Category Archives: Irish America

Guest post: ‘When the IRA Came to New York’

I am pleased to present the book excerpt below from Mark Bulik’s ‘Ambush at Central Park: When the IRA Came to New York’ (Fordham, 2023), the true story of four comrades from the Irish War for Independence, and their paths to a bullet-riddled reunion in Manhattan. This all but forgotten April 1922 incident was the only officially authorized action of its kind by the Irish Republican Army on American soil. Bulik is also the author of ‘The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.’ MH

Chapter 1: The Ambush

When the relentless avengers of the Irish Republican Army finally caught up with Cruxy O’Connor in Manhattan that fine spring evening, they sent six bullets his way — one for each man the informer had sent to an early grave the year before.

Four of the gunshots found their target, and as a cop reached the crumpled victim on the steps of a finishing school at 84th and Central Park West, O’Connor was clutching a revolver with a spent shell in each chamber. After one of his attackers dropped the gun, the fallen O’Connor apparently had grabbed it, intending to defend himself. But the weapon was useless by then — his assailant had emptied the revolver at him.

O’Connor hadn’t had much luck in the weapons department lately.

There was that machine gun they had given him for the ambush the year before — when he told them that it jammed just as the shooting started, the boys started looking at him funny. Not long after that, he’d made the mistake of taking a pistol to Sunday Mass. The coppers threw a cordon around the church, and oh dear God, what a massacre that led to. Six men died, including Willie Deasy, his next-door neighbor, just twenty years old.

Pa Murray and the boys blamed him. They had stalked O’Connor through three countries — he’d barely escaped with his life when they tried to poison him. And he’d had to quit his job as a bookkeeper at the B. Altman department store a month earlier, after the gunmen had started haunting his workplace.

For weeks now, his only escape from the cramped apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had been a walk and a smoke. He varied his route, just to be on the safe side. But there were some evenings, like this one, when he couldn’t stay cooped up in the flat on Columbus Avenue with his parents, his brother, his sister-in-law, and their toddler. The warm spring evening beckoned, its soft westerly breezes stirring the curtains of Manhattan. He needed a cigarette. He needed a stroll.

It was a few minutes to eight o’clock on the evening of April 13, 1922. O’Connor came bounding down the stairs of his apartment building, but even as he headed out the door, he knew, on some level, that this was crazy. Three of County Cork’s deadliest gunmen — Murray, Danny Healy, and Martin Donovan — were out there somewhere in the New York night, just itching to take a shot. There’d be hell to pay for what he’d done, and the devil’s own bill collectors wanted their due.

O’Connor headed east up 83rd Street, toward Central Park, where the sheer black rock of Bolivar Hill loomed like a dungeon wall. When he reached Central Park West, he turned north on the west side of the street.

The temperature was in the low 60s, so there were plenty of other pedestrians out taking the night air. O’Connor smoked nervously, his eyes on their faces. When he reached 84th Street, he glanced to the left, and sweet Jesus, there was Pa Murray himself, with another guy, headed straight for him.

O’Connor dashed across the street to the wall that lines Central Park, glancing back at Murray and puffing furiously on a cigarette. He headed north, then suddenly reversed himself, and that’s when Danny Healy came out from behind a tree right smack in front of him. In a gray coat and gray fedora, Healy looked like some kind of natty avenging angel.

It all happened so fast. Healy, pointing a revolver at his chest, saying something like “I’ve got you now.”

Then pulling the trigger.

***

Danny Healy and Martin Donovan had been near the corner of 83rd and Columbus, staking out the flat, when O’Connor walked out the door and headed toward the park. Pa Murray and Mullins, a guy from Derry who signed on for the hunt, were a little further up Columbus, near 84th Street.

Healy asked Donovan to tell Murray and Mullins to head up 84th Street toward the park, where they might be able to head off O’Connor, while Healy came up from behind him. Once he caught sight of Murray, O’Connor had been too preoccupied to notice Healy until he stepped out from behind the tree.

The gunman thought his first bullet caught O’Connor in the chest, but he dashed across Central Park West into the 84th Street intersection. Healy chased him, blazing away, hitting O’Connor twice. To Healy’s astonishment, O’Connor kept going, ducking around a trolley.

Healy followed, firing a shot that thudded into a building. Four bullets gone, only two left, and his prey was still scrambling. O’Connor kept changing direction, like a panicked hare flushed by a pack of hounds. He tried to go north on the west side of Central Park West, but almost ran into Donovan, who pointed a revolver and squeezed the trigger.

Nothing — a misfire.

But the bullets were finally having an effect on O’Connor’s adrenaline-infused body. Wounded, winded, and bleeding, he slumped to the sidewalk.

“I caught up with him and fired twice more at him, hitting him,” Healy recalled.

As Healy blasted away, the getaway car came roaring up to the intersection, a kid from the Bronx at the wheel. Healy knew he was supposed to get in, but he just stood there, frozen, surrounded by a large group of gaping pedestrians. He couldn’t imagine he was going to get away with it. This wasn’t home, where people knew to look away when Murray and the boys cut someone down in the street. This was the very heart of Manhattan — and a horde of people were staring straight at him.

One thought kept going through his head: “No chance of escape.”

Then Donovan’s commanding voice rang out: “Run for it, Danny. Run!”

 (Story continues below cover image.)

Christ, but Healy took him literally. Donovan saw Healy snap out of it, but instead of getting in the car, Healy walked casually for a bit, then broke into a run west on 84th Street. And Donovan saw the crowd of stunned pedestrians form into a posse that quickly gave chase. Dozens of them. They figured it was an underworld hit, and they weren’t about to let a bunch of gangsters get away with murder in the middle of Manhattan.

Donovan climbed into the car. It looked natural enough — he was wearing a chauffeur’s coat he’d gotten from the Bronx kid’s family. And then they were all giving chase, the car and the crowd, until the car got ahead of the posse and kept pace with Healy for a bit while they tried to talk him into getting in so they could all get the hell out of there.

The trouble they went through to get that getaway car — “Over 1,000 cars in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” and they couldn’t use one of them, Donovan complained.

Finally Johnny Culhane from the Bronx came through — he had an auto rental and taxi business — but he wanted no part of driving a getaway car for a killing. Culhane was already facing a boatload of legal trouble involving several hundred Ireland-bound tommy guns the feds had confiscated from a rust bucket docked in Hoboken. As Culhane begged off, his seventeen-year-old son James jumped in, exasperated.

“I’ll drive the damn car,” he said.

Which was how they ended up with a kid from the Bronx as wheelman. And now, after all that, Healy wouldn’t get in the car.

Even with half of Manhattan on his tail.

Clearly, someone would have to put a stop to this posse business, Donovan realized. At 34, he was the grownup in the group, older than the others by a decade. He’d have to do it, or it wouldn’t get done.

It would have helped if he’d still had the revolver, but Donovan had tossed it after it misfired — why keep a useless, incriminating weapon at a crime scene? So now he’d have to pull off a bluff — one man against close to fifty. But Donovan had gotten Danny Healy into this mess by recruiting him for the O’Connor job. Healy hadn’t hesitated then. Donovan didn’t now.

He got out of the car and confronted the crowd, just fifteen feet away. If even one of them dared to make a quick lunge, he’d be hopelessly overpowered in seconds. So Donovan slid a hand into his coat pocket, as if to pull a gun.

“What do you want — trouble?” he asked the man at the front.

“No.”

“Well, where are you going?”

“I’m going right back to where I came from.” The man turned on his heels and did just that, followed by most of the crowd.

Then another quick conversation with Danny about getting in the car, but it didn’t do any good. The normally reliable Healy was rattled, out of his element, not thinking straight. Donovan had shouted “run,” so run he would. Healy and O’Connor, the shooter and the shot, had one thing in common that fine spring evening — they were bound and determined to stretch their legs.

Even if it killed them.

***

As the getaway car pulled away, Healy continued on foot, passing the building where O’Connor lived, 483 Columbus Avenue. But he wasn’t alone.

A single pursuer remained on his tail.

Healy zigzagged his way through the street grid of the Upper West Side toward the subway entrance at 79th and Broadway, unable to shake the man tracking him. He caught a bit of luck inside the station — a  train was just about to leave as he entered. He jumped in as the doors closed, leaving his pursuer behind.

Healy got off at 42nd Street, emerging into the bright lights and swirling human tides of Times Square. “Crowded at night,” he noted. He headed south, to the rendezvous point — Jimmy McGee’s apartment on the East Side near 38th Street. Jimmy was a big shot in the marine engineers’ union and served as a dockside fixer for the boys. On this job, he had fixed them up with revolvers, including the one that misfired for Martin Donovan.

After a long time, Pa Murray showed up at McGee’s place. But Donovan was still out on the street, and they were starting to worry. Had he gone back to the Bronx with their teenage driver? Had someone from the crowd that Martin turned back decided to come after him?

Finally, Donovan arrived. No, he told them, nobody had interfered with him after that show of bravado on 84th Street. That was the thing about Martin — the man could radiate cool menace with a look and a word. He’d make you think he was reaching for a gun, even if all he had in his pocket was lint.

This passage is based on Danny Healy’s witness statement to Ireland’s Bureau of Military History, his pension application in the Irish Military Archives and contemporary newspaper accounts. 

Best of the Blog, 2023

Welcome to my 11th annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s top work. I appreciate the support of my regular readers, especially email subscribers (Join at right.) and other visitors. This year’s site traffic surpassed 2022 on Dec. 1 and will finish second only to 2020, when COVID quarantine rocketed readership.

BPL reading room.

As aways, I also want to thank the archivists and librarians who assisted my research during the year. 2023 was split between Cambridge, Massachusetts, where my wife finished her Nieman Fellowship, and our return to Washington, D.C. In New England I visited collections at Harvard University, Boston College, Boston Public Library, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In DC I have made numerous trips to the Library of Congress. The New York Public Library and Kings College London provided remote help with digital scans of requested material. I am always grateful for the easy access to historic newspaper archives provided by Newspapers.com, the Irish Newspaper Archives, and other collections.  Finally, thanks to authors and publishers who have sent me their Irish-related books.

