Category Archives: Irish War of Independence

Back to Ireland for history conference talk

I am returning to Ireland–my tenth visit since 2000, my fifth since 2016–to make a presentation at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s annual conference at Queens University Belfast. I am speaking about pioneering woman journalist Ruth Russell, who in 1919 reported on the early months of the Irish revolution for the Chicago Daily News. Watch for updates and tweets from @markaholan.

 

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Brexit was supposed to happen by Oct. 31. It hasn’t. The departure deadline is now Jan. 31, 2020, but could happen sooner, depending on the outcome of a Dec. 12 election in the U.K., including 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland of 650 seats in the Commons. In the Republic, there are divergent opinions whether to call elections this month, or wait until May 2020.

More news and views:

  • Abortion was decriminalized and same-sex marriage legalized in Northern Ireland on Oct. 21 as the London parliament passed legislation while the Northern Ireland Assembly remains dormant.
  • It is hard to overstate how remarkable it is that the end of partition on the island of Ireland is being seriously considered, yet it is difficult to understate how ill-prepared everyone is for it to actually happen, Ed O’Loughlin wrote in the Atlantic: The ‘Messy and Angry’ Prospect of Ireland Reunifying
  • As if Brexit wasn’t confusing enough, an E.U. plan to eliminate daylight savings time in 2021 could put post-departure Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in different time zones, creating a new form of partition on the island.
  • Veteran IRA man Ivor Bell was acquitted of any involvement in the 1972 abduction, murder, and disappearance of mother-of-10 Jean McConville. The event is at the core of Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2019 book, Say Nothing.
  •  John Henry Newman, the founding rector/president of Ireland’s only Catholic university, precursor of University College Dublin (UCD), was canonized as a saint. UCD was criticized for originally saying it would not send a representative to Rome, citing its modern secular nature, a move some interpreted as anti-Catholic.
  • ” … few Irish Americans know any Irish history at all. … Ireland’s War of Independence need not be celebrated, but it should at least be remembered, above all by the Irish-American community,” John Rodden and John P. Rossi wrote in Commonweal: Why the Irish War of Independence Still Matters

Old buildings on a farm at Fairhead, County Antrim, August 2019.

Guest post: The slow death of the Freeman’s Journal

Historian Felix M. Larkin specializes in the study of Irish newspapers, especially the Freeman’s Journal, the prominent Dublin daily published from 1763 to 1924. (See his website and our 2017 Q&A.) In October 1919, Irish writer Seumas MacManus noted the Freeman’s troubles in a U.S. newspaper column, excerpted in my Oct. 13 post. I asked Felix to write this guest post after he rightly corrected one of my notes at this centenary of a key moment in the Freeman’s history. MH

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On Oct. 27, 1919, Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal newspaper was sold to a prominent local businessman, Martin Fitzgerald, and a former English journalist now living in Ireland, Robert Hamilton Edwards. The Freeman had been associated with the Irish home rule movement for the previous four decades– back to Charles Stewart Parnell’s time – and its sale represented the final step in the fall of that movement, which began with the 1916 Rising and culminated in the victory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election.1

Founded in 1763, the Freeman had become an important newspaper under the ownership of the Gray family from 1841 to 1892. Though more moderately nationalist in editorial policy than Parnell, it had eventually accepted his leadership and had remained loyal to him at the outset of the Parnell ‘split’ in 1890.2 However, when the anti-Parnellites launched their own daily newspaper, the National Press, in March 1891 and the Freeman began to lose circulation and revenue as a result, it switched sides. The Freeman and the National Press later merged in March 1892. There followed a long and bitter struggle for control of the paper between rival anti-Parnell factions led by Tim Healy and John Dillon, both MPs; this struggle was ultimately resolved in the latter’s favor in 1896.

