Category Archives: Arts & Culture

A guide to celebrated, touristy Killarney in 1865

One of my sisters, an inveterate antique store browser, occasionally sends me 19th and early 20th century books that she discovers during her explorations. Her most recent gift is a copy of Black’s Guide to Killarney and the South of Ireland, from 1865.

The 1865 edition.

Nineteenth century travel guide books developed with a simultaneous expansion of the tourist industry. Victorian era travelers were looking for sublime encounters with nature and ancient history. Comprehensive guides replaced the earlier travel narratives of individuals or groups who described only their specific journeys. The new books had “a more streamlined look, with well-indexed sections that made it easy to flip to a certain area of interest and a more compact shape.”[1]See “Guidebooks and the Tourist Industry” in Villanova University’s “Rambles, Sketches, Tours, Travellers & Tourism in Ireland.

Black’s Guides were published by the Adam and Charles Black firm of Edinburgh, Scotland  (later London) from 1839 to 1919. They competed in the British Isles with similar series from Baedeker’s, Ward Lock, and Francis Guy’s. These guides are a great resource for historians.

The gifted 1865 edition of Black’s Guide to Killarney circulated 15 years after the devastation of the Great Famine. Work was just beginning to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable from Valentia Island, Kerry, about 45 miles west of Killarney. The U.S. Civil War ended after claiming the lives of many Irish immigrant soldiers. Suppression of the Irish People newspaper began a nationalist agitation that two years later resulted in the failed Fenian Rising.

The guide opens with a 21-page summary of “interesting objects” to view from either side of three Great Southern and Western Railroad routes through the region. Key mile markers are provided on the lines from Dublin to Cork, through Kildare, Queen’s County (renamed Laois in 1922), Tipperary, County Limerick, and County Cork; from Kildare to Waterford, through Carlow and Kilkenny; and from Limerick Junction to Tipperary, Clonmel, Carrick-On-Suir, and Waterford. The next 86 pages contain more detailed descriptions of these natural and built landmarks. The last 32 pages is a “Catalogue of Books,” which sells additional guides, maps, and atlases, as well as the 21-volume Encyclopedia Britannica and a collection of Sir Walter Scott’s works. The Killarney book also features a foldout “Chart of the Lakes of Killarney and Surrounding Country” (below), two-page “Plan of Cork” city, and an illustration of the Killarney lakes (below).

Lakes of Killarney illustration in 1865 Black’s Guide of the region.

Similar view from my March 2023 visit.

Regional map from the 1865 guide. (The right edge has been cropped out due to tears.)

Of Killarney’s natural landmarks, Black’s stated:

From the over-strained laudation, and the multitude of paintings and engravings that have been produced of these justly celebrated lakes, the tourist is apt to form too high an estimate of their beauty. There can be do doubt, however, that the rocks that bound the shores of Muckross and the Lower Lake, with their harmonious tints and luxuriant decoration of foliage, stand unrivaled, both in form and coloring; and the character of the mountains is as grand and varied as the lakes in which they reflect their rugged summits.

A framed photo of my wife standing on the same rocky shores of Muckross graces a corner of my writing desk, herself looking even more lovely than the surrounding scenery. But Black’s was less charitable about Killarney’s built environment and denizens, which it described as “certainly not the cleanest town in the world, and it has the misfortune to be filled with beggars, touters, guides and other annoyances.” German journalist Richard Arnold Bermann made similar observations during his 1913 visit.[2]See my post, “Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021.” As if dirt and mendicants were absent in London and other destinations.

In 1865, Black’s also offered a comprehensive, island-wide guide to Ireland, and three other regional titles:

  • Belfast and Giant’s Causeway
  • Dublin
  • Galway, Connemara, and the Shannon

Several editions of these books from the 1870s to 1912 have been digitized by HathiTrust. Antique book sellers offer Black’s guides in very good condition at prices approaching $100; while print-on-demand copies are available for much less. Other guide series are also available.

Years ago one of my Irish relations spoke a memorable line that my wife and I still quote in our travel-related discussions: “Why would you want to be anywhere in the world but Killarney in May?”


1 See “Guidebooks and the Tourist Industry” in Villanova University’s “Rambles, Sketches, Tours, Travellers & Tourism in Ireland.
2 See my post, “Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021.”

St. Patrick’s Day 1924 in the U.S. press: serious to saccharine

UPDATE: The Washington Post describes how Irish anger over Gaza may make for a tense White House St. Patrick’s Day at this year’s bilateral gathering. The New York Times explains “the deep roots of Ireland’s support for Palestinians.”


March 1924 brought the first St. Patrick’s Day in a decade that the Irish were not fighting on the continent or at home; first against the British, then against each other. “We have been loosed from the charted world that preceded the Great War into the trackless jungle that has followed it,” wrote Irish author James Stephens. Below are some examples of how the U.S. press cast the first post-war celebration of Ireland’s patron saint. The content ranged from the serious to the saccharine.