BACK TO IRELAND

In March I made my eleventh trip to Ireland, the first since before COVID. My wife and I were happy to see our relations in Kerry. We enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day in Kilkenny, which we visited for the first time. In November we flew into the Dublin airport enroute to Brussels and on our return to DC. I enjoyed the airborne views of Ireland but missed having a proper second visit. Hope to get back in 2024.

Dingle Peninsula, March 2023.

POPULAR POSTS

This year’s most viewed post explored the history behind an Academy Award-nominated movie:

Two other posts about contemporary events in Ireland also included historical background:

JOURNALISM HISTORY

I added a dozen posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which now totals more than 150 entries since December 2018. I continue to explore this topic as I work toward a book.

This year’s highlights included:

When a boatload of reporters steamed to the Easter Rising (1916)

Arthur Gleason’s ‘inside’ reporting of post-Rising Ireland (1916-17)

Reporter vs. reporter: Ackerman and Grasty in Ireland (1920/21)

Praying and ‘knocking heads together’ to end Irish Civil War (1923)

Killarney National Park, March 2023.

FREELANCE PIECES … 

… & GUEST POSTS

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer submissions. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts landing page to make a suggestion.

Kilkenny Castle, March 2023.

YEARS PAST:

More great content in our “BOB” archive:

The Anglo-American journalist who agitated the Irish

This post continues my exploration of American Reporting of Irish IndependenceMH ©2024

English-born journalist Cyril Herbert Bretherton wrote some of the most anti-Irish stories in the American press during 1920-1921. That he was a naturalized U.S. citizen hardly mattered to Irish nationalists on either side of the Atlantic. They accused him of being a liar, a spy, and a propagandist. Bretherton’s reporting probably reduced American fundraising for humanitarian relief in Ireland. His work at least partially offset pro-independence Irish writers such as Francis Hackett, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, who supported their homeland through books and mass circulation newspaper and magazine articles in America.

Bretherton remained unreconstructed after the creation of the 26-county Irish Free State, predecessor of today’s Republic of Ireland. “I am convinced, after studying the Irish carefully, both in their native land and in America, for a number of years, that they are quite incapable of governing themselves now, and I conclude from that that they never were capable of doing so,” he wrote in a 1925 memoir.[1]Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Real Ireland (London: A. & C. Black, LTD, 1925), p. 4.

C. H. Bretherton in 1921 U.S. passport photo.

Bretherton emigrated to America in 1906 at the age of twenty-eight after earning a law degree. In California, he joined the bar, worked as a journalist, and secured his new citizenship. But Bretherton returned to his native country at the start of the First World War. He enlisted in the military and was stationed in Dublin.[2]Pauric J. Dempsey, “Bretherton, Cyril Herbert Emmanuel”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009; and The National Archives in Washington, DC; Washington, Dc; (Roll 20) Petitions … Continue reading

Bretherton contributed to U.S. newspapers during the Great War. “One seems to step from the pier at New York directly into the war zone,” he wrote of German submarine danger in March 1916, a year before America entered the war.[3]”Story Of England’s Dummy Fleet Told To Herald Correspondent By Participant”, The Washington (D.C.) Herald, March 19, 1916. He became a correspondent for the unionist-leaning Irish Times in Dublin and the conservative Morning Post in London. In early 1920 he joined the upstart foreign news service of the Philadelphia Public Ledger at a salary of about $75 a month.[4]Bretherton was paid £20 per month, according to “Present Salary Schedule” in Carl Ackerman Papers, Library of Congress. The document is undated. Conversion uses 1920 rate of $3.66 per £1, … Continue reading

It was in this role that his coverage of the Irish war attracted attention.

Sinn Fein ‘schism’

In a September 1920 story for the Public Ledger and its affiliated papers, Bretherton suggested a “schism in Sinn Fein” was “becoming more evident.”[5]“Republican Army In Ireland Sole Barrier To Peace”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 3, 1920, and other papers. On the one side were “moderates … convinced that Ireland can get the substance of freedom within the empire for the asking and should not throw it away for a shadow of republican independence to which Great Britain will never agree.” Leaders of this view, according to his story, included Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith and Éamon de Valera, then in America to raise money and lobby for U.S. political support for the Irish republic.

On the other side were the “extremists,” Bretherton reported. They included the “strong man” Michael Collins, who believed “an independent republic can and will in the near future be realized.” Anyone who accepted to anything less, Bretherton wrote, was considered “a traitor to the cause.”

Bretherton did not attribute these views to named sources within Sinn Féin, the British government, or elsewhere. His reporting certainly was influenced by his boss, Carl Ackerman, London bureau chief of the Public Ledger’s foreign news service. Ackerman suggested the split within Sinn Féin at least two months earlier.

During their July 1920 interview, Griffith told Ackerman more than once that he would refuse to accept any peace deal that did not result in an Irish republic. Yet Ackerman insisted in the same story, “I believe Sinn Fein would give up this demand and accept a liberal form of home rule.”[6]From the second story of Ackerman’s four-part series: Part 1, “Hour for Mediation in Ireland at Hand; Ackerman Thinks America Could Act”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1920; … Continue reading In another story a few days later Ackerman reported on the “general belief in England that moderate Sinn Feiners do not have the power to control the Sinn Fein organization.”[7]“Both Sides In British-Irish War Await Move For Mediation”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 10, 1920, and other papers. This is the fourth story of Ackerman’s four-part series.

Carl Ackerman in 1920.

British spy chief Sir Basil Thompson, who had become a key source to Ackerman, encouraged this view. At the time the two men were privately discussing whether former Wilson administration advisor Edward House could mediate a peace deal between Sinn Féin and the British government. House had recently joined the Public Ledger payroll as a foreign affairs expert. Ackerman dangled the possibility of an American mediator–left unnamed–in his July 1920 reporting from Ireland. He quoted Griffith as saying Sinn Féin would “very seriously consider” such an intermediary.

Ackerman privately told Sinn Féin propaganda chief Desmond FitzGerld that British authorities were concerned the moderate wing didn’t have full control of the Irish republican party. And that could jeopardize the proposed mediation by House.

FitzGerald asked Ackerman what it would take to prove there was no division.

“If you, Griffiths, and other moderates remain alive two weeks after talking peace everyone will be convinced you control Sinn Fein. If you are all dead by that time it won’t matter,” Ackerman replied, according to his diary.[8]“London Notes”, Ackerman’s dairy, July 15, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

A month later, FitzGerald helped Ackerman obtain an interview with Collins. The Public Ledger promoted it as the first interview with the man who had eluded British authorities for two years. Ackerman’s story made a splash in the American press. But Collins’ comments underlined Sinn Féin’s hardline stance and effectively scuttled the proposal for House to mediate.

Sinn Fein will not compromise, will not negotiate, excepting as a republican government. Moreover, there will be no secret negotiation, no dealing with semi-official individuals. … Talk of dominion home rule is not promoted by England with a view to granting it to us, but merely with the view to getting rid of the republican movement.[9]“Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.

When Bretherton’s story about a split within Sinn Féin appeared a week after the Collins interview, it raised questions of whether Griffith and others had softened or compromised their republican views. This would have been a significant development.

The pro-Irish Gaelic American republished Bretherton’s story, just as it had done a week earlier with Ackerman’s interview of Collins. “Unconfirmed Report Of Differences” the New York City weekly headlined at the top of its front page. An editor’s introduction described Bretherton as “unknown in Irish circles” and noted that he did not provide direct quotes from either Collins or Griffith. The paper cautioned readers that it reproduced his story “with reserve.”[10]“Unconfirmed Report Of Difference” The Gaelic American, Sept. 11, 1920.

Negative reactions followed swiftly. One “indignant reader” wrote a letter to the Gaelic American that not only pointed out Bretherton’s English birth, but also accused him of being “a known liar and British spy.” The letter writer insisted: “His article is entirely manufactured. There is no Sinn Fein split.”[11]“Bretherton Is English”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 18, 1920.

Sinn Féin also reacted to the story. Griffith denounced it as “obvious English propaganda.” In two letters to the Gaelic American, Collins wrote that “talk of differences is an old policy with England. It is only to be expect at this time, when the situation becomes more and more difficult for her, shames her more and more before decent people, that she will leave nothing undone to break up the splendid solidarity of the Irish nation.”[12]“Letter Of Complaint From Michael Collins”, The Gaelic American, Nov. 6, 1920; and copy of letter on Dail Eireann stationary, Sept. 30, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

Collins demanded that John Devoy, the paper’s editor and longtime proponent of Irish independence, apologize to de Valera. Devoy and de Valera had publicly argued all summer about the best way to secure U.S. government support for Ireland. The Irish Press, which staunchly supported the visiting de Valera, also published the two Collins letters to embarrass Devoy.[13]“Gaelic American Editor Rebuked; Told To Apologize To President”, The Irish Press, Nov. 6, 1920. The Philadelphia-based weekly, which had feuded with Devoy since its launch 1918, accused him of “veiled approval” of the “purely English propaganda.”

The episode stoked division among the Irish in America, and between them and the Irish in Ireland. This would only grow worse.

Bretherton and the Public Ledger published a non-retraction retraction to Sinn Féin’s repudiation of a split. “These denials may well be accepted at their face value and as the last word on the subject, for in a case of this kind direct testimony of the parties concerned must always outweigh evidence that, however convincing, is merely circumstantial,” Bretherton wrote.[14]“Sinn Feiners Use Old Punishments”, The Norfolk (Va.) Ledger-Dispatch, Oct. 14, 1920.

But Bretherton’s story of a Sinn Féin split was proved prescient a little over a year later as the party and the British government agreed to a peace treaty. Collins, who emerged from hiding to help negotiate the accord, took the moderate position of supporting the treaty. De Valera became the “extremist” who refused to accept the treaty because it fell short of a republic, setting the stage for the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.

