Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Ten books for year-end gift giving, or your ‘shelf’

Most of the 10 books described below the photo focus on 19th and early 20th century Irish history. A few were published before this year. One is a first-ever English translation of a German work from 1913; another is an on-demand reissue of a 1922 title. Two books on Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania history are only tangentially about the Irish. Four of the authors are personal acquaintances, marked by *. I hope my readers will support their work. Titles are listed alphabetically and linked to where the books can be ordered online. That convenience notwithstanding, please support small history presses and independent booksellers whenever possible. Enjoy. MH

There’s a mistake in the order of this stack to make you look closer at the list below.

A Journey in Ireland, 1921, Wilfrid Ewart. The author, journalist, and retired British military officer traveled around Ireland for several weeks in spring 1921, shortly before the truce. Unfortunately, his book of experiences wasn’t published until spring 1922, after the treaty and the country’s lurch into civil war. That doesn’t matter as much today. This is a good travel read about Ireland at war, with plenty of passages beyond Dublin and Belfast. I wrote a 10-part blog serial revisiting the people and events Ewart encountered 100 years earlier.

America and The Making of an Independent Ireland, Francis M. Carroll. The book consolidates Carroll’s long career of scholarship on this topic. It “argues that the existence of the state of Ireland is owed to considerable effort and intervention by Irish Americans and the American public at large.” Beginning with the 1916 Rising, the final chapter pushes the story into the early phases of U.S.-Irish relations after partition and the civil war. It compliments Bernadette Whelan’s United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, and Michael Doorley’s Irish-American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-1935.

Ireland [1913], Richard Arnold Bermann. Translated from German and edited by Leesa Wheatley and Florian Krobb. The book is a snapshot of Ireland at the start of its revolutionary period and a year before the Great War. In their Introduction, Wheatley and Krobb also note Bermann’s “umbrage … at traces of mass tourism prone to erode the serenity of the autochthonous culture where it might still survive, and the blatant exploitation of visitors by entrepreneurial yet intrusive individuals who offer their services as guides or coach drivers.” See my post, Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021.

Living With History: Occasional Writings, Felix M. Larkin*. A former Irish civil servant, Larkin is one of the 2008 founders of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. He has devoted special attention to the late Freeman’s Journal and is a regular contributor to the book review pages of The Irish Catholic and letters to the editor section of The Irish Times, plus more than two dozen academic works. His collection of nearly 100 pieces, ranging from 500 to 5,000 words; sectioned under nine themes, including one on American people and events; are all written for general audiences, Larkin says; and can be read sequentially, or dipped into, set aside, and returned to later with ease. I am honored that Larkin included my 2018 Q & A interview with him.

On the Edge: Ireland’s Offshore Islands, Diarmaid Ferriter. My wife and I have hiked and biked two of the three Aran Islands and look forward to a future visit to Inis Meáin. Until then, Ferriter’s “comprehensive study of Ireland’s offshore islands purposely eschews” the “reverent, patronizing and romantic tone” of earlier “cultural archivists and spiritual dreamers … seeking to understand – or even momentarily become part of – a mystical ancient Celtic society,” The Irish Independent wrote in its 2018 review. “Ferriter avoids single definitions, broad brushstrokes and hyperbole. Primarily because he is a historian who always favors fact, sources and evidence, over subjective opinion; and the great array of archival material he brings to the surface here is a good testament to his dedicated approach to research.”

Politics, Culture, and The Irish American Press 1784-1963, Edited by Debra Reddin van Tuyll, Mark O’Brien, and Marcel Broersma. This collection of 15 pieces “tell a number of important stories and provides invaluable insights about journalism, about Ireland, about America, and about the ethnicity of the Irish in America,” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall writes in the Forward. It is divided into three sections: the 1700s, the 1800s, and the 1900s. The book covers subjects you’d expect to find: Gillian O’Brien on Margaret Sullivan and Michael Doorley on the Gaelic American; and more obscure stories, such as Colum Kenny on Michael Davitt’s work for William Randolph Hearst, and Mark O’Brien on American influences at the Irish Press–Dev’s Dublin daily, 1931-1955, not his supporters’ earlier Philadelphia weekly, 1918-1922. A welcome addition to any journalism collection.