Cosgrave’s message:

Many U.S. papers published Irish President William T. Cosgrave’s call for unity and peace, which was distributed by International New Service. The Irish needed to follow the spirit of St. Patrick to “form our deliberations and regulate our actions so that differences of opinion may always be discussed without rancor, as they may be adjusted without violence,” Cosgrave wrote. He offered the “hand of welcome to our separated countrymen in the northeast.” This referred to the six partitioned counties of Northern Ireland, “which refused to accept the Free State and have an independent government,” the wire service explained. [1]”President Cosgrave Appeals To Irishmen” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, March 17, 1924, and other papers.

Stephens’ essay:

Irish author James Stephens wrote a column that began: “There is nothing more astonishing than the speed with which Ireland has forgotten her subjection.” Later in the piece, he continued: “To claim that we wish to go our own way implies that we know the way we wish to go and that we are willing and eager to take the path. But we have been loosed from the charted world that preceded the Great War into the trackless jungle that has followed it.”[2]”Sees Wall Of Brass Erected About Ireland”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, March 17, 1924.

Magazine cover:

March 13, 1924, Life magazine cover by Fred G. Cooper. The issue featured other illustrations related to St. Patrick’s Day, including “Ireland and Peace” by Charles Dana Gibson.

Tumulty’s revision:

Joseph Tumulty, who had been a top aide to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, wrote a front-page story for The Boston Globe to rehabilitate Wilson’s reputation among the Irish. Wilson had died six weeks earlier, aged 67, after years of illness and paralysis from an October 1919 stroke. He had ostracized Tumulty near the end of his life in a political dispute.

Wilson favored home rule for Ireland up until the start of the First World War. But he became increasingly agitated with Irish republicans from the 1916 Easter Rising through the 1919 Paris peace conference. He especially resented the efforts of John Devoy, Daniel Cohalan, and other Irish American activists to scuttle the League of Nations.

Tumulty waved off the division:

The only disparity of opinion between Woodrow Wilson and those who ardently advocated for Ireland’s freedom in this country was as the method of approaching this great goal. It was the case of different men seeing the same thing in a different way and approaching a settlement of it from different angles. … He did not feel himself openly to espouse the cause of Ireland for, to have done so might have added difficulties to an already chaotic world situation.[3]”Wilson Ideals Freed Ireland”, The Boston Globe, March 17, 1924.

Coolidge’s draw:

At the White House, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge made the first draw of the 23-nation Davis Cup lawn tennis tournament. He picked Ireland, “much to the amusement of those gathered for the ceremony, who immediately recalled that today was St. Patrick’s Day,” according to a wire service report. Ireland lost its match against France, played in Dublin later that year.

St. Patrick’s platitudes:

But the most common content found in American newspapers were saccharine poems, prose, and party ideas about St. Patrick and the Irish. The full-page newspaper display below is from the fantastically named Unterrified Democrat of Osage County, Missouri. The American contributors include Mary Graham Bonner, an author of children’s books; Willis F. Johnson, a New York Tribune and North American Review editor and author; and Blanche Elizabeth Wade, a poet and author.

Double click the image for closer viewing. You will not find anything related to the previous decade of trouble in Ireland.

Page of St. Patrick’s Day content in Unterrified Democrat (Osage County, Missouri), March 13, 1924.


1 ”President Cosgrave Appeals To Irishmen” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, March 17, 1924, and other papers.
2 ”Sees Wall Of Brass Erected About Ireland”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, March 17, 1924.
3 ”Wilson Ideals Freed Ireland”, The Boston Globe, March 17, 1924.

Guest post: John Bruton (1947-2024), an appreciation

Dublin historian and former public servant Felix M. Larkin’s last contribution to this site was about ‘Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland‘, two volumes of essays co-edited with Mark O’Brien. Larkin is the author of ‘Living with History: occasional writings’, among other works. MH


John Bruton, who died on Feb. 6, 2024, was one of the most significant figures in Irish public life for more than 50 years. He was taoiseach from December 1994 to June 1997, and the European Union’s ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2009.

Bruton’s book

In 2015 Bruton published a collection of essays entitled Faith in Politics. The pieces ranged widely over politics, economics, history, and religion. Included in the last category was a paper he gave at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, in which he reflected on the “added value” that Christians can bring to politics. He concluded that paper by saying that “no Christian, and Catholics in particular, should be afraid to bring their beliefs into the public square”. This is today an unfashionable idea in an increasingly secular Ireland, but Bruton never shrank from writing and speaking against the grain of the prevailing consensus.

