Category Archives: History

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Outrages

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

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Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages1

Guest published several consecutive stories about the republican Sinn Féin revolution. The activity he observed in Ireland, he wrote, “will prove something of a shock to many Americans who, by the purchase of Sinn Féin bonds,  gave moral as well as financial support to the so-called ‘war against English rule’ which is being waged on the turbulent island across the sea. But, as investors, they are entitled to know how the enterprise is being conducted.”

As examples, Guest detailed the Jan. 21 attack on Timothy T. Mangan of Killorglin, County Kerry, whose ears were cut off; and the Feb. 14 murder of 61-year-old Ellen Morris, near Enniscorthy, County Wexford; and other crimes during his two months in Ireland. Guest published an “unofficial list” of police statistics for “outrages charged to the Sinn Féin  movement” for the period Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 1920, by province:

  • Munster………209
  • Leinster………..94
  • Connaught……47
  • Ulster……………22

“These figures will give a fair idea of how crime in Ireland is getting beyond all control of the authorities,” he wrote. “Emboldened by their success in eluding capture and by the way in which these outrages have been glorified in America, the perpetrators have grown more daring and more defiant.”

The 32 counties and four provinces of Ireland. Map image: Family Tree Magazine

Sinn Féin Attacks on Barracks Usually Made To Get Munitions2

“Although the Royal Irish Constabulary is as large as the police force of New York, is better armed and has the advantage of military training, it is unable to keep down crime among a population only two-thirds that of New York,” Guest began his fourth installment.3 He noted the lack of electric lighting in rural Ireland, which he had visited at the darkest time of the year.

Guest detailed the late January 1920 attack on the Murroe RIC barracks, eight miles north of Limerick city, near border with County Clare. 

“Barely a night passed while I was in Ireland that there was not either an attack on a police barracks, or the shooting down of a policeman, or a raid upon some farmer’s house for arms. And there were times when all three occurred in a single night.”

Big Rewards For Information In Irish Cases Goes Unclaimed4

This story described how Sinn Féin tampered with the mail system to gather intelligence and thwart the government’s efforts to pay citizens for information about attacks on police and the military. Further, Guest wrote:

The past six months have witnessed a widespread revival of the secret societies that flourished in the days of the Finians and before that time. … It is these secret societies which carry out the attacks upon police barracks, the raids for arms upon the homes of farmers; which burn haystacks or drive off or maim cattle; which terrorize families by firing shots through the windows of their homes; which hold up and bomb trains. Their word is law with the Irish people.

Scotland Yard Sleuths Fail to Identify Irish Rebels5

“One of the most popular forms of spreading terror among the peasantry in the south and west of Ireland is the posting of proclamations containing warnings and threats as to what will happen to persons who hold intercourse with the police or military,” Guest reported. He quoted one poster from the outskirts of Cooraclare, County Clare, which said that “traitors [should] be shunned as if they were fever stricken.” Other posters, often handwritten, were spotted in Ballyvaneen, Clare; Macroom and Michelston, County Cork; and Rearcross, County Tipperary.

Guest also reported that when Irish rebels or members of secret societies were arrested, their families received regular weekly payments “from some mysterious source.” Like the threatening posters, social boycotting, and nocturnal attacks on police and civilians reported in his earlier stories, such activity vividly recalls the Land War period of the 1880s.  

“Is there a link between the dreaded secret societies and Sinn Féin?,” Guest posed. “Dublin Castle says there is, but has offered no proof. If there is a link, it is well hidden. Personally, I was unable to find any connection. … Ireland is a hard place in which to prove anything.”

NEXT: ‘Dora’ Gives Sweeping Powers To British Rulers In Ireland

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

“The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.” –Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution

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On Dec. 30, 1919, American journalist Harry Frazier Guest sailed to Ireland “for the purpose of gathering news and making observations for the New York Globe,” his editor assured the U.S. government.1 Guest later told his readers that he intended to describe conditions in Ireland “as seen through unbiased American eyes.”2 During January and February 1920 he toured many sections of the island, urban and rural. “I had never visited Ireland or England before and had taken no interest in the so-called Irish question,” Guest wrote in the first of two dozen articles published after he returned to America.3I went with an open mind, free from racial or religious prejudice.”