The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania: Its Origins, Establishment, Decline, and Resurrection, John C. Bates*. Cork-born Michael O’Connor in 1843 became the first bishop of the new see at Pittsburgh. He built churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions (He founded the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper.) as waves of Irish Famine immigrants and poor Catholics from Eastern Europe populated the workforce of America’s most industrialized city. The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania was created 100 years later to share the church’s history in the region and preserve its records and artifacts. Bates’ detailed reference book documents both efforts, a “history within a history.” I’ve found this book useful in my own research, including this post: Don’t drink: Father Mathew’s temperance tour in Pittsburgh.

The Fall of the Fitzmaurices, Kay Caball*. A professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me find relations and other Kerry characters.), Fall tells of the demise of the Fitzmaurice family, who had been powerful Lords of Kerry since 1235. “What could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced in such a short space of time?” Caball asked in a late 2020 guest post that previews her book. “We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.”

The Irish Assassins, Julie Kavanaugh. This new treatment of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders and their aftermath is the most commercially popular title on this list. The Irish Times said, “Kavanagh’s is a sweeping and compelling narrative of a story that more than bears retelling. What she has sought to do, which has not been done before, is to try to connect in time the political and social lives of what is an extended and diverse cast of characters in Britain and Ireland.” Author John Banville’s New York Times review described the book as “an adroit unpicking of the intricacies of the history, and her book is at once admirable for its scholarship and immensely enjoyable in its raciness.”

The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel Disaster, Mary Jane Kuffner Hirt*. On Christmas Eve, 1917, my Kerry-born grandfather was working as a motorman for a Pittsburgh streetcar company. That day, a car in the fleet lost power as it entered the decline of a tunnel. The crash at the other end resulted in a dozen deaths and scores of injuries, still the city’s worst transit disaster. My grandfather was not involved in the episode, but he would have felt the aftershocks of the streetcar company’s bankruptcy in this dark period of the city’s history, eight months after the United States entered World War I and weeks before the outbreak of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Kuffner Hirt’s research is meticulous. My full review in Western Pennsylvania History Magazine.

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) in October published the 21st issue of its Statistical Yearbook of Ireland, which uses data to present a comprehensive look at life in modern Ireland. The 2021 edition published in three parts, linked below with CSO’s accompanying graphics. Part 3 includes data on the COVID-19 pandemic and an appendix on about Northern Ireland. My regular monthly roundup will return next month. MH

Part 1: People & Society

Part 2: Business & Economy

Part 3: Travel, Agriculture, Environment & COVID-19, including a special appendix of data supplied by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

As fall begins, tourism is returning to Ireland; housing prices are up, with the corporate tax rate perhaps soon to follow; and Brexit and the border continue to cause uncertainty in the North. Our monthly roundup:

  • Lough Graney, Co Clare                                                        Tourism Ireland photo

    As of Sept. 28, Ireland was the new No.1 in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking. Almost 90 percent of the population is vaccinated. More restrictions are due to be eased in mid-October.

  • Unsurprisingly, Tourism Ireland has launched a “Green Button” campaign “to re-start tourism and encourage Americans to book Ireland as their next holiday destination. The €4.1 million campaign will target six key gateways and 11 priority cities, to reach and engage audiences who have the highest potential to travel to the island of Ireland. It is scheduled to run through early January 2022.”
  • See my September piece on “Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021.”

The North

  • Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Convey warned that the lingering dispute between the United Kingdom and the European Union over post-Brexit border arrangements could lead to the “collapse” of institutions around a two-decade-old Northern Irish peace agreement if the two sides cannot break the impasse, Foreign Policy reported.  Coveney visited Washington, D.C., after meetings in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
  • “I would not at all like to see, nor, I might add, would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland,” President Joe Biden said after meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, AP reported. The administration and members of Congress are concerned the British government wants to change the terms of its post-Brexit border deal.
  • But … the leaders of the four largest unionist parties in the North have released a joint declaration that reaffirmed their opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol. They’ve suggested the issue could collapse the always precarious Northern Ireland Assembly.
  • Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is still expected to attend an Oct. 21 prayer service marking the centennial of the partition of Ireland. Irish President Michael D. Higgins withdrew from the event, claiming that it had been “politicized.”