Also unfashionable was his defense of the constitutional nationalist tradition in Irish history. John Redmond, the long-time leader of the Irish party at Westminster, was his great hero. In a seminal address in the Royal Irish Academy in 2014, reproduced in his book, he argued that “the 1916 Rising was a mistake” and left us with a baleful legacy of political violence. He feared that our continued commemoration of the Rising ran the risk of “saying that killing and dying is something that will be remembered by future generations, but patient peaceful achievements will be quietly forgotten”.

Elsewhere in his book he expressed concern about what he saw as the “higher level of skepticism about politicians nowadays”, but his “faith in democratic, constitutional politics” was absolute – hence the title of his book. His steadfast defense of constitutional politics both today and in the past is perhaps his greatest legacy to his fellow countrymen. I am proud to have known him.


Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see earlier contributions.

Why G.B. Shaw, feminists denounced 1937 ‘Eire’ constitution

Voters in the Republic of Ireland on March 8 will decide two proposed changes to the State’s 87-year-old Constitution. Both amendments are related to family life. The first will replace the clause describing women’s place as “within the home” with a new government commitment to value the work of all family care givers. The second will broaden the definition of the family to include all households with “durable relationships,” including the roughly one third of couples with children born out of wedlock.[1]See the current and proposed language.

In 1937, Irish leader Éamon de Valera proposed to update the 1922 Constitution that founded the Irish Free State, which he had opposed because it fell short of republican goals. His revised Constitution asserted full sovereignty for the 26 counties, which were renamed Eire, the Irish word for Ireland. As it widened the separation from Britain, Dev’s draft gave deference to the Catholic Church, confirming the longtime “Rome rule” suspicions of many Irish Protestants.

Since then, Ireland has dramatically modernized and secularized, especially in the past quarter century. Several amendments to the Constitution have removed language about the “special” role of the Church and penalties for blasphemy; while others have legalized divorce, same-sex marriage, and abortion. And the 1937 language about the role of women has received increased attention.

Shaw in 1936.

This section also drew criticism at the time of its introduction, notably from Anglo-Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw. He complained “its attitude toward women is simply going back ages,” adding the passage was “worse than ridiculous.”[2]”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937. Shaw continued:

De Valera’s new constitution, reactionary in its attitude toward women, is just another example of the world’s despair and revolt against democratic and parliamentary institutions which do nothing but talk, talk and get no action.  … It’s true that the work of women in the home is extremely important, and so, for that matter, is the work of men who maintain the home. But that is not sufficient reason for writing into the constitution that men should never be anything but breadwinners, and women nothing but home-workers. … Although the constitution generally appears to be modeled after that of the United States, it has a dash of Fascism in the provisions relating to women and marriage.

Two weeks after Shaw’s telephone interview with a Universal Service correspondent, Dáil Éireann TD Patrick McGilligan (Fine Gael-Dublin North-West) raised the celebrity’s author’s comments during a debate about the Constitution. This prompted a laugh from de Valera.

“He talks through his hat sometimes,” de Valera (Fianna Fáil-Clare), president of the Dáil’s executive council, said of Shaw.[3]See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.

Then 54, de Valera was the New York City-born son of an Irish immigrant mother who relinquished the care of her two-year-old toddler to relatives in Ireland. Shaw, then 80, was born in Dublin but moved to London at age 19 and remained in England for the rest of his life. The two famous Irishmen shared a frequently antagonistic but generally good-humored relationship, as revealed in public spats and private correspondence before and after 1937.[4]Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR, In 1945, Shaw famously defended de Valera for offering condolences to the German minister in Dublin upon hearing of Hitler’s death. The playwright, in a letter to The Times, London, described the politician as “a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire. Let us recognize a noble heart even if we must sometimes question its worldly wisdom.’’

Feminist criticism

The Dáil approved de Valera’s draft Constitution in mid-June 1937 by a vote of 62 to 48. De Valera placed it on the ballot of the national elections set for a few weeks later for ratification.

De Valera in 1937.

In addition to Shaw, “a minority of vocal activists” opposed the clause about women in the home.[5]Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421. They included feminists such as Louie Bennett, Hannah Sheehy-Skiffington, and Kathleen Clarke, widow of 1916 Rising martyr Tom Clarke. Mary Hayden of University College, Dublin, and the Women’s Graduate Association, also protested.[6]Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.

Irish journalist R.M. O’Hanrahan, in a pre-plebiscite analysis distributed by the North American Newspaper Alliance, noted these college and university educated women were “up in arms” about the language that referenced their gender. While these women advised a “no” vote on the Constitution, “the effect of this vote cannot be very marked as the time for organizing opposition meetings is rather short,” O’Hanrahan predicted.[7]“Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.

He was proven correct. Historian Thomas Bartlett has observed, “in the crucial areas of paternalist control they failed to make any impression. It is clear that many women and mothers agreed with de Valera’s construction of their role” because the Constitution won approval with 56.5 percent in favor to 43.5 percent against. Subsequent protests by feminists in 1938 and 1943 failed to remove the offending language.[8]Bartlett, Ireland, 450.

