Category Archives: Journalism

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election: Part 2

Less than a month after he failed to win recognition of the Irish Republic at the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention in Chicago, Éamon de Valera tried for a better outcome at the Democratic Party gathering in San Francisco. His effort was doomed from the start.

National Democratic Convention, San Francisco, June 28-July 6, 1920. From the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

“Even before he’d gotten off the train, the local papers were speculating that his chances of getting the type of resolution he desired were almost nonexistent and that he well might end up with no resolution,” Dave Hannigan wrote. 1

The Democrats were the party of President Woodrow Wilson, who disdained the Irish independence movement and denied their repeated requests for support since the 1916 Rising. The GOP’s earlier rejection of an Irish plank in their party platform gave the Democrats additional cover with their Irish voters.

Read Part 1 about the Republican Convention

Glass

“We shall have our hands full for some time attending to the affairs of America without going farther afield,” U.S. Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia, chairman of the Democrats’ resolutions committee and Wilson’s former Treasury secretary, said of the prospects for an Irish plank.2 A few days later, the request for “full, formal and official recognition” of the Irish Republic failed 31-17 in the committee, “another resounding defeat for de Valera.”3

Unlike Chicago, however, where the issue died in committee, the full assembly of Democratic state delegates considered a compromise Irish plank on the convention floor. It also was defeated, but The New York Times reported the second Irish plank “was debated at some length, and finally got more than 400 votes. This is considered an impressive showing, and particularly so in a convention so thoroughly determined as this one to support the policies of the [Wilson] administration.”4

The Times noted the Irish effort would have had more success if operated internally by party leaders instead of being “managed chiefly from the outside.” The paper’s analysis said nothing about the opposition.

State vote totals for and against Irish recognition, and coverage of the San Francisco convention, can be seen on the July 10, 1920, front page of The Irish Press.

The 665-402 state delegate vote against recognition reveals the geographic limits of de Valera’s efforts to win American support for Ireland. Backing remained confined to the Northeast and Midwest regions, to states with thick Irish and Irish-American populations, such as Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Irish plank received unanimous support from the Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., delegations.

The plank failed, however, to win even one Democratic delegate vote from 16 states, all but one — Delaware — in the American South and West. This accounted for 270 opposition votes, nearly 41 percent of the total. Another 21 states from the same regions, including convention host California, cast the majority of their ballots against the Irish plank, most by high margins.

Campbell

“It is not an American issue at present,” said former Texas Gov. Thomas M. Campbell, whose entire 40-member delegation voted against the measure. “Ireland is premature in her demands, we believe.”5

Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, were reluctant to cross war ally Britain on the Irish issue, which they considered an internal matter. Perhaps some remained suspicious of Irish republican connections to Germany. At least a few of the state delegations probably voted en bloc against Irish recognition simply to please their chairman or other party arm-twisters. It was not a wrenching choice.

“For traditional and practical reasons, sympathy for the Irish problem remained strong within the Democratic Party, but not so strong as to tie the party or presidential candidate to any action on the matter,” Bernadette Whelan observed.6

The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the separatist Dáil Éireann in Dublin, quoted the Times’ “impressive showing” analysis of the 400 pro-recognition votes. The Press suggested that “even those who voted against the Irish recognition plank are ill at ease since witnessing the mighty demonstration of popular support accorded the Irish president on his arrival here.”7  

De Valera

De Valera believed the Democratic Party had underestimated “the great volume of public sentiment in this country behind the demand for justice in Ireland.” He vowed to create “a more systematic and thorough organization of the friends of the cause in America” and “an intensive campaign of education will be carried into every state and will reach every citizen.”

This was a remarkable statement from a man who had spent the past year traveling across America, holding hundreds of public rallies and private meetings, to promote Irish independence. His efforts generated substantial local and national media coverage, much of it favorable. A massive bond drive to raise U.S. dollars for Ireland had been underway since January. Nevertheless, de Valera and his supporters soon launched a new organization, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, in a split from the established Friends of Irish Freedom.

More about the new group and the impact of Irish voters in the 1920 U.S. presidential election in future posts.

De Valera’s departure from San Francisco also became the first step of his December 1920 return to Ireland. The Democratic convention failure faded into a few bad days in a political career that would span more than 50 years. In his two-volume biography of the Irish leader, totaling more than 800 pages, David McCullaugh reduced the episode to just one sentence.8

Irish history movie ideas: The Colors of Ireland

While reading and researching Irish history I sometimes consider how the events might look on film or video, dramatized to enhance narrative and commercial appeal. Three examples come to mind: “Michael Collins,” 1996, and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” 2006, both against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence; and “Black ’47,” 2018, set during the Great Famine. This is the first of an occasional series on episodes of Irish history that I believe provide abundant cinematic opportunities. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

***

In spring 1913, Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet traveled to Ireland to create what are widely believed to be the first color photographs of the country. Their effort was part of a larger project called “Archives of the Planet,” which sought to create a visual record of the globe, an effort that preceded Google Maps by a century.