And more …

  • The Irish government may commit to raising its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, but only if the global Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development agrees to amend proposed text from “at least 15 percent” to just “15 percent”, as it fears that the first formulation could lead to future rises in the rate.
  • House prices in Ireland have climbed 9 percent over the last year as the supply of rooftops remains restricted. The average price nationwide in the third quarter of 2021 was €287,704, a total of €24,000 higher than last year. This figure is 22 percent below the Celtic Tiger peak but three quarters above its lowest point in 2012, TheJournal.ie says, citing data from the Daft.ie and Myhome.ie websites.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is failing to apply European Union privacy laws to U.S. tech giants such as Google, FacebookAppleMicrosoft, and Twitter, which all have their European headquarters in Dublin. See Irish Council for Civil Liberties report
  • Pamela Uba, 26, who moved to Ireland from South Africa with her family at age 8, became the first Black woman crowned Miss Ireland. The contest dates to 1947.

Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021

Americans remain welcome in Ireland, even as other European nations tighten or prohibit non-essential travelers from the United States due to surging COVID-19 infections.

“They’re a very important part of our tourism sector, if we were to block Americans we would definitely be shooting ourselves in the foot,” John Galligan of the Irish Travel Agents Association told TheJournal.ie. “There are not a lot of American tourists at the moment but there are some. Business travel is a part of this too.”

In 2019 the Irish travel industry reported record visitors, paid room nights (with a related decline in visitors “couch surfing” with relatives), and other tourist spending. Only tiny fractions of those figures have been realized since the pandemic erupted shortly before St. Patrick’s Day 2020. Visitors are now required to show proof of vaccine or negative test results.

Americans began driving the Irish tourism industry before the 1918 flu pandemic. It’s a recurring topic in Ireland [1913], the 118-year-old travelogue by German journalist Richard Arnold Bermann, now translated into English for the first time by Leesa Wheatley and Florian Krobb.[1]Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos. The book has drawn particular attention as a snapshot of Ireland at the start of its revolutionary period and a year before the Great War. In their Introduction, Wheatley and Krobb also note Bermann’s “umbrage … at traces of mass tourism prone to erode the serenity of the autochthonous culture where it might still survive,  and the blatant exploitation of visitors by entrepreneurial yet intrusive individuals who offer their services as guides or coach drivers.”

Early in the original text, Bermann writes:

At this moment in time tourism is really taking off in Ireland. It will not exactly do away with the country’s history because it feeds on it — Ireland’s history populates the countryside with splendid sights, with druidic stones, with ancient kings and ruins in every shape and size, all meticulously decorated in ivy. But the tourist industry should help clear the huts, these dreadful holes, even if then the ladies from Connecticut are thereabouts find Ireland a lot less delightful.[2]Ireland, pp.45-46.

At Killarney, he grumbles about tour buses “packed with Americans.” Later, he smirks that “it is just too comical seeing really old American women climb onto gentlemen’s saddles and gallop off.”[3]Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively. Was Bermann sexist as well as anti-American?

Other perspectives of these same American tourists are found in the 1913 U.S. newspaper clippings on this page. The Boston Globe reported how members of the city’s Irish county clubs–groupings of immigrants from Cork, Clare, Cavan, etc.–were touring “the Old Country.” Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Lord Lieutenant, hosted a U.S. agricultural delegation and promised to open a “Welcome Club” for American visitors in one of Dublin’s old Georgian mansions. Instead of climbing to the top deck of a tour bus or saddling a horse, other U.S. visitors to Killarney boarded a jaunting car.

“…a truly enjoyable experience,” Bermann wrote. “A trap on two high wheels, drawn by a single horse, rides like a fairground contraption rather than a coach. It looks as if the house’s saddle has slipped onto the horse’s rear end.”[4]Ireland, p. 49 

An American family on a jaunting car at the Lakes of Killarney, Co. Kerry. (Decatur, Illinois) Herald & Review, Aug. 31, 1913.

The 1913 Ireland trip was the first of what became three decades of “frenetic, restless, almost driven travels all around the world” for Bermann (1883-1939), Wheatley and Krobb write. He wrote the book “to establish himself as a journalist of punch and substance.” His “pinpointing the Americanization of the beauty spots” and satirizing of fellow tourists “often borders on the affectatious.” Yet, “in spite of some gratuitous posturing, he conveys a very vivid picture … of the Ireland of his day.”

