Category Archives: Journalism

Covering the countess’s return to Dublin, 1919

When Constance Georgine Markievicz became the first woman elected to the British parliament in December 1918, she was far from the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency she won with two thirds of  the vote. The republican leader known as Countess Markievicz was held at Holloway Prison, in England, for her role in anti-conscription protests earlier in the year, before the Great War ended in November.

Upon her release from the prison 15 March, 1919, Markievicz returned to Dublin, where she was greeted by cheering supporters. The Irish Times, on page 6 of its St. Patrick’s Day issue, reported:

A demonstration of welcome had been organized at Liberty Hall for Madame Markievicz, and at 6 p.m. a large crowd assembled at Beresford place, where a procession was formed by the Citizen Army, headed by the St. James band, and including such bodies as the Cuman na mBan, Fianna, Irish Women’s Franchise League, Sinn Fein bodies, Irish Volunteers, and trades organizations. … She entered Liberty Hall amidst loud cheers and the waving of Sinn Fein flags from the windows. Addressing the crowd from one of the windows as “Fellow Rebels” … she said that it was worthwhile going to prison to find such a reception awaiting her … and advised them to work for an Irish republic.  

The Times reported “a strong force of policemen was on duty,” but “the proceedings passed off without any incident of a disorderly character, and when the procession had passed by, the crowd rapidly melted away.”

The Irish Independent of 17 March, page 5, published the photo at the top of this post under the headline, “Warm Welcome Home From Prison.” The caption underneath said, “A big demonstration of welcome was accorded to Countess Markievicz on her arrival in Dublin on Sat. evening. In the photo … taken at Liberty Hall, she is in the center with bouquet.”

Markievicz’s release was largely ignored in the American press, including the New York Times and Washington Post, except for one or two lines in wire service stories. The Chicago Daily News, however, published an account from its own correspondent, Ruth Russell, who had arrived in Dublin about the same time. Here is some of Russell’s reporting from the 18 March 1919, issue of the Daily News. Note how the American female reporter places herself inside Liberty Hall, close enough for the Irish female politician to make a personal aside:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. About them were grouped laborers shamrocked for St. Patrick’s day. On the railway bridge that spans the Liffey above Butt bridge soldiers on night patrol were silhouetted against the moon whitened sky, impatiently the crowd awaited the coming of the Countess Markievicz, released eight years before the expiration of her term in Holloway jail.  … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the two-month-old Dáil Éireann, suggested that “it seemed as though everyone in the Irish metropolis had turned out to do honor to this notable Irish woman patriot.” The story disputed wire service reports that Markievicz would take her seat in the British House of Commons. 

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1919

UPDATE:

Against the backdrop of Brexit chaos, the classic “England Get Out of Ireland” banner in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day is damaging political discourse, Stephen Collins writes in The Irish Times. Plus, a 2018 New York Times piece about the sign. See bullet points below.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar March 14 at the White House, continuing a St. Patrick’s week tradition that began in 1952. Things were much different in 1919: the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann, had been established for two months; skirmishes and ambushes in the War of Independence flared across Ireland; more than 5,000 supporters of Irish independence gathered in late February in Philadelphia to bring attention to the cause; and the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of March passed a resolution in favor of Irish self-determination. All of this nationalist activity on both sides of the Atlantic influenced 1919’s annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Trump and Varadkar in 2018. White House photo

Below, a look at March 1919 coverage in the Irish-American and mainstream press. MH


“Irish freedom was demanded, and the league of nations, as proposed at present, was condemned at a mass meeting last night at Liberty Hut under the auspices of the United Irish Societies of the District that was the climax of the National Capital’s celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Ten thousand people were packed in the spacious auditorium, while more than 5,000 other clamored for admission to the most wildly enthusiastic meeting ever held in Washington in the cause of Irish independence. There was almost constant applause as the speakers extolled the virtues of Ireland and her sons.” The Washington Post, March 18, page 1

Of course, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City drew plenty of press attention:

“The existence of the Irish Republic, and the demand that it be recognized as one of the sovereign nations of the earth, were proclaimed by the great demonstration held [in New York City]. Probably the most notable feature of the parade, and one in which it differed considerably from the processions of earlier days, was display of thousands upon thousands of tri-colored flags, the emblem of the Republic of Ireland. The old green flag with the harp on it was entirely abandoned … ” The Irish Press, Philadelphia, March 22, page 1