Thomas Sexton, another prominent anti-Parnell MP, became chairman of the Freeman company in 1893. He remained chairman until 1912. The period of Sexton’s chairmanship was one of relentless decline in the Freeman’s fortunes. The National Press had inflicted grave damage on it, and it continued to face strong competition from the Irish Daily Independent – established as a pro-Parnell organ when the Freeman changed sides in the ‘split’, but purchased by William Martin Murphy in 1900 after the ‘split’ was healed. The Freeman thus lacked funds for investment and was unable to respond to the greatly increased demand for newspapers nationally at this time.

In contrast, Murphy transformed the Independent into a modern, mass-circulation organ. It soaked up the increased demand for newspapers and became the market leader. The Freeman began as a result to incur trading losses, and no dividends were paid by the company after 1908. The home rule leaders eventually acted to save it and forced Sexton’s resignation in 1912. It was subsequently run by a group of party stalwarts and subsidized from party sources, and its parlous condition was exacerbated by the destruction of its premises during the 1916 Rising. After the Rising, money was raised from home rule supporters in Britain and in the United States, as well as in Ireland, in a desperate effort to keep it afloat.3

Following the 1918 general election, the company – without the financial support of the now defunct home rule party –collapsed and went into liquidation.4 It was then purchased by Fitzgerald and Edwards as a commercial venture. Fitzgerald – a wholesale wine and spirit merchant – had been a home ruler and the Freeman’s new management soon committed itself to a policy of advocating dominion status for Ireland.

Martin FItzgerald

It was an inauspicious time to attempt to revive an ailing Irish newspaper of moderate nationalist sympathies. The difficulties that the new owners encountered were extraordinary. The Freeman was suppressed by the British military authorities for seven weeks from December 1919 to January 1920; Fitzgerald, Edwards and the editor, Patrick Hooper, were imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail for a month at Christmas 1920 following publication by the Freeman of a story about army brutality; and after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which was strongly supported by the Freeman, its printing presses were smashed in March 1922 by a raiding party of 200 anti-Treatyites.

Fitzgerald played a role in the process leading up to the 1921 Treaty. Once the Government decided to explore settlement possibilities, he was able to use his standing as a newspaper proprietor to act as an intermediary between Sinn Féin and Dublin Castle.5 He was in regular contact both with Michael Collins and with Alfred Cope, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Castle. Cope, adopting the nom de guerre ‘Mr. Clements’, frequently visited Fitzgerald’s home. Their relationship took on a further dimension when, during the Treaty negotiations, Cope sought to influence the shapers of public opinion in Ireland to support the emerging settlement. Through Fitzgerald, Cope gained a measure of control over the contents of the Freeman’s Journal at that time.

The Freeman’s campaign in favor of the Treaty was generally regarded, even by many on the pro-Treaty side, as unduly partisan. However, the new administration in Dublin came increasingly to rely upon it for propaganda. In recognition of this, Fitzgerald was nominated to the first Senate of the Irish Free State in 1922. He served in that forum until his death in 1927. By then, the Freeman had succumbed to its many tribulations. The main factor in its eventual demise was that the partnership of Fitzgerald and Edwards had ended in grief when the latter tried unsuccessfully to corner the market in newsprint and then absconded, leaving debts which the enfeebled Freeman could not meet. The last issue appeared on Dec. 19, 1924.6 The Freeman’s assets, including the title, were later bought by the Independent. It was a sad end for a distinguished newspaper.

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For more on the Freeman’s Journal, see Larkin’s Aug. 21, 2012 guest blog for the National Library of Ireland, and May/June 2006 piece in History Ireland.

More opinions on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. This is my second post of excerpts from by-lined columns that were published in October 1919. The first post featured three Irish writers.

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Howard

Wesley O. Howard (1863-1933) was an American lawyer and justice of the Third New York Judicial District Court when he wrote the piece below. As a member of the U.S. Republican Party, he was a political opponent of President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. In the post-war Treaty of Versailles, Article Ten was a provision that required members of the League of Nations to help each other if any came under attack. The U.S. Senate, which Wilson needed to ratify the treaty, worried the provision would draw America into more overseas wars similar to the one just ended. The Senate rejected the treaty a month after this article was published. 

