Category Archives: Irish America

Our 10th blogiversary brings a new location & phase of work

I launched this blog on July 22, 2012, as a platform for “research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.” Since then I’ve published more than 900 posts on the site, contributed nearly three dozen stories to external publications, and presented seven in-person or virtual talks at museums and history conferences.

I have enjoyed connecting with readers and editors in Ireland and America. I am grateful for their assistance, feedback, corrections, and–in some cases–friendship. The blog has more than 100 email subscribers and averages about 1,500 page views per month. I appreciate the interest and support, especially from my guest post contributors and the librarians and archivists on both sides of the Atlantic who have provided in-person and remote assistance.

I debuted the blog from Tampa, Fla., moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2014, and now head to Boston as of Aug. 1. My wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, received a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University for the 2022-2023 academic year. I will enjoy access to the university’s libraries and other assets through spousal “affiliate” status. I’m going to devote the next year to what has become my main research interest: how American journalists reported the Irish revolutionary period, 1912-1923, both on the ground in Ireland and related events in America. See my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

I except to publish fewer, but more detailed, history posts over the next 12 months. I will continue to report important contemporary developments in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I hope to return to the island for the first time since before the pandemic.

For now, thanks again for supporting the blog for 10 years.

Delivering my presentation on Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, Queens University, Belfast, November 2019.

Letters reveal Samuel D. McCoy’s Irish literary connections

This post continues my review of the Samuel Duff McCoy papers at Princeton University. It is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which I am expanding into a book. MH

***

UPDATE, July 20, 2022:

The 12-page, typed James Stephens (under James Esse) manuscript titled “If You Have Not Been To Connacht” that is referenced in the original post below appears to have been part of a 32-page, handwritten manuscript titled “Saluting Maeve, Queen of Connacht, Queen of Hearts, Queen of the Fairies.” It once belonged in the collection of bibliophile and philanthropist James A Healy, a New York stockbroker. Birgit Bramsbäck cited this collection in her monograph, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study, first published in 1959.[1]Birgit Bramsbäck, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study, Norwood Editions, 1975. Reprint of 1959 ed. published by Lundequist, Upsula. Issued as no. 4, Upsula Irish Studies. Thanks to … Continue reading Healy died in 1975.

The first seven lines of the longer “Maeve” piece are in ink, the remainder in pencil and “profusely revised,” according to one description.[2]Richard Cary, “James Stephens at Colby College” in Colby Library Quarterly, series 5, no.9, March 1961, p.224-253. “Maeve” description p. 238. The manuscript is inscribed at the end, “James Stephens / Cafe Napolitaine / Boui. des Italiennes / Paris / 14 Sep. 1921.”[3]Ibid, and noted by Bramsbäck. As noted in the original post below, effort was soon made to have a version of this story published in America.

The story is about Connacht, and primarily about Galway at “the first week of the truce” (July 11, 1921), according to the version in the McCoy papers. Bramsbäck quoted Stephens’s description of poor people being harassed by British troops in the west of Ireland. I have bolded one word from the manuscript in the McCoy collection that differs from the text quoted by Bramsbäck :

These stories can be multiplied and multiplied but it is asking (among) the poor one seeks for them, for it is the poor who pay. They are true not only of Ireland but of every country where backs have grown accoustomed to bowing and where the art of advertising his misfortunes has not been taught to the simple man, indeed, to consider misfortune as constant and compliance as a waste of time is the culture of the poor, and lends to him a fortune in distress which would bring a sense of shame to every person of a livelier intelligence or an easier situation.

Stephens’s papers are scattered among many locations, as noted below. Saluting Maeve” is held at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

ORIGINAL POST, July 14, 2022:

When he wasn’t publicly detailing Ireland’s war-related humanitarian needs in 1921, American journalist Samuel Duff McCoy privately promoted Irish arts and letters. At least the Irish urged him to.

McCoy had a literary background beyond his 20 years of working at Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia newspapers, plus a turn as Red Cross publicity director during the Great War. At Princeton, he was a student editor at the Nassau Literary Magazine. In 1915 he co-founded the journal Contemporary Verse and regularly contributed prose and poetry to national magazines.

During two 1921 trips to Ireland, McCoy had contact with several Irish writers and book dealers, as revealed in letters to him. Full details of the relationships are unclear, but the letters sketch efforts to bring the work of Daniel Corkery and James Stephens to American readers. McCoy’s papers also contain what appears to be an unpublished Stephens short story about Connacht.

Daniel Corkery

McCoy and his American Committee for Relief in Ireland colleagues established their headquarters at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. Patrick O’Daly (Pádraig Ó Dálaigh) of Talbot Press Limited wrote to McCoy soon after the delegation’s mid-February 1921 arrival.

“I have just had a note from a friend of ours, Daniel Corkery, author of ‘The Hounds of Banba,’ in which he mentions your name,” O’Daly wrote. “Do you not think it would be a good thing if we could have this book published in America? It seems to us, at least, that the present time ought to be kind of favourable when Ireland, and matters relating to Ireland, are so much in the public mind.”[4]Samuel McCoy Papers, 1868-1964, Series 3, Correspondence B-Z, Folder 9. O’Day to McCoy, March 8, 1921.

Corkery (1878-1964) began writing short stories and plays in his 20s while working as a teacher. He also played the cello and dabbled in painting. Following the success of his debut collection, A Munster Twilight, in 1916, Talbot Press published The Hounds of Banba in 1920.[5]Daniel Corkery” in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.

From McCoy Papers, Princeton University.

Banba is a poetic name for the spirit of Ireland in an earlier age; one of a divine trio of eponyms along with Ériu and Fódla.[6]Online Oxford Reference. The hounds are the island’s occupiers, the British police and military. Corkery dedicated the book’s nine stories about nationalist revolutionaries to “The Young Men of Ireland.”

O’Daly asked McCoy to meet “at your convenience.” He also enclosed, at Corkery’s request, he wrote, the 1920-21 catalogue of Talbot Press, 89 Talbot St., Dublin, which listed The Hounds of Banba. The 28-page booklet also included John Butler Yeats’s Essays: Irish and American. “The stories are of the present day, dealing with the adventures of men ‘on the run’ and other works in the Sinn Fein Movement,” read the description. (McCoy’s papers also include the April 1920 catalogue of Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 50 Lower Baggot St., Dublin, and the “No. 1” 1920 catalogue of The Irish Book Shop, Limited, 45 Dawson St., Dublin. These items are not associated with letters.)

Recognize this signature? 

An undated, handwritten letter to McCoy by a correspondent with a mysterious signature says: “I understand from Mr. Corkery that you’ve expressed to him your interest in the publishing of his books.”[7]McCoy Papers, Correspondence Unidentified, Folder 13. Unidentified correspondent to McCoy, undated. The correspondent, who acknowledged a thank you note from McCoy for providing unspecified help to the American Committee, was chiefly interested in his assistance to re-issue Edward Bunting’s (1773-1843) Irish music catalogue.

It’s unclear from McCoy’s papers if he met O’Daly. Corkery’s papers at University College Cork contain several 1921 letters from O’Daly and Talbot Press regarding efforts to find a U.S. publisher for The Hounds of Banba. McCoy is not named in the finding guide descriptions, though possibly referenced in the letters. The New York publisher B. W. Huebsch issued the book in spring 1922.

McCoy used the book title–without reference to Corkery–in the opening segment of his 10-part series, “The Lads Who Freed Ireland,” syndicated from January 1922 in U.S. newspapers. McCoy wrote, “… the world gazes, dumbfounded, at the Hounds of Banba today. The first has become last. Have we, the powerful, what Ireland has shown us?”[8]”White Heat/Chapter 1” of “The Lads Who Freed Ireland”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 6, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.