Collins “should have kept up the role of Unknown Assassin,” Bretherton wrote in his 1925 memoir, three years after the IRA leader was killed in an ambush. “Instead of doing that he allowed himself to be inveigled into writing to an American paper, denouncing a highly plausible story—concocted, perhaps, with the express purpose of ‘drawing’ him—of how he and Arthur Griffith were at loggerheads. A man who writes letters to the papers can never be mysterious or terrible.”[15]Bretherton, The Real Ireland, p. 23.

American delegation for Irish relief

The mid-December 1920 burning of Cork city by British troops prompted Irish activists in the United States to launch the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. Its goal was to raise $10 million in aid for victims of the war, regardless of whether they were nationalists or unionists, Catholic or Protestant. The committee also intended to use the effort to keep public attention on Ireland as U.S. president-elect Warren G. Harding succeeded Woodrow Wilson, who refused to recognize the Irish republic. The relief committee planned to launch of its nationwide fundraising appeal on St. Patrick’s Day 1921.

An eight-member committee delegation steamed to Ireland in advance to assess conditions and needs. Clemens J. France, a Seattle labor lawyer who had just lost a campaign for U.S. Senate in Washington state, headed the group. Author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy of New York City served as the delegation’s secretary and chief writer. The other six members were agricultural and economic experts who belonged to the American Friends Services Committee; a Quaker humanitarian organization. Their affiliation was said to give the delegation a neutral perspective.

The delegation was only in Dublin for a few days when Bretherton produced a four-part series for the Irish Times titled, “Irish Distress and its Relief.”[16]Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times: Part 1, “The American Committee, Its Works And Aims”, Feb. 17, 1921; Part 2, “Nature Of The Problem, Suggestions To American Committee”, Feb. 18, … Continue reading The articles not only sought to minimize the need for American charity, but also criticized those involved in the effort. While the visiting delegation claimed to be non-political and non-partisan, Bretherton noted, “neutrality is a narrow plank on which to walk through the morass of Irish political strife.”[17]Ibid, from Part 1.

The Public Ledger distributed edited versions of Bretherton’s series to its more than two dozen member newspapers.[18]Public Ledger “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, Jan. 1, 1921” in Spurgeon, John J., 1921, in Ackerman papers. In addition to the flagship paper in Philadelphia, other titles included … Continue reading “Isolated cases of hardship, due to reprisals and burnings, certainly exist,” Bretherton wrote. “Probably there are not 20 such cases all told and the Irish themselves, if they choose, can take care of 20,000 such cases and still have money to spare.”[19]“No Pre-War Poverty In Ireland Today; Has Six Fat Years”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Feb. 23, 1921.

Bretherton was not the first journalist to minimize poverty in Ireland. For several years American correspondents had described the country as untouched by the ravages of the First World War, as compared to England and the continent. But Bretherton’s descriptions now threatened to undermine the relief committee’s fundraising campaign.

He accused the delegation of sending “lurid tales of Irish distress” to America. He disputed its report that 200,000 civilians were “in dire need” and insisted that “there are not in all Ireland 500 people in that condition.” Likewise, he said property damage in Ireland, estimated at $300 million by the committee delegation, “does not amount to one-tenth that sum.”[20]“Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

France, the delegation leader, quickly cabled the relief committee’s New York City headquarters with a statement for release to U.S. newspapers. France charged that Bretherton “has deliberately ignored facts which any unbiased journalist can obtain and which are known to Crown authorities.” France also said that Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times “obviously sought to persuade our unit that no relief need exists in Ireland, and since he failed in this absurd attempt he is apparently attempting to influence opinion in America.”[21]“Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.

Unsurprisingly, the hyper-partisan News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom agreed. The Washington, D.C.-based weekly blasted Bretherton for “industriously cabling” British propaganda to U.S. newspapers. It continued:

It is obviously to the advantage of the English government to make it appear to Americans that the need for relief in Ireland is small or non-existent. … Fortunately these isolated bits of fiction which have appeared in the American press are easily identified and refuted.”[22]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom National Bureau of Information, no headline, p. 7, March 19, 1921.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

Bretherton also reported that the eight-member delegation risked being booted out of Ireland by the British government because it “placed itself unreservedly in the hands of Sinn Fein.” The relief funds, he alleged, “will go to the support of families of fighting Sinn Feiners interned or in jail or to rebuild houses burned by the Crown forces because their owners participated actively or passively in attacks on them.”[23]“Britain May Order”, Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

Two weeks later Ackerman reported the American delegation would be allowed to stay in Ireland. He backstopped Bretherton by name in the story, revealing British authorities had not reached their decision until after his colleague’s story was sent to America. In other words, Bretherton’s story was accurate when it was published.[24]“Americans Asked To Avoid White Cross”, Norfolk (Virginia) Ledger-Dispatch, March 16, 1921. Ackerman also reported the American delegation was told to avoid contact with the Bretherton suggested Sinn Féin-affiliated Irish White Cross.

“You have cleared up the Irish relief dispute quite satisfactorily,” John J. Spurgeon, the Public Ledger’s Philadelphia-based editor, wrote to Ackerman. Spurgeon warned, however, that Bretherton “must not give even a suspicion of leaning to one side. There is a pretty general feeling over here (in America) among the Irish that he is exceedingly pro-British and anti-Irish and I don’t want them to have anything to point to.”[25]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 18, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

But Bretherton’s reporting had already cast doubt on the Irish relief effort. An Indiana newspaper editorial suggested:

Americans are entitled to the exact truth, as far as it can be obtained, in order that they may base their gifts on facts rather than rhetoric. It is known that throughout the war Ireland was one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The conditions (now) may be worse than Mr. Bretherton reports, and yet much less bad than we have been asked to believe. The disparity between the two estimates is such as to suggest the great need for a careful, nonpartisan and unbiased inquiry. The American people will insist, also, that what they give be used for the relief of all sufferers and not simply those of the Sinn Fein persuasion.[26]“News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis (Indiana) News, March 7, 1921, and other papers.

Others also questioned the need for American relief in Ireland. Protestant preachers in Pittsburgh passed resolutions and paid for newspaper advertising that disclaimed the relief campaign.[27]See my post “The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland“, Aug. 18, 2021. The Relief Committee collected $5 million—half its original goal—by the time fundraising ended later that summer. France, the delegation head, remained in Ireland after the other members returned home and the American committee continued to distribute money through the Irish White Cross.

Criticized, threatened & sacked

Bretherton’s reporting about the American relief delegation came as Spurgeon complained about the year-old foreign news service. The editor sent several early 1921 letters to Ackerman that detailed his criticisms, including too much document-based political and economic coverage and not enough human-interest features. Like other U.S. newspaper editors, Spurgeon also worried that his overseas staff failed to discriminate between “what to mail and what the cable,” the latter a steep expense to the business.[28]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, Feb. 3, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

Of Bretherton, Spurgeon wrote:

Almost daily he has cabled brief articles about ambushes, murders, fires, uprisings, and the actual daily happenings in every part of Ireland. Almost without exception these have been covered by the Associated Press. Result—duplication of effort and unnecessary expense.[29]Ibid.

Ackerman replied that Bretherton had no way of knowing what stories the Associated Press was sending to America. But he assured Spurgeon that the correspondent would “stop sending what you describe as small crime stories and devote himself more to the larger aspects of the Irish situation.”[30]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, Feb. 28, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

Spurgeon’s complaints might have prompted Bretherton’s work on the American relief delegation. Yet the correspondent continued to file stories about some of the same daily developments as the wire service. Bretherton’s story about the sensational Kilmainham jail escape of Frank Teeling, one of the IRA’s “Bloody Sunday” assassins, caught the attention of the Gaelic American. Still smarting from the “split” story five months earlier, the paper attacked Bretherton as “a notorious enemy of Sinn Fein who has previously sent fakes to America.”[31]“Was Teeling Rescued Or Murdered By Black And Tans”, The Gaelic American, Feb. 26, 1921.

Physical threats to Bretherton also emerged. In April 1921 Ackerman obtained a second secret interview with Collins, mysteriously datelined from “somewhere in Ireland.”[32]“Chief Of Irish Army Declares Fight To Go On”, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, April 3, 1921. Ackerman reported that Collins told him American correspondents “could have their own opinions and express themselves freely.” But the IRA commander objected to Bretherton’s story that accused Sinn Féin of murdering three Irish lord mayors: Thomas McCurtain of Cork city in March 1920, and George Clancy and Michael O’Callaghan of Limerick city in March 1921. Collins blamed the slayings on the British military.

Privately, Ackerman told Spurgeon: “Collins said that we need have no fear that as far as he and the leaders were concerned nothing would ever happen to Bretherton. He added, however, that the feeling against Bretherton was high in Cork and Limerick and that he never knew when someone who had a grievance might take it upon himself to harm Bretherton.” Ackerman also wrote that that he told Collins “there would be ‘hell to pay'” if any harm came to an American correspondent and the Public Ledger would not withdraw Bretherton from Ireland “because some members of Sinn Fein did not like what he wrote.”[33]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, April 4, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

But Ackerman was lying to Collins and probably boasting to Spurgeon. A few weeks before his interview with Collins, Ackerman accompanied Bretherton to the U.S. consulate office in Dublin to help renew the correspondent’s American passport.[34]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – … Continue reading Then Ackerman sent Bretherton to the Baltics on assignment. He informed Spurgeon of his decision.

Ackerman’s April 4, 1921, letter about Sinn Fein threats to Bretherton. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress.

“I think it was wise to take Bretherton away from Ireland, as despite the fact that I think he was quite warranted in what he said about the American relief crowd, nevertheless, he was a constant thorn in the flesh to the Sinn Feiners in this country,” Spurgeon replied to Ackerman.[35]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 29, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

U.S Consul Frederick T. F. Dumont, who signed Bretherton’s passport, also reported the episode to his State Department superiors in Washington. The correspondent “was compelled to leave Ireland … because he had aroused the enmity of Michael Collins and of the Sinn Fein press in Ireland by daring to take any other than the Sinn Fein view in his letters and telegrams to his newspaper,” Dumont wrote. He also suggested the Public Ledger was being threatened in America with reader and advertising boycotts unless it eliminated such coverage.[36]Frederick T. F. Dumont to U.S. State Department, April 23, 1921, in “Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, … Continue reading

Ackerman and Spurgeon continued to argue about the foreign news service into the summer. By August, Ackerman returned to America for a face-to-face meetings, which resulted in his resignation. Bretherton was sacked soon after.