The Shackles of Ireland–Erin and Article Ten, from The Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 12, 1919

…the great Powers of the earth are solemnly pledged under Article X of the League of Nations to send their armies, their navies and their resources to the shores of Erin to crush the hopes of the Irish people. And the American republic, with its millions of Irish blooded citizens, is to be urged to enter this compact for the obliteration of Ireland. The League of Nations should be known as the Magna Carta of Coercion.

The Irish people had hoped that President Wilson would stand as their champion at the peace table. His noble words gave the sons of Erin hope. … The Irish people thought that [Wilson’s words about] “the privileges of men everywhere to choose their way of life” included Ireland, but they were wrong. There is no privilege in Ireland under the League of Nations to choose anything. Their only privilege is the privilege of living “within the empire” and being the subject of a foreign prince.

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Whyte

Alexander Frederick Whyte (1883-1970) was a British civil servant, politician, and journalist. He was a founding editor of The New Europe: A Weekly Review of Foreign Politics. Use the linked title to read “How France Views the Irish Question” , November 1919, page 207; and “What Will Ulster Do?” , December 1919, page 302.) Whyte later headed the American division of the British Ministry of Information in the Second World War.

On the Road to Peace For Ireland, from the Christian Science Monitor1

Ireland is once more becoming the storm center of British politics. Even the turmoil of industrial disputes cannot drown the insistent, clamorous demand for a settlement of the Irish problem … The Irish question is the Achilles’ heel of the British commonwealth. It disturbs the normal development of politics in the United Kingdom; it distracts the energy of Irishmen from their proper task of exploiting the resources of their own rich island; it poisons the relations of Britain and America; and if it is not settled quickly it may result in yet worse consequences.

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Sir John Foster Fraser (1868-1936) was a Scottish journalist, travel writer and publicist. He is best known for an 1896 three-continent, 17-country, 19,237-mile bicycle trip around the world with two friends, documented in the book Round the World on a Wheel. He was knighted two years before writing this piece for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, which is considered the first U.S.-based distribution network for American and British writers. 

Ireland From an Englishman’s Point of View, from the McClure Newspaper Syndicate2

No Briton can travel throughout the United States without being conscious that in the mind of a vast section of the American people there is much more than an impression England stifles the aspirations of the Irish race. Those Americans, loving freedom, do not hesitate to declare there is something radically wrong. At the same time it must seem strange, almost contradictory, that England, which has been the most successful colonizer in the world, should be so unsuccessful in regard to governing Ireland. …

The majority of the people of Ireland, 70 percent, demand self-determination. When self-determination is being given to a number of small peoples in central Europe, why should it not be given to Ireland? The people of the British Isles are not averse from Ireland managing its own domestic affairs. The Home Rule Act was passed by the late Parliament. Then why is it not in operation?

[This article is] a polite hint that the fault is not at the doors of the English and that there would be no Irish question if Irishmen themselves were of one mind and did not threaten rebellion whether Ireland has self-determination or whether it has not. It is not true that Ireland of today is badly treated. Ireland is better treated than either England or Scotland. … The great thing is to try to understand the other point of view, not exaggerate, not to misrepresent and to remember that if England is sometimes stern and thinks of her own interests it is because she recalls the friendliness of so many Irish patriots toward the German cause during recent years.

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.

Three Irish writers on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. Below are short biographies of three native Irish writers and excerpts from columns they had published in October 1919.

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Harris

Frank Harris (1855-1931) was born in Galway and emigrated to America in 1869, age 13. He worked odd jobs and eventually moved west and earned a law degree. Harris returned to Europe and began his journalism career as a correspondent for U.S. newspapers before settling in London, where he worked at several publications. He began to write novels in the early 20th century; returned to America at the outbreak of the Great War; and became the editor at Pearson’s, a left-leaning monthly featuring fiction and arts and political coverage. In 1917, he wrote an essay “An Englishman on Ireland”. The column below was originally published in Pearson’s (linked) and syndicated to U.S. newspapers in October 1919. Two years later, Harris wrote another essay, “The Reign of Terror in Ireland”, and also became an American citizen.

