Category Archives: Irish War of Independence

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

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

Special passport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ackerman’s source

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

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: London confrontations

References

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

When a boatload of reporters steamed to the Easter Rising

Fourteen London-based newspaper correspondents clambered aboard a British naval destroyer at Holyhead, Wales, in the pre-dawn hours of April 27, 1916. They were soon underway for Dublin, where three days earlier Irish separatists seized several buildings and proclaimed a republic. Chief Secretary for Ireland Augustine Birrell and the British Admiralty invited the reporters to make the 67-nautical-mile sprint across the Irish Sea. They hoped to influence coverage of the insurrection cabled to the rest of the world, though Britain also imposed censorship and disseminated propaganda through its own press bureau since it began fighting the First World War two years earlier.

Arthur S. Draper, undated. Library of Congress

Arthur S. Draper, 34, of the New York Tribune was among the group of what today would be called embedded reporters. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to an English father and an American mother, he graduated from New York University in 1905 and soon joined the Tribune. The paper transferred him to London in 1915 to cover the war.[1]1910 U.S. Census, Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 24, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_975; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0656; FHL microfilm: 1374988; “Arthur Draper, Literary Editor”, The New … Continue reading

In one of several stories syndicated to U.S. newspapers, Draper recounted the correspondents were cold and shivering after the hastily organized, 300-mile train trip from London to Holyhead.[2]“Fierce Fighting Rages in Fire-Swept Dublin”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, April 30, 1916 (Dateline April 29, 1916). Also, “Tales Of ‘The Week Of Dublin’s Nightmare’ ”, by … Continue reading Once aboard the destroyer, ironically named Dove, the correspondents welcomed the ship steward’s offer of hot chocolate.

We crawled through a coal hole aft and dropped into a cabin built to hold four instead of 14 men. Mr. Birrell found a place in the captain’s cabin. If you have never been on a destroyer crossing the Irish Sea you can get some notion of the motion by crawling into a barrel and taking a trip through Hell Gate.[3]Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City. … Fourteen guests taxed (the steward’s) supply of cups and saucers, and we were well away before the first steaming bowl came teetering in from the pantry.

One of the correspondents soon turned “pale about the gills” and lurched for the ladder leading up to the deck. Others quickly followed as the ship “pitched, tossed, rolled, her lower decks awash like a Long Island Sound racer running before a swift breeze,” Draper wrote. “Holding fast to anything within their grasp, 11 regular reporters were swaying and lunging in imminent danger of being swept away.” While the majority lacked sea legs, the man from The Christian Science Monitor “slept peacefully with his head on the edge of a bunk and his feet on top of a bag of posters proclaiming martial law in Ireland.”

In his stories about the insurrection, the Boston newspaper correspondent repeatedly referred to himself as “the representative of The Christian Science Monitor,” with no byline on the reporting. Most of the other journalists aboard the Dove were not Americans but natives of the United Kingdom who worked as stringers for U.S. papers or wire services. They were selected for the journey because of the influence their reporting might have to counter the anticipated anti-British reaction of Irish Americans as the United States remained on the sidelines of the Great War.[4]Eddie Bohan, The 1916 Easter Rising & The American Press Pack, 2017. This 50-page paperback, published independently, contains a short bibliography but does not footnote specific details.

Wilbur S. Forrest of United Press, the 29-year-old, Illinois-born son of physician, was another native of America. His career began at The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Transcript after attending Bradley University in Peoria. He joined the wire service in 1910, working in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., before being sent to Europe as an assistant general manager. In May 1915 Forrest reported from Queenstown (Cobh) on the German torpedo sinking of the Lusitania off the south Irish coast.[5]”Wilbur S. Forrest, 90, Is Dead; Was Herald Tribune Executive”, The New York Times, March 26, 1977. Eleven months later he steamed back to Ireland on the Dove.

HMS Dove. Imperial War Museums

“The little ship shivered in every plate and joint, and pitching like a bronco, it swayed and rolled at decidedly disturbing angles,” Forrest recalled of his ride to the rising.[6]Wilbur Forrest, Behind The Front Page: Stories of Newspaper Stories in the Making. (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., 1934). See Chapter 4, “Dublin Explodes”, pp 46-65. “The destroyer was running dark. A think, damp mist hung low and obscured the sky. The ship’s high speed added to the darkness was good protection against the German U-boats which roamed the Irish Sea at will.”

Dublin arrival

Finally, as dawn broke “after what seemed a lifetime of misery” aboard the Dove, Draper wrote, the newspaper men got their first look at smoke-shrouded Irish capital. Birrell, who for nine years as chief secretary had loathed making the Irish Sea crossing by regular mail boat,[7]Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2006), pp 24, 188. re-emerged to offer the journalists a quick farewell: “Good luck, gentlemen. I don’t know what will become of all of you,” he shouted as he disembarked to a waiting motor car under heavy guard. The Monitor correspondent added, “it was impossible to avoid retorting, ‘The same to you, sir.’ “[8]”Summary Given Of Short-Lived Rising In Dublin”, The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1916.

Draper continued: “We stood there for ten minutes absolutely ignorant of the danger surrounding us. The worst shot in the Irish Republic’s army could not have missed us had he shut his eyes and pulled the trigger with his big toe.” Forrest recalled the scene differently, writing the Dove sprayed a warning of machine-gun fire that briefly silenced the rebel snipers. “Not a shot was being fired when our party disembarked one by one, jumping from the destroyer’s prow to the quay and heading at no slow pace and with zigzag steps toward a British barricade three hundred yards away.”

