Category Archives: History

Irish-American & Catholic press on 1921 truce in Ireland

Earlier this month I posted some examples of U.S. daily newspaper reporting of the July 11, 1921, truce between Irish republicans and the British military. Below are five examples of coverage of the same event from Irish-American weekly papers and a Catholic news service. The first and last examples reference the daily press. Three of the examples are linked to digital scans of the original July 1921 publications. MH

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“Since the negotiation of a truce which comes at the end of a cycle of 750 years of resistance to English usurpation in Ireland, the daily press in the United States as well as in England has done its best to befog by rumors and ill-informed gossip the simple, fundamental issues which must be met if the conferences in London are to turn the truce into a peace. The first and most important fact which must be borne in mind is that there is at this moment a Republican government in Ireland, functioning by the consent of the Irish people. The historian, Alice Stopford Green, makes the keen observation that: ‘In most revolutionary countries disturbances are caused by attempts to enforce the will of the people. In Ireland they are caused by efforts to suppress it.’

“The war in Ireland in which a truce has now been called has failed to suppress the will of the Irish people, it has failed to force them to disestablish their elected government. The truce itself is an acknowledgement of the fact. Nothing could show more clearly the true and restrained temper of the people of Ireland than the scrupulous manner in which the truce is being observed by them, nothing could more clearly demonstrate the surpassing discipline of the Irish Republican Army. If the truce is fruitless, if warfare is resumed in Ireland it will be the result of further efforts to suppress the will of the Irish people by attempting to force them to dis-establish their elected government.” — The Truce editorial in News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1921.

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“Optimism reigns in officialdom that the [London] conference will be productive of peace. It was stated that negotiations will probably last over a period of several month and that the Irish delegation likely will be increased by financial and legal experts as intricate financial and delicate constitutional points have to be settled.” — Front page news story and illustration in the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, July 16, 1921.

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“Special constables are regarded as chiefly responsible for the outrages and mischief reported from Ulster during the past week in marked contrast to the manner in which the Irish-English truce is being observed in the rest of the country. … Orangemen have broken both the spirit and letter of the armistice by killing Catholics, burning their houses, firing into a convent and creating disorder at the funerals of Catholic victims by hooting party songs and hurling foul epithets at the corsage. … Meanwhile the Catholics have remained under control.” — Special Cable to the National Catholic Welfare Council News Service, Washington, D.C., July 18, 1921.

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“Mr. Lloyd George invited the heads of the Irish Republic to come and discuss with him a basis for peace; the little Welsh trickster did not, by virtue of that invitation, become any the less treacherous and unscrupulous. There is every evidence that the Irish President and his associates are fully aware of the character of the man with whom they have to deal, and despite all the wiliness and diplomacy at his command, he is not getting the best of it in his contest with their honesty and statesmanship. It would be well for Americans … to remember that it is a mistake to regard the proffer to Ireland as being actuated by good faith. Not only does the British Premier’s individual character make it plain that this is not the case, but the entire history of English dealings with Ireland also goes to prove the contrary.” —  The Conferences Continue editorial in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, July 23, 1921.

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“Zeal for the right of the Irish people to decide their own political future without interference from America is commendable, but it would be much more commendable if applied to interference from England. It is noteworthy that now when Lloyd George is trying to coerce the Irish people into abandoning the Republic which they have deliberately established and have fought for gallantly for two years, the letters appearing in the English organs in New York protesting against interference from Irishmen in America are all, with one exception, written by men who never lifted a finger, gave a dollar or opened their mouths in support of Ireland’s fight for freedom. They sign Irish names, but nobody knows them, and it is doubtful if they are really Irishmen. But, whoever they may be, their protests are English Propaganda, pure and simple. Their zeal is for the British Empire, not for Ireland.” — J.I.C. Clarke On The Wrong Trail editorial in The Gaelic American, New York City, July 23, 1921.

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See my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series.

The 12th in Northern Ireland, 1921 & 2021

UPDATE:

Annual Orange Order marches in Northern Ireland occurred without incident, police said, “allaying concerns that anger at post-Brexit trade barriers might fuel street violence,” Reuters reported.

The 35,000-member Protestant and unionist organisation held 500 smaller, local parades rather than the usual 18 larger gatherings due to COVID-19 restrictions. The annual events, which mark the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne by Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James of England and Scotland, were cancelled last year. A leading Orangeman told the BBC the new arrangement “achieved what we have set out to achieve, we wanted to spread the crowds across Northern Ireland.”

