Category Archives: Irish War of Independence

MacSwiney’s ‘Principles of Freedom’ makes U.S. debut

Terence MacSwiney

Nearly 150 Irish civilians were killed by military and police forces from the Oct. 25, 1920, voluntary hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney to the January 1921 U.S. publication of Principles of Freedom, a collection of his essays.1 Many of these deaths were reported in U.S. newspapers, most notably “Bloody Sunday” in November 1920, but few received as much ongoing attention as MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Three months after his death, the posthumous book prompted a new round of headlines. 

E.P. Dutton & Co. of New York published the 244-page book six months before the first Irish edition from Talbot Press Limited, Dublin.2 The book contained 19 chapters, what MacSwiney called “articles,” all but one of which was previously published in the Irish republican newspaper Irish Freedom during 1911-1912. In the preface, MacSwiney said:

It was my intention to publish these articles in book form as soon as possible. I had them typed for the purpose. I had no time for revision save to insert in the typed copy words or lines omitted from the original printed matter. I also made an occasional verbal alteration in the original. One article, however, that on “Intellectual Freedom,” though written in the series in the place in which it now stands, was not printed with them. It is now published for the first time.”

MacSwiney devoted three pages of the preface to explain his essay “Religion” to “avoid a possible misconception amongst people outside of Ireland.” He continued:

In Ireland there is no religious dissension, but there is religious sincerity. English politicians, to serve the end of dividing Ireland, have worked on the religious feelings of the North, suggesting the dangers of Catholic ascendancy. There is not now, and there never was, any such danger, but our enemies, by raising the cry, sowed discord in the North, with the aim of destroying Irish unity. 

Arrested Aug. 12, 1920, for possession of “seditious articles and documents,” MacSwiney was tried four days later and sentenced to two years at Brixton Prison in south London. He probably wrote the preface and finalized the book deal during his hunger strike.

Correspondence between MacSwiney and E.P. Dutton & Co. is held by Syracuse University.3 My request for copies of this material is backlogged by COVID-19 slowdowns and lower priority due to being unaffiliated with the university. I’ll update in a future post.

U.S. Reviews

Reviews of MacSwiney’s book began to appear in U.S. newspapers the last week of January 1921, a month after his wife, Muriel, and sister, Mary, testified at American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C. The widow returned quickly to Ireland, but the sister remained in America to make the rounds of pro-Irish independence speaking engagements. 

MacSwiney’s “dying plea for Ireland” was “the peroration of a poet, an idealist, a dreamer, who possessed, nevertheless, a sense of humor, a leaning toward the practical, an insight into human nature which illuminate at frequent intervals the pages of the book,” The Evening World’s Martin Green wrote in one of the earliest reviews.4

“The martyr to the Irish cause was strong for the ‘dreamers, cranks and fools’. In his opinion those so designated are the backbone of a movement such as Ireland is undergoing.”

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, said the book was “a valuable contribution to philosophy … universal in its viewpoints; it happens to have Ireland as a particular and living illustration … though it can hardly be called a piece of Irish republican propaganda.”5

An editorial in the St. Louis Star said MacSwiney’s book “will not only prove a memorial to his life and his sacrifice, but it furnish the world a fresh insight into the spirit of the Irish people.”6

Period newspaper adverts show the book retailed for $2, or just under $30 with a century of inflation.7 Today, a California antiquarian and used book dealer advertises a 1921 first edition of the E.P. Dutton version in “Very Good Plus” condition for $150. (Digitized U.S. and Irish editions are linked in Note 2.)  

“Here is a document of extraordinary interest,” says the book’s original dust jacket. “It is the mind of an Irish irreconcilable turned inside out by himself for our inspection.”

From New York Herald, March 13, 1921.

A letter from troubled Kerry, January 1921

On Jan. 24, 1921, widowed farmer John Ware of Killelton townland, Ballylongford, mailed a hand-written letter from the rural County Kerry community on the south shore of where the wide mouth of the River Shannon empties into the sea. It was addressed to his same-name, bachelor son, a streetcar motorman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a noisy, smokey manufacturing city of more than a half million people, a hub of Irish immigrants, including two of his sisters, with a brother on the way.1

The 87-year-old father2 began the letter by thanking his 35-year-old son for an earlier postal order for £3, equivalent to about $200 today.3 Such remittances from immigrants were vital to the Irish economy and perpetuated still more departures.

Your prosperity in America is a great consolation to me. Your generosity and kindness since you left home.

John Ware of Pittsburgh in World War I military uniform.

John Ware the younger left home in 1910. Sisters Nora4 and Bridget followed him to Pittsburgh in 1912 and 1916, respectively. He was naturalized in 1917, entered the U.S. Army as as private in April 1918, and shipped to France two months later. John survived the Great War and returned to Pittsburgh in February 1919.5

The father reported that another son in Ireland had just welcomed a baby girl to his family three weeks earlier. A third son had sailed from Queenstown four days before he wrote the letter, also destined for Pittsburgh.

We all felt so happy he [was] able to get away giving to the present state of the country. That state of the case in Ireland at present is very bad.

War in Ireland

Ireland was in turmoil in January 1921. Two years had passed since Irish separatists established the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin. The Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla war against British authority, typically followed by military and police reprisals, had escalated steadily since summer 1920.

There was a policeman shot in Listowel a week ago. There is a fear there will be great damage done the town of Listowel through envy.