The reporters dashed for the nearby London and North Western Hotel. They arrived without injury at the red brick, three-story building on the quayside next to the London and North Western Railway Company train station and steam packet terminal. The 19th century building still stands in the city’s Docklands district, about three blocks east of the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

“We watched the bombardment from a window on the third floor of a hotel,” Forrest wrote in one of his contemporary dispatches. “Naval boats, swinging in close to shore, sent shells screaming into the city, bringing the rebel strongholds crashing down with loud roars. … Soldiers were posted in large force along the quays and in the warehouses across the street from our hotel, answering the sharp volleys of the sniping rebels.”[9]”Shells Rout Rebels”, by Wilbur S. Forrest, The Washington Post, April 30, 1916.(Dateline April 29, 1916).

This image appeared on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 2, 1916. The British destroyer with the reporters aboard would have entered the Liffey on the opposite side of the bridge to the right of the Customs House dome.

Uneven predictions

Draper’s analysis of the rising proved prescient about the short-term military outcome, condescending of the “hot-blooded Irish,” enamored with Britain’s weapons of war, and incorrect about the long-term political consequences. He wrote:

Possibly before this dispatch reaches you the Sinn Fein rebellion will be over. It’s life, however short, will be remembered. … It is seldom that reporters can sit in a hotel room and by peeping through drawn blinds see revolutionary history being made … I saw yesterday a British gun not one hundred feet away perform a marvelous feat of marksmanship. Directly opposite, across the (Liffey) river, stands a big distillery occupied by rebel snipers who had the audacity to fly the flag of the Irish republic from its roof. … Ten times (the gun) roared, every shot finding a mark … It was a wonderful exhibition of shooting. Later came the roar of machine guns and rifles telling the final story. Another rebel stronghold gone. …

A systematic search is being made by the military in all the suspected districts. Young Irishmen are very volatile. Their range of emotions is great. From the crest of so-called patriotism they drop quickly to the depths of despair. … They don’t look like martyrs on this chilly gray morning. Just poor, plain Irish lads, huddled together like so many sheep in the stockyards. … Brave they were, without doubt, but they were victims of misguided judgement. They deserve no sympathy. They will get little. …

To me the chief interest is not in the number of deaths or the amount of destruction, both of which are lamentably large, but in the types of men who have thrown away lives for a futile cause. In New York we have many of them. You see them on the bleachers at the Polo Grounds (baseball stadium), at the Socialist meetings in Union Square, at the strikes in West Street, and on the surface lines. …

Whatever following (Sinn Fein) had in civilian ranks has gone forever, as the people are already feeling the pangs of hunger as a result of the food shortage, due to the rebellion. After talks with a few civilians and a brief study of the faces of the frightened, worried, dazed women huddled in the doorways, I judge there is little sympathy of any kind with the rebellion. … The “republic” is shot to pieces. All the spirit of the rebellion is gone.

The rebels surrendered a few days later. Birrell returned to London “on a small destroyer, lately employed in bombarding Liberty Hall,” he recalled 21 years later.[10]Augustine Birrell, Things Past Redress (London: Farber and Farber Limited, 1937). See Chapter 11, “Ireland, 1907-1916”,  pp. 219-220. Whether Birrell returned aboard the Dove or another navy vessel is unclear, but it turned out to be his last Irish Sea crossing as chief secretary. He resigned from the government as soon as he reached London.

Wilbur Forrest in 1915 passport photo.

Afterward

During the first two weeks of May 1916 the British military executed 15 leaders of the rising, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and support that Draper failed to anticipate. Later that summer, insurrectionist Sir Roger Casement, who had been captured at Kerry, was tried for treason in London. “His expression did not change when the Lord Chief Justice arose to declare him guilty of the crime and pronounce the sentence of death,” Forrest recalled in his memoir nearly 20 years later. The reporter’s more detailed description of Casement “must have been too sympathetic,” he concluded, because the British censor declined to pass his story at the time.

A year after the rising, the United States finally joined Britain and the Allies in the Great War. In addition to those reporting of events on the continent, Draper returned to Dublin in July 1917 to cover the opening of the Irish Convention, the British government’s failed effort to resolve the separatist crisis. Draper transferred back to America in 1925 as foreign editor of the newly merged New York Herald Tribune; and the following year he became assistant editor of the paper. Draper left that position in 1933 to become editor-in-chief of the Literary Digest but he resigned two years later. He worked briefly for the U.S. Department of Labor.[11]Draper obituary, N.Y. Times, 1963.

Forrest joined Draper as a member of the Herald Tribune staff in 1918. In 1927, Forrest became the first correspondent to report aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s safe landing in Paris. Through the 1930s he served as a special writer in China, Japan, and Washington. This is also when he authored his memoir, Behind The Front Page, quoted above. Forrest later became an executive at the Herald Tribune and served as head of the Reid Foundation, which provided fellowships to journalists.[12]Forrest obituary, N.Y. Times, 1977.

By coincidence, HarperCollins Publishers this month released, The Turning Tide: A Biography of the Irish Sea by Welshman Jon Gower. The book is described as “a hymn to a sea passage of world-historical importance” that combines “social and cultural history, nature-writing, travelogue and politics.” I don’t know if the narrative includes the crossing detailed in this post.