How England Robs Ireland, from Pearson’s magazine

If I have fought for the ‘underdog’ all my life, and have championed lost causes continually without hope of success; if, as Bernard Shaw says, I have been wise by dint of pity, it is partly because in Ireland pity is a religion and the general atmosphere is softer and more affectionate than in any country I know, with the possible exception of Russia. … I can live in England with pleasure; I couldn’t live in Ireland or face Irish life for a year; it is too poor and drab. … Yet I am a Sinn Feiner and want to see an Irish republic, though twenty years ago I should have been satisfied with Home Rule; for I know that England is incapable of justice to Ireland … When (Ireland) appeals to kith and in in America she is insulted … America deserts you! or rather Mr. Wilson!”

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Desmond

Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) was born in County Waterford. An early (possibly first) novel, “Democracy”, was published in 1919. In a review, American author Upton Sinclair wrote “the work is deeply felt and intensely sincere.”1 Desmond went on to write more than 60 books, many of them about psychic phenomena, the occult, and spiritualism.

U.S. Converting Englishmen to Irish Freedom, from the New York Herald, Oct. 12, 1919

This is Ireland’s hour. There is not an Irishman throughout the world who does not feel it. England herself is feeling it. … In the twilight of the gods that to-day broods over Ireland the Irishman, whether Ulsterman or Southerner feels it. It is a feeling that rises above economic contentions, above policy, above reason itself. …

[Conservatives in Parliament] are astonished to find that Americans without distinction are ardent “Irishmen” whether they have Irish blood or not. When they hear of the Sinn Fein colors being carried down Fifth Avenue by New York regiments who are as anti-German as any Conservative among them they think it a horrible dream. To them it is as insoluble as so many other things American.

Ireland has put out the Sinn Fein constructive programme, which a prominent American lawyer told me the other day could be taken to any bank in Wall Street and money raised on it. Behind that programme is the brain of the movement–Arthur Griffith–for de Valera is only the inspirer. … I believe that Griffith and de Valera … feeling that the hour, which, if allowed to pass, may not return, has come, the psychological moment when Ireland has the ear of the world, are determined to put all on a throw of the dice. … We believe that English democracy has been educated to the point which has rendered Ireland’s self-government assured; that a way can be found out of the Ulster impasse; and that a little more patience will see the full fruition of Ireland’s hopes.

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MacManus

Seumas MacManus (1867-1960) was born in Mountcharles, County Donegal. The author, dramatist, and poet began writing for U.S. publications in the 1890s, including a 1907 piece for the North American Review, “Sinn Fein“: “Very quietly and silently, during the past decade, a change has been coming over the face of things political in Ireland … one of the greatest, most revolutionizing, that Ireland has known for a century…”  In 1917, he published Ireland’s Cause. His book Lo, And Behold Ye!, “of kings and peasants, of saints and sinners, of fairies and others of the tribes of little folk in a maze of bewitching Irishry”2 was making its U.S. debut at the time this column was published.

Forces Opposed to Sinn Fein in Ireland Are in State of Collapse, from The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), Oct. 25, 1919

Ireland is the land of pilgrims. And the season just ended together with the year 1918 have been far and away the most wonderful pilgrimage seasons Ireland has known since the Middle Ages. The 1918 threatened conscription–Irishmen fighting under England’s flag–made wonderful impetus for the pilgrimage movement, and hundreds of thousands journeyed in prayer and penance to their favorite holy places. …

The most significant sign of the times in Ireland is the fact that the Freeman’s Journal, the oldest newspaper in Ireland and a newspaper that for long years had carried by far the greatest sway in Ireland, has just gone under and disappeared.3 While Sinn Fein was growing the Freeman’s Journal was prone to libel the character of the movement and the men. This was done only to prevent the virile new movement from indecently hurrying the demise of the played out [Irish Parliamentary Party, which supported late 19th century home rule.]

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.