That summer, Corkery’s story “Egan O’Rahilly” (1670-1726) appeared in The Celtic Outlook, the literary journal that succeeded The Irish Press, Philadelphia, weekly newspaper.[9]See my “On ‘The Irish Press’, ‘Celtic Outlook’, and Villanova digital.” He later devoted a chapter to the Irish language poet in his book The Hidden Ireland.

E. Byrne Hackett

McCoy returned to America in April 1921 to continue his work with the American Committee for Irish relief, including the release of its “Distress in Ireland” report and an unsuccessful request the U.S. State Department distribute the money.[10]See my “American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921. Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, … Continue reading He steamed back to Ireland that summer, mixing his committee duties with traditional journalism, including two pieces for Leslie’s Weekly.[11]”George: A Letter to King George Concerning Colonel George”, June 11, 1921, and “How Belfast Greets Royalty,” Aug. 13, 1921. Kilkenny native and U.S. antiquarian bookstore owner Edmond Byrne Hackett wrote to McCoy at the Standard Hotel in Dublin on Oct. 22, 1921, from his New York office. He acknowledged receipt an article by James Stephens about Connacht.

“It will give me pleasure to attempt to market it, and I am sending it first of all to The Century as I happen to know that the editor is interested in the present status of affairs in Ireland,” reads an unsigned, typewritten copy.[12]McCoy Papers, Correspondence A, Folder 12. Hackett to McCoy, Oct. 22, 1921.

E. Byrne Hackett                (Martin Dostál, Geni.com)

Hackett (1879-1953) was the fifth son of Dr. John Byrne Hackett, the Kilkenny coroner. The son was educated at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, and St. Francis College, Sussex, England, then emigrated to the United States in 1899. In America, he worked as a salesman at Doubleday Page & Company in New York from 1901-1907, and as manager of publishing at Baker & Taylor Company from 1907-1909. He served as director of the Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., soon after its founding in 1908, and established the Brick Row Book Shop in that city in 1915.[13]Compiled from E. Byrne Hackett papers, Yale University; “Byrne Hackett and His Bookshops“, The Publisher’s Weekly, Oct. 1, 1921, p.1182; “E. Byrne Hackett Dies In … Continue reading

Byrne Hackett also was the brother of journalist and author Francis Hackett (1883-1962), who emigrated in 1900. Francis began his career as a beat reporter in Chicago but later switched to writing editorials and literary criticism. He became a founding editor of The New Republic magazine in 1914. In summer 1920, he returned to Ireland and detailed the war atrocities he witnessed for the magazine and in a six-part series for the New York World, which syndicated the work to other papers three month’s before McCoy’s “Lads” series. In November 1920, Francis testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. It seems more likely that McCoy was influenced by, rather than unaware of, Francis Hackett’s 1920 Irish reporting and commission testimony, given his correspondence with Byrne Hackett.[14]See Part 1 and Part 2 of my “Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920” posts.

A second letter to McCoy from Byrne Hackett in the Princeton archive is handwritten and undated. It probably preceded the typed letter, most likely from late summer or early fall 1921.

“I am very sorry again to have missed you and James Stephens. I have only this minute got back from Kilkenny (one unreadable word) with some kinsfolk.”[15]McCoy Papers, Correspondence B-Z, Folder 15. Hackett to McCoy, Undated.

Hackett wrote he was in London buying books for the new Brick Row Book Shop at 68 1/2 Nassau Street in Princeton, N.J., which followed the summer 1920 opening of a second store in New York City. “It promises to do good work down at Princeton as has been done in New Haven for some time,” Hackett wrote of the third store.

This image illustrated the Brick Row Book Shop story in the Yale Banner and Pot Pourri, 1922 Year Book. It was not described as the New Haven, New York, or Princeton stores, or anyplace else.

The Princeton store opened in October 1921 and was soon described in Yale’s alumni weekly:

Commodious quarters consisting of reading and display rooms, as well as the main store, have been provided. The reading room has been fitted with comfortable lounges and chairs, and there prospective buyers are assured of an open fire, quite, and access to any book that the store has. The policy of fostering interest in good reading and of so arranging matters that anyone may browse without the necessity of buying was sure to meet with approval from the first, and the shop has been well filled with students since the day of the opening.[16]”The Brick Row at Princeton”, The Yale Alumni Weekly, Nov. 25, 1921, p. 250.

Hackett, who received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Yale in 1914, also teased McCoy about his college background: “You did not tell me you were a Princeton man,” he wrote.[17]Degree from Note 9, quote from Note 11.

James Stephens

James Stephens

Stephens (1880-1950) should not be be confused with the same-name Fenian leader (1825-1901). The author also wrote under the pseudonym James Esse. In his mid-20s, Stephens began writing for United Irishman, later Sinn Féin, and other papers edited by Arthur Griffith. These nationalist publications were often suppressed by the British government. In the second installment of his “Lads” series, McCoy quoted Stephens talking about Griffith :

” ‘His worst trouble, in those days,’ James Stephens to me, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘was thinking up new names for his paper. He used to lay awake nights, thinking up new names for it, he did so.’ “[18]”The Smiling Swordsman/Chapter 2” of “The Lads Who Freed Ireland”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.

McCoy also relayed a story–unattributed to Stephens, Griffith or anyone else–of the two men strolling down Grafton Street late one evening early in the revolutionary period.  A pair of “young rowdies” twice knocked Griffith’s hat off of his head. Without a word, he removed his glasses and struck a blow “that started from Griffith’s pacifistic shoulders and ended on the point of one of the young rough’s jaw, with the impact of a ton of brick.” Griffith and Stephens then continued their conversation from the point of interruption, according to McCoy’s telling.

Arthur Griffith

As Stephens was writing for Griffith, Irish writer and artist George Willian Russell, known by the pseudonym AE, introduced him to Dublin literary circles. In 1916, Stephens observed the fighting around St. Stephen’s Green at Easter week. His instant book, The Insurrection in Dublin, “is regarded as the most vivid account by a contemporary observer of the changing moods and scenes of Dublin during the rising,” according to the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Whatever efforts Byrne Hackett might have made to place Stephens’s Connacht story, the piece did not appear in The Century. The magazine’s November 1921 issue featured an interview with Russell, who complimented Stephens, Austin Clarke, and John Millington Synge as among the best practitioners of modern Irish verse.[19]The Opinions of AE“, The Century Magazine, Vol. 103, No. 1, November 1921, pgs. 3-9. The Dial literary magazine, another American journal, reviewed the U.S. release of Stephens’s Irish Fairy Tales, published the previous year in Ireland.

In October 1922, The Century published Stephens’s “The Outlook for Literature, With Special Reference to Ireland.” The eight-page assessment of the post-war cultural and political landscape included this passage:

… during the last five years the national act of Ireland has been so real that it has achieved what older minds considered to be impossible, and has achieved by methods which the official and logical intellect, if its advice had been sought, could only have considered as infantile. It is the good fact of life that the infant wins always, and I think that Ireland awakens from her profound sleep as the youngest race now active in the world, and the best fitted to accept possible modifications with the curiosity and good humor of a brave young person.[20]The Outlook for Literature“, The Century Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 6, October 1922, pgs. 811-181.

Stephens also wrote Arthur Griffith: journalist and statesman, a tribute to his former editor, after the Sinn Féin founder died Aug. 12, 1922, due to several health complications.

Connacht story 

The McCoy papers at Princeton contain a 12-page typed manuscript with the byline of James Esse.[21]Samuel McCoy Papers, 1868-1964, Ireland, Conflict With Great Britain, 1921, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, Box 6, Folder 1. The piece is titled “If You Have Not Been To Connacht.” The word “Publicity” is handwritten in pencil in the top right corner.

