Category Archives: Irish War of Independence

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Twice detained

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence

***

Ewart literally walks into being detained by combatants on each side of the Irish war twice in a six-day stretch. He is lucky to escape imprisonment, a beating, or death.

Though he used rail for segments of his journey, Ewart intended to make his journey in Ireland a walking tour, an “incredibly risky” idea, Bew/Maume say. The historians continue:

The British habit of sending soldiers in mufti, sometimes presenting themselves as deserters, to scout the countryside, and the IRA tendency to regard tramps and outsiders as potential spies placed Ewart at serious risk of being killed. An ex-officer [such as Ewart] might be thought to be in less danger from Crown forces … but the well-documented practice of shooting passers-by at random and the fact that many soldiers and police regarded journalists as natural enemies meant Ewart might have been killed before he could explain himself …”[1]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.

Walsh notes “the war of reprisals” between the IRA and British forces “had become notorious” by the time Ewart visited Ireland. His “pilgrim-like” rambles in the Irish countryside contained “lyrical descriptions of landscapes and nature,” but “within these passages of pastoral ecstasy are physical reminders of the troubles.”[2]News, pp.162-163.

Royal Irish Constabulary and British military vehicles outside Limerick in 1920.

Ewart describes the trenching of rural roads “just wide enough and just deep enough to wreck any vehicle that should attempt to compass it” and shell-hole deep triangulation “leaving a narrow pathway for the foot-passenger, but ensuring certain perdition to bicycle or car.” Trees and other debris are strewn across roads. Near Tullamore, he has to wade a stream because the bridge is “so thoroughly demolished … as to leave a chasm too wide to jump.”[3]Journey, pp. 187-188, and p. 195.

Mallow barracks

Ewart walks 20 miles from Cork city to Mallow, where “eyes follow one fearfully rather than angrily.” An unidentified resident describes the IRA’s Sept. 28, 1920, attack on the local military barracks.[4]Journey, pp. 61-71. That morning, some 50 armed republicans waited until most of the 17th Lancers stationed there left to exercise their horses. The attackers killed one guard and raided 25 rifles, two machine guns, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 20 swords and lances, and boots and other equipment. Mallow was “perhaps the best example of a successful attack on a military barracks,” Major John Charles Street concluded in The Administration of Ireland, 1920, published about the time Ewart was in Ireland.[5]Journey, p. 62, and Street, Major John Charles, writing under the pseudonym “I.O.”, for Information Officer, The Administration of Ireland, 1920, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1921, pp. … Continue reading

Curious, Ewart “sought out the barracks … with a view to reconstructing September’s daring coup.” As he approaches, the tip of a sentry’s bayonet suddenly levels at his face. A plain-clothes constable approaches from behind and orders Ewart to the police station, where he is searched and questioned.

His pass and photograph “signed, sealed, and delivered by Dublin Castle” do not impress the officers.

“These things can be faked,” one says.

Worse, the Sinn Féin “pass” and typewritten document he obtained from republicans in Cork raise greater suspicion.

“These are seditious documents,” says a District Inspector.

“I saw visions of days, a week even, spent in Victoria Barracks, Cork,” Ewart writes. Four months earlier, Auxiliary forces implicated in the city’s burning stationed at this military base. Two days after Ewart’s troubles in Mallow, four republican Volunteers would be executed at the barracks.

Finally, an officer from the South Staffordshire Regiment enters the room with what Ewart describes as an embarrassed look. It appears that someone confirmed he was a veteran of the Great War, though this is not stated.

Ewart is transferred by military tender to GHQ Buttevant, County Cork, about eight miles north, a drive “full of interest.” The author sits in front between the driver and a young officer who tightly grabs his revolver each time the vehicle rounds a corner. There are signs of earlier ambushes on the road. “Rifles were raised” each time the convoy approaches civilians in the fading dusk.

Ewart describes the Buttevant barracks as orderly and bleak, but soon is “hospitably entertained at dinner.” A colonel commandant describes the conditions of service in Ireland:

People in England don’t seem to realize what things are like over here–or else they don’t care. Most of the newspapers damn us or take side with the other people. You’ve seen for yourself the conditions we are under. We can’t go outside the barracks without the risk of being shot in the back.

Another officer tells Ewart about Private Fielding of the East Lancashire Regiment, killed that day near the barracks. “A mere boy” of 19, according to newspaper reports, Fielding was shot on the road to Churchtown, five miles northwest, having gone for a walk about 10 a.m., “not in the company of any of his comrades.”[6]”Soldier Shot Dead”, Evening Echo, April 27, 1921.

Tullamore troubles

Six days later, Ewart set out on a 22-mile hike from Birr to Tullamore. A group of young men in Kilcormac village “eyed me suspiciously,” he writes. “Signs of Republican activity became more apparent,” such as felled trees over trenched roads.[7]Journey, pp. 125-129.

Contemporary Irish road. Shutterstock.

He encounters “a dark-haired handsome girl accompanied by a child” who mistakes him for an itinerant fiddler. An “unkempt peasant woman” brings him a glass of milk and refuses payment, but he notices a young man inside her cabin. Someone watches Ewart from the hillside. A middle-aged peasant man joins him briefly, then departs with “a rather sinister grin.”

Soon, five young men ride up on bicycles from behind.

“Stop! Hands up,” they shout.

They seize Ewart by the arms and roughly remove his rucksack, which they search. He writes:

The half-hour that followed was much less than pleasant. … My eyes wandered repeatedly to the bog and my thoughts to the number of people who had lately been found in bogs with brief notes attached to them. On a parallel road just a week ago a police inspector had been kidnapped and not been heard of since.

At last, the leader declares “the man’s all right,” and they return Ewart’s papers and other possessions, even “lifted my rucksack onto my shoulders.” He continues the final two miles to his destination:

But, walking into Tullamore rather conspicuously dusty and a traveler, battery after battery of coldly hostile glances were directed at me by men who scowled as I passed, scowled after me, scowled up at the window of the inn where I sat at dinner. Everybody wanted to see an English stranger a potential spy.