D.I. Tobias O’Sullivan

District Inspector Tobias O’Sullivan was shot multiple times at close range mid-afternoon Jan. 20, 1921. He was only a few yards from the Listowel barracks. The victim was accompanied by his 5-year-old son.6

In Pittsburgh, John Ware may have read the next-day, front-page newspaper coverage of the O’Sullivan killing,7 which occurred about eight miles from his father in Killelton, Ballylongford. The city’s papers reported several of the shootings and fires deliberately set to houses, creameries, and other businesses that occurred in North Kerry since fall 1920,8 one episode only a few weeks earlier:

At Listowel, in the marshal law area, crown forces  were fired on by civilians while arresting men wanted. They returned the fire, killing one and wounding two who were captured and sent to a hospital. Five arrests were made.9

The most notorious event in the area, however, flared a month after John Ware’s letter, on Feb. 22, 1921, when two constables were ambushed and killed at Ballylongford, followed by retaliation from the authorities:

In the history of reprisals no place has proportionally been visited with such wholesale destruction as the prosperous little town of Ballylongford. What was one time the business center of North Kerry, the wealthiest district in the county because of its port … is now little more than a smoking ruin. … The houses remaining are shattered and the people occupying them are confined indoors. Those whose places were destroyed and who fled in terror in the dead of night with no notice save the discharge of rifle, revolver, and machine-gun fire,  the rattle of petrol tins and crackling of flames found refuge with their country friends and are afraid to return.10

These and other episodes of violence against civilians, but not IRA attacks on military and police, were cataloged by the Dáil in a document titled “The Struggles of the Irish People,” presented in May 1921 to the U.S. Senate.11 A century later, the burning of Ballylongford “has still not been forgotten locally.”12

Agricultural distress

War violence was not the only trouble John Ware mentioned in his letter from Kerry:

The past year in the country is the worst that was ever remembered. The most of the year was all raining, the farm produce was never before so bad.

Farming in Kerry in the early 1920s.

His assessment is confirmed in Kerry newspapers of autumn 1920, which reported the impacts of a “late spring” and “continuous wet weather” that created a “black outlook not only for the farmers but for the people in the towns as well.”13 Government reports also recognized the decline in agricultural activity that year, though quantifying it was complicated by the war and relied on estimates and summaries. “In 1920 it was not found practicable to obtain particulars of either crops or livestock on all farms.”14

John Ware in Kerry did not mention his two daughters in Pittsburgh, both of them working as household servants, perhaps also sending remittances. He concluded the letter to his son with wishes for a Happy New Year, a year that in six months would bring a truce to the fighting and conclude with a treaty that created the Irish Free State.

When ‘northern’ Ireland became ‘Northern’ Ireland

On Jan. 5, 1921, The New York Times published an Associated Press dispatch from London, which began:

Ulstermen are preparing to make the opening of the Parliament for Northern Ireland as picturesque and imposing as possible, endeavoring to obtain the consent of the King to open the first session in person, or to have the Prince of Wales do so if the King is unable to be present, says the London Times.

Daily papers in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in America and Canada printed the same report, with two small but significant differences to the sentence: a lowercase k in king and n in northern. These papers followed AP style rules, which only capitalize “king” or “queen” when used before a proper name: King George V.1

Using a capital K to refer to the monarch without his name was a New York Times’ style preference, a sign of deference to the title, one that probably reinforced the opinions of the paper’s Irish-American critics. The Times, many said, was anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, and a “proponent of dead and gone imperialism.”2

The copy editing decisions about Northern Ireland or northern Ireland were trickier. In January 1921, it became simultaneously a new political place in addition to an ancient geographic location.

Names & Places

Northern Ireland in bright orange, rest of Ireland uncolored. United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, and Wales, at right in light orange. (Alpha History map.)

King George gave “royal assent” to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 less than two weeks earlier, just days before Christmas. The legislation had slogged through Parliament since before the Great War began in 1914. What started as a “home rule” bill to provide domestic autonomy for all of Ireland now engineered the island’s post-war partition.

Under the new law, “Northern Ireland” consisted of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry. The rest of the island became “Southern Ireland”, including the remaining three counties in the province of Ulster: Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan.

The law allowed northern Protestants to manage their domestic affairs without having to share home rule with southern Catholics. The new names had begun to appear in 1920 U.S. press reports. Both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland would remain part of what was then called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Republican Opposition

Since December 1918, however, Irish separatists had won elections and fought a guerrilla war to secure a republican government independent of London. They were not about to accept a home rule parliament still tied to the crown. In April 1921, the National Catholic Welfare Council (predecessor of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) News Service reported:

Election under the partition act are, according to arrangements made by the British government, to take place on May 3rd next in “Southern Ireland” and “Northern Ireland.” So detested is partition by the majority that the refusal of the people of four-fifths of the country to work the act is a certainty.3

The Southern Ireland parliament was never formed. The war of independence continued through December 1921, when a treaty resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State. It was not yet a republic, but it was more independent than Northern Ireland. In 1930, Irish immigrants in America for more than a decade would answer the U.S. Census “Place of Birth” question with political names they had never used before leaving.

King George V did attend the June 1921 opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament at the Belfast City Hall, a “picturesque and imposing” Baroque Revival building opened 15 years earlier. In his speech, the king hoped the arrangement would be temporary and appealed for eventual reconciliation, “a day in which the Irish people, North and South, under one parliament or two, as those parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundations of mutual justice and respect.”4

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

Centenary & Brexit

Ireland has remained divided for 100 years. Tensions between Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants in the late 1960s erupted into the three decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles. This year’s Northern Ireland centenary and simultaneous departure of the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland, but not the southern Republic) from the European Union has put fresh attention on the Irish border.