Éamon de Valera’s October 1919 visit to Pittsburgh

This post fits two ongoing series: “American Reporting of Irish Independence” and “Pittsburgh Irish.” Check out my earlier stories from each link. MH

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De Valera in 1919

Éamon de Valera had been touring America for three months when reports of his upcoming stop in Pittsburgh appeared in the city’s newspapers. The Sept. 18 Post-Gazette announced a Sept. 26 visit, but the next day told readers “no date has been set.” On Sept. 28, the newspaper reported the Irish leader would arrive in the city on Oct. 3. 

The Daily Post announced the itinerary:

Upon his arrival Friday evening he will be escorted to the William Penn Hotel by prominent friends of Irish freedom. After dinner he will attend a meeting of representatives of the Irish American societies of Western Pennsylvania in the ballroom … Admission to this meeting will be by card. On Saturday he will attend exercises at Duquesne University, where he will have conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. On Saturday evening he will address two meetings, on at the Syria Mosque and the other at Memorial hall. … While de Valera is speaking in one hall the meeting in the other will be addressed by either Frank P. Walsh, former chairman of the war labor board and now chairman of the American commission on Irish independence, or by Harry J. Boland, secretary of the Sinn Fein organization in Ireland.1

This event would cap more than a year of large, passionate public meetings in the city focused on Irish independence. In May 1918, Pittsburgh’s Irish community protested British military conscription in Ireland, six months before the end of the Great War. In December 1918, they rallied again to support Ireland’s cause at the post-war Paris peace conference. In June 1919, a “record-breaking crowd” of 5,000 gathered for a “non-denominational self-determination mass meeting where speakers discussed the claims of Ireland to conduct its own affairs without interference.”2

Domestic Opposition 

The same edition of the Daily Post that published de Valera’s Pittsburgh itinerary also reported on “Ulster Day” in the city, a seventh anniversary commemoration of the Ulster Covenant against home rule in Ireland. North of Ireland Protestants opposed this milder form of political autonomy before the war; now they disparaged the independent government sought by de Valera and the republican Sinn Féin party.

The Ulster Society of Pittsburgh gathered at the Smithfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church, where Rev. E. M. McFadden preached on the history of “Ulsterites in Ireland.” It is unclear from newspaper accounts whether McFadden mentioned de Valera’s upcoming visit, only that he orated about how the spirit of prior generations of Ulstermen “finds a parallel in the accentuating motives that dominate the minds of their descendants in their continuation of the fight today.”3 

Two month earlier, McFadden organized a resolution inviting unionist leader Sir Edward Carson to the United States to “offset the propaganda for Irish independence.”4 In December, McFadden traveled to New York City to meet the visiting delegation of Protestant clergy, sans Carson, from Ulster.5

Secular opposition to de Valera also mounted the week of his Pittsburgh visit. In Harrisburg, 200 miles to the east, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution that declared New York City-born de Valera “was an American and should have served in the army of navy and that he should not be accepted or recognized by any city of the United States.” The patriotic veterans organization, chartered by Congress a month earlier, adopted the motion to considerable cheering, despite attempts to speak against it.6

His Arrival

De Valera reached Pittsburgh’s Union Station about 8 p.m. Oct. 3, more than an hour late. Such evening arrivals were by design, “so as to facilitate demonstrations” that working people could not attend during the day.7 Boland and Walsh accompanied de Valera, as advanced, and they were cheered by a crowd of about 5,000. Two columns of uniformed veterans and cadets flanked the path to 100 waiting automobiles, but “it was almost impossible for police to clear a passageway” for the motorcade to make the half-mile trip to the William Penn Hotel.8

In two speeches the following evening, de Valera compared Ireland to the 13 American colonies.

We ask but one thing for ourselves–freedom. We have no fight with Great Britain on other subjects. Let us govern ourselves as we see fit, have some say in the making of laws which we must obey, and Ireland will rise among the great nations of the world, a credit to the land that gave us freedom.9

The Daily Post reported that de Valera was “warmly greeted by thousands of Irish sympathizers” who lined up for blocks an hour before the speech and filled the overflow hall. Their “wildly enthusiastic demonstrations testif[ied] to the popularity of the cause.”10 The newspaper reports do not mention any counter protests.

