Category Archives: Business & Environment

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.

NEXT: English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Labor

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

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

***

Organized Labor Playing Big Part in Ireland’s Life1

Guest wrote “the so-called labor movement … is more than a mere development of the industrial workers, it is really a people’s movement.” He reported Ireland had 18 trade councils with approximately 200,000 members, including the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, National Union of Railway Men, and Amalgamated Society of Engineers. People in the building trades and clerical workers also had begun to organize. He provided these unsourced average weekly wages in Ireland, but noted the gains were not as strong as in England:

  • 1914: skilled workers, $9.70; unskilled, $5.50
  • 1920: skilled workers, $15.50; unskilled, $8.75
  • 1913: farmers, $5
  • 1920: farmers, $9.50

Of interest to his American readers, Guest reported on the Henry Ford tractor plant near Cork city. Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell had visited the plant just before it opened in July 1919.2 Guest acknowledged the plant’s location near the birthplace of Ford’s father, William, at Ballinascarthy, in County Cork. Guest reported:

The equipment is American and the plant is operated much like Ford plants in America. The minimum wage, however, is not $8 a day or even $5 a day. Such wages, to use an expression of the manager of the plant, “would have caused a revolution among Irish laborers.” The minimum wage is about $2.75 a day.

Farm laborers were antagonistic when the plant first opened. They saw American tractors driving them out of their occupations. It took considerable propaganda to make it clear that while the tractor is a labor-saving device, it saves animal power rather than man power.

It took some time for the Irish laborers who sought employment at the factory to understand that they were paid only for the time they worked. When, due to lateness or absence, they found their pay envelope short, they were indignant; their indignation vanished, however, when they found they were paid for overtime.

Just two months earlier Henry Ford had expressed his pride in the Cork factory during a steel-ordering stop in Pittsburgh. “I want to help add to the smokestacks in Ireland,” he said. “Ireland is among the foremost industrial countries, and will get her much deserved freedom and home rule.”3

Ford, or one of his business associates, took note of Guest’s story. The reporter’s “articles on Ireland” are included in the Dearborn, Michigan, archives of the legendary industrialist.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork, 1919.

Ireland Enjoys Greatest Prosperity In Its History With Big Trade Expansion4

Guest devoted most of this story to an analysis of Irish bank deposits. His approach recalled the reporting of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert in his 1888 book, Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Hurlbert cited increased Post Office Savings Banks deposits from 1880 to 1887 as evidence that rural Ireland was not suffering from crushing poverty caused by the Iandlord system, as alleged by agrarian activists.

Guest “marveled” at why Sinn Féin found it necessary “to borrow ten million dollars from American citizens [the then two-month old bond campaign] to develop Irish resources when the people of Ireland have more than one billion dollars in bank deposits and government securities?”

He cited bank reports other public records to illustrate that major Irish commercial banks enjoyed “record-breaking business” in 1918, and large increases from the period ending June 30, 1919, and Dec. 31, 1919. He included figures from the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Provincial Bank, and Munster & Leinster Bank.5 Deposits in trustee savings banks and postoffice  banks also increased during the same period, Guest reported. He continued:

In consider the financial condition of the Irish people, one should not lose site of the fact that depositors in these three classes of banks, taken as a whole, were able to increase their accounts in the banks by more than 95 percent, in the face of a 140 percent increase in the cost of living over the same period.  … That a considerable part of the Irish public-at-large evidently has more confidence in the stability of the present government than the Sinn Féin propagandists would have them believe, and is not adverse to loaning its money, is attested by the fact that the government stock on which dividends were payable through the Bank of Ireland on June 30, 1919, amounted to $451,465,000, an average of more than $100 for every man, woman, and child in Ireland, including Sinn Féinners. This represented an increase of more than 114 percent over similar holdings in 1914.

Guest also detailed what he described as “a remarkable expansion in Irish trade” during the first two decades of the 20th century. He cited favorable excesses in both volume and cost of exports over imports. He concluded:

Farmers who were never out of debt before now have comfortable bank accounts. In addition, they have spent money in improving their homes and outbuilding and in contracting for the purchase of modern farm machinery. The farmers are ‘the backbone of the country’ in the fullest meaning of the term. Aside from political conditions and military oppression, they are more satisfied with their lot today than ever before. The majority of them I believe would ask nothing better than to be left alone by both the politicians and the military.6

NEXT: Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: ‘Dora’

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

***

‘Dora’ Gives Sweeping Powers To British Rulers in Ireland1

In the seventh story of his Irish series, Guest turned from Sinn Féin outrages to the power of the British state. He detailed the Defense of the Realm Act, known as “Dora”, which gave the military “virtually no limit to the restrictions” it could place on civilians throughout the British Empire. “With the exception of India, it is in Ireland that the most severe regulations of the measure are at present in effect,” Guest told his U.S. and Canadian readers.