But the Constitution’s passage was “not very convincing,” de Valera biographer David McCullagh has argued. The leader’s claim that a majority of the Irish people supported his update was “an implicitly partitionist reading,” since nobody in the six counties of Northern Ireland could vote. Observers then and now agree they would have rejected it and changed the outcome. Just over 1.3 million people cast ballots in the referendum, nearly 76 percent of registered voters, but only 38.5 percent of the total electorate voted in favor.[9]David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.

The revised Constitution took effect at the end of 1937. “It is there now and it is better that people should get to like it the more they study it,” de Valera said.[10]Ibid. In fact, the longer the Irish people have lived under the Constitution, the less they have liked it.


1 See the current and proposed language.
2 ”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937.
3 See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.
4 Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR,
5 Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421.
6 Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.
7 “Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.
8 Bartlett, Ireland, 450.
9 David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.
10 Ibid.

Guest post: ‘When the IRA Came to New York’

I am pleased to present the book excerpt below from Mark Bulik’s ‘Ambush at Central Park: When the IRA Came to New York’ (Fordham, 2023), the true story of four comrades from the Irish War for Independence, and their paths to a bullet-riddled reunion in Manhattan. This all but forgotten April 1922 incident was the only officially authorized action of its kind by the Irish Republican Army on American soil. Bulik is also the author of ‘The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.’ MH

Chapter 1: The Ambush

When the relentless avengers of the Irish Republican Army finally caught up with Cruxy O’Connor in Manhattan that fine spring evening, they sent six bullets his way — one for each man the informer had sent to an early grave the year before.

Four of the gunshots found their target, and as a cop reached the crumpled victim on the steps of a finishing school at 84th and Central Park West, O’Connor was clutching a revolver with a spent shell in each chamber. After one of his attackers dropped the gun, the fallen O’Connor apparently had grabbed it, intending to defend himself. But the weapon was useless by then — his assailant had emptied the revolver at him.

O’Connor hadn’t had much luck in the weapons department lately.

There was that machine gun they had given him for the ambush the year before — when he told them that it jammed just as the shooting started, the boys started looking at him funny. Not long after that, he’d made the mistake of taking a pistol to Sunday Mass. The coppers threw a cordon around the church, and oh dear God, what a massacre that led to. Six men died, including Willie Deasy, his next-door neighbor, just twenty years old.

Pa Murray and the boys blamed him. They had stalked O’Connor through three countries — he’d barely escaped with his life when they tried to poison him. And he’d had to quit his job as a bookkeeper at the B. Altman department store a month earlier, after the gunmen had started haunting his workplace.

For weeks now, his only escape from the cramped apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had been a walk and a smoke. He varied his route, just to be on the safe side. But there were some evenings, like this one, when he couldn’t stay cooped up in the flat on Columbus Avenue with his parents, his brother, his sister-in-law, and their toddler. The warm spring evening beckoned, its soft westerly breezes stirring the curtains of Manhattan. He needed a cigarette. He needed a stroll.

It was a few minutes to eight o’clock on the evening of April 13, 1922. O’Connor came bounding down the stairs of his apartment building, but even as he headed out the door, he knew, on some level, that this was crazy. Three of County Cork’s deadliest gunmen — Murray, Danny Healy, and Martin Donovan — were out there somewhere in the New York night, just itching to take a shot. There’d be hell to pay for what he’d done, and the devil’s own bill collectors wanted their due.

O’Connor headed east up 83rd Street, toward Central Park, where the sheer black rock of Bolivar Hill loomed like a dungeon wall. When he reached Central Park West, he turned north on the west side of the street.

The temperature was in the low 60s, so there were plenty of other pedestrians out taking the night air. O’Connor smoked nervously, his eyes on their faces. When he reached 84th Street, he glanced to the left, and sweet Jesus, there was Pa Murray himself, with another guy, headed straight for him.

O’Connor dashed across the street to the wall that lines Central Park, glancing back at Murray and puffing furiously on a cigarette. He headed north, then suddenly reversed himself, and that’s when Danny Healy came out from behind a tree right smack in front of him. In a gray coat and gray fedora, Healy looked like some kind of natty avenging angel.

It all happened so fast. Healy, pointing a revolver at his chest, saying something like “I’ve got you now.”

Then pulling the trigger.


Danny Healy and Martin Donovan had been near the corner of 83rd and Columbus, staking out the flat, when O’Connor walked out the door and headed toward the park. Pa Murray and Mullins, a guy from Derry who signed on for the hunt, were a little further up Columbus, near 84th Street.

Healy asked Donovan to tell Murray and Mullins to head up 84th Street toward the park, where they might be able to head off O’Connor, while Healy came up from behind him. Once he caught sight of Murray, O’Connor had been too preoccupied to notice Healy until he stepped out from behind the tree.