Over the next few weeks I will explore Guest’s dispatches, which the Globe syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is part of my ongoing series about American reporting of Irish independence. 4 I will provide the headlines from each of Guest’s stories, highlight key details and historical points, and quote compelling or controversial passages. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I am unable to do supporting library and archival research. Reader input and suggestions are welcome.

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

Harry F. Guest was 41 when he traveled to Ireland. He had been at the Globe for six years, according to his editor’s letter. A 1917 story in the Times Union of Brooklyn, N.Y., described him as “prominent in newspaper circles for many years, serving as reporter and editor on the Brooklyn and Manhattan dailies,” including correspondent from the state capital in Albany.5 His 1918 draft registration for World War I listed his work as “Asst. Direct. Pub.” for the U.S. Food Administration, likely a temporary “publicity” or “publications” job.6

After the war, Guest spent part of 1919 reporting for the Globe from Texas for a series of articles about the state’s booming oil industry:

I came to Texas an unbeliever prepared to see much overrated oil development. But after having an opportunity to see what has been done and what conservative eastern capital is planning for the future, backing its judgement with millions, I can say that the Texas oil industry is building on a solid business foundation.7

Before he boarded Cunard’s RMS Mauretania for Ireland, Guest said goodbye to Blanche, his wife of 16 years, though the couple had no children. He was 5-foot, 8 ½-inches tall, with green-gray eyes, and brown-gray hair, according to his passport application. He had survived broken ribs and internal injuries after being hit by a car less then three years earlier. He wore glasses and had an artificial right eye.8

Guest returned to New York on March 1 aboard the RMS Carmania.9 His first story about revolutionary Ireland appeared in newspapers a week later.

Ireland By Day Land of Peace, And Business Hums In Its Cities10

Guest told readers that his first two stories would be scene setters, Ireland by day, and Ireland by night, “for the two are very different.” He described heightened security at the Kingstown docks and Dublin rail stations. “Somehow, all the time I was in Ireland I never quite got over the feeling that I was under the eyes of policemen and soldiers.”

He referenced a newspaper story of the Jan. 3, 1920, raid on Carrightwohill barracks, in County Cork, shortly before his arrival. It was among the earliest in the rapidly escalating attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary posts by the Irish Republican Army. Guest also mentioned the midday Feb. 7 holdup in Dublin of a motor lorrie with two police officers and two soldiers, all unarmed, by 20 men with weapons, “but such exhibitions during the daytime are rare.”

Inside Carrigtwohill barracks after the attack. Photo, Illustrated London News

In Dublin’s Grafton Street, “the windows of many shops were covered with steel shutters which extended down to the sidewalk,” Guest wrote. “The faces of the men and women walking by … looked just as dour and serious as the police. It was only the young–the boys and girls in their teens–who smiled.”

He wrote that most Irish people at first were reluctant to talk with him, wary that he might work for the authorities. “They would not even commit themselves to admitting that conditions were bad, but when they learned I was a newspaper man from the United States they talked freely.”

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign11

“It is between midnight and dawn that most of the blood is spilled in Ireland,” Guest reported in his followup Ireland at night story. “The popular hour for attacks on police barracks and the round up of Sinn Féinners is 2 a.m. At that hour, if one is in the right place, it is possible to see armored motorcars, with rapid-fire guns poking through their turrets, and motor lorries filled with steel-helmeted, fully armored soldiers speeding through deserted city streets, and over dark country roads, bound on mysterious missions, the object of which will not be disclosed until a day or two later at military headquarters.”

Guest referenced the Jan. 31 roundup of 100 Sinn Féin members across the country after the installation of local officers in eight cities, “but half of them were released within a few hours of their arrests.”

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Protestant preacher helped promote Irish independence

Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of Killead Church, County Antrim, arrived in America in March 1920 to help promote Irish independence. His particular mission: counter the prevailing notion that Irish nationalism was strictly a Catholic desire. The Protestant preacher toured with republican leader Éamon de Valera, who had reached U.S. shores in June 1919.

Rev. J.A.H.Irwin, a Presbyterian minister from near Belfast, arrived in America in March 1920 to present the case of Irish Protestants in favor of self-determination for Ireland. Library of Congress photo.