The two French women, both in their mid-30s, were “experienced travelers and confirmed intellectuals,”1 Karine Bigand writes in the academic article linked in the note. Both had participated in earlier intercultural exchange projects conceived and financed by Albert Kahn, the French philanthropist who bankrolled the women’s Ireland trip. Bigand continues:

At first glance, these photographs are very much a reflection of the “romantic” representation of eternal rural Ireland … [but] the intention of the two photographers’ mission was not to produce a simple holiday album or a tourist report. It was not a pleasure trip but a mission, both ideological and scientific … The gaze on Ireland [was] not always as candid as it seems.

Imagine scenes of these women traveling across early 20th century Ireland, the first stirrings of revolution in the air, a year before the explosion of the Great War. The film would focus on their efforts to obtain images of the verdant landscapes, Galway markets, remote villages, and abandoned antiquities such as Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. It would dramatize their challenges with variable light, changeable weather, and rough terrain.

Their encounters with rural peasants still living in 19th century conditions would further drive the narrative tension. This could include both suspicion of the foreigners and their boxy Autochrome Lumière cameras, and happier connections between the visitors and the locals that transcend cultural differences and technology.

Both images on this page, and in the slide show below, taken by Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet during their May-June, 1913, travels in Ireland.

Here is an opportunity to introduce a fictional Irish guide and translator, who also could be the film’s omniscient narrator. At first I considered such a character as a man. “Why not another woman?”, my wife asked, which would further increase the film’s Bechdel Test rating. And what of the relationship between the two women: just photojournalists on assignment, or something more? 

Another opportunity for narrative tension is to consider that Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet visited Ireland in the waning years of the Lawrence Studio in Dublin. From 1880 until 1914, owner William M. Lawrence employed Robert French to photograph all 32 counties for postcards, albums, lecture sets, and other commercial enterprises. The estimated 40,000 images were all black and white. By 1913, both men were in their 70s and their collection — an important historical archive today — was being eclipsed as cameras became commonplace, including color photography, and moving pictures captured popular attention.2

There’s a natural contrast between the aging men doing black and white photography and the young women using color technology. Perhaps the photographers would meet in the movie, finding common ground — or not.

Hollywood will not make this movie. This is an art film. Irish, French, and European Union cultural organizations should finance it. It could include three languages — French, Irish, and English — with subtitles. It should have a dreamy background score appropriate to its cinematic sweep. I’d avoid mainstream actresses for the roles of Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet, but the aging Lawrence, French, and Kahn could be good cameo opportunities for Irish and French actors.

Potential first scene: Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet arrive at an Irish port filled with emigrants. They discuss why so many people leave Ireland, never to return. Potential last scene: Back in their Paris studio, the women realize their photo plates of one special encounter with Irish people were exposed to light and did not survive the journey; it remains only in their memories. Their remaining 73 photos become part of history and this film.

If some filmmaker has already tackled this project, please let me know. For now, watch a 3-minute slide show of the 1913 images from Ireland.

Three stories published beyond the blog

(I am currently working on long-term projects. The linked headlines below are from stories that I’ve freelanced this year beyond the blog. Please check back for occasional new posts over the summer. Enjoy. MH)

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

At midday Sept. 20, 1919, as “squally,” unseasonably cold weather raked across Dublin, “armed soldiers wearing trench helmets” joined by “uniformed and plain clothes police” made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. (See “Secret” document related to the raids at bottom of this post.)

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

Douglas Hyde opened his 1906 speech in Gaelic, and many in the audience shouted back in Irish, according to the press reports: “It is doubtful if a more completely Irish assembly has ever been gathered together in Pittsburgh.”

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

The Chicago Daily News reporter interviewed leading Irish political and cultural figures. She also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she joined a protest against British rule in Ireland, and testified favorably to the Irish republican cause before a special commission. 

See my American reporting of Irish independence series for more stories about journalists and newspaper coverage of the Irish revolution. See my Pittsburgh Irish archives for more on the city’s immigrants.

