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 can be found in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.
Wilfrid Ewart from a painting by Nora Cundell, used as front matter in Stephen Graham’s 1924 biography.
In his Introduction to Journey, Edward Turnour, the 6th Earl Winterton, writes that Ewart made “an honest attempt to record, without prejudice, the extraordinary conflict of views and of right in present-day Ireland.” Winterton also makes an insensitive, if unintentional, comment that “any man or woman with two eyes” could have seen Ireland’s condition in 1921 was “a disgrace to civilization and an outrage upon humanity.”
Ewart was blind in one eye.
Punch, the acerbic London weekly, noted that many people traveled to Ireland during the war, “but they intelligently refrained from writing books about it.” The review continued:
If Captain Ewart had published his experiences immediately after his return to England in May 1921, they might have had some interest for the general English reader, who at that time was amiably prepared to swallow any Irish propaganda that was served out to him. Captain Ewart is not a propagandist, but his experiences consisted of talking to Irishmen who are propagandists … The strange thing is not that Captain Ewart was being gulled from the day he set foot in Ireland, but that he should have decided, a whole year after this event, to erect this literary monument to his own gullibility.
Ewart biographer Stephen Graham revealed the book’s publisher delayed Journey‘s release to avoid conflicting with his friend’s 1921 novel, The Way of Revelation. Journey should have “appeared within a few weeks to be of any news value,” Graham wrote in 1924, two years after the author’s accidental death at age 30. “Excellent as it is, [Journey] fell flat, as it was really out of date. Ireland by then had entered a new phase,”
Ewart’s book enjoyed a measure of success among Irish and American readers.
The Irish Examiner praised how Ewart “obtained the views of prominent citizens of all shades of opinion” and presented their views “with fairness and impartiality.” It said the book “will interest the reader to note how far the prophecies and the prognostications, the diagnoses, the recommendations, the hopes and fears expressed in it, have come within reach of realization, or been discounted.” That remains more true 100 years later.
Screenshot of scanned original edition cuts off bottom portion.
Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien, wife of Irish nationalist William O’Brien, said that Ewart sent her husband an account of the April 1921 interview at their home “for revision”, followed later by a copy of the published book. It “was a very friendly one and gave a very good impression of the author,” she wrote. A friend of the couple was so “charmed” that he “carried it off,” presumably never to be returned.
Ewart also interviewed Irish nationalist George Russell in April 1921. The Irish Homestead, the weekly edited by Russell, reviewed Ewart’s book in summer 1922, but I have not been able to access an archived copy.
In the United States, reviews and advertisements for Journey also appeared in summer 1922. Many reviews were just blurbs. Several mention The Way of Revelation, or Ewart’s U.S. travels with Graham at the time.
North Carolina educator and historian William Thornton Whitsett syndicated his review to newspapers a few weeks after the Aug. 22, 1922, assassination of Michael Collins. Whitsett found “extraordinary timeliness” in Journey’s publication “for a world stunned by such a catastrophe … and altogether baffled by the whole bloody course of events in Ireland.
Anna L. Hooper, literary editor of the Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, offered the contradictory conclusion that Journey “is not a book of any great weight or value, but it is an entertaining and unbiased account of conditions during a very important period in modern history, and it is well worth reading.”
The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle included Journey in a roundup with two other Irish books: Andrew Gerrie’s Ireland’s Woes and Britain’s Wiles, and Ronald McNeill’s Ulster’s Stand For Freedom. Reviewer F.W. Davidson said Ewart’s book:
…is as almost detached as were the writings of [William] Wordsworth in the days of the French revolution. Such detachment of mind is a great service to the present moment … [but] Ewart has no theory to advance in this volume; he has no remedy to propose for quieting and better government of the country.
Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.
In a review of the 2009 University College Dublin Press edition of Journey, Rory Brennan opined:
Ewart comes across as a decent man, if a plodding writer. These pedestrian attributes tend to make him a credible commentator, one not to over-egg the pudding with orange or green additives.
At the 2003 release of The Tourist Gaze: Travelers to Ireland: 1800-2000, reviewer Willie Nolan wrote “my favorite piece in this anthology has to be the extract from” Ewart’s Journey. Gaze contains 72 selections.
As mentioned earlier in this series, Maurice Walsh included Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and also quoted from it in his 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. I’m sure there are other academic citations and reviews.
Abe Books advertises a G. P. Putnam, London, first edition hardback in very good condition for $99. Other sites offer used first editions for as little as $10. In addition to on-demand reprints, A Journey In Ireland, 1921 is digitized.
NEXT: Final thoughts