Category Archives: Business & Environment

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

The main news from Ireland in June was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and approval of a new coalition government. From the Associated Press and other media reports:

Centrist politician Micheál Martin became Ireland’s new prime minister on June 27, fusing two longtime rival parties into a coalition four months after an election that upended the status quo.

The deal will see Martin’s Fianna Fail govern with Fine Gael — the party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar —and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the 1920s civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never before formed a government together.

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

Under the plan approved by the three parties’ memberships, Martin is taoiseach, or prime minister until the end of 2022. He then hands the job back to his predecessor, Varadkar, who has won high praise for steering the country through the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Varadkar will serve as deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

The historic coalition pushed aside leftist Sinn Fein, which did better than expected in the February election, but failed to run candidates in all constituencies and could not attract coalition partners. It becomes Ireland’s main opposition party.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the principal chamber of the Irish legislature. Sinn Fein has 37 seats; Fine Gael has 35, and Greens have 12 seats. The balance are other small parties and independents.

Other headlines from June:

    • Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy clan sister who as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s helped pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement, died at 92. “The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy,” she said in 1998.
    • Statues are being toppled around the world as protesters rise up against racism and other forms of oppression. TheJournal.ie offered a round up of statues and monuments already removed from Irish streetscapes (Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin), and those that could soon disappear (Columbus in Galway).
    • In a Washington Post op-ed, former Seattle police chief and Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, and Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant and former diplomat, wrote about their efforts to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • A post-Brexit opinion poll found the U.K. departure from the E.U. has squeezed the political middle in Northern Ireland and pushed more people into unionist and nationalist trenches, The Guardian reported.
    • Bloomberg profiled notorious businessman Sean Quinn.
    • Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council. Mexico, India, and Norway also were selected for the same two-year terms on the 15-member panel.
    • The false widow spider, an invasive species first spotted in Ireland in 1998, has been multiplying quickly and is more venomous than first assumed, researchers at NUI Galway have found.
    • All in the family: New analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, the Stone Age tomb mounds in the Boyne River valley, reveals a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child, or brother and sister. The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built the mounds 5,000 years ago lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite.

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.

Irish history movie ideas: The Colors of Ireland

While reading and researching Irish history I sometimes consider how the events might look on film or video, dramatized to enhance narrative and commercial appeal. Three examples come to mind: “Michael Collins,” 1996, and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” 2006, both against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence; and “Black ’47,” 2018, set during the Great Famine. This is the first of an occasional series on episodes of Irish history that I believe provide abundant cinematic opportunities. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

***

In spring 1913, Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet traveled to Ireland to create what are widely believed to be the first color photographs of the country. Their effort was part of a larger project called “Archives of the Planet,” which sought to create a visual record of the globe, an effort that preceded Google Maps by a century.

The two French women, both in their mid-30s, were “experienced travelers and confirmed intellectuals,”1 Karine Bigand writes in the academic article linked in the note. Both had participated in earlier intercultural exchange projects conceived and financed by Albert Kahn, the French philanthropist who bankrolled the women’s Ireland trip. Bigand continues:

At first glance, these photographs are very much a reflection of the “romantic” representation of eternal rural Ireland … [but] the intention of the two photographers’ mission was not to produce a simple holiday album or a tourist report. It was not a pleasure trip but a mission, both ideological and scientific … The gaze on Ireland [was] not always as candid as it seems.

Imagine scenes of these women traveling across early 20th century Ireland, the first stirrings of revolution in the air, a year before the explosion of the Great War. The film would focus on their efforts to obtain images of the verdant landscapes, Galway markets, remote villages, and abandoned antiquities such as Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. It would dramatize their challenges with variable light, changeable weather, and rough terrain.

Their encounters with rural peasants still living in 19th century conditions would further drive the narrative tension. This could include both suspicion of the foreigners and their boxy Autochrome Lumière cameras, and happier connections between the visitors and the locals that transcend cultural differences and technology.

Both images on this page, and in the slide show below, taken by Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet during their May-June, 1913, travels in Ireland.

Here is an opportunity to introduce a fictional Irish guide and translator, who also could be the film’s omniscient narrator. At first I considered such a character as a man. “Why not another woman?”, my wife asked, which would further increase the film’s Bechdel Test rating. And what of the relationship between the two women: just photojournalists on assignment, or something more? 

Another opportunity for narrative tension is to consider that Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet visited Ireland in the waning years of the Lawrence Studio in Dublin. From 1880 until 1914, owner William M. Lawrence employed Robert French to photograph all 32 counties for postcards, albums, lecture sets, and other commercial enterprises. The estimated 40,000 images were all black and white. By 1913, both men were in their 70s and their collection — an important historical archive today — was being eclipsed as cameras became commonplace, including color photography, and moving pictures captured popular attention.2

There’s a natural contrast between the aging men doing black and white photography and the young women using color technology. Perhaps the photographers would meet in the movie, finding common ground — or not.