A planned nationalist protest in west Belfast was cancelled after the Orange Order amended its parade route, BBC reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

July 12, 1921, marked the first time the Battle of the Boyne, the seminal event of Irish Protestant and unionist identity, was commemorated in the new statelet of Northern Ireland. The political partition of six northeastern counties from the remaining 26 occurred a month earlier. On July 11, 1921, a day before the 231st Boyne anniversary, Irish republicans and British forces began a truce in their two and a half year old war.

The 1921 United Press story on this page appeared on the front pages of dozens of U.S. newspapers. It reports the mix of traditional sectarian violence associated with the 12th and confusion over the day-old truce.

July 12, 2021, is the first time the Boyne anniversary takes place under the Northern Ireland protocol, a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea between the six counties and the rest of the United Kingdom. It became necessary due to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, called Brexit, to avoid a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the E.U. The protocol is “the most significant change [in Northern Ireland] that has taken place since partition,” unionist politician Reg Empey said. Violence erupted in Belfast earlier this year over displeasure with the arrangement, which critics say makes Northern Ireland “a place apart.”

Here is a sampling of media coverage about the current situation, including the protocol problems and Boyne anniversary. I have not yet seen any U.S. stories that make the connection between this year’s 12th events and the 1921 creation of Northern Ireland and truce. Full stories are linked from the date:

“The chief executive of Northern Ireland’s Protestant Orange Order does not sense any appetite among pro-British unionists to turn the July 12 peak of the annual marching season violent despite “a huge amount of frustration and anger” over Brexit.” Reuters, July 9, 2021

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“But whatever tensions might have existed before … Brexit exacerbated them exponentially. For it revealed how Britain, which voted to leave the EU, sees Northern Ireland, which voted to Remain, as ultimately expendable. One of the clearest signs of this was the customs border in the Irish Sea that Britain negotiated with the EU. As of January 2021, it effectively separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and pushes the country closer toward the South’s economic sphere. This development, along with the various ways loyalist parties like the DUP were used as pawns during Brexit negotiations, has contributed to a growing sense of betrayal among Unionist politicians and their base.” Jacobin, (American leftist magazine, Brooklyn, N.Y.) July 7, 2021.

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“Sinn Fein’s leaders say that, with a growing Catholic population and the fallout from Brexit, momentum is on their side. The unionist parties supported Brexit, while they opposed it. They view the campaign against the protocol as a futile effort that only lays bare the costs of leaving the European Union.” The New York Times, June 7, 2021.

American reporting of truce in Ireland, July 1921

The ceasefire between Irish republicans and British forces that began at noon, July 11, 1921, staunched two and a half years of bloodshed. The truce, announced days earlier, headlined the front pages of American newspapers.

“Peace was settling over Ireland today,” United Press wrote in a July 9 story from Dublin. “For the first time since the Easter rebellion of 1916, hostilities were actually dying down, under the truce signed between the Sinn Feiners and representatives of the British government.”[1]Multiple dispatches in the Evening Herald (Shenandoah, Pa.), July 9, 1921.

The truce came as a relief to the four-month-old administration of U.S. President Warren G. Harding and “reduced both the pressure on the State Department to act on Irish matters and the temperature of the U.S.-British relationship,” historian Bernadette Whelan wrote. “The majority of the U.S. press, public, politicians, and Catholic Church welcomed the truce.”[2]Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, Ch. 9, p. 349.

Typical of foreign news coverage 100 years ago, United Press reported on commentary from local papers. “The London press was jubilant today in its comment on the Irish truce,” the wire service reported. It also quoted the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal, which wrote the truce “raises hopes in the hearts of the people which have not been felt for many months.”

Other wire services filed multiple dispatches from both capitals. These July 11 ledes from the Associated Press are typical:[3]Multiple dispatches in the Brooklyn (N.Y) Daily Eagle, July 11, 1921.

London: Eamonn de Valera will come to London on Thursday of this week for his conference with Prime Minister Lloyd George to discuss the basis of a settlement of the Irish problem.

Dublin: The truce in Ireland, agreed upon by Government officials and Republican leaders pending peace negotiations, went into effect at noon today.