In one of his earliest U.S. newspaper interviews1, Rev. Irwin, then 44, said:

I have come to the United States mainly because I feel that the Irish issue is likely to be misconstrued to the American public. I knew that a deputation was sent to represent the extreme Unionist, and I knew that the southern aspect was capably presented by Mr. de Valera and his friends, but I felt that there was an entirely different aspect and point of view that neither of these parties could or would put before the American people.

It is absolutely and entirely false to say the issue [of Irish independence] is a religious one. … The question is purely political and economic. [Unionist leader] Sir Edward Carson … has allowed himself and his followers to use [sectarianism] as the last refuge of a defeated politician. He knows that it is the only weapon he can use with effect on the American people, who are lovers of freedom and justice, and who, he knows, would resent any form of Catholic aggression.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, a pro-nationalist weekly with ties to the provisional republican government in Dublin, reported on Rev. Irwin’s April 5, 1920, address to the Protestant Friends of Ireland2 in New York. “A sea of Irish faces, 5,000 strong, all eagerly wait[ed] to hear the speaker of the evening,” began the story3 by Agnes Newman, sister of 1916 Easter Rising martyr Sir Roger Casement.

Dr. Irwin emphasized the fact that if Britain would withdraw her present army of occupation from Ireland not one hair upon the head of a man, woman or child would be injured in any part of Ireland. He strongly denounced the oppression and cruelty of the present ‘Reign of Terror’ and said he had traveled these thousands of miles not in the cause of humanity alone, but in the cause of Christianity.

Within weeks of his U.S. arrival, Unionist forces began a smear campaign against Rev. Irwin. “His views [are] absolutely opposed to the whole mass of Irish Presbyterian opinion … his statement … a mass of falsehoods and misrepresentations. He has no credentials to speak for either Presbyterians or Protestants,” stated a widely-circulated April 10, 1920, letter from Belfast, attributed only to “responsible representatives.”4

Nevertheless, Rev. Irwin became a regular platform guest with de Valera as the Irish bond drive toured through the Southern states of America, including a controversial stop in Birmingham, Alabama. (I’ll explore that in a future post.) Rev. Irwin also visited several Canadian cities.

Upon his January 1921 return to Ulster, the preacher was arrested by British authorities on weapons charges. As colorfully described by the Fermanagh Herald, “a farmer’s gun for which there was no ammunition, and a revolver which would not revolve, with ammunition that would not fit it.”5

News coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested Rev. Irwin was the first Presbyterian minister arrested by the British state since the rebellion of 1798. These contemporary sources reported he was held at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, and/or the Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down; either for a few days or several weeks of a two-year sentence.

That summer, a special commission impaneled at Killead church considered complaints about  the preacher’s activities in America. The majority opinion was that “if outsiders had left the congregation alone there would have been no occasion for the commission. It was due, they said, to outside influence for political purposes.”6 Rev. Irwin remained at Killead for another five years, moved to Scotland until 1935, then settled in Dublin.7

In 1937, de Valera consulted with Rev. Irwin about the composition of the new Constitution of Ireland. The preacher later joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil political party, where he served on the national executive from 1945 until his death in 1954.8

Rev. J.A.H. Irwin in March 1921. Library of Congress photo.

Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

On Oct. 2, 1961, former journalist and retired public school teacher Ruth Russell, “of sound and disposing mind and memory,” signed her Last Will and Testament in Chicago. Her first direction was to be buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “next to the grave of my sister, Cecilia Russell.” Her second direction called on the University of Arkansas to use the proceeds of the $10,000, 1960 U.S. Series H Bond she donated to establish a scholarship in Cecilia’s name to help “needy and worthwhile individuals” with the study of French.1

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, died two years later, on Nov. 28, 1963, of heart disease.2 She was 74.

Headlines about the assassination and burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy had dominated the news during the final week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, 81, was among the international mourners who attended Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Russell had interviewed de Valera 44 years earlier in Dublin. He provided a supportive letter that was published at the front of her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? “You succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” the revolutionary leader wrote.3

See my five-part monograph, “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland

Russell’s body was conveyed to Fayetteville, a 650-mile journey mostly likely accomplished by rail. She had moved there in 1954 to join Cecilia, a romance language teacher at the University of Arkansas since 1942, after retiring from the Chicago public school system.4 Ruth remained in Fayetteville after her sister’s death in October 1959. In August 1963, she returned to her native Chicago for the last time and entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her youth.5 She died in the care of Dominican Sisters.