Bremann’s 1913 travels occurred only weeks after my Kerry-born maternal grandfather sailed to America. The journalist’s descriptions of Ireland frame the county just as the emigrant left it, never to return. (Coincidentally, and overlooked by Wheatley and Krobb, the French photographers Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet made the first color photographs of Ireland in May and June 1913.)

Belvidere (Illinois) Daily Republican, Aug. 21, 1913

Fifty-six years after Bremann, about halfway between 1913 and today, one of my grandfather’s six daughters became the first of his American family to visit Ireland. After her death, I inherited my aunt’s collection of ephemera from her 1969 trip and subsequent visits to Ireland. A 44-page Irish Tourist Board pamphlet promotes both 6-hour flights from New York and Boston, as well as 7-day “regular sailings by ocean liner into Cobh and Galway.”

Packed with lovely photos, the pamphlet describes mid-century Ireland on the eve of the Troubles in romantic marketing prose:

Their little island contains all you ever hoped it would–the fabled scenery, the castles rimed with age and legend, twisting lanes and peat bogs and mists, Irish whiskey and linen and tweed, Irish wolfhounds and soda bread, Blarney Stone and Blarney talk. … Aran’s children with enormous eyes, scholar priests a-walking; slender young gentles of ancient line, jaunty old chaps who spin the tales; farmers and fishers and cutters of turf, writers and actors … Oh, it is a marvelous spread of folk we have over here! Bunched in the cities where the stunning Irish theater is, spread over the lush and rolling green of the south, spread a little thinner in the west where the ribs of rock show through.”

I made my first trip to Ireland in 2000, a dozen years after my aunt’s last visit in 1988, and 87 years after Bremann. Over 10 trips I’ve covered the same ground as both of them (including Killarney) and millions of others since 1913. I’m anxious to return after being kept away for two years by COVID, but I don’t expect to make the trip until at least next year.

“Ireland is much too close to America,” Bremann wrote in 1913, a sentence that probably resonated with his German readers a year before the outbreak of the Great War. For contemporary Irish tourism officials, the travel reluctance of so many potential visitors is a troubling concern, even as the country remains more welcoming then other parts of Europe.

The Boston Globe, Aug. 18, 1913

References

References
1 Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos.
2 Ireland, pp.45-46.
3 Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively.
4 Ireland, p. 49

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

UPDATE: This story broke Aug. 31, a day after the original post, found below the graphic.

The population of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland has eclipsed 5 million for the first time since 1851, near the end of the Great Famine, according to the Central Statistics Office. Then, about 6.6 million people lived on the island of Ireland, including the six counties of the North. Today about 1.9 million people live in Northern Ireland, for an island-wide total surpassing 170 years ago.

CSO graphic

ORIGINAL POST

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Connecticut, closed for over a year due to COVID-19, will not reopen, owner Quinnipiac University says. The museum is said to hold the world’s largest collection of historic and contemporary Irish famine-related art works. The pandemic has further eroded the museum’s poor financial footing, which surfaced in 2019.

“The university is in active conversations with potential partners with the goal of placing the collection on display at an organization that will increase access to national and international audiences,” Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan wrote in an early August statement.

The museum opened in 2012. The 175th anniversary of “Black ’47”, the worst year of the famine, is next year.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, founded and directed by history professor Christine Kinealy, remains open, as does the special collection of famine-related books, journals, and documents at the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel Campus, Morgan said.

I visited the library and museum in March 2013. I hope this impressive collection finds a good home.

More news from August:

  • “With economic crises spiraling out of control and Brexit casting the uneasy post-Troubles peace into doubt, republicans have found their political niche and are capitalizing on it,” Aidan Scully writes in Harvard Political Review. “Across the island, Sinn Féin is pushing up against decades-old traditions and systems and finding little pushing back. Ireland’s two-party system is gone, forever, and Sinn Féin is here to stay.”
  • Fresh polling by the Belfast Telegraph shows support for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has dropped 13 percent, placing it third among unionist parties and fourth overall in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin at the top. Elections in the North as scheduled for May 2022.
  • Ryanair announced it is leaving Northern Ireland, blaming air passenger duty and a lack of “incentives” from Belfast International and Belfast City airports. The carrier pulled out of Derry airport earlier this year.
  • Tourism Ireland, the island-wide marketing agency, has drawn criticism for using “Londonderry” instead of “Derry” in some materials. The former is still the official name, the latter in wider usage, especially since the hit television show “Derry Girls.”
  • Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell made headlines with comments about the church’s “underlying crisis of faith” and “current model of the Church is unsustainable.” Further context and perspective from Gladys Ganiel on the Slugger O’Toole Blog.
  • An eight-foot-tall, 1,600-year-old wooden sculpture was recovered a bog in Gortnacrannagh townland, Co. Roscommon during excavations for a road construction project, Smithsonian reported. The Iron Age figure was made from a split oak trunk and has what appears to be a human head and a series of horizontal notches carved along its body.
  • Ireland is missing its chance to protect its dwindling biodiversity with several iconic species of bird, fish and mammals under threat, TheJournal.ie reports in a special investigation.
  • “What I will miss most about the US is the people,” Irish Times Washington correspondent Suzanne Lynch wrote in her farewell column. “Wherever I traveled, I was consistently struck by the generosity and warmth of American people. Their relentless optimism, good humor and willingness to engage make it a pleasure to live in this country.”
  • See previous monthly round ups and our annual “Best of the Blog.”

Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry.                                                  Courtesy Kevin Griffin via Fáilte Ireland.

When Bloomsday feels like doomsday

This post was originally published June 15, 2016. MH

It’s 16 June: BloomsdayThe nearly global celebration marks the day in 1904 when the character Leopold Bloom treks through Dublin in James Joyce’s ”Ulysses.” Think literary St. Patrick’s Day with nicer weather.

Now, however, the date has a darker meaning in Ireland. It’s the anniversary of the 2015 collapse of a fifth-floor apartment balcony in Berkeley, Calif. Five Dublin students and an Irish-American woman were killed, another seven were injured. Most were in the U.S. on J-1 Summer Work and Travel visas.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin F. O’Malley issued a statement to media, which said in part:

On the first anniversary of the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded in Berkeley, California on June 16 last year and affected all of Irish society, the people of the United States extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured. In a remembrance ceremony today in Ballsbridge with U.S. Embassy personnel, we planted an apple tree in the Embassy’s front courtyard and unveiled a memorial plaque to serve as a living tribute to those affected by the tragedy.

As serious readers of “Ulysses” know, the novel references the horrific fire and sinking of the steamboat “General Slocum,” which occurred a day earlier in New York City. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers were killed, mostly German-American women and school children, though some historians suggest the death toll was higher. It was the worst disaster in New York history until 9/11.

general_slocum_1.jpg (744×447)

The “General Slocum,” before the 1904 tragedy.

In The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper in Ireland until 1924, the story was reported on page 5 of the 16 June 1904 edition. Contemporaries of Leopold Bloom read these multi-deck headlines:

Appalling American Disaster

Excursion Steamer on Fire

500 Lives Lost

Wild Scene of Panic

Children Thrown Overboard

Women Trampled to Death

Here’s the passage from “Ulysses,” which was serialized between 1918 and 1920, before being published in full in 1922:

Terrible affair that “General Slocum” explosion. Terrible, terrible. A thousand casualties. And heartrending scenes. Men trampling down women and children. Most brutal thing. What do they say was the cause? Spontaneous combustion. Most scandalous revelation. Not a single lifeboat would float and the fire hose all burst. What I can’t understand is how the inspectors ever allowed a boat like that . . .

Or how 111 years later Berkeley inspectors ever allowed a balcony like that …

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Final thoughts

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence, which also includes my earlier work on Ruth Russell. By coincidence, Russell is included in the just released ‘Toward America‘ video at the new Mná100 website, part of the Irish government’s Decade of Centenaries commemorative program.

***

Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919, shortly after the separatist Dáil Éireann opened in Dublin and the first shots of the War of Independence. Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland in spring 1921, shortly before the truce that helped end the war later that year.

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Both journalists recorded their observations of Ireland for newspapers: Russell in America, Ewart in Britain. Each expanded their work into books that combined their journalism with literary flourishes: Russell’s What’s The Matter With Ireland?, and Ewart’s A Journey In Ireland, 1921.