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the Sinn Féin government in Ireland, devoted its Oct. 9 issue to de Valera’s two-day visit to that city prior to his Pittsburgh stop. The Pittsburgh coverage appeared a week later and emphasized the two halls needed to accommodate “the great crowd … overwhelmed with joy, many standing on their seats and all cheering and applauding several minutes” upon his arrival.11

Undated photo of the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. The building opened in 1916, three years before de Valera’s visit. It was demolished in 1991.

The nationalist weekly also reported the comments of Alexander P. Moore, publisher of the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper and one of the event co-chairmen. Unsurprisingly, the city’s other dailies were silent about the comments of the rival publisher. Moore downplayed the religious divide in Ireland.

“I am a living denial of the statement that the Irish cause is a religious question,” he said. “I am the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”12 

Return Visits

Before his Pittsburgh speeches, De Valera made a brief visit to Duquesne University, but he was unable to attend the announced ceremony due to a schedule “misunderstanding.”13 He returned to Pittsburgh eight months later to give an address and accept the honorary degree from the Catholic college.14

This second visit came shortly after de Valera’s failure to convince the U.S. Republican Party to adopt a pro-Irish plank at its national convention in Chicago, and before a similar effort fell short at the Democratic convention in San Francisco. Animosity deepened between factions of Irish America. Some U.S. newspapers reported de Valera had “outstayed his welcome in the United States” and was about to leave America.15 In Pittsburgh, de Valera told reporters: “I will not leave this county until I am definitely recalled by the Irish parliament or deported.”16 He remained in America until December 1920.

De Valera’s reception at the Catholic university was warmed by a special connection to Ireland:

The University thus honours him not merely in consideration of this scholarship, which is widely acknowledged, not merely out of sympathy with the cause which he represents, but also as a tribute to one who has attained eminence and has been associated both as pupil and teacher with a sister college, namely, Blackrock College in Dublin.17

De Valera returned to Pittsburgh in March 1930, then an out-of-power leader of the opposition Fianna Fáil political party and chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He was in the United States to raise money for a newspaper venture, The Irish Press, which a year later would begin to publish in Dublin. The same-name Philadelphia paper that reported his 1919 U.S. visit ceased publication in 1922.

De Valera’s 1920 and 1930 trips to Pittsburgh didn’t generate nearly as much excitement or press coverage as in October 1919. The 1930 visit came within a decade of the war-ending treaty that created the 26-county Irish Free State, shy of the republic de Valera and his supporters had sought in 1919. Six counties in Ulster were partitioned as Northern Ireland and remained part of Great Britain. A bloody civil war divided the Irish in the south. 

“Irish Americans became utterly disillusioned” by the two-year civil war and “enthusiasm for the nationalist movement in Ireland dissipated.18 In America, as in Ireland, many would blame de Valera for the division that lingered for decades to come.

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In addition to cited newspapers, these books also were consulted:

  • Dolan, James P., The Irish Americans: A History. Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2008.
  • Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010.
  • McCartan, Patrick, With De Valera In America. Brentano, New York, 1932.
  • McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932. Gill Books, New York, 2017.
  • O’Doherty, Katherine, Assignment America: De Valera’s Mission to the United States. De Tanko Publishers, New York, 1957.
  • O’Neil, Gerard F., Pittsburgh Irish: Erin on the Three Rivers. The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2015.

Back to Ireland as blog reaches seventh anniversary

This month marks the blog’s seventh anniversary, which is a good opportunity to thank readers for their interest in my work. I am grateful to my email subscribers; people who have written to me about the content; and those who help share it on social media. I’m also grateful to the archivists, librarians, and historians who have guided me along the way.

Please explore the site, including this year’s centennial project on American reporting of Irish independence in 1919; and earlier work such as Nora’s Sorrow and Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, which each deal with the Land War period of the 1880s.