The New York Times coverage of the massive parade, placed on page 4 of the March 18 issue, said “it was a perfect day” for the event, and “not a single unpleasant incident marred the celebration.” Rather than noting the change of flags, the report made an extensive inventory of political banners carried by the marchers. These included:

  • England–Damn your concessions. We want our country.
  • “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it has no desire to live.”–President Woodrow Wilson
  • There will be no peace while Ireland is ruled by a foreign force.
  • If there is right and justice in the world, then Ireland should have its share.
  • A true American is a true Sinn Feiner.

More mainstream celebrations occurred in the American heartland:

“Ireland and St. Patrick were by no means forgotten on Monday, the greatest of Irish holidays, in Minneapolis. Many store windows were dressed up in green in honor of the day. The shamrock, the harp, and many other emblems of the old sod were seen in generous abundance.” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., March 22, page 1

“In a room hung with the green flag of old Ireland, and the three-colored flag of the hopes for a new Ireland, intermingled with shamrocks and entwined around the Stars and Stripes of America, 450 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sand the songs of old Erin, and cheered and applauded each expression of faith in the hoped-for republic, when the annual St. Patrick’s day dinner of the order was held in the Fort Pitt Hotel last night.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, page 11

“Native born and American born Irish men and women of Louisville paid fitting and credible tribute to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. The religious observances began with the Ladies Auxiliary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians who filled St. Patrick’s Church early Sunday morning … Monday night there were numerous attractions … but it remained for the AOH to eclipse it all with their celebration at Bertrand Hall, which was profusely decorated with the national colors and the flag of the Irish republic and flags and banners of the Ancient Order.” Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Ky., March 22, page 1

Washington, D.C. in 1919.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events:

‘Intrigue of Deception’ at Catholic University of America, 1919

A Philadelphia newspaper in early 1919 alleged that “some prominent men” at Catholic University of America were conspiring with British Embassy officials.1 The aim of their Washington, D.C.-based “plot,” the story said, was to keep Ireland within the British Empire rather than establish an independent republic.

“So far the scheme has met with some success and is receiving consideration,” The Irish Press, a nationalist weekly, reported Jan. 4, 1919, in a page 4 story headlined “An Intrigue of Deception.”

Irish voters had just elected 73 separatist Sinn Féin candidates who had no intention of claiming their seats in the London parliament. Instead, within weeks of the Press story, they would form their own government in Dublin. A gorilla war of independence erupted at the same time. In America, Congress debated “the Irish question” as President Woodrow Wilson prepared to sail to Paris to join his British allies in helping to reshape the post-world war global order.

The Irish Press reported:

“It is understood that the scheme will be launched by the publication of a letter written by President Wilson on the eve of his departure for Europe to a prominent man at the Catholic University at Washington. The gentleman concerned is a sincere friend of Ireland and it is to be hoped that he will sever his connection with the British plot and persuade his colleagues to do likewise. Their action will not affect Ireland but we hope for the reputation of the one big and sincere man connected with the scheme that he will refuse at this critical juncture to play false to the cause so dear to his heart.”

The newspaper did not name anyone at Catholic University, but faculty member Joseph Dunn wrote a private letter to challenge the allegation. “To say that the article in question surprised and provoked me is putting it mildly,” he wrote to Dr. Patrick McCartan, the Press editor.2

Shahan

Dunn was a Celtic language and literature professor and a supporter of Irish independence. A few weeks earlier he had appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Ireland.3 Dunn entered into the record the Nov. 30, 1918, letter from the university’s rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, to President Wilson. It cited the president’s professed commitment to “self-determination” for small nations.

“We hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate,” Shahan wrote. “Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.”4

Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.” This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, reply; barely 100 typed words of generalities on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name.5 Wilson wrote:

Wilson

“It will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.”

Shahan was a national vice president of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a U.S.-based group of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and other supporters of the separatist cause. Dunn was a national trustee.6 As events accelerated in Ireland, the Friends were being torn apart by internal feuding over the best way to help the homeland.