The two books are complementary, similarly-styled snapshots from opposite ends of the war. Both reporters interviewed and quoted key people who are still remembered in histories of the period. Both also mingled with the Irish living in the shadows of the revolution: Russell among women and children of the Dublin slums and the west of Ireland; Ewart with characters he encountered on several 20-mile walks between towns and at markets and rail stations. Both journalists sought to calculate nationalist and unionist enthusiasm and measure Catholic and Protestant division.

Though written two decades into the 20th century, the two books each offer glimpses of the long dusk of 19th century Irish rural life. They also offer wartime descriptions of Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Dublin.

From Russell:

In the evening I heard the murmur of revolution. With the shawled mothers who line the lane on a pleasant evening, I stood between the widow and a twenty-year-old girl who held her tiny blind baby in her arms. Across the narrow street with its water-filled gutters, barefoot children in holey sweaters or with burlap tied about their shoulders, slapped their feet as they jigged, or jumped at hop-scotch. Back of them in typical Dublin decay rose the stables of an anciently prosperous shipping concern; in the v dip of the roofless walls, spiky grass grew and through the barred windows the wet gray sky was slotted. 

From Ewart:

When night did finally close down and as curfew hour approached, the tide of the people set hurrying, over O’Connell Bridge towards the tram junction at the Nelson Pillar. The street lamps were lit and there were vague, shadowy crowds through which one had to press one’s way. Black motor cars containing mysterious-looking men rushed out of College Green at breakneck speed like bats or night-insects. Half an hour later–silence. I looked out of a window high up and saw spires, chimneys, rooftops bathed in moonlight, and heard one sound–a rifle shot.

Wilfrid Ewart

Both writers were college educated. Neither arrived in Ireland as wide-eyed innocents, nor were they as hardened and cynical as many journalists and politicians. Russell, 29, was the daughter of a Chicago newspaper editor who cut her reporting teeth on undercover assignments about women munitions plant workers. Ewart, 28, witnessed the horrors of Great War battlefields, where he survived wounds and illness. 

To be sure, Russell and Ewart each missed some nuisances of Irish revolutionary politics. Both appear to have allowed some personal bias to creep into their reporting. The same could probably be said of most journalists or historians.

On her return to America, Russell joined a Washington, D.C. protest against British rule in Ireland and testified about her experiences at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Ewart, a former British military officer, published an acclaimed debut novel about the Great War. 

Year-long delays in publishing their Ireland books and rapidly evolving events minimized the impact of their reporting in the country. Russell disappeared into the career of a Chicago public school teacher; Ewart was accidentally killed at the end of 1922. His book has received more attention and reissues than hers. One reason could be a sexist bias for the male military officer over the American woman. Another, I believe, is that Ewart wrote the better book.

This blog occasionally considers the cinematic possibilities of Irish history, such as the 1913 travels of two French women who produced the first color photographs of the country, and the Lartigue monorail of County Kerry. There is an opportunity for a movie about Russell and Ewart traveling through revolutionary Ireland, at the same time instead of two years apart. They compete for scoops, dodge danger, and, of course, fall in love. The film has either a tragic ending amid the ambushes and reprisals, or a happy one at the threshold of Irish independence.

For now, their accounts stand together as companions on my bookshelf.

Below: Adverts for Russell’s and Ewart’s Ireland books.

 

A Journey in Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ewart reviewed

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments can be found in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

***

Wilfrid Ewart from a painting by Nora Cundell, used as front matter in Stephen Graham’s 1924 biography.

In his Introduction to Journey, Edward Turnour, the 6th Earl Winterton, writes that Ewart made “an honest attempt to record, without prejudice, the extraordinary conflict of views and of right in present-day Ireland.” Winterton also makes an insensitive, if unintentional, comment that “any man or woman with two eyes” could have seen Ireland’s condition in 1921 was “a disgrace to civilization and an outrage upon humanity.”

Ewart was blind in one eye.

Punch, the acerbic London weekly, noted that many people traveled to Ireland during the war, “but they intelligently refrained from writing books about it.” The review continued:

If Captain Ewart had published his experiences immediately after his return to England in May 1921, they might have had some interest for the general English reader, who at that time was amiably prepared to swallow any Irish propaganda that was served out to him. Captain Ewart is not a propagandist, but his experiences consisted of talking to Irishmen who are propagandists … The strange thing is not that Captain Ewart was being gulled from the day he set foot in Ireland, but that he should have decided, a whole year after this event, to erect this literary monument to his own gullibility.[1]“A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.

