Category Archives: Irish War of Independence

Mary Galvin’s year of protest for Ireland, 1920

By spring 1920, Philadelphia’s Mary J. Galvin wanted to fight for Irish freedom. While many details of her decision are unknowable, a few of its roots are certain:

  • The 24-year-old telephone company stenographer was the daughter of post-Famine immigrants in a city of 65,000 native Irish, second only to New York.1
  • The Irish Press, a Philly-based weekly with direct ties to Dublin separatists, had publicized independence since it launched in March 1918. Galvin’s name would soon appear on its pages.
  • Eamon de Valera, one of the separatist leaders, had toured America since June 1919 to raise political and financial support for the war in Ireland, including stops in the City of Brotherly Love. Galvin’s family contributed $25 to the Irish bond drive in February 1920, more than double the usual $10 donation.2

Two months later, Galvin boarded a train for the 150-mile ride south to Washington, D.C., where she marched to the front lines of the transatlantic debate over “the Irish question.” She joined several dozen picket-carrying women outside the British Embassy to protest the Empire’s rule in Ireland.

Galvin and nine other women were arrested and charged under an obscure federal statute with a technical assault on the British government, an offense punishable by a fine and up to three years in prison.3 Most of the women accepted quick release on bond. Galvin, reported to have “recently experienced a long illness,” and Maura Quinn of Boston, spent the night in a D.C. jail.4

The pair were freed the next morning through a ruse. Mrs. James Walsh told them to get ready for court, then informed them of their release once outside the jail.

“We were told to go, and as Mrs. Walsh is our captain we had to obey, though we were perfectly willing to remain in jail,” Galvin said.5

Women pickets outside the British Embassy, April 1920.

Irish separatists in America had organized several days of embassy protests to draw attention to their cause. Some of the pickets were paid, others selected for their appealing looks to attract more press coverage. It is unclear how Galvin came to join the half dozen women from Philadelphia who arrived in Washington for the protests.

The arrests surprised the organizers, who quickly discontinued the media stunt. A split developed between the Irish separatists and more militant American women who extended the picketing through the summer as their own enterprise.6

All factions, whatever the cause, are composed of individuals who must decide whether to continue their participation, or move on. Galvin, back in Philadelphia, soon found other ways to continue her fight for Ireland.

*** 

Irish immigrants and Irish-American activists took offense to the silent movie “Kathleen Mavourneen” since its fall 1919 release. The film included scenes of pigs and chickens kept inside the cottages of Irish peasants, which to the activists was nothing less than British propaganda. In February 1920, young men smashed the movie projector and caused other damage at a San Francisco theater showing the film.7

In May 1920, Galvin, acting as president of the American Economic Society for Irish Freedom, took her complaints about the film to two Philadelphia theater managers. “Convinced by the lady’s argument,” The Irish Press reported, both managers canceled further screenings.8

Another “active and zealous friend of Ireland,” John Ryan, was arrested for protesting outside a third Philly theater. A magistrate ridiculed him as “the kind of Irishman who is a detriment to the Irish cause.”

Galvin’s group quickly issued a statement:

“We, Philadelphians, banded together to resist the baneful inroads of British propaganda on our people admire the action of John Ryan in opposing singlehanded the showing of the insidious libel ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’ … We consider [him] a detriment to no cause, Irish or American, but rather we consider a dispenser of justice, who passes a hasty judgement on one sided evidence a detriment to American prestige, and we Americans will be proud to be represented at the hearing as coworkers with John Ryan, who will stand Friday where Pearse stood in his day–a scapegoat in the dock for Irish independence.” 

The Philadelphia dailies appear to have ignored the crusade against the film and Ryan’s day in court. The big papers did not miss several of Galvin’s other protests.

***

Photo of Mary Galvin with original caption from the Evening Public Ledger, May 20, 1920.

On May 19, Galvin “escorted” British Ambassador Sir Auckland Geddes to his appearance at the Franklin Institute, the Public Ledger wisecracked under a photo that showed her holding a picket sign.9 Geddes was in Philadelphia to receive a medal on behalf of Charles A. Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine.

A week later, Galvin and Theresa Pont of Philadelphia were arrested in front of the city’s Metropolitan Opera House as the United British Societies celebrated an “Empire Day” event. De Valera had been welcomed to the same venue eight months earlier.

The pair, surrounded by 15 police officers, refused two orders to move along. “Miss Galvin … started to orate and berate the acting [police] lieutenant because of what she termed his ‘lack of justice,’ ” the Inquirer reported.10

“I am an American, born in this country, and if this is justice, I can’t see it,” Galvin “shouted,” according to the paper, which also noted her April arrest at the British Embassy in Washington. 

A crowd “immediately started to sympathize with the prisoners.” The two protesters were hustled away and charged with breach of the peace. Police “compelled the pedestrians to amble along.” 

The two protesters spent a short time at the station house before being released. A magistrate discharged the case the next day.11

In August, Galvin joined other “militant women pickets for the cause of Irish freedom [who] forced their way” into a West Philadelphia suffrage demonstration and “stirred up a lively rumpus” days after the passage of the 19th Amendment. “Their flaming signs urging American women to intercede for Ireland aroused the anger of the local suffrage leaders.”12

By now, Galvin was notorious. The story noted she “has twice been arrested for picketing.”

