This post continues my review of the Samuel Duff McCoy papers at Princeton University. It is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which I am expanding into a book. MH
UPDATE, May 25, 2023:
The 12-page, typescript James Stephens (under James Esse) titled “If You Have Not Been To Connacht” that is referenced in the original post below is an edited version of his essay “Saluting Maeve, Queen of Connacht, Queen of Hearts, Queen of the Fairies.” It once belonged in the collection of bibliophile and philanthropist James A Healy, a New York stockbroker. Birgit Bramsbäck cited this collection in her monograph, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study, first published in 1959. Healy died in 1975.
The first seven lines of the “Maeve” manuscript are in ink, the remainder in pencil and “profusely revised,” according to my review and an earlier published description. The manuscript is inscribed at the end, “James Stephens / Cafe Napolitaine / Boui. des Italiennes / Paris / 14 Sep. 1921.” As noted below, efforts were made to published the story in America.
The approximately 5,000-word story is about Connacht, and primarily about Galway at “the first week of the truce” (July 11, 1921), according to the version in the McCoy papers. Bramsbäck quoted Stephens’s description of poor people being harassed by British troops in the west of Ireland. I have bolded one word from the typescript in the McCoy collection that differs from the manuscript quoted by Bramsbäck :
These stories can be multiplied and multiplied but it is asking (among) the poor one seeks for them, for it is the poor who pay. They are true not only of Ireland but of every country where backs have grown accoustomed to bowing and where the art of advertising his misfortunes has not been taught to the simple man, indeed, to consider misfortune as constant and compliance as a waste of time is the culture of the poor, and lends to him a fortune in distress which would bring a sense of shame to every person of a livelier intelligence or an easier situation.
Stephens’s papers are scattered among many locations. “Saluting Maeve” is held at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, which I visited on May 25. 2023.
ORIGINAL POST, July 14, 2022:
When he wasn’t publicly detailing Ireland’s war-related humanitarian needs in 1921, American journalist Samuel Duff McCoy privately promoted Irish arts and letters. At least the Irish urged him to.
McCoy had a literary background beyond his 20 years of working at Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia newspapers, plus a turn as Red Cross publicity director during the Great War. At Princeton, he was a student editor at the Nassau Literary Magazine. In 1915 he co-founded the journal Contemporary Verse and regularly contributed prose and poetry to national magazines.
During two 1921 trips to Ireland, McCoy had contact with several Irish writers and book dealers, as revealed in letters to him. Full details of the relationships are unclear, but the letters sketch efforts to bring the work of Daniel Corkery and James Stephens to American readers. McCoy’s papers also contain what appears to be an unpublished Stephens short story about Connacht.
McCoy and his American Committee for Relief in Ireland colleagues established their headquarters at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. Patrick O’Daly (Pádraig Ó Dálaigh) of Talbot Press Limited wrote to McCoy soon after the delegation’s mid-February 1921 arrival.
“I have just had a note from a friend of ours, Daniel Corkery, author of ‘The Hounds of Banba,’ in which he mentions your name,” O’Daly wrote. “Do you not think it would be a good thing if we could have this book published in America? It seems to us, at least, that the present time ought to be kind of favourable when Ireland, and matters relating to Ireland, are so much in the public mind.”
Corkery (1878-1964) began writing short stories and plays in his 20s while working as a teacher. He also played the cello and dabbled in painting. Following the success of his debut collection, A Munster Twilight, in 1916, Talbot Press published The Hounds of Banba in 1920.
From McCoy Papers, Princeton University.
Banba is a poetic name for the spirit of Ireland in an earlier age; one of a divine trio of eponyms along with Ériu and Fódla. The hounds are the island’s occupiers, the British police and military. Corkery dedicated the book’s nine stories about nationalist revolutionaries to “The Young Men of Ireland.”
O’Daly asked McCoy to meet “at your convenience.” He also enclosed, at Corkery’s request, he wrote, the 1920-21 catalogue of Talbot Press, 89 Talbot St., Dublin, which listed The Hounds of Banba. The 28-page booklet also included John Butler Yeats’s Essays: Irish and American. “The stories are of the present day, dealing with the adventures of men ‘on the run’ and other works in the Sinn Fein Movement,” read the description. (McCoy’s papers also include the April 1920 catalogue of Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 50 Lower Baggot St., Dublin, and the “No. 1” 1920 catalogue of The Irish Book Shop, Limited, 45 Dawson St., Dublin. These items are not associated with letters.)