Ewart biographer Stephen Graham revealed the book’s publisher delayed Journey‘s release to avoid conflicting with his friend’s 1921 novel, The Way of Revelation. Journey should have “appeared within a few weeks to be of any news value,” Graham wrote in 1924, two years after the author’s accidental death at age 30. “Excellent as it is, [Journey] fell flat, as it was really out of date. Ireland by then had entered a new phase,”[2]Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.

Irish reviews 

Ewart’s book enjoyed a measure of success among Irish and American readers.

The Irish Examiner praised how Ewart “obtained the views of prominent citizens of all shades of opinion” and presented their views “with fairness and impartiality.” It said the book “will interest the reader to note how far the prophecies and the prognostications, the diagnoses, the recommendations, the hopes and fears expressed in it, have come within reach of realization, or been discounted.”[3]“The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922. That remains more true 100 years later.

Screenshot of scanned original edition cuts off bottom portion.

Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien, wife of Irish nationalist William O’Brien, said that Ewart sent her husband an account of the April 1921 interview at their home “for revision”, followed later by a copy of the published book. It “was a very friendly one and gave a very good impression of the author,” she wrote. A friend of the couple was so “charmed” that he “carried it off,” presumably never to be returned.[4]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

Ewart also interviewed Irish nationalist George Russell in April 1921. The Irish Homestead, the weekly edited by Russell, reviewed Ewart’s book in summer 1922, but I have not been able to access an archived copy.[5]This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.

 American reaction

In the United States, reviews and advertisements for Journey also appeared in summer 1922. Many reviews were just blurbs. Several mention The Way of Revelation, or Ewart’s U.S. travels with Graham at the time.

North Carolina educator and historian William Thornton Whitsett syndicated his review to newspapers a few weeks after the Aug. 22, 1922, assassination of Michael Collins. Whitsett found “extraordinary timeliness” in Journey’s publication “for a world stunned by such a catastrophe … and altogether baffled by the whole bloody course of events in Ireland.[6]“Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.

Anna L. Hooper, literary editor of the Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, offered the contradictory conclusion that Journey “is not a book of any great weight or value, but it is an entertaining and unbiased account of conditions during a very important period in modern history, and it is well worth reading.”[7]“New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.

The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle included Journey in a roundup with two other Irish books: Andrew Gerrie’s Ireland’s Woes and Britain’s Wiles, and Ronald McNeill’s Ulster’s Stand For Freedom. Reviewer F.W. Davidson said Ewart’s book:

…is as almost detached as were the writings of [William] Wordsworth in the days of the French revolution. Such detachment of mind is a great service to the present moment … [but] Ewart has no theory to advance in this volume; he has no remedy to propose for quieting and better government of the country.[8]“Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.

Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.

Modern reviews

In a review of the 2009 University College Dublin Press edition of Journey, Rory Brennan opined:

Ewart comes across as a decent man, if a plodding writer. These pedestrian attributes tend to make him a credible commentator, one not to over-egg the pudding with orange or green additives.[9]”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.

At the 2003 release of The Tourist Gaze: Travelers to Ireland: 1800-2000, reviewer Willie Nolan wrote “my favorite piece in this anthology has to be the extract from” Ewart’s Journey.[10]“The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260. Gaze contains 72 selections.

As mentioned earlier in this series, Maurice Walsh included Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and also quoted from it in his 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. I’m sure there are other academic citations and reviews.

Abe Books advertises a G. P. Putnam, London, first edition hardback in very good condition for $99. Other sites offer used first editions for as little as $10. In addition to on-demand reprints, A Journey In Ireland, 1921 is digitized.

NEXT: Final thoughts

References

References
1 “A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.
2 Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.
3 “The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922.
4 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.
5 This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.
6 “Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.
7 “New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.
8 “Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.
9 ”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.
10 “The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260.