The next morning, Ewart takes the train to Clara.

O’Brien’s prescience

William O’Brien

A day before the Mallow barrack episode, Irish nationalist politician and newspaper editor William O’Brien warned Ewart of the dangers he would soon encounter. Sophia Raffalovich O’Brien later wrote that her husband declared Ewart’s walking tour “a very dangerous plan” and was unimpressed by the papers he obtained from Dublin Castle and Sinn Féin leaders.

” ‘That will seem all the more suspicious’ my husband told him ‘and you will be arrested and goodness knows what may happen to you at the hands of both parties,’ ” Sophia recalled.

Ewart later wrote to William O’Brien to confirm his prescience. “After having been arrested by English troops and by Volunteers, he had thought it wiser to give up his walking tour and had used less dangerous means of locomotion,” Sophia remembered of the visitor’s letter.[8]”Introduction”, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

NEXT: Murdered mayors

References

References
1 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.
2 News, pp.162-163.
3 Journey, pp. 187-188, and p. 195.
4 Journey, pp. 61-71.
5 Journey, p. 62, and Street, Major John Charles, writing under the pseudonym “I.O.”, for Information Officer, The Administration of Ireland, 1920, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1921, pp. 205-206.
6 ”Soldier Shot Dead”, Evening Echo, April 27, 1921.
7 Journey, pp. 125-129.
8 ”Introduction”, pp. xvi-xvii, citing SRO’s Recollections of a Long Life.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: In Cork

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

Ewart traveled by train from Dublin to Cork city on April 23. “That Cork was full of spies and that a stray Englishman bent upon an apparently aimless mission was bound to be taken for one, soon became evident,” he wrote. 

He mentioned that morning’s citywide holdup of 32 postmen by groups of four or five men who robbed more than 7,300 letters “in the name of the IRA,” the Skibbereen Eagle reported a week later. There was no violence, the paper said, but it was “extraordinary that the coup was accomplished without attracting the attention of police and military patrols.”[1]“7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.

And yet, to Ewart, “Cork city seemed quiet after Dublin.” He noticed the burned out buildings on St. Patrick Street, remembered the devastation he had seen in Europe during the war, and realized such sights were “inconspicuous because they had grown normal and customary in seven years, because ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921.”[2]Journey, pp. 27-28.

Nevertheless, “the site of the burnings demanded a first-hand explanation.” He found Cork three residents willing to discuss the city’s Dec. 11-12, 1920, conflagration. The unnamed witnesses accused the military’s K Division of the arson, scoffed at the name of Chief Secretary of Ireland Sir Hamar Greenwood, and said a few other “rude things,” Ewart reported.

Cork city after the December 1920 fires set by the authorities. Ewart visited four months later. “Ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921,” he wrote.

Like the three witnesses, Ewart realized that Greenwood’s Dec. 14, 1920, House of Commons explanation of the Cork fires was a lie. The author discredited the Chief Secretary’s assertion the fire spread unchecked from Grant & Co. on Patrick Street to the Carnegie Library and City Hall by observing the wide span of unburnt territory during a 5-minute walk between the two points.[3]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.

Republican interviews

Ewart interviewed Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Barry M. Egan and Alderman Liam de Róiste (William Roach) of the Irish Industrial Development Association. The two men “appear to have been the main Sinn Féin contacts for visiting journalists in this period,” including a late 1920 interview with Russell Browning of United Press.[4]Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. … Continue reading

Ewart’s Cork interviews occurred two days after Irish republican leader Eamon de Valera and Edward George Villars Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, met privately in Dublin to discuss a possible peace settlement. Lord Derby’s visit to Catholic Church hierarchy was reported at the time, though whether he met with any Dáil Éireann representative was less clear. Ewart mentioned these “unofficial negotiations” to Egan, who replied:

This is a question for the Irish people. It is a question for ‘we ourselves’ (Sinn Féin) English politicians had much better keep out of it. I believe Lord Derby is an honest man and a gentleman; no doubt he means well. But anything this is done had got to be done ‘over the counter.’ We want no secret negotiations. President de Valera has made that clear.[5]Journey, p. 36.

The Irish leader and Lord Derby “had tea and discussed the situation for two or three hours,” according to de Valera biographer David McCullagh. “While the discussion did not produce much movement, de Valera regarded it as the first important contact with the British and as an indication that they ‘desired to make peace if satisfactory terms could be arranged.’ ”[6]McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.

Barry M. Egan

Egan later wrote a letter to the Westminster Gazette to “protest in a mild and unembittered way” Ewart’s description of him in the paper. “Your report … amused and puzzled me,” the Cork mayor wrote, as also reported in the Freeman’s Journal. “I do not think I am a thin-lipped doctrinaire, nor like a symbolist of the French Revolution. I do not think I am personally embittered. What loss I have suffered personally has seemed a small thing compared to my predecessors, Thomas MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney.”[7]Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, … Continue reading 

De Róiste echoed what George Russell had told Ewart: “We feel no hostility to the English people or to the Army; only to the Irregular Forces of the Crown and other instruments of your Government.”[8]Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series. A 1903 co-founder of the Industrial Development Association,[9]De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB. de Róiste conceded that while Irish agriculture was “stimulated by the war … industrially, we’ve probably gone back, if anything.”  

Ford shutdown

Ewart, like Ruth Russell and Harry Guest and other journalists, noted the Ford tractor plant in Cork. When Russell visited in spring 1919, shortly before the plant opened, she observed: “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men. Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”[10]“New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?

In late March 1921, a few weeks before Ewart’s visit, the two-year-old plant closed suddenly, “without any explanation from management,” the Freeman’s Journal reported. The paper suggested this was “a mere temporary suspension, rendered necessary by the exceptional economic circumstances of the moment.”[11]“Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.