A rosary was prayed for Russell the evening of Dec. 2, 1963, at Moore’s Chapel, Fayetteville; followed the next morning by the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church.6 Father Edward R. Maloy presided at the burial in the church cemetery on a clear, dry day as temperatures climbed to near 60.7 The priest prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O’ Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Fr. Maloy and whatever number of mourners joined him at the graveside turned from the headstone Ruth Russell purchased after her sister’s death: the surname engraved slightly above center; Cecilia’s first name and birth and death years in the bottom left corner. The bottom right space for Ruth’s name and years to be similarly etched remained smooth that day … and for the next 57 years.

Russell grave, March 2019.

Like her sister, Ruth Russell never married or had children. Her will named two nephews, two young heirs of one of her late brothers, and a brother-in-law, as one-fifth beneficiaries to any funds that remained after her estate was settled, excluding the $10,000 bond for the university scholarship. None of these people, or her Fayetteville friends, engaged a monument company to inscribe Ruth’s name on the headstone. Such oversights are not unusual, as I detailed in a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, “Life Without an End Date“.

I first learned that Ruth’s name was not on the gravestone through the Findagrave.com website, part of my research of Illinois and Arkansas newspaper obituaries that referenced her life in Chicago and Fayetteville. Paul A. Warren, operations director at St. Joseph’s, confirmed the oversight when he provided the photo above, and a copy of the church’s handwritten burial log that shows Ruth’s internment details.

With Paul’s help, and the excellent work of the Emerson Monument Company, Springdale, Ark., (Thank you Alison and Glenn), Ruth’s name was added to the gravestone in March 2020. It is a fitting memorial at the 100th anniversary of her reporting from Ireland and activism on behalf of Irish independence. It is a lasting remembrance … at last … like the Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship that Ruth endowed and that remains active at the university.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

Russell grave, March 2020.

St. Patrick’s Day primary & JFK in 1960

UPDATE:

Here’s the headline I expected to see: Joe Biden Wins Big in St. Patrick’s Day Democratic Primaries. The former vice-president had convincing victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.

ORIGINAL POST:

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona will hold Democratic presidential primaries on St. Patrick’s Day, a rare political event now overshadowed by the global health crisis. Ohio, which also had a scheduled March 17 primary, has postponed until June 2.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently boasts of his Irish heritage, is poised to gather more delegates in his march to the nomination. The remainder of the primary schedule, and both party’s national conventions this summer, now seem in jeopardy.

U.S. elections are held on Tuesdays based on 19th century reasoning to avoid the Sunday sabbath and Wednesday agricultural market days. The party primary system was created shortly before World War I. In presidential election years since then, St. Patrick’s Day first fell on a Tuesday in 1936, but there was no primary. Republicans and Democrats took a break between the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary earlier in March, and the Wisconsin primary in April.

The same happened in 1964, the next time St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Tuesday of a presidential election cycle. Four years earlier, Irish-American U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts won the New Hampshire primary on March 8, 1960,  with 85 percent of the vote, the balance split among three fringe or protest candidates. In the Republican primary, then-Vice President Richard Nixon won nearly 90 percent of the vote, with 3 percent writing in Kennedy’s name. The next primary was April 5, 1960, in Wisconsin.

Eight days after Kennedy’s New Hampshire victory, the Associated Press released a St. Patrick’s Day photo of him widely published in U.S. newspapers. JFK was not the first Irish American Catholic to run for the nation’s highest office, (Al Smith, 1928), but he became the first to win.

The first and only previous St. Patrick’s Day presidential primary was in 1992, when Illinois and Michigan each held nominating contests. President George H.W. Bush carried two thirds of the GOP vote in both states over former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan. For the Democrats, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won slim majorities in a crowded field in both contests.

Clinton defeated the incumbent Bush in November 1992. The new president become a great friend of Ireland, contributing to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement during his second term.