Memorandum outlining the September 1919 newspaper raids from the secret files of British authorities in Ireland. Army of Ireland, Administrative and Easter Rising Records, Subseries – Irish Situation, 1914-1922, WO 35/107, The National Archives, Kew.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election: Part 1

“The Irish republic leaders were so surprised, or angry, or both, that they refused to talk last night.”1

***

By early June 1920, Éamon de Valera had spent nearly a year traveling across America to raise money and political support for the fledgling Irish republic. The Sinn Féin leader had escaped from a British prison and crossed the Atlantic as a stowaway aboard the steamship Lapland. Left untouched by U.S. officials, he was mostly cheered by the Irish diaspora, first-generation Irish Americans, and other anti-British or pro-freedom supporters. Thousands donated to the bond drive he helped launch in January 1920 to fund Dáil Éireann, the separatist parliament in Dublin.

There were problems, too. Congressman William E. Mason, an Illinois Republican, failed to gain traction for a bill to provide U.S. government recognition of the Dáil. Worse, divisions widened between de Valera and his supporters, and the Friends of Irish Freedom, the U.S.-based activists who believed they should steer Ireland’s bid for American political support.

Now, both sides headed to the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention, held June 8 to 12 in Chicago. Their goal was to fasten a plank of support for Ireland in the party’s official political platform. For de Valera, the effort began with a torchlight procession down Michigan Avenue, which concluded with a rousing speech to 5,000 inside the Chicago Auditorium, and the large crowd outside.2

Photo and original caption from the Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1920. The sign says, “Our Dead in France Demand Ireland’s Freedom. Don’t Break Faith with Our Dead.” The marchers waved U.S. flags to generate enthusiasm and avoid protest.

“I cannot believe the committee framing the platform for the Republican Party will be content unless they include such a plank,” he said. “I know all of Chicago wants this–I know the entire country wants this–I have been all over the country and I know. The Republicans must promise to recognize the Irish republic.”

His public confidence was misplaced. Despite efforts behind the scenes to broker a compromise between the Irish factions, both sides submitted plank proposals. De Valera asked the Republicans to call on the U.S. government to provide the Irish republic with “full, formal and official recognition.” New York State Justice Daniel F. Cohalan, a Friends of Irish Freedom leader, asked the G.O.P. to “recognize the principle that the people of Ireland have the right to determine freely, without dictation from outside, their own governmental institutions.”

A convention subcommittee rejected de Valera’s measure by 12-1. It passed Cohalan’s proposal 7-6, but a committee member later changed his vote, reportedly after hearing de Valera’s public grumbling. The Republican Party “gladly dropped” any reference to Ireland from its platform, David McCullagh has written.3 Consternation prevailed on both sides of the Irish split.

Whether the plank failed “because of dissension among its proponents or because of some consideration on the part of the committee of American interests we do not know,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized.4 “It got far enough to give Americans serious occasion for meditation on the subject of the Irish cause as a factor in our most important foreign relations.”

Less then two years after the armistice ending the Great War, however, the editorial concluded:

[We must not] produce a condition from which war [with ally Britain] is likely, if not certain … Sympathy for those [Irish] we think victims of injustice is a worthy emotion, but it is our duty to consider the welfare of our own people. …  In this case the American people would not make the sacrifice, and in our opinion ought not to make it, whether from the viewpoint of national expediency, or on the perhaps higher ground of world welfare. Irish independence is not worth the embroilment of America and Great Britain. The quicker we realize that the better for all concerned, not excepting the Irish people themselves.

Opposing Viewpoints

Each side of the Irish split offered it own post-convention analysis of the failure in Chicago. The Washington, D.C.-based News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom never mentioned de Valera by name as it scolded the “brass band dictatorial and unwarranted methods” of putting forward a plank “that never had even a remote chance of adoption.”5 The Friends, founded shortly before the 1916 Easter Rising to “encourage and assist any movement that will tend to bring about the national independence of Ireland,” by 1920 numbered 100,000 regular members, with an additional 175,000 associate members, and claimed to represent 20 million “Americans of Irish blood.”6

The News Letter continued:

American activities on behalf of Ireland must be directed by American brains … The Americans who founded the Friends of Irish Freedom and gave it life and a powerful voice in American affairs are first, last and always, Americans. American leadership only will they follow in shaping American activities in behalf of the people of Ireland.

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the Dáil, exaggerated the size of his Michigan Avenue procession by a factor of at least 10: “100,000 Hail De Valera in Chicago,” proclaimed the June 19 front page headline. Unsurprisingly, its coverage downplayed the failure to pass the plank. “Though the immediate objective of President De Valera was not obtained, the way has been cleared and attention forcibly focused upon the clear issue of the recognition of the Irish Republic.”

This cartoon appeared June 11, 1920, in the Chicago Tribune as the U.S. Republican Party held its presidential nominating convention in the city.