Recognize this signature?
An undated, handwritten letter to McCoy by a correspondent with a mysterious signature says: “I understand from Mr. Corkery that you’ve expressed to him your interest in the publishing of his books.” The correspondent, who acknowledged a thank you note from McCoy for providing unspecified help to the American Committee, was chiefly interested in his assistance to re-issue Edward Bunting’s (1773-1843) Irish music catalogue.
It’s unclear from McCoy’s papers if he met O’Daly. Corkery’s papers at University College Cork contain several 1921 letters from O’Daly and Talbot Press regarding efforts to find a U.S. publisher for The Hounds of Banba. McCoy is not named in the finding guide descriptions, though possibly referenced in the letters. The New York publisher B. W. Huebsch issued the book in spring 1922.
McCoy used the book title–without reference to Corkery–in the opening segment of his 10-part series, “The Lads Who Freed Ireland,” syndicated from January 1922 in U.S. newspapers. McCoy wrote, “… the world gazes, dumbfounded, at the Hounds of Banba today. The first has become last. Have we, the powerful, what Ireland has shown us?”
That summer, Corkery’s story “Egan O’Rahilly” (1670-1726) appeared in The Celtic Outlook, the literary journal that succeeded The Irish Press, Philadelphia, weekly newspaper. He later devoted a chapter to the Irish language poet in his book The Hidden Ireland.
E. Byrne Hackett
McCoy returned to America in April 1921 to continue his work with the American Committee for Irish relief, including the release of its “Distress in Ireland” report and an unsuccessful request the U.S. State Department distribute the money. He steamed back to Ireland that summer, mixing his committee duties with traditional journalism, including two pieces for Leslie’s Weekly. Kilkenny native and U.S. antiquarian bookstore owner Edmond Byrne Hackett wrote to McCoy at the Standard Hotel in Dublin on Oct. 22, 1921, from his New York office. He acknowledged receipt an article by James Stephens about Connacht.
“It will give me pleasure to attempt to market it, and I am sending it first of all to The Century as I happen to know that the editor is interested in the present status of affairs in Ireland,” reads an unsigned, typewritten copy.
E. Byrne Hackett (Martin Dostál, Geni.com)
Hackett (1879-1953) was the fifth son of Dr. John Byrne Hackett, the Kilkenny coroner. The son was educated at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, and St. Francis College, Sussex, England, then emigrated to the United States in 1899. In America, he worked as a salesman at Doubleday Page & Company in New York from 1901-1907, and as manager of publishing at Baker & Taylor Company from 1907-1909. He served as director of the Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., soon after its founding in 1908, and established the Brick Row Book Shop in that city in 1915.
Byrne Hackett also was the brother of journalist and author Francis Hackett (1883-1962), who emigrated in 1900. Francis began his career as a beat reporter in Chicago but later switched to writing editorials and literary criticism. He became a founding editor of The New Republic magazine in 1914. In summer 1920, he returned to Ireland and detailed the war atrocities he witnessed for the magazine and in a six-part series for the New York World, which syndicated the work to other papers three month’s before McCoy’s “Lads” series. In November 1920, Francis testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. It seems more likely that McCoy was influenced by, rather than unaware of, Francis Hackett’s 1920 Irish reporting and commission testimony, given his correspondence with Byrne Hackett.
A second letter to McCoy from Byrne Hackett in the Princeton archive is handwritten and undated. It probably preceded the typed letter, most likely from late summer or early fall 1921.
“I am very sorry again to have missed you and James Stephens. I have only this minute got back from Kilkenny (one unreadable word) with some kinsfolk.”
Hackett wrote he was in London buying books for the new Brick Row Book Shop at 68 1/2 Nassau Street in Princeton, N.J., which followed the summer 1920 opening of a second store in New York City. “It promises to do good work down at Princeton as has been done in New Haven for some time,” Hackett wrote of the third store.
This image illustrated the Brick Row Book Shop story in the Yale Banner and Pot Pourri, 1922 Year Book. It was not described as the New Haven, New York, or Princeton stores, or anyplace else.
