Category Archives: Politics

Guest post: Kennedy and Parnell, lost leaders

I am pleased to welcome back Dublin-based historian Felix M. Larkin, who has contributed an essay – entitled “Judging Kennedy” – to a new volume From whence I came: The Kennedy Legacy, Ireland and America, edited by Brian Murphy and Donnacha Ó Beacháin (Irish Academic Press). The 15 essays in the collection had their origin in papers given at the Kennedy Summer School, held annually in New Ross, Co. Wexford, since 2012 (though not in 2020, because of the pandemic). New Ross is the small port from whence John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather left Ireland. The title of the volume is taken from Kennedy’s speech in nearby Wexford town during his June 1963 visit to Ireland. An adaptation of part of Larkin’s chapter follows below.

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Charles Stewart Parnell

In reading, thinking and writing about Kennedy over many years, I have often been struck by the parallel between his death and that of the great nineteenth-century Irish constitutional nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Though Parnell was not the victim of an assassin, he was hounded to his death by his enemies and the shadow that his death cast – memorably captured in the writings of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats – had an effect similar to that of Kennedy’s, albeit on a narrower canvas. Parnell and Kennedy have thus become part of the mythologies, as well as part of the history, of their respective countries. Parnell’s idealization by Joyce and Yeats is the Irish equivalent of the characterization of the Kennedy presidency as “Camelot on the Potomac”.

There are many other correspondences in the lives of these two remarkable men: 

  • both were young leaders – Parnell was 45 when he died, Kennedy was 46; 
  • whereas Kennedy had Irish ancestors, Parnell had an American mother;
  • Kennedy was a Catholic leader in a predominantly Protestant country, while Parnell was a Protestant leader in a predominantly Catholic country;
  • Parnell made a triumphant visit to the US in 1880, and Kennedy came to Ireland in June 1963; and
  • the sense of possibility in Kennedy’s vision of the “New Frontier” chimes with Parnell’s assertion that “no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation”.[1]
       

John F. Kennedy

Parnell and Kennedy are good examples of the “lost leader” syndrome, great men cut down in their prime whose reputations are more enduring than those of their contemporaries who lived on to make a more substantial contribution to their country’s fortunes. As Stephen Collins, the Irish Times journalist, has suggested, lost leaders are remembered with such fascination and admiration precisely because they “have not had to govern for long, if at all, and so don’t get sucked into the messy compromises that are the inevitable fate of long-serving politicians entrusted with the thankless task of government”.[2]

Surprisingly, there is some evidence that Parnell may have influenced Kennedy’s style and mode of operation as a political leader. Robert Dallek records that Kennedy “was conversant with Irish leader Charles [Stewart] Parnell’s counsel: Get the advice of everybody whose advice is worth having – they are very few – and then do what you think best yourself”.[3] Moreover, Kennedy referred to Parnell in his speech to the Irish parliament during his visit to Ireland in 1963. He first mentioned the fact that he had in his office – the Oval Office – the sword of Commodore John Barry, the founder of the American navy, who was born in County Wexford. He then went on to note: 

Yesterday [27 June 1963] was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell, whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America, and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country”, he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people towards Ireland”. And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America.[4

Kennedy’s grave, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

Parnell’s grandfather and namesake was Admiral Charles Stewart, commander of the USS Constitution during the War of 1812, and Kennedy had on his desk in the Oval Office two bookends with brass replicas of cannons on the USS Constitution and on the walls flanking the fireplace in the office were pictures of the famous naval engagement between the Constitution and the British frigate Guerriere. A model of the Constitution was displayed on the mantelpiece above the fireplace, and when Kennedy met Krushchev in Vienna in June 1961, he presented the Soviet leader with another model of the ship – perhaps as a gentle reminder of the power of the U.S. Navy. 

Parnell’s grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The USS Constitution (nicknamed ‘Old Ironsides’) is now a tourist attraction in Boston Harbor, in the city that was Kennedy’s political base from 1946 when he was first elected to the US House of Representatives. Admiral Charles Stewart’s magnificent desk is among the exhibits in Avondale House, the ancestral home of the Parnells in county Wicklow.

See Larkin’s “The Slow Death of the Freeman’s Journal”, October 2019, and other essays from our guest contributors. Consider offering a proposal through the provided form, or message me at @markaholan

[1]For Parnell’s speech in which these lines occur, see Pauric Travers, ‘The march of the nation: Parnell’s ne plus ultra speech’ in Pauric Travers and Donal McCartney (eds), Parnell reconsidered (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), pp. 179-96.