With federal charges still pending against Galvin and the nine other British Embassy protesters, one of the West Philly demonstrators held a sign that asked: “Shall American women allow ten pickets to be imprisoned by American law for protesting against the slaughter of Irish by English gunmen.”

***

As 1920 drew to a close, the war in Ireland grew uglier. In October, Cork city Mayor Terence James MacSwiney died on hunger strike. In December, British troops torched the city.

Cork city ruins, December 1920.

Galvin’s reaction to these and other events is only partial clear. As secretary of a relief committee effort, she gathered food supplies and other assistance for Ireland. She distributed “credential cards and collection blanks” for financial assistance, the checks payable to one of the city’s Catholic priests.13

Two days before Christmas, the steamship Honolulu sailed from New York City laden with more than 100 tons of relief supplies. “A large portion of the shipment is flour and other foods, and includes quantities of clothing for men, women and children,” the Inquirer reported.14

In the new year, Galvin disappeared from the pages of the Irish Press and the Philadelphia dailies. She was mentioned in a Washington Post story that the U.S. government finally dropped its April 1920 charges against the 10 embassy pickets. The women no longer faced three years behind bars.15

It’s impossible to know what Galvin thought of the July 1921 ceasefire in Ireland, the December 1921 treaty with Britain and partition of the island, or the civil war that followed. A decade after her year of protest, she remained single, lived with her widowed mother, and still worked at the telephone company.16

In 1920, however, Mary Galvin shook her clenched fist at the British Empire. She extended her open hand to the Irish people. More than 60 years before Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands uttered his famous quote, she had found her “own particular part to play,” neither “too great or too small.”   

Remembering Oliver Plunkett’s May 1920 beatification

A century ago, Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) was beatified in Rome, the penultimate step to his canonization as a saint, which occurred in 1975. As the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the County Meath-born Plunkett was the last of 22 martyrs in the “Popish Plot,” a conspiracy theory run amok in England’s anti-Catholic legal system. He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In May 1920 in Rome, the Church of St. Agata became headquarters for three days of festivities for pilgrims who wore “badges and Irish emblems.”1 St. Agata is said to be the final resting place for the heart of Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s early 19th century leader of Catholic emancipation. O’Connell’s famous burial request was, “My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My soul to Heaven.” There is some dispute whether the organ was ever interred … or still remains at the church.  

St. Agata belonged to the Pontifical Irish College. In 1920, County Wicklow-born Monsignor John Hagan was completing his first year as rector of the College, which hosted 20 Irish bishops for the beatification.2 The finding guides for Hagan’s correspondence offer several glimpses of the behind-the-scenes activities and the tenor of the times in revolutionary Ireland. For example:

  • In January 1920, Irish Cardinal Michael Logue wrote to Hagan saying he did not want to delay Plunkett’s beatification by a year because he would like to be present and could not vouch for 1921. Logue said he did not expect a great number of Irish people to attend the event.3
  • In April, Hagan sent a letter to the Irish bishops with advice on travel and weather. “A good warm rug is always a useful travelling companion,” he wrote, adding instructions about the necessary vestments and discouraging more clergy or laity from making the 1,200-mile journey.4
  • May correspondence from Waterford Corporation to Hagan and Bishop Hackett of Waterford and Lismore contained a resolution that expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XV on the [May 16, 1920] canonization of Joan of Arc and for Plunkett’s beatification, “’both of whom were brutally murdered by the English Government.” The letters plead that a special form of universal devotion may help end hostilities in the world, “especially that the persecuted Irish people may be freed from the callous tyranny and military aggression of their cruel, [relentless] and implacable foe, Pagan England.”5

Canonization image hung from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the canonization ceremony in 1975. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

An estimated 300 Irish pilgrims, including nationalist politician Count George Noble Plunkett and his wife, assembled at the Consistorial Hall at the Vatican for an audience with Benedict XV, who had decreed Plunkett’s beatification on St. Patrick’s Day, 1918.6 The pontiff told the audience that Plunkett’s new designation came at a time when Ireland needed Heaven’s special help to “attain her lawful right … without neglecting her duties.” He continued:

As charity commands us to attend in the first place those nearest to us, no doubt the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, now more than ever, will prove an efficacious patron of his countrymen. Before God, let us, therefore, hope that the beatification of Blessed Oliver  will be an augury of more joyful days for Ireland.7

Monsignor Hagan

The event was a major propaganda coup for Irish separatists and became known as “Sinn Féin Week in Rome,” Marc Phelan wrote in a 2016 Irish Times column. Monsignor Hagan mentored the Sinn Féin diplomat and future president of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly, in his dealings with the Roman Curia. O’Kelly reportedly lectured Benedict XV that one of his predecessors, Pope Leo XIII, had damaged church interests in Ireland by condemning the Land War of the 1880s. (See my 2017 post, The troubled foundation of St. Patrick’s in Rome, 1888.)