Under Dora, the military could and did forcibly enter private homes, “day or night, under the flimsiest kind of pretext,” Guest wrote. “No one is exempt.” As an example, he reported the Feb. 10, 1920, raid on the home of John J. Farrell, former Lord Mayor of Dublin (1911-12), who lived at 9 Iona Drive, Drumcondra, on the city’s North Side. As managing director of the Irish Kinematography Co. Ltd., Farrell helped develop Dublin’s early 20th century movie business.2

“His sympathies are with the Sinn Féin movement, but he has not taken a conspicuous part in their activities,” Guest wrote of Farrell, who is the first source named and quoted in the reporter’s series.3 Farrell said:

I do not mind this sort of business so much myself, but I sympathize with people whose delicate health might suffer from the shock. As a citizen, and one who pays a very large amount in taxes, I must voice my protest against the cruelty, the idiocy of the caricature of government. Is Ireland governed by a madman or a fool?

In addition to raiding private homes, Guest reported the military also boarded American commercial vessels in Irish ports to remove weapons from the crews. These arms were returned at departure. Guest also wrote:

To criticize the English government or talk of the ‘Irish republic,’ ‘Dáil Éireann,’ ‘Sinn Féin,’ the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann ma mBan is forbidden as seditious. If some of the radicals who now make street orations in New York, or Chicago, or St. Louis, or any of our other American cities would go to Ireland and attempt to attack the English government as they attack our government here [in America], they would be arrested immediately.”

He cited these statistics–unsourced, but presumably from the government–from Nov. 10 to Dec. 20, 1919:

  • Private houses raided, 752
  • Arrests for political offenses, 162
  • Meetings disbursed, 27
  • Deported without trial, 4

Five months after Guest’s story was published, in August 1920, the British state passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act to extend and bolster Dora. By year’s end, martial law was declared in several of Ireland’s more troubled counties.

Irish Industrial Commission Handicapped By British Orders4

Guest described the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland, established a year earlier by Sinn Féin to conduct hearings and collect data about the Irish economy. It was part of the first Dáil Éireann.

Figgis, 1924

Guest visited the commission’s office on Lower Sackville Street, “two floors above the suite of the American Counsel.” He mentioned Darrell Figgis was the commission secretary, but did not quote the Sinn Féin activist and writer. The commission held public hearings in Dublin for three week, Guest noted, but was suppressed by the military from meeting in Cork city. He wrote:

This commission is one of the hardest nuts which Sinn Féin has given Dublin Castle to crack. It is a nonpartisan body and any discussion of or reference to Irish politics is positively forbidden at its meetings. Its members–not all of whom have accepted appointments, however–included Sinn Féinners, Unionists, Nationalist, Constitutionalists, and Independents.

Elaborate System of Spies Keeps Sinn Féin Informed of Dublin Castle’s Plans5

In this installment, Guest’s described how Sinn Féin leveraged the words of world leaders to their make their case for an Irish republic. He wrote:

The more I talked with thinking people in Ireland the more I was impressed with the fact that Sinn Féin is to a large degree an opportunistic party, and that it was the world war which had furnished the opportunity which enabled it to implant its doctrines so firmly in the fertile minds of the Irish people. … I do not recall one of them who did not attribute some part of the hold that Sinn Féin has upon the popular imagination to the utterances of American and British statesmen during and following the war. The words of President Wilson, Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill, Lord Gray and others regarding the rights of small nations and nationalities to self-determination were eagerly grasped by the Sinn Féin propagandists as applying to Ireland and given wide publicity in the party’s literature.

NEXT: Organized Labor Playing Big Part in Ireland’s Life

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

There’s only one story to report in this month’s roundup: the COVID-19 pandemic, which exploded in Ireland and across the globe shortly before St. Patrick’s Day and soon cancelled parades, closed pubs and churches, and cloistered communities. As history’s longest March draws to a close, here are some key developments from the island of Ireland:

  • A combined 67 people have died, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for COVID-19, in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as of March 29. Sadly, these numbers will grow.
  • Citizens of the Republic are on strict quarantine through April 12, Easter Sunday. Gardaí are patrolling the streets to enforce the lock down.
  • The Republic nationalized all its hospitals. “For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people,” Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris said. “There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.”
  • Aer Lingus completed the first of 10 scheduled round trips to bring personal protective equipment (PPE) from China to Ireland in a €208m deal, RTÉ reported March 29.

