Category Archives: History

Irish Pittsburgh’s November to remember, 1920

Terence MacSwiney

Pittsburgh’s Irish community in November 1920 mourned the hunger-strike death of Terence MacSwiney and remembered the Manchester Martyrs of 1867. It followed news of “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin; the opening of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C.; and the launch of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to rival the established Clan na Gael and affiliated Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF).

About 14,000 Irish immigrants lived in Pittsburgh at the time, or 2.4 percent the city’s population; down from an 11 percent post-Famine peak of 27,000 in 1890.1 The population of first generation Irish Americans with at least one Irish-born parent in the city and surrounding regions is not clear.

Mourning MacSwiney

A reported 5,000 Irish sympathizers packed the Lyceum Theater in downtown Pittsburgh the evening of Oct. 31, 1920, to mourn MacSwiney’s death six days earlier. Another 2,000 unable to get inside held an overflow demonstration on Penn Avenue. Both groups listened to speeches for more than two hours about MacSwiney and the other hunger strikers Joseph Murphy and Michael Fitzgerald.2

Lyceum Theater sign can be seen in middle of the block of this 1914 photo. The downtown vaudeville house was a popular meeting place for Pittsburgh’s Irish community, including an anti-conscription protest and “Self-Determination for Ireland” rally in 1918.

Three days later, Catholic church hierarchy and over 2,000 mourners attended a solemn high mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city’s Oakland district. An Irish tricolor was placed over a coffin. Subsequent memorial masses were held at St. Patrick’s Church, near downtown, with a sermon on “Destiny of the Irish Race”; and St. John the Evangelist, on the city’s Southside. 3

Martyrs Meeting

Western Pennsylvania representatives of the Clan na Gael packed the Lyceum again on Nov. 21 to hear Fenian legend John Devoy, then 78. There is no indication in the Pittsburgh newspaper coverage that news of the Bloody Sunday events hours earlier that day in Ireland reached the meeting. Instead, Devoy framed his Manchester Martyrs remembrance around the launch of the AARIR by Harry Boland and Éamon De Valera.

Pittsburgh newspaper headline the morning after John Devoy appearance in the city.

The “attempt to wreck the old organization which has kept the I.R.B. in Ireland alive for half a century, has had no effect whatever in Pittsburgh, except to make the members angry at [the] unwarrantable action, and they crowded the theater with their wives, children and neighbors to testify to their unbroken faith in the organization and the cause it represents in America but for its steadfastness and devotion.” Devoy’s Gaelic American reported two weeks later.4

The New York newspaper said its editor’s Pittsburgh hotel quarters were crowded “with old timers and young men who came to pledge their support in opposing the attempt to break the organization and to learn the inside history of the latest scheme to make a split among the American Irish.”

John Devoy

In his speech, Devoy recounted that he was locked up at Millbank Prison in London, about 200 miles south of Manchester, when William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien were executed. He said newspaper accounts were smuggled to him by the I.R.B.’s Tom O’Bolger, who had avoided capture in the attempt to free Fenian prisoners from English custody, the event that ensnared Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien.

“The executions were intended to strike terror into the Irish people, but they had the very opposite effect. A wave of anti-English feeling swept over Ireland,” Devoy told the Lyceum audience.5

‘Avoid Splits’

Devoy also warned the Pittsburgh Irish to “avoid splits, which have ruined every Irish movement for the past 100 years. … Now, when the Irish in America are more united than at any other period in the history of the country, a new split is launched. It can only help England and bring discouragement to the people in the Old Land. The one thing that Ireland needs most is a United Irish Race in America, standing shoulder to shoulder, and acting under their own elected leaders.”