Ackerman and Bretherton corresponded across the Atlantic at least until the end of 1921, according to Ackerman’s papers at the Library of Congress. Bretherton asked his former boss to recommend an American publisher who might be interested “in a small book about Ireland.”[37]C.H. Bretherton to Carl Ackerman, Nov. 14, 1921, in Ackerman papers. It is unclear whether Ackerman ever replied or helped. Bretherton’s memoir, The Real Ireland, didn’t appear until four years later from a London publisher. He never mentions Ackerman or the Public Ledger in the book, which was soon suppressed in a libel suit unrelated to his American correspondence.

Bretherton continued to work for Irish and British papers and wrote several other books. He married an Irish woman and is said to have been a devout Roman Catholic. He died in 1939, aged 60, in his native England.[38]Dempsey, “Bretherton, C. H. (Cyril Herbert)”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography.

References

References
1 Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Real Ireland (London: A. & C. Black, LTD, 1925), p. 4.
2 Pauric J. Dempsey, “Bretherton, Cyril Herbert Emmanuel”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009; and The National Archives in Washington, DC; Washington, Dc; (Roll 20) Petitions For Naturalization 1815-2233; Record Group Title: National Archives Gift Collection; Record Group Number: 200; and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – Certificates: 20250-20625, 16 Apr 1921-16 Apr 1921.
3 ”Story Of England’s Dummy Fleet Told To Herald Correspondent By Participant”, The Washington (D.C.) Herald, March 19, 1916.
4 Bretherton was paid £20 per month, according to “Present Salary Schedule” in Carl Ackerman Papers, Library of Congress. The document is undated. Conversion uses 1920 rate of $3.66 per £1, according to Lawrence H. Officer, “Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791,” MeasuringWorth.com, 2023.
5 “Republican Army In Ireland Sole Barrier To Peace”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 3, 1920, and other papers.
6 From the second story of Ackerman’s four-part series: Part 1, “Hour for Mediation in Ireland at Hand; Ackerman Thinks America Could Act”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1920; Part 2, “Sinn Fein Leaders Willing To Let United States Be Jury”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 8, 1920; Part 3, “Plunkett Blames British Blunders for Irish Strife”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 9, 1920; and Part 4, “Irish Mediation Lacks Leader Only, Says Ackerman, Pointing To Factors For and Against it”, The Washington Herald, July 10, 1920. Each part numbered in different papers, but some editing might have varied.
7 “Both Sides In British-Irish War Await Move For Mediation”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 10, 1920, and other papers. This is the fourth story of Ackerman’s four-part series.
8 “London Notes”, Ackerman’s dairy, July 15, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
9 “Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.
10 “Unconfirmed Report Of Difference” The Gaelic American, Sept. 11, 1920.
11 “Bretherton Is English”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 18, 1920.
12 “Letter Of Complaint From Michael Collins”, The Gaelic American, Nov. 6, 1920; and copy of letter on Dail Eireann stationary, Sept. 30, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
13 “Gaelic American Editor Rebuked; Told To Apologize To President”, The Irish Press, Nov. 6, 1920.
14 “Sinn Feiners Use Old Punishments”, The Norfolk (Va.) Ledger-Dispatch, Oct. 14, 1920.
15 Bretherton, The Real Ireland, p. 23.
16 Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times: Part 1, “The American Committee, Its Works And Aims”, Feb. 17, 1921; Part 2, “Nature Of The Problem, Suggestions To American Committee”, Feb. 18, 1921; Part 3, “Causes of Unemployment, The Ex-Servicemen”, Feb. 21, 1921; and Part 4, “Promiscuous Charity, Reconstruction Schemes”, Feb. 25, 1921.
17 Ibid, from Part 1.
18 Public Ledger “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, Jan. 1, 1921” in Spurgeon, John J., 1921, in Ackerman papers. In addition to the flagship paper in Philadelphia, other titles included the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Washington (D.C.) HeraldDes Moines (Iowa) RegisterMinneapolis (Minnesota) Tribune, and St. Louis Star.
19 “No Pre-War Poverty In Ireland Today; Has Six Fat Years”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Feb. 23, 1921.
20 “Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.
21 “Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.
22 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom National Bureau of Information, no headline, p. 7, March 19, 1921.
23 “Britain May Order”, Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.
24 “Americans Asked To Avoid White Cross”, Norfolk (Virginia) Ledger-Dispatch, March 16, 1921.
25 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 18, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
26 “News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis (Indiana) News, March 7, 1921, and other papers.
27 See my post “The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland“, Aug. 18, 2021.
28 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, Feb. 3, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
29 Ibid.
30 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, Feb. 28, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
31 “Was Teeling Rescued Or Murdered By Black And Tans”, The Gaelic American, Feb. 26, 1921.
32 “Chief Of Irish Army Declares Fight To Go On”, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, April 3, 1921.
33 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, April 4, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
34 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – Certificates: 20250-20625, 16 Apr 1921-16 Apr 1921.
35 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 29, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
36 Frederick T. F. Dumont to U.S. State Department, April 23, 1921, in “Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Roll 218.” Microfilm reviewed at Harvard University, 2022.
37 C.H. Bretherton to Carl Ackerman, Nov. 14, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
38 Dempsey, “Bretherton, C. H. (Cyril Herbert)”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Five Irish books for holiday gifting

The five books below come from my annual stack of those bought, borrowed, or received as personal gifts or publisher promotions. Perhaps one or all of them will make a perfect gift for a special reader on your seasonal shopping list … or for yourself. Titles are linked to sales sites. Happy holidays. MH

Doorley authored the earlier Irish-American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-1935, a key text for understanding the U.S. front of the Irish War of Independence. Cohalan was a major figure of the period and a close associate of the Irish immigrant nationalist John Devoy. This book is a welcome first biography of the “Judge.” Read Doorley’s 2020 guest post about the friction between Cohalan and Éamon de Valera.

This was my surprise find of the year and a welcome diversion from “Decade of Centenaries” reading. Bulik is a senior editor at The New York Times. He offers fascinating details about the birth of Irish secret societies, their transformation in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, and their impact on U.S. Civil War conscription and 19th century labor unrest.

“A next-generation travel guide for an age when nearly all of us carry smartphones that put all the practical details at our fingertips,” I wrote in my February interview with the author. Kavanagh’s May guest post about the ‘Spirit of the West’ was based on reporting for the book.

Financier and banker John Pierpont “JP” Morgan recruited Buckley, of Listowel, County Kerry, to work at his New York City mansion early in the 20th century. Her U.S. culinary adventures eventually brought her to the White House, where she cooked for presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. This image-laden book includes some of her forgotten recipes. (Disclosure: I’m always happy to support literary efforts from North Kerry, my ancestral home.)

A fresh appraisal by the former associate professor of history at Catholic University of America and the curator of American Catholic History Collections. This book arrives at the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, at the time followed by the groundbreaking release of The American Irish by journalist William V. Shannon. He later became U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the Carter administration. I’m arranging an interview with Meagher for early 2024. Please check back.

‘Sacred to the memory of Irish blood’

This memorial is engraved into the marble wall at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.:

Sacred To The Memory Of
The Men And Women Of Irish Blood
Who Served In The Great World War
1914-1918

I had walked past it many times without noticing. You can see why in the photo at the bottom. The eye is drawn up to the gold bas-relief sculpture of the Third Station of the Cross (“Jesus falls the first time.”) rather than the words below it.

The memorial is ambiguous. Is it dedicated to Irish immigrants and their offspring in America who served in the First World War, or does it also apply to the Irish in Ireland? Remember, the United States didn’t enter the war until April 1917, nearly three years into the conflict. It was only then that Irish immigrants from America were shipped to continental battlefields. See my earlier post: An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918. Irish blood had been spilled from the start of the war in 1914.

The cathedral staff has been unable to provide any details about its origins. I have also reached out to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Please contact me if you have any information.

This Nov. 11 is the 105th anniversary of the armistice ending the war. I am traveling to Belgium and hope to visit the Irish Peace Tower in Flanders. It is said to be the only location on the western front where both Irish nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, fought together in the trenches.

Five years ago I was driving from Galway city to north Kerry on a rainy Sunday morning at the centenary of the armistice. I listened to special programing on RTÉ that marked the solemn occasion. Bells tolled at the eleventh hour of that eleventh day of the eleventh month.

A year later I attended Mass at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast. There, another memorial to Irish lives lost in the Great War was erected inside the church before the fighting concluded on the continent. I might have missed it, too, except that the priest mentioned it during his homily.

May all victims of the Great War, including innocent civilians, rest in peace.

The memorial at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is engraved into the marble wall below an image of the Third Station of the Cross: Jesus Falls the First Time.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 4, Behind the scenes

The is the final installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence© 2024. See:

“The Irish press devotes a column at a time to men like Grasty of the New York Times or Ackerman of the Philadelphia (Public) Ledger when they tell the truth concerning the Irish situation, calling them and their papers paid agents of the British Government.”

Ackerman and House

Carl Ackerman had just turned 30 years old when he arrived in London in February 1920 to oversee the Philadelphia Public Ledger‘s new foreign news service. Advertisements promoted Ackerman as “one of the best known of American correspondents.” Within a year the service would have more than two dozen subscriber newspapers, including the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Washington (D.C.) Herald, Des Moines (Iowa) Register, Minneapolis (Minnesota) Tribune, and St. Louis Star.[1]”Readers of the Eagle Now Have the Benefit of a New Cable News Service”, advertisement in the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 7, 1920, and “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, … Continue reading

Ackerman traveled to Ireland in April. “The trip was valuable in that it gave me background of understanding which I needed because I had never been there or studied Irish affairs,” Ackerman wrote to John S. Spurgeon, his editor in Philadelphia.[2]Ackerman to Spurgeon, April 8, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Library of Congress.