The piece begins:

If you have not been to Connacht it is unlikely that a verbal description will assist you to realise the wonderful country. Many visits are necessary before the unearthly beauty, and, at times, unearthly radiance of that ancient kingdom become apparent to the traveller. A run through leaves one with a somewhat bewildering recollection of rocks, but when Connemara is recalled in the solitudes of ‘afterwards’ you may discover that you think of rocks with an affection you had never before dared to chance on stony ground.

The piece ends with a variation of the first sentence: “But if you have not been to Connemara it is unlikely that a verbal description will help you to realise the wonderful country.” My emphasis of the differences.

It appears this story was never published in America or Ireland. There are collections of Stephens’s papers at the New York Public Library , Kent State University (Ohio), Trinity College Dublin, and Stanford University Libraries, in addition to Colby. The TCD collection contains a 1926 letter to Stephens from McCoy, who expresses concern about the writer’s heath, saying he had “the same illness” five years earlier.[22]Stephen’s papers, MS 10408/26/1464, Trinity College Dublin, as relayed by July 16, 2022, email from Manuscripts & Archives Research Librarian Ellen O’Flaherty.

Connemara, County Galway.                                                                                                                      ©Tourism Ireland

References

References
1 Birgit Bramsbäck, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study, Norwood Editions, 1975. Reprint of 1959 ed. published by Lundequist, Upsula. Issued as no. 4, Upsula Irish Studies. Thanks to Colin Smythe at Colin Smythe Limited, who pointed me to this book, which I was finally able to review at the Library of Congress.
2 Richard Cary, “James Stephens at Colby College” in Colby Library Quarterly, series 5, no.9, March 1961, p.224-253. “Maeve” description p. 238.
3 Ibid, and noted by Bramsbäck.
4 Samuel McCoy Papers, 1868-1964, Series 3, Correspondence B-Z, Folder 9. O’Day to McCoy, March 8, 1921.
5 Daniel Corkery” in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.
6 Online Oxford Reference.
7 McCoy Papers, Correspondence Unidentified, Folder 13. Unidentified correspondent to McCoy, undated.
8 ”White Heat/Chapter 1” of “The Lads Who Freed Ireland”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 6, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.
9 See my “On ‘The Irish Press’, ‘Celtic Outlook’, and Villanova digital.”
10 See my “American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921. Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, See Ch. 8, “Harding, Irish Relief Aid And Recognition”, pp. 326-327.
11 ”George: A Letter to King George Concerning Colonel George”, June 11, 1921, and “How Belfast Greets Royalty,” Aug. 13, 1921.
12 McCoy Papers, Correspondence A, Folder 12. Hackett to McCoy, Oct. 22, 1921.
13 Compiled from E. Byrne Hackett papers, Yale University; “Byrne Hackett and His Bookshops“, The Publisher’s Weekly, Oct. 1, 1921, p.1182; “E. Byrne Hackett Dies In Hospital”, The Central New Jersey (New Brunswick) Home News, Nov. 11, 1953; and “Well Known Irishman’s Death in U.S.”, Irish Examiner, Nov. 18, 1953.
14 See Part 1 and Part 2 of my “Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920” posts.
15 McCoy Papers, Correspondence B-Z, Folder 15. Hackett to McCoy, Undated.
16 ”The Brick Row at Princeton”, The Yale Alumni Weekly, Nov. 25, 1921, p. 250.
17 Degree from Note 9, quote from Note 11.
18 ”The Smiling Swordsman/Chapter 2” of “The Lads Who Freed Ireland”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.
19 The Opinions of AE“, The Century Magazine, Vol. 103, No. 1, November 1921, pgs. 3-9.
20 The Outlook for Literature“, The Century Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 6, October 1922, pgs. 811-181.
21 Samuel McCoy Papers, 1868-1964, Ireland, Conflict With Great Britain, 1921, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, Box 6, Folder 1.
22 Stephen’s papers, MS 10408/26/1464, Trinity College Dublin, as relayed by July 16, 2022, email from Manuscripts & Archives Research Librarian Ellen O’Flaherty.

American editorials on June 1922 Irish elections

From The New York Times, front page, June 19, 1922

Five months after the separatist Sinn Féin party narrowly approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty to end the war with Britain, rank and file voters in the partitioned 26 counties of southern Ireland went to the polls on June 16, 1922.  The Irish Free State’s first general election was complicated by a pact between the pro-treaty faction of Michael Collins and the anti-treaty side of Éamon de Valera. The deal provided incumbent Sinn Féin members would not oppose each other. The publication of a draft constitution a day before the vote caused additional confusion.

It took days to finalize the results under the single transferrable vote system. There were allegations of voter intimidation and ballot irregularities. (Sound familiar?) At last it became clear that the pro-treaty Sinn Féin and candidates from like-minded independents and smaller parties prevailed with the support of three quarters of the electorate.

Below are six editorial views on the election from the U.S. mainstream, Irish American, and Catholic press. The opinions range from seeing the results as a clear mandate for the pro-treaty faction to just another sign of uncertainty and division in the fledgling nation. The editorials were overly optimistic, considering the Irish Civil War erupted before the end of June 1922.

“…the best indication of the defeat of the de Valera forces comes in the vigorous complaints uttered by their representative newspapers. … It would appear that the Irish settlement moves on from crisis to crisis, but those who are closely watching events are convinced that each crisis brings a satisfactory close to the rebellion nearer.”–“The Irish Elections”, Brooklyn (New York) Daily Times, June 19, 1922

“The election has served to strengthen the group which favors acceptance of the treaty. Moderates are usually in the majority everywhere. It becomes clearer that Ireland is no exception to the general rule which makes people prefer a peaceable settlement.”–“The Treaty Stronger”, The Boston Globe, June 21, 1922

“Not more clearly or emphatically could the Irish people have manifested their disapproval of lawless violence, or have voiced their desire for peace than they have now done. They have declared for the treaty and for the Free State in a manner which admits of no misunderstanding, and the malcontents will have no excuse for refusing to abide by the verdict they have rendered.”–“Irish Vote A Pro-Treaty Landslide”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1922

“The elections in Ireland have given the Free State a large majority, but the result is by no means conclusive. … the best that can be said of the election is that it gives an opportunity to create a temporary working Government in Ireland that, if sanity prevails, may tide over the present internal crisis and enable Southern Ireland to present a united front to England and to Northeast Ulster. … Ireland, as the result of the elections, has been given a respite, and a respite only.”–“Irish Elections Not Decisive”, The Gaelic American (New York), July 1, 1922

“With patience and skill Griffith, Collins and their colleagues brought about working arrangements with the Republicans and with the British. Their tactics have shown a complete realization of the problems of compromise, and a supreme confidence in the ability of Ireland to work out those problems to the ultimate ends of unity and self-determination. They have been justified to the extent that at the election just held a decisive majority of their fellow countrymen of Southern Ireland have voted with them to accept the treaty. The opportunity to test the treaty as a practical working arrangement has been achieved; the final test of the faith of those who have steadily believed in Ireland is at hand. … Will mutual forbearance, understanding and cooperation … go down before a storm of popular fury? We cannot think it.”–“Ireland: A Faith On Trial“, The New Republic, July 5, 1922 

“While the various factions of American citizens of Irish lineage were presuming to dictate to the people of Ireland what kind of a government should be established in the Emerald Isle, The Catholic Telegraph held consistently to the opinion that this vitally important matter should be left to the decision of those personally and immediately concerned, namely, the inhabitants of Ireland. We were convinced that this was the only proper way to conform to the principle of the self-determination of peoples. We felt that, if there were family differences “at home,” there was enough intelligence, patriotism, justice and charity among the sons and daughters of Mother Erin’s household to compose them satisfactorily. The political sea has not been without its storms, but brave and keen Irish statesmen have been steering their vessel to the secure harbor of national freedom. The Anglo-Irish Treaty has been approved by an overwhelming majority of the people: and the charter of the Irish Free State is now being drawn.”–“Voice Of Irish People”, The Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio), July 13, 1922

See my full American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

From Irishman to American, 100 years ago

Willie Diggin, undated.