The Irish Press was in the middle of this fight, as personified by the growing hostility between McCartan, Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and their supporters; and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist and publisher of the New York City-based Gaelic American, and his allies. Dunn acknowledged these crosscurrents in his letter.

Dunn told McCartan that he did not show the Press article to Shahan, “who, I suppose, is meant by the words ‘a prominent man at Catholic University’ ” … “to spare him the pain of reading it, it is so unfair to those of us who have kept the faith at this institution.” Like Dunn, the bishop would have been troubled by the allegation of conspiring with the British, especially as the Friends of Irish Freedom developed plans for an upcoming national strategy meeting in Philadelphia.

“The harm done is not irreparable, however, if you take occasion in the very next issue of ‘The Press’ to correct it and give prominence in a good strong article to the denial,” Dunn wrote in the typed body of his letter. After the “faithfully yours” closing and his signature, he hand wrote, “You realize, of course, how much the University might suffer if that your yarn is not corrected.”

McCartan’s reply to Dunn carried the same Jan. 11, 1919, date as the professor’s letter.7 

McCartan

“I was very glad to get your letter and your assurances that nobody connected with the University has anything to do with the British Embassy Plot,” McCartan wrote under his newspaper’s letterhead. “I realize that your letter is authoritative, and we here are glad to learn that instead of cooperating with the plotters you are taking steps to counteract them.”

McCartan, a native of Ireland, was among more than 30 Sinn Féin separatists elected the previous month while either living outside Ireland or held in prison. In addition to his role as editor, he also described himself as “envoy of the provisional government of Ireland.” This was news to the U.S. State Department, which claimed it “knew nothing of Patrick McCartan.”8

McCartan wrote to Dunn that he would be “delighted to correct the error we made last week as you request.” The editor acknowledged he was responsible for all of the newspaper’s stories, “even though I do not write them all, or even read them before publication.”

On Jan. 18, 1919, The Irish Press published this “correction” under another “Intrigue of Deception” headline, once again without naming any names.9

“We have now on the very best authority” that no one at Catholic University was cooperating with the British, the story said. “The existence of the plot is known there but those in that institution who are interested in the subject take the same view of the Irish question as The Irish Press.”

A few weeks later, the Press reported on Shahan’s speech at Gazanga Hall in Washington, D.C. “Ireland is a nation, not a province of the British Empire,” it quoted him under the headline “Bishop Upholds Irish Republic.”10

Dunn and Shahan remained active in Irish nationalist politics. The professor taught at Catholic University until 1931.11 The bishop died the following year and is interred in the crypt level of the neighboring Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Irish Press folded in 1922 as Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State, an interim status that later became today’s full republic, and Northern Ireland, which remains part of Britain. McCartan returned to Ireland.


EXTRA NOTES: Top image, “Proposed Plan,” is a 1914 photo gelatin view of the Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C. produced by the Albertype Company of Brooklyn, New York. I have been unable to locate an image of Joseph Dunn. Thanks to Shane MacDonald at CUA’s American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and to James Harte at the National Library of Ireland for their assistance. 

First words on the 1919 Irish Race Convention

Below are the ledes of front-page stories about the Feb. 22-23, 1919, Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The stories appeared in U.S. newspapers, either during or the day after the convention, except the Irish weeklies (hyperlinked), which published March 1, 1919. I’ve edited references to dates and Philadelphia, and added a few other notes. Convention meetings were held in multiple venues, as can be seen on the agenda at bottom. Visit the project landing page. MH


“A platform declaring that a state of war exists between England and Ireland were passed … [during the convention] with numerous overflow meetings. One and a half million dollars, in round figures, was subscribed for the purpose of carrying forward the Irish movement to enforce the principle of self-determination. Of that amount, New York, Massachusetts, Chicago, Philadelphia and the women of the Ancient Order of Hibernians pledged $150,000 each, while communities organizations and individuals underwrote lesser amounts.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the host city’s several dailies.

“England was bitterly denounced and the new ‘Irish Republic’ praised by more than 5,000 delegates attending the Irish race convention … . The convention was held in the mammoth Second regiment armory, which was decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the orange, white and green flags of the Sinn Fein republic.”

The Washington Times, Washington, D.C.