The Princeton store opened in October 1921 and was soon described in Yale’s alumni weekly:
Commodious quarters consisting of reading and display rooms, as well as the main store, have been provided. The reading room has been fitted with comfortable lounges and chairs, and there prospective buyers are assured of an open fire, quite, and access to any book that the store has. The policy of fostering interest in good reading and of so arranging matters that anyone may browse without the necessity of buying was sure to meet with approval from the first, and the shop has been well filled with students since the day of the opening.
Hackett, who received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Yale in 1914, also teased McCoy about his college background: “You did not tell me you were a Princeton man,” he wrote.
Stephens (1880-1950) should not be be confused with the same-name Fenian leader (1825-1901). The author also wrote under the pseudonym James Esse. In his mid-20s, Stephens began writing for United Irishman, later Sinn Féin, and other papers edited by Arthur Griffith. These nationalist publications were often suppressed by the British government. In the second installment of his “Lads” series, McCoy quoted Stephens talking about Griffith :
” ‘His worst trouble, in those days,’ James Stephens to me, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘was thinking up new names for his paper. He used to lay awake nights, thinking up new names for it, he did so.’ “
McCoy also relayed a story–unattributed to Stephens, Griffith or anyone else–of the two men strolling down Grafton Street late one evening early in the revolutionary period. A pair of “young rowdies” twice knocked Griffith’s hat off of his head. Without a word, he removed his glasses and struck a blow “that started from Griffith’s pacifistic shoulders and ended on the point of one of the young rough’s jaw, with the impact of a ton of brick.” Griffith and Stephens then continued their conversation from the point of interruption, according to McCoy’s telling.
As Stephens was writing for Griffith, Irish writer and artist George Willian Russell, known by the pseudonym AE, introduced him to Dublin literary circles. In 1916, Stephens observed the fighting around St. Stephen’s Green at Easter week. His instant book, The Insurrection in Dublin, “is regarded as the most vivid account by a contemporary observer of the changing moods and scenes of Dublin during the rising,” according to the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Whatever efforts Byrne Hackett might have made to place Stephens’s Connacht story, the piece did not appear in The Century. The magazine’s November 1921 issue featured an interview with Russell, who complimented Stephens, Austin Clarke, and John Millington Synge as among the best practitioners of modern Irish verse. The Dial literary magazine, another American journal, reviewed the U.S. release of Stephens’s Irish Fairy Tales, published the previous year in Ireland.
In October 1922, The Century published Stephens’s “The Outlook for Literature, With Special Reference to Ireland.” The eight-page assessment of the post-war cultural and political landscape included this passage:
… during the last five years the national act of Ireland has been so real that it has achieved what older minds considered to be impossible, and has achieved by methods which the official and logical intellect, if its advice had been sought, could only have considered as infantile. It is the good fact of life that the infant wins always, and I think that Ireland awakens from her profound sleep as the youngest race now active in the world, and the best fitted to accept possible modifications with the curiosity and good humor of a brave young person.
Stephens also wrote Arthur Griffith: journalist and statesman, a tribute to his former editor, after the Sinn Féin founder died Aug. 12, 1922, due to several health complications.
The McCoy papers at Princeton contain a 12-page typescript with the byline of James Esse. The piece is titled “If You Have Not Been To Connacht.” The word “Publicity” is handwritten in pencil in the top right corner.
The piece begins:
If you have not been to Connacht it is unlikely that a verbal description will assist you to realise the wonderful country. Many visits are necessary before the unearthly beauty, and, at times, unearthly radiance of that ancient kingdom become apparent to the traveller. A run through leaves one with a somewhat bewildering recollection of rocks, but when Connemara is recalled in the solitudes of ‘afterwards’ you may discover that you think of rocks with an affection you had never before dared to chance on stony ground.
The piece ends with a variation of the first sentence: “But if you have not been to Connemara it is unlikely that a verbal description will help you to realise the wonderful country.” My emphasis of the differences.
It appears this story was never published in America or Ireland. There are collections of Stephens’s papers at the New York Public Library , Kent State University (Ohio), Trinity College Dublin, and Stanford University Libraries, in addition to Colby. The TCD collection contains a 1926 letter to Stephens from McCoy, who expresses concern about the writer’s heath, saying he had “the same illness” five years earlier.
Connemara, County Galway. ©Tourism Ireland