In two editorials, the paper blamed Cohalan and the “Irish Americans” for the plank failure, and dismissed suggestions that de Valera made trouble for himself and the Irish republican cause in Chicago by meddling in American politics:

“He did not go there to sell Irish votes or speak for the Irish race in America,” the paper said. “[He] made no attempt at any time to interfere in purely American concerns, nor did he at any time attempt to interfere in American votes. His aim was and is to win the friendship of all the American people irrespective of their political affiliation.”7

At the end of June 1920, de Valera traveled west to San Francisco, where he attempted to insert a similar Irish plank into the Democratic Party platform. That will be the subject of Part 2 in early July.8

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ll be reducing the number of new posts and republishing some of my earlier work over the summer as I work on larger projects for the fall and beyond. Stay safe. Here’s the May roundup:  

  • At least 1,652 people have died of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland, with another 522 in Northern Ireland. Both sides of the border are beginning to ease some lock-down restrictions in place since mid-March.
  • “The Irish Blessing” – an initiative of 300 religious congregations from different denominations on the island  – is intended as a blessing of protection on frontline workers battling the pandemic. Watch and listen to the recorded version of “Be Thou My Vision” below:

  • U.S media outlets widely reported the COVID-19 relief generously supplied by the Irish people to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation as repayment of a donation the Choctaw Nation sent to starving Irish families during the Great Famine.
  • Nearly four months after the general election in the Republic failed to produce a governing majority, coalition talks continue to grind forward. “Slowly, at times almost imperceptibly, Fianna FáilFine Gael and Green Party negotiators are crawling towards a government, conscious that public and political patience is running out,” The Irish Times reported. Party leaders had hoped for a deal by June. Now they wonder if one can be achieved by the middle, or even the end, of the month. “As always, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
  • The U.K.’s highest court ruled that the former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams should not have been found guilty of unlawfully attempting to escape from Long Kesh prison in the 1970s because his internment was not legal to begin with. The ruling is expected to prompt more than 200 additional challenges from other former internees, including loyalists, the Belfast News Letter reported.
  • Ireland is vying against Canada and Norway for a two-year rotating seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. The vote is set for June 17. Ireland last held the seat in 2001; and earlier in 1981 and 1962.
  • The Ireland Funds America named Caitriona Fottrell is its new president and CEO, effective June 30. She has been with the global philanthropic network since 1993, currently as vice president. The Fund has chapters in 12 countries.
  • Ireland’s first direct container shipping service to the United States is set to begin in June, with weekly crossings between the Port of Cork and Wilmington, N.C., and Philadelphia, according to Maritime Executive. Readers of my series about New York Globe journalist Harry Guest‘s 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland will recall the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines operated a commercial shipping service between Philadelphia and Dublin-Cork-Belfast, from September 1919 until 1925.
  • Actor Matt Damon flew out of Ireland in late May after three months of unscheduled lock down at a €1,000 per night Dalkey mansion. … Irish-American actress Kate Mulgrew announced she might move to Ireland if Donald Trump wins reelection in November.

Mary Galvin’s year of protest for Ireland, 1920

By spring 1920, Philadelphia’s Mary J. Galvin wanted to fight for Irish freedom. While many details of her decision are unknowable, a few of its roots are certain:

  • The 24-year-old telephone company stenographer was the daughter of post-Famine immigrants in a city of 65,000 native Irish, second only to New York.1
  • The Irish Press, a Philly-based weekly with direct ties to Dublin separatists, had publicized independence since it launched in March 1918. Galvin’s name would soon appear on its pages.
  • Eamon de Valera, one of the separatist leaders, had toured America since June 1919 to raise political and financial support for the war in Ireland, including stops in the City of Brotherly Love. Galvin’s family contributed $25 to the Irish bond drive in February 1920, more than double the usual $10 donation.2

Two months later, Galvin boarded a train for the 150-mile ride south to Washington, D.C., where she marched to the front lines of the transatlantic debate over “the Irish question.” She joined several dozen picket-carrying women outside the British Embassy to protest the Empire’s rule in Ireland.

Galvin and nine other women were arrested and charged under an obscure federal statute with a technical assault on the British government, an offense punishable by a fine and up to three years in prison.3 Most of the women accepted quick release on bond. Galvin, reported to have “recently experienced a long illness,” and Maura Quinn of Boston, spent the night in a D.C. jail.4

The pair were freed the next morning through a ruse. Mrs. James Walsh told them to get ready for court, then informed them of their release once outside the jail.

“We were told to go, and as Mrs. Walsh is our captain we had to obey, though we were perfectly willing to remain in jail,” Galvin said.5

Women pickets outside the British Embassy, April 1920.