By placing a new customs border in the Irish Sea rather than the 300 mile land line with the Republic, Brexit has turned Northern Ireland into “a place apart.” In essence, Northern Ireland has been partitioned from the rest of the U.K. Staunch unionists say they are “much better off in the United Kingdom than they are within the Republic of Ireland or within a European superstate,” Reuters reports.

Some Irish nationalist politicians and other Irish island proponents, refusing to acknowledge the century-old political state of Northern Ireland, refer to the place as “The North,” “The north of Ireland,” or the “Six Counties.” They sense an opportunity to press the case for reunification, though a referendum to undo partition appears a few years away, at the soonest. And there is no guarantee it would pass on both sides of the border, as required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement … or imagined by King George V during his 1921 speech in the new Northern Ireland.

I’ll have more posts on these historic and contemporary topics throughout the year.

Happy New Year 2021; remembering 1921

Happy New Year. Let’s hope that by the second half of it we are on our way to a post-pandemic world. I wish health and peace to all of my email subscribers, other regular readers, and new visitors in 2021.

Journalism & history

This will be the third year of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. Subjects will include Irish relations under new U.S. President Warren G. Harding, American relief efforts in Ireland, May 1921 partition of the island, July 1921 truce, and December 1921 treaty.

I will continue to explore coverage of these events in Irish-American newspapers such as The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, based in Washington, D.C. In addition to other mainstream press, this year I also will delve into 1921 reporting in the Marion Daily Star. President Harding owned and edited the Ohio daily (except Sundays). The north-central Ohio community was not a hub of Irish immigrants and their offspring, but rapidly unfolding developments from Ireland were front page news nearly every issue.

In the spirit of this centenary series, here is an excerpt from a Jan. 1, 1921, story in The Irish Press:

Recorder Of News Was Honored In Old Ireland

Ever since the ancient days men who gathered and recorded news faithfully have been accorded the highest honor, whilst those who spread false reports have been ruthlessly punished by their fellow countrymen. … The poet of the ancient days in Ireland was the substitute of the modern newspaper reporter. It was the poet who got out the ‘extra’ containing the latest war news, the poet who recorded the deeds of valor and athletic prowess, the poet who recounted the social events of his day. He was the voice of the people and, if as such, he abused his high privilege, then an outraged people poured vials of its wrath upon his head.

The evolution of the newspaper, from the days of the scribes to the present day, is a story full of strange romance. … The files of old newspapers are the most valuable history books that any nation could give to its children. The historian is, after all, only a dealer in second-hand news. … In the years to come, when the present war in Ireland shall have passed into history, when the Republic of Ireland shall have become free, strong and prosperous, students of Irish history in America will regard the back volumes of the Irish Press, published during Ireland’s dark days, as the most reliable and valuable history obtainable.

To be clear, with its direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, the Irish Press is a highly biased source. The story above was part of a campaign to boost the paper’s circulation and subscriptions. The effort failed. The weekly folded in the middle of 1922, ending a four-year publishing run.

December news roundup

Here are a few contemporary stories from December that you may have missed:

  • “There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, but… I believe the agreement reached today is the least bad version of Brexit possible, given current circumstances,” Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said after the Christmas Eve announcement of a deal between the U.K. and E.U.
  • Pope Francis appointed Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s successor in the archdiocese of Dublin, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. The formal installation is Feb. 2.
  • The United Nations ranked Ireland tied for second in the world in quality of life in its annual Human Development Report. It shares the honor with Switzerland. Norway topped the list of 189 countries. The top 20 includes Germany (6), Sweden (7), Australia (8), Denmark (10), the United Kingdom (13), and the United States (17).
  • The BBC’s “Future Planet” series featured a story on “How Ireland is abandoning its dirty fuel“, the island’s distinctively-smelling peat, or turf.
  • “I believe we can be the generation that achieves a United Ireland,” former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wrote Dec. 18 in Newsweek.I also believe that this generation of Irish Americans can be the first to return to a new and united Ireland, knowing that they helped achieve it.”

Record site traffic

This site had record traffic in 2020, whether driven by COVID-19 quarantine, quality Irish history content, or both factors. Full year traffic increased 118 percent over the previous three-year average. We’ve had 13 consecutive months of record monthly traffic since December 2019. Our daily visitor average more than doubled. Thank you. MH

On the Antrim coast, July 2019.

Best of the Blog, 2020

Welcome to my eighth annual Best of the Blog. The pandemic prevented me from traveling to Ireland or doing any in-person domestic research this year, but I am grateful that so much work can be done online. Enjoy this year’s roundup. MH

Centenary series

I added more than 30 posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, up through Éamon de Valera’s December 1920 return to Ireland after 18 months in America. Highlights included:

  • a 10-part post on New York Globe journalist Harry F. Guest’s 1920 reporting in Ireland;
  • American journalist Dorothy Thompson’s “last interview” scoop with Irish separatist Terence MacSwiney before his Aug. 12, 1920, arrest for sedition;
  • the Irish question and the 1920 U.S. presidential election; and
  • several of my freelance pieces published beyond this blog and guest contributors welcomed to this space. (See below.)

Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s centenary series:

This was the most viewed story in the series this year:

Pittsburgh newspaper headline about Bloody Sunday, November 1920.

Ruth Russell remembered

My wife and I gave a March 7 presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore, about “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland,” based on my 2019 research. I also had Ruth’s name inscribed on the gravestone in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she was buried with her sister.

Ruth’s name and dates were added to the headstone of the grave where she is buried with her sister, Cecilia.

Freelance work

I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. The work was collected in my previous post, From Boycott to Biden.

Guest posts

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and others are welcome to offer submissions via a new landing page and contact form. This year contributors included:

News & other history through the year

The pandemic was the biggest story of the year, of course, but there was other news, and more history to explore than just 1920. Below are the top story from each month, followed by a link to my regular monthly roundup.

From my August 2019 visit to Inisheer. God willing, I’ll get back to Ireland in 2021.

From Boycott to Biden: My 2020 freelance work

This year I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. I thank the editors who worked with me on these projects and hope my readers will explore their websites after enjoying the articles linked below. MH

Will Biden Shake Up a Century of US-Ireland Relations?
History News Network, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Biden.

Though annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities at the White House have become a familiar tradition, Ireland hasn’t always fared well with U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson grew agitated with Irish activists, who helped scuttle the post-WWI League of Nations with war ally Britain. John F. Kennedy also was reluctant to jeopardize America’s “special relationship” with Britain during the Cold War. Now, Joe Biden’s presidency may be a boon to Irish politics, including new focus on the island’s century-old divided status.

Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland
Irish Diaspora Histories Network, Nov. 15, 2020

Clare native Patrick J. Guilfoil returned to Ireland in 1920.

Half of the 18 American witnesses who testified a century ago about their experiences in Ireland during the War of Independence were natives of the country who returned home in 1920. Their first-person accounts of the period’s violence and unrest, totaling more than 160 pages of verbatim transcript, illustrate both Irish nationalist and American identities. Most of the nine witnesses said they returned to Ireland to visit family. Then they got caught in the crossfire of war.

The History of the Boycott Shows a Real Cancel Culture
History News Network, Aug. 2, 2020

Charles Boycott

Dozens of writers, artists and academics signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that warned of growing “censoriousness” in our culture, including “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” While so-called “cancel culture” often deploys modern social media technology, it is hardly a new tactic. It most famously dates to 1880 in the west of Ireland, when English land agent Charles Boycott’s last name became a verb for the practice.

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

The British government in Ireland wielded suppression powers over papers and printing works they deemed were “used in a way prejudicial to the public safety” or potentially bothersome to King George V, as quoted in the headline. On Sept. 20, 1919, authorities made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. An American journalist in Ireland later observed that among papers suppressed and then allowed to resume publication, “it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.”

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Hyde’s travel journal was reissued in 2019.

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” and complained “the wind would cut your nose off” during his January 1906 visit. But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather or fine scenery. As with the other stops on an eight-month U.S. tour, Hyde came to raise awareness about the Gaelic League, the language revival organization he helped found in 1893 to nurture both cultural and political nationalism.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

1919 passport photo of Ruth Russell.

American journalist Ruth Russell interviewed Éamon de Valera and other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolution, including Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne McBride, Michael Collins, Constance Georgine Markievicz, and George William Russell (no relation) during her 1919 reporting trip. Russell also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she protested outside the British embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Coincidental crossings of the ‘Celtic’, December 1920

Muriel and Mary MacSwiney sailed from Ireland to America in late 1920 to testify about the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney, husband and brother, respectively, and the ongoing fight for freedom in their homeland. Their westbound journey aboard the liner Celtic was highly anticipated, and their arrival in New York City became front page news.

The Celtic.

Six days later, Irish leader Éamon de Valera was secreted aboard the same ship for its eastbound return to Europe, ending his 18-month mission to America. The stowaway risked arrest by British authorities if discovered once the Celtic berthed in Liverpool, England. Publicity was the last thing de Valera and other Irish supporters wanted.

These consecutive crossings of a ship named for the Irish race are coincidental. Yet they also symbolize the close relationship between Ireland and America, and highlight key events and participants of the Irish revolution at the end of its second year; what a Times of London correspondent described as “the transatlantic Irish pot boiling with a vengeance.”1 Muriel MacSwiney and de Valera each concluded their voyage aboard the Celtic with public statements about Irish hopes for American help, wishes that were mostly dashed in the new year, 1921.

‘Embarked Quietly’

Muriel MacSwiney, left, and Mary MacSwiney, right, at the Washington hearings.

News of Muriel MacSwiney’s trip aboard the Celtic began to appear in U.S. papers shortly after her husband’s Oct. 25 starvation death in a British prison. She accepted an invitation to appear before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, meeting in Washington, D.C. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, established the non-U.S. government commission on behalf of Irish sympathizers. British authorities, though dubious of the commission, privately assured U.S. officials that they would not refuse passports to Irish witnesses, including the MacSwineys.2 Nearly 40 Irish, British, and American witnesses testified at commission hearings from November 1920 through January 1921.

On Nov. 25, the MacSwineys  “embarked quietly” on the Celtic at  Queenstown, the Associated Press reported in U.S. papers. “Few people were aware that they were sailing.”3 Irish papers subsequently reported their departure with 400 others at the port, now called Cobh, a quick stop between Liverpool and New York City. The two women “were greeted on embarking the line with cheers from their fellow passengers.”4

The twin-funnel, 701-foot Celtic was launched in April 1901 from the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, part of the White Star fleet that later included Titanic. Converted to merchant and troop ship duty during the Great War, it struck a mine in 1917 off the Isle of Man, killing 17 people aboard. A year later it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea, causing six deaths. Once the war ended, the Celtic was restored to its original purpose, and people hurried to board and enjoy its accommodations on the nine-day crossings of safer seas. The Celtic called at New York about once a month, according to schedules published in 1920 newspapers.