Chicago magazine tells the story of the 1970 Illinois primary that forced bars and pubs to close on St. Patrick’s Day because of an early 20th century law–since repealed–designed to keep politicians from buying votes.

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1920: Politics and poetry

The Irish War of Independence had grow increasingly violent by St. Patrick’s Day, 1920. In America, Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera continued his effort to raise money and political support for the Irish cause. His St. Patrick’s Day message was quoted in many U.S. newspapers. It said, in part:

Sons and Daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the Motherland, greeting! … Never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland, but the world. … Those of our race who are citizens of this mighty land of America, whose thought will help to mould the policy of the leader among Nations–how much the world looks to you this St. Patrick’s Day–hopes in you–trusts in you. You can so easily accomplish that which is needed. You have only to have the will–the way is so clear. What would not the people in the old land give for the power which is yours!1

Éamon de Valera

New York City’s Irish community “answered the call to arms” in de Valera’s message “by throwing the greatest parade in the history of a city that held its first in 1766.”2 The Irish leader attended the March 17 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Hayes, who was appointed to the post a year earlier. Both men were seated together at the parade reviewing stand in front of the landmark church, along with New York City Mayor John F. Hylan and New York State Gov. Al Smith.

By odd coincidence, considering the Irish visitor, all four of these honorary parade-goers were New York natives. De Valera was born in the city in 1882 to a Irish immigrant mother and a Spanish father, who died three years later. The toddler was sent to Ireland to be raised in County Limerick by his relatives.

Any small talk about their shared birthplace, however, was secondary to the simmering tensions between de Valera and the American-based Friends of Irish Freedom, which was led by Gaelic American newspaper editor John Devoy and New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. At issue were disputes over control of the money being collected for Ireland and the efforts to influence American political leaders and U.S. policy.

None of this was on public view for the big day. As Hannigan writes:

At the end of St. Patrick’s Day, when Ireland held the city in its thrall, the impression may have been that the various combatants had put aside their personal grievances for the greater good. Though de Valera and Cohalan were at the same dinner by evening’s end with the appearance all was well, the truth was much different. The two men seemed to picture of professionalism that night, the politicking, scheming and plotting continued backstage. It would come to a boil very soon.”3

***

For St. Patrick’s Day 1920, Denis Aloysius McCarthy released a poem that emphasized the historic connections between Ireland and America, especially in the struggle for freedom. Like de Valera’s message, “St. Patrick’s Day” also was circulated in U.S. papers.4 It including these stanzas:

When America first uprose
And flung defiance at her foes
No laggards were the Irish then
In purse or purpose, means or men.

And ever since in all our wars,
Wherever gleamed the Stripes and Stars,
The loyal Irish, heart and hand,
Have fought for this beloved land.

So in the springtime of the year
When St. Patrick’s Day again is here,
T’is not alone on Irish breasts
The spray of Ireland’s shamrocks rests.

Our great Republic’s heart
Reveals today its tend’rer part,
As, smiling in her state serene,
She wears a touch of Ireland’s green.

Denis A. McCarthy

This poem should not confused with McCarthy’s “St. Patrick’s Day Memories” , from his 1906 collection, Voices From Erin.

The poet and journalist emigrated from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, to America in 1886. He eventually settled in Boston. The Boston Globe did not mention him as having strong feelings about Irish independence in its August 1931 news obituary.

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, Electricity Supply Board (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.

Ruth Russell in revolutionary Ireland talk coming March 7

Thank you Irish Railroad Workers Museum. Angie & I enjoyed giving the presentation. Thanks to all who attended and asked great questions. MH

***

I am presenting “What’s the matter with Ireland?” at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore. The free talk is based on my research and writing about journalist Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, then became active in the Irish cause in America.

Please register in advance. The museum is located at 918 Lemon St., a group of five alley houses where many Irish immigrants lived from the mid-19th century. It is near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Ruth Russell in 1919

Russell worked for the Chicago Daily News, then a leading U.S. provider of foreign news. Her reporting from Ireland was syndicated across America, including the Baltimore Sun. What’s the matter with Ireland? was the title of her 1920 book based on that reporting.