The split did occur, as further reported in the same issue of the Gaelic American: “… De Valera … said there was no split and that the two organizations could get along without friction. While making this statement he was making all the friction he possibly could. … [FOIF members were] induced by gross falsehood and misrepresentation to succeed and join the rival organization which is creating disunion in America while Lloyd George is butchering the people of Ireland.”6

Commission Hearings

The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland was a non-U.S. government body created in autumn 1920 to generate political support for the Irish cause. Pittsburgh Leader Publisher Alexander P. Moore was selected to sit on the high-profile panel. A year earlier, as event co-chairman for de Valera’s visit to Pittsburgh, Moore described himself as “the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”7 The newspaper man excused himself from commission service because he was “unable to give the time necessary to the inquiry,” with hearings that lasted from November through January 1921.8

In early December, Pittsburgh innkeeper and Irish immigrant Patrick J. Guilfoil was called before the commission to testify about his experiences in Ireland earlier in the year. He described how Irish republican gunmen killed two Royal Irish Constabulary officers at Feakle, Co. Clare, where he was staying, which resulted in military reprisals on the village 50 miles north to Limerick city. Guilfoil also described the Cork city funeral procession of hunger striker Michael Fitzgerald. “Pittsburgh Witness In Irish Probe P.J. Guilfoil Tells of Raid by Military on County Clare Town’ and “Local Man Tells of Burning of Town in County Clare,” the city’s newspapers headlined.9

Guilfoil’s testimony was noted in other U.S. newspaper coverage of the Dec. 10 hearing, but it was overshadowed by the same-day testimony of Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late hunger striker; and by three former RIC officers who quit the force in protest of British “misrule” in Ireland. A treaty to separate Ireland from that rule and end the war would be agreed within a year. But the island was partitioned and the new free state plunged into civil war.

Related Work:

Remembering journalist killed on Bloody Sunday, 1920

Irish journalist Austin F. Cowley was shot dead by a military sentry on the evening of Nov. 21, 1920, at Navan, Co. Meath, hours after the “Bloody Sunday” killings in Dublin. The victim was deaf and did not hear three orders to halt from the sentry put “on the alert and on edge” by the earlier events.1

Cowley is the only journalist among 270 Irish citizens killed by British forces from Jan. 1, 1920 to Feb. 28, 1921, as listed in “The Struggles of the Irish People”, a plea for help presented by Dail Eireann to the U.S. Congress.2 Journalists in Ireland were certainly targets of intimidation and violence during the War of Independence period, 1919 to 1921, whether from British military and police authorities, or the IRA; but no others appear to have been killed.

Cowley was a “well-known sporting journalist … [whose] special forte was hunting and cricket.”3 His profession was noted on both the 1901 and 1911 census household returns. Those records also show he was slightly older than the 62-67 year range given in 1920 news reports and military records. A bachelor, he was “a splendid musician” and “popular with all classes, including the military.”4 [I have not been able to find a photo of Cowley.]

The Workhouse site on 1912 map.

The victim was the son of John Cowley, master of the Union Workhouse and Infirmary at Navan, where he continued to live after his father’s death in 1911. The South Wales Borderers stationed there in November 1920. As Ultan Courtney writes:

Earlier that day the Guard Commander had warned the sentry to keep an eye on the gate in consequence of a report of trouble in Dublin. This involved the shooting of 13 British Intelligence agents and the reprisal killings of 16 civilians at Croke Park and three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle. The sentry would have been both on the alert and on edge as military patrols and checkpoints were set up in Navan and Dunshaughlin. … A Sergeant Major of the SWBs gave evidence that the sentry was perfectly calm and did not seem to have lost his head.5

Official notation of Austin Francis Cowley’s Nov. 21, 1920, shooting death for “failing to halt.” Courts of Inquiry In Lieu of Inquest, Register of Cases. Army of Ireland Records, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. WO 35/162. The National Archives, Kew.