MacSwineys Arrival

The Celtic arrived shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, at New York City’s Pier 60, a day behind schedule due to westerly gales. The next to last night at sea “was so violent that the tops of the angry waves were blown over the bridge and funnels, smothering the ship with icy spray,” The New York Times reported. Many passengers became seasick as “the big ship was tossed about.”5

This image appeared in the Boston Pilot on Dec. 5, 1920.

Muriel and Mary were the first passengers off the ship, their bags carried down the gangway by a special delegation of Irish longshoremen, ahead of American financier J. Peirpont Morgan and his wife. The two Irish women seemed unaware they had crossed the Atlantic with the famous couple, who had been in Europe since August, according to news accounts.6  

A crowd of up to 3,000 awaited them, less than half the estimated 10,000 that had gathered at the pier a day earlier. The scene turned chaotic as police confused which door the women would enter. Villard and Harry Boland, de Valera’s secretary, headed the reception. A parade of more than 70 automobiles followed, with crowds waving the Stars and Stripes and the tricolor of the Irish Republic.

Muriel MacSwiney was described as “a slender, gray eyed young woman dressed in deep mourning, with masses of black hair showing in ripples when she threw back her heavy widow’s veil.” At the end of the day, she issued a statement: 

I am deeply grateful for the wonderful reception given to me this morning, and especially to the women of America for their generous tribute to my husband’s memory. I have had many beautiful letters from America, even from American children, and I am happy to be in a country where so many are thinking about the cause of Ireland. … We feel in Ireland that America has a greater responsibility in the matter than any other land on account of her fine traditions and her war pledges, and because there are so many millions of our kin in this country.”

The women soon traveled to Washington and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland over three days, Dec. 8-10. Front page coverage of the MacSwineys appeared in the leading Irish-American weeklies, The Gaelic American, New York, and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, on Dec. 11. That same day, the Celtic began its eastward voyage back to Europe.

Eastward Crossing

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera’s return to Ireland was cloaked in as much mystery as his June 1919 arrival in America, when he’d been hidden aboard the White Star’s Lapland. Now, two weeks before Christmas, he was spirited aboard the Celtic shortly before it sailed for Liverpool. In both instances, White Star bosun Barney Downes and other Irish sailors provided key help in smuggling the leader aboard ship.7

Smuggling people, guns, and information aboard transatlantic ships was a regular operation of the war, according to an Irish Volunteer based in Liverpool from 1918-1922:

The liners plying between Liverpool and New York, especially the White Star and Cunard Boats, had Irishmen aboard who were employed to take dispatches from Liverpool for New York and vice versa. These sailors also engaged in the stowing away of leaders who wished to avoid arrest. The mode of procedure was for such a person or persons to go aboard several hours before the Liner was due to leave the dock for a landing stage and to be hidden away in the bowels of the ship. … The Atlantic route was our most important route both on account of the source of [weapons] supply at New York and because of the fact that sailings were very regular and frequent. Our best boats on that line were the Celtic and the Baltic [both of the White Star fleet].8

A few weeks before his clandestine voyage, de Valera publicly organized the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in a split from the establishment Friends of Irish Freedom. The rancorous move ended 18 months of nearly non-stop, coast-to-coast travel to raise money and political support for the Irish republic. By early December, Boland told the America reporters that de Valera needed rest from all the activity and was keeping out of view.

The Dec. 11, 1920, issue of The Evening World, New York, reported European-bound Christmas mail and some prominent passengers on the Celtic, but not stowaway Éamon de Valera.

Rumors of de Valera’s return to Ireland, however, soon began to “exercise the talents” of journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.9 The London press said de Valera was traveling to the capital for what turned out to be an unauthorized Irish peace overture. American reporters checked the hotels de Valera usually frequented in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Close associates of the Irish leader remained coy about his whereabouts. A Dec. 15 statement attributed to de Valera huffed: “I did not ask Mr. Lloyd George’s permission to come to the United States, and I shall not ask for it when the time of my return to Ireland comes.”10 He was already four days at sea.

It is unclear whether this crossing of the Celtic encountered rough weather, but de Valera was known to easily get seasick, especially hidden away from fresh air. The ship arrived in Liverpool on Dec. 20 (See maps below.), just as British officials ordered that de Valera not be prevented from landing. He was back in Dublin two before Christmas, but remained in hiding.11

Finally, on Dec. 31, Boland announced de Valera had return to Ireland. The story topped the year-end front pages of many U.S. newspapers and quoted from de Valera’s farewell message to America:

May you ever remain as I have known you, the land of the generous hearted and the kindly. … I came to you on a holy mission; a mission of freedom; I return to my people who sent me, not indeed as I had dreamed it, with the mission accomplished, but withal with a message that will cheer in the dark days that have come upon them and will inspire the acceptance of such sacrifices as must yet be made. …. You will not need to be assured that Ireland will ‘not be ungrateful.’12

Afterward

Muriel MacSwiney sailed home to Ireland the next day, New Year’s Day, 1921, aboard the Panhandle State. Mary MacSwiney remained in America and continued to speak out for Irish independence. While many regular Americans supported the Irish cause, the U.S. government under new President Warren Harding considered it a British domestic issue, the same stance as predecessor Woodrow Wilson. In August, with a ceasefire agreed in the war, Mary MacSwiney and Boland returned to Ireland together aboard the White Star’s Olympic.13 Four months later a treaty ended the war and created the Irish Free State.

In December 1928 the Celtic ran aground in a storm on the approach to Queenstown (Cobh), near Roche’s Point Lighthouse. It was found unworthy of repair and scrapped.

Charting Dev’s Return to Ireland on the Celtic

The two maps below are from the “Shipping News” pages of The New York Herald. Note each map shows representations of more than two dozen passenger liners. Clicking the images will show a larger view in most browsers.

This map is from Dec. 12, 1920, a day after the Celtic left New York with stowaway Éamon De Valera. The Celtic is represented by the circled 1 in Row D, third block from bottom, in a cluster of ships off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

 This map is from Dec. 19, 1920. The Celtic is represented by the circled 3 in Row Q, second block from the top. It arrived the next day at Liverpool, England.

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See all the stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Guest post: ‘Crowdfunding the Revolution’ in Ireland

I’m pleased to welcome a contribution from Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author of Crowdfunding the Revolution – The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence. His book tells the history of the fight for the revolutionary government’s funds, the bank inquiry that shook the financial establishment, and the first battle in the intelligence war. Patrick, of Killarney, Co. Kerry, is an activist shareholder for almost 20 years, award-winning equity analyst, and qualified Chartered Accountant. He can be reached via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn. MH

Money to Ireland

Michael Collins wanted to move to America in 1916, after spending 10 years in London, because the country offered “a fair chance to get ahead.” Fortunately for Ireland, he instead returned to Dublin to participate in the Easter Rebellion. Three years later he was appointed Minister for Finance in the Dáil government set up in open defiance of the British administration in Ireland. The counter-state government was determined not only to replace the Dublin Castle administration, but to implement its own industrial, financial, and trade policies. 

The fledgling government launched an audacious plan to fund the counter-state by raising the equivalent of $35 million today. Half the money was to be raised in Ireland and half in America. Collins took charge of the Loan organisation in Ireland. Nothing was left to chance to ensure the success of the Loan by the young, energetic, and innovative Minister for Finance; 3 million promotional leaflets, 400,000 copies of the prospectus and 50,000 customized letters were printed and distributed throughout the country; full-page advertisements were submitted to national newspapers; a 7-minute promotional film was produced showing Collins seated at a table receiving Loan subscriptions from a who’s who of Irish revolutionary figures.

Despite British attempts to prohibit the Loan, Collins exceeded his target by 50 percent. On Feb. 10, 1920, he wrote to Éamon de Valera – who had gone to America to raise the external part of the Loan – that the British had attempted to suppress the Loan organisation with “determination and savagery.” Dublin Castle had even established a bank inquiry to locate and seize the funds secretly deposited in commercial banks.  

The Loan in America initially faced regulatory and self-inflicted organisational setbacks. To such an extent that Harry Boland, who was also in America, wrote to Collins that “the organizing of this bond issue is a tremendous undertaking, and it is my judgement that you are now wanted here.” The temptation on Collins to leave must have been great, but he replied that he had too many responsibilities in Ireland, though he mysteriously added that “there is still only one thing that would take me away, and when the time comes for that, I’m off without delay.”

Although Boland would not get to meet Collins until he returned to Ireland for a visit in the summer of 1920, he did get to see him. A copy of the promotional film had been spirited across the Atlantic. After watching the film, Boland wrote to Collins to poke fun at his good friend: “That film of yourself…selling Bonds brought tears to my eyes. Gee Boy! You are some movie actor. Nobody could resist buying a bond and we have such a handsome minister of finance.” 

When eventually the Loan was launched in America and the money needed to be transferred home, Collins was responsible for getting the funds safely and securely into the financial system in Ireland. Of course, he did not do this on his own. Daithi O’Donoghue was Collin’s right-hand man in finance matters. A former high-ranking civil servant dismissed for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, he made the banking arrangements after consulting with Collins. Vera McDonnell, who had come to Dublin in 1917 to study shorthand and typing, had been quickly recruited by Sinn Féin as a stenographer. She prepared the cablegrams and codes for the transfer of the American funds.

Corrigan & Corrigan, solicitors, also played an important role in laundering the Loan funds. The firm acted as a clearing house for particularly large cheques sent from America. A friendly firm of lawyers prepared the paperwork linking the funds to a legacy or some other seemingly legal activity. Corrigan & Corrigan would carry out any formalities that might be necessary and afterwards transfer the money to the custody of the Dáil government. That was only one method of getting the funds to Ireland.

Michael Collins

Collins also sent a list of trusted individuals who agreed to receive bank drafts sent from the States. The Irish mission in America organised the issue of the bank drafts with friendly managers. Drafts were issued for an average amount of £14,500 ($1 million today) and were drawn on commercial banks in Dublin and London. The first bank draft was issued by the National City Bank of New York. The draft was for a massive £58,880 ($4M today). Drafts were also issued by Brown Brothers & Co., the Guaranty Trust Company of New York and Kountze Brothers, New York. 

Drafts drawn on banks in London were sent to the recipients using the address of the Jermyn Court Hotel in Piccadilly. The hotel was used regularly by those in Ireland on political business in London. Private addresses were also used, including the London home of Erskine Childers, which was one of the first addresses used for the transfer of American funds. 

The courier network operating between America and Ireland had been built up over many years. Individuals sent from Ireland on political and intelligence work brought messages and funds back on return journeys. New York and Boston based supporters of the republican movement took jobs on passenger ships above and below deck, to act as couriers and to provide support to those smuggled to America, including de Valera who made the journey as a stowaway.

One of the most successful initiatives of the young government was the establishment of the National Land Bank. A dummy corporation was used to cloak the investment of the Dáil in the new business. After a successful start in early 1920, Collins wanted more of the American Loan injected as capital into the bank. He asked the Dáil to authorise the investment of a further $500,000. The necessary drafts were couriered to Ireland from America.

The First Dáil Loan raised over $5.2 million in America. Plans were made for a second loan of $20 million. The Loan was launched Oct. 15, 1921, and raised $622,720 before being stopped when the treaty was signed two months later.

SOURCE NOTES:

  • Bureau of Military History: Statements of Vera McDonnell (1050), Daithi O’Donoghue (548), Elizabeth MacGinley (860) and Kitty O’Doherty (355).
  • UCD Archives, De Valera papers, P150/1125.
  • Hart, P. Mick: the real Michael Collins. Penguin, New York. 2006, p. 195.
  • Lavelle, P.  James O’Mara: the story of an original Sinn Féiner. History Publisher, Dublin, p. 186.
  • Mitchell, A. Revolutionary government in Ireland: Dáil Éireann, 1919– 22. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1995, p. 87.
  • Michael Collins’ Own Story, Told to Hayden Talbot, Hutchinson & Company, Indiana University, 1923. (“a fair chance to get ahead”).

Irish Pittsburgh’s November to remember, 1920

Terence MacSwiney

Pittsburgh’s Irish community in November 1920 mourned the hunger-strike death of Terence MacSwiney and remembered the Manchester Martyrs of 1867. It followed news of “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin; the opening of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C.; and the launch of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to rival the established Clan na Gael and affiliated Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF).

About 14,000 Irish immigrants lived in Pittsburgh at the time, or 2.4 percent the city’s population; down from an 11 percent post-Famine peak of 27,000 in 1890.1 The population of first generation Irish Americans with at least one Irish-born parent in the city and surrounding regions is not clear.

Mourning MacSwiney

A reported 5,000 Irish sympathizers packed the Lyceum Theater in downtown Pittsburgh the evening of Oct. 31, 1920, to mourn MacSwiney’s death six days earlier. Another 2,000 unable to get inside held an overflow demonstration on Penn Avenue. Both groups listened to speeches for more than two hours about MacSwiney and the other hunger strikers Joseph Murphy and Michael Fitzgerald.2

Lyceum Theater sign can be seen in middle of the block of this 1914 photo. The downtown vaudeville house was a popular meeting place for Pittsburgh’s Irish community, including an anti-conscription protest and “Self-Determination for Ireland” rally in 1918.

Three days later, Catholic church hierarchy and over 2,000 mourners attended a solemn high mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city’s Oakland district. An Irish tricolor was placed over a coffin. Subsequent memorial masses were held at St. Patrick’s Church, near downtown, with a sermon on “Destiny of the Irish Race”; and St. John the Evangelist, on the city’s Southside. 3

Martyrs Meeting

Western Pennsylvania representatives of the Clan na Gael packed the Lyceum again on Nov. 21 to hear Fenian legend John Devoy, then 78. There is no indication in the Pittsburgh newspaper coverage that news of the Bloody Sunday events hours earlier that day in Ireland reached the meeting. Instead, Devoy framed his Manchester Martyrs remembrance around the launch of the AARIR by Harry Boland and Éamon De Valera.

Pittsburgh newspaper headline the morning after John Devoy appearance in the city.

The “attempt to wreck the old organization which has kept the I.R.B. in Ireland alive for half a century, has had no effect whatever in Pittsburgh, except to make the members angry at [the] unwarrantable action, and they crowded the theater with their wives, children and neighbors to testify to their unbroken faith in the organization and the cause it represents in America but for its steadfastness and devotion.” Devoy’s Gaelic American reported two weeks later.4

The New York newspaper said its editor’s Pittsburgh hotel quarters were crowded “with old timers and young men who came to pledge their support in opposing the attempt to break the organization and to learn the inside history of the latest scheme to make a split among the American Irish.”

John Devoy

In his speech, Devoy recounted that he was locked up at Millbank Prison in London, about 200 miles south of Manchester, when William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien were executed. He said newspaper accounts were smuggled to him by the I.R.B.’s Tom O’Bolger, who had avoided capture in the attempt to free Fenian prisoners from English custody, the event that ensnared Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien.

“The executions were intended to strike terror into the Irish people, but they had the very opposite effect. A wave of anti-English feeling swept over Ireland,” Devoy told the Lyceum audience.5

‘Avoid Splits’

Devoy also warned the Pittsburgh Irish to “avoid splits, which have ruined every Irish movement for the past 100 years. … Now, when the Irish in America are more united than at any other period in the history of the country, a new split is launched. It can only help England and bring discouragement to the people in the Old Land. The one thing that Ireland needs most is a United Irish Race in America, standing shoulder to shoulder, and acting under their own elected leaders.”

