Category Archives: Journalism

Back to Ireland as blog reaches seventh anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

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

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

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

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

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

Edward Carson, in 1919.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Independence Day in Ireland: Bans to boycotts

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, left, and Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Aodhán Ó Riordáin, a Labor party member of the Irish Senate, has renewed his 2018 call for Irish politicians to boycott the U.S. Embassy’s Independence Day reception in protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Frankie Feighan, a Fine Gael senator, has replied, “I have issues with Donald Trump and I do not agree with him, but a boycott of our friends in the United States is not a way forward,” according to The Irish Times.

New U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, who earlier this week presented his credentials to Irish President Michael D. Higgins, will host the 4 July event at the ambassador’s official residence in Phoenix Park.

This “white house,” known as Deerfield Residence, was completed in 1776 for Col. John Blaquiere, chief secretary of the British government in Ireland. The first U.S. envoy to Ireland moved into the residence in 1927. “It was appropriately coincidental that the United States, which declared its own Independence in 1776, should establish the president’s representative in the residence completed in the same year,” the embassy website notes.

One hundred years ago, an American independence celebration in Cork was “proclaimed” (banned) by British military authorities. Remember, this was seven months after the separatist Sinn Féin election victory and establishment of the breakaway Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

The scheduled procession from the National Monument to City Hall was to conclude with an addressed by Sinn Féin politician Liam de Roiste “on a matter of great national importance,” the Irish Examiner reported.1 The military prohibited the event just a few hours before it was set to begin.

“There was no display of military or police on the street; the only unusual sign being that the American flag flew from the Sinn Féin rooms,” the Examiner wrote. About the time of the scheduled 8 p.m. start, “rain set in and continued without cessation until a late hour.”

De Roiste and other pro-Irish independence supporters instead gathered in nearby Lough, where they passed a resolution that said, in part:

Be it resolved that this public meeting of the citizens of Cork, assembled on American Independence Day, 1919, sends fraternal greetings to the people of the United States of America, and records the appreciation of the people of this city on the action which is being taking by the American people on behalf of Ireland’s independence …

A two-sentence Associated Press brief about the “forbidden” celebration in Cork was published in dozens of U.S. newspapers. It did not mention the Lough meeting or the resolution.

Read “Declaring Independence, America 1776; Ireland 1919” , a lecture by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall, delivered 2 April 2019, at the University of Virginia.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

 

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

We’ve reached the halfway point of 2019. My monthly roundup follows below. I will be in Ireland from late July through early August, posting about my travels. The monthly round up will return at the end of August. MH

  • My piece on Éamon de Valera‘s 1919 visit to Louisville, Kentucky, where he was drawn by up-and-coming caricaturist Wyncie King, was published on The Filson Historical Society Blog. The accompanying watercolor image probably has not been seen in 100 years.
  • Edward F. Crawford, 81, a wealthy Ohio businessman, was sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland, more than two years after the Trump administration came into office.
  • “So let’s not wrap the death of “rural Ireland” in a shroud of nostalgia. Piety has never done the real rural Ireland any good. Dying worlds attract romantics and since “rural Ireland” has been dying for 170 years, it has been romanticised up to its neck,” Fintan O’Toole writes in a column for The Irish Times, part of a five-story exploration of rural Ireland.
  • New “mortality differentials” from the Central Statistics Office show Irish women live longer than men; marrieds longer than singles; professionals longer than unskilled workers; and Protestants longer than Catholics.
  • Fodor’s is dropping online and print references to Belfast’s political murals after the BBC suggested it guides pandered to damaging, unhelpful and unfair stereotypes of unionists. The guides described Catholic murals as “wildly romantic” and “aspire to the heights of Sistine Chapel-lite” while Protestant murals “resemble war comics without the humor.” The guides also said, “In Northern Ireland they say the Protestants make the money and the Catholics make the art.”

“King Billy” mural in Belfast, from my 2016 visit.

  • The Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has secured one year of operational funding while it continues to look for long-term support. Ulster University announced earlier this year it was closing the highly-respected source of information about the Troubles and politics in Northern Ireland, drawing the ire of journalists, historians, and others.
  • Ivan Cooper, a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and civil rights leader in Northern Ireland, died at age 75.
  • TheJournal.ie has introduced an “Ireland 2029” podcast. The first episode explored whether Ireland (and the rest of the world) is ready for a four-day work week.
  • “A previously confidential government study detailing 142 areas of life in Northern Ireland that will be impacted by Brexit has been published, revealing risks to everything from cooperation on congenital heart disease and cross-border child protection to rules preventing the looting of national treasures,” The Guardian reported.
  • Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland, has rejected claims by the DUP’s Ian Paisley that the marketing agency favors the Republic of Ireland over Northern Ireland. Read Gibbons’ statement to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.
  • Arranmore Island, three miles off the coast of County Donegal, is trying to attract immigrants to boost its dwindling population of fewer than 500 people. The community council is promoting the island’s high-speed internet service and laid-back lifestyle will attract knowledge workers to the remote local.