Cardinal Gibbons

“A resolution presented by Cardinal Gibbons urging the peace conference to apply to Ireland the doctrine of national self-determination, and a declaration of principals demanding that if any league of nations be created, all feature which may infringe on the traditional policy, including the Monroe doctrine, shall be eliminated, were adopted unanimously today at the closing session of the convention of the Irish race in America.”

Associated Press story appeared in Feb. 24, 1919, issues of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and many other papers. It was probably the most widely distributed account of the convention.

“One of the most important steps taken by the Irish Race Convention … was its demand that President Wilson secure from the Peace Conference for the envoys chosen by the Dáil Éireann, the Parliament of the Irish Republic, the same status and recognition which have been accorded to those of other small nations. … The convention also decided, if necessary, to send to Paris, if necessary, delegates who will assist the representatives of the Irish Republic in securing for the Irish Government recognition of its sovereign claims.”

The Irish Press, Philadelphia. The paper’s editor and publisher were deeply involved in planning the convention. The three-member American Commission for Irish Independence soon traveled to Paris and Ireland.

“With all their inherent passion and humor, with all the love of Erin and freedom and hatred of England that have been smoldering for generations, the more than 5,000 delegates to the two-day Irish Race Convention of the Friends of Irish Freedom … responded enthusiastically to the fervent appeals for Ireland’s self-determination made by distinguished members of the clergy and laity from every part of the United States, as well as from “the old country.”

“Special Dispatch” in The Boston Globe and other papers.

“Men and women of Irish birth and descent, more than 5,000 in number, gathered … and by acclamation adopted resolutions which said a state of war exists between England and Ireland. These resolutions were passed with a storm of cheers and applause. … The Peace Conference at Paris, the resolution stated, cannot ignore this state of war; and President Wilson’s task of establishing permanent peace will not be completed until the Irish question is settled on those principals of self-determination to which he as committed himself and the United States.”

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis.

“The convention of the Irish race … adopted a platform of self-determination for Ireland. … [that] was read before thousands of delegates in the Academy of Music, amid a scene of unsurpassed enthusiasm, and was adopted without a dissenting voice.”

Universal Services report in the The San Francisco Examiner.

“[The convention was] the greatest and most influential gathering of representatives and friends of Irish freedom for Ireland in the history of America, the delegates coming from all classes and nearly every State in the Union.”

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville.

Below, the agenda for the Third Irish Race Convention. See the full 76-page program from the Villanova University digital collection.

Promoting the February 1919 Irish Race Convention

Philadelphia in the 1910s.

Fast-moving events in Ireland compelled nationalist supporters in America to call their third “Irish Race Convention” since 1916 for late February 1919. The Friends of Irish Freedom would mobilize 5,000 delegates to Philadelphia within two months of the Sinn Féin election victory and first meeting of the Dáil Éireann.

The Philadelphia turnout was a tribute to the organizational skills of the FOIF’s national officers and the passion of its rank and file members. It built on momentum since the May 1918 second Irish Race Convention in New York City, including months of lobbying President Woodrow Wilson’s administration to recognize Irish independence, which culminated in “Self-Determination for Ireland Week” in December 1918.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, unabashedly promoted the home city convention. The Feb. 8, 1919, edition contained content that made little distinction between the front page and the editorial page.

“Although several remarkable gathering representative of the Irish throughout the United States have been held in recent years, there is no no room for doubt that the convention to be held in Philadelphia, February 22 and 23, will be by far the most notable event of the kind that has ever taken place in this country,” the page 1 story said.

“In personnel and importance, the coming convention of the Irish Race in America completely overshadows all similar gathering held in these United States,” the page 4 editorial declared.

Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and editor, Patrick McCartan, were each involved in planning the convention and behind the scenes struggles over what would be publicly declared at the event. Historians have debated how much influence the newspaper’s leaders and their Philadelphia supporters  exerted on the convention, or if John Devoy, Judge Daniel Cohalan, and other Irish activists in New York City really pulled the strings.

Far from these Irish hubs, the Feb. 8 issue of the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, featured a front page notice that “all societies in favor of Ireland’s national independence” were entitled to send five delegates to Philadelphia. Registrations were to be sent to FOIF National Secretary Diarmuid Lynch, care of the group’s headquarters, 1482 Broadway, in New York City. (Lynch and McCartan each won parliamentary seats in the December 1918 general election while in America. They were in absentia members of the first Dáil.)