[2]Stephen Collins, ‘Romantic Ireland lives on in our fascination with the leaders who left us too young’, Irish Times, 3 August 2013.

[3]Robert Dallek, Camelot’s court: inside the Kennedy White House (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), p. 35. Parnell’s words here are as recorded in William O’Brien, An olive branch in Ireland and its history (London: Macmillan, 1910), p. 47. They were quoted by Conor Cruise O’Brien in his Parnell and his party (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 145, n. 1.

[4] Speech to the joint session of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, 28 June 1963.

When K. O’Shea’s death recalled C.S. Parnell’s life

(This is the first of two consecutive posts about Charles Stewart Parnell. Next, a guest post from a new Irish Academic Press collection. MH)

The deaths of former newsmakers, often years after they’ve faded from public attention, usually prompt reflections of their time in the spotlight and sometimes help contextualize contemporary issues. That’s what happened with the Feb. 5, 1921, passing of the former Katherine Wood, who first became Mrs. William O’Shea, then Mrs. Charles Stewart Parnell. She died a week after reaching age 76, having outlived her famous second husband by 30 years, her first by 16 years.

Mrs. O’Shea/Parnell

The adultery between Mrs. O’Shea and Parnell was exposed by the first husband’s 1889 divorce filing. The scandal isolated Parnell as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and stopped momentum toward Irish domestic autonomy, called home rule, which he had been building for years. The Irish party split over whether or not to support Parnell. Other home rule allies, including liberal British politicians and the Catholic Church hierarchy, quickly distanced themselves from the effort.

Mrs. Parnell’s death evoked “deplorably sad” memories for contemporaries of the “Parnell movement”, but little more than “passing attention from the younger generation of Irishmen,” the Freeman’s Journal wrote in February 1921.[1]“Death of Mrs. Parnell”, Freeman’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1921. The paper continued:

No more tragic episode is contained in the annals of human history than the dramatic fall of Ireland’s chief. He–as the uncrowned king–was leading his people triumphantly in demolishing the trenches of feudalism and ascendancy and heading straight for the goal of national freedom, when the lamentable intrigue with the lady whose death is just announced dashed the hopes of the Irish nation to the ground.

The Irish Independent cattily noted that “Mrs. Parnell was not Irish … she was of purely English descent, and her supposed Irish qualities had no more foundation than might be derived from her first marriage”[2]“Death of Mrs. Parnell, Widow of Irish Leader”, Irish Independent, Feb. 7, 1921., in 1867, to O’Shea, a Dublin-born captain in the British Army. Parnell was born in County Wicklow to an Anglo-Irish father and American mother. Both men were parliamentary colleagues during most of the 1880s.

Great split

Mr. Parnell

The divorce episode “led to the ruin of the Irish leader and to a great split in the Irish movement which completely demoralized it and dislocated Irish politics for many years,” wrote John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic American and a veteran of the Irish struggle from before the Parnell period. In a February 1921 analysis,[3]The Tragic End of Charles Stewart Parnell“, The Gaelic American, Feb. 19, 1921. Devoy insisted there were “lessons for the present generation.”

He continued:

The really essential factor in the Irish Question is a United Irish Race. That was true in Parnell’s day and it is true now. A United Irish Race is treated with contempt and the English are encouraged to start secret intrigues and public propaganda to widen the breach. That was what occurred in the Parnell Split, and the same thing is going on today. And [Prime Minister] Lloyd George is doing it very skillfully. Knowing the Irish are divided, he is maneuvering to placate groups and sections, so as to detach them from the “extremists,” who really represented the whole Race a few months ago and represent its real spirit today. Had the unity of six months ago remained, he would be faced by the strength, resources and combined ability of the Race throughout the world and his pettifogging tactics would now be useless. Now the most important part of his propaganda–that aimed at the destruction of the Irish leaders in America–is carried on by Irishmen and the cost is defrayed by money collected for the Irish Republic.

The last phrase appears aimed at supporters of Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, who returned to Ireland in December 1920 after an 18-month tour of America seeking U.S. political recognition and money for Irish independence. The establishment, Devoy-allied Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF) and de Valera argued over the best way to win backing for Ireland from U.S. political parties at the summer 1920 presidential nominating conventions. Their feuding backfired, with no pledge from either the Republicans or Democrats. Before he sailed home, de Valera and his loyalists also split from FOIF and created the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to control money and the Irish narrative in America. 