Árainn Mhór Island

Select newspaper editorials on de Valera’s U.S. arrival

This is part of my year-long series of posts about American reporting of Irish independence, 1919, including the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s arrival in America. Below are select U.S. newspaper editorials from the start of his 18-month tour. The three Irish-American newspaper are hyperlinked to the corresponding page of the digitized issue. MH

The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, June 26, 1919

Crazy as the de Valera ideas may have seemed a few months ago, Premier Lloyd George has himself to thank for making them a serious element in the international situation … Delay in enforcing home rule was not inexplicable before the armistice. Since then the pernicious influence of Sir Edward Carson and the new dependence of the Premier on Tory support established by the [December 1918] parliamentary election are conditions, not explanations or justifications, for procrastination.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, June 28, 1919
Ireland’s President Visits America

The common people, who after all are what really count, do not feel themselves constrained to draw distinctions in the same way as Government officials. They do not believe that a Republic which has the support of the people living under it is a pretense–something to be named inside quotation marks–just because a foreign army is on its territory. … Few of the chief executives of republics represent so large a proportion of their people as does President de Valera. To emphasize these we need go no further than President Wilson (who in 1912 and 1916 received less than 50 percent of the popular vote, but put into office by the Electoral College.) … That ordinary people are indifferent to diplomatic formalities, and recognize Mr. de Valera as President of Ireland, is proved by the acclaim with which he has been greeted since his appearance in this country. … The friends of Ireland, who include all true Americans, will welcome the President, and will assist him in his efforts to make the heads of the American Government recognize the true status of Ireland.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 28, 1919
Welcome President De Valera

Of American birth himself and imbued with the American ideals of truth, justice and humanity, [de Valera] is particularly fitted to present the cause of Ireland to the America people. Of pure life, stainless character, and noble spirit and engaging personality his appeal cannot fail to engage the consideration of all Americans who cherish the traditions and policies of this great Republic of the West, and who are free from the obsession of British propaganda. A new Parnell has come to plead the cause of Ireland, but under circumstances that are far more promising and inspiring than those existing in the decade [1880s] of the visit of the great Home Rule leader; and he is asking not merely for colonial or dominion government of Ireland, but for absolute and complete independence, and in this stand he is sustained by more than three-fourths of his fellow countrymen. He seeks recognition of a government that is unquestionably of right as subjected to the tests of democracy and Americanism.

The Decatur (Illinois, 200 miles south of Chicago) Herald, June 29, 1919

These schoolmasters! One of them [U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a former college professor] brought his country into a successful war, defined the conditions of peace which brought the war to an end, and was the leading spirit a world court of peace enforcement. Another [de Valera] was a professor of mathematics in Dublin … [Though] there is nothing about Prof. De Valera suggesting the fiery Irish patriot of history … Ireland probably made no mistake in the gravely professorial Mr. De Valera. Schoolmasters have been known to turn out fairly successful politicians.

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Kentucky, July 5, 1919
Leader De Valera

…Irish skill and daring, in the hour of Ireland’s need, outmatched the might of the empire–outreached the lion’s claws! Like an eagle from the clouds, sudden [de Valera] is among us. … We are asked only to fill the war chest; to give a little work and a little money; to provide an Irish Victory Fund with which the last grim struggle on the field of world-wide public opinion may be waged and won. The Irish republic is a reality; but so is the British army of occupation in Ireland–and so is the British propaganda in America.

Describing Éamon de Valera before social media

Éamon de Valera in 1919.

In June 1919, commercial film, radio, and television were still in their infancy. Photography, after nearly a century, was on the verge of overcoming its earlier technical limitations and moving into widespread use. 

It was not until 1919, with the launching of New York’s Illustrated Daily News, that American newspapers began to feature photographs routinely. The lighter cameras and “faster” lenses introduced in the 1920s brought about a revolution in news photography, ushering in the age of photojournalism.1

The dozens of reporters who gathered at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the American debut of Éamon de Valera as the president of Ireland had to describe their subject as well as detail his pronouncements. There would be photos of de Valera’s U.S. tour, to be sure, but they were not disseminated as widely or as easily as today’s digital and broadcast media. 