My grandfather’s May 1913 emigration from Kerry and June 1922 naturalization as a U.S. citizen frame Ireland’s revolutionary period in our family. Willie Diggin was among 156,000 Irish who sailed to America between the pre-Great War rise of unionist and nationalist militias, partition of the island, and outbreak of civil war among southern republicans. (See tables at bottom.)

He was “admitted as a citizen” at a June 15, 1922, “special term” session of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh. Details such as this date, his name, physical characteristics, and address were typed within blank spaces of the pre-printed “United States of America Certificate of Naturalization” form. Willie and the clerk of the  court each signed Certificate No. 1830933, which came wrapped in a tri-fold black leather cover produced by the Naturalization Publishing Co. of Pittsburgh.

Among 170,447 U.S. naturalizations in 1922, many would have been Irish natives who had lived in America for at least five years, as required by law. The U.S. government did not begin to compile data on the number of aliens naturalized by country or region of former allegiance until July 1, 1922, two weeks after Willie became an American.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 16, 1922.

Nationality and nationalism were topical on both sides of the Atlantic in June 1922. In Ireland, the first general election of the 28-county Irish Free State was held the day after Willie’s naturalization. Sinn Féin supporters of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the war with Britain prevailed over the party’s anti-treaty faction. Part the campaign debate focused on the “Oath of Allegiance” that included “the common citizenship of Ireland and Great Britain” as forming the British Commonwealth of Nations. Anti-treaty candidates argued against the oath, and partition of the six-county Northern Ireland, as antithetical to the republic declared in 1919.

A few days after the Irish election, The Pittsburgh Press published an editorial about America’s challenges to assimilate its many immigrants, the “different ingredients into our huge melting pot.” It continued:

Is the meaning of the word ‘American’ changing as much as some of the students of our national life–particularly those specializing on immigration–fear and declare? … Does the immigrant become an American by the mere act of taking up his residence here, or by receiving naturalization papers, or must he acquire new ideas, a new point of view. … Historians say Rome broke down under the effort (to harmonize and merge many races). America is confident she will succeed where the Roman empire failed. But shall we succeed without due regard for the difficulties of the program.[1]”The Modern Babel”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 19, 1922.

In Washington, D.C., Congress legislated the Cable Act,  which was passed in September. It restored citizenship to American-born women who had married non-citizen husbands and lost their citizenship under the Expatriation Act of 1907. The new law reversed the discriminatory law that set married women’s citizenship according to that of their husbands and enabled white women to retain their U.S. citizenship despite marriages to foreign men.[2]Cable Act of 1922, from Immigrationhistory.org.

Other changes in immigration laws and naturalization requirements meant that when Willie married a Kerry women in 1924, she did not immediately become a U.S. citizen, while their six daughters were Americans upon birth. My grandmother wasn’t naturalized until September 1939. The cause of her delay is unclear to me, though most likely due to raising six children.

Irish immigrants in America:

1910:  1,352,155
1920:  1,037,233
 1930:    923,642

From Ireland to America by year:

1912: 25, 879
1913: 27,876
1914: 24,688 (WWI begins in August)
1915: 14,185
1916:   8,639 (Easter Rising in April)
1917:   5,406
1918:      331 (WWI ends in November)
1919:     474  (Irish war)
1920:   9,591 (Irish war)
1921: 28,435 (Irish war, truce in July.)
1922: 10,579 (Includes Northern Ireland. Civil War begins in June.)

11-year total: 156,083[3]All data from “Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789 – 1945”, Chapter B. Population Characteristics and Migration (Series B 1-352).

References

References
1 ”The Modern Babel”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 19, 1922.
2 Cable Act of 1922, from Immigrationhistory.org.
3 All data from “Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789 – 1945”, Chapter B. Population Characteristics and Migration (Series B 1-352).

On ‘The Irish Press’, ‘Celtic Outlook’, and Villanova digital

A May 6, 1922, editorial page notice in The Irish Press informed “friends and subscribers” the Philadelphia weekly was suspending publication “after having withstood heavy financial loss for the past four years.”[1]Notice To Our Friends And Subscribers“, The Irish Press, May 6, 1922.

Joseph McGarrity

Tyrone-born Joseph McGarrity, who became wealthy in liquor wholesaling and real estate, launched the paper in March 1918 as the U.S. Post Office, “yielding to British diplomatic pressure,” banned the New York-based Irish World and Gaelic American from the mail due to war-related suspicions of espionage.[2]Dennis Clark, The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pgs. 151-52.

The Irish Press will be an Irish Ireland journal, and its support will be given to all movements having for their object the national regeneration of Ireland,” the paper’s first editorial stated. “It will support everything that deserves support and will criticize everything that deserves criticism.”[3]The Irish Press, An Irish National Newspaper and ReviewThe Irish Press, March 23, 1918.

Circulating his paper in New York was more than a business opportunity for McGarrity. His move signaled forthcoming division inside the U.S.-based Clan na Gael and Friends of Irish Freedom. In particular, the Irish Press competed with John Devoy’s Gaelic American “as the voice of the militant exiles.”[4]Terry Golway, Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Ireland’s Freedom, St. Martin Press, New York, 1998. p. 261.

Patrick McCartan edited the Irish Press from its launch through the Sept. 11, 1920, issue. He and McGarrity were staunch supporters of Éamon de Valera. The newspaper published de Valera’s bylined pieces about Ireland during his June 1919 through December 1920 U.S. tour.

Unsurprisingly, Devoy celebrated his competitor’s fate. “Joe McGarrity’s Irish Press has gone to Davey Jones’s locker,” began the Gaelic American’s editorial. After five paragraphs of re-hashing old grievances with the rival publisher and arch enemy de Valera, Devoy concluded:

The Irish Press has been a wasp in the Irish beehive, and its death is a distinct gain. It is only one more evidence of the disintegration of De Valera’s Split, which will soon be only an evil memory.[5]Exit The ‘Irish Press’ “, The Gaelic American, May 13, 1922.

Name plate from first issue.

This later proved incorrect. Three years after Devoy’s 1928 death, De Valera launched The Irish Press daily in Dublin. A year later, he regained power as taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland. He dominated Irish politics for most of the 20th century. His newspaper folded in 1995.

Celtic Outlook

In its last issue, as it began doing in December 1921, the Irish Press reminded readers to watch for a new quarterly magazine, The Celtic Outlook, “devoted to Irish art, science, and literature.” Earlier notices promised “the first number will be issued at St. Patrick’s Day 1922.” The last issue said the magazine was “now in the hands of the printer.”[6]The Celtic Outlook” advertisement, separate from the editorial page notice, The Irish Press, May 6, 1922. The first issue finally published later that summer.

The Catholic Standard and Times, Philadelphia’s diocesan weekly, in August 1922 reported the magazine’s first issue included these contributions:

  • “Story of the Irish Music Revival” by Carl G. Hardebeck
  • “Pages of Irish History” by George Sigerson
  • “Ballad of Twenty-one” and “Irreconcilables” by Garrett O’Driscoll
  • “Dramatic Ideas In Ireland” by Peter McBrian
  • “Animal World In Ireland” by Douglas Hyde
  • “Egan O’Rahilly” by Daniel Corkery
  • “Ulster and America” by Francis Joseph Bigger
  • “Labor and the Republic” by Aodh de Blacam (Harold Saunders Blackham)

The Standard and Times reviewer wished the new journal “a long and inspiring career.”[7]”Busybody’s Corner” column, The Catholic Standard and Times, Aug. 19, 1922. How long The Celtic Outlook survived is unclear. Such publications are notorious for short runs. Digital newspaper databases of Philadelphia’s secular dailies do not return mentions of the magazine.

I welcome any information from readers who know more about this publication.