Devoy went on:

When Irishmen want a split–and the fit takes them periodically–any old reason is good enough for a pretext. In Parnell’s time the pretext was zeal for morality, but the real reason was that the English wanted to get rid of the only Irishman who was capable of beating them … so they would have an easier job in dealing with lesser men … Today the pretext is zeal for the Irish Republic, and the method is to get rid of the real Republicans in America and put the movement in the hands of men who don’t care a thraneen for the Irish Republic–or the American Republic.

‘Moral delinquencies’

Devoy rehashed 30-year-old speculation of whether Mrs. O’Shea seduced Parnell of her own volition, or was “set on him” by the English. Either way, the Irish movement was ruined. The couple married in June 1891, but Parnell died that October, age 45. 

The widow became notorious as Kitty O’Shea, the forename variation also a slang term for a prostitute. She published a tell-all memoir in 1914 “in which she exposed to the vulgar world all the secrets, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of the great statesman she attracted, excluded those elements of sympathy that naturally go forth to a woman who, herself, was the victim of her own passion and thereby suffered heavily for her moral delinquencies,” the Freeman’s Journal noted.

The New York Herald reported the book “caused a brief sensation until the outbreak of the war eclipsed it in public attention.”[4]“Widow of Parnell Dies in England”, New York Herald, Feb. 6, 1921. A century later, Parnell remains familiar in Ireland, if obscure elsewhere; while the “purely English” Kitty O’Shea survives as the name of countless Irish pubs around the world.

See my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. 

References

1 “Death of Mrs. Parnell”, Freeman’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1921.
2 “Death of Mrs. Parnell, Widow of Irish Leader”, Irish Independent, Feb. 7, 1921.
3 The Tragic End of Charles Stewart Parnell“, The Gaelic American, Feb. 19, 1921.
4 “Widow of Parnell Dies in England”, New York Herald, Feb. 6, 1921.

On Irish poets and an American president

The new Holy Trinity of Irish-American relations is Biden-Heaney-Yeats. To wit:

President Biden has never hidden his enthusiasm for Irish poetry. Reciting W.B. Yeats’s poetry helped him overcome a childhood stutter. In the latter part of the campaign, he released a video of his stellar reading of Seamus Heaney’s powerful poem, The Cure at Troy, with its brilliant phrase about making ‘hope and history rhyme’.” — Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall on The Inauguration of President Biden.

“In some of his most important speeches over the course of a long career, Joe Biden has repeatedly quoted the work of Seamus Heaney, an Irish, Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright. … He’s also a fan of William Butler Yeats, dating back to the days when he used to recite Yeats’ words in the mirror, working to overcome his stutter.” — Town & Country

“In his four decades-long career from a Senator in Delaware to the man at the helm of affairs at the Democratic party, Mr Biden earned a reputation of peppering his speeches with Heaney and his contemporary, WB Yeats.” — The U.K. Independent

Biden in 2013.

There are more examples. Biden’s Jan. 20 inaugural address1 only lightly evoked the Heaney line as he described “a day of history and hope.” He did not directly quote either Irish poet. Instead, Biden quoted from the song American Anthem, written by songwriter Gene Scheer and first sung by Denyce Graves in 1998 for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at a Smithsonian Institution event. It was subsequently performed at other ceremonies, covered by Patti Labelle, and sung by Graves at George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration, says Variety.

Biden became only the fourth U.S. president to invite a poet to join his inauguration platform, following John F. Kennedy (1961), Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013), The Week reports. Biden’s inaugural committee selected 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to read her poem The Hill We Climb, which drew wide praise. Watch it here.

Irish Poets

Heaney

Heaney died in 2013, while Biden was Obama’s vice president. Heaney lived part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006, including time as Harvard’s poet in residence. American poet Robert Lowell described him as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Last summer, when Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post detailed the candidate’s citations of The Cure at Troy.

Yeats

Yeats, who died in 1939, visited America in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, 1920, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year of his life in the United States, according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. Washington, D.C. trial lawyer and literary critic Joseph M. Hassett has just published his third book about the poet, Yeats Now: Echoing into Life. By focusing on Yeats’s most memorable lines of poetry, it reveals new ways of enjoying a body of work that speaks eloquently and urgently to the 21st century, the publisher says.

On Jan. 27, Solas Nua, the D.C.-based contemporary Irish arts organization, and New York University, will present an experimental non-narrative film-poem drawing on the life of Yeats and using only his writings. Click here for more information and free registration.