Cowley’s death was reported in dozens of U.S. newspapers, including the Boston Globe, New York Herald, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. The brief accounts emphasized both his deafness and his role as a journalist. There might have been heightened sensitivity about his profession from a police threat to kill Hugh Martin of the Daily News, London, a few weeks earlier in Tralee, Co. Kerry. The episode drew international press attention, such as this Nov. 6, 1920, special cable:

Despite all efforts that have been made in and out of Parliament to create the impression that there has been a marked improvement in condition in Ireland … the majority of the newspapers insist that the situation there was never worse. … The threat against the life of Hugh Martin, English newspaper correspondent, who has been writing highly critical articles regarding the actions of the Black and Tans, has kept attention focused on Ireland that might otherwise have dwindled after [Terence] MacSwiney’s death. Now comes a striking editorial article in the New Statesman appealing to the American press to send over an army of its most trusted correspondents large enough to cover every county in Ireland.6

Parliament debated the press’s role in Ireland a few days after Cowley’s death and the more notorious events of “Bloody Sunday.” Liberal Party leader and former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and others praised Martin and the international press for its reporting from the troubled island. Chief Secretary for Ireland Hamar Greenwood sought to undermine Martin’s reporting, but also insisted “he or any other pressman will be welcome to Ireland.”7

Headline from Nov. 22, 1920.

The digital Newseum’s Journalists Memorial pays tribute to 2,344 reporters, photographers, and broadcasters from around the world who have died while reporting the news. Lyra McKee’s 2019 death in Derry is the most recent of 11 Irish journalists in the searchable database.

The accidental nature of Cowley’s death and the fact that he was not actively reporting on the war probably excludes him from this listing. I have inquired about adding his name and details. The physical museum closed Dec. 31, 2019, and it is unclear whether emails are being answered.

Irish government launches 5-year diaspora strategy

The Republic of Ireland has issued a new strategy to support and engage the state’s dispersed communities. “It takes a broad and inclusive definition of the diaspora, reflecting the diversity of the global Irish community today,” the government said.

At just 20 pages, Global Ireland: Ireland’s Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025 “is slender, but it contains real substance,” Minister of State for the Diaspora, Colm Brophy T.D., said during the report’s Nov. 19 virtual American debut, which was hosted by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Muhall.

The plan has five strategic objectives:

  • People: ensure that the welfare of the Irish abroad remains at the heart of the state’s diaspora support.
  • Values: work with diaspora to promote Irish values abroad and celebrate the diversity of the diaspora.
  • Prosperity: build mutually beneficial economic ties with the diaspora.
  • Culture: support cultural expression among the diaspora.
  • Influence: extend Ireland’s global reach by connecting with the next generation.

The strategy vows to establish pathways to legal migration by Irish citizens to the US, continuing to support the E3 Visa bill, and seeking solutions for undocumented Irish citizens in the US to regularize their status. U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden figures to be a helpful partner in this regard.

The strategy also promises to “deepen our connection to people for whom Irish heritage is more distant, including the African-American and Hispanic communities in the United States.” The Embassy of Ireland in Washington and its U.S. consulates currently are partnering with organizations on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the 175th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s 1845-46 visit to Ireland.

The strategy contains only one reference to Northern Ireland, a vow to build ties to the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

Brophy, a Fine Gael T.D. who has represented Dublin-South-West since 2016, assumed the role of diaspora minister in July. He has been unable to travel outside Ireland due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cover image of the Global Ireland report (at top) is the lamp at Áras an Uachtaráin, a symbolic beacon, lighting the way for Irish emigrants and their descendants, welcoming them to their homeland.

See my recent article for the Irish Diaspora Histories Network: Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Washington, D.C.’s Irish hot spots, 1919-1921

Irish efforts to win U.S. political recognition and financial support for the fledgling state occurred across America during the 1919-1921 revolutionary period. Éamon De Valera traveled coast-to-coast from June 1919 to December 1920. Chapters of the Friends of Irish Freedom and Ancient Order of Hibernians met in large cities and small towns. In Washington, D.C., it’s tempting to think of only the hearing rooms and hallways of the U.S. Capitol, or White House and diplomatic offices, as the center of such activity. But important work and key events of Irish interest unfolded at other locations beyond these landmarks. Here’s a look at several of them:

Munsey Building in 1919. Smithsonian Archives

In August 1919, the Friends of Irish Freedom moved most of its activities from New York City to Washington, D.C. “Headquarters of the Irish National Bureau have been established in the Musey Building, which will carry on the fight of the Americans interested, under the noses of Congress and the Executive departments of the government,” one of the city’s daily newspapers reported on its front page.1

The building opened in 1905 at 1329 E Street N.W., about three blocks from the White House. It was named after Frank Munsey, a Guilded Age capitalist who bought and sold newspapers across America and also perfected a printing processes that used low-quality “pulp” paper for periodicals that were inexpensive to produce and filled with racy fare that made them widely popular: pulp fiction.2

The FOIF’s Irish National Bureau located on the 10th floor of the 13-floor Munsey. Canadian journalist Katherine Hughes, the Bureau’s secretary, furnished the offices in mahogany with green velvet rugs.3 There, a small staff of writers produced the weekly News Letter, pamphlets, and press releases, in addition to facilitating meetings with elected leaders and government officials, much like any other interest group or trade association in Washington.

“The national council of the Friends of Irish Freedom believe the President and Congress should have the assistance of a Bureau located at the Nation’s Capitol,” declared Bureau Director Daniel T. O’Connell. “All the societies associated with the thoughts, traditions and interests of Americans of Irish blood have constantly urged the formation of a bureau that could from Washington respresent them in functioning more directly with national live.”4

On Jan. 8, 1920, De Valera opened offices of  the Irish Government in Exile in the building. The night before, he gave his first Washington speech to more than 5,000 supporters at the Y.M.C.A. Liberty Hut, a large event venue for everything from circuses to conventions, opposite Union Station. The Munsey lease document is held in De Valera’s official papers at University College Dublin. The Irish Legation offices later moved to the Hotel Lafayette.

***

Lafayette Hotel in Washington D.C., between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress

Opened in 1916 at the southeast corner of 16th and I (or “Eye”) streets, about two miles west of the Capitol, the Hotel Lafayette hosted at least two key Irish events during 1920.

On April 7, members of the U.S. Senate and House, “dignitaries of the church, bankers, educators, writers and representatives of the bar” honored De Valera at a “Free Ireland” banquet in advance of his tour of the American South. Guests dined on “Baked Sea Trout Florida” and roast turkey with cranberry sauce. “The speaking continued until nearly 2 a.m.”5

From November 1920 through January 1921 the hotel also became the headquarters for the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a non-U.S. government body created by pro-Irish interests to generate publicity and political support for the fledgling Irish republic. The blue-ribbon panel included two U.S. senators and six other military, religious, and civic leaders. It interviewed 18 American, 18 Irish, and two British witnesses, with a focus on military reprisals against citizens and the revolutionaries.

An early news story reported “several halls in the city have been placed in the disposal” of the commission, but the Lafayette’s ballroom hosted all but one of the six hearing sessions.6 The exception occurred in December at the Odd Fellows Hall. See below.

***

Headlines about the De Valera protest march and rally, and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, in The Evening Star, Nov. 17, 1920, page 16.

The commission hearings opened the same week that De Valera launched the FOIF rival organization American Associaiton for Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) at the Raleigh Hotel, a short walk from the Munsey Building. “The conference which opened with an address by De Valera yesterday morning remained in almost continuous session behind closed doors for 15 hours, adopted a policy, a name, a constitution, and a plan of organization,” a local papeer reported.7

Located at the northeast corner of 12th Street N.W., and Pennsylvania Avenue, the site had been occupied by several earlier inns and office buildings, including where Andrew Johnson took the presidential oath in April 1865 after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The 13-story Beaux Arts hotel where De Valera and the AARIR huddled was built in 1911.8

The night before the AARIR formation meeting, more than 2,000 Irish sympathizers marched past the White House “through a driving cold rain” to the Coliseum, “where they joined waiting thousands at the auditorium in a monster protest meeting against America’s silence on conditions in Ireland. … Undaunted by the refusal of the fire marshal to permit more than 3,500 persons in the hall, fully 4,000 persons awaited outside in the rain, where they were addressed during the evening by De Valera …”9

Center Market, 1920s.