Thanks Villanova

Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library digital archives makes available the full four-year run of the Irish Press, March 23, 1918 to May 6, 1922; the Gaelic American from 1903 to 1924 (some issues are missing); and select issues of the Catholic Standard and Times, 1913 to 1922, with ongoing digitization.

The Joseph McGarrity Collection contains personal papers, books, photos, and ephemera. The university’s Digital Library contains many other resources.

The Villanova digital collections have been (and will remain) a valuable resource to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, now more than 100 posts about the revolutionary period from the December 1918 elections forward. Digital archives such as this are regularly adding new content and have become an increasingly important research tool. This would have been true without COVID-19; it has come into even sharper focus because of the pandemic.

I am especially grateful for the newspaper collections. Rare is the time I review an issue looking for a specific item that I do not see something else of interest. I am grateful to the writers, editors, and others who originally produced these papers, and for institutions such as Villanova University for making the content so easily accessible today. Thank you.

References

References
1 Notice To Our Friends And Subscribers“, The Irish Press, May 6, 1922.
2 Dennis Clark, The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pgs. 151-52.
3 The Irish Press, An Irish National Newspaper and ReviewThe Irish Press, March 23, 1918.
4 Terry Golway, Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Ireland’s Freedom, St. Martin Press, New York, 1998. p. 261.
5 Exit The ‘Irish Press’ “, The Gaelic American, May 13, 1922.
6 The Celtic Outlook” advertisement, separate from the editorial page notice, The Irish Press, May 6, 1922.
7 ”Busybody’s Corner” column, The Catholic Standard and Times, Aug. 19, 1922.

Guest post: Pro-Treaty delegation in Pittsburgh, May 1922

Dr. Anne Good Forrestal is a former lecturer in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her 2021 historical novel, ‘Fierce Tears, Frail Deeds’, is based on the experiences of her grandparents, Seán and Delia MacCaoilte, in the first half of 1922; between the January Dáil Éireann vote to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the June outbreak of the Irish Civil War. MacCaoilte was part of the pro-Treaty delegation that visited America that spring, including a stop in Pittsburgh. This story is based on one of his actual letters from the city. Dr. Forrestal’s novel is available from seaweedmillpress.com.

***

Seán’s photo in the Boston Globe, April 3, 1922.

One hundred years ago, Seán MacCaoilte, Sinn Féin leader on the Dublin Corporation (or city council) visited Pittsburgh as part of the delegation sent by Michael Collins to argue the case for the Anglo-Irish Treaty in America. Seán was joined by Dáil Éireann member Piaras Beaslai, and James O’Meara, a prominent businessman.

The mission had been urgently organized in response to concerns expressed by John Devoy, head of the Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF) and editor of the Gaelic American newspaper. Devoy, who reluctantly supported the Treaty, warned the Provisional Government in Dublin of the consternation produced among Irish Americans by press rumors of possible civil war in Ireland. The mission’s task was to convince America that the Dáil’s ratification of the Treaty had been the correct decision in the prevailing circumstances. In Ireland, Treaty supporters and opponents prepared to face Irish voters in a critical election set for June. Both Seán and Beaslai were due to stand for Sinn Féin in the election.

The trio arrived in New York in mid-March, having crossed the Atlantic on the same ship as a rival delegation opposed to the Treaty. That evidence of disunity and rancor within the formerly united Sinn Féin movement caused dismay and even derision in America.[1]

The pro-Treaty mission began with private meetings in New York City and then proceeded to Boston. The delegation visited dozens of American cities and towns over subsequent weeks and reached Pittsburgh on May 6, near the end of their tour. Pittsburgh press reports noted the arrival of the “three distinguished Irishmen.”[2]

While in Pittsburgh, Seán, 37, wrote to his wife, Delia, who remained in Dublin with their four, soon to be five, children. His letter describes the delegation’s work and comments on his impressions of Pittsburgh itself. The letter, written on stationary from the William Penn Hotel[3], is held in a private collection of Seán’s surviving papers at the National Archives in Dublin.

Top portion of the first page of Sean’s letter to his wife.

Irish Pittsburgh’s views on Treaty

From Pittsburgh, Seán’s letter offered an optimistic assessment of the delegation’s work. He was convinced the trio could return to Ireland as planned on May 16, since, in his view, their job was largely done. He wrote:

We hear here that the A.A.R.I.R.[4] has gone to pieces. They had the best Council in the States in Pittsburgh but as usual it depended on the work of a few persons. Tomorrow a Miss (Margaret) McQuaide the vital force in the Council lunches with us and we are told is altogether with us.

The meetings in Pittsburgh bolstered his view that Irish America was now with Collins and the Provisional Government. Any anti-Treaty efforts to convey a different impression were, in Seán’s view, deceptive and dishonest.  He continued:

We have heard no reports yet from the Washington (D.C.) Convention (of the A.A.R.I.R.). It will, we understand, be a sorry affair in comparison with previous conventions …the great majority of the members have already fallen away considering the work for which it was started done. It will be sought to represent their actions however as the actions of the old-time association though the membership has fallen by 80 or 90%. Many of the States have dissolved automatically through non-renewal of membership subscriptions and will not of course be represented at the Convention.

Subsequent developments confirmed Seán’s assessment. Newspapers in Ireland reported several cables sent to Collins declared that most Irish American organizations backed the Provisional Government. “Supporters of Irish cause in Pittsburgh desire an early decision of the Irish people on the treaty, and depreciate intimidation,” said one letter signed by Margaret McQuade and others.[5]

Ideas for the new Ireland

Seán was a forward-thinking young man with a growing family, whose prospects he hoped would be improved by independence. On Dublin Corporation, he represented a deprived area of the city and was especially interested in a new public housing program. For these reasons he regularly punctuated his political comments with descriptions of what he was learning about America and what lessons he drew for improving the lives of the Irish people. In Pittsburgh, his thoughts were focused on possible new industrialization in the Free State.

Seán was interested in potential employment opportunities for Irish working people in industries that might be established or expanded through American investment. In April, the delegation had visited the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Michigan. They heard about plans for the Ford plant in Cork, which opened a few years earlier. Ford employed almost 2,000 Irish workers from hitherto impoverished parts of the city, where the British military had notoriously attacked civilians and burned buildings in December 1920.

However, as Seán was driven around Pittsburgh, he reflected on the somewhat worrying impact of the city’s large-scale industry. He wrote to Delia:

We have had a ride around Pittsburgh today in a car owned by a Mr. Collette. The centre of the town is a maze of great Chimney stacks. The mills are not all working yet and so the air is somewhat cleaner than usual. This is a great iron and steel manufacturing centre. Here is where the Ohio river starts from the confluence of two others. The mills extend for miles down the river and in themselves are a tribute to the value of waterpower for manufacturing industry.

Pittsburgh in 1916, six years before the delegation visit.

As a man who had been raised in a quiet rural area of Co. Offaly, Seán also had concerns about the negative impact of such industrialization, which he could see in Pittsburgh: “I’m afraid however I should not like to see the beautiful valleys of Ireland filled with such huge smoke-belching stacks as crowd this erstwhile beautiful valley of the Ohio.”[6]

After Pittsburgh

This was not Seán’s final reflection about Pittsburgh. When the delegation reached Washington, D.C, his thoughts turned back to the Pennsylvania city, to the pros and cons of large-scale industrialization for Ireland. His view was characteristically practical and pragmatic. He wrote again to Delia:

Washington is certainly a beautiful place. It has all the airs and dignity of a capital. After Pittsburgh it is a restful experience to drift in here. But I suppose only for places like Pittsburgh you would scarcely have Washington!

Seán returned to Ireland a few weeks later. But his health deteriorated that summer, having already been weakened from months in prison during 1920 and 1921, stress from the American tour, witnessing horrors of the civil war, and grief over the August 1922 assassination of Collins. Seán died a month later.