Trump’s ‘American carnage’ as seen from Ireland

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
–From Donald Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017 inaugural address

That is the first of what turned out to be thousands of lies from Trump during his term as U.S. president. Spoken only minutes after he assumed the powers of the office, it was in fact the start of his American carnage. That includes his incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, now with more than 350,000 U.S. deaths.

I’ve reached out for reactions to the Trump-stoked anarchy in Washington, D.C., including historical parallels and contemporary Irish media views,. which begin below the photo, newest at the top. I will update this post over several days. MH

Trump-fueled violence in front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Jan. 8 updates:

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, native of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, became a social media sensation for the way he held his nerve and gave clear and concise updates amidst the Trump mob on Capitol Hill.

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This was a manifestation of weakness and eclipse, though Trump should not expect to escape legal consequences for inciting an attack on democracy, the shock troops involved praised by him as “patriots”. Impeachment? Probably impossible in the 12 days he has left in office. But prosecutors need to look at possible charges.
Editorial in The Irish TImes

Jan. 7 updates:

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff turned special envoy to Northern Ireland, resigned from the post in the wake of the “international travesty” that took place at the Capitol. “I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” he said.

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“This was not a moment of madness. It was a show for which Trump had been running trailers for at least a year. This was never a dark conspiracy. It was an undisguised insurrection. Trump’s one great virtue is his openness.”
Finton O’Toole in The Irish Times

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Former Miss Universe Ireland Fionnghuala O’Reilly was followed and harassed by a Trump supporter as riots unfolded in Capitol Hill, the Irish Independent reported. She said that the man followed and yelled at her for wearing a mask while out for a run.

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“The Irish people have a deep connection with the United States of America, built up over many generations. I know that many, like me, will be watching the scenes unfolding in Washington DC with great concern and dismay.”
–Tweet from Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin

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The Irish Post and other media report that Trump could be headed to his golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare, a day before Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inaugural. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Trump is not allowed to visit his course in that country.

Original Jan. 6 post:

Police in the US Capitol Jan. 6 responded with drawn guns and teargas as hundreds of protesters stormed the building and sought to force Congress to undo President Donald Trump’s election loss shortly after some of Trump’s fellow Republicans launched a last-ditch effort to throw out the results.
–Early report in the Irish Independent

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“Shocking & deeply sad scenes in Washington DC – we must call this out for what it is: a deliberate assault on Democracy by a sitting President & his supporters, attempting to overturn a free & fair election! The world is watching! We hope for restoration of calm.”
–Tweet by Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney

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“Trump’s conduct reminds me of Ian Paisley in the old days in Northern Ireland. Whip up followers to violence, then wash hands and walk away when violence breaks out.”
John Dorney, editor of the The Irish Story

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“The closing chapter of Donald Trump’s presidency was never going to conclude quietly. After four tumultuous years in the White House, the outgoing president is continuing his attack on the norms of American democracy right up to the end.”
Irish Times Washington correspondent Suzanne Lynch in Jan. 5 column, before the unrest at the U.S. Capitol.

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“I never thought I would see such scenes in America.
–Dublin historian Felix Larkin.

He passed along a 2014 BBC story about the “Burning of Washington” by British Army Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, from Rostrevor, of County Down. It was the only time that a foreign power captured and occupied Washington. This time is was domestic.

Happy New Year 2021; remembering 1921

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

Journalism & history

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

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

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

Recorder Of News Was Honored In Old Ireland

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

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

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

December news roundup

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

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

Record site traffic

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

On the Antrim coast, July 2019.

When hope and history rhymed in Ireland, 1995

There’s been plenty of talk lately about how Irish-American Joe Biden as U.S. president might influence the impact of Brexit on both sides of the Irish border. Twenty-five years ago, another U.S. president loomed large in Irish affairs and helped set the stage for the Good Friday peace agreement.

Bill Clinton became the first American leader to set foot in Northern Ireland, Nov. 30, 1995, followed by stops in the Republic of Ireland. He quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney long before Biden:

I could not say it better than your Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, has said: We are living in a moment when hope and history rhyme. In Dublin, if there is peace in Northern Ireland, it is your victory, too. And I ask all of you to think about the next steps we must take.1

It took until April 1998 to reach the peace agreement, approved the following month by voter referendums on both sides of the border. The accord became effective in December 1999.

In Derry, Clinton shared the stage with John Hume, who would became co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their work on the Good Friday Agreement. Hume died in August. “I’ll never forget our night in Derry in 1995, with the town square and blocks around full of hopeful faces,” Clinton said in his official statement this summer.