Several paintings and banners of Plunkett decorated the Basilica of St. Peter’s for the May 23 ceremony: the cleric dressed in a purple cope, surrounded by angels; another standing before his judges; one ascending the scaffold and forgiving his executioners; and one with the rope around his neck.8 (The image in this post hung outside St. Peter’s at Plunkett’s 1975 canonization.) Monsignor Hagan delivered the names of the postulators to the pope, as well as a reliquary–shaped like St. Patrick’s Bell–containing bone fragments of the martyred archbishop.9

The Irish Independent published a display of four photos from Rome, still something of an extravagance at the time.10 Religious services also were held across Ireland, including the martyr’s home district of Ballybarrack near Dundalk, and a procession in London.11

***     

More than a year after the ceremony, Bishop Michael Fogarty of Ennis, County Clare, wrote to Monsignor Hagan and asked that he tell Pope Benedict XV “how marvelous it was” that the July 11 ceasefire in Ireland began on Plunkett’s feast day. Fogarty added, “the truce is a relief though peace not a foregone conclusion.”12

Plunkett was canonized on Oct 12, 1975, the first Irish saint since St. Lawrence O’Toole in 1225. An estimated 12,000 Irish, many waving tricolors, packed into St. Peter’s Square. A pastoral letter from the Irish Bishops Conference cited Plunkett as “an example in these troubled times”–six years into The Troubles in Northern Ireland–for his work for reconciliation.”13

Plunkett’s beatification seems to have helped end the War of Independence quicker than his canonization resolved The Troubles. Alas, saints can only do so much.

Today in Ireland, more than a dozen parishes, another dozen primary schools, plus sports venues and teams, streets and roads, and an Aer Lingus airplane, are named after Saint Oliver Plunkett. Lean more from the National Shrine to Saint Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda.

Memorial church ruin of Saint Oliver Plunkett at Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, County Meath. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

 

Irish correspondents in America, today & yesterday

UPDATE:

The National Union of Journalist (Ireland & U.K.) has proposed technology firms should pay a 6 percent “windfall tax” towards a rescue package for the embattled media industry. Despite soaring online traffic, national and local media have been hit hard by declining advertising revenues since the start of coronavirus crisis. Many outlets have cut jobs or reduced pay. Lynch and O’Donovan raised these concerns in their conversation with IN-DC.

ORIGINAL POST:

A New York Times profile of 41 foreign correspondents working in the United States included Suzanne Lynch of The Irish Times and Brian O’Donovan of RTÉ News. Two weeks after the story published in April, both reporters discussed their roles at an Irish Network-DC virtual meeting.

“In this tumultuous period of American politics, there are perhaps more foreign correspondents in Washington, D.C., than ever before,” the Times wrote in The Journalists. “What unites them is their fight against the threat of misinformation and their struggle to accurately inform their fellow citizens about what’s happening here — and how it might affect them.”

Notwithstanding such high-minded missions, Lynch, 41, and O’Donovan, 40, told IN-DC that “Trump is gold” for online clicks and viewer ratings back in Ireland. “He keeps on giving as a story,” O’Donovan said. Lynch added the U.S. president has become “so all-consuming” that he often cuts into other coverage.

Lynch

In the Times piece, Lynch said she “was taken aback by how open the [political] system” is in America. “On Capitol Hill in particular, you can really walk around the halls of power, go into the offices of members of Congress and talk to them directly.”

O’Donovan

O’Donovan told the paper that the four-year RTÉ posting in Washington is “one of the best jobs within the station,” and that he is very aware “this will be remembered as a unique time, and I’m privileged to be covering it and watching it firsthand.”

During the IN-DC discussion, both correspondents shared how they are now frustrated and challenged by the social distancing and travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Irish audiences love stories of the real America,” said Lynch, who nevertheless filed nearly 50 stories during April.

She also noted how the health crisis has distracted U.S. political attention (already waning in the Trump administration) from the restored power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland and the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. RTÉ‘s Caitríona Perry, who preceded O’Donovan in Washington, last fall published a book from the opposite perspective, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics.

Earlier correspondents

Dillon

“Ireland has had a long established tradition of excellence in foreign news coverage,” Kevin Rafter, head of Dublin College University’s School of Communications, has written.1 He includes William Howard Russell, Francis McCullagh and Emile Joseph Dillon among a “very impressive group” of late 19th and early 20th century Irish foreign correspondents.

Ford

Another group, Irish immigrants in America who owned or wrote for U.S. newspapers, also influenced audiences back in the homeland. These include Jerome Collins, John Devoy, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan.2

Russell

A century ago, as Ruth Russell, Harry Guest, and other U.S. journalists filed dispatches from revolutionary Ireland, Irish papers included stories about American politics, business, society and events. Much of this reporting came from un-bylined and now forgotten correspondents; either Irish, British, or American writers, often working for wire services and other cooperative arrangements between papers.

I encourage readers to share the names of Irish correspondents who were on assignment in the United States during this period.

When bigots tried to ban Dev from Birmingham, Alabama

Éamon de Valera faced one of the most hostile receptions of his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland during an April 21, 1920, stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

De Valera in 1919

An American Legion post in the southern industrial city urged Alabama Gov. Thomas E. Kilby to declare de Valera persona non grata, in part because Irish separatists had sought German assistance during the late world war, when America allied with Britain. A Pennsylvania chapter of the patriotic veterans organization began grumbling about de Valera as he visited Pittsburgh in October 1919. Similar rhetoric surfaced a month later in Los Angeles

Now, however, the strongest opposition to de Valera’s appearance was driven by “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hatred of Catholics that prevailed in Birmingham during the second and third decades of the twentieth century,” David B. Franklin wrote in a 2004 History Ireland article. “The Irish-American population in particular was an insidious threat, [because unlike blacks] that ethnic group mixed so freely with the WASP majority in all situations except religion.”