I presented my research at 2019 annual conferences of the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. Here is my five-part monograph:

My wife Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com editor-in-chief, will join me to read selections of Russell’s work. We also will recreate portions of Russell’s December 1920 testimony before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

 

 

Did JFK want to ‘get even’ for Boston’s anti-Irish Catholic bias?

In February 1960, a month after John F. Kennedy announced for the U.S. presidency, a syndicated newspaper columnist suggested the campaign was prompted by his family’s desire to “get even” for decades of prejudice against them.

“Get even … is a hard phrase to explain,” Edwin A. Lahey, chief correspondent for Knight Newspapers, wrote in a dispatch from the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He continued:

But basically it means that any ambitious man from Boston with Irish forebears needs spiritual compensation for the humiliating experiences of his grandparents, who suffered social ostracism and economic discrimination at the hands of the Boston Brahmins.  … Unless you have an Irish Catholic background, and have seen the Boston mind in operation, you cannot understand the full nuances of the phrase which describes a Boston Irishman’s success and distinction as a means of ‘getting even.’

Lahey was no slapdash columnist. In 1939, he joined the inaugural class of the Neiman Fellows at Harvard University. He became Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Daily News, then moved over to a similar post with the Knight chain.1

Lahey based the “get even” notion in his column on a just-published book, The Remarkable Kennedys, by Boston journalist Joe McCarthy. The 190-page work is a profile of the family, especially the candidate and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a business tycoon and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom just before World War II. McCarthy wrote:

Where does the Kennedy drive come from? Most probably it stems originally from the chafing, frustrating atmosphere of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice in Boston fifty years ago that made the young Joe Kennedy determined to push himself and his children to a place at the top of the world where they would not have to take a back seat to anybody.2

McCarthy (1916-1980) was born to 1890s Irish immigrant parents3 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, a year before JFK’s birth. After graduating from Boston College, McCarthy began a newspaper reporting and magazine editing career that included producing an overview of Ireland for Time-Life.4 

Book advert in The Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1960.

A profile of McCarthy based on the release of The Remarkable Kennedys colorfully described him as “a tall, slightly stooped, gray-haired man in his middle 40’s” who “lumbered” across the room and “slowly rummaged through a tiny pile of rumpled newspapers, envelopes and magazines he had stuffed under his weather-beaten trenchcoat thrown carelessly over the back of a chair.”5

In the book, McCarthy quoted Joe Kennedy as saying he moved his young family from Boston proper to suburban Brookline (where JFK was born) and other homes in New York, Cape Cod, and Florida, because “it was no place to bring up Irish Catholic children. I didn’t want them to go through what I had to go through.”6

There are numerous similar passages, such as this one in McCarthy’s voice:

Resentment probably burned hotter in Joe Kennedy than in most of the Boston Irish of his generation because he associated more closely with the Yankee Brahmins than did most Irish of his time. Consequently, he was more exposed to slurs, more aware from first-hand experience of the cool condescension with which Beacon Hill looked down on people of his religion and racial background.7

The Kennedy family’s Irish-Catholic heritage and their national ambitions were well documented before 1960, including beyond Boston and Massachusetts political circles. But JFK’s run for the White House and the political journalism of Lahey and McCarthy magnified the anti-Irish Catholic narrative.

The Lahey column swept across the country: The Miami Herald, Feb. 12; The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Feb. 18; Detroit Free Press, Feb. 18; Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, Feb. 19; The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Feb. 19; Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Feb. 21; Oakland (California) Tribune, Feb. 24; The Herald-News (Passaic, N.J.), Feb. 25; and likely many others that did not appear in my searches of digital newspaper archives. McCarthy’s book was serialized in many newspapers later that autumn, publishing just before Election Day.

In a book review, The New York Times also noted that “Kennedy, père, second generation descendant of Irish Catholic immigrants, suffered all the slights and indignities Brahmin Boston could contrive for its despised minorities in the decades around the turn of the [20th] century.”8

Kennedy’s Catholicism remained a larger campaign issue than his Irish roots, since prejudice against the religion was hardly confined to Boston’s elites. In November, “Kennedy’s victory not only broke through the age-old American bigotry against Catholics, but it also overcame the prejudice against the Irish.”9

Sixty years later, what is probably most remembered from McCarthy’s book is the prophetic quote that he obtained from JFK: “Just as I went into politics because [older brother] Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.”10

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