References

References
1 1910 U.S. Census, Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 24, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_975; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0656; FHL microfilm: 1374988; “Arthur Draper, Literary Editor”, The New York Times, Oct. 26, 1963.
2 “Fierce Fighting Rages in Fire-Swept Dublin”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, April 30, 1916 (Dateline April 29, 1916). Also, “Tales Of ‘The Week Of Dublin’s Nightmare’ ”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, June 4, 1916 (Dateline May 5, 1916).
3 Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City.
4 Eddie Bohan, The 1916 Easter Rising & The American Press Pack, 2017. This 50-page paperback, published independently, contains a short bibliography but does not footnote specific details.
5 ”Wilbur S. Forrest, 90, Is Dead; Was Herald Tribune Executive”, The New York Times, March 26, 1977.
6 Wilbur Forrest, Behind The Front Page: Stories of Newspaper Stories in the Making. (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., 1934). See Chapter 4, “Dublin Explodes”, pp 46-65.
7 Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2006), pp 24, 188.
8 ”Summary Given Of Short-Lived Rising In Dublin”, The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1916.
9 ”Shells Rout Rebels”, by Wilbur S. Forrest, The Washington Post, April 30, 1916.(Dateline April 29, 1916).
10 Augustine Birrell, Things Past Redress (London: Farber and Farber Limited, 1937). See Chapter 11, “Ireland, 1907-1916”,  pp. 219-220.
11 Draper obituary, N.Y. Times, 1963.
12 Forrest obituary, N.Y. Times, 1977.

The Irish harp in Woodrow Wilson’s drawing room

An Irish harp sits in the drawing room of the Washington, D.C. house once occupied by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The three-story, red brick, neo-Georgian structure at 2340 S St. NW in the city’s fashionable Kalorama neighborhood is two miles northwest of the White House, where Wilson held office from 1913 to 1921. He died at the private residence on Feb. 3, 1924, aged 67, nearly five years after he suffered a stroke.

At 3-feet tall, the Irish harp is smaller than models of the instrument typically played in orchestras. It is more decorated, too, with green and gold Celtic knots, zoomorphic motifs, medallions, and clovers, as seen in two images in this post. The crown bears the name of the manufacturer, “Clark Irish Harp, ” and 1914 and 1915 patent dates.

The harp belonged to Margaret Wilson, the president’s eldest daughter, an accomplished singer and pianist. It was either given by, or purchased from, Melville Clark of Syracuse, New York, the instrument’s creator. Clark performed at the White House during Wilson’s first term of office, when Margaret served as a “social hostess” after the death of Ellen Axson Wilson, her mother and the president’s first wife.[1]Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, … Continue reading

Clark (1883-1953) designed the portable Celtic-style harp that bears his surname after a 1905 trip to Europe, including a stop in Ireland, where for centuries the instrument has been considered a heraldic and nationalist symbol. Clark said he “learned much of the romantic part the instrument has played in that country’s history. It was while doing so that the idea of developing a small harp was something I wanted to do.”[2]Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” … Continue reading

Clark met Cardinal Michael Logue (1840-1924), primate of Ireland, on the steamer from the United States, and he visited the prelate’s residence in Queenstown, now called Cobh. Clark recalled they had several “animated conversations” about harps, including Logue’s own instrument, which the cardinal “cherished exceedingly.” Clark purchased several Irish-made harps to bring back to Syracuse, including one that had been owned by Irish poet and composer Thomas Moore (1779-1852). It influenced Clark’s design in the characteristics of size, shape, and construction.[3]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.

The Clark Irish Harp “became his most important contribution to the world of music,” biographer Linda Pembroke Kaiser has written.[4]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5. While regular concert harps were too big, too expensive, or too difficult for most amateur musicians, Clark’s instrument was affordable and could be learned by nearly any adult or child. The first handcrafted models began to appear in 1908 and used rock maple instead of the bog oak of traditional Irish harps. Mass production began in 1911, three years before Clark performed for the president and his daughter.

White House performances

Clark played at the White House on March 27, 1914. The invitation developed through his association with John McCormack (1884-1945), the Athlone, County Westmeath-born tenor. They became acquainted when the singer performed concerts in Syracuse and purchased one of Clark’s harps for one of his children. Clark returned to the White House on May 27, 1914, specifically to accompany Margaret Wilson.[5]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.

After one of these performances, Clark recalled decades later, the president invited him to bring his harp to a rear portico. The musician wrote that Wilson:

… suggested one song after another—Scottish and Irish songs and those of Stephen Foster. He sang easily and with faultless diction. It was nearly midnight when he stood up to go, amazingly buoyant, relaxed and unworried.”[6]Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.

Wilson had a complicated relationship with Ireland and the Irish. His two paternal grandparents hailed from Strabane, County Tyrone, in today’s Northern Ireland. In 1912 he touted this heritage to appeal to the Irish-American voters who gravitated to the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the presidency. But Wilson grew agitated with pro-independence Irish activists during the First World War and subsequent Paris peace conference. “Your attitude on the matter is fraught with a great deal of danger both to the Democratic Party and to the cause you represent,” warned one of the president’s closest aides.[7]Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176. Irish Americans in turn lobbied Congress to reject Wilson’s post-war plans and helped tip the 1918 midterm and 1920 presidential elections to the Republicans.

Clark met Wilson again in 1917 to present his idea of dropping messages from balloons to counter German propaganda. The president was enthusiastic about the idea, and the plan was eventually adopted by the Allies. The first balloon offensive launched over German airspace occurred in March 1918.[8]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103. About the same time, Clark and Margaret Wilson began to perform together for troops at U.S. military camps in New Jersey.