Kilby declined to grant the Legion’s requested declaration and steered away from overt anti-Catholicism. Instead, he released a statement that said the Sinn Féin leader should be deported by the U.S. State Department. And he suggested that some “patriotic Americans” were “seriously misled” in their “zeal for a cause which involves the internal affairs of a friendly nation [Britain].”1

Frank J. Thompson, state chairman of the American Commission on Irish Independence, rebuked Kilby on grounds of patriotism and politics:

The time is coming, whether Governor Kilby realizes it or not, when the same moral law that governs man shall govern nations and when robber nations, like the burglarious individual, will have to realize the truth of the principle and be governed by it. … [He should] familiarize himself more thoroughly with the attributes of a real American and the history of our country, before he attempts to catalogue or classify those who sympathize with the aspirations of the Irish people.”2

Thompson, leader of Alabama’s Irish bond drive effort, a few days earlier had welcomed de Valera to Mobile, the state’s more heavily Catholic port city, where there were no protests. Despite the agitation in Birmingham, de Valera was allowed to make his speech. He was joined by Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of County Antrim, who said that Irish freedom was not only a Catholic concern.

Anti-Catholic bigots tried to block Éamon de Valera from making an April 1920 speech at this Birmingham, Alabama, playhouse, then the Jefferson Theatre, later renamed Erlanger. Birmingham Public Library

Kilby and the Legion got more press attention before de Valera’s visit than the speech received afterward, according to a review of available digital newspaper archives. The New York Times reported de Valera “was greeted with mingled applause and shouts of ‘throw him out’ ” and that “objectors caused considerable confusion inside the crowded theatre.”3 The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to Sinn Féin leadership in Ireland, declared “a great throng crowded Jefferson Theatre to its utmost capacity … despite an organized attempt of bigots to prevent the meeting…”4

The Birmingham episode received only minimal attention in Irish newspapers, which focused more coverage on the deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama and other U.S. southern states in the same week.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Reactions

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is the last of 10 posts in this series. Earlier posts and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence are found at the linked project landing page. MH

***

Near the end of his series on Ireland, Guest wrote that “extremists of both sides have been busy writing letters to the editor” of the New York Globe.1 He continued:

First, the articles were damned by one group as ‘British propaganda,’ and later denounced by the other camp as briefs for the Sinn Féin cause. At the same time there were letters from Englishmen and Irishmen, and from Americans who were free enough from prejudice and sufficiently fairminded to appreciate that blame probably attached to both sides, and that an unbiased presentation of the facts would perhaps contribute to better understanding all around. As the Globe has pointed out editorially, it is to these middle-grounders that both Ireland and England must look for a solution of the Irish question.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been unable to access the original 1920 New York Globe series on microfilm at the Library of Congress.2 Instead, I have reviewed Guest’s stories as published in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, both available online. Such digital sources also reveal some of the reactions to his stories. Here are three examples; the first two critical, the third more nuanced :

  • In The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct links to the separatist Sinn Féin government in Ireland, Associate Editor Joseph A. Sexton accused the Globe of publishing the series “for the evident purpose of influencing American opinion in favor of English domination in Ireland. We make mention of these articles, not because such of them that have come to our attention are essentially different from the usual anti-Irish article, but rather because on the contrary they are of just the type that has become so common … [filled with] the stock tale of outrages, of secret societies and so forth.”3 Sexton published these comments two weeks before the Guest series was concluded.

 

  • In The Baltimore Sun, which published some but not all of Guest’s stories, “Two Youthful Sinn Féiners” wrote a letter to the editor that suggested the reporter “compiled his series from stories he heard during his stay in London.” The writers described Irish bond buyers in America as “men and women of stout Irish lineage and we are sure that reports of ‘such shocking outrages’ will not cause them to withdraw their subscriptions.”4

 

  • More significantly, Irish-born writer Ernest A. Boyd referenced Guest’s “excellent articles” in an April 30, 1920, dispatch from Dublin, also published in the Sun. “That there are crimes and outrages nobody can deny,” Boyd wrote. “If the government department concerned produces statistics, what can one do but reprint them? Mr. Guest did so, and was accordingly denounced as a sinister agent of John Bull.”5

Boyd warned:

To understand these statistics it is essential to have an idea of the peculiar position of the English administration in Ireland … [which is] to prove that Sinn Féin is a criminal conspiracy. … In official circles all Irish crimes are now Sinn Féin crimes, just as they were all Nationalist crimes in the days of Parnell. … It is easy to conceive the impossible position of a special correspondent who has to rely for information upon informants of this type.

To partisans and propagandists, Boyd noted, “the journalist who accepts their own dope is an unbiased champion of truth and justice; the journalist who accepts the other fellow’s is a scoundrel. The illusion is inevitable and human. … For many obvious reasons the American press has given the best outside accounts of current affairs in Ireland.”

It should also be remembered that Guest’s series debuted a month after the New York Globe published a controversial story about Éamon de Valera’s views on foreign policy. The Sinn Féin leader, then touring America to raise money and political support for Ireland, made an awkward comparison of U.S. government relations with Cuba under the Monroe Doctrine to potential British recognition of Ireland, provided Ireland agreed to avoid international alliances hostile to Britain.