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

There wasn’t much good news from Ireland in January, at least that I found in my reading. The three stories on the future of Dublin linked from the last bullet are interesting. Here’s the monthly roundup:

  • The COVID-19 death toll surpassed 3,000 in the Republic of Ireland and approaching 2,000 in Northern Ireland. Quarantine and other restrictions are being extended to March.
  • In a month-end poll by the TheJournal.ie, 46 percent surveyed said the Irish government is doing a good job at rolling out vaccines as quickly as possible, while 47 percent disagreed. Willingness to take vaccines hit 85 percent.
  • Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin apologized for the state’s “profound failure” in its treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies in a network of Catholic Church-run homes from the 1920s to the 1990s. A government-commissioned report found an “appalling” mortality rate of around 15 percent among children born at the homes, reflecting brutal living conditions. Around 9,000 children died in all.
  • Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is taking legal action against the U.K. government over what it calls the failure to provide abortion access in the region. Abortion was legalized in Northern Ireland in October 2019. (Apparently the commission does not believe in “human rights” for unborn children.)
  • Norman Houston, who led the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington, D.C., through late 2019, died in Belfast, age 62. He was a regular guest at Irish Network-DC events. I always appreciated his candor.
  • Horse Racing Ireland reported 2020 attendance declined 91 percent compared to 2019, with on-course betting falling by 89 percent to €7.7 million from €68.3 M. “The continued absence of attendance is having a significant impact on racecourses,” HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh told Blood Horse.
  • In The Irish Times ended the month with three stories about the future of Dublin: David McWilliams says “Covid-19 and Zoom will not finish off Dublin,” arguing the city needs to change from a shopping and work entrepot to a living, artisanal center”; Frank McDonald charges the capital has “shamelessly surrendered” to market forces and the ‘Planning Industrial Complex’’; and Fintan O’Toole writes  the “Georgian core of the city can become a ghost town dotted with a few grand Government buildings and prestige cultural institutions and hotels. Or it can be reimagined and reoccupied as a living and lively public space.”
  • See our monthly roundup and annual Best of the Blog archives.

How will the pandemic change Dublin?

On Irish poets and an American president

The new Holy Trinity of Irish-American relations is Biden-Heaney-Yeats. To wit:

President Biden has never hidden his enthusiasm for Irish poetry. Reciting W.B. Yeats’s poetry helped him overcome a childhood stutter. In the latter part of the campaign, he released a video of his stellar reading of Seamus Heaney’s powerful poem, The Cure at Troy, with its brilliant phrase about making ‘hope and history rhyme’.” — Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall on The Inauguration of President Biden.

“In some of his most important speeches over the course of a long career, Joe Biden has repeatedly quoted the work of Seamus Heaney, an Irish, Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright. … He’s also a fan of William Butler Yeats, dating back to the days when he used to recite Yeats’ words in the mirror, working to overcome his stutter.” — Town & Country

“In his four decades-long career from a Senator in Delaware to the man at the helm of affairs at the Democratic party, Mr Biden earned a reputation of peppering his speeches with Heaney and his contemporary, WB Yeats.” — The U.K. Independent

Biden in 2013.

There are more examples. Biden’s Jan. 20 inaugural address1 only lightly evoked the Heaney line as he described “a day of history and hope.” He did not directly quote either Irish poet. Instead, Biden quoted from the song American Anthem, written by songwriter Gene Scheer and first sung by Denyce Graves in 1998 for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at a Smithsonian Institution event. It was subsequently performed at other ceremonies, covered by Patti Labelle, and sung by Graves at George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration, says Variety.

Biden became only the fourth U.S. president to invite a poet to join his inauguration platform, following John F. Kennedy (1961), Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013), The Week reports. Biden’s inaugural committee selected 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to read her poem The Hill We Climb, which drew wide praise. Watch it here.

Irish Poets

Heaney

Heaney died in 2013, while Biden was Obama’s vice president. Heaney lived part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006, including time as Harvard’s poet in residence. American poet Robert Lowell described him as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Last summer, when Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post detailed the candidate’s citations of The Cure at Troy.

Yeats

Yeats, who died in 1939, visited America in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, 1920, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year of his life in the United States, according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. Washington, D.C. trial lawyer and literary critic Joseph M. Hassett has just published his third book about the poet, Yeats Now: Echoing into Life. By focusing on Yeats’s most memorable lines of poetry, it reveals new ways of enjoying a body of work that speaks eloquently and urgently to the 21st century, the publisher says.

On Jan. 27, Solas Nua, the D.C.-based contemporary Irish arts organization, and New York University, will present an experimental non-narrative film-poem drawing on the life of Yeats and using only his writings. Click here for more information and free registration.