The Hearst-owned International News Service also reported from Dublin:

The armistice between the Irish Republican army and the British crown forces is now officially in effect in Ireland. Armistice celebrations were held here and elsewhere in Southern Ireland. There were frequent toast to ‘the future of Ireland.'[4]”Irish Truce In Effect As Police Now Patrol Streets Weaponless”, The Washington (D.C.) Times, July 11, 1921.

The Evening World in New York City editorialized the truce represented “an auspicious beginning of what may prove the most momentous week in Ireland’s history.” The Pulitzer-owned paper condemned “the Belfast Orange newspapers” for sounding “an irreconcilable note.”[5]”Truce In Ireland”, Evening World (New York, N.Y.), July 11, 1921. The second day of the truce got tangled in the usual sectarian troubles of annual July 12 Orange Order marches in Northern Ireland, partitioned a month earlier from the rest of the island. I’ll explore that in the next post.

Later this month I will post examples of Irish-American and Catholic press coverage of the truce. See earlier work from my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series.

References

References
1 Multiple dispatches in the Evening Herald (Shenandoah, Pa.), July 9, 1921.
2 Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, Ch. 9, p. 349.
3 Multiple dispatches in the Brooklyn (N.Y) Daily Eagle, July 11, 1921.
4 ”Irish Truce In Effect As Police Now Patrol Streets Weaponless”, The Washington (D.C.) Times, July 11, 1921.
5 ”Truce In Ireland”, Evening World (New York, N.Y.), July 11, 1921.

Irish-American press on partition parliament, June 1921

I’m researching a few projects this summer and posting less frequently. Please check back for updates. Visit my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series and other site content. MH

Partitioned Ireland

The Northern Ireland parliament sat for the first time on June 7, 1921. Two weeks earlier, the Ulster Unionist Party won a two-thirds majority of votes cast and 40 of the 52 seats in the new assembly. Two weeks later, King George V traveled to Belfast for the parliament’s ceremonial opening. 

The partition of six northeastern counties began with passage of Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. A  treaty creating the Irish Free State from the remaining 26 counties would be reached in December 1921.

The three editorials below are from June 1921 issues of the Irish-American press. All three publications were strongly pro-independence and against the island’s political division. David Lloyd George was the British prime minister from 1916-1922. Publication dates are linked to digital scans of the original editorial and the remaining pages of each issue.

Partition vs. Commonsense

The performances in connection with the attempted enforcement of Lloyd George’s farcical partition act in Northeast Ulster have served little other purpose than to expose, more clearly perhaps than ever before, the simple fact that partition is not an Irish but an English-made issue—a patent device to keep in existence an artificially engendered feud. But the logic of events and of the present situation is moving swiftly to convince the most sceptical that commonsense and common interests point clearly to the fact that independence of foreign rule and intrigue is the only solution of this so-called difficulty. 

The Belfast area is in reality the spearhead of English intrigue in Ireland. But the Belfast area cannot live and thrive cut off from the rest of the island. Its new partition parliament will be a parliament without an opposition party to serve as a mask for the true nature of the English intrigue at its heart. It will be a parliament staggering from the outset under an over burden of taxation for tribute. Thus it is clear that partition can no longer be mistaken for anything but the betrayal of Irish rights. It is clearly the Irish Republicans who are the defenders of the inalienable rights of the whole Irish people, in Antrim as well as in Cork, in Down as well as in Kerry.

–News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, June 4, 1921

Lloyd George’s Game In Ulster

What Lloyd George is aiming at is an artificial “Ulster” controlled by the British Government of the day. If he include the whole Northern Province there would be a majority, including Protestant Nationalists, against England, so he grouped the six Northeastern Counties together, called them “Ulster,” gerrymandered the electoral districts and placed the election machinery in the hands of the Carsonites so that a safe majority for England’s purposes might be secured. It was secured in the last election by gross fraud and intimidation. 

The next move in the game will be a “settlement” based on “an agreement between North and South,” in which the fraudulently created Ulster of six counties will have an equal vote with the other twenty-six counties of Ireland–which means a Veto on the decisions of the majority. 