Irish separatists in America had organized several days of embassy protests to draw attention to their cause. Some of the pickets were paid, others selected for their appealing looks to attract more press coverage. It is unclear how Galvin came to join the half dozen women from Philadelphia who arrived in Washington for the protests.

The arrests surprised the organizers, who quickly discontinued the media stunt. A split developed between the Irish separatists and more militant American women who extended the picketing through the summer as their own enterprise.6

All factions, whatever the cause, are composed of individuals who must decide whether to continue their participation, or move on. Galvin, back in Philadelphia, soon found other ways to continue her fight for Ireland.

*** 

Irish immigrants and Irish-American activists took offense to the silent movie “Kathleen Mavourneen” since its fall 1919 release. The film included scenes of pigs and chickens kept inside the cottages of Irish peasants, which to the activists was nothing less than British propaganda. In February 1920, young men smashed the movie projector and caused other damage at a San Francisco theater showing the film.7

In May 1920, Galvin, acting as president of the American Economic Society for Irish Freedom, took her complaints about the film to two Philadelphia theater managers. “Convinced by the lady’s argument,” The Irish Press reported, both managers canceled further screenings.8

Another “active and zealous friend of Ireland,” John Ryan, was arrested for protesting outside a third Philly theater. A magistrate ridiculed him as “the kind of Irishman who is a detriment to the Irish cause.”

Galvin’s group quickly issued a statement:

“We, Philadelphians, banded together to resist the baneful inroads of British propaganda on our people admire the action of John Ryan in opposing singlehanded the showing of the insidious libel ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’ … We consider [him] a detriment to no cause, Irish or American, but rather we consider a dispenser of justice, who passes a hasty judgement on one sided evidence a detriment to American prestige, and we Americans will be proud to be represented at the hearing as coworkers with John Ryan, who will stand Friday where Pearse stood in his day–a scapegoat in the dock for Irish independence.” 

The Philadelphia dailies appear to have ignored the crusade against the film and Ryan’s day in court. The big papers did not miss several of Galvin’s other protests.

***

Photo of Mary Galvin with original caption from the Evening Public Ledger, May 20, 1920.

On May 19, Galvin “escorted” British Ambassador Sir Auckland Geddes to his appearance at the Franklin Institute, the Public Ledger wisecracked under a photo that showed her holding a picket sign.9 Geddes was in Philadelphia to receive a medal on behalf of Charles A. Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine.

A week later, Galvin and Theresa Pont of Philadelphia were arrested in front of the city’s Metropolitan Opera House as the United British Societies celebrated an “Empire Day” event. De Valera had been welcomed to the same venue eight months earlier.

The pair, surrounded by 15 police officers, refused two orders to move along. “Miss Galvin … started to orate and berate the acting [police] lieutenant because of what she termed his ‘lack of justice,’ ” the Inquirer reported.10

“I am an American, born in this country, and if this is justice, I can’t see it,” Galvin “shouted,” according to the paper, which also noted her April arrest at the British Embassy in Washington. 

A crowd “immediately started to sympathize with the prisoners.” The two protesters were hustled away and charged with breach of the peace. Police “compelled the pedestrians to amble along.” 

The two protesters spent a short time at the station house before being released. A magistrate discharged the case the next day.11

In August, Galvin joined other “militant women pickets for the cause of Irish freedom [who] forced their way” into a West Philadelphia suffrage demonstration and “stirred up a lively rumpus” days after the passage of the 19th Amendment. “Their flaming signs urging American women to intercede for Ireland aroused the anger of the local suffrage leaders.”12

By now, Galvin was notorious. The story noted she “has twice been arrested for picketing.”

With federal charges still pending against Galvin and the nine other British Embassy protesters, one of the West Philly demonstrators held a sign that asked: “Shall American women allow ten pickets to be imprisoned by American law for protesting against the slaughter of Irish by English gunmen.”

***

As 1920 drew to a close, the war in Ireland grew uglier. In October, Cork city Mayor Terence James MacSwiney died on hunger strike. In December, British troops torched the city.

Cork city ruins, December 1920.

Galvin’s reaction to these and other events is only partial clear. As secretary of a relief committee effort, she gathered food supplies and other assistance for Ireland. She distributed “credential cards and collection blanks” for financial assistance, the checks payable to one of the city’s Catholic priests.13

Two days before Christmas, the steamship Honolulu sailed from New York City laden with more than 100 tons of relief supplies. “A large portion of the shipment is flour and other foods, and includes quantities of clothing for men, women and children,” the Inquirer reported.14

In the new year, Galvin disappeared from the pages of the Irish Press and the Philadelphia dailies. She was mentioned in a Washington Post story that the U.S. government finally dropped its April 1920 charges against the 10 embassy pickets. The women no longer faced three years behind bars.15

It’s impossible to know what Galvin thought of the July 1921 ceasefire in Ireland, the December 1921 treaty with Britain and partition of the island, or the civil war that followed. A decade after her year of protest, she remained single, lived with her widowed mother, and still worked at the telephone company.16

In 1920, however, Mary Galvin shook her clenched fist at the British Empire. She extended her open hand to the Irish people. More than 60 years before Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands uttered his famous quote, she had found her “own particular part to play,” neither “too great or too small.”   