The Feb. 15 issue of The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, noted on its front page that requests for credentials were due to New York by Feb. 12. “Delegates presenting themselves without credentials cannot be seated until after those bearing credentials have been dealt with,” it warned. Not to worry. A second story named six delegates selected from Minneapolis and St. Paul, including Rev. Jeremiah Harrington, a member of the FOIF national board.

In a page 4 editorial, the Standard complained: “The transactions and conclusions of the convention will command world wide attention, despite the apparent conspiracy of silence that seems to prevail among many of our great American newspapers when anything is done to arouse public interest in the promotion of Ireland’s welfare.”

In fact, mainstream newspapers did publish the names of local delegations heading to Philadelphia in the weeks before the convention. Many also announced the confirmation of headline speakers such as Cardinal James Gibbons, of Baltimore; Cardinal William Henry O’Connell, of Boston; Archbishop Dennis Joseph Dougherty, of Philadelphia; U.S. Senator William Borah, R-Idaho; and Pennsylvania’s newly-elected Republican Gov. William C. Sproul, among others.

More news coverage would come from the two-day event, as we will see in future posts. See previous posts in this series at: American reporting of Irish Independence, 1919-1922.

View the full 76-page Third Irish Race Convention program from the Villanova University digital collection.

On new Oscar Wilde biography and old newspapers

Dublin-born writer Oscar Wilde in 1882 made a yearlong, coast-to-coast lecture tour of America. It’s the focus of a new book, Making Oscar Wilde, by Michèle Mendelssohn. In the Jan. 25 issue of America magazine, reviewer Jeffrey Myers says the author:

developed a new approach to biographical research. Vast online archives and databases provided a digital treasure trove of local newspapers in the obscure towns where Wilde had lectured that was unavailable to previous life-writers. Her innovative approach and exploration of unsuspected territory has yielded rich results, illuminating new aspects of Wilde’s life and afterlife.

Wilde, in 1882, the year of his U.S. tour.

Digitized database and online newspaper archives are fairly recent conveniences, to be sure. But the material was always there for earlier biographers; it just required more time, travel, and tribulation to dig from bound, clipped, or microfilmed editions of the old papers.

As a journalist, I once did this sort of thing all the time in what where called “morgues,” usually a musty back corner of the newsroom. It’s important to know the past, the back story, whether writing about today’s news developments or yesterday’s events.

The work can be tedious. In his Jan. 28 essay for The New Yorker, L.B.J. biographer Robert A. Caro recalls the advice he received from one of his early newspaper editors about doing investigative research; in Caro’s case, a cache of government records. “Turn every page,” the editor said. “Never assume anything. Turn every goddamn page.”

Digital searching quickly and seductively whisks you to what the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software finds. But it may bypass misspellings; pages that are smudged and damaged; or relevant stories that don’t contain your search term(s).

Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland co-founder Felix Larkin addressed other concerns in our November 2018 interview:

Obviously, being able to search a digital newspaper archive makes the task easier, but there is a danger that it makes researchers lazy in two respects: first, they may be inclined to disregard newspapers and periodicals that have not yet been digitized and so fail to take account of important strands of opinion; and secondly, they may be content simply to find what it is that they are looking for and so miss other items – shall we call them the “unknown unknowns” (quoting Donald Rumsfeld) – that may be equally or more important.

I’ve been scrolling through microfilm of 1919 Chicago newspapers for a project I’ll unveil later this year. Seeing the surrounding headlines puts the Irish stories in wider context. And there are delightful distractions, such as following the game-by-game performance of Chicago baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson in the months before that year’s controversial World Series.

I have benefited from digital access to old newspapers since 2008, when I found the 1941 account of my Kerry-born grandfather’s death in Pittsburgh. It prompted me to write his biography. I am currently reading digitized 1919 editions of The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and similar ethnic papers to explore U.S. reporting of Ireland’s revolutionary period.

But I still love viewing original records inside archives and libraries. The undigitized material forces me to turn every goddamn page; every … faded … page.