–The Gaelic American, June 11, 1921

The “Six County” Parliament

The Loyalists elected to the “six-county” parliament held their first meeting last week. In the coming into existence under British law, of this body, some in the press on this side of the water pretends to see a factor tending to make what it calls a confusing situation still more confusing. “Southern” Ireland, the papers tell us, would have accepted “Home Rule” in 1914; today, the same part of Ireland will not accept it under any conditions. And, say those who seek to puzzle by their explanations, these same six counties seven years ago were ready to take up arms before they would allow “Home Rule” to be forced upon them, but today they are the only part of Ireland willing to have that same “Home Rule.” 

–The Irish Press, June 18, 1921

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

When Bloomsday feels like doomsday

This post was originally published June 15, 2016. MH

It’s 16 June: BloomsdayThe nearly global celebration marks the day in 1904 when the character Leopold Bloom treks through Dublin in James Joyce’s ”Ulysses.” Think literary St. Patrick’s Day with nicer weather.

Now, however, the date has a darker meaning in Ireland. It’s the anniversary of the 2015 collapse of a fifth-floor apartment balcony in Berkeley, Calif. Five Dublin students and an Irish-American woman were killed, another seven were injured. Most were in the U.S. on J-1 Summer Work and Travel visas.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin F. O’Malley issued a statement to media, which said in part:

On the first anniversary of the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded in Berkeley, California on June 16 last year and affected all of Irish society, the people of the United States extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured. In a remembrance ceremony today in Ballsbridge with U.S. Embassy personnel, we planted an apple tree in the Embassy’s front courtyard and unveiled a memorial plaque to serve as a living tribute to those affected by the tragedy.

As serious readers of “Ulysses” know, the novel references the horrific fire and sinking of the steamboat “General Slocum,” which occurred a day earlier in New York City. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers were killed, mostly German-American women and school children, though some historians suggest the death toll was higher. It was the worst disaster in New York history until 9/11.

general_slocum_1.jpg (744×447)

The “General Slocum,” before the 1904 tragedy.

In The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper in Ireland until 1924, the story was reported on page 5 of the 16 June 1904 edition. Contemporaries of Leopold Bloom read these multi-deck headlines:

Appalling American Disaster

Excursion Steamer on Fire

500 Lives Lost

Wild Scene of Panic

Children Thrown Overboard

Women Trampled to Death

Here’s the passage from “Ulysses,” which was serialized between 1918 and 1920, before being published in full in 1922:

Terrible affair that “General Slocum” explosion. Terrible, terrible. A thousand casualties. And heartrending scenes. Men trampling down women and children. Most brutal thing. What do they say was the cause? Spontaneous combustion. Most scandalous revelation. Not a single lifeboat would float and the fire hose all burst. What I can’t understand is how the inspectors ever allowed a boat like that . . .

Or how 111 years later Berkeley inspectors ever allowed a balcony like that …

Biden, Boris, and Brixit, oh, my!

This is a developing story. I’ll update this post as appropriate over the course of Biden’s European trip. Email subscribers should visit markholan.org directly to see the updates. MH

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UPDATE 2:

Transcript readout of U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan aboard Air Force One en route to Brussels, Belgium.

REPORTER: On Northern Ireland, did the President say anything in his conversations with Prime Minister Johnson about whether a U.S.-UK trade deal would be at risk if he doesn’t protect the Good Friday Agreement?  Did he ask Boris Johnson not to renege on Brexit — on the Brexit pact?  Or can you share a little bit about what the President told Boris Johnson about —

SULLIVAN:  All I’m going to say: They did discuss this issue.  They had a candid discussion of it in private.  The President naturally, and with, you know, deep sincerity, encouraged the Prime Minister to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the progress made under it.  The specifics beyond that, I’m not going to get into.

UPDATE 1:

The Biden vs. Boris showdown over Brexit has become a bit of a bust. The U.S president apparently seems content to have allowed his top diplomat to voice America’s position before the G7 meeting, as described below. It’s still possible Biden will name a special envoy to Northern Ireland to oversee how Brexit impacts the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Great Britain and the European Union appear headed to a trade war, which media has nicknamed “sausage war” because of particular dispute over the E.U.’s decision to ban chilled meats from crossing the Irish Sea.  The British prime minister has threatened to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol–which he and his country negotiated and agreed–that was supposed to ease trade over the U.K.’s only land border with the E.U.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S President Joe Biden has met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G7 summit. While the meeting is described as cordial, Brexit and Northern Ireland remain a thorny issue between the two leaders.

