Category Archives: Irish Civil War

‘Banshees of Inisherin’ & the Irish Civil War

The Banshees of Inisherin, a dark comedy about the estrangement of two friends living on a sparsely-populated Irish island, has received three Golden Globe awards and now appears favored to win a few Oscars. Colin Farrell won in the best comedy actor category, and the Martin McDonagh-directed film was honored as best comedy/musical and best screenplay.

The fictional story, set in 1923, contains several references to the real life Civil War on the nearby mainland. The war started soon after Ireland won a measure of independence through a treaty with the United Kingdom. Ireland became a “free state” similar to Canada, not the full “republic” fought for in the Irish war of independence, 1919-1921. Separate legislation created the political partition of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which remained part of the U.K. The treaty split Irish brothers-in-arms into the civil war, which lasted from June 1922 to May 1923.

As Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson wrote, the feud between the two movie friends Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Farrell) “works on its own terms, but it’s also a startlingly violent fight between men who are basically brothers, a fight that has a logic to it and yet is heartbreaking precisely because of the depth of history between them. It’s the conflict in microcosm.”

I would add two points:

1) The screenplay does not suggest that one of the friends is a republican “irregular” opposed to the treaty and the other a Free Stater who supported the deal. Their feud is personal, not political.

2) Pádraic says he doesn’t know what the fighting is about on the mainland. Though presented as a “dull” and uneducated character, this could be the film’s biggest fiction. When explosions and gun fire can be heard across the water, the island’s inhabitants surely understood what the fighting was about. We see regular boat service bring mail, supplies, and a priest to celebrate mass and hear confessions. The islanders are not that isolated.

  • Quick aside: the real life film locations are Achill Island, County Mayo, and Inishmore, one of the three Aran Islands, County Galway.

At one point in the movie Pádraic looks at the calendar and realizes it is April 1. He wonders if Colm’s coldness is a cruel April Fools’ Day joke. It is not. Using the date as a marker, I found this description of the civil war in that day’s 1923 issue of The Boston Globe:

Tragedy is still monarch in Ireland, more firmly enthroned today than ever before in the country’s distressful history. The daily chronicle is a repetitive catalogue of outrage and destruction, of executions and killings, differing only from the world horrifying reign of the English ‘Black and Tans’ in the fact that the perpetrators are now exclusively Irish, and that Ireland’s present day Calvary is inflicted not by foreign invaders but by her own sons and daughters. It is a heart-breaking, tear-compelling experience for an American, particularly one of Irish ancestry … The staccato of machine guns, the ping of rifles, the phut of revolvers, detonations of land mines and bombs, the glare of incendiary fires, with their toll of life and property have become as routine as the succession of day by night. Twenty-four hours without a series of destructive incidents or outrages would be regarded almost as epochal.[1]”Former Boston Journalist Wonders If Gov Al Smith Couldn’t Help Ireland Find Happy Bridge To Peace”, The Boston Globe, April 1, 1923.

Colin Farrell, left, and Brendan Gleeson.                                                                                            Searchlight Pictures  

References

References
1 ”Former Boston Journalist Wonders If Gov Al Smith Couldn’t Help Ireland Find Happy Bridge To Peace”, The Boston Globe, April 1, 1923.

A ‘quiet day’ in Ireland’s civil war, 1923

Irish Free State representatives and anti-Free State republicans early in January 1923 confronted each other over control of $2.5 million of bond funds raised in the United States. As the showdown unfolded at the the Irish consulate in New York City, some U.S. newspapers suggested the Irish civil war had to come to America. The “Battle of Nassau Street”[1]”Irish Picketing Hylan, Riot Call  From Consulate”, Daily News (New York City), Jan. 3, 1923. ended without violence after three days, but wrangling over the bonds continued until the 1930s.

In Ireland, the real civil war raged into its seventh month. U.S. papers detailed political efforts to resolve the internecine conflict and brief stories about episodes of violence. Denis O’Connell, an Irish-born correspondent for the Heart-owned Universal Service news wire, filed a Jan. 27, 1923, dispatch that attempted to give American readers a more comprehensive view of the suffering in Ireland, even on “quiet” days when there wasn’t “big news.” He described the shooting deaths and injuries to dozens of people, plus bombings, postal holdups, and railroad vandalism, with just a sentence or two devoted to each episode. O’Connell gave particular attention to the women “irregulars” fighting against the Free State government:

The soldiers do not search women in Dublin. Women frequently have thrown bombs in Dublin and used revolvers with deadly effect. Women have been caught in the mountains and wayside dugouts, shouldering rifles and sharing with the men all the hardships and exposure.

Partial clipping from the Jan. 28, 1923, issue of the Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier shows the top portion of the story’s two columns. This is not the full story.