Irish-American files in the Thomas J. Shahan Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Tyrone-born publisher of Philadelphia’s Irish Press

Joseph McGarrity, publisher of The Irish Press in Philadelphia, played a more direct role in America’s effort to secure Irish independence than William M. Higgins, publisher of the Kentucky Irish American in Louisville. [See earlier posts on the series landing page.]

Joseph McGarrity, circa 1900.

McGarrity was born in 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, 22 years after Higgins in Syracuse, N.Y., to Famine-era Irish immigrants. McGarrity immigrated to America in 1892, a year after Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. The 18-year-old McGarrity settled in Philadelphia, where he lived until 1940–15 year longer than Higgins.

The same name Irish Press in Dublin, begun nine years after McGarrity folded his Philadelphia journal, published this description at his death:

Joseph McGarrity was big in everything. Well over six feet in his socks, with the proportions of an athlete, and the strength of a lion, he was an Irishman good to look upon. Vigour radiated from him. In his talk … he could not keep still–the hands, the toss of the head, the sudden pacing of the floor, all drove home the point he was making. His voice–the American accent making musical the hard speech of his native Tyrone–was big, too, and he did not hesitate to use it to drown yours if the day was to be won by emphasis. Yet this virile person could suddenly become as gentle as a woman.1

McGarrity pursued business enterprises, including liquor wholesaling and real estate in Philadelphia and nearby New York and Atlantic City, N.J. He also was a leading member of the Clan na Gael, the secretive Irish republican organization in the United States that worked closely with the separatist movement in Ireland.

In March 1918, a week after St. Patrick’s Day, McGarrity launched The Irish Press as the U.S. Post Office, “yielding to British diplomatic pressure,”2 banned the New York-based Irish World and the Gaelic American newspapers from the mail due to war-related suspicions of espionage.

Patrick McCartan, another Tyrone native who McGarrity picked as editor of The Irish Press, recalled in his 1932 monograph:

He believed an Irish paper with a circulation of even two thousand would keep our flag flying [in Philadelphia], till the war ended. … [Clan na Gael members] sold the Irish Press at the doors of the churches, with the result that the circulation soon passed ten thousand. … [V]olunteers took the Irish Press in suit cases, or my motor express to New York, where they sold it at the churches.3

Circulating The Irish Press in New York City aggravated the feud between McGarrity and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist in America and publisher of the Gaelic American. “Even through the [mail] ban on the Gaelic American had lapsed, the new paper competed with Devoy’s as the voice of the militant exiles,” Devoy biographer Terry Goloway wrote.4

The core of the Devoy-McGarrity fight centered on how, or whether, America should recognize the newly proclaimed Irish Republic as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson negotiated the post-war order in Paris; how funds raised in America should be used to help the Irish; and who should control the message and the money. These tensions mounted in the weeks before the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia, and the June 1919 U.S. arrival of Irish President Eamon de Valera. Golway continued:

…this distrust, verging on paranoia and evident on all sides, would cripple the American movement. As war raged in Ireland, Irish rebels in America would watch each other with studied care, looking for nuances, hints, and suggestions that the war in Ireland might conclude with something less than the Republic the men of Easter [1916] had proclaimed and died for. It was as though they knew that the end would be bitter, that compromise would taint the purity of victory–and that somebody would have to bear the blame.5

More on McGarrity and Devoy and their newspapers as this series continues.

***

Joseph McGarrity’s papers are held at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin. The McGarrity Collection at Villanova University, Philadelphia, contains monographs focusing on Irish history, literature, folklore, travel, music, and Irish-American history, in addition to microfilm of his papers held in Dublin. A selection of the material, including digitized copies of The Irish Press, is available in an online collection.

America’s Irish press reports first Dáil…and more

The Jan. 25, 1919, front pages of the The Irish Press, Philadelphia, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, each reported the opening of the first Dáil Éireann four days earlier in Dublin. Both papers also announced the upcoming Irish Race Convention, Feb. 22-23, in Philadelphia.

“The gathering will undoubtedly be the most momentous ever held by the Irish race outside of Ireland,” TIP proclaimed. “All Irish-American societies in good standing with their national organizations are entitled to five delegates each,” the KIA told its readers.

More about the Philadelphia convention in future posts.

Awith their coverage three weeks earlier of the Sinn Féin election sweep in Ireland, reporting of the first Dáil in these two Irish-American newspapers demonstrated the differences of their editorial missions and audiences.