Last week a top U.S. diplomat in London expressed the administration’s concerns about Britain’s threats to renege on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the regulatory and trade mechanism agreed by Britain and the European Union to avoid a hard customs border between Northern Ireland, part of the Brexit, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the E.U. The New York Times reported:

News of that meeting surfaced in the Times of London on [June 9] just as Mr. Biden was arriving in the country. While some analysts predicted it would overshadow Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Johnson, others pointed out that it served a purpose — publicly registering American concerns in a way that spared Mr. Biden the need to emphasize the point in person.

The tensions are driven by the confluence of Biden’s strong Irish-American identity, bipartisan U.S. political support for the Good Friday Agreement, and Britain’s desire for a free-trade deal with the U.S. Sporadic violence–mostly by Northern Irish loyalists angry over what they describe as being set adrift from the U.K. by the protocol–has already flared ahead of the usual sectarian tensions of the July 12 Protestant marching season. And for added measure, Northern Ireland is marking the centenary of its political partition.

Union Jacks flutter outside a housing estate on the loyalist Shankill Road during my July 2019, visit to Belfast. 

Irish President Michael D. Higgins addresses ACIS

Irish President Michael D. Higgins has delivered “Of Heritage, Home and Healing”, his keynote address to the American Conference of Irish Studies (ACIS) 2021 conference. The full 52-minute speech video is posted below this one passage, which I wanted to highlight:

As to scholarly work on Ireland, may I say that there is a debt, never to be forgotten, as to what we owe to the American scholarship on Ireland for at least two centuries, and particularly when at the end of the 19th and through the first half of the 20th centuries, that such scholarship filled a void in relation to the late-19th century for which we in Ireland are indebted. For the work of so many, of those who crossed the Atlantic when our research was underfunded and slow, scholars such as Samuel Clark, J.S. Donnelly, L.F. Curtis, Kerby Miller, Emmet Larkin, Barbara Solow, and so many more. Their work is where so much of the work of Ireland in the 19th century begins as source and method, and I am so glad that through the work of the A.C.I.S. it continues with such range, flair and enthusiasm.

ACIS presentation & leaning into the summer

I will attend and present a paper at the American Conference for Irish Studies, June 2-5. Unfortunately, the conference is switched to virtual from in-person at Derry city, Northern Ireland, as originally scheduled. I am taking some time away from the blog to finalize my presentation about the Irish diaspora witnesses at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings, 1920-21. I will post a limited amount of new content this summer as I work on several projects. As the weather warms and COVID restrictions continue ease, it’s a good time to get outside and away from the screens that have become too ubiquitous in our lives. Below, some of my work from the first part of the year. MH

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited

Wilfrid Ewart

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, A Journey in Ireland, 1921. This series revisits aspects of his journey at its 100th anniversary, though the book was not published until a year later.

American Committee for Relief in Ireland

I’ve written three posts about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and intend to add a few more before the end of the year.

Cardinal Gibbons Centenary

Cardinal Gibbons

I gave a virtual presentation in March about Cardinal James Gibbons for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore. He was born in the Maryland city in 1834, lived in Ireland with his family during the Great Famine, then returned to America. Cardinal Gibbons became involved in the cause of Irish freedom and humanitarian relief as the leading churchman in the United States. He died March 24, 1921, age 86.

My story for the Catholic Review (Baltimore):

Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to Ireland

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Final thoughts

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence, which also includes my earlier work on Ruth Russell. By coincidence, Russell is included in the just released ‘Toward America‘ video at the new Mná100 website, part of the Irish government’s Decade of Centenaries commemorative program.

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Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919, shortly after the separatist Dáil Éireann opened in Dublin and the first shots of the War of Independence. Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland in spring 1921, shortly before the truce that helped end the war later that year.

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Both journalists recorded their observations of Ireland for newspapers: Russell in America, Ewart in Britain. Each expanded their work into books that combined their journalism with literary flourishes: Russell’s What’s The Matter With Ireland?, and Ewart’s A Journey In Ireland, 1921.

The two books are complementary, similarly-styled snapshots from opposite ends of the war. Both reporters interviewed and quoted key people who are still remembered in histories of the period. Both also mingled with the Irish living in the shadows of the revolution: Russell among women and children of the Dublin slums and the west of Ireland; Ewart with characters he encountered on several 20-mile walks between towns and at markets and rail stations. Both journalists sought to calculate nationalist and unionist enthusiasm and measure Catholic and Protestant division.