Below are some of the reporters’ descriptions of de Valera published in June 24, 1919, editions of U.S. newspapers. Some are from wire service dispatches and appeared in numerous papers across America. I’ve highlighted some common reference points. This roundup begins with the best description I found, and ends with a quote that hints of the shift to journalism bolstered by images in addition to words:

Standing six feet, one inch tall, he easily overlooked the crowd about him. He was clad in a dark business suit, with white waistcoat, and wore a turn-down collar with a dark four-in-hand tie. But for all his pleasantry, his face has the look of one who has seen more than thirty-seven years ordinarily betoken.

His visage is thin, doubtless so because of his harrowing prison life, and the deep, long seams about his mouth spell a knowledge of troublous, weary days. Behind his nose glasses, his sharp eyes, deep set, penetrate his auditors, giving the impression of unflinching determination.

As he stood addressing the reporters … he looked much like the pedagogue, as indeed he has been, and doubtless the clear, crisp, studied enunciation, with its touch of brogue, comes as the result of his teaching days.

Brooklyn (New York) Times Union

Here are a few more:

He wears glasses, his brown-black eyes are deep set, his nose is rather prominent, his upper lip is clean shaven, and the general expression of his face is one of eagerness. Upon arrival yesterday he was attired in a salt-and-pepper tweedish mixture, wore a collar almost of collegian highness and a big blue tied tied in a big knot. … a brogue that was just an echo of a brogue was apparent.” The New York Times

“…a tall man with a face lean and lined with care. … [his] brogue is most pronounced. When he used the word “merchant,” for example, it sounded like “mare-chint” and when he said “reduced” it sounded like “rejuiced.” New York Tribune

“Mr. De Valera, a tall, smooth-faced, clear-eyed, young Irishman, was born in New York in 1882, but said he “renounced” his American citizenship when he became an Irish soldier.” Pittsburgh Daily Post

“… a tall, bronzed, smooth shaven man wearing eyeglasses … with a smile and speaking with well modulated voice with a mellow Irish brogue …” The San Francisco Examiner

“By those who had seen portraits and moving pictures of the professor he was easily distinguished and recognized.” St. Louis Star and Times, which included a photo of de Valera addressing an 1918 anti-conscription meeting in Ireland, with inset images of Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith.

‘The Irish Press’ withheld news of de Valera’s U.S. arrival

In June 1919, The Irish Press of Philadelphia obtained one of the biggest international news scoops since the end of the Great War. It sat on the story.

Irish leader Éamon de Valera, who evaded British authorities to sneak aboard the S.S. Lapland at Liverpool, arrived June 11 in New York City. Reports that he was missing from Ireland and possibly heading to America were just beginning to appear in U.S. newspapers.

Éamon de Valera

For a dozen days, de Valera’s whereabouts remained a secret kept by a small circle of supporters, including  Joseph McGarrity and Dr. Patrick McCartan, publisher and editor of the Press, respectively. McGarrity met de Valera on his first night in New York. A few days later he welcomed de Valera to his home in Philadelphia, where McCartan briefed the visitor on American efforts to help Ireland.1

Joseph McGarrity

McGarrity and McCartan were both natives of Ireland: the publisher used his business fortune to bankroll the newspaper and other nationalist efforts, the editor was an elected member of the first Dáil Éireann. The “primary concern in the Irish Press remained the cause of recognition of the Irish Republic in the United States,” McCartan wrote of this period.2 A look at the paper’s June 14 and June 21 issues reveals just how deeply they deceived their readers to serve that cause, rather than transparent journalism.

Harry Boland

The front page of the June 14 issue reported that Harry Boland, another member of the Dáil, “recently arrived” in the U.S. as “special envoy” to America. In fact, Boland had been in the country for over a month. Shortly after his arrival he met with McGarrity and McCartan in Philadelphia.3 Boland also joined McGarrity to welcome de Valera the night of June 11 in New York .

Even more audacious, however, was the page 3 guest column by the Irish leader: Application of Our Principals Means Free Erin, Says De Valera.  The sub-headline, “President of the Irish Republic Forwards Statement to People of the United States,” implied that de Valera had mailed the commentary from Ireland. It is unclear when, from where, or even if he penned the piece:

All liberty-loving nations of the world owe to the Irish the recognition of the independence of Ireland, not only because of the indisputable right of the people of Ireland to govern their own national destinies, but also because that right is deprived by England on grounds which are a negation of national liberty everywhere, and subversive to international peace and order.