Ewart described the impact:

There were to be seen at all hours, it is true, an extraordinary number of young and middle- aged, able-bodied men standing about the streets; and that seemed typical of Cork, as of most other Irish towns. It was due, in part, to the slackness of the port and of business generally, but mainly to the closing down of Ford’s Works which had been established to supply agricultural tractors for the whole of Ireland and had hitherto employed between 700 and 800 men.[12]Journey, p. 28-29. 

He later described “a long queue of respectable-looking people … waiting to receive their dole (£1 to £2 a week) from the fund subscribed by the United States of America and the City of Cork for sufferers in the ‘war.’ They looked the sort of people who, in peaceable times would have enjoyed an income of £1 to £2 a day.”[13]Journey, p. 35.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork city, 1919.

The length of the 1921 Ford shutdown is unclear, but the plant reopened by late summer, according to contemporary newspaper accounts. The Cork District Committee distributed £170,398 of “personal relief” from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland through its city and county branches from 1921 through August 1922.[14]Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87. 

 “Best commentary”

Ewart wrote “the best commentary on daily life in Cork” was a local newspaper placard at a street corner, which read:

THE WEEK’S WARFARE

MURDER BY INSANE PROFESSOR

CAUGHT AT DRILL

FIVE CIVILIANS KILLED

GARDENING AND POULTRY NOTES

TALKS ON HEALTH

ALL THE USUAL FEATURES

The Skibbereen Eagle published this observation and Ewart’s other descriptions of Cork on its front page a month after his visit.[15]“A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921. The piece was attributed to The Times, London, without the author’s byline. It did not include his interviews with Egan or de Róiste.

NEXT: Twice detained

References

References
1 “7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.
2 Journey, pp. 27-28.
3 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.
4 Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. newspapers.
5 Journey, p. 36.
6 McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.
7 Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, June 20, 1921, and “Amused and Puzzled”, Freeman’s Journal, June 24, 1921.
8 Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series.
9 De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB.
10 “New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?
11 “Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.
12 Journey, p. 28-29.
13 Journey, p. 35.
14 Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87.
15 “A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Dublin arrival

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and three months before the truce that ended the fighting between Irish separatists and the British military. He opens the book by describing an April 18 bombing in Dublin, just hours after his arrival. Ewart heard the blast while eating dinner at a hotel near St. Stephen’s Green, probably the Shelbourne.

“No one took much interest in the matter,” he writes, which “conveyed two facts–that the incident really was a normal one in the city’s life and that the bomb, by reason of the hollowness of its explosion, was not heavily charged but was probably a casing detonated.” On this latter “fact,” Ewart draws from his experience on World War I battlefields. 

The next day’s Irish Independent reported three people were injured when a bomb exploded about 7:45 p.m. as a “large, armour-plated, wire-netted military lorry” turned the corner from Duke Street to Grafton Street heading toward St. Stephen’s Green. “The lorry dashed on, and there was no firing from soldiers.”[1]”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.

Newsboys on Grafton Street shouted, “Another Dublin Ambush,” Ewart writes. Two nights earlier, insurrectionists hurled three bombs at Crown forces on Eden Quay as “armed civilians opened fire with revolvers from concealed positions” the Irish Examiner reported.[2]”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921. Such attacks were common.

Armored military truck in Dublin. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Describing Dublin

“The abiding impression of Dublin at this time was the recurring contrast between the ordinary workaday life of a modern city and the queer forces which lurked such a little way beneath” Ewart wrote. He described old men dozing at benches and nursery-maids reading novelettes as they minded children playing on the grass at Phoenix Park, while lorries tear along the streets at 25 mph, “their dark green or khaki loads bristling with rifles.” He observed the high-end French restaurant Jammett’s half empty at luncheon-time, “yet contrived to maintain the illusion of a segregated and civilized society. He noted an Abbey Theatre revival of St John Greer Ervine’s “Mixed Marriage,” a 1911 play about sectarian strife in Belfast, and speculated “about that other deadly warfare of the protesting North.”[3]Journey, p. 6.

Ewart wrote:

… there was civility and to spare in the shops, but … [elsewhere, he] encountered that furtive, half-cowed and half-hostile attitude of the people which subsequently dogged your footsteps through Ireland. … [People] wear a shamed look as their their houses do, as the gray, peeling walls and dirty striped mattresses hanging out of windows do, as those wretched creatures in shreds of cloth or shawls, down-at-heel slippers, and frowsy hair, those hordes of filthy children happy in their ignorance … [At the North Dublin refuse heaps] things like wasps crawl on mountains of rubbish … They are old men, women, girls, children–Dublin’s ghouls.[4]Journey, p. 11.  

Two Interviews

During his five days in Dublin, Ewart interviewed representatives from each side of the war. At Dublin Castle, seat of British authority in Ireland, he spoke with government “mouthpiece” Basil Clarke, a former journalist, “through the service of whose intelligence all Irish news (and propaganda) passed.”

As efforts to settle the conflict warmed in April 1921, Clarke acknowledged to Ewart that “indirect” negotiations were underway “continuously” since June 1920, though “always” wrecked by the “extremist wing of Sinn Fein.”[5]Journey, pp. 8-9. Bew/Maume note that Clarke “denies the existence of a substantial Sinn Fein/Bolshevik connection at the very moment the papers were full of it,” including claims fed to American journalist Carl Ackerman by Scotland Yard.[6]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.

Ewart also called at the “red-brick Georgian house on Merrion Square” of Irish writer, poet, and painter George William Russell, known by the pseudonym Æ. Here, Ewart followed the footsteps of American reporter Ruth Russell [no relation to George], who in 1919 visited the artist at his home and Irish Homestead office.[7]Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109. This was not a coincidence. Teas with George Russell, historian Alice Stopford Green, and other “intellectual apologists” sympathetic to the nationalist cause were arranged for visiting reporters by Desmond FitzGerald and other Sinn Fein propagandists in what Dublin Castle derisively called the “republican scenic railway.”[8]Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice … Continue reading 

In his conversation with Ewart, Russell said:

All governments are rotten–though their individual members may be honest men–because they act not upon what is right but in obedience to forces more powerful than themselves. We Irish have no hatred of the English; our hatred is of the English government which treats Ireland, and so treated her through the centuries, as a slave race.[9]Journey, p. 18.