Though written two decades into the 20th century, the two books each offer glimpses of the long dusk of 19th century Irish rural life. They also offer wartime descriptions of Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Dublin.

From Russell:

In the evening I heard the murmur of revolution. With the shawled mothers who line the lane on a pleasant evening, I stood between the widow and a twenty-year-old girl who held her tiny blind baby in her arms. Across the narrow street with its water-filled gutters, barefoot children in holey sweaters or with burlap tied about their shoulders, slapped their feet as they jigged, or jumped at hop-scotch. Back of them in typical Dublin decay rose the stables of an anciently prosperous shipping concern; in the v dip of the roofless walls, spiky grass grew and through the barred windows the wet gray sky was slotted. 

From Ewart:

When night did finally close down and as curfew hour approached, the tide of the people set hurrying, over O’Connell Bridge towards the tram junction at the Nelson Pillar. The street lamps were lit and there were vague, shadowy crowds through which one had to press one’s way. Black motor cars containing mysterious-looking men rushed out of College Green at breakneck speed like bats or night-insects. Half an hour later–silence. I looked out of a window high up and saw spires, chimneys, rooftops bathed in moonlight, and heard one sound–a rifle shot.

Wilfrid Ewart

Both writers were college educated. Neither arrived in Ireland as wide-eyed innocents, nor were they as hardened and cynical as many journalists and politicians. Russell, 29, was the daughter of a Chicago newspaper editor who cut her reporting teeth on undercover assignments about women munitions plant workers. Ewart, 28, witnessed the horrors of Great War battlefields, where he survived wounds and illness. 

To be sure, Russell and Ewart each missed some nuisances of Irish revolutionary politics. Both appear to have allowed some personal bias to creep into their reporting. The same could probably be said of most journalists or historians.

On her return to America, Russell joined a Washington, D.C. protest against British rule in Ireland and testified about her experiences at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Ewart, a former British military officer, published an acclaimed debut novel about the Great War. 

Year-long delays in publishing their Ireland books and rapidly evolving events minimized the impact of their reporting in the country. Russell disappeared into the career of a Chicago public school teacher; Ewart was accidentally killed at the end of 1922. His book has received more attention and reissues than hers. One reason could be a sexist bias for the male military officer over the American woman. Another, I believe, is that Ewart wrote the better book.

This blog occasionally considers the cinematic possibilities of Irish history, such as the 1913 travels of two French women who produced the first color photographs of the country, and the Lartigue monorail of County Kerry. There is an opportunity for a movie about Russell and Ewart traveling through revolutionary Ireland, at the same time instead of two years apart. They compete for scoops, dodge danger, and, of course, fall in love. The film has either a tragic ending amid the ambushes and reprisals, or a happy one at the threshold of Irish independence.

For now, their accounts stand together as companions on my bookshelf.

Below: Adverts for Russell’s and Ewart’s Ireland books.

 

A Journey in Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ewart reviewed

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments can be found in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

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Wilfrid Ewart from a painting by Nora Cundell, used as front matter in Stephen Graham’s 1924 biography.

In his Introduction to Journey, Edward Turnour, the 6th Earl Winterton, writes that Ewart made “an honest attempt to record, without prejudice, the extraordinary conflict of views and of right in present-day Ireland.” Winterton also makes an insensitive, if unintentional, comment that “any man or woman with two eyes” could have seen Ireland’s condition in 1921 was “a disgrace to civilization and an outrage upon humanity.”

Ewart was blind in one eye.

Punch, the acerbic London weekly, noted that many people traveled to Ireland during the war, “but they intelligently refrained from writing books about it.” The review continued:

If Captain Ewart had published his experiences immediately after his return to England in May 1921, they might have had some interest for the general English reader, who at that time was amiably prepared to swallow any Irish propaganda that was served out to him. Captain Ewart is not a propagandist, but his experiences consisted of talking to Irishmen who are propagandists … The strange thing is not that Captain Ewart was being gulled from the day he set foot in Ireland, but that he should have decided, a whole year after this event, to erect this literary monument to his own gullibility.[1]“A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.