Other highlights include my St. Patrick Churches feature; Links and Places to Visit pages; and monthly and annual roundups.

My wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, has lovingly contributed to this effort as editor and webmaster. She and I will be traveling in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the next two weeks, and we will post words and images about the island’s natural beauty and contemporary culture.

Further ahead, I’ve been asked to present my Irish-related research at the American Journalism Historians Association‘s annual conference in Dallas; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Details coming this fall.

For now, thanks again for supporting the blog, and watch for our posts from Ireland. MH

Angie and I at the Marian Year, 1954, shrine in Lahardan townland, County Kerry, in 2012. My grandfather was a born near this hillside holy well in 1894.

How Dev’s tour shifted U.S. press coverage of Ireland

As Ireland’s strike for independence heated up after the Great War, Irish  newspapers in America frequently complained about real or perceived pro-British bias in the mainstream U.S. press. Their readers echoed the criticism of how big city dailies and wire services reported Irish news.

At a January 1919 meeting in Chicago, for example, nationalists suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.” Ironically, the mainstream Chicago Tribune provided this reporting.1

An estimated 50,000 supporters turned out in June 1919 to hear Éamon de Valera at Fenway Park in Boston. Stage is at the center of the image.

Coverage of the June 1919 American arrival of Éamon de Valera, and the massive crowds that turned out to hear him in cities across the country, began to change the perception of some Irish Americans. In a July 26, 1919, editorial headlined “American Newspapers Aligned on Ireland’s Side,” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., suggested:

It is the conscience of the American people rather than any impulse originating in the editorial sanctums that is forcing a change in the attitude of many of our big newspapers toward Ireland. But whatever may be the real cause it is palpably evident that there has been noted a great change in this respect during the past few weeks, coincident with the coming of President de Valera of the Irish republic to our shores.

The editorial assessed coverage of de Valera’s late June visit to Boston by the Globe, Herald, and Post of that city. It also analyzed the above-mentioned Chicago Tribune, “the Hearst papers” (then 20 dailies in 13 cities2), and “big newspapers” in New York City, without naming titles.

The Standard noted the use of quotation marks around the words “Irish Republic” and “President” before de Valera’s name, “intended to indicate sarcasm,” was beginning to disappear from the dailies, a sign of legitimacy and respect. It concluded:

Changes in attitude of the kind noted are significant of what has already taken place in the minds and hearts of the American people. The newspapers are not directing, but following the lead of public opinion in the matter.

A month earlier, at his public debut in New York City, de Valera told the gathered reporters:

It is to the press rather than to the diplomats that the representatives of the common people must appeal if they really wish to save democracy. One of the objects of my visit was that I might present my case to the people in my own words and not as the English propagandists often represent me.3

De Valera would soon have problems with newspaper coverage of his efforts in America, including John Devoy’s Gaelic American. In the summer of 1919, however, the professor and the press enjoyed a brief honeymoon.

Across the sea and to the moon in 50 years

The long arc of Éamon de Valera’s political career comes into special focus this week through the convergence of two anniversaries, 50 years apart.

One hundred years ago, de Valera sailed to America as a stowaway aboard the SS Lapland. For 18 months he packed stadiums and convention halls to rally Irish America to the cause of independence in the homeland. Fifty years later, as president of the 26-county Republic of Ireland, de Valera delivered a different message to the cosmos with the help of two U.S. astronauts who landed the spaceship Eagle on the moon.

Lunar message disc included greeting in Irish from Éamon de Valera.

Greetings from 71 other heads of state were also etched onto the silicon disc, about the size of a U.S. 50 cent coin, left on the lunar surface. The text of de Valera’s salutation, written in Irish, is translated:

May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him also to secure peace and happiness upon the earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.

A few days later, de Valera sent a conventional cable to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the tenth American leader to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Ireland, I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful teamwork of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the ear which has been opened.