Remembering Oliver Plunkett’s May 1920 beatification

A century ago, Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) was beatified in Rome, the penultimate step to his canonization as a saint, which occurred in 1975. As the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the County Meath-born Plunkett was the last of 22 martyrs in the “Popish Plot,” a conspiracy theory run amok in England’s anti-Catholic legal system. He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In May 1920 in Rome, the Church of St. Agata became headquarters for three days of festivities for pilgrims who wore “badges and Irish emblems.”1 St. Agata is said to be the final resting place for the heart of Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s early 19th century leader of Catholic emancipation. O’Connell’s famous burial request was, “My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My soul to Heaven.” There is some dispute whether the organ was ever interred … or still remains at the church.  

St. Agata belonged to the Pontifical Irish College. In 1920, County Wicklow-born Monsignor John Hagan was completing his first year as rector of the College, which hosted 20 Irish bishops for the beatification.2 The finding guides for Hagan’s correspondence offer several glimpses of the behind-the-scenes activities and the tenor of the times in revolutionary Ireland. For example:

  • In January 1920, Irish Cardinal Michael Logue wrote to Hagan saying he did not want to delay Plunkett’s beatification by a year because he would like to be present and could not vouch for 1921. Logue said he did not expect a great number of Irish people to attend the event.3
  • In April, Hagan sent a letter to the Irish bishops with advice on travel and weather. “A good warm rug is always a useful travelling companion,” he wrote, adding instructions about the necessary vestments and discouraging more clergy or laity from making the 1,200-mile journey.4
  • May correspondence from Waterford Corporation to Hagan and Bishop Hackett of Waterford and Lismore contained a resolution that expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XV on the [May 16, 1920] canonization of Joan of Arc and for Plunkett’s beatification, “’both of whom were brutally murdered by the English Government.” The letters plead that a special form of universal devotion may help end hostilities in the world, “especially that the persecuted Irish people may be freed from the callous tyranny and military aggression of their cruel, [relentless] and implacable foe, Pagan England.”5

Canonization image hung from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the canonization ceremony in 1975. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

An estimated 300 Irish pilgrims, including nationalist politician Count George Noble Plunkett and his wife, assembled at the Consistorial Hall at the Vatican for an audience with Benedict XV, who had decreed Plunkett’s beatification on St. Patrick’s Day, 1918.6 The pontiff told the audience that Plunkett’s new designation came at a time when Ireland needed Heaven’s special help to “attain her lawful right … without neglecting her duties.” He continued:

As charity commands us to attend in the first place those nearest to us, no doubt the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, now more than ever, will prove an efficacious patron of his countrymen. Before God, let us, therefore, hope that the beatification of Blessed Oliver  will be an augury of more joyful days for Ireland.7

Monsignor Hagan

The event was a major propaganda coup for Irish separatists and became known as “Sinn Féin Week in Rome,” Marc Phelan wrote in a 2016 Irish Times column. Monsignor Hagan mentored the Sinn Féin diplomat and future president of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly, in his dealings with the Roman Curia. O’Kelly reportedly lectured Benedict XV that one of his predecessors, Pope Leo XIII, had damaged church interests in Ireland by condemning the Land War of the 1880s. (See my 2017 post, The troubled foundation of St. Patrick’s in Rome, 1888.)

Several paintings and banners of Plunkett decorated the Basilica of St. Peter’s for the May 23 ceremony: the cleric dressed in a purple cope, surrounded by angels; another standing before his judges; one ascending the scaffold and forgiving his executioners; and one with the rope around his neck.8 (The image in this post hung outside St. Peter’s at Plunkett’s 1975 canonization.) Monsignor Hagan delivered the names of the postulators to the pope, as well as a reliquary–shaped like St. Patrick’s Bell–containing bone fragments of the martyred archbishop.9

The Irish Independent published a display of four photos from Rome, still something of an extravagance at the time.10 Religious services also were held across Ireland, including the martyr’s home district of Ballybarrack near Dundalk, and a procession in London.11