Afterward

Wilson made the first nationwide remote radio broadcast from the S Street house on Nov. 11, 1923, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. A few weeks earlier, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the war-time leader and a key negotiator of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, paid a visit to Wilson at the house. The two men discussed “the world conditions of today rather than memories of yesterday,” according to a news report.[9]”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923. One can only imagine if the conversation included the newly created Irish Free State and partitioned Northern Ireland.

Clark returned to the White House to perform for presidents Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also acquired for his collection a harp that once belonged to the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778-1803).[10]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132. By coincidence, President Wilson attended the 1917 unveiling of the Emmet statue in Washington, D.C. by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. The statue was relocated 50 years later to a small park a block from the Wilson house, where it stands today.

Margaret Wilson died in 1944, aged 57. Clark died in 1953, aged 70. His papers at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center contain correspondence from Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Wilson dated between 1914 and 1922. I’ve reached out to the archive for more information about this material and will update this post as appropriate.

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the president’s second wife, bequeathed the S Street house and its furnishings, including the harp, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She died in 1961, aged 89. The mansion has been open to the public since 1963.

References

References
1 Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, email reply from President Woodrow Wilson House staff to my questions.
2 Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” notes for public lectures, 1948.
3 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.
4 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5.
5 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.
6 Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.
7 Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176.
8 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103.
9 ”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923.
10 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132.

U.S. press on Harry Boland’s ‘race vendetta’ remark

Irish Republican and Sinn Fein politician Harry Boland in 1919. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Irish separatist Harry Boland urged a “race vendetta” against the British empire during a Jan. 6, 1921, speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The U.S. press jumped on his comment, reported in several variations, as highlighted:

  • “If England does not stop its campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta among the millions of Irish throughout the world and take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Times[1]“Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.
  • “If England does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta all over the world, and when an Irishman is killed we will demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Herald[2]“Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921
  • “I say as calmly and deliberately as I can, that if Britain does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland, then we will preach to our millions scattered all over the world, a race vendetta, and demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The Irish Times, Philadelphia[3]“No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the … Continue reading

Some papers simply quoted the phrase “race vendetta” in the headlines or body of their story, then used other direct quotes from the speech. Either way, Boland’s remark added to the swirl of Irish news in the American press at the start of 1921:

  • Lord Mayor of Cork Donal O’Callaghan on Jan. 4 arrived as a stowaway aboard a commercial ship at Newport News, Virginia. He became the subject of a deportation debate as U.S. officials also renewed their attention on Boland’s status in the country without a passport.
  • The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland continued its hearings on allegations of British atrocities in the two-year-old Anglo-Irish War. The American Committee for Relief in Ireland launched a separate effort to raise money for civilian victims of the war.
  • The upstart American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) and the established Friends of Irish Freedom publicly feuded over the best way for the Irish in America to secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

One of the first complaints about Boland’s broadside came from Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation magazine and a key supporter of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Villard addressed a letter to Boland, which the writer released to the press, to “protest most vigorously” the race vendetta comments “if they are correctly reported in the press.”[4]Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The top of Villard’s letter to Boland. (Harvard)

Villard quoted Boland as calling for “a race vendetta in America” on behalf of the Irish cause. His letter continued:

…any suggestion that the (Irish) struggle be transferred to this side of the ocean will be resented throughout this country by all right-thinking Americans. The one hope of winning large numbers of Americans to the Irish cause is first to prove the justice of it, and second, to refrain from any acts of violence either in Ireland or here. … If any considerable number of our citizens of Irish birth and sympathies should act upon your advice and start a vendetta in this country against things or persons English over here, a justified wave of resentment would sweep from one side of the nation to the other and make it impossible for the Irish cause to obtain further hearing. Do not make any mistake; American interest in self-determination for Ireland does not imply hostility to England.[5]Ibid.

The New York Tribune editorialized that Boland’s “ravings” should not to be taken seriously and were just another example of Ireland being “attacked from the rear by fool friends.”[6]“The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921 The paper suggested “a committee of friends of Ireland might attend him on his tours as a guard, ready to yank him to his seat when signs come that his temperament is about to boil over.”

The New York Times, regularly critical of the Irish cause and dubious of the American Commission, praised Villard for drawing a “broad and clear” line against “Bolandism or Bolandery or whatever that incitement to violence may be called.”[7]“Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921. The Times suggested that the “right-thinking Americans” described by Villard “are well aware that England will not grant complete independence to Ireland” for the same reasons the U.S. government would not grant sovereignty to Long Island, New York, “no matter how fiercely they might demand it.”

A third editorial, which was syndicated nationwide, noted Villard’s “friendliness to the Irish cause cannot be questioned” and praised his letter as “good advice … administered with rare effectiveness.” The editorial “hoped that Irish leaders who, perhaps unwittingly, have been offending against American traditions and interests, and thereby hurting their own cause, will be more circumspect hereafter.”[8]“Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.

But the harshest editorial criticism came from John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic American, who regularly sparred with Boland and his boss, Irish President Eamon de Valera. The pair had created the AARIR only weeks before Boland’s Garden speech, shortly before de Valera returned to Ireland. The strategy of confrontation with Devoy and the Friends of Irish Freedom was de Valera’s, but Boland was largely responsible for its execution, according to Boland biographer David Fitzpatrick. While this alienated many old supporters of the Irish cause in America, it also mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans, including those without Irish heritage, behind the demand for self-determination.[9]David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.