O’Connell, a native of Cork city, was educated at the local Christian Brothers schools and began his career at the Cork Free Press. His coverage of the 1913 Dublin lockout caught the attention of the Heart-owned International News Service, which hired him as a London-based correspondent.[2]”Mr. Denis O’Connell” obituary, The Irish Press, May 18, 1949. The forename of his byline frequently appeared as “Daniel,” the same as Ireland’s 19th century “Liberator.” It’s unclear whether this was a pseudonym or garbled in the cable transmission. The byline appears both ways in multiple U.S. papers throughout the Irish revolutionary period.

O’Connell interviewed Éamon de Valera at his home in Dublin shortly after the Jan. 7, 1922, Anglo-Irish Treaty vote: ” ‘I am giving you the first authorized statement I have given to any press man since the beginning of the negotiations,’ said the Sinn Fein chieftain as he paced the floor. De Valera spoke carefully, slowly weighing every word before he uttered it.”[3]”New Regime Begins Rule For Ireland”, Oakland Tribune, Jan. 16, 1922; and “Mr. De Valera Interviewed”, Irish Examiner, Jan. 17, 1922.

Universal Service, which belonged to the Hearst empire in 1923, merged with International News in 1937. Other Irish and English journalists, based in Ireland and in England, worked for U.S. newspapers and wire services during the revolutionary period. O’Connell later became a correspondent for the Daily Express in Cork. He died in London in 1949.

References

References
1 ”Irish Picketing Hylan, Riot Call  From Consulate”, Daily News (New York City), Jan. 3, 1923.
2 ”Mr. Denis O’Connell” obituary, The Irish Press, May 18, 1949.
3 ”New Regime Begins Rule For Ireland”, Oakland Tribune, Jan. 16, 1922; and “Mr. De Valera Interviewed”, Irish Examiner, Jan. 17, 1922.

Ten Irish stories to watch in 2023

Happy New Year. Here are 10 stories to watch in 2023 in Ireland and Irish America:

  1. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is in April. Queens University Belfast plans to recognize the milestone, which certainly will draw American participation.
  2. Ongoing negotiations over the Brexit trade “protocol” between Northern Ireland, other parts of Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland, remains a contentious issue that threatens peace in the province. Yea, it’s confusing. Here’s an explainer from the BBC.
  3. Resolving the protocol also is key to restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly, which the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has blocked from operating since losing the majority to Sinn Féin in the May 2022 election. A new election is expected this spring.
  4. In addition to fixing the protocol and holding the election, the May coronation of King Charles III could have some impact on relations between unionists and nationalists in the North, if only symbolically. For perspective, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation occurred 15 years before the start of the Troubles. Charles has already signaled his impatience with the DUP’s tactics.
  5. May also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War in what was then called the Irish Free State. This will be the conclusion of the 12-year-long “Decade of Centenaries,” which began in 2012 with remembrances of the introduction of the third home rule bill and signing of the Ulster Covenant. It has included the centenary of World War I, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish War of Independence.
  6. U.S. President Joe Biden appears likely to travel to Ireland this year. His last visit was 2016 as vice president. In December, Biden named former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, as special envoy to Northern Ireland to focus on economic development and investment opportunities.
  7. Irish tourism reached 73 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, but industry officials are bracing for only single-digit growth or a potential decline in 2023. Full recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2026, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said.
  8. Met Éireann, the Irish weather service, says 2022 was the warmest year in Ireland’s history and the 12th consecutive year of above-normal temperatures. Climate change will continue to impact daily life, the economy, and politics on both sides of the border.
  9. Interim measures were announced last fall to sort out financial troubles at the American Irish Historical Society and Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, in New York City and Connecticut, respectively. It’s worth keeping an eye on these important organizations to be sure both are fully restored.
  10. Finally, here’s something that will not happen on the island of Ireland in 2023: a reunification referendum. See the “North and South” package of polling and stories from The Irish Times.

Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry.                                                                                                          Kevin Griffin via Fáilte Ireland.

Best of the Blog, 2022

Welcome to my tenth annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s work. July marked our milestone tenth anniversary, with more than 900 total posts since 2012. I appreciate the support of regular readers, especially email subscribers. (Join at right.) Thanks also to the archivists and librarians who assisted my research during the year, whether in person or remote. I visited collections at Princeton University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Boston Public Library for the first time, and returned to archives at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and the Dioceses of Pittsburgh. … Special thanks to Professor Guy Beiner, director of the Irish Studies Program at BC, for his warm welcome this fall.