De Valera had given a draft of his views to the American correspondent for The Westminster Gazette, presumably hoping to influence prominent politicians back in London. He didn’t realize the Gazette had a cooperative arrangement with the Globe, which Feb. 6, 1920, published a story under the headline “De Valera Opens the Door”. De Valera’s enemies in America seized on the Globe’s (mis)interpretation, which widened hostilities among pro-Irish independence factions.6 The episode also might have biased reactions to Guest’s series, at least among Sinn Féin supporters.

The outcome of Guest’s Ireland trip and reporting differed from the simultaneous 1920 experiences of Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News. He did not turn his Ireland reporting into a book, as she did. He was not invited to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, which in November 1920 opened public hearings in Washington, D.C., as she was.

British forces confront Irish republican rally in Dublin, 1920.

AFTERWARD

Guest became the Globe’s “special stock investigator.”7 He wrote a series of stories about securities fraud and other schemes “in which the promoters appeal to the cupidity of the public through the lure of large possible profits on small investment.”8

In June 1923, the Globe was merged into the New York Sun. Guest eventually left journalism. The 1930 U.S. Census shows he held a “council” position in the “public retail construction” industry.9 By the mid-1930s he became executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, where he shaped industrial development reports, similar to those he had focused on in several of his Ireland stories.10

It appears that Guest died in late September 1960, age 81, though I haven’t located an online obituary to confirm he is the person whose cremated remains were placed in the urn garden at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.11 If this Harry F. Guest is the former Globe reporter, he joined journalists Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, and Henry Chadwick, the British-born sportswriter who became the “father of baseball,” as Green-Wood denizens in eternal rest.

REFLECTION

Harry F. Guest traveled to Ireland and wrote his series for the New York Globe as the two-year-old influenza pandemic began to ease. More than 20,000 people died in Ireland, though Guest didn’t mention the outbreak in the reporting available for review.12 It is ironic, to be sure, that I have revisited his series while quarantined in my Washington, D.C. apartment due to another pandemic.

Having survived the Spanish flu era, Guest probably considered the possibility of a similar outbreak during his lifetime. It is unlikely, however, that he imagined the technology that has allowed me to read his work 100 years later. Newspaper preservation on microfilm didn’t begin until some 15 years after the publication of his Ireland series,13 let alone digital access to those images via computer and internet. Eventually, I hope to review the 1920 issues of the Globe on microfilm at the Library of Congress. I want to see the paper’s promotion and placement of Guest’s stories, its other news coverage and editorials about Ireland, including de Valera and related activity in the U.S., and the letters to the editor.

Ruth Russell lived among the poor in Dublin’s slums, stood outside factories with striking and unemployed workers; and listened to the animated conversations of Irish revolutionaries in their homes and meeting places. Guest was less of a participant and more journalist-as-observer, his reporting almost technocratic. Unlike Russell, his work leaves the impression of someone who was around the Irish people and the British authorities, but not fully among them. His coverage of the Glengarriff mummers performance and the Ballynahinch market confrontation are notable exceptions.

Russell picked a side. She stated her case for Irish independence and against British imperialism in print and in public. It probably cost not only her job at the Daily News, but also her career as a journalist. She became a school teacher. Guest presented his aspects of the Irish situation,” nine points each for the Irish and English sides, then left “the weighting of the evidence to the reader.” He became an industrial development lobbyist. 

Charges that Guest was pro-British or pro-Sinn Féin missed the mark. He was objective to a fault. His arms-length engagement with 1920 Ireland resulted in a series that, 100 years on, is an interesting and informative snapshot of the period, but ultimately unsatisfying. In times of revolution and pandemic, readers generally prefer more passion in the prose.

With many thanks to those who have read my series about Guest’s 1920 Ireland reporting during these difficult weeks of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As always, comments, corrections, and other feedback are welcome. Stay safe. MH

Another scene of confrontation between Irish citizens and British troops in 1920 Dublin.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Evidence

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

By early April 1920, after writing nearly two dozen stories about Ireland, Guest began to conclude his series.1 He attempted to answer “the Irish question,” the century-old dispute between Irish nationalists and the British ruling class, which had drawn increased attention from America since the 1880s.

Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem2

Guest explored whether “Ireland is a financial burden on England, or English government is a millstone around the neck of Ireland.” Such analysis, working from government reports and data, marked his reportorial strength more than interviewing people.

Guest reported that England collected $186.3 million from Ireland for the 12-months ended March 31, 1919; with total expenditures of $110.8 million during the period. He cited figures and quoted from the Financial Relations Committee of 1896, and the Primrose Committee on Home Rule Finance in 1912, to delve into the history of the financial imbalance. He wrote:

That the financial relations between England and Ireland are in need of readjustment is generally admitted, but there is a wide difference between the proposed methods. At different times inquiries to this end have been held, the faults and injustices in the present system pointed out and recommendations made. Few if any important changes have resulted from the investigations, however, England apparently taking the view that it would be futile to go into this until some satisfactory solution of the Irish question itself has been arrived at.

England Has Four Course Open In Case That Ireland Refuses Home Rule Measure3

Guest detailed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, then being considered in London. When passed in December, this is that law that partitioned the island into six predominantly Protestant counties, called Northern Ireland (three majority Catholic counties in the province of Ulster were excluded), and 26 majority Catholic counties of southern Ireland. 

“While I was in Ireland I did not hear one kind word for the bill in either Ulster or the south. It was condemned on all sides by all parties,” Guest wrote. “The 1920 home rule bill differs from its predecessors in that none of the Irish parties have been consulted in regard to its principles and that it comes up for passage at a time when many of the Irish members are absenting themselves from parliament. … The measure has been ridiculed in both press and pulpit.”