 

Devoy reported Boland’s controversial comment as: “If Britain does not stop her campaign of murder we will start a race vendetta, take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and I tell you again that you should tear down everything English in America if this does not stop.”[10]“Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921. Devoy acknowledged that Boland described himself as speaking “calmly,” but the editorialist insisted the speaker “was very much heated up” and “shouted” his remarks. Devoy continued:

The restraining hand of de Valera has been withdrawn, and Boland is free to wag his tongue and make a fool of himself. Men who really contemplate vendettas and exacting ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth’ don’t swagger about it on public platforms and enable the enemy to take precautions and get evidence to secure convictions. Someone close to Boland ought to take Daniel O’Connell’s saying to heart when he was interrupted by a fool at a public meeting: ‘Will someone stuff a wisp of hay in that calf’s mouth.’”[11]The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.

Boland acknowledged to his diary that he had been in “bad form” and “made an error” in the speech, which brought a “full blast” from the press. He told de Valera that he had “let my heart run away with my head.” Boland attempted to walk back his remark over the next few months, even as he insisted that he was “sadly misquoted.” Others urged him to let the matter rest.[12]David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.

Over the next year Boland returned briefly to Ireland, came back to United States, then went back to Ireland again. He was shot while fighting against government forces during the Irish Civil War and died Aug. 1, 1922, age 35.

References

References
1 “Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.
2 “Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921
3 “No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the speech, but is not identified as such.
4 Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
5 Ibid.
6 “The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921
7 “Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921.
8 “Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.
9 David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.
10 “Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921.
11 The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.
12 David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.

Remembering Emmet at midsummer blogiversary

I hope regular readers and occasional visitors to this blog are enjoying their summer. This post concludes our eleventh year, which included a temporary relocation to Boston and return to Washington, D.C. Here, one of my regular walks takes me by the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet.

Since 1966–the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising–the statue has been located in the 2400 block of Massachusetts Avenue, known as “Embassy Row.” It’s a 5-minute walk from the Embassy of Ireland on Sheridan Circle, and a block from the historic Woodrow Wilson House. As a second-term U.S. president, Wilson attended the June 1917 unveiling of the statue by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. “Heckling suffragettes” briefly disrupted the ceremony as they unrolled a banner that asked: “Why laud patriotic struggles of the past and suppress struggles for freedom at your gates?”[1]”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917. American women secured the right to vote three years later as it became clear that Wilson was no supporter of Irish independence.

I continue to pursue my research about how American journalists reported the Irish struggle, both in Ireland and in America. More posts ahead. Thanks for your continued support of the blog. MH

 

References

References
1 ”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917.

Arthur Gleason’s ‘inside’ reporting of post-Rising Ireland

(This post continues my exploration of how American journalists covered the Irish revolution. Visit the project landing page to access earlier work and resources. MH)

The United States’ April 1917 entry into the First World War had two immediate impacts on Ireland: increased scrutiny of Irish American efforts to support the revolution in ally Britain’s backyard, first exposed a year earlier during the Easter Rising; and more American newspaper correspondents based in London to cover the arrival and battlefield engagements of U.S. troops on the continent. In addition to their eastward journeys across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, these reporters also travelled westward across the Irish Sea, usually boarding the overnight mail boats from Holyhead to Dublin.

Arthur H. Gleason, date unknown

Arthur H. Gleason was among the first American journalists to assess post-Rising Irish nationalism within the British Empire. Born in 1878 in Newark, N.J., he graduated from Yale University in 1901 and joined the New York Tribune as a reporter. For 10 years from 1903 Gleason worked as a writer and editor at Cosmopolitan, Country Life in America, and Collier’s Weekly magazines. At the outbreak of the war in 1914, he joined the Red Cross and served with the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps in Belgium. Gleason was briefly captured by the Germans, but managed to escape and report his observations of the front lines, including several popular books about the war, notably Golden Lads, co-written with his wife.[1]“Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.

Gleason rejoined the Tribune in 1916 as a European correspondent as U.S. entry into the war became inevitable. Arthur Draper, another of the paper’s London correspondents, had covered the Rising in Dublin. He was “an outspoken proponent of including interpretation in foreign news reports,” rather than the just-the-facts presentation of the wire services.[2]Gerald L. Fetner (2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332. Gleason wrote a series of articles for the Tribune‘s op-ed pages that aimed to educate readers about war conditions in Great Britain. He also produced articles on the same topic for Century Magazine. This work was collected nearly word-for-word as the book Inside the British Isles, published in spring 1917.

BRIEF VISIT

Gleason made what he described as a “brief visit” to Ireland, apparently before the end of 1916, to detail nationalist restiveness. “Sane opinion in Ireland is well aware that in any solution Ireland remains inside the federation of the British commonwealth,” he wrote, “but the status toward which the intelligent Irish work is that of a self-governing nation, like the free colonies.”[3]Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.

Gleason’s analysis focused more on economic, market, and labor conditions than politics. He reported:

The real Irish question is poverty. … The slums of Irish cities are among the worst in Europe. … Many of the farms are too small for economic working, and what there is of them is not good enough soil. Much of the best tillage remains in the hands of landlords and is used for grazing instead of the production of crops. The hope of Ireland lies in trade unionism, education, and cooperation. Ireland’s real problem is to increase production and distribute prosperity.[4]Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.