The Press, with its direct links to the revolutionary government, was writing to Irish activists on both sides of the Atlantic. It carried seven stories about Ireland on the front page under the top banner CONGRESS OF IRISH REPUBLIC MEETS. The coverage including the inaugural meeting of the American Council on Ireland, which occurred a few days earlier Philadelphia.

“It marks a new era in the history of the fight for Irish independence carried on in America,” the Press reported. “It is surely a matter of great significance to find Americans of non-Irish affiliations organizing a movement to champion the cause of Ireland.”

The Irish American’s front page story about the first Dáil appeared in the right-side column, a prominent placement, under a five-deck headline topped by IRELAND. The KIA appealed to a wider demographic–if smaller geographic–audience than The Irish Press with its mix of local, national, and international news. The stories included:

  • “Dangerous Extension of Eugenist Propaganda” on the left-side column.
  • Coverage of local Forward League Democrats and “old line Republicans” political meetings.
  • A republished letter from Father Francis P. Duffy in Europe, “teaming with interest and good humor.”
  • Several briefs, such as a Louisville’s couple’s golden wedding anniversary; a child’s death from an appendicitis; the honorable discharges of several soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Zachary Taylor; and the annual meeting of the Holy Name Society.

The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a pro-Catholic but not religious newspaper, is another example of this balanced coverage. Its Jan. 25, 1919, issue featured the bold headline, Ireland a Republic in the Eyes of World, at the top center of the front page, with more Irish coverage inside, including a supportive editorial. Also above the front fold: a Catholic Press Association story about Rome’s postponement of the unification of Catechetical texts; and a piece about the lack of jobs for servicemen returning from the war.

We prefer to believe it is the suddenness of this happening rather than any lack of appreciation of the glorious work your fighting Yanks have been doing that is responsible for the present deplorable situation. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to recall the promises and pledges made to these young men as they went out on their great crusade to save the civilization of the world.

The Kentucky Irish American was more progressive about using photographs than the Press, Standard, and most newspapers in 1919. The front of the KIA‘s first Dáil issue included images of the former German Crown Prince and his dog; Queen Elizabeth, of Belgium, and Mrs. Poincare, wife of the French president, riding in a carriage through the Paris streets; Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.; Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, and Mrs. Vincent Astor, all returning from France; and renowned pianist Ignacy Paderewski, the Polish foreign affairs minister at the Paris peace conference.

As discussed in my last post, these ethnic newspapers complained about mainstream American press coverage of Irish issues. “News dispatches pertaining to affairs in Ireland, as distributed by some of the great American press agencies, continue to bear prima facie evidence of gross unfairness and inaccuracy,” the Standard declared in its editorialThe Press editorial offered hope for better future coverage:

Hitherto the American daily press has viewed the Sinn Féin program as something to be mocked and jeered at; but now that the Irish people have proved to the world that they are in earnest in their fight for international recognition as a sovereign nation, the tone of the great dailies has undergone something of a change.

This is only a snapshot of Irish-American newspaper coverage in January 1919, of course, not a complete or extensive analysis. Some Irish titles published at that time appear to be lost forever, while others are not yet digitized for review outside limited library and archive collections. 

American press coverage of first Dáil Éireann

Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, on 21 January 1919, adopted the fledgling nation’s Declaration of Independence at Mansion House, Dublin. The political statement and same day IRA ambush of Royal Irish Constabulary officers (British police) at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, marked the start of Ireland’s War of Independence.

“Nearly 100 American and European journalists are in Dublin” to cover the parliamentary meeting, The Washington (Washington, D.C.) Herald reported a day earlier. Their wire service dispatches and other cables appeared in newspapers across America, home to more than 1 million Irish immigrants and 3.1 million U.S. citizens with at least one parent from Ireland.1 Many of the stories read like mashups from multiple sources, with key details and phrases either rewritten or reordered in the long columns, typically without source attribution.