Ackerman also told Spurgeon that he was “working very slowly and cautiously on ‘connections’” with U.S.  and British government officials.[3]Ackerman to Spurgeon, March 10, 1920, in Ackerman papers. As Maurice Walsh details in The News from Ireland, Ackerman’s reporting soon came to be influenced by two insiders–one American, one British—as he inserted himself into back-channel efforts to bring peace to Ireland. His behind-the-scenes work “was not unconnected to his view of how he should collect news as a journalist; the idea that good journalism was the fruit of being on excellent terms with powerful contacts,” which Ackerman described as ” ‘key men’ in ‘key positions.’ “[4]Walsh, The News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141.

In this regard, Ackerman’s June 1920 outing of Charles Grasty’s mission to Ireland for the Wilson administration smacks of either hypocrisy or sabotage. Wasn’t the New York Times journalist only doing the same thing as Ackerman?

To boost the reputation of the new foreign news service, the Public Ledger retained Edward House as a special advisor on diplomacy. House was available for the duty because he had been pushed out of the Wilson administration after the president suffered a stroke in October 1919. House was sidelined by Wilson’s wife and other White House insiders wary of his self-dealing. Ackerman and House had regularly exchanged correspondence during the Great War, and House had similar relationships with Grasty and other journalists.

Ackerman carried a letter from House to Sir Horace Plunkett on a second trip to Ireland in late June, a month after Grasty met with the Irish statesman. House raised the possibility of himself mediating peace negotiations between the Irish rebels and the British government. He described Ackerman as “my friend,” and told Plunkett “I commend him to you as being in every way worthy of your confidence.”[5]House to Plunkett, June 27, 1920, in House papers, Yale University. Plunkett in turn helped Ackerman shape a story that floated the possibility of an outside mediator, a person left unnamed in the story but whom the Irishman teased as “someone who belongs to your own country.[6]”Plunkett Blames British Blunders For Irish Strife”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Star Tribune, July 9, 1920, Third story of four-part series.

Top of March 7, 1920, Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement for the new foreign news service.

Top portion of March 7, 1920, advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for the new foreign news service, which was based from the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

Ackerman and Thomson

Ackerman’s second inside source was Sir Basil Thomson, director of intelligence at Scotland Yard. Beginning in May 1920, Thomson selectively leaked documents gathered by British intelligence to “prepare the ground for negotiation with IRA leaders” and “briefed Ackerman to carry messages to Sinn Fein and IRA leaders in Ireland, using Ackerman’s journalistic mission as cover for advancing an Irish settlement by negotiation.”[7]Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 143.

That summer, officials continued to contemplate using House as a mediator in the negotiations, but the effort eventually fizzled. Walsh notes that, “Ackerman’s role as go-between” continued to evolve. “There is no sign that Ackerman’s employers were aware of the secret work he had undertaken,” Walsh says. He cities Spurgeon’s Aug. 6, 1920, letter to Ackerman expressing relief that House abandoned the idea of becoming a mediator in Ireland because of his role on the editorial staff of an American newspaper. “If it was out of bounds to become a mediator on grounds of preserving editorial independence–even though he was an advisor to the Public Ledger and not a journalist–it must have been an equally forbidden path for Ackerman,” Walsh says.[8]Ibid., pp. 145-146.

On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that Spurgeon was ignorant of Ackerman’s extra-journalistic activities with U.S. and British officials. Ackerman certainly kept him informed about the House initiative, and Ackerman also told his editor about conversations with Thompson. Spurgeon knew Ackerman’s dispatches for Public Ledger subscriber papers didn’t contain many of the details that he described in their private correspondence. As Ackerman wrote in his own diary: “Frequently there is more news between the lines of a newspaper than appears in the print.”[9]Ackerman’s “London Notebook”, Aug. 18, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

Grasty’s ‘Irish Realities’

Charles Grasty

Grasty updated his New York Times reporting from Ireland in a September piece for The Atlantic Monthly. His conclusions related to America’s role in Ireland included:

I begin by saying that the common belief in America that the present movement in Ireland is a spontaneous eruption of a people smarting under tyrannous oppression is not well-founded. The movement, unlike similar movements in the past, has been carefully planned by a few bold and astute leaders. … For without financial help from America and an American sympathy that will constantly embarrass Britain, the enterprise of an Irish republic is a mere chimera. …

The (Irish republican) movement went forward without a single setback until the month of June of this year. First, the Republican Convention in Chicago, and then the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, refused to indorse Irish independence. De Valera failed in his task. With American sympathy and help, the achievement of a republic in Ireland was a possibility. Without them, the extreme of the Irish demand can never be attained. …

The failure to get the Irish question into the American presidential election, in my opinion, reduces to nil the chance, always slender, in view of Britain’s necessities, of establishing an Irish republic as the result of this particular movement. Without strong American aid, the conflicting elements in Sinn Fein cannot long be held together in the effort along the present lines for full independence.[10]Charles Grasty, “Irish Realities”, The Atlantic Monthly, September 1920.

Grasty’ last observation proved prescient. His piece was cited on the editorial pages of many U.S. newspaper, including the Minneapolis (Minn.) Star Tribune, Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, and Kansas City (Mo.) Times. Even the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle commented on his “recently returned … investigation of Irish conditions.”[11]”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920. The Eagle did not mention Ackerman’s story about Grasty being on a mission for Wilson, which it had published just four months earlier.

Ackerman interviews Collins

Ackerman’s “exclusive and authorized interview” with Irish leader Michael Collins also drew significant press attention in late summer 1920. An editor’s note said, “For more than two years the British Government has searched for him. Today every policeman and officer in Ireland carries his photograph and description and has orders to arrest him at sight on the general charge of directing assassinations and raids on government offices.”[12]”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.

Walsh has detailed how Irish propaganda minister Desmond FitzGerald proposed the Collins interview to Ackerman shortly after the plan to use House as a mediator fell from favor. Ackerman delayed his Irish Sea crossing a few days until he could first discuss the matter with Thompson, the Scotland Yard intelligence director. The reporter then debriefed the spy master on his return to London, even writing a private memorandum for British government officials about whether the Irish were hardened on a republic or willing to negotiate a settlement.[13]Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.

Such behind the scenes intrigues were unknown at the time but would be revealed after the December 1921 treaty between Sinn Fein and the British government. The Lowell (Mass.) Courier-Citizen lauded Ackerman’s scoop in an editorial republished on the opinion pages of other U.S. papers.[14]Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best … Continue reading It said:

The American newspaperman is the best detective there is. … (British officials) can’t get near (Collins). Yet over to Dublin goes Carl Ackerman … and secures a two-hour interview with this very genuine celebrity. … Ackerman, of course, started (with) some advantages which the agents of Scotland Yard don’t have. He was personally known to some of ‘Mick’s’ friends as a chap who could be trusted. That’s always a newspaperman’s greatest asset when he’s on a difficult and dangerous job.

Ackerman wrote to Spurgeon in Philadelphia to say U.S. officials warned that he had placed himself “in a rather dangerous position.” He believed they did so only “in case something happened the American Government might be able to wash its hands.” Then Ackerman wondered: “How much this is due to the fact that I spoiled the carefully laid plans of Wilson and Colby to use Grasty I do not know.”[15]Ackerman to Spurgeon, Sept. 9, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

U.S. consul’s views

“Journalists are swarming over here just now,” Plunkett wrote to House in autumn 1920.[16]Horace Plunkett to Edward House, Oct. 5, 1920, in House papers. U.S. officials in Ireland also noted the activities of the press, including at least two references to Grasty and Ackerman.

Not long after Grasty published his Ireland series in the Times, he asked to see the official cables of U.S Consul Frederick T. F. Dumont, then stationed in Dublin, “in order to keep him fully informed from authoritative sources as to present events in Ireland.” Grasty essentially made a public records request nearly 50 years before the federal law providing access to such U.S. government documents. A State Department official commented: “This strikes me as rather an unusual request. It might eventually prove to be an embarrassing precedent to establish to allow newspaper men access to our official files.”

Nevertheless, Grasty’s request was relayed to Washington, which responded two days later with a two-word reply: “Certainly not.”[17]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from … Continue reading

Dumont, an occasional critic of press coverage of the Irish war, complimented Grasty and Ackerman in one of his regular dispatches to Washington:

The Irish press devotes a column at a time to men like Grasty of the New York Times or Ackerman of the Philadelphia (Public) Ledger when they tell the truth concerning the Irish situation, calling them and their papers paid agents of the British Government. Each paper has repeatedly been denounced as a paper owned by the Government. Events in various parts of the world have accustomed the public to sensations and they must be served up by the press of all countries to their readers if circulation and the money which comes from this circulation is to be retained.[18]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State … Continue reading

Dumont wrote his comments on Nov. 12, nine days before Bloody Sunday in Dublin and a month before the burning of Cork city. Such Irish war “sensations” continued for the first six months of 1921, before a truce led to peace negotiations.

Afterward

Top portion of Ackerman’s Aug. 7, 1921, story in The New York Times, soon after leaving the Philadelphia Pubic Ledger.

Ackerman resigned from the Public Ledger in July 1921 after months of wrangling with Spurgeon and other top editors about the operations of the foreign news service. He returned to America and in August wrote a story for the New York Times that acknowledged (or bragged) that he had “frequently carried messages” to key men in the peace negotiations:

For nearly two years I have been in intimate contact with both British and Irish leaders. I have traveled frequently in Ireland and between that country and England. As a result of first-hand observation I propose to relate, for the first time, the inside story of the events which led to the truce and present conferences in London and Dublin. … From the very beginning of the possibility of a peaceful settlement … I had the exceptional fortune of having an intimate contact with the ‘key’ men on both sides.”[19]Carl W. Ackerman, “Inside Of Irish Parlay”, The New York Times, Aug. 7, 1921.