Gleason viewed wealthy Irish Americans as an important source of this hope. At the time of his visit, he “found Ireland stimulated” by the news that Henry Ford proposed building a tractor factory in Cork city, near the industrialist’s ancestral homeland. The reporter continued:

If the very rumor (of Ford’s plant) has given cheer to an underpaid population, how much new hope will flow in if Irish Americans whose hearts bleed for Ireland will invest some of their money in Irish agriculture and industry. A few million dollars invested where the heart is will relieve a pressure on Ireland, which today is resulting in bad housing, undernourishment, overwork and an undue proportion of pauperism. The real Irish question is not solved by political wrangling and chronically jangled nerves inside the island, nor by hot temper at long distance. The Irish Americans who have planted the tradition of Ireland’s wrongs inside the United States are two generations out of date. … American money is not needed for nationalist propaganda. It is needed for agricultural and industrial development. Our rich Irish Americans can do an immense service to Ireland. They can aid to set her free. But not by parliamentary debates, speech-making campaigns, and pitiful abortive rebellions. They can set her free by standing security for land improvement, better housing, the purchase of machinery and fertilizer plants.

Gleason interviewed and quoted English social and economic academics such as Graham Wallas, Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern, and Sir George G. Butler. He also discussed matters with Irish nationalist writers and journalists James Stephens and George William Russell, known by the pseudonym AE, and he quoted Ulster leader Sir Edward Carson. Gleason did not meet or mention Sinn Féin leaders Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera, and Michael Collins, who were incarcerated by the British at the time.

PRESS ASSESMENT

Gleason spoke with Dublin-born Lord Northcliffe, a powerful press baron of London’s Fleet Street. The reporter devoted one of his Tribune op-eds and a chapter of his book to a comparison of the British, Irish, and American press. He wrote:

I think the little independent spirited Irish weeklies are admirable. They sass the censor and the Lord Lieutenant and the (Dublin) Castle. I met some of the editors—poor men and honest, editing and writing papers in which they believe. They seem to me worth all the sleek, timid New York crowd put together. … A man believes something hard, and, being Irish, he has the knack of statement, so he publishes a paper.[5]Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.

New York Tribune headline of Gleason’s May 10, 1917, piece on the press.

Privately, Gleason shared drafts of his Irish reporting with key sources for their approval before publication, a common practice at the time but anathema to most modern journalists. His regular correspondents included Butler and Lord Eustace Percy, a British diplomat.

“Butler has handed me your article on Ireland: neither of us feel quite comfortable about making ourselves responsible for it to the extent of giving it special facilities for transmission to America as it stands at present,” Percy wrote to Gleason, then living in Hove, Sussex, on the English Channel coastline 65 miles south of London. “My criticism of your article is not that it is hostile to this country (though I think that is the net effect of it) but that it is not really calculated to enlighten America. … You are carrying coals to Newscastle in writing for America sentimental impressionism about great political problems.”[6]Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.

Gleason replied two days later.[7]Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers. He agreed to make some “modifications” to the content and withdraw other passages from his Tribune and Century dispatches; but not from the book, which he argued provided fuller context of the relationship between the two islands. “I want the article to be passed,” Gleason wrote, an acknowledgement of the realities of war-time censorship in Britain, which would soon to be duplicated in America. “I think you will agree I have met you seven eighths of the way.”

Gleason bristled at Percy’s charge of sentimental impressionism. “That which is excellent in Belgium and Serbia does not become ‘sentimental’ or selfish in Poland or Ireland. It merely remains the same principal for which French and English (and soon Americas) are fighting—the right of self-government.”

MISSING CONTENT

Gleason’s reporting from Ireland was subject to further editing. Soon after the publication of Inside The British Isles, he wrote to Douglas Z. Doty, editor at the Century publishing company, to complain that “heavy hunks” of content totaling 16 pages had been cut from the manuscript. “Everything that explains the state of mind, everything that voices the young men, has disappeared,” Gleason complained. “Poems, quotations, the statement of a young rebel to me, all have disappeared.”[8]Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.

Praise for Gleason’s book came from papers within the British Isles. Belfast Newsletter, April 1, 1918.

He questioned whether the missing material resulted from “editorial exigency” in New York or censorship by the British Foreign Office, which he claimed had approved the manuscript. The missing material, according to Gleason, included quotes from several Irish political leaders, among them Helena Malony, a 1916 Easter Rising participant and member of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women’s paramilitary organization. Malony’s feminism and labor activism were especially relevant to Gleason’s broader social and economic interests.

Also missing from the book, Gleason wrote, were his analysis of the Dublin rebellion; a tribute to the Gaelic League and similar Irish organizations; a poem written by executed Rising leader Pádraic Pearse; and references to The White Headed Boy, a 1916 comedy drama by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson.

Nevertheless, Inside the British Isles won praise on both sides of the Atlantic. “It is welcome as a contribution to the discussion which is not merely of interest to Ireland, but to thousands of Irish well-wishers and sympathizers in this country,” said one American review.[9]”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917. An advertisement in the Irish press (image) collected several favorable reviews.

SCUTTLED INVESTIGATION

Gleason returned to America as Irish separatists launched a guerilla war against the British military and police in Ireland. He continued to work on labor and economic issues through the New York-based Bureau of Industrial Research and with social reformer Paul Underwood Kellogg. They co-authored British Labor and the War in 1919. But Gleason’s insights about Ireland were called upon again in late 1920.

Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the weekly liberal journal the Nation, organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland on behalf of pro-Irish interests. He invited dozens of U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to form and oversee the eight-member panel of inquiry, which was not affiliated with the U.S. government. Villard and his supporters also intended to send a five-member investigative team to Ireland, including Gleason.