Hollywood will not make this movie. This is an art film. Irish, French, and European Union cultural organizations should finance it. It could include three languages — French, Irish, and English — with subtitles. It should have a dreamy background score appropriate to its cinematic sweep. I’d avoid mainstream actresses for the roles of Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet, but the aging Lawrence, French, and Kahn could be good cameo opportunities for Irish and French actors.

Potential first scene: Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet arrive at an Irish port filled with emigrants. They discuss why so many people leave Ireland, never to return. Potential last scene: Back in their Paris studio, the women realize their photo plates of one special encounter with Irish people were exposed to light and did not survive the journey; it remains only in their memories. Their remaining 73 photos become part of history and this film.

If some filmmaker has already tackled this project, please let me know. For now, watch a 3-minute slide show of the 1913 images from Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ll be reducing the number of new posts and republishing some of my earlier work over the summer as I work on larger projects for the fall and beyond. Stay safe. Here’s the May roundup:  

  • At least 1,652 people have died of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland, with another 522 in Northern Ireland. Both sides of the border are beginning to ease some lock-down restrictions in place since mid-March.
  • “The Irish Blessing” – an initiative of 300 religious congregations from different denominations on the island  – is intended as a blessing of protection on frontline workers battling the pandemic. Watch and listen to the recorded version of “Be Thou My Vision” below:

  • U.S media outlets widely reported the COVID-19 relief generously supplied by the Irish people to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation as repayment of a donation the Choctaw Nation sent to starving Irish families during the Great Famine.
  • Nearly four months after the general election in the Republic failed to produce a governing majority, coalition talks continue to grind forward. “Slowly, at times almost imperceptibly, Fianna FáilFine Gael and Green Party negotiators are crawling towards a government, conscious that public and political patience is running out,” The Irish Times reported. Party leaders had hoped for a deal by June. Now they wonder if one can be achieved by the middle, or even the end, of the month. “As always, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
  • The U.K.’s highest court ruled that the former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams should not have been found guilty of unlawfully attempting to escape from Long Kesh prison in the 1970s because his internment was not legal to begin with. The ruling is expected to prompt more than 200 additional challenges from other former internees, including loyalists, the Belfast News Letter reported.
  • Ireland is vying against Canada and Norway for a two-year rotating seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. The vote is set for June 17. Ireland last held the seat in 2001; and earlier in 1981 and 1962.
  • The Ireland Funds America named Caitriona Fottrell is its new president and CEO, effective June 30. She has been with the global philanthropic network since 1993, currently as vice president. The Fund has chapters in 12 countries.
  • Ireland’s first direct container shipping service to the United States is set to begin in June, with weekly crossings between the Port of Cork and Wilmington, N.C., and Philadelphia, according to Maritime Executive. Readers of my series about New York Globe journalist Harry Guest‘s 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland will recall the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines operated a commercial shipping service between Philadelphia and Dublin-Cork-Belfast, from September 1919 until 1925.
  • Actor Matt Damon flew out of Ireland in late May after three months of unscheduled lock down at a €1,000 per night Dalkey mansion. … Irish-American actress Kate Mulgrew announced she might move to Ireland if Donald Trump wins reelection in November.

The Ireland that fills my heart

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

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

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

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

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

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Greens join government coalition talks in Ireland

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

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

The Dail chamber. Photo: Irish Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

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

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

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

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

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Evidence

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

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

Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland was partitioned in 1920.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Industry

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds1

“In investigating industrial conditions in Ireland, I found that Irish manufacturers and farmers had been and were being discriminated against by the British government and by powerful business interests in England in various ways,” Guest reported. “Some of the discriminations were of comparatively recent date, having their origin in the war and imposed under the Defense of the Realm Act. Others went further back. All of them, however, gave substance to the charges that England, deliberately or otherwise, is hampering the industrial development of Ireland.”

Guest detailed the system of grading and price and controls on Irish-grown flax, used to manufacture linen. He wrote that he witnessed the Jan. 22, 1920, Ballynahinch, County Down, market confrontation between flax seller Samuel King of Crossgar, and the Flax Control Board grader. An aggravated crowd of growers, their laborers, and other sympathizers, which Guest estimated at “upwards of 200” and the Freeman’s Journal described as “numbering 500”2, helped King wrest his flax cart away from the grader and some Royal Irish Constabulary officers. Heated words were exchanged, but no blows, according to both newspaper stories.

“I can assure you that I didn’t go to Ballynahinch to make trouble,” King said afterward; an interview that occurred at a public house, Guest wrote. “All I wanted was a fair, reasonable price for my flax.”3 

King was fined £10 for unlawful removal of the flax, and the penalty was upheld on appeal.4 His bad luck continued later that summer when a fire caused by an engine spark destroyed his scutching mill.5

Workers gathering flax in County Down in the 1940s. Belfast Telegraph image.

Guest also reported how wool rationing and restrictions on cattle exports contributed to Irish manufacturers being left to “the mercy of the English ‘shipping ring’ which forces them to pay [the] burden of excessive ‘channel charges’ on imports from the United States and elsewhere.” American exports to Ireland were required to first go to England, he noted, which “added considerably” to freight charges and lost time.