In a spring 1922 series about Ireland for Atlantic Monthly, Ackerman also acknowledged the role of John Steele of the Chicago Tribune in the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The veteran correspondent accompanied Ackerman on his first trip to Ireland in March 1920 and introduced him to several of those key men, including U.S. Consul Dumont and FitzGerald, the Irish propaganda minister. As he reiterated his own role of promoting peace in Ireland, Ackerman wrote, “At the same time Mr. Steele was ‘carrying on’ negotiations between Sir Hamar Greenwood and other Sinn Fein leaders which resulted in the final negotiation of the truce last summer (July 1921). Unknown to the outside world two American newspaper men were acting as the sole connecting links between Sinn Fein and Downing Street … “[20]Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

Whatever intentions or hopes the Wilson administration once had for Grasty, his chance to play a role in the Irish peace settlement was scuttled by Ackerman’s June 1920 story. I suspect there still might be undiscovered documentation of what transpired between the two men, their newspapers, and U.S. officials. But we can never know what impact this might have had on the course of the Irish war and peace.

References

References
1 ”Readers of the Eagle Now Have the Benefit of a New Cable News Service”, advertisement in the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 7, 1920, and “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, Jan. 1, 1921” in Spurgeon, John J., 1921, in Ackerman papers.
2 Ackerman to Spurgeon, April 8, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Library of Congress.
3 Ackerman to Spurgeon, March 10, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
4 Walsh, The News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141.
5 House to Plunkett, June 27, 1920, in House papers, Yale University.
6 ”Plunkett Blames British Blunders For Irish Strife”, Minneapolis (Minn.) Star Tribune, July 9, 1920, Third story of four-part series.
7 Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 143.
8 Ibid., pp. 145-146.
9 Ackerman’s “London Notebook”, Aug. 18, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
10 Charles Grasty, “Irish Realities”, The Atlantic Monthly, September 1920.
11 ”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920.
12 ”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.
13 Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.
14 Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best Detective”, The Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, Kentucky, Nov. 9, 1920; and others.
15 Ackerman to Spurgeon, Sept. 9, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
16 Horace Plunkett to Edward House, Oct. 5, 1920, in House papers.
17 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from Winslow, Oct. 5, 1920; to “Dear Mr. Secretary” from V. H.,  Oct. 6, 1920; and to Winslow from Hurley, Oct. 7, 1920.
18 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State Department, Nov. 12, 1920.
19 Carl W. Ackerman, “Inside Of Irish Parlay”, The New York Times, Aug. 7, 1921.
20 Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 3, Irish-American reaction

The is the third installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. See Part 1 and Part 2. © 2024.

Grasty’s Ireland series

“Grasty joins the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.”

Carl Ackerman told his editor in Philadelphia that Charles Grasty “did not telegraph anything to The New York Times while he was in Ireland, although he did begin to send messages as soon as he reached London.” Ackerman didn’t attribute this detail to something Grasty said during their confrontation.[1]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress. He might have learned it from British intelligence, as we’ll see in Part 4.

Charles Grasty

Grasty, in a June 10 cable to Adolph Ochs, the Times publisher, said he had been “unable to settle down completing Irish letters”, which contained “interesting and rather important matter” from his reporting trip to Ireland. He promised to take the material on a forthcoming trip to Paris and write the “simple paragraphs” Ochs suggested in one of their earlier communications.[2]Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.

Seven weeks later Grasty wrote to Ochs again to ask why his “Irish stuff”—three cables and 10 letters sent to New York before the end of June—had not yet appeared in the Times. Grasty wrote:

The information these dispatches contained were from a source in Dublin which Ambassador Davis guided me to. So far as I know no one else has had a like chance to develop a balanced view of Ireland. I think these dispatches answered many of the questions that are puzzling people in America.”[3]Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.

Finally, in mid-August, the Times published four Grasty stories about Ireland. It’s possible that he returned there after his late May visit; roundtrip travel between London and Dublin or Belfast could be accomplished in a day. “I am just back from Ireland, whither I went to gather impressions of the present conditions there,” Grasty opened his first story. More likely, the Times changed the datelines to make his earlier material appear fresher than it was.

Each of the headlines below is linked to a copy of the original story, followed by the dateline and publication date, placeline, and a select excerpt:

Ireland’s Problems Seen At Close Range By An American, Aug. 1/Aug. 14, London

Most of the people I met were Sinn Feiners, and they were all most hospitable and obliging to me as an American. No American who leaves controversial matters severely alone need have any fears in visiting Ireland. In fact, the person of every American is sacred, for America is not the chief cornerstone of Sinn Fein hopes.

British Blundering And Sinn Fein Malice In Ireland, Aug. 3/Aug. 15, Dublin

After talking with as many people on both sides as I was able to see, and getting the opinion of the few neutrals whom it was possible to find in Ireland, I came to the conclusion that the minimum that Sinn Fein would accept was full dominion rule like Canada, omitting the Governor General and including control of excise, customs and police. They will not consent to leaving Ulster out. That is the situation at this time. Of course, if some adversary should overtake the movement for independent Ireland, and especially if there should be a split with the labor union, the demand might be modified; of if, on the other hand, British helplessness continued and the Presidential campaign in America crystalized American sympathy, Sinn Fein might decide to go the whole hog.

Ulster Men Look For Future Union, Aug. 5/Aug. 17, London

I don’t believe that Ulster is as eager for British rule as you might think after reading one of Sir Edward Carson’s speeches. Ulster people do not want to have Dublin rule put upon them just at this stage, but they are looking ahead to a future when Ireland may become a great industrial kingdom, dominated commercially and financially by Belfast, the well-organized capital of Ulster. Indeed, it was often in my mind as I traveled through Ireland what great possibilities awaited Ireland when permanent order should come.

Blames Both Sides For Irish Plight, Aug. 7/Aug. 18, London

Judging by results, British rule in Ireland has been a failure. Britain cannot plead the peculiarities and shortcomings of the Irish race as an excuse for her failure. She has been mistress of the situation for centuries and has had the power to enforce her authority and to apply the necessary remedies. The simple fact is that she has refused to bring to her task the kind of study and effort which the Irish situation called for. … But Ireland will be a unit sooner or later. The silent and irresistible forces of commercial and industrial self-interest will bring the North and South together.

I have not located any communication about Ireland from Gasty to Wilson or other members of his administration. The journalist easily could have briefed U.S. officials at the embassy in London when he exchanged his passport. With the publication of his stories in the Times, Grasty’s views about Ireland were now available for anyone to read.

Irish-American reaction

The Friends of Irish Freedom, a four-year-old American group supporting Irish independence, certainly read Grasty’s stories in the Times. And the group didn’t believe the correspondent’s claim that “my mental attitude was impartial” about Ireland, also made in the first story.

Through its weekly News Letter, the Friends dismissed Grasty as part of “the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.” The News Letter said Grasty made a “despicable attempt” to exploit sectarian division in Ireland, though religious issues hardly dominate the series. Ever watchful of real or perceived slights against the Irish cause by mainstream American or British newspapers, the News Letter also said the New York Times “has gone far in championing England’s course in Ireland.”[4]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.

The pro-Irish press delighted in the State Department denial of Ackerman’s story. This Aug. 28, 1920, headline appeared in ‘The Tablet’, a Catholic paper in Brooklyn, New York. 

In the next week’s issue, the News Letter again criticized Grasty as a “confident” of Lord Northcliffe, the British press magnate. This was certainly true.[5]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3. Weeks after the November 1918 armistice, Grasty reported from London that Northcliffe “is making a wonderful hit with the American newspaper men. … always accessible to them … indefatigable in his efforts to help them … [with] a very large accumulated influence among Americans generally, but particularly among American working newspaper men.”[6]“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918. As a former publisher, Grasty also favorably compared Northcliff and Ochs; noting the London and New York publishers each had “a passion for the news, and this forms the mainspring of success” for their respective papers.[7]“British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.

More importantly, the New Letter questioned whether Grasty could write a “disinterested” journalistic assessment of the Irish situation while simultaneously acting “confidentially” for President Wilson and the U.S. State Department, as Ackerman had reported in June. News Letter chief Daniel T. O’Connell wrote to Secretary of State Colby to complain the articles contained “statements grossly unfair and calculated to advance British interests in relation to England’s treatment of Ireland. … [I]f Grasty is empowered to act for our Government in any capacity whatsoever, it is obvious he should not be permitted to utilize such relationships as a means for spreading misstatements and otherwise giving circulation to error.”[8]Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – … Continue reading

In a reply to O’Connell, one of Colby’s assistants said that Grasty “is not engaged in any Diplomatic mission, or assignment, under the authority of this Government.” The Times correspondent was not “an official or unofficial representative” and “not traveling with a Diplomatic passport.”[9]G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

It was the U.S. government’s second denial of Ackerman’s story since June. Like Ambassador Davis’ cable to Grasty, however, the reply to O’Connell parsed the words “official” and “diplomatic” while ignoring the “special” status of the original passport. A few pro-Irish papers published both letters as proof of mainstream press bias against Ireland.[10]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920; and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic … Continue reading The pages of the Public Ledger and the New York Times remained silent about the confrontation between the two reporters.

“I have received no denial from Grasty nor have I heard anything from any of our clients questioning in any way the Grasty cable,” Spurgeon in Philadelphia wrote to Ackerman in London. “I think it would be just as well to let the matter stand as it is unless something further develops.”[11]Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

Ochs discussed the Grasty matter on the telephone with Frederick T. Birchall, a British-born assistant editor at the Times. Birchall followed up their conversation with a handwritten note to the publisher, which reiterated that he did not want to repeat Ackerman’s original allegation. He also suggested that O’Connell’s letter was “harmful propaganda,” while the State Department reply “contains no news.”[12]Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.

But Ackerman and Grasty would each have more to say about Ireland.