The split did occur, as further reported in the same issue of the Gaelic American: “… De Valera … said there was no split and that the two organizations could get along without friction. While making this statement he was making all the friction he possibly could. … [FOIF members were] induced by gross falsehood and misrepresentation to succeed and join the rival organization which is creating disunion in America while Lloyd George is butchering the people of Ireland.”6

Commission Hearings

The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland was a non-U.S. government body created in autumn 1920 to generate political support for the Irish cause. Pittsburgh Leader Publisher Alexander P. Moore was selected to sit on the high-profile panel. A year earlier, as event co-chairman for de Valera’s visit to Pittsburgh, Moore described himself as “the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”7 The newspaper man excused himself from commission service because he was “unable to give the time necessary to the inquiry,” with hearings that lasted from November through January 1921.8

In early December, Pittsburgh innkeeper and Irish immigrant Patrick J. Guilfoil was called before the commission to testify about his experiences in Ireland earlier in the year. He described how Irish republican gunmen killed two Royal Irish Constabulary officers at Feakle, Co. Clare, where he was staying, which resulted in military reprisals on the village 50 miles north to Limerick city. Guilfoil also described the Cork city funeral procession of hunger striker Michael Fitzgerald. “Pittsburgh Witness In Irish Probe P.J. Guilfoil Tells of Raid by Military on County Clare Town’ and “Local Man Tells of Burning of Town in County Clare,” the city’s newspapers headlined.9

Guilfoil’s testimony was noted in other U.S. newspaper coverage of the Dec. 10 hearing, but it was overshadowed by the same-day testimony of Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late hunger striker; and by three former RIC officers who quit the force in protest of British “misrule” in Ireland. A treaty to separate Ireland from that rule and end the war would be agreed within a year. But the island was partitioned and the new free state plunged into civil war.

Related Work:

Remembering journalist killed on Bloody Sunday, 1920

Irish journalist Austin F. Cowley was shot dead by a military sentry on the evening of Nov. 21, 1920, at Navan, Co. Meath, hours after the “Bloody Sunday” killings in Dublin. The victim was deaf and did not hear three orders to halt from the sentry put “on the alert and on edge” by the earlier events.1

Cowley is the only journalist among 270 Irish citizens killed by British forces from Jan. 1, 1920 to Feb. 28, 1921, as listed in “The Struggles of the Irish People”, a plea for help presented by Dail Eireann to the U.S. Congress.2 Journalists in Ireland were certainly targets of intimidation and violence during the War of Independence period, 1919 to 1921, whether from British military and police authorities, or the IRA; but no others appear to have been killed.

Cowley was a “well-known sporting journalist … [whose] special forte was hunting and cricket.”3 His profession was noted on both the 1901 and 1911 census household returns. Those records also show he was slightly older than the 62-67 year range given in 1920 news reports and military records. A bachelor, he was “a splendid musician” and “popular with all classes, including the military.”4 [I have not been able to find a photo of Cowley.]

The Workhouse site on 1912 map.

The victim was the son of John Cowley, master of the Union Workhouse and Infirmary at Navan, where he continued to live after his father’s death in 1911. The South Wales Borderers stationed there in November 1920. As Ultan Courtney writes:

Earlier that day the Guard Commander had warned the sentry to keep an eye on the gate in consequence of a report of trouble in Dublin. This involved the shooting of 13 British Intelligence agents and the reprisal killings of 16 civilians at Croke Park and three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle. The sentry would have been both on the alert and on edge as military patrols and checkpoints were set up in Navan and Dunshaughlin. … A Sergeant Major of the SWBs gave evidence that the sentry was perfectly calm and did not seem to have lost his head.5

Official notation of Austin Francis Cowley’s Nov. 21, 1920, shooting death for “failing to halt.” Courts of Inquiry In Lieu of Inquest, Register of Cases. Army of Ireland Records, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. WO 35/162. The National Archives, Kew.

Cowley’s death was reported in dozens of U.S. newspapers, including the Boston Globe, New York Herald, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. The brief accounts emphasized both his deafness and his role as a journalist. There might have been heightened sensitivity about his profession from a police threat to kill Hugh Martin of the Daily News, London, a few weeks earlier in Tralee, Co. Kerry. The episode drew international press attention, such as this Nov. 6, 1920, special cable:

Despite all efforts that have been made in and out of Parliament to create the impression that there has been a marked improvement in condition in Ireland … the majority of the newspapers insist that the situation there was never worse. … The threat against the life of Hugh Martin, English newspaper correspondent, who has been writing highly critical articles regarding the actions of the Black and Tans, has kept attention focused on Ireland that might otherwise have dwindled after [Terence] MacSwiney’s death. Now comes a striking editorial article in the New Statesman appealing to the American press to send over an army of its most trusted correspondents large enough to cover every county in Ireland.6

Parliament debated the press’s role in Ireland a few days after Cowley’s death and the more notorious events of “Bloody Sunday.” Liberal Party leader and former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and others praised Martin and the international press for its reporting from the troubled island. Chief Secretary for Ireland Hamar Greenwood sought to undermine Martin’s reporting, but also insisted “he or any other pressman will be welcome to Ireland.”7

Headline from Nov. 22, 1920.

The digital Newseum’s Journalists Memorial pays tribute to 2,344 reporters, photographers, and broadcasters from around the world who have died while reporting the news. Lyra McKee’s 2019 death in Derry is the most recent of 11 Irish journalists in the searchable database.

The accidental nature of Cowley’s death and the fact that he was not actively reporting on the war probably excludes him from this listing. I have inquired about adding his name and details. The physical museum closed Dec. 31, 2019, and it is unclear whether emails are being answered.