Ewart biographer Stephen Graham revealed the book’s publisher delayed Journey‘s release to avoid conflicting with his friend’s 1921 novel, The Way of Revelation. Journey should have “appeared within a few weeks to be of any news value,” Graham wrote in 1924, two years after the author’s accidental death at age 30. “Excellent as it is, [Journey] fell flat, as it was really out of date. Ireland by then had entered a new phase,”[2]Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.

Irish reviews 

Ewart’s book enjoyed a measure of success among Irish and American readers.

The Irish Examiner praised how Ewart “obtained the views of prominent citizens of all shades of opinion” and presented their views “with fairness and impartiality.” It said the book “will interest the reader to note how far the prophecies and the prognostications, the diagnoses, the recommendations, the hopes and fears expressed in it, have come within reach of realization, or been discounted.”[3]“The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922. That remains more true 100 years later.

Screenshot of scanned original edition cuts off bottom portion.

Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien, wife of Irish nationalist William O’Brien, said that Ewart sent her husband an account of the April 1921 interview at their home “for revision”, followed later by a copy of the published book. It “was a very friendly one and gave a very good impression of the author,” she wrote. A friend of the couple was so “charmed” that he “carried it off,” presumably never to be returned.[4]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

Ewart also interviewed Irish nationalist George Russell in April 1921. The Irish Homestead, the weekly edited by Russell, reviewed Ewart’s book in summer 1922, but I have not been able to access an archived copy.[5]This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.

 American reaction

In the United States, reviews and advertisements for Journey also appeared in summer 1922. Many reviews were just blurbs. Several mention The Way of Revelation, or Ewart’s U.S. travels with Graham at the time.

North Carolina educator and historian William Thornton Whitsett syndicated his review to newspapers a few weeks after the Aug. 22, 1922, assassination of Michael Collins. Whitsett found “extraordinary timeliness” in Journey’s publication “for a world stunned by such a catastrophe … and altogether baffled by the whole bloody course of events in Ireland.[6]“Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.

Anna L. Hooper, literary editor of the Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, offered the contradictory conclusion that Journey “is not a book of any great weight or value, but it is an entertaining and unbiased account of conditions during a very important period in modern history, and it is well worth reading.”[7]“New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.

The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle included Journey in a roundup with two other Irish books: Andrew Gerrie’s Ireland’s Woes and Britain’s Wiles, and Ronald McNeill’s Ulster’s Stand For Freedom. Reviewer F.W. Davidson said Ewart’s book:

…is as almost detached as were the writings of [William] Wordsworth in the days of the French revolution. Such detachment of mind is a great service to the present moment … [but] Ewart has no theory to advance in this volume; he has no remedy to propose for quieting and better government of the country.[8]“Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.

Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.

Modern reviews

In a review of the 2009 University College Dublin Press edition of Journey, Rory Brennan opined:

Ewart comes across as a decent man, if a plodding writer. These pedestrian attributes tend to make him a credible commentator, one not to over-egg the pudding with orange or green additives.[9]”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.

At the 2003 release of The Tourist Gaze: Travelers to Ireland: 1800-2000, reviewer Willie Nolan wrote “my favorite piece in this anthology has to be the extract from” Ewart’s Journey.[10]“The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260. Gaze contains 72 selections.

As mentioned earlier in this series, Maurice Walsh included Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and also quoted from it in his 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. I’m sure there are other academic citations and reviews.

Abe Books advertises a G. P. Putnam, London, first edition hardback in very good condition for $99. Other sites offer used first editions for as little as $10. In addition to on-demand reprints, A Journey In Ireland, 1921 is digitized.

NEXT: Final thoughts

References

References
1 “A Journey in Ireland, 1921”, Punch, Oct. 4, 1922.
2 Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, pp.158-159.
3 “The World of Books: A Journey In Ireland, 1921”, Irish Examiner, June 26, 1922.
4 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.
5 This review is referenced in “Ireland’s Destiny: The Only Way to Achieve It”, Irish Independent, Aug. 8, 1922.
6 “Outlooks On Books”, The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 1922, and other N.C. papers.
7 “New Books of Fiction, Criticism, Description”, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 1922.
8 “Books on Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1922.
9 ”Dramatis Personae”, Books Ireland, No. 312 (May, 2009), pp. 108-110.
10 “The Tourist’s Gaze: Travellers to Ireland 1800-2000”, Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 259–260.