I added two dozen posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which totals more than 140 entries since December 2018, including several from guest contributors. This year I began circling back to earlier years of the Irish revolution. Highlights included:

FREELANCE STORIES & PRESENTATIONS:

I was pleased to publish stories with several new platforms (*) this year and delighted to give a virtual presentation to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh:

‘Luminous In Its Presentation’:
The Pittsburgh Catholic and Revolutionary Ireland, 1912-1923
*Gathered Fragments: Annual journal of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Publishes late December 2022/early January 2023)

The Long Road to ‘Redress’ in Ireland
History News Network, (George Washington University), Oct. 30, 2022

My Pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s Churches
*Arlington Catholic Herald & syndicated by *Catholic News Service, March 11, 2022

The Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh
*Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Feb. 17, 2022, presentation linked from headline

Watch the presentation from the linked ‘Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh’ headline above, or from here.

At 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” Peace Feels Less Certain
History News Network, (George Washington University), Jan. 30, 2022

Cheers and Jeers for Ireland: Éamon De Valera’s Alabama Experience
*Alabama Heritage Magazine, Winter 2022

GUEST POSTS:

Thanks to this year’s four guest contributors, detailed below. 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.

Journalists recall coverage challenges during Northern Ireland TroublesDaniel Carey is a PhD student at Dublin City University. His thesis examines the working lives of former journalists and editors in Ireland.

Pro-Treaty delegation in Pittsburgh, May 1922Dr. Anne Good Forrestal, a former lecturer in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin, is the granddaughter of Seán and Delia MacCaoilte. In spring 1922, he was part of the pro-Treaty delegation that visited America, including a stop in Pittsburgh. This story is based on one of his letters from the city.

Detailing the Crosbies of North KerryMichael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years.

Periodicals & Journalism in Twentieth-Century IrelandFelix M. Larkin and Mark O’Brien have edited two volumes of essays that focus on periodicals as a vehicle for news and commentary, rather than literary miscellany.

BEST OF THE REST: 

These stories were the most popular outside the “American reporting” and “Guest posts” series:

YEARS PAST:

Highlights of earlier work found here:

YEAR AHEAD:

I plan to spend the first half of 2023 in Cambridge, Mass., as my wife completes her Nieman fellowship at Harvard. I will continue to participate in BC’s Irish Studies Program. I also hope to finish my book on how American reporters covered the Irish revolutionary period as the “decade of centenaries” concludes in May with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War. God willing, I hope to travel to Ireland for the first time since shortly before the pandemic.

Best wishes to all,
Mark

Assessments of Ireland, November 1922

The Nov. 24, 1922, firing squad execution of Anglo-Irish Treaty opponent Erskine Childers became one of the most high-profile events of Ireland’s civil war, then in its fifth month. Another six months of internecine conflict lay ahead. But as the 26-county Irish Free State and partitioned, six-county Northern Ireland governments formalized in December, the Irish began to consider life beyond the revolutionary period that had started a decade earlier. The reflections below–two from native Irish writers–appeared in U.S. newspapers in November 1922:

Seumas MacManus

The Donegal-born MacManus published ‘Story if the Irish Race’ in October 1921, then returned home in summer 1922 for the first time in eight years. He wrote:

MacManus

“One of the very first sights that interested me as well as one of the most pleasant–and also one of the most important for Ireland’s future–was the marvelous flock of children that seemed to spring from the ground wheresoever I went over the face of the country. … I was delighted to see the bands of little ones that dotted the roads–to see them and to hear them–for Irish children do not believe in locking their sweet joy within their tiny bosoms.”

“Of the many vital educational changes the greatest and most valuable is that which establishes and entrenches the Irish language in its place in practically every school in the country. … Though the Gaelic movement made great advances during the last twenty years, its progress within the next three years will be marvelous. There will be very few people of the younger generation who will not be Irish speakers and Irish readers. … The re-establishing of this rich and beautiful language again, giving a new orientation to the Irish mind, will be a spiritual blessing of profound significance.”

“The curse of landlordism, which had for ages blighted the nation’s life, is now almost entirely uprooted. The great majority of the small holders of the country now own their land without dispute. And this undisputed possession of the land that was theirs and their forefathers through centuries, has given them a stimulus  that transforms them. People are energetic who had been lethargic, are ambitious who had been crushed, and prosperous who had been poverty stricken. They now dress well who formerly could not afford a new coat once in five years, and they eat well, and they pleasure themselves and know the joy of living to which they had once been strangers.”[1]”Stork’s Busiest Days In The Emerald Isle”, New York Times, Nov.19 1922.

Irish culture goes on

“Americans undoubtedly gather the impression that Dublin is a city of murder and arson and that all of the old Irish culture has been subsumed in the clatter of and smoke of war. But this is not so. Irish culture goes on. A little circle of Irish intellectuals meet three nights a week to discuss literature, Irish history and Irish economics, and follows the trends and progress of the world. Often these meetings are held while the rat-tat-tat of machine guns continues in the streets. … A bit of American tinge is given to these sessions by occasional visits from American correspondents, some of whom are studying the intellectual side of Ireland. The war may go on, but Irish culture doesn’t die.”[2]Daniel O’Connell of the Hearst-owned International News Service, Nov. 24, 1922.