Some Irish Americans complained about the coverage. At a public gathering in Chicago, supporters of Irish independence 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.”2

In Louisville, 300 miles south, the Kentucky Irish American editorialized under the headline:

England’s Tools

The majority of the reports of the convention in Ireland appearing in the American press are filled with slurs of the Irish people and their rights to freedom. They bear all the earmarks of being doctored in London, and only emphasize the fact that the English propagandists in this country are but hearkening to their master’s voice.3

In Philadelphia, The Irish Press bristled at perceived slights. Noting the declaration was read in Irish, the Press complained, “Some of the newspaper dispatches speak of the Irish language as ‘dead.’ … The correspondent evidently regards no language as living unless he can understand it.”4

The Irish Press had direct ties to the revolutionary government through its editor and Dáil Éireann member, Patrick McCartan. In his 1932 monograph (which some historians have criticized as mistake-filled and self-serving5), McCartan recalled, “To keep the Republic prominently before Irish-Americans, the Staff of the Irish Press were instructed to substitute the words Irish Republic for Ireland, as far possible, in all articles that appeared in the newspaper.”6 By this and other steps, he wrote, the American public was prepared for Ireland’s Declaration of Independence.

We were no longer an English domestic issue. Home Rule, Dominion Self Government, and such like phrases, in which the Irish issue had hitherto been concealed, had little meaning for Americans and no appeal to their republican tradition and sympathies. Now, for the first time, with a fearless demand for recognition, of the existing Irish Republic, the Irish issue was stated in terms that commanded American interest and respect.7 

In Ireland, the Dáil soon launched its official organ, The Irish Bulletin. “[T]he stenciled news sheet of the revolutionary movement … written in the restrained, neutral tone of the news itself” became part of a larger publicity operation devoted to the care of “potentially sympathetic correspondents.”8 In America, the Friends of Irish Freedom’s National Bureau of Information (or Irish National Bureau) also “supplied political and literary articles to Catholic papers and sympathetic politicians free of charge.”9 

Below are some colorful and controversial passages of U.S. press coverage of the first DáilThe stories were datelined 21 January 1919, and published in the next day’s editions of big city dailies. 

The New York Times, page 1

“The rotunda of the Mansion House, where the congress met, is a dingy old place, lighted by stained glass windows overhead. The platform and half the floor were fitted with tables for officers and delegates. The remainder of the floor and the circular gallery were reserved for the public, admission being by ticket. A large portion of the audience consisted of women. The number of young priests was conspicuous. … The youthfulness of the Sinn Féin leaders was their most noticeable characteristic. There were hardly a half dozen gray heads in the group (of 27).”

Pittsburgh Daily Post, page 1

“Infuriated over their detention in jail while their comrades were inaugurating the ‘Irish parliament,’ and declaring their independence, Sinn Féin  prisoners–how many is not known–in jail at Belfast started a riot today. The police intervened and quelled the rioters. … The declaration of independence read to the assemblage and thunderous and constant cheers, asserts that ‘the Irish people alone have the power to make the laws binding on the Irish people.’ ”

The Chicago Tribune, page 2

“Some of their names may be made famous by future results of today’s work but none of the (Sinn Féin ) delegates impressed outsiders as national figures of the calibre of Redmond, Dillon, Healey, Devlin and other Nationalists, who in the epoch now apparently closed fought for home rule along constitutional and legal paths. The Dáil Éireann begins a new page in the many chaptered history of Irish protest against government by Great Britain. It throws down the gauntlet to British law. What may be the consequences to its members, if there be any consequences, no one in Dublin can foresee or predict. Dublin’s everyday life was undisturbed by the defiance to the government registered at Mansion House.”

The Houston Post, page 1

“Perhaps no country except Ireland could present an episode as remarkable as the assembly of the Dáil Éireann … Perhaps no writer except an Irishman like George Bernard Shaw could do justice to the paradoxical nature of the proceedings.”

The San Francisco Examiner, page 1

“The atmosphere … is tremendously charged. Any moment may bring an explosion. A spirit of restiveness, daring and defiance is sweeping the Isle of Erin on this, the day which the Sinn Féin proclaim the greatest in Irish history. The trouble near Tipperary is all that has been reported so far in the way of violence. One thing seems certain–that if there is any sort of recurrence of the disturbances and the bloodshed of Easter, 1916, some absolutely unexpected provocative action from either side will be responsible.”

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More coverage of the Dáil Éireann opening in the Kentucky Irish American and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, in a future post. Project home page.