Bew/Maume suggest that in some unrecorded part of the conversation Ewart must have disclosed more of his war experience than is revealed in print. They cite Russell’s comments comparing IRA violence to English soldiers shooting German prisoners: “Such things happen in war and always will. People in England seem to forget or not to realize that a state of war prevails in this country.”[10]“Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.

British soldier harassing a Dublin civilian. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Curfew Parliament

Facing a 10 p.m. curfew, “the sinister boundary of every Irishman’s horizon in April 1921”[11]Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017. Ewart spent his evenings seated in front of the hotel fire with a small group of regulars he called the “Curfew Parliament.” They included an Irish lawyer who “kept his own counsel”; an American consular official who “contributed little”; a middle-aged land agent; a young medical student; and an “elderly landowner, descendant of [Henry] Grattan … with his weather-beaten face, sunken eyes and picturesque untidiness.” This last man shook his fist and denounced the Crown government and its police and military forces.

“Remember, it’s a vendetta! It’s blood for blood and life for life,” he says. “I tell you, the Irish people will not forget this thing for generations–unto the third and fourth generation.”

Others seated around the fire tell Ewart not to pay too much attention to the speaker. But the author is reluctant to dismiss the “grim old Nationalist”:

The deep-set eyes, the dull light that smoldered in them, the rugged face and powerful jaw with their suggestion of fanaticism, expressed a resentment that rankled deep and a determination that would brook no wrong. On the whole, this grim old Nationalist stood for the kind of man who for better or worse has suffered, fought, and in some cases died for Ireland during later periods of her history.[12]Journey, p.23-24

NEXT: In Cork

References

References
1 ”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.
2 ”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921.
3 Journey, p. 6.
4 Journey, p. 11.
5 Journey, pp. 8-9.
6 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.
7 Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109.
8 Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice Walsh, “Shredding the Paper Wall: Republican Propaganda and International Press Coverage” in The Irish Revolution, 1919-21: A Global History, History Ireland Publications, 2019. p. 46.
9 Journey, p. 18.
10 “Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.
11 Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017.
12 Journey, p.23-24

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: An introduction

Wilfrid Ewart, from January 1923 Illustrated London News, weeks after his death at age 30.

English novelist and journalist Wilfrid Herbert Gore Ewart traveled throughout Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. He filed dispatches for the Times and Sunday Times (London) and the Westminster Gazette; then revised his reporting as the book A Journey In Ireland, 1921, published a year later.[1]Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.

Ewart wrote that his 22-day journey during the guerrilla war between Irish separatists and British military forces was conducted:

…with the single object of studying the state of the country and the state of feeling in the country, as to which newspapers contradict each other and propaganda and partisanship persistently vied. How far this could be done in so short a space of time the reader may judge for himself.[2]Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.

This series will review and give context to Ewart’s travels and writing, either by chronology or topic. I, too, will allow readers to judge the success of either of us.

The original book contained a map of Ewart’s travels on the cover. This screenshot of scanned edition cuts off the bottom portion.

Ewart insisted that no incident of any interest or significance was “suppressed” from his book. He attributed its year-long delay to the July 1921 truce in the Irish war and the “protracted negotiations which followed … making it inadvisable (in the public interest) to publish an account, however non-partisan, of a journey through a country at its stormiest period.”[3]Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.

Several publishers have reissued A Journey In Ireland, 1921 since the original from G. P. Putnam’s Sons, including a 2009 University College Dublin Press edition with an introduction by Paul Bew and Patrick Maume. Maurice Walsh includes Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. Journey is also included in Travellers’ Accounts as Source-Material for Irish Historians, a reference by Christopher J. Woods; and The Tourist’s Gaze, Travellers to Ireland, 1800 to 2000, an anthology edited by Glen Hooper. I’ll cite these and other sources in this series.

Journey is a quick and engaging read, an accessible middle ground between the usual daily newspaper reports and more advanced literary styles. “Ewart’s love of detail made him a good interview,” Bew/Maume say.[4]”Introduction”, p. xv. Ewart reports he jotted notes of his conversations “in some cases literally as they were spoken” or immediately afterward. When stopped and searched on the road by five Irish republicans, he writes that one perused “the hieroglyphics in my notebook.”[5]Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.

Journalists in Ireland

Many journalists and writers were attracted to Ireland’s War of Independence. It was one of the next big stories in the aftermath of the Great War, one steeped in centuries of history. Walsh notes some writers wanted to “examine one of the great moral questions of the day: the justice of British rule” and also explore “the paradox of revolution in a society that otherwise appears stable.”[6]Walsh, News, p. 154, 177. It generated strong interest among the Irish diaspora in the United States and the United Kingdom, and with other readers in other places.

Though Ewart was English, I can’t resist the opportunity to retrace his travels for my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” centenary series, where future installments will be collected. His approach is similar to Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March to June 1919, then refreshed her work as the 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? The New York Globe‘s Harry F. Guest spent January and February 1920 in Ireland, then produced a 12-part series upon his return to America. Both are profiled in my linked series.

Other journalists who visited Ireland during this period include:

  • London-based reporter Hugh Martin published Ireland in Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, based on his 1920 reporting, about the same time Ewart was traveling through through the country.
  • Kilkenny native and naturalized American citizen Francis Hackett, associate editor at The New Republic, reported from his homeland in 1920 for the New York World; testified later that year about his observations to the American Commission on  Conditions in Ireland; then produced the 1922 book, The Story of the Irish Nation.
  • New York-based author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy sailed to Ireland with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland delegation in February 1921. He wrote the group’s report on return to America, then went back to Ireland and produced a newspaper series about the end of the war, which was published in 1922.
  • Americans Dorothy Thompson, Carl Ackerman, and Charles Grasty, among others, also filed important dispatches from revolutionary Ireland.

Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.

Ewart biography

Ewart was born in 1892 in London. At a boarding school in the Sussex countryside, “he grew introverted and acutely sensitive to criticism,” according to the finding guide biography for a collection of Ewart’s papers at the University of Texas. Soon, Ewart:

began to write about the English rural life around him and developed a love for the writings of Thomas Hardy. While still in his teens, he became one of the country’s leading experts on hens. He collaborated with John Stephen Hicks on a book titled The Possibilities of Modern Poultry Farming (1909), based on his previously serialized articles for Farm Life. He also began writing satirical pieces about the London society and manners he encountered on his visits back to the city.

Ewart joined the army in the summer of 1914. He obtained a commission, serving as a captain in the Scots Guards. … During the war, Ewart wrote articles, sometimes pseudonymously, about the Scots Guards and combat. After the war, he published a novel, The Way of Revelation; A Novel of Five Years (1921), which drew on his wartime experiences. It became a bestseller and was highly praised even at a time when readers were becoming weary of war memoirs and novels.

Ewart concluded his trip to Ireland a week before he turned 29, a year younger than Russell. Like Guest, 41, Ewart was blind in one eye. The Englishman was killed on Dec. 31, 1922, in Mexico, when hit by a stray bullet fired in the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Over the coming few weeks I’ll explore multiple aspects of A Journey in Ireland, 1921, at the 100th anniversary of Ewart’s travels. NEXT: Dublin arrival.

References

References
1 Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.
2 Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.
3 Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.
4 ”Introduction”, p. xv.
5 Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.
6 Walsh, News, p. 154, 177.

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The eight-member American delegation to Ireland visited 95 cities, towns, and villages, including the Aran Islands, in 22 of 32 counties, from mid-February to late March 1921. Now, the team prepared to report its investigation of Irish humanitarian needs to the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), its New York-based sending organization.

Delegation leader Clemens J. France, brother of a U.S. senator, and Oren Wilbur, a creamery and dairy farming expert, would remain in Dublin to help oversee the distribution of funds from America through the Irish White Cross. The other members disbursed in pairs:

  • attorney Walter C. Longstretch and architect William Price left by mid-March;
  • agricultural specialist John C. Baker and housing expert Philip W. Furnas sailed at the end of the month for France and Germany to meet their colleagues from the American Friends Services Committee, the Quaker humanitarian organization; and
  • former Friends Intelligencer editor R. Barclay Spicer and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy on April 1 boarded the Cunard liner Aquitania for America.[1]”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.

Simultaneously, the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) released a 152-page report based on its November 1920 through January 1921 hearings in Washington, D.C. The non-U.S. government panel interviewed three dozen Irish, English, and American witnesses, including the widow and sister of Irish hunger strike martyr Terence MacSwiney. The ACCI report concluded that “Imperial British forces” in Ireland had created a state of “terror” that deprived Irish citizen of legal and moral protection.

An image from the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

The British Embassy in Washington immediately rebutted the ACCI report as “biased and wholly misleading.” The embassy statement said that Ireland, “so far from being a devastated country, is the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom, and probably the whole of Europe.”

The statement also insisted that “widespread misapprehension appears to exist in regard to the necessity of raising funds from United States sources for relief work in Ireland. … [though] … banking and tax returns show Ireland as a whole has never been more prosperous. … Apart from … genuine unemployment, common to all countries at the present moment, and … normal poverty … every case of distress and destitution is directly due to the effects of the Sinn Féin in Ireland.[2]Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.

The ACRI responded with its own lengthy, at times, rambling, statement, which was reported in news stories and placed in paid advertising. [Bottom of post.] “Since its organization [in December 1920] our Committee has been closely in touch with conditions in Ireland, and the unit of workers in charitable relief, some of whom had experience in other war devastated countries, which our Committee sent to Ireland, has brought us closely in touch with this situation. From this unit [and other sources] … we unhesitatingly state that [the British Embassy statements are] inaccurate and unfounded.”[3]“To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.

Distress in Ireland

Original report linked in text.

McCoy released the ACRI delegation’s 14-page “Distress in Ireland” report on April 16 in New York. Many U.S. newspapers published an Associated Press story about its findings.

The delegation estimated that 25,000 families, or about 100,000 “men, women and children … are in pitiful need of instant help from the American people.” The report anticipated the skepticism of British and U.S. government officials, pro-British or anti-Sinn Féin journalists, and segments of the general public:

We are quite aware that the ordinary traveler through Ireland, going only by train, and not visiting two or three communities, would be unaware that any such degree of distress exists. From his train window he would see only green and fertile countryside, of immense agricultural wealth, and fully supporting its population. In towns he might visit he would see, in his casual walks through their busy streets, little that would lead him to believe that acute distress exists.

But if he looked beneath the surface, if he went from house to house, outside the beaten paths of travel, eliminating, though he might, all the distress from unemployment resulting from trade depression, and all the distress of the habitual mendicant class–he would still find in every little village that he entered two, three, or a half dozen families which had never before been in want and which, but for the fact that they had come face to face with starvation, would never let their need be guessed.[4]”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.  

The delegation’s report estimated the damage to Irish homes, shops, factories, and creameries totaled $20 million, about $294 million a century later.[5]Per U.S. Inflation Calculator. It noted extensive damage to Ireland’s important agricultural sector, including 55 attacks on creameries.

“I wish to express my conviction that the creameries and their auxiliaries are the most important of all the immediate relief needs which the American people can help,” the report quoted Wilbur, the dairy farming expert who remained in Ireland.

McCoy concluded the report with a personal thought about British military reprisals on Irish residences. “As an individual,” he wrote, “I am entirely convinced that many of these people were entirely innocent of any complicity in the acts for which they were punished by having their homes burnt.”

Behind the scenes

Samuel D. McCoy

Five days after the report’s public release McCoy met in Washington with an executive assistant to U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. McCoy proposed the American government help distribute the relief money for Ireland. He alleged the British had reneged on a promise to allow non-partisan relief to be distributed in Ireland. He suggested the State Department could allay British concerns about the partisanship of the Irish White Cross by supervising the relief in Ireland, as it had done in Belgium during the war.[6]Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: … Continue reading

Behind the scenes, forces had been quietly working against the ACRI before McCoy’s visit to the State Department. The U.S. consul in Dublin, Frederick T. F. Dumont, who had met the visiting ACRI delegation, sent several cables to Washington that suggested the group was being exploited by Sinn Féin operatives within the Irish White Cross. Other government insiders in Washington insisted the relief group was anti-British. The American Friends Services Committee and the American Red Cross backed off their earlier support of ACRI for the same reason.

Nevertheless, “the regular accounts in the newspapers, the findings of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, and the statistics produced in the reports of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish Write Cross provided persuasive evidence that there was a substantial measure of destruction and dislocation as the result of the fighting,” Carroll has noted.[7]Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40. ACRI’s network of state committees continued the fundraising efforts launched during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The campaign pushed forward, and the group continued to send money to the Irish White Cross.

New York Herald, April 7, 1921. Click to enlarge.

***

This is the third post about the ACRI. Find previous stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Relief quotas” will examine state fundraising goals, and how well each did. I’ll publish this installment in June. 

References

References
1 ”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.
2 Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.
3 “To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.
4 ”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.
5 Per U.S. Inflation Calculator.
6 Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, See Ch. 8, “Harding, Irish Relief Aid And Recognition”, pp. 326-327.
7 Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40.

American relief to Ireland, 1921

I am developing new projects, including future installments of my series about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. Below are the first two posts in the Irish relief series; the next, “Distress in Ireland,” will publish in early April.

This image of the visiting group appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1921, before and after the team sailed to Ireland. Walter Longstretch is not included.

Join my March 20 presentation on Cardinal Gibbons

UPDATE:

Thanks to those who attended the virtual event, and to the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore, for the invitation. See my story about Cardinal Gibbons in the Catholic Review (Baltimore): Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to Ireland

ORIGINAL POST:

James Gibbons was born in Baltimore in 1834 to Irish immigrants. The family moved back to County Mayo, where the future Cardinal Gibbons witnessed the Great Famine as a teen. On return to America, he regularly sent humanitarian aid to Ireland as he ascended the church hierarchy.

Cardinal Gibbons

Through most of his career, Cardinal Gibbons was circumspect about Ireland’s frequent bids for freedom from the British crown and London parliament. But from 1919 until his death, March 24, 1921, he supported several key American Irish efforts to help Ireland’s War of Independence. His speech at the Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia was “one of the most decisive steps of his life,” one contemporary said.

My “Cardinal Gibbons and Ireland” virtual presentation for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum (Baltimore) begins at 11 a.m. Eastern (3 p.m. Ireland), Saturday, March 20. Free registration here. (Link removed). You are very welcome to join us.

The cardinal’s photo on the front of The Gaelic America after his appearance at the February 1919 Irish Race Convention. (Click image to enlarge.)

St. Patrick’s Day, 1921: ‘A Summons to Service’

The American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) timed the official launch of its $10 million fundraising campaign to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, 1921. The committee bought newspaper advertising and released a 16-page booklet titled, A Summons to Service from the Women and Children of Ireland. It opened:

Day after day you read with fainting heart the desolation that is gripping Ireland. You know that what you read is but half the story. The destruction of creameries and factories, the firing of homes, the laying waste of cities, these are the tragic symbols of a greater and unrecorded horror that is taking its toll from among the innocent who have not part in political or religious conflicts.  …

This is not an “appeal.” It is rather a summons to Americans to join wholeheartedly in an enterprise of mercy. Never has such a summons failed. In full confidence that your response will be as prompt and generous as the need is urgent, we come to you on behalf of those who are looking to America for life itself.

Some ACRI advertising did use the word “appeal,” as seen here from the March 13, 1921, edition of The Times Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia:

The Summons to Service booklet featured 11 black and white photos of war-related devastation in Ireland, including Athlone, Balbriggan, Mallow, and Templemore. It highlighted testimony from several of the 38 witnesses at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) hearings in Washington, D.C., from November 1920 to January 1921. The ACCI report, released in late March 1921, accused the British government of a “campaign for the destruction of the means of existence of the Irish people … [that resulted] in wide-spread and acute suffering among women and children.”1

Counter narrative

There were counter narratives about conditions in Ireland. Liverpool-born journalist Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Irish Times‘ correspondent to the Philadelphia Public Ledger and its affiliated U.S. papers, charged that ACRI supporters “continue to send to America lurid tales of Irish distress.” He disputed reports from the ACRI investigative team in Ireland that 200,000 civilians were “in dire need” and insisted that “there are not in all Ireland 500 people in that condition.” Likewise, he said property damage in Ireland, estimated at $300 million by the ACRI team, “does not amount to one-tenth that sum.”2

Clemens France, leader of the ACRI delegation in Ireland since mid-February, quickly cabled New York headquarters with a statement released to U.S. newspapers. France charged that Bretherton “has deliberately ignored facts which any unbiased journalist can obtain and which are known to crown authorities.” France also said that Bretherton’s four-part series in the Times “obviously sought to persuade our unit that no relief need exists in Ireland, and since he failed in this absurd attempt he is apparently attempting to influence opinion in America.”3

As these disputes unspooled in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, the ACRI and its network of state committees began collecting cash and other pledges for Ireland. The Summons to Service booklet encouraged $1 to $15 donations, with checks payable to the Emigrants’ Industrial Savings Bank in New York, founded during the Great Famine by the Irish Emigrant Society.

Supportive statements

Cardinal Gibbons

Public statements by several prominent figures bolstered the ACRI effort, including James Cardinal Gibbons, the most senior Catholic prelate in the United States. He was more sensitive to suffering in Ireland than most Americans. Born in Baltimore to Irish immigrants, his family moved back to Mayo before the famine, which he witnessed during his teen years, before returning to America.