Clinton and Hume in 1995.

At Mackie’s, a west Belfast textile factory, nine-year-old Catherine Hamill “stole the show” with her introduction of Clinton, Brian Rohan recalled in a 1996 story, recently republished in Irish America magazine.

“My first daddy died in the Troubles,” Hamill said. “It was the saddest day of my life. Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever.”

John D. Feerick also notes the “moving” introduction by the Catholic girl, joined by a Protestant boy, in his memoir, That Further Shore, published this year. The former Fordham Law School dean joined the U.S. delegation.

Clinton’s “speech of hope and promise for Northern Ireland challenged both communities to embrace peace and and open the door for greater economic development in the North and the employment that would follow,” Feerick writes in a five-page passage about the Ireland trip.2

Two weeks after Clinton turned on the Christmas tree lights in Belfast, Britain’s Daily Mail, Virgin Airways, and the Fitzpatrick Hotel chain flew Hamill and her family to America to be among Clinton’s invited guests at the tree-lighting ceremony at the White House. It was truly a season when hope and history rhymed.

Washington, D.C.’s Irish hot spots, 1919-1921

Irish efforts to win U.S. political recognition and financial support for the fledgling state occurred across America during the 1919-1921 revolutionary period. Éamon De Valera traveled coast-to-coast from June 1919 to December 1920. Chapters of the Friends of Irish Freedom and Ancient Order of Hibernians met in large cities and small towns. In Washington, D.C., it’s tempting to think of only the hearing rooms and hallways of the U.S. Capitol, or White House and diplomatic offices, as the center of such activity. But important work and key events of Irish interest unfolded at other locations beyond these landmarks. Here’s a look at several of them:

Munsey Building in 1919. Smithsonian Archives

In August 1919, the Friends of Irish Freedom moved most of its activities from New York City to Washington, D.C. “Headquarters of the Irish National Bureau have been established in the Musey Building, which will carry on the fight of the Americans interested, under the noses of Congress and the Executive departments of the government,” one of the city’s daily newspapers reported on its front page.1

The building opened in 1905 at 1329 E Street N.W., about three blocks from the White House. It was named after Frank Munsey, a Guilded Age capitalist who bought and sold newspapers across America and also perfected a printing processes that used low-quality “pulp” paper for periodicals that were inexpensive to produce and filled with racy fare that made them widely popular: pulp fiction.2

The FOIF’s Irish National Bureau located on the 10th floor of the 13-floor Munsey. Canadian journalist Katherine Hughes, the Bureau’s secretary, furnished the offices in mahogany with green velvet rugs.3 There, a small staff of writers produced the weekly News Letter, pamphlets, and press releases, in addition to facilitating meetings with elected leaders and government officials, much like any other interest group or trade association in Washington.

“The national council of the Friends of Irish Freedom believe the President and Congress should have the assistance of a Bureau located at the Nation’s Capitol,” declared Bureau Director Daniel T. O’Connell. “All the societies associated with the thoughts, traditions and interests of Americans of Irish blood have constantly urged the formation of a bureau that could from Washington respresent them in functioning more directly with national live.”4

On Jan. 8, 1920, De Valera opened offices of  the Irish Government in Exile in the building. The night before, he gave his first Washington speech to more than 5,000 supporters at the Y.M.C.A. Liberty Hut, a large event venue for everything from circuses to conventions, opposite Union Station. The Munsey lease document is held in De Valera’s official papers at University College Dublin. The Irish Legation offices later moved to the Hotel Lafayette.

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Lafayette Hotel in Washington D.C., between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress

Opened in 1916 at the southeast corner of 16th and I (or “Eye”) streets, about two miles west of the Capitol, the Hotel Lafayette hosted at least two key Irish events during 1920.

On April 7, members of the U.S. Senate and House, “dignitaries of the church, bankers, educators, writers and representatives of the bar” honored De Valera at a “Free Ireland” banquet in advance of his tour of the American South. Guests dined on “Baked Sea Trout Florida” and roast turkey with cranberry sauce. “The speaking continued until nearly 2 a.m.”5

From November 1920 through January 1921 the hotel also became the headquarters for the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a non-U.S. government body created by pro-Irish interests to generate publicity and political support for the fledgling Irish republic. The blue-ribbon panel included two U.S. senators and six other military, religious, and civic leaders. It interviewed 18 American, 18 Irish, and two British witnesses, with a focus on military reprisals against citizens and the revolutionaries.