Padraic Colum

The Longford-born Colum published some of his earliest poetry in Arthur Griffith’s ‘United Irishman’ and was active in the Gaelic League and Abbey Theater before the revolutionary period. He emigrated to America in 1914, but traveled home frequently, including 1922. These excerpts are from two pieces:

Colum

“The salient thing about Ireland is that the country holds together. … No one feels this orphaned government is in real peril–the anti-governmental forces are felt as an inconvenience, an expense and an irritant, but they are not now felt as a danger. Mind you, there is no enthusiasm for the government or the Free State that is about to come into existence. … There was enthusiasm for the treaty last December but all zest has since been knocked out of the people. The Irish remember they are not clear of the British Empire.”

“It seems odd to speak of settlement and reconstruction in a country whose main activity is civil war; it seems odd to talk of reconstruction in a city where the children on the street play with toy revolvers and keep up games of taking prisoners and doing Red Cross services. It seems odd to talk of settlement and reconstruction in such a country and such a city. Nevertheless, the mood of the people makes it palpable that the epoch of revolution is past and that the only thing that will stir them again is reconstruction and the proper ordering of their affairs.”[3]”Ireland’s Epoch of Revolution is Ended, Says Padraic Colum; Now Comes Here Reconstruction” The Boston Globe, Nov. 12, 1922.

“Ireland is learning in many directions. She is learning to organize and operate an army; she is learning how to rebuild a police force and magistracy; she is learning what the elements of a constitution are; she is learning about parliamentary procedure; she is even learning what the price of civil disturbance may be. Above all, she is learning to do without England–that England was a symbol of injustice, rapine and atrocity. She has seen now what fearful blows Irishmen can deal at Irishmen and what injustices and evil-dealing can take place in an Ireland that is without a Dublin Castle. Ireland, in fact, is loosing her England ‘complex’ and soon she will be able to get about her business without any particular reference to her great and much distracted neighbor–a consummation devoutly to be wished for!”[4]”Literally ‘The Boys’ Rule Ireland”, New York Tribune, Nov. 19, 1922.

References

References
1 ”Stork’s Busiest Days In The Emerald Isle”, New York Times, Nov.19 1922.
2 Daniel O’Connell of the Hearst-owned International News Service, Nov. 24, 1922.
3 ”Ireland’s Epoch of Revolution is Ended, Says Padraic Colum; Now Comes Here Reconstruction” The Boston Globe, Nov. 12, 1922.
4 ”Literally ‘The Boys’ Rule Ireland”, New York Tribune, Nov. 19, 1922.

Hearing the Irish Civil War silence breakers

Queen’s University Belfast lecturer Síobhra Aiken has detailed the 100-year history of how officially and collectively sanctioned silence about the Irish Civil War is regularly pierced by the silence breakers who have documented the “unspeakable war.” Aiken’s new book, Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony and the Irish Civil War (Irish Academic Press), also notes the irony that recent generations of silence breakers are often unaware they belong to such a lineage because the earlier efforts have been forgotten.

The June 1922 to May 1923 war sparked by the Irish republican split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty has notoriously been absent from Irish school texts and memoirs, Aiken said. Ireland’s “Decade of Centenaries” commemorations of the revolutionary period originally was to end this year, excluding the civil war. But public outcry resulted in an extension that is allowing the country to grapple with its legacy through next year.

“The paradox of intentionally forgetting is that it ensures attention,” Aiken said during her Oct. 25 lecture for the Irish Studies program at Boston College. This has typically been accomplished over the century through autobiographical novels and other works of fiction, many of them created by women. But these sources have been overlooked or dismissed by the “strong gatekeeping” of mainstream historians and more established male writers, she said.

Síobhra Aiken at Boston College.

Some of the works Aiken citied include: Tragedies of Kerry, 1922-1923, by Dorothy Macardle, 1924; Legion of the Rearguard, by Francis Carty, 1934; The Bitter Glass, by Eilís Dillon, 1958; and The Scorching Wind, by Walter Macken, 1966. More Irish writers have tackled the civil war since the new century began, aided by access to digital resources such as the Bureau of Military History and Military Service Pension Collection. Contemporary writer Orna Ross (Aine McCarthy), who has written about the civil war, has said that “silence is always a magnet.”

Aiken noted that more of the narratives come from the defeated, anti-treaty side, rather than those who supported the new 26-county Irish Free State. Works from the prevailing side are generally more disillusioned than pro-government or triumphalist. Aiken also acknowledged that in Irish politics, intentional forgetting played a role in helping to maintain stability and allow the state to move forward.

Spiritual Wounds is based on Aiken’s doctoral research at the University of Galway, which was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies Adele Dalsimer Prize for Distinguished Dissertation in 2021.