In a statement issued two weeks before his death, Gibbons said:

I earnestly beg all kind hearted and generous Americans to contribute to the fund for the relief of the many thousands now suffering want in Ireland. … The whole Catholic church of America is most deeply indebted to the Irish people. It is not too much to expect that in every parish of our land effective means be taken to collect funds for the relief of the suffering in Ireland.

President Harding

President Warren G. Harding, inaugurated at the beginning of March 1921, also issued a statement: “The people of America never will be deaf to the call for relief in behalf of suffering humanity” in Ireland.4

Now, a year after the U.S. launch of a bond drive to support the separatist Dáil Éireann government in Dublin,  another fundraising campaign for Ireland was fully engaged in America.

***

This is the second of several articles about the ACRI. Find the previous story, “American investigators visit Ireland”, in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Distress in Ireland.” The ACRI investigative team returns home from Ireland and releases its report. I’ll post this installment in mid-April.

This advert in the March 17, 1921, edition of the New York Tribune appeared in at least three other New York papers on the same day.

When K. O’Shea’s death recalled C.S. Parnell’s life

(This is the first of two consecutive posts about Charles Stewart Parnell. Next, a guest post from a new Irish Academic Press collection. MH)

The deaths of former newsmakers, often years after they’ve faded from public attention, usually prompt reflections of their time in the spotlight and sometimes help contextualize contemporary issues. That’s what happened with the Feb. 5, 1921, passing of the former Katherine Wood, who first became Mrs. William O’Shea, then Mrs. Charles Stewart Parnell. She died a week after reaching age 76, having outlived her famous second husband by 30 years, her first by 16 years.

Mrs. O’Shea/Parnell

The adultery between Mrs. O’Shea and Parnell was exposed by the first husband’s 1889 divorce filing. The scandal isolated Parnell as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and stopped momentum toward Irish domestic autonomy, called home rule, which he had been building for years. The Irish party split over whether or not to support Parnell. Other home rule allies, including liberal British politicians and the Catholic Church hierarchy, quickly distanced themselves from the effort.

Mrs. Parnell’s death evoked “deplorably sad” memories for contemporaries of the “Parnell movement”, but little more than “passing attention from the younger generation of Irishmen,” the Freeman’s Journal wrote in February 1921.[1]“Death of Mrs. Parnell”, Freeman’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1921. The paper continued:

No more tragic episode is contained in the annals of human history than the dramatic fall of Ireland’s chief. He–as the uncrowned king–was leading his people triumphantly in demolishing the trenches of feudalism and ascendancy and heading straight for the goal of national freedom, when the lamentable intrigue with the lady whose death is just announced dashed the hopes of the Irish nation to the ground.

The Irish Independent cattily noted that “Mrs. Parnell was not Irish … she was of purely English descent, and her supposed Irish qualities had no more foundation than might be derived from her first marriage”[2]“Death of Mrs. Parnell, Widow of Irish Leader”, Irish Independent, Feb. 7, 1921., in 1867, to O’Shea, a Dublin-born captain in the British Army. Parnell was born in County Wicklow to an Anglo-Irish father and American mother. Both men were parliamentary colleagues during most of the 1880s.

Great split

Mr. Parnell

The divorce episode “led to the ruin of the Irish leader and to a great split in the Irish movement which completely demoralized it and dislocated Irish politics for many years,” wrote John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic American and a veteran of the Irish struggle from before the Parnell period. In a February 1921 analysis,[3]The Tragic End of Charles Stewart Parnell“, The Gaelic American, Feb. 19, 1921. Devoy insisted there were “lessons for the present generation.”

He continued:

The really essential factor in the Irish Question is a United Irish Race. That was true in Parnell’s day and it is true now. A United Irish Race is treated with contempt and the English are encouraged to start secret intrigues and public propaganda to widen the breach. That was what occurred in the Parnell Split, and the same thing is going on today. And [Prime Minister] Lloyd George is doing it very skillfully. Knowing the Irish are divided, he is maneuvering to placate groups and sections, so as to detach them from the “extremists,” who really represented the whole Race a few months ago and represent its real spirit today. Had the unity of six months ago remained, he would be faced by the strength, resources and combined ability of the Race throughout the world and his pettifogging tactics would now be useless. Now the most important part of his propaganda–that aimed at the destruction of the Irish leaders in America–is carried on by Irishmen and the cost is defrayed by money collected for the Irish Republic.

The last phrase appears aimed at supporters of Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, who returned to Ireland in December 1920 after an 18-month tour of America seeking U.S. political recognition and money for Irish independence. The establishment, Devoy-allied Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF) and de Valera argued over the best way to win backing for Ireland from U.S. political parties at the summer 1920 presidential nominating conventions. Their feuding backfired, with no pledge from either the Republicans or Democrats. Before he sailed home, de Valera and his loyalists also split from FOIF and created the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to control money and the Irish narrative in America. 

Devoy went on:

When Irishmen want a split–and the fit takes them periodically–any old reason is good enough for a pretext. In Parnell’s time the pretext was zeal for morality, but the real reason was that the English wanted to get rid of the only Irishman who was capable of beating them … so they would have an easier job in dealing with lesser men … Today the pretext is zeal for the Irish Republic, and the method is to get rid of the real Republicans in America and put the movement in the hands of men who don’t care a thraneen for the Irish Republic–or the American Republic.

‘Moral delinquencies’

Devoy rehashed 30-year-old speculation of whether Mrs. O’Shea seduced Parnell of her own volition, or was “set on him” by the English. Either way, the Irish movement was ruined. The couple married in June 1891, but Parnell died that October, age 45. 

The widow became notorious as Kitty O’Shea, the forename variation also a slang term for a prostitute. She published a tell-all memoir in 1914 “in which she exposed to the vulgar world all the secrets, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of the great statesman she attracted, excluded those elements of sympathy that naturally go forth to a woman who, herself, was the victim of her own passion and thereby suffered heavily for her moral delinquencies,” the Freeman’s Journal noted.