The gunman thought his first bullet caught O’Connor in the chest, but he dashed across Central Park West into the 84th Street intersection. Healy chased him, blazing away, hitting O’Connor twice. To Healy’s astonishment, O’Connor kept going, ducking around a trolley.

Healy followed, firing a shot that thudded into a building. Four bullets gone, only two left, and his prey was still scrambling. O’Connor kept changing direction, like a panicked hare flushed by a pack of hounds. He tried to go north on the west side of Central Park West, but almost ran into Donovan, who pointed a revolver and squeezed the trigger.

Nothing — a misfire.

But the bullets were finally having an effect on O’Connor’s adrenaline-infused body. Wounded, winded, and bleeding, he slumped to the sidewalk.

“I caught up with him and fired twice more at him, hitting him,” Healy recalled.

As Healy blasted away, the getaway car came roaring up to the intersection, a kid from the Bronx at the wheel. Healy knew he was supposed to get in, but he just stood there, frozen, surrounded by a large group of gaping pedestrians. He couldn’t imagine he was going to get away with it. This wasn’t home, where people knew to look away when Murray and the boys cut someone down in the street. This was the very heart of Manhattan — and a horde of people were staring straight at him.

One thought kept going through his head: “No chance of escape.”

Then Donovan’s commanding voice rang out: “Run for it, Danny. Run!”

 (Story continues below cover image.)

Christ, but Healy took him literally. Donovan saw Healy snap out of it, but instead of getting in the car, Healy walked casually for a bit, then broke into a run west on 84th Street. And Donovan saw the crowd of stunned pedestrians form into a posse that quickly gave chase. Dozens of them. They figured it was an underworld hit, and they weren’t about to let a bunch of gangsters get away with murder in the middle of Manhattan.

Donovan climbed into the car. It looked natural enough — he was wearing a chauffeur’s coat he’d gotten from the Bronx kid’s family. And then they were all giving chase, the car and the crowd, until the car got ahead of the posse and kept pace with Healy for a bit while they tried to talk him into getting in so they could all get the hell out of there.

The trouble they went through to get that getaway car — “Over 1,000 cars in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” and they couldn’t use one of them, Donovan complained.

Finally Johnny Culhane from the Bronx came through — he had an auto rental and taxi business — but he wanted no part of driving a getaway car for a killing. Culhane was already facing a boatload of legal trouble involving several hundred Ireland-bound tommy guns the feds had confiscated from a rust bucket docked in Hoboken. As Culhane begged off, his seventeen-year-old son James jumped in, exasperated.

“I’ll drive the damn car,” he said.

Which was how they ended up with a kid from the Bronx as wheelman. And now, after all that, Healy wouldn’t get in the car.

Even with half of Manhattan on his tail.

Clearly, someone would have to put a stop to this posse business, Donovan realized. At 34, he was the grownup in the group, older than the others by a decade. He’d have to do it, or it wouldn’t get done.

It would have helped if he’d still had the revolver, but Donovan had tossed it after it misfired — why keep a useless, incriminating weapon at a crime scene? So now he’d have to pull off a bluff — one man against close to fifty. But Donovan had gotten Danny Healy into this mess by recruiting him for the O’Connor job. Healy hadn’t hesitated then. Donovan didn’t now.

He got out of the car and confronted the crowd, just fifteen feet away. If even one of them dared to make a quick lunge, he’d be hopelessly overpowered in seconds. So Donovan slid a hand into his coat pocket, as if to pull a gun.

“What do you want — trouble?” he asked the man at the front.


“Well, where are you going?”

“I’m going right back to where I came from.” The man turned on his heels and did just that, followed by most of the crowd.

Then another quick conversation with Danny about getting in the car, but it didn’t do any good. The normally reliable Healy was rattled, out of his element, not thinking straight. Donovan had shouted “run,” so run he would. Healy and O’Connor, the shooter and the shot, had one thing in common that fine spring evening — they were bound and determined to stretch their legs.

Even if it killed them.


As the getaway car pulled away, Healy continued on foot, passing the building where O’Connor lived, 483 Columbus Avenue. But he wasn’t alone.

A single pursuer remained on his tail.

Healy zigzagged his way through the street grid of the Upper West Side toward the subway entrance at 79th and Broadway, unable to shake the man tracking him. He caught a bit of luck inside the station — a  train was just about to leave as he entered. He jumped in as the doors closed, leaving his pursuer behind.

Healy got off at 42nd Street, emerging into the bright lights and swirling human tides of Times Square. “Crowded at night,” he noted. He headed south, to the rendezvous point — Jimmy McGee’s apartment on the East Side near 38th Street. Jimmy was a big shot in the marine engineers’ union and served as a dockside fixer for the boys. On this job, he had fixed them up with revolvers, including the one that misfired for Martin Donovan.