Irish Situation Viewed From Angles Favoring Their Cause4 and England Resents American Efforts To Take Part In Solution For Irish Problem5

Ireland was partitioned in 1920.

In these last two stories, Guest outlined what he described as “aspects of the Irish situation … established beyond dispute.” In the first he listed nine reasons “which favor Ireland’s side of the case.” These are lightly edited from the original:

  • “Seventy-five percent of the Irish people are dissatisfied with the present form of government and opposed to the relief England offers in the home rule bill now before parliament.”
  • “England today is governing Ireland by force of arms, violating the sanctity of the home, suppressing the press, prohibiting freedom of speech, and the right of peaceable assembly …”
  • “The Macpherson-French has a record of one mistake after another …”
  • “England has failed to encourage Irish industries …”
  • “England has never made an effective effort to bring about a better understanding between Ulster Protestants and the southern Catholics …”
  • “Had Ireland better educational facilities … her people would be more orderly and law-abiding …”
  • “Ireland’s confidence in the sincerity of the English government has been shattered by the forthcoming repeal of the 1914 home rule act to satisfy a minority in Ulster.”
  • “Ireland’s hope of freedom was encouraged” … by English statesmen and President Wilson.
  • “It is probable that Ireland would make a ‘working agreement’ with England for mutual protection in the event of England offering her freedom.”

In the second story, Guest wrote “England’s position in Ireland rests on these factors”:

  • “In justice to law-abiding citizens, the reign of terror and outrage in Ireland calls for drastic measures of suppression.”
  • “Fair trial by jury in Ireland is responsible under existing conditions.”
  • The English parliament has advanced many good laws for the benefit of the Irish people, such as land owning and land leasing, old age pensions, and health insurance.
  • “England favored Ireland during the war by exempting her from conscription, food restrictions, etc. … Compared to England, Ireland did not feel the pinch of the war any more than the United States did.”6
  • Despite “discrimination in the matter of commerce, trade, and industry,” Ireland enjoys “the greatest prosperity in her history. …”
  • “England’s mistakes in Ireland have been due largely to the connivance of politicians rather than to a deliberate policy of government …”
  • The racial and religious division of Ireland make solving the problems “the most difficult domestic problems which any nation has faced.”
  • “English rule” has kept Ireland safe “from predatory nations.”
  • “England’s principal freedom is and has been on strategic grounds, rather than because of any financial benefit …” 

“I leave the weighting of the evidence to the reader,” Guest concluded. “I feel sure if the good wishes of every true American can help, the day will come soon when [the Irish question] will be settled fairly and without prejudice to either side.”

But violence and discord would grow worse in Ireland through the rest of 1920 and into 1921.

December 1920 advertisement in the Chicago Daily News about the war in Ireland.

NEXT: In the concluding post, public reaction to Guest’s series, his career afterward, and my personal reflections on his work.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Industry

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds1

“In investigating industrial conditions in Ireland, I found that Irish manufacturers and farmers had been and were being discriminated against by the British government and by powerful business interests in England in various ways,” Guest reported. “Some of the discriminations were of comparatively recent date, having their origin in the war and imposed under the Defense of the Realm Act. Others went further back. All of them, however, gave substance to the charges that England, deliberately or otherwise, is hampering the industrial development of Ireland.”

Guest detailed the system of grading and price and controls on Irish-grown flax, used to manufacture linen. He wrote that he witnessed the Jan. 22, 1920, Ballynahinch, County Down, market confrontation between flax seller Samuel King of Crossgar, and the Flax Control Board grader. An aggravated crowd of growers, their laborers, and other sympathizers, which Guest estimated at “upwards of 200” and the Freeman’s Journal described as “numbering 500”2, helped King wrest his flax cart away from the grader and some Royal Irish Constabulary officers. Heated words were exchanged, but no blows, according to both newspaper stories.

“I can assure you that I didn’t go to Ballynahinch to make trouble,” King said afterward; an interview that occurred at a public house, Guest wrote. “All I wanted was a fair, reasonable price for my flax.”3 

King was fined £10 for unlawful removal of the flax, and the penalty was upheld on appeal.4 His bad luck continued later that summer when a fire caused by an engine spark destroyed his scutching mill.5

Workers gathering flax in County Down in the 1940s. Belfast Telegraph image.

Guest also reported how wool rationing and restrictions on cattle exports contributed to Irish manufacturers being left to “the mercy of the English ‘shipping ring’ which forces them to pay [the] burden of excessive ‘channel charges’ on imports from the United States and elsewhere.” American exports to Ireland were required to first go to England, he noted, which “added considerably” to freight charges and lost time.

In September 1919, the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines began shipping from Philadelphia to Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. Guest reported the company was required to pay harbor, cartage, and other fees, as if its steamers stopped at Liverpool. United Press reporter Russell Browning detailed this problem later in a 1920 in a widely-published story that included an interview with Sinn Féin‘s Liam de Róiste. The Irishman said: “We believe they [Moore-McCormack] will attempt to safeguard their interest henceforth against matters of this kind.”6

By 1925, however, the American shipping company discontinued its Ireland service due to insufficient cargo for the westbound crossing.7

Irish Unrest Being Fanned By Neglect of Resources8

In this story Guest focused on Ireland’s reliance on imported coal and cement as examples of the country’s failure to develop its own natural resources and industries. He cited statistics and statement in reports of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Dublin Industrial Development Association, and quoted an unidentified “Irish manufacturer” and “contractor in Cork,” to illustrate his point.