The New York Herald reported the book “caused a brief sensation until the outbreak of the war eclipsed it in public attention.”[4]“Widow of Parnell Dies in England”, New York Herald, Feb. 6, 1921. A century later, Parnell remains familiar in Ireland, if obscure elsewhere; while the “purely English” Kitty O’Shea survives as the name of countless Irish pubs around the world.

See my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. 

References

References
1 “Death of Mrs. Parnell”, Freeman’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1921.
2 “Death of Mrs. Parnell, Widow of Irish Leader”, Irish Independent, Feb. 7, 1921.
3 The Tragic End of Charles Stewart Parnell“, The Gaelic American, Feb. 19, 1921.
4 “Widow of Parnell Dies in England”, New York Herald, Feb. 6, 1921.

American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921

American relief workers sailed to Ireland early in 1921 to assess the country’s humanitarian needs after two years of guerrilla fighting between republican separatists and the British state. The team’s Feb. 12 arrival and six-week, island-wide investigation coincided with the most violent period of the war.1 Their report of widespread hardships and economic devastation bolstered an American fundraising campaign that would send $5 million in relief to Ireland. It also created tensions between the U.S. and British governments.

This is the first of several articles about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. I’ll post the next installment in mid-March.

Clemens J. France of Seattle led the American relief delegation. A lawyer, he helped oversee development of the city’s port during the war years. In November 1920, as a progressive Farmer-Labor candidate, he lost a U.S. Senate campaign in Washington state. His brother, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. France, a Maryland Republican, supported the Irish cause. During a stop in London before crossing the Irish Sea to Dublin, Clemens France told the Irish Independent that American citizens were deeply interested in Ireland.

“There is no group of people in our country who are liked better than the Irish,” France said. “The Irishman has been a good citizen, and has played a great part in the development of our country. I have great affection for Irishmen, and that feeling is general in the States.”2

This image of the visiting group appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1921, before and after the team sailed to Ireland. Walter Longstretch is not included.

Author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy of New York City served as the delegation secretary and the lead writer of the report it would issue in April. Other members were connected to the American Friends Services Committee, a Quaker humanitarian organization founded in 1917 and said to give the group a neutral perspective. They included:

  • R. Barclay Spicer, Philadelphia, former editor of the Friends Intelligencer and head of the post-war Friends Reconstruction Unit in Europe;
  • Oren Wilbur, Greenwich, N.Y., a creamery and dairy farming expert who had attended the Friends’ 1919 conference in Dublin;
  • William Price, Philadelphia, an architect and builder involved in the post-war reconstruction of France; 
  • Philip W. Furnas, Indianapolis, Ind., a housing expert with experience in France;
  • John C. Baker, Everett, Pa., a farm implements and agricultural machinery expert, also experienced with post-war reconstruction; and
  • Walter C. Longstretch, Philadelphia, a lawyer and the group’s mystery man. His U.S. passport application noted his affiliation with ACRI and intention to travel to Ireland aboard a different ship days behind the others. He was not in the publicity photo widely published in U.S. newspapers, shown on this page, or a different photo of the group’s arrival in Dublin. Longstretch stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, the group’s headquarters, but left Ireland weeks before the others.3

American Committee & Commission

James G. Douglas, a Quaker, businessman, and Irish nationalist met the group in Dubin. Weeks earlier, Douglas established the Irish White Cross Society to partner with ACRI, the visitors’ sending organization. The creation of both groups became necessary when the American Red Cross, urged by U.S. and British government officials, declined to distribute aid to Ireland because of “grave risk of the Red Cross involving America in a national controversy foreign to our interests.”4

New York-based physician and Irish nationalist Dr. William Maloney formed the ACRI in December 1920 as conditions worsened in Ireland, including the mid-month burning of Cork city by the British military. Maloney also established the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) a few months earlier. The non-U.S. government investigative panel held hearings in Washington, D.C., from November 1920 through January 1921.

Ironically, the ACCI in November 1920 sought permission to send a five-member delegation to Ireland to conduct a first-hand assessment of conditions. British Ambassador to the United States Sir Auckland Geddes approved the trip, but was soon reversed by his superiors in London. The British government decision drew a protest letter from 10 U.S. senators, including Joseph I. France, brother of the relief group leader who arrived in Ireland three months later.5

ACRI’s appeal published in U.S. newspapers during February 1921.

Maloney intended to utilize the ACCI witness testimony to benefit the ACRI fundraising effort,6 Nine of the commission witnesses were Irish immigrants naturalized as U.S. citizens who had returned home during 1920. These Irish diaspora accounts of “dangerous and unpleasant encounters with British authorities … gave credibility to the work of the commission … (and) remains one of the most important and most moving accounts of the suffering caused by the war in Ireland.”7

As its investigative delegation headed to Ireland, ACRI sought to collect more stories about suffering in Ireland through an appeal published in U.S. newspapers:8

Persons who have received letters from friends or family in Ireland which give a picture of present conditions are urged to send a copy of the letters, addressed to the publicity department of the ACRI. First-hand human interest material of this character will aid the committee greatly in its drive for funds to relieve the destitute women and children. 

The American relief team headquartered at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

ACRI received early donations and distributed money to the Irish White Cross before the official U.S. fundraising campaign began on St. Patrick’s Day, 1921. Days after the American team arrived in Ireland, Lord Mayor of Dublin Laurence O’Neill sent a cable to America to thank the Catholic Archdiocese of New York for its donation. He also praised the just-arrived ACRI team. “Their study of relief needs here, and reports to you, will be invaluable to industrial re-construction work and alleviation of economic suffering here,” he said,9

In pairs and other combinations, the Americans would visit nearly 100 cities and villages in 22 of Ireland’s 32 counties through the end of March. As with the ACCI hearings in Washington, British and U.S. government officials worried the ACRI mission would either intentionally or unintentionally help the Irish separatists. Their concerns would grow in the months ahead.

NEXT: “A Summons to Service,” the St. Patrick’s Day 1921 official launch of the Irish relief campaign in America.