After a long time, Pa Murray showed up at McGee’s place. But Donovan was still out on the street, and they were starting to worry. Had he gone back to the Bronx with their teenage driver? Had someone from the crowd that Martin turned back decided to come after him?

Finally, Donovan arrived. No, he told them, nobody had interfered with him after that show of bravado on 84th Street. That was the thing about Martin — the man could radiate cool menace with a look and a word. He’d make you think he was reaching for a gun, even if all he had in his pocket was lint.

This passage is based on Danny Healy’s witness statement to Ireland’s Bureau of Military History, his pension application in the Irish Military Archives and contemporary newspaper accounts. 

Five Irish books for holiday gifting

The five books below come from my annual stack of those bought, borrowed, or received as personal gifts or publisher promotions. Perhaps one or all of them will make a perfect gift for a special reader on your seasonal shopping list … or for yourself. Titles are linked to sales sites. Happy holidays. MH

Doorley authored the earlier Irish-American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-1935, a key text for understanding the U.S. front of the Irish War of Independence. Cohalan was a major figure of the period and a close associate of the Irish immigrant nationalist John Devoy. This book is a welcome first biography of the “Judge.” Read Doorley’s 2020 guest post about the friction between Cohalan and Éamon de Valera.

This was my surprise find of the year and a welcome diversion from “Decade of Centenaries” reading. Bulik is a senior editor at The New York Times. He offers fascinating details about the birth of Irish secret societies, their transformation in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, and their impact on U.S. Civil War conscription and 19th century labor unrest.

“A next-generation travel guide for an age when nearly all of us carry smartphones that put all the practical details at our fingertips,” I wrote in my February interview with the author. Kavanagh’s May guest post about the ‘Spirit of the West’ was based on reporting for the book.

Financier and banker John Pierpont “JP” Morgan recruited Buckley, of Listowel, County Kerry, to work at his New York City mansion early in the 20th century. Her U.S. culinary adventures eventually brought her to the White House, where she cooked for presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. This image-laden book includes some of her forgotten recipes. (Disclosure: I’m always happy to support literary efforts from North Kerry, my ancestral home.)

A fresh appraisal by the former associate professor of history at Catholic University of America and the curator of American Catholic History Collections. This book arrives at the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, at the time followed by the groundbreaking release of The American Irish by journalist William V. Shannon. He later became U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the Carter administration. I’m arranging an interview with Meagher for early 2024. Please check back.

U.S. press on 1923 Nobel Prize for W.B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

Ireland’s William Butler Yeats received the Nobel Prize for literature 100 years ago this month. The Nobel Foundation cited “his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”[1]The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923.

Yeats began publishing poetry in his 20s during the Irish Land War of the 1880s. The Nobel Prize came a few months after the end of the Irish Civil War, which concluded a decade of revolutionary activity that Yeats captured in several remarkable poems. See:

  • September 1913 (“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”)
  • Easter, 1916 (“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”)
  • The Second Coming (“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”)

Yeats had visited the United States in 1920, during the war of independence, following his earlier stops in 1903/4, 1911, and 1914. Here is a selection of U.S. press commentary about his Nobel Prize:

“The honor … may be unexpected but it is not undeserved. … Mr. Yeats has a highly distinctive place among his fellows. None of the neo-Celtic school, except perhaps the late J.M. Synge, has surpassed him in originality; none has equaled him in the mystic charm which is the very essence of the Celtic genius. The work of Mr. Yeats is not to be judged, however, by any limited standard; its Celtic quality is only part of its appeal. … Mr. Yeats’s lyrics are as purely Celtic as anything could be, yet they are not alien to the English mind. He has gone to Ireland for his themes and made them of universal interest. Only a great poet could have done that.”[2]”An Irish Poet Wins the Nobel Prize”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 16. 1923.


“The influence of Yeats is great and growing. Quotations from him are frequently used by other writers to strike the keynote of an idea or to illustrate the trend of modern literature. … He is a pioneer of a memorable initiative of poetical and dramatic art and a leader in national life, aspiration and attainment.”[3]”Deservedly Honored”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) Times, Nov. 16, 1923.


“Mr. Yeats is a true nationalist in his land, a student of the traditional in Irish literature, a patron of the astonishing Irish theater, and a member of the Irish Senate. He has been an interesting visitor to this country in the recent past. His fame was secure without this signal honor; if it attracts new readers to his works the Novel foundation, in thus honoring the poet, will in a large measure have justified its activity.”[4]”A Prize for an Irish Poet”, The (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Standard Union, Nov. 18, 1923.

Yeats made several glancing references to America in his Dec. 15, 1923, Nobel lecture. He returned to the United States one last time in 1932/32, cumulatively spending more than a year in the country.[5]”W.B. Yeats in the USA, 1903-1932″, Embassy of Ireland USA website. He died in 1939, aged 73.