[1]  See Dual delegations at St. Patrick’s Day, 1922.

[2] “Irish Free State Chiefs Ask America To Be Neutral”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 8, 1922. Local coverage named James M. Sullivan, an attorney, not O’Meara, as the third member of the delegation. Sullivan is also referenced in articles from Ohio and Kentucky, immediately before the trio arrived in Pittsburgh.

[3] The William Penn Hotel, still operating in the city center, opened in March 1916, a month before the Easter Rising in Dublin. Other Irish visitors of the period included Eamon De Valera in October 1919 and James G. Douglas of the Irish White Cross in November 1921.

[4] American Association for the Recognition of an Irish Republic, created by Eamon de Valera in late 1920 and anti-Treaty rivals of Devoy and the FOIF.

[5] “Let The People Decide”, Freeman’s Journal, May 11, 1922, and “Cablegrams to Irish Leaders”, Irish Independent, May 11, 1922.

[6] Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” during his January 1906 visit. See When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh.

Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920. Part 2

Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among American journalists covering the Anglo-Irish War. Both were Irish immigrants who became naturalized U.S. citizens, then made separate but overlapping summer 1920 trips back home. Each man detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. This post is about Hackett. See Part 1 about Rev. Cotter.

‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland

Hackett was probably a better known journalist than Rev. Cotter at the time, as described further below, and in subsequent scholarship of the revolutionary period. Maurice Walsh devotes a chapter to Hackett and Philadelphia Public Ledger correspondent Carl Ackerman.[1]Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008. Other historians have cited Hackett’s work, but I have not yet found any similar references to Rev. Cotter

Hackett in 1935. Library of Congress.

Hackett emigrated from Kilkenny in 1900, age 18. He started his career as a beat reporter in Chicago, but later admitted he wasn’t cut out for the job. He shifted to writing editorials and literary criticism. By 1920 he was associate editor at The New Republic magazine.

Hackett visited Ireland in 1912/13 to care for his aging father.[2]Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174. His stay resulted in Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, published in 1918. In the preface to the third edition, published six months after the establishment of Dáil Éireann and start of the Irish  war, Hackett wrote:

So long as Britain holds an unwilling Ireland, her hands are unclean, and Ireland must continue to appeal to the society of nations against her. What, in the name of democracy, has Britain to gain? The whole import of this book is the crime that Britain has committed against democracy in denying self-determination to Ireland. That, with all its economic implications, is the substance of my argument. The situation is the kind of situation that confronted the founders of the United States. The proper answer in that case was the American Republic. And the proper answer in this case is–the Irish Republic.[3]Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.

In spring 1920, shortly before returning to Ireland, Hackett used the appointment of Sir Auckland Geddes as the new British ambassador to the United States to re-emphasize President Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of “self-determination” for small nations. Hackett wrote:

America has a moral interest in the agonizing struggle of any small nation striving against a more powerful nation … according to the ideas of internationalism that we preached during the war. … The Irish recognize just as well as Sir Auckland Geddes that America is the court of last resort. If America does “stand aside,” as England begs it to do , it is really taking sides against the principles of the recent war or any serious application of those principles to England.[4]Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.

Hackett wrote three Ireland pieces for the New Republic between his return to America and testimony to the American Commission:

  • Oct. 13, The Impasse In Ireland: “What is the practical outlook for Ireland? After a six weeks’ investigation it is rash to make an answer, but it is important in venturing any answer to recognize the conversion of seventy-five percent of Ireland to Sinn Fein.”
  • Oct. 20, A Sinn Fein Court: A novel-like treatment of the rival justice system established “in an act both of usurpation and propaganda,” Walsh says in his analysis of this piece.
  • Nov. 3, Books and Things: A reflection on the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in a London prison nine days earlier based on a revisit of Sir John Pope Hennessy’s 1883 book, Sir Walter Raleigh in Ireland.

Walsh notes:

Aside from their undisguised partisanship, Hackett’s articles on Ireland for the New Republic are clearly literary. His declared purpose not only to collect facts but to interpret them, his treatment of people and events through a series of novelistic scenes and the revelation of his political convictions in argument show that he had no intention of being bound by the standard rules of mainstream American journalism. The fact that he was writing for an intellectual magazine and not a mass-circulation newspaper only partially accounts for his suppressed disdain for conventional reportage.[5]Walsh, News, p.133-34.

Hackett did write a six-part series for the New York World, which syndicated the work to other U.S. dailies in early October 1920, before his American Commission testimony.[6]As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes … Continue reading The series introduction identified Hackett’s “just concluded visit” to Ireland, his Kilkenny heritage, role at the New Republic, and 1918 Study in Nationalism book. It also said:

This brilliant writer is a strong Sinn Fein partisan, and his point of view may be summarized in a sentence which appears in his first article. Mr. Hackett writes: ‘In this duel, in which my own sympathies are on the side of the republic, there is no doubt whatever that the superior morale is the morale of the Sinn Fein, that it is the British who are vindictive, lawless and demoralized.'[7]”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.

Hackett returned to the theme of morale, and his previous trip home, in his third installment:

A great change has taken place in the morale of the Irish people since I last visited here in 1913. … The pre-war Ireland is gone, never to return. The people now ‘have a heart in them.’ Their feelings and purposes are realized and organized now as never before in their history.[8]”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.

Promotion for Hackett’s six part series, New York Times, Oct. 2, 1920.

The News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a partisan monitor of press coverage of Ireland, praised Hackett’s work for the World, not the New Republic, as an “extremely intelligent series of articles on the present situation in Ireland.” The weekly described him as “a veracious American journalist” whose “personal observations in Ireland” contradicted pro-British accounts of the war and “aroused many thinking Americans.” Rev. Cotter received no such attention from the News Letter. [9]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.

Two years later, Hackett published The Story of the Irish Nation, a history. He thanked Herbert Bayard Swope, editor of the World, for his “superb confidence” to encourage the project. The author said the editor gave him “courage to attempt even this popular story.” Among dozens of sources, Hackett cited the American Commission’s report in his bibliography. He died in 1962.

References

References
1 Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008.
2 Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174.
3 Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.
4 Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.
5 Walsh, News, p.133-34.
6 As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes Hackett”, Oct. 5, 1920, 3 of 6.; “Union Deadliest Thing In Ireland”, Oct. 6 ,1920, 4 of 6; “Hackett Scores Racial Hatreds”, Oct. 7, 1920, 5 of 6; and “Home Rule Not Ready For Erin”, Oct. 8, 1920, 6 of 6.
7 ”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.
8 ”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.
9 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.

Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920. Part 1

The Anglo-Irish War, 1919-1921, received regular attention in U.S. newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Journalists based in Ireland and visiting correspondents provided daily coverage, which ranged from straight news to opinion pieces, including propaganda from both sides of the conflict and both sides of the Atlantic.

Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among the American press who contributed to this body of work. Both men were born in 19th century Ireland, emigrated separately in their teens, and became naturalized U.S. citizens. In 1920, they made separate but overlapping late July through late September trips to Ireland to visit family and report on the war.

Rev. Cotter, 63, and Hackett, 37, each detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. It is likely, but unclear, if their day-apart appearances at the Washington, D.C., hearings were prompted by their published work. Only one other journalist was among the three dozen American, Irish, and British witnesses called before the Commission from November 1920 through January 1921. Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, then retold her experiences in magazine articles and a book published earlier in 1920.

Rev. Cotter and Hackett were hardly America’s first Irish immigrant journalists. Others included Jerome Collins, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan. During the Irish war, immigrants John Devoy owned and edited the Gaelic American, New York City, and Joseph McGarrity published the Irish Press, Philadelphia. What sets Hackett and Rev. Cotter apart is their summer 1920 travel to Ireland and American Commission testimony. It is unknown whether they read each other’s work or met in Washington that November.