The astronauts did return safely, but peace has not been secured and we have not avoided the danger of self-destruction. As for de Valera’s legacy, it remains under historical review.

Earth seen from the moon, July 1969. NASA photo.

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

“It is an anxious time for Northern Ireland’s unionists. Catholics will soon outnumber Protestants … and Brexit is wobbling the UK’s constitutional edifice. Conceivably, within a decade, a majority could vote in a border poll to join a united Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday agreement,” the Guardian reported about this year’s Twelfth celebrations.

ORIGINAL POST:

In a fiery July 12, 1919, speech near Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Edward Carson warned that changing Ireland’s government to a republic or home rule status would result in him calling out the Ulster Volunteers, an implicit threat of arms against the British authorities.

“Don’t let us talk. Let us be prepared for all and every emergency,” Carson bellowed before a large crowd of Orangemen.1

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

I today seriously say to America: You attend to your own affairs and we will attend to ours. You look after your own questions at home and we  will look after ours. We will not brook interference in our own affairs by any country, however powerful.

He took aim at the American Commission on Irish Independence (ACII), the three-member, non-government, delegation that visited Ireland in May on a side trip from its advocacy at the Paris peace conference. Carson said:

What right had the American mission to come to this country? To come here in a breach of hospitality on one nation toward another–to attempt to stir up strife in matters in which they were not connected? … The encouragement that those men gave to the Sinn Féin Party has created for His Majesty’s Government far more difficulty than they ever had before. I believe that the visit of these men and the encouragement they gave to lawlessness, which was being preached throughout the land, has added greatly to the campaign of assassination of innocent policemen …

Edward Carson, in 1919.

Carson also mocked Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, “who is now working against you in America with the help of the Catholic Hierarchy … and who imagines in his vanity that one day or the other he is going to march through Belfast and Ulster and you will all willingly take off your hats and bow the knee to the head of the organization, which in the darkest hour of the war for the world’s freedom shot his Majesty’s soldiers in the streets of Dublin.” De Valera was then one month into his tour of America to raise money and U.S. political support for an Irish republic.

An Associated Press report of Carson’s speech was widely published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers, which focused on the charge of American meddling and the ACII, not de Valera. The Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service cabled from London, “Sir Edward Carson’s simultaneous declaration against the British government, the  Sinn Féin, and the United States over the question of changing the present form of government in Ireland has met with general condemnation from the London press.”2

The Brooklyn Times Union was not fooled by the Carson’s hypocrisy, and noted on its editorial page:

Sir Edward Carson’s record for loyalty to his own country is not so immaculate that the citizens of the United States need feel greatly pained by his reckless and absurd animadversions … The politician who threatened to fight the British Government with arms rather than submit to the laws of the British Parliament manifestly does not speak for the majority of the people of Ireland and presumably speaks only for a small and bigoted moiety of any British constituency.3

The Kentucky Irish American published a rebuttal to Carson by ACII member Michael J. Ryan,  who noted that “Carson now asks that America should attend to its own affairs. This, however, is a change from the plea when the cry for help came across the ocean when England’s army faced certain defeat.” The piece also said the Ulster leader “represents intolerance and organized ignorance in Ireland.”4

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, dismissed Carson’s “Belfast outbreak” with an uncharacteristically restrained shrug.

We have in America–even if the breed be unknown in Britain–some politicians who ‘play politics’ and who recognize the elemental fact that there are men in this country who give or withhold their votes from an American candidate in an American contest because of his policy toward Ireland. So they act accordingly. But there was no need for Sir Edward Carson to warn the mass of the American people off the grass.  They were not on it.5

The centenary of Carson’s 1919 Twelfth speech comes as the Oct. 31 deadline for Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain to withdrawal from the European Union–Brexit–draws closer and talk of a united Ireland grows stronger.

“No flag will fly in Ulster but the Union Jack,” Carson was reported saying at the 229th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.6  Whether that remains true in five or 10 years remains to be seen.

The Union Jack flutters at a housing estate in the unionist Shankill Road section of Belfast in July 2016.