NEXT: Behind the scenes 

References

References
1 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress.
2 Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.
3 Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.
4 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.
5 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3.
6 “Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.
7 “British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.
8 Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219.
9 G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.
10 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920; and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic American, (New York, N.Y.) Sept. 4, 1920.
11 Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
12 Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 2, London confrontations

The is the second installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. See Part 1. © 2024.

State Department pressure

“…in present state affairs in Ireland large rumors grow from very tiny seeds.”

The U.S. State Department denied that Charles Grasty of The New York Times was on a diplomatic or official mission to Ireland for President Wilson. In a next-day follow up to Carl Ackerman’s original story, the  government “acknowledged that he might have gone to Dublin under a ‘special’ form of passport such as is issued often by American embassies or legations to messengers charged with the duty of conveying diplomatic papers to consular agents.” Ackerman also reported that British officials told him Grasty’s “mission to Ireland is purely one of observation on behalf of President Wilson.”[1]“England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, … Continue reading

On June 3, U.S. Ambassador Davis privately cabled Grasty about Ackerman’s story. In the clipped language of such communications, the ambassador wrote:

Have just received dispatch from Washington saying information reached department to effect that by reason your possession special passport wholly erroneous impression gotten abroad in Ireland you there on some sort mission for president. Of course possession of special passport is rather slender peg on which to hang such report but in present state affairs in Ireland large rumors grow from very tiny seeds. Department seems to regard this one as unfortunate and dangerous and direct me you give me change when you come London.[2]Charles H. Grasty to Carr V. Van Anda, June 8, 1920 (telegram), Adolph Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: Grasty quotes Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable to … Continue reading

Grasty was no stranger to the State Department. He had applied for and obtained several passports for Atlantic voyages in both directions over the previous decade. On June 10, he stopped at the U.S. Embassy in London to surrender the “special” passport and complete an “Emergency Passport Application.” Grasty stated his occupation as “journalist” and “journalistic work” as the reason for his travel.[3]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.

Front page of Grasty’s June 1920 emergency passport application. Note that he has lived outside the United States since 1914, but made six trips to America.

Back of Grasty’s June 1920 emergency passport application. Note the “surrender” of “special passport number 30” from April 1920. Also note his two references: Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, and Dr. Carey Grayson, personal physician and advisor to President Wilson.

The emergency passport was signed by Williamson S. Howell, second secretary of the embassy. Davis thanked Grasty in a follow up cable for his “prompt and courteous compliance” in exchanging the special passport; which he considered evidence of the journalist putting his civic duty above personal convenience. The ambassador told Grasty he was “quite sure that this rumor did not originate in any indiscretion of your own,” which is contrary to Ackerman’s allegation that Grasty boasted about the special passport while aboard the Baltic.[4]Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920 (telegram), in Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: As above, Grasty quoted Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable.

Grasty & Wilson

Grasty was a known supporter and confidante of Wilson. Both men were born in Virginia towns about 70 miles apart, Wilson being seven years older. The journalist described the president as “endlessly interesting” in a January 1920 magazine profile, shortly before his April 1920 return to Europe.[5]Charles Grasty, “The Personality Behind the President“, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1920. The story does not mention that Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919, or anything about Ireland.

Eight years earlier, as publisher of the Baltimore Sun, Grasty backed Wilson as the Democratic presidential nominee at the party’s national convention in that city. The newsman championed the candidate in his successful campaign against Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft and progressive former President Theodore Roosevelt. Four years later, Grasty supported Wilson’s re-election.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

From 1912 to 1922, Wilson and Grasty exchanged at least four dozen letters, though none of the correspondence listed in two archives dates from 1920, the period at the heart of this series.[6]Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & … Continue reading The president and the journalist “were in intimate contact” during the 1919 Paris peace conference and in Washington, D.C., the Times reported at Grasty’s death in January 1924, just two weeks before Wilson’s passing.[7]”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London”, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924. Grasty “enjoyed the former president’s highest respect and confidence and was a warm personal friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.”

The Times‘ obituary also said that Grasty held the trust and confidence of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who relied on their relationship to send important messages to America during and after the Great War. And the Times noted Grasty’s frequent interviews with London newspaper magnate Lord Alfred Northcliffe. Though native to Ireland, Irish separatists on both sides of the Atlantic viewed the conservative Northcliffe as a pro-British propagandist. (See Part 3.)

It’s unclear if Grasty and Ackerman had met in person before June 1920. They certainly knew of each other through their mutual contacts. Grasty wrote to Ackerman in 1917 on behalf of Adolph Ochs, the Times publisher, to ask for information about German newspaper operations. Ackerman had just returned to America after two years in Germany as a correspondent for United Press.[8]Grasty to Ackerman, May 3, 1917, and Ackerman to Grasty, Undated 1917, in Carl Ackerman papers, Box 122, Library of Congress. Ackerman also knew Ochs. In 1918 and 1919 wrote dispatches from Russia and China for the Times. Both reporters also corresponded with Edward House, a top Wilson advisor. (See Part 4).

Grasty confronts Ackerman 

Within a day or two after changing his passport at the U.S. Embassy in London, Grasty confronted Ackerman at the Public Ledger’s foreign office at Charing Cross. The men “argued” for about 90 minutes over the June 1 story, Ackerman told John J. Spurgeon, his editor in Philadelphia.[9]Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England. Ackerman wrote that Grasty showed him a copy of his own letter to Spurgeon “denying that he was in Ireland on official business.”

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

Grasty told Ackerman said that Wilson; Dr. Carey T. Grayson, the president’s personal physician and confidant; and U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, who replaced Robert Lancing in February 1920; asked him to undertake a special mission to Europe, including Ireland. This is interesting. Wilson had suffered a debilitating stroke in October 1919 and was seeing few visitors by the time Grasty left for Europe. The plan hit a roadblock, however, when Grasty informed Oches, who objected to the arrangement while he represented the Times, at least according to Ackerman.

Here is the key portion of Ackerman’s three-page letter to Spurgeon:

Grasty states that he told Mr. Ochs that he would not accept the President’s offer and that he wrote a letter to Mr. Colby refusing to undertake the work. Grasty admits, however, that he did accept a special diplomatic passport from Mr. Colby.

When my article was published Mr. Ochs cabled Grasty for an explanation. Grasty cabled the Times to look up his letter to Mr. Colby which Mr. Ochs did. Then Mr. Ochs cabled the text of the letter to Grasty and asked Grasty to show it to me and ask me to send a correction to the Public Ledger.

Mr. Grasty showed me this cablegram but I explained to him that while I was willing to send the text of that letter and his statement that he did not represent the government that I would, of course, add that he had a diplomatic passport; that he obtained diplomatic immunity in Liverpool and that he told reliable witnesses on the Baltic that he was on a government mission.

To this Grasty objected on the ground that he could not afford to have the question of his special passport discussed in the press and then he added that he had cabled Secretary Colby to instruct the Embassy here (London) to give him an ordinary passport and that he would give up the special which he possesses.

Ackerman repeated that Grasty informed “several fellow passengers on the Baltic” of having a confidential mission for the government. Ackerman did not rename his wife, as he had done in the letter to Spurgeon before the story was published. Ackerman also relayed that Grasty told him the Times accused him of “double-dealing and that Mr. Ochs is ‘sore.’ ”

Grasty cabled Ochs about his meeting with Ackerman. He said Ackerman was “convinced of his error but unwilling to make corrections” without restating that he had crossed the Atlantic with the special passport. Grasty declined the offer, he told Ochs, “because I thought it would involve matters in new muddle.” Grasty quoted exculpatory passages of his cables from Ambassador Davis. He did not mention anything about the Colby letter or Mrs. Ackerman, at least in the surviving communications.[10]Gasty to Van Anda, June 8, 1920, and Grasty to Ochs, June 10, 1920.

At the time, the U.S. government was just beginning to standardize how it issued passports in the aftermath of the First World War.[11]Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017. Grasty’s “special” passport would have provided him with more access to U.S. and British government officials than other reporters. It also would have given him some measure of protection in Ireland if he encountered Irish rebels or the British military, which each were suspicious of visiting journalists. This might have been why Grasty wanted to keep the matter out of the press.

“I am told confidentially that Colby is issuing quite a number of diplomatic passports,” Ackerman wrote to Spurgeon. “If he keeps this up his is going to get the diplomatic service in ‘hot water.’”

It seems that Colby already had.

NEXT: Irish-American reaction

References

References
1 “England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, 1920.
2 Charles H. Grasty to Carr V. Van Anda, June 8, 1920 (telegram), Adolph Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: Grasty quotes Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable to him.
3 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.
4 Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920 (telegram), in Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: As above, Grasty quoted Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable.
5 Charles Grasty, “The Personality Behind the President“, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1920.
6 Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & Research Center Digital Archive.
7 ”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London”, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924.
8 Grasty to Ackerman, May 3, 1917, and Ackerman to Grasty, Undated 1917, in Carl Ackerman papers, Box 122, Library of Congress.
9 Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
10 Gasty to Van Anda, June 8, 1920, and Grasty to Ochs, June 10, 1920.
11 Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 1, President’s envoy?

This four-part series details the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. In addition to their published reporting, it includes research from the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, and other sources. It is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. MH © 2024

Special passport

“News from Ireland … has been anything but dull and desultory; it has bristled with violence and bulged with rumblings of impending bloodshed on a widespread scale.”

As the Irish insurgency against British rule entered its second year, more American journalists grabbed their notebooks and traveled to Erin. There was plenty to write about in 1920. As one U.S. correspondent explained in an op-ed for The New York Times:

Events of the utmost significance are crowding upon one other so rapidly in Ireland at the present time that it is frequently difficult to assess any or all of them at their true relative value or to discern their precise cause and effect beyond, of course, the daily generalization that the situation is still more serious and nearer a calamitous climax. Every day the first pages of the newspapers contribute further complexities to this age-old and bitterest of modern political dramas. News, as such, coming from Ireland for weeks and months past has been anything but dull and desultory; it has bristled with violence and bulged with rumblings of impending bloodshed on a widespread scale.[1]Truman H. Talley, “Sinn Fein’s Provocative Martyrdom”, The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1920.