“There is no question of the industrial possibilities of Ireland,” Guest wrote, “but to develop them into realities will require vision, stabilized government, energy, faith in the future of the country, and money. … The Sinn Féin party was the first political body in Ireland … to appreciate how vitally the country needed an industrial housecleaning and reorganization, and to take steps in this direction it appointed a non-partisan national commission to investigate the country’s resources, but the English government has refused to permit the Irish newspapers to publish any reports of its activities and has frequently suppressed its meetings.”9

NEXT: “Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem” and other stories from the conclusion of Guest’s series.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Newspapers

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. For this post only, I’ve linked the headline to a .pdf copy of the story for newspaper historians.  MH

***

British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest1

Guest, a veteran New York City reporter and editor, devoted this story to the antagonism between foreign and domestic newspapers and the British administration in Ireland at Dublin Castle. He wrote:

Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job. If you publish something which offends Dublin Castle, the police or military raids your offices and carry away vital parts of the presses. If you criticize Sinn Féin too severely, your office is likely to be stormed and the presses smashed.

As a newspaper man, I have great respect for the Irish newspapers. When one which has been suppressed receives permission to resume publication, it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1920

Guest again referenced the Defense of the Realm Act, or “Dora,” which he noted was used to exert “strict censorship not only over dispatches sent from Ireland, but foreign news sent to Ireland as well.” This may be why Guest waited until he returned to America before writing his series about Ireland, just as United Press correspondent Ralph F. Couch had done in early 1919 after his scoop interview with prison escapee Éamon de Valera.

Guest reported the mid-January 1920, Dublin post office seizures of the New York American, Irish World, and Gaelic American,2 with “thousands of copies … carried off to Dublin Castle” because they contained articles about the Irish bond drive in America. “This was not the first seizure of its kind in Ireland and it probably will not be the last,” he wrote.

It should be remembered that Britain was not the first or only democracy to censor or suppress the press. In America, the Committee of Public Information (CPI), created in April 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, “became the U.S. ministry for propaganda,” and an “unofficial censor” of the domestic and foreign press. Journalist George Creel and the secretaries of State, Navy, and War ran the CPI, which worked with the U.S. Postal Service to block distribution of the New York-based Gaelic American and Irish World, and the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal.3

Historian Ian Kenneally has explained the main political motivation for press censorship in Ireland was to keep the views and activities of the separatist Sinn Féin from Irish newspaper readers. He continued:

The situation worsened in September 1919 when the authorities in Dublin Castle abolished the post of censor. The decision was greeted by cynicism from the Irish press with newspaper editors deriding the fact that the censor may have gone but the restrictive regulations remained in place. A wave of newspaper suppressions swept the country. This was because the Irish press now had no censor to guide them as to what would be deemed unacceptable by Dublin Castle.4

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland. Late 19th or early 20th century image. National Library of Ireland image.

By the time Guest arrived in Ireland in early 1920, more than two dozen Irish newspapers had been suppressed or had their foreign circulation banned for “a few days [or] longer periods,” he reported. The digital Irish Newspaper Archives contains 50 titles that published during 1920. An estimated 332 newspapers circulated in Ireland during the period 1900 to 1922, excluding British or American titles.5

Guest listed these papers as being suppressed:

Mayo News * Clare Champion * Newcastle-West Weekly Observer * Kings County Independent * Belfast Evening Telegraph * Dublin Evening Herald * Meath Chronicle * Galway Express * Ballina Herald * Killkenny People * Irish Republic * Southern Star (County Cork)

Freeman’s Journal nameplate

Most of Guest’s story detailed the December 1919 suppression of the Freeman’s Journal, which extended into January 1920. The action “aroused a storm of protest against the methods of Dublin Castle, in which even the press of England joined … The circumstances attending the suppression of the newspaper and the subsequent negotiations over its resumption of publication constitute a chapter of English history in Ireland that reflects little credit on the present administration.”

As mentioned at the top, Guest’s full story can seen by clicking the linked headline. The Freeman’s Jan. 28, 1920, editorial cartoon about the suppression, referenced by Guest, can be viewed here via the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Shemus Cartoon Collection. More on the history of the Freeman’s Journal is available in this October 2019 guest post by Irish historian Felix Larkin, who also wrote the linked NLI collection description.

NEXT: English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Religion

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

This series to date has covered half of Guest’s Ireland stories in the order they were published. This post explores three of his stories that primarily focused on religion.

Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say1

“The Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland is equally outspoken in its denunciation of the crime and outrage now existing there and of the causes which it holds responsible–the withholding of self-government, military oppression, and invasion of the people’s rights,” Guest opened this story. He noted the Jan. 27, 1920, meeting of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, County Kildare, about 25 miles west of Dublin, and quoted from their official pronouncement.

Cardinal Michael Logue

Guest also cited subsequent statements by Bishop of Cashel John Harty; Cardinal Michael Logue; Archbishop of Dublin William J. Walsh; Bishop of Waterford Bernard Hackett; and Bishop of Rapheo Patrick J. O’Donnell. It appears that Guest repeated their quotes from Irish newspaper accounts, rather than his own interviews.