***     

More than a year after the ceremony, Bishop Michael Fogarty of Ennis, County Clare, wrote to Monsignor Hagan and asked that he tell Pope Benedict XV “how marvelous it was” that the July 11 ceasefire in Ireland began on Plunkett’s feast day. Fogarty added, “the truce is a relief though peace not a foregone conclusion.”12

Plunkett was canonized on Oct 12, 1975, the first Irish saint since St. Lawrence O’Toole in 1225. An estimated 12,000 Irish, many waving tricolors, packed into St. Peter’s Square. A pastoral letter from the Irish Bishops Conference cited Plunkett as “an example in these troubled times”–six years into The Troubles in Northern Ireland–for his work for reconciliation.”13

Plunkett’s beatification seems to have helped end the War of Independence quicker than his canonization resolved The Troubles. Alas, saints can only do so much.

Today in Ireland, more than a dozen parishes, another dozen primary schools, plus sports venues and teams, streets and roads, and an Aer Lingus airplane, are named after Saint Oliver Plunkett. Lean more from the National Shrine to Saint Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda.

Memorial church ruin of Saint Oliver Plunkett at Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, County Meath. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

 

Kent State at 50: The view from 1970 Ireland

May 4 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1970 shooting deaths of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest against the Vietnam War. Eleven days later, two more students were shot by police on the Jackson State University campus in Mississippi.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were filled with unrest and violence in America … and in Ireland. The first 16 deaths of The Troubles occurred in 1969, with 42 more added in 1970; a figure that quadrupled the following year.1

Following my previous post about Irish journalists in America, I checked the digital archives to review Irish newspaper coverage of Kent State. Most of the reporting came from wire services. John Horgan of The Irish Times, writing from New York days after the shootings, described America as “a clumsy giant trying to escape from a coil of barbed wire, every movement only adds to the agony.”2 A week later, Horgan filed a two-part feature about how American academics were beginning to assess the political conflict in Northern Ireland.3

In Ireland, the Union of Students issued  a letter condemning “the brutal murder of four American students.” They criticized U.S. President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and his “contempt for the right of dissent … the shooting themselves are largely due to the type of attacks he has made on those who oppose his lunatic and criminal policy.” The Irish students asked the American Embassy in Dublin to convey their sympathy to the families of the dead.4

Iconic image of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of the slain student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University, May 4, 1970. John Paul Filo/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In an editorial, the Times wrote:

Inside America the mobilization of student protest goes on, tragically assisting by the shooting death of four people at Kent State University in Ohio. Nothing could be more calculated to arouse the emotions of the ‘campus bums,’ to use Mr. Nixon’s unhappy phrase of condemnation. This is hardly the time to attempt to denigrate American youth, or to pretend obliquely that the only patriots among them are those fighting in Indo-China.

Not all the protesters are patriots: neither are all the soldiers, the bulk of whom are conscripts. The campuses are not the only source from which rejection of the President’s tactics and strategy is emerging. The American people as a whole are troubled and confused. They sense that they are faced with a crisis of leadership, and are understandably afraid.5

The same day as the editorial, Irish Taoiseach Jack Lynch sacked government ministers Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney over allegations they helped send illegal arms to the Irish Republican Army. Both men were found not guilty before the end of the year.6

Nixon resigned in August 1974, and the Vietnam War ended in April 1975. In Northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday arrived in January 1972, the deadliest year of The Troubles, which lasted until 1998, with nearly 3,500 people killed.

Irish correspondents in America, today & yesterday

UPDATE:

The National Union of Journalist (Ireland & U.K.) has proposed technology firms should pay a 6 percent “windfall tax” towards a rescue package for the embattled media industry. Despite soaring online traffic, national and local media have been hit hard by declining advertising revenues since the start of coronavirus crisis. Many outlets have cut jobs or reduced pay. Lynch and O’Donovan raised these concerns in their conversation with IN-DC.

ORIGINAL POST:

A New York Times profile of 41 foreign correspondents working in the United States included Suzanne Lynch of The Irish Times and Brian O’Donovan of RTÉ News. Two weeks after the story published in April, both reporters discussed their roles at an Irish Network-DC virtual meeting.

“In this tumultuous period of American politics, there are perhaps more foreign correspondents in Washington, D.C., than ever before,” the Times wrote in The Journalists. “What unites them is their fight against the threat of misinformation and their struggle to accurately inform their fellow citizens about what’s happening here — and how it might affect them.”

Notwithstanding such high-minded missions, Lynch, 41, and O’Donovan, 40, told IN-DC that “Trump is gold” for online clicks and viewer ratings back in Ireland. “He keeps on giving as a story,” O’Donovan said. Lynch added the U.S. president has become “so all-consuming” that he often cuts into other coverage.