In September 1919, the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines began shipping from Philadelphia to Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. Guest reported the company was required to pay harbor, cartage, and other fees, as if its steamers stopped at Liverpool. United Press reporter Russell Browning detailed this problem later in a 1920 in a widely-published story that included an interview with Sinn Féin‘s Liam de Róiste. The Irishman said: “We believe they [Moore-McCormack] will attempt to safeguard their interest henceforth against matters of this kind.”6

By 1925, however, the American shipping company discontinued its Ireland service due to insufficient cargo for the westbound crossing.7

Irish Unrest Being Fanned By Neglect of Resources8

In this story Guest focused on Ireland’s reliance on imported coal and cement as examples of the country’s failure to develop its own natural resources and industries. He cited statistics and statement in reports of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Dublin Industrial Development Association, and quoted an unidentified “Irish manufacturer” and “contractor in Cork,” to illustrate his point.

“There is no question of the industrial possibilities of Ireland,” Guest wrote, “but to develop them into realities will require vision, stabilized government, energy, faith in the future of the country, and money. … The Sinn Féin party was the first political body in Ireland … to appreciate how vitally the country needed an industrial housecleaning and reorganization, and to take steps in this direction it appointed a non-partisan national commission to investigate the country’s resources, but the English government has refused to permit the Irish newspapers to publish any reports of its activities and has frequently suppressed its meetings.”9

NEXT: “Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem” and other stories from the conclusion of Guest’s series.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Newspapers

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. For this post only, I’ve linked the headline to a .pdf copy of the story for newspaper historians.  MH

***

British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest1

Guest, a veteran New York City reporter and editor, devoted this story to the antagonism between foreign and domestic newspapers and the British administration in Ireland at Dublin Castle. He wrote:

Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job. If you publish something which offends Dublin Castle, the police or military raids your offices and carry away vital parts of the presses. If you criticize Sinn Féin too severely, your office is likely to be stormed and the presses smashed.

As a newspaper man, I have great respect for the Irish newspapers. When one which has been suppressed receives permission to resume publication, it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1920

Guest again referenced the Defense of the Realm Act, or “Dora,” which he noted was used to exert “strict censorship not only over dispatches sent from Ireland, but foreign news sent to Ireland as well.” This may be why Guest waited until he returned to America before writing his series about Ireland, just as United Press correspondent Ralph F. Couch had done in early 1919 after his scoop interview with prison escapee Éamon de Valera.

Guest reported the mid-January 1920, Dublin post office seizures of the New York American, Irish World, and Gaelic American,2 with “thousands of copies … carried off to Dublin Castle” because they contained articles about the Irish bond drive in America. “This was not the first seizure of its kind in Ireland and it probably will not be the last,” he wrote.

It should be remembered that Britain was not the first or only democracy to censor or suppress the press. In America, the Committee of Public Information (CPI), created in April 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, “became the U.S. ministry for propaganda,” and an “unofficial censor” of the domestic and foreign press. Journalist George Creel and the secretaries of State, Navy, and War ran the CPI, which worked with the U.S. Postal Service to block distribution of the New York-based Gaelic American and Irish World, and the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal.3

Historian Ian Kenneally has explained the main political motivation for press censorship in Ireland was to keep the views and activities of the separatist Sinn Féin from Irish newspaper readers. He continued:

The situation worsened in September 1919 when the authorities in Dublin Castle abolished the post of censor. The decision was greeted by cynicism from the Irish press with newspaper editors deriding the fact that the censor may have gone but the restrictive regulations remained in place. A wave of newspaper suppressions swept the country. This was because the Irish press now had no censor to guide them as to what would be deemed unacceptable by Dublin Castle.4

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland. Late 19th or early 20th century image. National Library of Ireland image.

By the time Guest arrived in Ireland in early 1920, more than two dozen Irish newspapers had been suppressed or had their foreign circulation banned for “a few days [or] longer periods,” he reported. The digital Irish Newspaper Archives contains 50 titles that published during 1920. An estimated 332 newspapers circulated in Ireland during the period 1900 to 1922, excluding British or American titles.5

Guest listed these papers as being suppressed:

Mayo News * Clare Champion * Newcastle-West Weekly Observer * Kings County Independent * Belfast Evening Telegraph * Dublin Evening Herald * Meath Chronicle * Galway Express * Ballina Herald * Killkenny People * Irish Republic * Southern Star (County Cork)

Freeman’s Journal nameplate

Most of Guest’s story detailed the December 1919 suppression of the Freeman’s Journal, which extended into January 1920. The action “aroused a storm of protest against the methods of Dublin Castle, in which even the press of England joined … The circumstances attending the suppression of the newspaper and the subsequent negotiations over its resumption of publication constitute a chapter of English history in Ireland that reflects little credit on the present administration.”

As mentioned at the top, Guest’s full story can seen by clicking the linked headline. The Freeman’s Jan. 28, 1920, editorial cartoon about the suppression, referenced by Guest, can be viewed here via the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Shemus Cartoon Collection. More on the history of the Freeman’s Journal is available in this October 2019 guest post by Irish historian Felix Larkin, who also wrote the linked NLI collection description.

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