Three other Irish writers subsequently received the Nobel Prize in literature: George Bernard Shaw, 1925; Samuel Beckett, 1969; and Seamus Heaney, 1998.

From the Boston Globe, Nov. 17, 1923.


1 The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923.
2 ”An Irish Poet Wins the Nobel Prize”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 16. 1923.
3 ”Deservedly Honored”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) Times, Nov. 16, 1923.
4 ”A Prize for an Irish Poet”, The (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Standard Union, Nov. 18, 1923.
5 ”W.B. Yeats in the USA, 1903-1932″, Embassy of Ireland USA website.

Photo essay: 50 years of Ireland in the European Union

Ireland this year marks 50 years of membership in the European Union. The short video below explains the history and how Ireland’s membership has helped the country’s development. Below the video are several images from my current visit to Brussels, including a stop at the Parlamentarium, a multi-language, multi-media museum at the E.U. headquarters.

Ireland at the heart of Brussels

Multi-media display of Ireland’s 13 MEPs at the Parlamentarian, the EU museum and visitor center. See them all from this link.

The museum declares James Joyce is “one of Europe’s best-known writers.” He lived in Dublin, Paris, Zurich, Rome, and Trieste, Italy.

Sign outside the Embassy of Ireland in Brussels, unofficial capital of the E.U., is written in Irish, English, French, and Dutch.

Kilkenny Limestone has supplied Irish blue limestone for street and sidewalk projects in central Brussels since 2019. This work site is outside the newly renovated Bourse, the former Brussels Stock Exchange, circa 1873.

Of course, there’s an Irish pub in nearly every major (and minor) city. This is one of several in Brussels.

Catching up with modern Ireland

As we begin the final quarter of 2023, here’s another of my periodic roundups of external stories about contemporary Ireland and Northern Ireland. Enjoy:

  • The DUP is expected to publish its response to new British/E.U. rules intended to smooth the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland. This is just ahead of the party’s Oct. 13-14 annual conference. That makes October a make-or-break month for reviving the collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, veteran correspondent Shawn Pogatchnik writes at The DUP walked out of the North’s power-sharing executive 18 months ago.
  • The British Parliament passed the Legacy and Reconciliation Bill, which will stop most prosecutions for killings by militant groups and British soldiers during the Troubles. The move has united opposition from Northern Ireland’s major political parties, Catholic and Protestant churches, human rights organizations and the United Nations, the Associated Press reports.
  • The Republic of Ireland has a massive budget surplus, thanks to a boom in tax revenue from multinational companies. Whatever Dublin lawmakers decide to do with the money, “someone will be unhappy,” says The New York Times.
  • About 200 right-wing protestors harassed and threatened politicians, government staff, and journalists outside Leinster House, the country’s legislative home. “The crowd was apparently united not so much by a cause – their messages included Covid conspiracy theories, anti-immigration messages and attacks on transgender rights – as by a willingness to use aggression in a bid to shut down the heart of Ireland’s democracy,” The Guardian reported.
  • It remains unclear whether a referendum on general equality in the republic will take place in November, as promised. The government has not released the ballot language and suggested the vote might be delayed. A citizens assembly has recommended replacing existing language in the Irish constitution that states a woman’s “life within the home.”
  • U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs Joseph P. Kennedy, III, will host an Oct. 24-26 business conference. A U.S. delegation will join Northern Irish business leaders who have “started or grown” operations during the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
  • Luke Gibbons, one of Ireland’s most profound if idiosyncratic cultural critics, seeks to bring Ireland’s early 20th century political and cultural revolutions into the same framework in an important new book, James Joyce and the Irish Revolution: The Easter Rising as Modern Event, Adam Coleman writes at Jocobin magazine.
  • The Notre Dame University “Fighting Irish” football team defeated the U.S. Naval Academy team 42-3 in late August at the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. The sold-out game at Aviva Stadium included nearly 40,000 fans who traveled directly from the U.S., according to media reports.
  • A group of 10 American travel professionals visited Ireland in late September to develop new luxury travel itineraries for their clients, according to Irish tourism officials.
  • The Central Statistics Office continues to release detailed data profiles from the republic’s April 2022 census. Here are some of the latest highlights:CSO graphic.

The Irish harp in Woodrow Wilson’s drawing room

An Irish harp sits in the drawing room of the Washington, D.C. house once occupied by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The three-story, red brick, neo-Georgian structure at 2340 S St. NW in the city’s fashionable Kalorama neighborhood is two miles northwest of the White House, where Wilson held office from 1913 to 1921. He died at the private residence on Feb. 3, 1924, aged 67, nearly five years after he suffered a stroke.

At 3-feet tall, the Irish harp is smaller than models of the instrument typically played in orchestras. It is more decorated, too, with green and gold Celtic knots, zoomorphic motifs, medallions, and clovers, as seen in two images in this post. The crown bears the name of the manufacturer, “Clark Irish Harp, ” and 1914 and 1915 patent dates.