Other members of the proposed delegation included:

  • Major Oliver P. Newman, a journalist, sociologist, former Washington, D.C. commissioner and U.S. Army veteran of the Great War;
  • Rev. Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister, socialist political candidate, and publisher of the World Tomorrow;
  • James H. Mauer, a progressive labor leader and president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor; and
  • Robert Morse Lovett, dean of the University of Chicago.

For several weeks in November and December 1920 the New York Tribune, Gleason’s former employer, and other American newspapers published conflicting reports about whether the group would, or would not, be issued passports to visit Ireland; based on the approval or objections of the U.S. or British governments. The dispute continued as the commission, which included Newman, Thomas, and Mauer, opened public hearings on conditions in Ireland at a Washington hotel.

Privately, Gleason was skeptical of the investigative delegation to which he was publicly named. “Unless the strongest kind of commission is sent to England and Ireland, it will be better to send none at all,” he wrote to Villard. “To send a half dozen unknown or slightly known persons will injure the cause of good-will you have at heart. The work will be discredited, or treated with indifference and irony.”[10]Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.

Gleason subsequently complained there were too many socialists in the proposed group, with “no bishop, no judge, no ‘big’ business man. So idealistic a commission will not avail.”[11]Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.

The proposed delegation scuttled by the time the commission concluded its hearings in January 1921. A month later another group of American investigators travelled to Ireland as part of an overlapping effort called the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. This group’s account of distress in Ireland was released within days of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report based on the Washington hearing testimony. Pro-Irish supporters cheered the two narratives critical of British rule; the British government condemned both reports as exaggerations and fabrications; and U.S. officials mostly tried to remain neutral and outside the fray.[12]See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.

EARLY DEATH

Though unstated in his letter to Villard, Gleason’s reluctance to join the proposed Irish delegation also might have been based on his skepticism of Irish American political meddling in the conflict, though he encouraged economic investment, as noted above. In his 1917 book, Gleason wrote:

The irreconcilable Irish in America had seemed to me a set of men “scrapping” volubly for the sake of words and dissension.  … (It is) the bitterness of Roman Catholic pulpits in Boston and Chicago, the railings of mass meetings in New York, the irresponsible perorations of Irish-American politicians that chiefly threatens the future of Ireland. … (Progressive British people) cannot and will not accept from America the last and worst doctrine of reaction.[13]Inside, pp. 173, 191.

It does not appear that Gleason wrote more about Ireland after 1917. The island was partitioned in 1921 as the war with Britain ended and devolved into the year-long Irish civil war. The revolutionary period that began at Easter 1916 ended in May 1923.

Gleason died of meningitis on Dec. 30, 1923, two weeks after his 45th birthday. He is buried in Washington, D.C.

References

References
1 “Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.
2 Gerald L. Fetner (2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332.
3 Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.
4 Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.
5 Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.
6 Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.
7 Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.
8 Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.
9 ”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917.
10 Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.
11 Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.
12 See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.
13 Inside, pp. 173, 191.

American reporting of Irish independence

I’m developing new posts about American journalists who covered the Irish revolution. I urged site visitors to explore the project landing page to read my earlier work. You’ll find there:

  • Centenary year “revisited” posts covering events from 1918 to 1923.
  • Special projects: More detailed explorations of individual journalists.
  • Sources & links, including Irish-American newspapers, period books, and reports.

Back to D.C. — thanks New England archivists & librarians

The Burns Library holds BC’s Irish and Irish American collections.

I’m back in Washington, D.C., after 10 months in Boston for my wife’s Nieman Foundation fellowship at Harvard. It was a great experience for both of us. I visited several libraries and archives in the region to research my book on American journalists in revolutionary Ireland. In appreciation, I’ve listed the institutions and two individuals below, followed by more photos:

  • Boston College: Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., and John J. Burns libraries.
    • Thanks to Guy Beiner, Sullivan Chair of BC’s Irish Studies program, Connolly House.
  • Boston Public Library: “Irish Papers” collection and newspaper microfilm.
  • Cambridge Public Library and associated Minuteman Library Network.
  • Colby College (Waterville, Maine): James A. Healy Collection at Miller Library.
    • Thanks to Patricia Burdick, head of special collections and archives.
  • Harvard: Widener, Lamont, Houghton, and Divinity School libraries, and
    • Radcliffe Institute: Schlesinger Library.
  • Tufts University: Tisch Library.
  • University of Massachusetts at Boston: Joseph P. Healy Library.
  • Yale University (New Haven, Conn.): Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Plaque at the entrance of Harvard’s Widener Library describes the fate of its namesake.

Bates Hall, the main reading room at Boston Public Library.

Hallway leading to special collections and archives at Yale University.

Miller Library at Colby College in Maine.

Ruth Russell’s ‘Ireland’ at Harvard library

I’ve written several pieces about Ruth Russell, the Chicago Daily News correspondent who in 1919 covered the early months of the Irish War of Independence. Notably, she lived in the Dublin slums to report about poor women and children. On her return to America, Russell expanded her newspaper dispatches into the 1920 book What’s the matter with Ireland? As an advocate for Irish independence, she protested with other women outside the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.[1]See Beginnings; Correspondent; Activist; Witness; Afterward; and Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

Harvard’s copy of the book.

Russell’s 103-year-old book is available online. Until recently, the only hard copy I’d seen was requested from storage at the Library of Congress in Washington. But I found What’s the matter with Ireland? while exploring the stacks at Harvard’s flagship Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library.