In addition to writing their first-page dispatches for U.S. newspapers, a few journalists also worked behind the scenes to help resolve the Anglo-Irish War. They shuttled messages between rebel leaders and the British government or huddled with U.S. government officials in London and Dublin. Some did this out of a sense of civic duty, others simply to get an edge on their competitors. When these private actions occasionally surfaced in public, it impacted the political negotiations and perceptions of the news coverage from Ireland.

A remarkable example of this occurred in June 1920. Carl W. Ackerman, the London-based chief of the Philadelphia Public Ledger foreign news service, reported that a prominent American newsman had come to Ireland on mission for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Ackerman’s June 1, 1920, story mentioned Grasty in the fourth paragraph.

“One of the most significant, undoubtedly, of all the recent developments in the Irish situation is the arrival in Dublin of Charles H. Grasty … a well-known journalist, a member of the staff of The New York Times, was frequently during the (First World) war an observer for the president,” Ackerman wrote. Grasty “is in confidential communication with the White House, and probability is that the president has followed his war custom of commissioning some journalist to make a special investigation for him, while ostensibly representing an American newspaper.”[2]“President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.

Ackerman was correct that Wilson had previously used journalists as his personal scouts to foreign hot spots, including Ireland. The president sent pioneering muckraker Ray Stannard Baker (McClue’s and American magazines) there during the spring 1918 conscription crisis and widening divisions between pro-British unionists and Irish republicans. “The extreme Ulsterman, it seemed to me, was exactly matched by the extreme Sinn Feiner, both for themselves alone,” Baker wrote years later. “There seemed to be no spirit of give and take: no desire anywhere for what Mr. Wilson called accommodation.”[3]Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945). See, “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of … Continue reading

Wilson also dispatched George Creel to Ireland in early 1919, shortly after the establishment of Dáil Éireann. Creel (Kansas City World, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) had just finished his duties as head of the U.S. government’s Committee for Public Information during the Great War. In a March 1, 1919, memorandum to Wilson, he described the Irish in Ireland as more politically practical than the Irish in America. Creel said that Sinn Fein‘s December 1918 election success had finished off the 40-year-old Irish home rule movement. He believed Ireland would accept dominion status, like Canada, if offered quickly. Otherwise, popular sentiment would harden in favor of an Irish republic. Creel also warned Wilson of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s duplicity and stressed that a settlement would help placate the Irish in America, with positive implications for domestic politics.[4]George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and Creel, The War, The World, and Wilson, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.

U.S. State Department officials stamped “SPECIAL” on Grasty’s passport on April 8, 1920, a week before he boarded the White Star liner RMS Baltic to cross the Atlantic. “Editor,” Grasty answered the ship’s officer who asked for his occupation and recorded it in the manifest without any indication of special diplomatic status. The Baltic arrived at Liverpool, England, on April 27.[5]The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669. “Mr. Grasty admitted at the time, when questioned by customs officials, that he was on a special appointment by President Wilson,” Ackerman wrote in his June 1 story.

Then 57, Grasty had enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper publisher and executive. He moved to London during the First World War and worked as an emeritus correspondent for several U.S. publications, including the Times. His dispatches typically blended news reporting and editorializing, with strong opinions about the role of the press in America and the U.S. government in international affairs.

Charles H. Grasty, passport image from at least 1918.

Grasty had been in the United States on a lecture tour in early 1920. He was scheduled to deliver a speech titled “The New Balance of Power” during a mid-April business convention in Des Moines, Iowa. His sudden withdrawal from the event indicates the haste of his return to Europe, which also at least partially explains his special passport.[6]“Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.

Aboard the Baltic, Grasty used some of his time to write a letter to Times owner Adolph Ochs about proposed changes to the paper’s news and advertising layout. Grasty divided five pages of ship’s stationary into two typewritten columns: pros on the left side, cons on the right. Making any changes to the newspaper risked disrupting “the habits of the devoted reader,” he warned Ochs. “A paper like the Times has a personality, and even if there are some ugly points, the reader comes to like them with the rest.”[7]Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, “On board RMS Baltic,” April 22, 1920, with handwritten note dated April 28, 1920, London, at bottom, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.

Ackerman’s source

Grasty apparently also found time during the 11-day crossing to converse with his fellow first-class passengers. Among them: Ackerman’s wife, Mabel, traveling with the couple’s young son. “He came over on the Baltic with Mrs. Ackerman and told her that he was on such a mission,” the London bureau chief alerted his Philadelphia editor, John J. Spurgeon, a week before the story about Grasty appeared in the Public Ledger and its affiliated newspapers. “He had a diplomatic passport and said that he intended to remain in London one week and then go ‘somewhere else.’ ”[8]Ackerman to Spurgeon, May 25, 1920. Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

Ackerman told Spurgeon that he contacted London-based U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain John W. Davis to ask about Grasty’s mission to Ireland. The ambassador claimed he didn’t know anything about it.

During his first weeks back in Europe Grasty kept busy writing about ongoing efforts to recover from the Great War. He filed a May 1 dispatch from Paris about the just-concluded San Remo conference in Italy.[9]”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920. In another story he reported that Americans in Europe were taking “keen interest” in the warming U.S. presidential race back home.[10]“Yankees Abroad Closely Watch Politics in U.S.”, Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1920. And in a long opinion piece from London, Grasty insisted: “The United States is in greater danger today than at the time of the German offensive in March 1918. … The feeling in Europe against America has grown, as the feeling in America against Europe has grown.”[11]“Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe”, The New York Times, June 13, 1920.

He dated the story June 1, the same day he was named in Ackerman’s dispatch, though Grasty’s piece was not published until several weeks later.

Grasty also had visited Ireland during the last week of May. He “tea’d & supped” in Dublin with Sir Horace Plunkett, the Irish agricultural reformer and home rule supporter wrote in his diary.[12]May 26, 1920, Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland. The two men had known each other for years. “Wherever he goes he makes friends through his gentle optimism and sturdy character,” Grasty wrote in his 1918 book, Flashes from the Front. “For British patriot that he is, he is an Irishman to his heart’s core. His life has been a labor of love for Ireland.”[13]Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.

Grasty would barely mention Plunkett in his subsequent reporting about Ireland. It appears the correspondent stayed there for about a week and limited his travel to the island’s two major cities. “If I had to choose a place of residence, I would prefer Dublin with all its shootings to Belfast with its grimness and monotony,” he wrote in one of his stories.[14]”Ulster Men Look For Future Union”, The New York Times, Aug. 17, 1920.

The June 1 publication of Ackerman’s story about Grasty, more than a month after the Times correspondent walked down the Baltic’s gangway in Liverpool, makes more sense in the context of the late May visit. And as the Ackerman’s story proves, he was doing his own reporting about Ireland, including reaching out to Plunkett and other insiders.

NEXT: London confrontations

References

References
1 Truman H. Talley, “Sinn Fein’s Provocative Martyrdom”, The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1920.
2 “President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.
3 Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945). See, “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I Saw”, p. 337.
4 George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and Creel, The War, The World, and Wilson, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.
5 The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669.
6 “Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.
7 Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, “On board RMS Baltic,” April 22, 1920, with handwritten note dated April 28, 1920, London, at bottom, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.
8 Ackerman to Spurgeon, May 25, 1920. Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
9 ”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920.
10 “Yankees Abroad Closely Watch Politics in U.S.”, Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1920.
11 “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe”, The New York Times, June 13, 1920.
12 May 26, 1920, Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland.
13 Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.
14 ”Ulster Men Look For Future Union”, The New York Times, Aug. 17, 1920.

Catching up with modern Ireland

As we begin the final quarter of 2023, here’s another of my periodic roundups of external stories about contemporary Ireland and Northern Ireland. Enjoy:

  • The DUP is expected to publish its response to new British/E.U. rules intended to smooth the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland. This is just ahead of the party’s Oct. 13-14 annual conference. That makes October a make-or-break month for reviving the collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, veteran correspondent Shawn Pogatchnik writes at Politico.eu. The DUP walked out of the North’s power-sharing executive 18 months ago.
  • The British Parliament passed the Legacy and Reconciliation Bill, which will stop most prosecutions for killings by militant groups and British soldiers during the Troubles. The move has united opposition from Northern Ireland’s major political parties, Catholic and Protestant churches, human rights organizations and the United Nations, the Associated Press reports.
  • The Republic of Ireland has a massive budget surplus, thanks to a boom in tax revenue from multinational companies. Whatever Dublin lawmakers decide to do with the money, “someone will be unhappy,” says The New York Times.
  • About 200 right-wing protestors harassed and threatened politicians, government staff, and journalists outside Leinster House, the country’s legislative home. “The crowd was apparently united not so much by a cause – their messages included Covid conspiracy theories, anti-immigration messages and attacks on transgender rights – as by a willingness to use aggression in a bid to shut down the heart of Ireland’s democracy,” The Guardian reported.
  • It remains unclear whether a referendum on general equality in the republic will take place in November, as promised. The government has not released the ballot language and suggested the vote might be delayed. A citizens assembly has recommended replacing existing language in the Irish constitution that states a woman’s “life within the home.”
  • U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs Joseph P. Kennedy, III, will host an Oct. 24-26 business conference. A U.S. delegation will join Northern Irish business leaders who have “started or grown” operations during the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
  • Luke Gibbons, one of Ireland’s most profound if idiosyncratic cultural critics, seeks to bring Ireland’s early 20th century political and cultural revolutions into the same framework in an important new book, James Joyce and the Irish Revolution: The Easter Rising as Modern Event, Adam Coleman writes at Jocobin magazine.
  • The Notre Dame University “Fighting Irish” football team defeated the U.S. Naval Academy team 42-3 in late August at the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. The sold-out game at Aviva Stadium included nearly 40,000 fans who traveled directly from the U.S., according to media reports.
  • A group of 10 American travel professionals visited Ireland in late September to develop new luxury travel itineraries for their clients, according to Irish tourism officials.
  • The Central Statistics Office continues to release detailed data profiles from the republic’s April 2022 census. Here are some of the latest highlights:CSO graphic.