The harp belonged to Margaret Wilson, the president’s eldest daughter, an accomplished singer and pianist. It was either given by, or purchased from, Melville Clark of Syracuse, New York, the instrument’s creator. Clark performed at the White House during Wilson’s first term of office, when Margaret served as a “social hostess” after the death of Ellen Axson Wilson, her mother and the president’s first wife.[1]Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, … Continue reading

Clark (1883-1953) designed the portable Celtic-style harp that bears his surname after a 1905 trip to Europe, including a stop in Ireland, where for centuries the instrument has been considered a heraldic and nationalist symbol. Clark said he “learned much of the romantic part the instrument has played in that country’s history. It was while doing so that the idea of developing a small harp was something I wanted to do.”[2]Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” … Continue reading

Clark met Cardinal Michael Logue (1840-1924), primate of Ireland, on the steamer from the United States, and he visited the prelate’s residence in Queenstown, now called Cobh. Clark recalled they had several “animated conversations” about harps, including Logue’s own instrument, which the cardinal “cherished exceedingly.” Clark purchased several Irish-made harps to bring back to Syracuse, including one that had been owned by Irish poet and composer Thomas Moore (1779-1852). It influenced Clark’s design in the characteristics of size, shape, and construction.[3]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.

The Clark Irish Harp “became his most important contribution to the world of music,” biographer Linda Pembroke Kaiser has written.[4]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5. While regular concert harps were too big, too expensive, or too difficult for most amateur musicians, Clark’s instrument was affordable and could be learned by nearly any adult or child. The first handcrafted models began to appear in 1908 and used rock maple instead of the bog oak of traditional Irish harps. Mass production began in 1911, three years before Clark performed for the president and his daughter.

White House performances

Clark played at the White House on March 27, 1914. The invitation developed through his association with John McCormack (1884-1945), the Athlone, County Westmeath-born tenor. They became acquainted when the singer performed concerts in Syracuse and purchased one of Clark’s harps for one of his children. Clark returned to the White House on May 27, 1914, specifically to accompany Margaret Wilson.[5]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.

After one of these performances, Clark recalled decades later, the president invited him to bring his harp to a rear portico. The musician wrote that Wilson:

… suggested one song after another—Scottish and Irish songs and those of Stephen Foster. He sang easily and with faultless diction. It was nearly midnight when he stood up to go, amazingly buoyant, relaxed and unworried.”[6]Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.

Wilson had a complicated relationship with Ireland and the Irish. His two paternal grandparents hailed from Strabane, County Tyrone, in today’s Northern Ireland. In 1912 he touted this heritage to appeal to the Irish-American voters who gravitated to the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the presidency. But Wilson grew agitated with pro-independence Irish activists during the First World War and subsequent Paris peace conference. “Your attitude on the matter is fraught with a great deal of danger both to the Democratic Party and to the cause you represent,” warned one of the president’s closest aides.[7]Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176. Irish Americans in turn lobbied Congress to reject Wilson’s post-war plans and helped tip the 1918 midterm and 1920 presidential elections to the Republicans.

Clark met Wilson again in 1917 to present his idea of dropping messages from balloons to counter German propaganda. The president was enthusiastic about the idea, and the plan was eventually adopted by the Allies. The first balloon offensive launched over German airspace occurred in March 1918.[8]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103. About the same time, Clark and Margaret Wilson began to perform together for troops at U.S. military camps in New Jersey.


Wilson made the first nationwide remote radio broadcast from the S Street house on Nov. 11, 1923, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. A few weeks earlier, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the war-time leader and a key negotiator of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, paid a visit to Wilson at the house. The two men discussed “the world conditions of today rather than memories of yesterday,” according to a news report.[9]”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923. One can only imagine if the conversation included the newly created Irish Free State and partitioned Northern Ireland.

Clark returned to the White House to perform for presidents Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also acquired for his collection a harp that once belonged to the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778-1803).[10]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132. By coincidence, President Wilson attended the 1917 unveiling of the Emmet statue in Washington, D.C. by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. The statue was relocated 50 years later to a small park a block from the Wilson house, where it stands today.

Margaret Wilson died in 1944, aged 57. Clark died in 1953, aged 70. His papers at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center contain correspondence from Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Wilson dated between 1914 and 1922. I’ve reached out to the archive for more information about this material and will update this post as appropriate.

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the president’s second wife, bequeathed the S Street house and its furnishings, including the harp, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She died in 1961, aged 89. The mansion has been open to the public since 1963.


1 Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, email reply from President Woodrow Wilson House staff to my questions.
2 Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” notes for public lectures, 1948.
3 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.
4 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5.
5 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.
6 Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.
7 Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176.
8 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103.
9 ”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923.
10 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132.