Harvard acquired the book on Oct. 7, 1920, according to the date stamp on the copyright page. Borrowers checked out the book 10 times during its first year in the library, as recorded by the due dates stamped on a schedule pasted to the inside back cover. These dates are shown below with select Irish-related news and other content from that day’s Boston Globe. The mix of local and international events offers a thumbnail sketch of events during the last year of the war as Harvard students or faculty read Russell’s book.

  • Nov. 20, 1920: John Derham, town commissioner of Balbriggan, and Francis Hackett, associate editor of The New Republic, testified at the American Committee on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C. Russell testified to the commission on Dec. 15, 1920. (See image of the Globe’s story below.)
  • Jan. 8, 1921: The censorship trial of Capuchin chaplain Fr. Dominic O’Connor, charged with making statements “likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty,” opened in Dublin. Convicted and sentenced to prison later that month, he was released on general amnesty upon ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922.
  • Jan. 21, 1921: Lord Mayor of Cork Donal O’Callaghan, a stowaway to America after the December 1920 British rampage in the city, said he would surrender to U.S. immigration authorities.
  • Feb. 9, 1921: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said he offered Ireland a greater measure of home rule than Gladstone or Asquith. “But they won’t take it. … They must have an Irish Republic, an Irish Army, an Irish Navy. They won’t get it.”
  • Feb. 19, 1921: The Moore & McCormack cargo line advertised a Feb. 23 sailing from Boston to Belfast, Cork, and Dublin. The service, which began in September 1919 from Philadelphia, was citied by Sinn Féin as an example of Ireland’s commercial independence. The route was discontinued in 1925.[2]See An American reporters in 1920 Ireland: Industry.
  • March 16, 1921: Fr. John W. Meehan of Castlebar, County Mayo, continued to address local groups interested in Irish independence and conditions in the country. He arrived in Boston two months earlier.
  • April 4, 1921: A front-page Associated Press report said that “competent observers” believed prospects for peace in Ireland had brightened since St. Patrick’s Day.
  • May 11, 1921: More than 300 delegates representing 146 councils of the Massachusetts State Council of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution favoring immediate recognition of the Republic of Ireland. … “Pure linen” handkerchiefs imported from Belfast were on sale at 29 cents each at Chandler & Co. on Tremont Street.
  • Oct. 4, 1921: The Associated Press reported that “numerous newspapers writers and photographers” were permitted to observe an Irish Republican Army battalion in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. “Throughout Ireland drilling and inspections of this kind have been proceeding since the truce was signed (in July),” the story said.
  • Oct. 25, 1921: Éamon de Valera’s message to Pope Benedict XV regarding “formally proclaimed” independence of Ireland stirred “the first real crisis” in negotiations toward a peace agreement with Great Britain, the AP reported. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed Dec. 6, 1921.

It’s unclear if any of the Harvard borrowers paid the 5 cents per day fine for returning the book after the stamped due date. Interest in Russell’s book waned after the treaty. The next three due dates were May 19, 1931; Sept. 18, 1946; and May 28, 1955. The book remained shelved for 41 years, then was checked out three more times in April and May 1996.

Subsequent activity–if any–was recorded on electronic library systems and cannot be retrieved, according to the librarian who checked out the book for me. I was curious whether there was activity at the centenary of the Irish revolution and 100th anniversary of the book’s publication.

The Boston Globe published this story about Russell’s Dec. 15, 1920, testimony before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. The paper did not review her book, ‘What’s the matter with Ireland?’, released earlier in the year. The book was added to Harvard’s library in October 1920.

The online Quercus Rare Books offers an original hardcover inscribed by Russell for $250. It says: “To the President of the Irish Republic Eamon de Valera, with best wishes from a citizen of the United States.” Below the inscription is the stamp from de Valera’s library. De Valera provided a Jan. 29, 1920, letter praising Russell’s work, which appears as front matter in the book. Quercus also offers an unsigned first edition in “very good plus” condition (below “Near Fine” and “Fine”) for $100.

The back pages of Russell’s book contained advertisements for three other contemporary Irish titles from publisher Devin-Adair: The Invincible Irish, by J.C. Walsh; Why God Loves The Irish, by Humphry J. Desmond; and The Irish Rebellion of 1916 And Its Martyrs–Erin’s Tragic Easter, a collection of essays by eight writers. While it’s great these titles are available online, nothing beats the feel and smell of on old book pulled from the library shelf.

When Doris interviewed Sinéad

Sinéad de Valera

Doris Stevens

American suffragette, feminist, and author Doris Stevens wrote a profile of Sinéad de Valera in summer 1921 that was sympathetic to Irish independence and published in U.S., Irish, British, and French newspapers.  Stevens’ encounters with other Irish political and military figures provided additional glimpses of the country during the interregnum between the Truce of July 1921 and the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed in December of that year.

Before traveling to Dublin, Stevens attended a London performance of “The Whiteheaded Boy,” by Cork-born dramatist Lennox Robinson. She jotted in her journal:

“Made me realize all over again what a marvelous and also terrible race the Irish are. Also in the realism of this play it seemed to me that Ireland was a nation that had lived on its nerves for centuries. Each human being was like a powder magazine ready to break out at the least spark. This could only happen to a race whose normal and original sensitiveness had been transformed into a super sensitiveness, a disease of national magnitude, through centuries of doubt, misapprehension, and fear.

See my full piece on The Irish Story website.