The deceit continued in the June 21 issue of the Press. Tucked in the bottom right corner of the front page were two small briefs that speculated about de Valera’s whereabouts:

  • The first, dated June 17, suggested “well-informed circles” in Paris reported he was in Switzerland, but “the nature of the mission could not be learned.”
  • A June 11 Universal Services dispatch from Dublin suggested de Valera left Ireland June 1 “on an unknown mission” to England. “The news comes as a surprise to all Ireland. Speculation as to the purpose of his trip and his present whereabouts is intense.”

Dr. Patrick McCartan

This was pure nonsense and misdirection, truly “fake news,” from McGarrity and McCartan, who knew de Valera had been in America for 10 days. Their newspaper was just playing along with similar stories in the mainstream U.S. press. McCartan wrote:

We kept secret the manner of his coming. His arrival when announced, created a great sensation, and the mysterious ease with which he had eluded the British added to the popular interest in him. … Nothing was lacking to make him a popular hero. And America was eager to see him and to do him homage.4

Finally, in its June 28 issue, the Press headlined:

Irish President Reaches America

Eamon de Valera, Head of Republic, Arrives in New York.

To Work for Recognition.

The story was dated June 25, two days after de Valera’s public debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. McGarrity and McCartan were among the hundreds of supporters packed into the ballroom reception.5 The Press story was silent as to when de Valera arrived in America, but noted that speculation about him “had been reported for some days … [and] concoctions of all sorts had been published in the newspapers.”

The Irish Press had perpetrated the biggest concoction of all.

Hiding Disney’s Florida land deals

Other newspapers have withheld information from their readers for what publishers believed to be a greater good. In the early 1960s, for example, Orlando, Florida, newspaper publisher Martin Andersen tamped down news that entertainment entrepreneur Walt Disney was buying huge tracts of acreage in the central part of the state for a second Disneyland theme park. The Orlando Sentinel recalls the story.

June 1919: U.S. editorials on Senate support for Ireland

On June 6, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution requesting the Paris peace conference to give a hearing to the delegation appointed by Dáil Éireann, and expressing sympathy with the “aspirations of the Irish people for a government of their own choice.” The U.S. House of Representatives had voted in favor of self-determination for Ireland in early March, on the last day of the previous legislative session, but a parliamentary maneuver by opponents delayed consideration in the Senate.

The combined legislative action “prove that there is in this country a general feeling in favor of having the case of Ireland presented at the peace conference,” The Washington Post editorialized a day after the Senate vote.1 The capital daily continued:

The present condition of Ireland—with a dwindling population, industries destroyed, law flouted, and her people on the ragged edge of rebellion kept down only by a large army of occupation—is altogether anomalous and … alarming.  It surely is not expecting too much of the peace conference to ask it to clean off the slate in this matter before it brings its labors to a close. … It is inconceivable that President Wilson and the other members of the American delegation at Paris will not heed the combined appeal of the Senate and the House.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1919.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to Ireland’s revolutionary government, correctly noted that such resolutions did not have the full force of legislation sent to Wilson to sign into law. It said such passage was critical, and continued:

If some step is not now taken by the United States to aid Ireland, there is little reason to hope that a situation will again soon present itself where anything can be done by the American government. … We have come to the end of a war in which the victory has rested with the powers which declared that they fought for world freedom and especially the rights of small nations. The spokesman of the United States [Wilson] has made very clear and specific declarations on this point. The people of Ireland have voted for separation from Great Britain, and have set up a government of their own. If under these conditions the government of this county does not take some action, it is hardly to be expected that it will do anything when the conditions are less favorable, as they undoubtedly will be later.2

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Irish Standard wondered if Ireland would have received her freedom at the peace conference if she had been among the oppressed nations of the German and Austrian empires.

But because the despotism under which she is groaning is the British brand, it is not to be interfered with. Was it then to curb the tyranny and autocracy of certain particular nations only that the world war was fought, or was it against all such anachronisms of government wherever found? … The world’s wounds are about to be sewed up while at least one dangerous source of infection is left within—that of the rankling Irish discontent at British domination.3

In Louisville, the Kentucky Irish American suggested that Britain’s “domineering and bulldog tactics” regarding Ireland and other matters “has aroused much indignation in this country. … Despite the efforts of the pro-English press on this side, the American public as a whole is fast discovering the hypocrisy and hoggishness of the English nation.”4

On June 17 in Dublin, Dáil Éireann passed a motion of thanks to the Senate to “assure the people of America that the ties of blood and friendship which subsisted between both nations in the days of their subjection to one common oppressor have endured and are indissoluble.”

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”

Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2

“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3

In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.

Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:

Also see: