest became the Globe’s “special stock investigator.”7 He wrote a series of stories about securities fraud and other schemes “in which the promoters appeal to the cupidity of the public through the lure of large possible profits on small investment.”8

In June 1923, the Globe was merged into the New York Sun. Guest eventually left journalism. The 1930 U.S. Census shows he held a “council” position in the “public retail construction” industry.9 By the mid-1930s he became executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, where he shaped industrial development reports, similar to those he had focused on in several of his Ireland stories.10

It appears that Guest died in late September 1960, age 81, though I haven’t located an online obituary to confirm he is the person whose cremated remains were placed in the urn garden at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.11 If this Harry F. Guest is the former Globe reporter, he joined journalists Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, and Henry Chadwick, the British-born sportswriter who became the “father of baseball,” as Green-Wood denizens in eternal rest.

REFLECTION

Harry F. Guest traveled to Ireland and wrote his series for the New York Globe as the two-year-old influenza pandemic began to ease. More than 20,000 people died in Ireland, though Guest didn’t mention the outbreak in the reporting available for review.12 It is ironic, to be sure, that I have revisited his series while quarantined in my Washington, D.C. apartment due to another pandemic.

Having survived the Spanish flu era, Guest probably considered the possibility of a similar outbreak during his lifetime. It is unlikely, however, that he imagined the technology that has allowed me to read his work 100 years later. Newspaper preservation on microfilm didn’t begin until some 15 years after the publication of his Ireland series,13 let alone digital access to those images via computer and internet. Eventually, I hope to review the 1920 issues of the Globe on microfilm at the Library of Congress. I want to see the paper’s promotion and placement of Guest’s stories, its other news coverage and editorials about Ireland, including de Valera and related activity in the U.S., and the letters to the editor.

Ruth Russell lived among the poor in Dublin’s slums, stood outside factories with striking and unemployed workers; and listened to the animated conversations of Irish revolutionaries in their homes and meeting places. Guest was less of a participant and more journalist-as-observer, his reporting almost technocratic. Unlike Russell, his work leaves the impression of someone who was around the Irish people and the British authorities, but not fully among them. His coverage of the Glengarriff mummers performance and the Ballynahinch market confrontation are notable exceptions.

Russell picked a side. She stated her case for Irish independence and against British imperialism in print and in public. It probably cost not only her job at the Daily News, but also her career as a journalist. She became a school teacher. Guest presented his aspects of the Irish situation,” nine points each for the Irish and English sides, then left “the weighting of the evidence to the reader.” He became an industrial development lobbyist. 

Charges that Guest was pro-British or pro-Sinn Féin missed the mark. He was objective to a fault. His arms-length engagement with 1920 Ireland resulted in a series that, 100 years on, is an interesting and informative snapshot of the period, but ultimately unsatisfying. In times of revolution and pandemic, readers generally prefer more passion in the prose.

With many thanks to those who have read my series about Guest’s 1920 Ireland reporting during these difficult weeks of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As always, comments, corrections, and other feedback are welcome. Stay safe. MH

Another scene of confrontation between Irish citizens and British troops in 1920 Dublin.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Evidence

Harry F. Guest

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

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By early April 1920, after writing nearly two dozen stories about Ireland, Guest began to conclude his series.1 He attempted to answer “the Irish question,” the century-old dispute between Irish nationalists and the British ruling class, which had drawn increased attention from America since the 1880s.

Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem2

Guest explored whether “Ireland is a financial burden on England, or English government is a millstone around the neck of Ireland.” Such analysis, working from government reports and data, marked his reportorial strength more than interviewing people.

Guest reported that England collected $186.3 million from Ireland for the 12-months ended March 31, 1919; with total expenditures of $110.8 million during the period. He cited figures and quoted from the Financial Relations Committee of 1896, and the Primrose Committee on Home Rule Finance in 1912, to delve into the history of the financial imbalance. He wrote:

That the financial relations between England and Ireland are in need of readjustment is generally admitted, but there is a wide difference between the proposed methods. At different times inquiries to this end have been held, the faults and injustices in the present system pointed out and recommendations made. Few if any important changes have resulted from the investigations, however, England apparently taking the view that it would be futile to go into this until some satisfactory solution of the Irish question itself has been arrived at.

England Has Four Course Open In Case That Ireland Refuses Home Rule Measure3

Guest detailed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, then being considered in London. When passed in December, this is that law that partitioned the island into six predominantly Protestant counties, called Northern Ireland (three majority Catholic counties in the province of Ulster were excluded), and 26 majority Catholic counties of southern Ireland. 

“While I was in Ireland I did not hear one kind word for the bill in either Ulster or the south. It was condemned on all sides by all parties,” Guest wrote. “The 1920 home rule bill differs from its predecessors in that none of the Irish parties have been consulted in regard to its principles and that it comes up for passage at a time when many of the Irish members are absenting themselves from parliament. … The measure has been ridiculed in both press and pulpit.”

Irish Situation Viewed From Angles Favoring Their Cause4 and England Resents American Efforts To Take Part In Solution For Irish Problem5

Ireland was partitioned in 1920.

In these last two stories, Guest outlined what he described as “aspects of the Irish situation … established beyond dispute.” In the first he listed nine reasons “which favor Ireland’s side of the case.” These are lightly edited from the original:

  • “Seventy-five percent of the Irish people are dissatisfied with the present form of government and opposed to the relief England offers in the home rule bill now before parliament.”
  • “England today is governing Ireland by force of arms, violating the sanctity of the home, suppressing the press, prohibiting freedom of speech, and the right of peaceable assembly …”
  • “The Macpherson-French has a record of one mistake after another …”
  • “England has failed to encourage Irish industries …”
  • “England has never made an effective effort to bring about a better understanding between Ulster Protestants and the southern Catholics …”
  • “Had Ireland better educational facilities … her people would be more orderly and law-abiding …”
  • “Ireland’s confidence in the sincerity of the English government has been shattered by the forthcoming repeal of the 1914 home rule act to satisfy a minority in Ulster.”
  • “Ireland’s hope of freedom was encouraged” … by English statesmen and President Wilson.
  • “It is probable that Ireland would make a ‘working agreement’ with England for mutual protection in the event of England offering her freedom.”

In the second story, Guest wrote “England’s position in Ireland rests on these factors”:

  • “In justice to law-abiding citizens, the reign of terror and outrage in Ireland calls for drastic measures of suppression.”
  • “Fair trial by jury in Ireland is responsible under existing conditions.”
  • The English parliament has advanced many good laws for the benefit of the Irish people, such as land owning and land leasing, old age pensions, and health insurance.
  • “England favored Ireland during the war by exempting her from conscription, food restrictions, etc. … Compared to England, Ireland did not feel the pinch of the war any more than the United States did.”6
  • Despite “discrimination in the matter of commerce, trade, and industry,” Ireland enjoys “the greatest prosperity in her history. …”
  • “England’s mistakes in Ireland have been due largely to the connivance of politicians rather than to a deliberate policy of government …”
  • The racial and religious division of Ireland make solving the problems “the most difficult domestic problems which any nation has faced.”
  • “English rule” has kept Ireland safe “from predatory nations.”
  • “England’s principal freedom is and has been on strategic grounds, rather than because of any financial benefit …” 

“I leave the weighting of the evidence to the reader,” Guest concluded. “I feel sure if the good wishes of every true American can help, the day will come soon when [the Irish question] will be settled fairly and without prejudice to either side.”

But violence and discord would grow worse in Ireland through the rest of 1920 and into 1921.

December 1920 advertisement in the Chicago Daily News about the war in Ireland.

NEXT: In the concluding post, public reaction to Guest’s series, his career afterward, and my personal reflections on his work.