‘Anxious to see conditions there’

Rev. Cotter emigrated from Tipperary in 1872, age 15, and was ordained at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1881. He became a Shakespeare scholar, author, and public speaker in addition to his priestly duties. Rev. Cotter served as editor-in-chief of the Catholic Union and Times in Buffalo, N.Y., and was a founder of the Catholic Press Association. He wrote for Donahoe’s Magazine, a Catholic-oriented general interest monthly, and later became an editor at The Columbiad, organ of the Knights of Columbus.[1]Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary … Continue reading

Rev. Cotter, 1913 newspaper image.

The priest was “proudly conscious of the character of Tipperary in everything which makes life estimable,” as he wrote in a 1915 column about the popular war song, “It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary.” He criticized the lyrics as “another instance of Albion’s [Great Britain’s] trickery to make Erin ridiculous.”

In the same column, Rev. Cotter revealed his Irish nationalist views by praising 19th century figures such as novelist and IRB man Charles Kickham; Young Islander William Smith O’Brien, “the lion-hearted”; and “the uniquely glorious” Robert Emmett of the 1798 and 1803 risings. “Let Ireland make the way to Tipperary short,” Rev. Cotter wrote, “by keeping her brave sons at at home for her great purpose and not permit them to go ways that they may never tread again. … God bless Tipperary! and control for her own destiny the fighting blood of her brave sons!”[2]”Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.

On Nov. 18, 1920, Rev. Cotter told the American Commission his return home was his first in 23 years. “I went to visit Ireland because I was anxious to see for myself the conditions there,” he said.[3]Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial … Continue reading Shortly after his return to America, Rev. Cotter gave an interview to the New York American, which most likely was a written statement handed to the daily. The the weekly Gaelic American, New York, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, soon republished the story. The priest said:

I personally saw many British atrocities and was fresh on the scene after others, and talked to the people. I made it a point to talk specially to Protestants. … I found that Protestants and Catholics alike are united in their firmness for Irish freedom. …

One murder was committed before my very eyes [at Galway.] … I was in Dublin the night [Sept. 23, Sinn Féin County Councillor] Jack Lynch was foully murdered at his room at the Exchange Hotel … I was in Limerick when a bomb was exploded in the next square and in Millstreet, Bantry and Cork when the nights were made hideous by armed ruffianism having all its own way.

Rev. Cotter also traveled to Brixton Prison in London to see Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, then on hunger strike. The priest said he was denied access, but met outside the walls with Anna and Mary MacSwiney, the prisoner’s sisters. Rev. Cotter said the family used a camera that belonged to his niece to take a photo, which showed the hunger striker’s “terrible emaciation. The teeth protrude, the temples are hollow, the eyes sunken, but for all that the mighty majesty of the man suffuses a holy calm over his face.”[4]Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.

Oct. 23, 1920, headline over Rev. Cotter’s story in the Kentucky Irish American.

Rev. Cotter’s published account did not include his Sept. 10 visit to the Galway Express newspaper offices the morning after a military raid. “The owner of the paper was picking up pieces of broken type off the floor,” he told the American Commission. “They gathered together enough to print a paper on a sheet about the size of that (indicating a sheet of business letter size), and in big block letters on the top of the sheet was ‘Keep Cool,’ which is really the philosophy of the passiveness that Ireland is practicing right now.”[5]The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and … Continue reading

In 1929, Rev. Cotter published Tipperary, which sprang from his 1915 column. He later worked as an associate editor and contributor to the The Irish World, New York, including a 1936 collection of his columns: Ireland: Travel Tabloids. I welcome information on locating a copy of either of these books, or more about Rev. Cotter. The priest died in 1947.

Next: Francis Hackett on ‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland

References

References
1 Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary of St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, Ironton, Ohio, 1852-1977”, a church-produced history, p. 17; and assorted period newspaper articles.
2 ”Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.
3 Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial page for James H Cotter (19 Aug 1857–9 Dec 1947), Find a Grave Memorial ID 99674115, citing Sacred Heart Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio, USA ; Maintained by CalamariGirl.
4 Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.
5 The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and December 1920 issues. A more extensive review of the archive was not immediately possible.

U.S. press reactions to sledging of ‘The Freeman’s Journal’

Top portion of the one-page Freeman’s Journal handbill of March 30, 1922. More text below.

Shortly past midnight March 30, 1922, dozens of Irish republicans opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty burst into the Freeman’s Journal newspaper offices in Dublin. They threatened the staff at gunpoint, smashed the presses with sledgehammers, and set fire to the building. Their attack was driven by the Freeman’s “accurate, but uncomplimentary information” about the inner workings of the republican movement, including a supposedly secret convention a few days earlier.[1]Horgan, John, Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922. Rutledge, London 2001, p. 9.

Producing the usual broadsheet later that day became impossible. But the Freeman’s staff published a one-page handbill, which was pasted to poles and walls across the city. It declared:

The Freeman’s Journal does not appear in its usual form this morning. BUT IT APPEARS. … And it will continue to say what it chooses. It will expose tyranny in whatever garb it shows itself. Whether the khaki of the British or the homespun on the mutineers (anti-treaty Irish republicans). … The paper that has fought for Irish liberty so long will not be silenced.[2]”Suppressed Again”, The Freeman’s Journal, March 30, 1922, as reproduced in facsimile on a photo page of The Standard Union, Brooklyn, New York, April 11, 1922, and in the … Continue reading

The Freeman’s support of the treaty, ratified in January, was generally regarded as “unduly partisan,” notes Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin, who has written extensively about the newspaper. “It included intemperate editorials, the suppression of anti-treaty manifestos and speeches, and a notably malevolent treatment of Erskine Childers,” an ally of republican leader Éamon de Valera.[3]Larkin, Felix M., ” ‘A Great Daily Organ’: The Freeman’s Journal” in Living With History: Occasional Writings, Kingdom Books, Ireland, 2021, p. 12. Original article … Continue reading Childers would be executed by Irish Free State authorities later in 1922.

Simultaneously, “de Valera’s tone became if anything more bellicose,” with numerous “inflammatory utterances,” during the interregnum between the treaty vote and republican occupation of the Four Courts in April 1922, biographer David McCullagh has written. A few weeks before the attack on the Freeman’s Journal, de Valera told republican supporters at Killarney they would have “to march over the dead bodies of their own brothers” and “wade through Irish blood.”[4]McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise, 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, p. 276 (“bellicose”) and p. 273 (“blood”).

The Freeman’s Journal was suppressed by the British military during the 1919-1921 war, and its editor and proprietors were imprisoned. It was among many Irish papers stopped from publishing–usually only for a few days–under the Defense of the Realm Act, which Irish republicans skillfully exploited in their domestic and international propaganda against British rule.

“Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job,” the New York Globe’s Harry F. Guest told American readers in his early 1920 reporting from the country. “If you publish something which offends Dublin Castle, the police or military raids your offices and carry away vital parts of the presses. If you criticize Sinn Féin too severely, your office is likely to be stormed and the presses smashed.”[5]”British suppression of Irish newspaper raised big storm of protest” , The New York Globe, March 24, 1920, and syndicated to other U.S. newspapers.

The Freeman’s Journal produced another one-page handbill on March 31, then published a seven-page booklet on Gestetner machines from April 1-21. Republicans terrorized newsagents in counties Sligo and Mayo into refusing to sell the paper. They also intercepted mail trains and burned copies of the newspaper destined for other parts of the country.[6]Horgan, Irish Media, p. 9-10.

U.S. press reactions

From front page of the New York Times, March 30, 1922.

Like most events in revolutionary Ireland, the attack on the Freeman’s Journal received considerable attention in the American press. U.S. big city dailies featured same-day news coverage, often starting from the front page, including the example at right in The New York Times.