Leo Varadkar, who remains Ireland’s caretaker taoiseach after February’s election defeat, is a trained doctor. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis has generally been praised. Steve Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS

  • In the midst of the pandemic, the Republic is still trying to forge a new government. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil political parties, both center right but historic rivals, are reported to be nearing a deal on a new administration in the coming weeks. The left-wing Sinn Fein, which topped the Feb. 8 election, would be kept … well … isolated.
  • The Irish people paused March 26 to applauded healthcare and front line workers fighting the pandemic. “In the Dáil, TDs stood at the allotted hour, forgetting their discussions of emergency measures for a brief moment to clap with gusto in appreciation of the hundreds of battles being fought by medical staff around the country,” The Irish Times reported. In the North, the “Clap for Carers” tribute featured buildings lit blue and cathedrals ringing bells.
  • Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall advised Irish citizens in America, especially those on short-term visas, to return to Ireland, “if there are doubts about the stability of your employment & your access to health care cover.”
  • The 50th Listowel Writers’ Week in North Kerry, scheduled for May 27-31, was postponed until 2021.
  • As encouragement to the people, Irish President Michael D. Higgins recorded his 27-year-old poem Take Care. Click the SoundCloud link in the tweet below:

St. Patrick’s Day 2020 disrupted by pandemic & politics

UPDATES:

March 14:

  • The U.S. government reversed an earlier exemption from the 30-day European travel ban for Ireland and the U.K. The prohibition on the two islands will take effect midnight March 16.
  • Masses are being cancelled across most dioceses in Ireland for at least the next three weeks.

March 13:

  • It’s not just St. Patrick’s Day parades that are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic; it’s also St. Patrick’s Day masses, scheduled either for Sunday or March 17. The Catholic Archdioceses of Washington, D.C., is closing all its churches from March 16 through March 27. In Chicago, Old St. Patrick’s Church is closed March 13-March 23. The Cleveland diocese cancelled its March 17 masses. A growing number of dioceses are suspending the weekly mass obligation.

St. Patrick’s in Washington, D.C., on March 10. The doors are being closed March 16.

March 12:

  • “I know that some of this is coming as a real shock. And it’s going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives. And I know that I’m asking people to make enormous sacrifices. But we’re doing it for each other,” Varadkar said in announcing that Ireland’s schools, universities and childcare facilities are being closed until at least March 29.
  • The board of the New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade announced “with a heavy heart” that the 2020 edition is postponed until “a later date,” the first scratch since 1762.
  • Varadkar and Trump met at the White House. But they did not shake hands or exchange the traditional bowl of shamrocks, the Associated Press reported. Varadkar addressed the Ireland Funds gala dinner Wednesday night at the National Building Museum, according to The Journal.ie.
  • White House officials have confirmed that Ireland is not included in the 30-day European travel ban announced by President Trump to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The Washington Post explains why. In his Oval Office address, Trump only named the U.K. as being exempt.

March 11:

  • New York parade pin

    There has been mixed reporting through the day about whether New York City will cancel its scheduled March 17 parade for the first time since 1762. “This is 259 years consecutive years the parade has been marching in New York. It’s an unbelievable tradition to break,” parade president Tommy Smyth told The Daily News. Here is the parade’s official website.

  • Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Savannah, and smaller U.S. cities have cancelled parades set for March 14 or March 15.
  • Ireland recorded its first coronavirus death, said to be an elderly patient in the eastern portion of the island, The Irish Times reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s not a usual season of St. Patrick’s Day events, socially or politically. Ireland has cancelled all parades due to ongoing threats from coronavirus. The official statement:

Due to the unique nature and scale of the St Patrick’s Day festivities, in terms of size, the mass gathering of local and international travelers, and the continued progression of community transmission in some European countries, along with the emergence of a small number of cases of local transmission in Ireland, the Government has decided that St Patrick’s Day parades, including the Dublin parade, will not proceed.

There are 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Republic and Northern Ireland as of March 10, but the number is likely to grow. The last time the parade was canceled was in 2001 because of foot-and-mouth disease.

On the U.S. side of the Atlantic, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh cancelled the city’s iconic parade “out of an abundance of caution.”  Other parades across America also have been scratched, including Newport, R.I., Hartford, Conn., Denver, and San Francisco.

Organizers in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Savannah say their events are still on for this weekend, but that could change any moment.

Varadkar and Trump in 2018. “Wash your hands.”

Political events

Nominal Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cancelled a series of meetings in New York in connection with Ireland’s bid for a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council. He is still scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., for events on March 11 and March 12, including a White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and the traditional shamrock presentation.