Lynch

In the Times piece, Lynch said she “was taken aback by how open the [political] system” is in America. “On Capitol Hill in particular, you can really walk around the halls of power, go into the offices of members of Congress and talk to them directly.”

O’Donovan

O’Donovan told the paper that the four-year RTÉ posting in Washington is “one of the best jobs within the station,” and that he is very aware “this will be remembered as a unique time, and I’m privileged to be covering it and watching it firsthand.”

During the IN-DC discussion, both correspondents shared how they are now frustrated and challenged by the social distancing and travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Irish audiences love stories of the real America,” said Lynch, who nevertheless filed nearly 50 stories during April.

She also noted how the health crisis has distracted U.S. political attention (already waning in the Trump administration) from the restored power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland and the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. RTÉ‘s Caitríona Perry, who preceded O’Donovan in Washington, last fall published a book from the opposite perspective, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics.

Earlier correspondents

Dillon

“Ireland has had a long established tradition of excellence in foreign news coverage,” Kevin Rafter, head of Dublin College University’s School of Communications, has written.1 He includes William Howard Russell, Francis McCullagh and Emile Joseph Dillon among a “very impressive group” of late 19th and early 20th century Irish foreign correspondents.

Ford

Another group, Irish immigrants in America who owned or wrote for U.S. newspapers, also influenced audiences back in the homeland. These include Jerome Collins, John Devoy, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan.2

Russell

A century ago, as Ruth Russell, Harry Guest, and other U.S. journalists filed dispatches from revolutionary Ireland, Irish papers included stories about American politics, business, society and events. Much of this reporting came from un-bylined and now forgotten correspondents; either Irish, British, or American writers, often working for wire services and other cooperative arrangements between papers.

I encourage readers to share the names of Irish correspondents who were on assignment in the United States during this period.

When bigots tried to ban Dev from Birmingham, Alabama

Éamon de Valera faced one of the most hostile receptions of his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland during an April 21, 1920, stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

De Valera in 1919

An American Legion post in the southern industrial city urged Alabama Gov. Thomas E. Kilby to declare de Valera persona non grata, in part because Irish separatists had sought German assistance during the late world war, when America allied with Britain. A Pennsylvania chapter of the patriotic veterans organization began grumbling about de Valera as he visited Pittsburgh in October 1919. Similar rhetoric surfaced a month later in Los Angeles

Now, however, the strongest opposition to de Valera’s appearance was driven by “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hatred of Catholics that prevailed in Birmingham during the second and third decades of the twentieth century,” David B. Franklin wrote in a 2004 History Ireland article. “The Irish-American population in particular was an insidious threat, [because unlike blacks] that ethnic group mixed so freely with the WASP majority in all situations except religion.”

Kilby declined to grant the Legion’s requested declaration and steered away from overt anti-Catholicism. Instead, he released a statement that said the Sinn Féin leader should be deported by the U.S. State Department. And he suggested that some “patriotic Americans” were “seriously misled” in their “zeal for a cause which involves the internal affairs of a friendly nation [Britain].”1

Frank J. Thompson, state chairman of the American Commission on Irish Independence, rebuked Kilby on grounds of patriotism and politics:

The time is coming, whether Governor Kilby realizes it or not, when the same moral law that governs man shall govern nations and when robber nations, like the burglarious individual, will have to realize the truth of the principle and be governed by it. … [He should] familiarize himself more thoroughly with the attributes of a real American and the history of our country, before he attempts to catalogue or classify those who sympathize with the aspirations of the Irish people.”2

Thompson, leader of Alabama’s Irish bond drive effort, a few days earlier had welcomed de Valera to Mobile, the state’s more heavily Catholic port city, where there were no protests. Despite the agitation in Birmingham, de Valera was allowed to make his speech. He was joined by Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of County Antrim, who said that Irish freedom was not only a Catholic concern.

Anti-Catholic bigots tried to block Éamon de Valera from making an April 1920 speech at this Birmingham, Alabama, playhouse, then the Jefferson Theatre, later renamed Erlanger. Birmingham Public Library

Kilby and the Legion got more press attention before de Valera’s visit than the speech received afterward, according to a review of available digital newspaper archives. The New York Times reported de Valera “was greeted with mingled applause and shouts of ‘throw him out’ ” and that “objectors caused considerable confusion inside the crowded theatre.”3 The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to Sinn Féin leadership in Ireland, declared “a great throng crowded Jefferson Theatre to its utmost capacity … despite an organized attempt of bigots to prevent the meeting…”4

The Birmingham episode received only minimal attention in Irish newspapers, which focused more coverage on the deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama and other U.S. southern states in the same week.