The “Coliseum” at the corner of Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was a wing of the Center Market, “a massive, sprawling marketplace, one of the biggest in the country,” located there since the early 1800s. The building used for the 1920 Irish meeting opened in 1872 and closed in 1931.10

***

Odd Fellows Hall, cirica 1921. Library of Congress

On Dec. 8 and 9, 1920, the Odd Fellows Hall at 419 Seventh Street N.W., hosted American Commission hearings featuring the highly anticipated testimoney of Murial MacSwiney, wife of the late hunger striker, and his sister, Mary. The building opened in 1917 replaced the fraternal organization’s earlier, more ornate home.11

“A large crowd assembled at Odd Fellows Hall this morning long before the hearing was scheduled to begin,” one of the dailies reported. “Only 600 tickets of admission were distributed, but more than three times that number waited in the corridors of the building in an effort to gain admission.”12

St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Church image from 1976

Murial MacSwiney also attended Mass at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. “Hundreds of persons thronged the vacinity of the church to catch a glimse of the visitor,” the press reported.13

St. Matthew’s was designated a cathedral in 1939, and in 1963 it was site of the funeral Mass for President John F. Kennedy. The city’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, established in 1792 as “the oldest parish in the Federal City” and the site of an annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass.

It’s also worth noting that Irish-born and pro-independence Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, Australia, stopped in Washington in July 1920, a month before his arrest by British authorities while trying to visit Ireland. During his stay Mannix attended events at Catholic University of America, and Georgetown University, both church-affiliated institutions.

St. Matthew’s, St. Patrick’s, the Odd Fellows Hall, and the two universities survive today. The Munsey Building, both downtown hotels, and the two event venues were scraped from the Washington, D.C. cityscape decades ago.

Guest post: The Fall of the Fitzmaurices

County Kerry native Kay Caball is a professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me.) Kay also wrote The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme, about the young women shipped to Australia in 1849/1850 from four of the county’s workhouses. Her new book is The Fall of the Fitzmaurices: The Demise of Kerry’s First Family, available through Kay’s My Kerry Ancenstors website, and O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick. Kay provided this overview of the story. MH

***

Ennobled as the 1st Earl of Kerry in 1723, Thomas Fitzmaurice, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw  and his wife, the former Lady Anne Petty, presided over great estates in Kerry and elsewhere. They and their family enjoyed prestige, influence and immense wealth. Within 100 years their land was gone, the Fitzmaurice earldom was no more. 

So what could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced  in such a short space of time? We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.

Thomas, 21st lord, inaugurated a span of lavish spending; the main result of his expenditure on the ancestral seat of Old Court was a magnificent demesne and a well-appointed house run on a grand scale. His raised status as an earl in 1723 would appear to have spurred him to take on all the trappings expected of the title. He purchased and furnished a Dublin home in the prime fashionable area of St Stephen’s Green,1 while continuing to improve and develop his Kerry estates. His three daughters, Anne, Arbella, and Charlotte, made good if not spectacular marriages: each into new families with generous dowries. His sons, William and John, enjoyed exclusive educations at Westminster School and at the University of Oxford.

Thomas’ eldest son and heir, William, was not the wisest of men. After his father’s death in 1741, William became 2nd earl, and was head of the family fortunes and estate for just over six years. 

William was involved in a number of expensive court cases and family settlements, the most spectacular of which arose from his dalliance with a mistress that led to a scandal of epic proportions in the exclusive aristocratic circles of 18th century Dublin. Elizabeth Leeson, his mistress of two years, declared they were married, and though neither Church nor state had been involved in any nuptials, the courts decided there had been a valid marriage, and he was ordered to proceed with a Church ceremony or be excommunicated. William does not appear to have followed up with the Church ceremony, but Elizabeth, now titled Lady Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, conveniently died three years later. William then married the daughter of the earl of Cavan, against his father’s wishes.

So we come to Francis, who became the 3rd earl of Kerry in 1747 on the death of his father.  Francis was not then seven years of age. His mother initially became his guardian, but when she remarried and moved to England three years later, he became a ward in Chancery, and was left in the care of a tutor and servants. The Old Court estate and demesne in Kerry were closed up and allowed to deteriorate. Incompetent agents were responsible for managing and collecting the land rents. Francis, although left to fend for himself, had a good tutor, and he attended and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15, but afterwards led a lazy and indulgent life. To compound matters, he got involved with a married woman, Anastasia Daly, herself an heiress. Francis’ cousin, British Prime Minister William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, said of Francis:

He fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her – [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having to fight their way up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time.2

Anastasia’s husband took an action against Francis Fitzmaurice, and there followed a sensational court case which revealed lurid and explicit descriptions of their sexual encounters. The aggrieved husband was awarded £5,000 compensation for the loss of the company of his wife. This would be over €974,235 in 2019,3 and resulted in the commencement of the large-scale sale of land and assets from the Fitzmaurice Lixnaw estates. Soon after, a divorce was granted by the Westminster Parliament, and Francis and Anastasia married in England in 1768. Initially, they settled in London, where they furnished three large houses lavishly within the space of 10 years, before moving to Paris in 1778. Even though Anastasia, now Countess of Kerry, had the pleasure of being presented at court, the couple were not given the recognition they felt they were due as part of the respected old Norman Irish nobility. Although they moved in aristocratic circles, British society at that time was conservative and rigid, and the young Protestant earl married to the older Irish Catholic divorcee, with a scandalous past, did not command the cream of invitations or acceptance into the milieu to which they aspired.

Their sojourn in Paris from 1771 to 1792 – where they lived extravagantly, dined, wined, entertained and shopped – came to an abrupt end when they had to flee during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Francis and Anastasia were lucky to escape with their lives, but their servants were executed. 

Though they had to abandon their possessions in Paris, their papers – letters, bills, receipts, invitations – were saved, and this collection of eight boxes of documents is now housed in the Archives Nationales, Paris. Their extravagant spending had meant frequent letters home to the earl’s agent, solicitors and auctioneers with instructions to sell or unload land or leases at almost any cost to keep banks and creditors at bay, copies of which survive in Paris.

Back in London in 1795, Anastasia was to live for only four more years. She died in 1799 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Francis erected a large monument to her. Francis died in 1818 and was buried with Anastasia. This, then, is the story of the fall of the Fitzmaurices, the premier family of Kerry for 583 years. 

Ireland and JFK’s 1960 U.S. presidential victory

Irish-American Catholic Joe Biden’s victory as U.S. president recalls the historic election of Irish-American Catholic John Fitzgerald Kennedy 60 years ago. I couldn’t resist a nostalgic look back to November 1960:

In many Irish homes people stayed up late on Tuesday to get the early results, and tens of thousands were at their television sets from 6 a.m. on Wednesday to follow the count,” Derry People reported.1 Irish people and Irish papers also coped with tragic news from beyond the island: “Rejoicing throughout the country [at Kennedy’s success] was turned to gloom … when news came over the radio that a patrol of 11 Irish soldiers, serving with the United Nations’ force in the Congo, had been ambushed by Baluba tribesmen and that 10 of them were feared dead.”2

The Irish Examiner editorialized that Kennedy’s election was received “with gratification” and:

… hailed as a victory for Irish blood and the old faith, but others saw in it the culmination of the battle for recognition of the descendants of this land, from the generation which took part in the great diaspora of our race after the famine years. Their fight has been a hard one but eventually they gained admission to the councils of their adopted country only to be denied the supreme honor. Senator Kennedy is the symbol of that victory.3

Kennedy had visited Ireland three times before he was elected president: in 1939 with his father, then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy; in 1945 after his service in World War II, when he interviewed Taoiseach Éamon de Valera for the New York Journal-American; and in 1955, as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, when he met with T.D. Liam Cosgrave.

“We should like to think that during his term of office he will visit again the land of his forebears,” wished the Evening Herald, Dublin.4 Kennedy did return to Ireland in June 1963, a triumphal, multi-stop visit overshadowed five months later by his assassination in Dallas.

Kennedy’s election came 32 years after anti-Catholic bias was used to help defeat New York Gov. Al Smith’s campaign for the presidency. The issue of religious prejudice resonated in 1960 Northern Ireland, a decade before the Troubles, as editorialize by Derry People:

By the election of Senator John F. Kennedy as next President of the United States a bigoted and vengeful tradition has come to an end, the voters showing that they will no longer accept that a Catholic candidate must be denied the highest office is his country’s gift.  … Here in Ireland there is rejoicing at the result. It is indeed a wonderful thing that the great-grandson of a poor Irish farmer, one of the millions of victims of the artificial Famine in this land, has ascended to the highest post, which a layman can occupy in the world today. …

We are not at all reluctant to point the moral of the Catholic candidate’s success, and as we see it, Senator Kennedy’s victory shows what can be done for truth and justice if decent people unite against bigotry and spleen. Let our readers reflect that if Senator Kennedy were today an applicant in these Six Counties for appointment as a consultant physician, the higher civil service, a county surveyorship, a clerk of the Crown and Peace or any of the other top jobs, he would not be successful. The truth is that the distinguished young man who today is America’s President-Elect would be voted down, as a Catholic if he dared to stand for the Mayoralty of Derry.5

Kennedy and De Valera in 1963.

Kennedy never mentioned his Catholic faith in his 1963 address to the Dáil. He acknowledged Ireland’s many contributions to the United States and its contemporary work at the United Nations, including, by then, the deaths of 26 peacekeeping troops in the Congo.

And Kennedy humorously noted the irony of how he was the first American president to visit Ireland during a term of office, while the American-born de Valera (who tried to influence the 1920 U.S. presidential election) watched in the chamber as the president of Ireland.

“I am deeply honored to be your guest in a Free Parliament in a free Ireland,” Kennedy said. “If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course if your own President had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.”

Earlier posts on Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for U.S. president:

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election outcome

Warren G. Harding, 1920.

In the November 1920 U.S. presidential election, Irish-American voters joined the overwhelming majority, including newly enfranchised women, who rejected the pro-British policies of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio, overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox by an Electoral College margin of 404 to 127.

The election occurred a week after the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney in a London prison and just a few weeks before “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin. In the United States, Éamon De Valera was laying the ground work for the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland would begin hearings in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month.

The U.S. election outcome was not front page news in The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, or the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Washington. John Devoy’s Gaelic American editorialized that Irish-American voters:

…did not care particularly for Harding, but they were cut to defeat the League of Nations, and they took the most practical way of accomplishing that object. The result is that the League of Nations is dead in America, and all the efforts of all the Anglomaniacs, International Financiers, peace cranks and the British agents will not be able to restore the corpose to life.1

In Ireland, the Irish Independent quoted from the president-elect’s March 1920 letter to Frank P. Walsh, member of American Commission on Irish Independence:

I have a very strong conviction myself of the very great part played by Americans of Irish ancestry in winning the independence and in the making of our great United States. More than that, I have very great and sympathetic feeling for the movement to bring about the independence of Ireland and the establishment of Irish nationality, which is the natural aspiration of any liberty-loving people.2

Few people on either side of the Atlantic were fooled by such platitudes. The Independent noted Harding’s earlier Senate votes against the Irish cause, as Devoy also had pointed out during the campain, when he backed another Republican senator. Again, the outcome was more a vote against Wilson and the Democrats than for Harding.

Democrats were bitter. George White, chairman of the Democaratic National Committee, said:

The fate of Irish freedom has been settled adversely. Men and women of Irish blood have voted for the candidate who has declared the Irish question to be a domestic problem of Great Britain, in which we can have no official concern. With their support the American people have returned the Irish problem to Downing Street.3

Once he took office in March 1921, Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as the nation focused on domestic affairs and Ireland deteriorated into civil war.4

Earlier posts on the 1920 U.S. presidential election:

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.

MacSwiney’s martyrdom in the Irish-American press

MacSwiney

The Oct. 25, 1920, hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in an English prison increased international attention on Ireland’s fight for independence. Irish leader Eamon de Valera, nearing the end of his 18-month tour of the United States, said that MacSwiney and other Irish hunger strikers “were forced by the tyranny that would deprive them of liberty to make death the alternative.” The Friends of Irish Freedom organized “manifestations of indignation and sorrow” in American cities. At New York City’s Polo Grounds, an estimated 40,000 attended an observance inside the baseball stadium, with another 10,000 kept outside the gates.

Below are short excerpts from four editorials in the Irish-American press about MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Click the hyperlinked headline below each quote to see the digitized newspaper page with the full editorial.

“What must be the infamy of a system that survives only by sending Pearse and Casement to a quicklime grave, or MacSwiney to a death such as that described by the dispatches of recent days have given so much space.”

MacSwiney, The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Oct. 30

“At the funeral in the city of which MacSwiney was the Chief Magistrate, the English savages made utterly needless display of machine guns, armed motor lorries and ‘Black and Tan’ murderers and looters for the purpose of overawing the people, but which only succeeded in demonstrating to the world that England holds Ireland only by brute force. The whole MacSwiney episode, designed by Lloyd George as a means of striking terror into the Irish people has had the very opposite effect.”

MacSwiney’s Spirit Still Lives, The Gaelic American, New York, Nov. 6

“During the past week the tricolor of the Irish republic, carried in tremendous demonstrations on every continent of the globe, has been saluted as the emblem of the universal freedom sanctified and made secure by the voluntary sacrifice of the martyred Irishman.”

The Tribute of Humanity, News Letter, Washington, D.C., Nov. 6

” ‘It is not,’ MacSwiney told his fellow countrymen upon his election as Lord Mayor of Cork on March 30, 1920, ‘to those who can inflict the most suffering, but to those who can suffer most that victory will come.’ ”

Martyred, Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Oct. 30

Irish history movie ideas: the Lartigue monorail

This is the second post in an occasional series about aspects of Irish history that I believe provide strong cinematic opportunities if dramatized for narrative and commercial appeal. First post: The Colors of Ireland. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

***

Take a look at this 3:30-minute archival footage of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a unique monorail that opened in 1888 between the two Co. Kerry towns. There’s no sound.

I’m not sure why the footage is dated 1931. The money-losing monorail was discontinued in October 1924 after being rejected for consideration in the Irish Free State’s railway nationalization scheme.

The train was known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It was the subject of affectionate poems, as reflected in these opening stanzas published a few weeks after it closed:1

Farewell, old train, beloved train; at last
you’ve ceased to run!
Unlike all other trains we’ve seen, of
wheels you had only one.
You battled hard, ‘gainst might odds
for close on thirty years.
And now to think your race is run, it
almost brings us tears.

In its day, the Lartigue was easy fodder for humorous stories because of the way passengers and freight had to be balanced on each side of the pannier-style rolling stock. One tells of a farmer who bought a cow in Listowel and wanted it transported to Ballybunion. To do so, he had to borrow another cow to balance his purchase. At Ballybunion, he faced the predicament of returning the borrowed cow, which required the balance of another animal. And on and on; a running gag for the potential movie.

Passengers on the Lartigue also were occasionally required to get out to push the train. Some were said to get sickened by sitting sideways instead of facing forward. The train’s plodding pace inspired the story of the conductor who offered a ride to an old woman riding a donkey. “No thanks,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry today.”

I see the Lartigue as a perfect opportunity for the eccentricity and distinctive styles of directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers. It needs a quirky story with an ensemble of charming and oddball characters to match the unusual train.

As you can see, the front of the Lartigue locomotive is more anthropomorphic the most regular trains. Perhaps this could be an animated film?

See my earlier posts about the Lartigue:

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