Several papers also weighed in on their editorial pages, such as the Joseph Pulitzer-established Evening World in New York City:

Some American advocates of freedom for Ireland may not be convinced that the Free State Government under Collins and Griffith is the best possible. But after the disgraceful wrecking of the plant of the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin, can anyone doubt that the Irish Republican Army movement is wrong, dead wrong, unqualifiedly and absolutely wrong? … Raiding and smashing the Freeman’s Journal is a confession of moral bankruptcy by the de Valera forces. It is a confession that their case can not stand the light of day. It is a denial of the cause of freedom to which a free press is essential.[7]”They Condemn Their Cause”, The Evening World (New York City), March 31, 1922.

And this wasn’t the Evening World’s last word on the matter. After a letter to the editor writer suggested the Freeman’s “was always a British paper,” the New York daily snapped back in a second editorial that such a view “shows how a minority of the Irish have become so poisoned by hate that they no longer reason … they are not moved by desire for freedom for Ireland. Hate of England is the motive in their conduct. They are insane, driven mad by a mania.”[8]”What Helps Keep Ireland In Turmoil”, The Evening World (New York City), April 5, 1922.

Irish American press reactions to the attack on the Freeman’s reflected the division in Ireland.

The anti-treaty Irish Press of Philadelphia published a front page news story and inside editorial about the attack. Like the Evening World’s letter writer, the opinion piece described the Freeman’s Dublin offices as “the nursery ground of the shoneen (an Irish person who imitates or aspires to the English upper class) and the place hunter.” The vandalism, the editorial said, “for a time at least removes one of the bulwarks of British rule in Ireland.”[9]The Freeman’s Journal“, The Irish Press, April 8, 1922.

The pro-treaty Gaelic American of New York used the Freeman’s misfortunes for another round of recriminations in the feud between its publisher, longtime Irish nationalist John Devoy, and de Valera, whom it described as “would-be dictator” and “Infallible Political Pope, whose every utterance (not simply those issued ex-Cathedra) must be above criticism.” The piece re-litigated a series of grievances against de Valera from his June 1919-December 1920 tour of America, including a break in at the Gaelic American’s offices.[10]Mimeographed ‘Freeman’s Journal’ Appears in Dublin“, The Gaelic American, April 22, 1922.

Publishing again … briefly

The regular Freeman’s reappeared on April 22. The front page featured an advertisement for newspaper composing machines such as those “the sledgers” had smashed three weeks earlier. “This Journal is now Equipped with A Battery of 10 Intertypes,” it declared. Among the stories about how the paper had recovered from the attack was a roundup headlined, “What Americans Think.” It included the editorial from the Evening World as well as the Chicago Tribune.

“With hindsight, many anti-treatyites came to recognize that it had been a bad mistake to attempt to suppress the Freeman,” Larkin has written. “The effect of that and other similar occurrences was to associate the anti-treaty side with military dictatorship and censorship – to give the impression that, as the prominent republican Todd Andrews later wrote, people ‘were liable to be pushed around at the whim of young IRA commanders’.”[11]”The Press In Time Of Strife”, Larkin’s letter to the editor, The Irish Times, Nov. 24, 2014.

Alas, The Freeman’s Journal  folded on Dec. 19, 1924, due to internal business troubles, ending a 161-year run. The assets and title were eventually bought by the Irish Independent. The pro-de Valera Irish Press of Philadelphia folded on May 6, 1922, after 50 months of weekly publication. De Valera started his own Dublin daily of the same title in 1931. The Gaelic American survived Devoy’s death in 1929. The New York weekly ceased publication in 1951.

***

See more stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

References

References
1 Horgan, John, Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922. Rutledge, London 2001, p. 9.
2 ”Suppressed Again”, The Freeman’s Journal, March 30, 1922, as reproduced in facsimile on a photo page of The Standard Union, Brooklyn, New York, April 11, 1922, and in the Freemans’s Journal, April 22, 1922.
3 Larkin, Felix M., ” ‘A Great Daily Organ’: The Freeman’s Journal” in Living With History: Occasional Writings, Kingdom Books, Ireland, 2021, p. 12. Original article published in History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2, May/June 2006. See also his Oct. 26, 2019, guest post on this site, “The Slow Death of the Freeman’s Journal.”
4 McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise, 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, p. 276 (“bellicose”) and p. 273 (“blood”).
5 ”British suppression of Irish newspaper raised big storm of protest” , The New York Globe, March 24, 1920, and syndicated to other U.S. newspapers.
6 Horgan, Irish Media, p. 9-10.
7 ”They Condemn Their Cause”, The Evening World (New York City), March 31, 1922.
8 ”What Helps Keep Ireland In Turmoil”, The Evening World (New York City), April 5, 1922.
9 The Freeman’s Journal“, The Irish Press, April 8, 1922.
10 Mimeographed ‘Freeman’s Journal’ Appears in Dublin“, The Gaelic American, April 22, 1922.
11 ”The Press In Time Of Strife”, Larkin’s letter to the editor, The Irish Times, Nov. 24, 2014.

Fintan O’Toole’s ‘personal history’ of Ireland

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole leverages his life experiences from the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s independence to its transformation “from backwater of Europe to one off the most globalized societies in the world” as “a different way of writing the history of a country.”

At a St. Patrick’s Day eve talk in Washington, D.C., to promote his new book, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, O’Toole said the Irish experienced “an existential crisis” during his mid-20th century youth. People were asking, “Is this place viable?” and “What does independence mean?”

Fintan O’Toole, March 16, 2022

Many answered the question with one-way tickets to England (The late oppressor, how ironic!), America, and elsewhere. Ireland’s population fell to half of what it had been 100 years earlier, before the Great Famine. The emigration, in turn, bolstered Ireland’s global identity as a conservative Catholic country. The church, O’Toole said, “governed lives and governed the state.”

Those who left, including a notable preponderance of single women, learned to nurture and manage diverse and even conflicting identities in their new homes. But they found themselves, “half there, half here” and suspended between versions of Ireland’s past and present. The Irish, O’Toole said, developed a profound capacity “for thinking one thing about themselves, and knowing it was something else.”

This concept is also reflected in the long-running “collusion” (O’Toole’s word, both joking and serious) between the Irish and Irish America. The Irish lied about themselves and their country to cover up painful truths; Americans agreed to believe the stories, which they weaved into an idealized nostalgia for a place “as unlike America as possible.”

Now, the Irish are staying home. Despite the economic setback of the “Celtic Tiger,” the country has grown progressive and prosperous. The Irish are comfortable (or becoming so) with “complex and multiple identities,” O’Toole said. They live in a world of grays, not only vivid greens … and orange. The “radical change” in Ireland, the author continued, is the Irish are learning this doesn’t make them “less Irish.”

O’Toole noted that demographers forecast Ireland’s population by 2040 will reach 8.5 million, the same as before the Famine. He concluded: “It’s quite an optimistic place to be.”

I’ve only begun reading this book, which is divided into 43 short chapters pegged to individual years or groups of years over the author’s lifetime. O’Toole and I are roughly contemporaries. He was born in suburban Dublin in February 1958, 18 months before my birth in suburban Pittsburgh. He was eight at the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and subsequent commemorations of Ireland’s revolutionary period, soon overshadowed by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I was six at the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War and subsequent civil rights turmoil; 17 when America celebrated its bicentennial in 1976.

Every country has national foundation myths and internal strife.

So I am very interested in O’Toole’s “personal history” as vehicle for “the history of a country.” As fellow Dublin writer Colum McCann writes in his New York Times review of the book, “it is not a memoir, nor is it an absolute history, nor is it entirely a personal reflection or a crepuscular credo. It is, in fact, all of these things helixed together: his life, his country, his thoughts, his misgivings, his anger, his pride, his doubt, all of them belonging, eventually, to us.”

I will write more in a future post.