The Irish Times’ U.S.  correspondent Suzanne Lynch reported Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence will boycott [my emphasis] the annual St. Patrick’s lunch at the U.S. Capitol because of tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The B-word, of course, comes from the Irish Land War. A White House spokesman, referring to Pelosi’s ripping up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year, said:

Since the Speaker has chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric, the president will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity, and will instead celebrate the rich history and strong ties between the United States and Ireland at the White House on March 12.  … The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger.

Fine Gael‘s Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin are in close talks about forming a coalition government in Ireland, now more than a month since the general election failed to produce a majority. The Journal.ie noted Enda Kenny curtailed his St. Patrick’s trip in 2016 while in a similar position of government formation talks.

On March 10, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (DUP) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein) cancelled their scheduled trip to Washington.

Ireland’s broadband push recalls rural electrification effort

In a ceremony days before Christmas 1947, Ballymacelligott parish priest Fr. M. O’Donoghue “made alive” an electric connection to the rural community four miles east of Tralee in County Kerry. (The town obtained electricity 20 years earlier.) “Appropriately the first house to be lighted up was the House of God,” The Kerryman reported.1

The church connection completed a year of similar events in the Irish government’s Rural Electrification Scheme. At the time, about two thirds of Irish homes were without electricity. It would take until the late 1970s to connect 99 percent of those homes, with the Black Valley in Kerry, about 25 miles south of Ballymacelligott, being among the last places lighted.

Now, two generations after completing the electric grid, the Irish government has embarked on a similar effort to supply high-speed broadband service beyond the country’s cities and towns. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in November hailed the initiative as the “biggest investment in rural Ireland ever” and the “most important since rural electrification”.2

Dromiskin, County Louth, c. 1949. ESB Archives

The €3 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP) “aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland,” the government’s website says. “It will ensure that all citizens and businesses have access to high speed broadband no matter where they live or work.”

Over the next four years, 1.1 million rural residents will receive broadband service through a combination of commercial and State-led investment, according to the plan, “securing equal access for every person in Ireland to opportunities which will transform [their] lives,” whether through agriculture and other economic development, healthcare, or education. The 90 percent coverage goal includes portions of Ballymacelligott. 

The project is likely to have its share of setbacks on the way to success, as happened with rural electrification. That history is detailed at the online Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Archives, and in Michael J. Shiel’s 1984 book, The Quiet Revolution: The Electrification of Rural Ireland, 1946-1976. Sheil was a Galway-born, ESB engineer at the start of the venture who eventually became one of its directors. He also was one of its first customers, with his residence transformed into a “show house” to persuade reluctant farmers about the benefits of electricity.3

Electrification had massive social and cultural consequences for rural Ireland. Many rural households replaced the free 100W bulb they received with a lower wattage because the new light made them feel sick or “tended to put out [the glow of] the fire.4 Others at first agreed to take electricity, then changed their minds, in part because of the costs. They became known as “backsliders.” 

In a 1984 review of The Quiet Revolution, Dan Collins wrote: “Some to this day regret that rural Ireland ever became ensnared in the State-backed corporate scheme which they argued sounded the death knell for many of the old traditions which characterized the unique heritage of the Irish.”5 Historian Diarmaid Ferriter at least twice has used an anecdote from Quiet Revolution about a War of Independence veteran who asserted, “it wasn’t for street lamps that we fought.”6

But rural electrification expanded inexorably. Shiel, in a 2007 chapter for a U.S. energy management publication,7 maintained that government officials and business leaders recognized the positive social and psychological components of rural electrification. “They viewed electricity not only as a means to improve rural productivity, but also as a way to free rural people, particularly women, from the age-old drudgery of farm life. … It gave rural people a belief in themselves and their potential, which had hitherto been lacking.”

Kitchen Power: Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification”, an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland/Country Life, Mayo, explores the female perspective of the “quiet revolution” until July. Listen to oral history interviews with four women who lived through the transformation.

The digital divide is also a problem in rural America, just as spotty electric service kept these communities isolated during the Great Depression. In January, the U.S. government announced a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund totaling $20.4 billion over 10 years.

“It’s about time. They take care of their cities, but they don’t take care of you,” President Donald Trump said in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, exploiting the same rural/urban division that is also exposed in Ireland, whether related to garda stations or post offices, economic development or healthcare services.8

Faster access to the internet will not by itself solve such problems on either side of the Atlantic. “Utopia of course is far from being reached,” Shiel concluded in his 1984 book. “At the time of writing there are immense problems, economic and social, looming. The progress of the people of rural Ireland, however, … has been by any standards remarkable.”9  

And so the remarkable changes in rural Ireland since 1947 … or even since 1984 … will continue with the implementation of broadband service. Sometime in the coming years the Ballymacelligott church pews will be digital hot spots.

First pole at Kilsallaghan, County Dublin, Nov. 5, 1946. ESB Archives.