The passage below shows Guest overstated the church’s diminished influence on Irish affairs, since the Catholic hierarchy would play a significant role in the development of the fledgling state through ratification of the Irish Constitution in 1937, and beyond. Guest could not have anticipated how much relations between the priests and the people would change as they have in the last 20 years due to church scandals. In March 1920, he wrote:

Although the church is still as strong numerically in proportion as it was a century ago, it is not the dominant influence politically today that it was then. I do not mean by this that those of the Catholic faith in Ireland are any less religious; they are not. But something of the awe with which the peasants used to regard the clergy and the mystical powers they were wont to attribute to the priesthood have been dissipated.  … 

The priest in Ireland is revered and loved today as much as ever, but he is less feared. The people see young priests mixing in politics and they appreciate that they are of the people, one of themselves. Better education, too, has helped the people think more for themselves. This is why I believe the church in Ireland has lost something of the power it formerly had to mould and direct public opinion. This holds true not only of the Catholic south of Ireland, but Protestant Ulster as well. 

The older leaders of both the Catholic and Protestant churches have not accepted this condition without resistance. Neither have the old-school politicians, who have not hesitated when they could gain their ends no other way to fan the slumbering fires of religious antagonism between the north and the south of Ireland.

Free Education As We Know It In This Country, Is Unknown in Ireland2

“Education and religion are inseparably interwoven in Ireland,” Guest wrote. “One cannot be educated at any school in the south or in Ulster without absorbing a great deal of religious propaganda. … Early in the school life the seeds of distrust and antagonism … are sown. … Unlike the north and the south in the United States, Ulster and the south of Ireland have never attempted to let bygones by bygones and forget the past.”3

Guest outlined the existing Irish education system and the proposed restructuring of it under 1919 legislation by the government in London. He referred again to the Jan. 27 meeting at Maynooth, presided over by Cardinal Logue, which issued a statement that described the bill “the most denationalizing scheme since the act of union.”4 The hierarchy’s opposition, Guest suggested, “well illustrates how closely education and religion are interwoven.”

The education bill was eventually withdrawn.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, July 2016.

Believe Irish Catholics And Protestants In Ulster May Bury The Hatchet5

Guest wrote that he asked nearly everyone he met in Ireland whether Catholics and Protestants would ever “bury the hatchet” of antagonism between the two religious traditions. “Taken in their entirety, the replies were not encouraging to the hope that someday the ancient bitterness … would disappear,” he reported. He suggested, as above, “those of little education were positive … an insurmountable barrier” would keep Ireland forever divided; while those “educated … to think for themselves” believed the barrier “would someday be shattered.”

Guest addressed the issue “with persons from all walks of life,” including a grocery store clerk; a farm laborer in County Tipperary; a linen mill superintendent and a hotel porter in Belfast; and a farm owner and his son in County Down. He also had conversations with Lord Justice James O’Connor in Dublin, and Liam Roche in Cork, but did not quote either in the story. Guest wrote:

… in almost every case, as between persons who had learned to think for themselves and others who had not, the lineup on one side of the question and on the other side was distinct, regardless of locality. … [Young Catholic priests and young Protestant ministers] will tell you quite frankly that this old enmity is a ‘bugaboo,’ which has been kept alive largely by frequent doses of stimulant administered by politicians in England and Ireland. …

Catholics and Protestants labor side by side in factories, mills and shops with only occasional friction. So long as the two refrain from religious or political discussion, all goes well.

NEXT: British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Mummers

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

***

Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret1

Guest attended “one of the most popular ways of keeping the torch of liberty lighted and fanning the flames of hatred of England in the south of Ireland … a revival of the ‘mummers‘, roving bands of actors who impersonate the ancient and modern Irish heroes.”

The reporter, guided by an escort on a dark and misty evening, “walked, or rather stumbled” across the fields to a farm house about two miles outside of Glengarriff, in County Cork. Approved by a sentry, the pair entered a barn filled with about 40 people, Guest estimated, “a dozen of whom were women.” Two lanterns dimly illuminated a small platform. He continued:

Thomas Ashe

From somewhere out of the darkness at the side of the stage a bent figure slowly made its way to the center. The face of the man was whitened and drawn as if in pain. ‘It’s Tom Ashe’ my companion whispered, meaning that the ‘mummer’ was impersonating Thomas Ashe, who died in Dublin in 1918, [sic, Sept. 25, 1917] following a hunger strike in prison. The bent figure on the platform straightened up and the lips moved:

My name is Ashe
and like a flash
From Kerry’s hills I came
And on the tree of Liberty
I carved a deathless name.

Guest quoted rhymes from other figures: Easter 1916 martyr Padriag Pearse; President of the Irish Republic Éamon de Valera, then touring America; and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Sir John French, the government’s chief administrator at Dublin Castle. “Groans and hisses punctuated the [mummer’s] recital” for French, Guest wrote. Other impersonations included Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Robert Emmet, and Father John Murphy. 2

Guest noted that “if the audience feels secure enough,” a piper or fiddler might accompany the mummer and a dance after the performance. This was not the case at the show he attended. “The lanterns on the platform were put out, leaving the barn almost in darkness. The audience was not permitted to leave all together: they went out at twos and threes at intervals of a few minutes.”

Guest’s escort returned him to Glengarriff by a different route, “shorter, I’m thankful to say, for it was raining hard.”

Near Glengarrif, Co. Cork.

NEXT: Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say