An early news story reported “several halls in the city have been placed in the disposal” of the commission, but the Lafayette’s ballroom hosted all but one of the six hearing sessions.6 The exception occurred in December at the Odd Fellows Hall. See below.

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Headlines about the De Valera protest march and rally, and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, in The Evening Star, Nov. 17, 1920, page 16.

The commission hearings opened the same week that De Valera launched the FOIF rival organization American Associaiton for Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) at the Raleigh Hotel, a short walk from the Munsey Building. “The conference which opened with an address by De Valera yesterday morning remained in almost continuous session behind closed doors for 15 hours, adopted a policy, a name, a constitution, and a plan of organization,” a local papeer reported.7

Located at the northeast corner of 12th Street N.W., and Pennsylvania Avenue, the site had been occupied by several earlier inns and office buildings, including where Andrew Johnson took the presidential oath in April 1865 after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The 13-story Beaux Arts hotel where De Valera and the AARIR huddled was built in 1911.8

The night before the AARIR formation meeting, more than 2,000 Irish sympathizers marched past the White House “through a driving cold rain” to the Coliseum, “where they joined waiting thousands at the auditorium in a monster protest meeting against America’s silence on conditions in Ireland. … Undaunted by the refusal of the fire marshal to permit more than 3,500 persons in the hall, fully 4,000 persons awaited outside in the rain, where they were addressed during the evening by De Valera …”9

Center Market, 1920s.

The “Coliseum” at the corner of Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was a wing of the Center Market, “a massive, sprawling marketplace, one of the biggest in the country,” located there since the early 1800s. The building used for the 1920 Irish meeting opened in 1872 and closed in 1931.10

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Odd Fellows Hall, cirica 1921. Library of Congress

On Dec. 8 and 9, 1920, the Odd Fellows Hall at 419 Seventh Street N.W., hosted American Commission hearings featuring the highly anticipated testimoney of Murial MacSwiney, wife of the late hunger striker, and his sister, Mary. The building opened in 1917 replaced the fraternal organization’s earlier, more ornate home.11

“A large crowd assembled at Odd Fellows Hall this morning long before the hearing was scheduled to begin,” one of the dailies reported. “Only 600 tickets of admission were distributed, but more than three times that number waited in the corridors of the building in an effort to gain admission.”12

St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Church image from 1976

Murial MacSwiney also attended Mass at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. “Hundreds of persons thronged the vacinity of the church to catch a glimse of the visitor,” the press reported.13

St. Matthew’s was designated a cathedral in 1939, and in 1963 it was site of the funeral Mass for President John F. Kennedy. The city’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, established in 1792 as “the oldest parish in the Federal City” and the site of an annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass.

It’s also worth noting that Irish-born and pro-independence Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, Australia, stopped in Washington in July 1920, a month before his arrest by British authorities while trying to visit Ireland. During his stay Mannix attended events at Catholic University of America, and Georgetown University, both church-affiliated institutions.

St. Matthew’s, St. Patrick’s, the Odd Fellows Hall, and the two universities survive today. The Munsey Building, both downtown hotels, and the two event venues were scraped from the Washington, D.C. cityscape decades ago.

Ireland and JFK’s 1960 U.S. presidential victory

Irish-American Catholic Joe Biden’s victory as U.S. president recalls the historic election of Irish-American Catholic John Fitzgerald Kennedy 60 years ago. I couldn’t resist a nostalgic look back to November 1960:

In many Irish homes people stayed up late on Tuesday to get the early results, and tens of thousands were at their television sets from 6 a.m. on Wednesday to follow the count,” Derry People reported.1 Irish people and Irish papers also coped with tragic news from beyond the island: “Rejoicing throughout the country [at Kennedy’s success] was turned to gloom … when news came over the radio that a patrol of 11 Irish soldiers, serving with the United Nations’ force in the Congo, had been ambushed by Baluba tribesmen and that 10 of them were feared dead.”2

The Irish Examiner editorialized that Kennedy’s election was received “with gratification” and:

… hailed as a victory for Irish blood and the old faith, but others saw in it the culmination of the battle for recognition of the descendants of this land, from the generation which took part in the great diaspora of our race after the famine years. Their fight has been a hard one but eventually they gained admission to the councils of their adopted country only to be denied the supreme honor. Senator Kennedy is the symbol of that victory.3

Kennedy had visited Ireland three times before he was elected president: in 1939 with his father, then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy; in 1945 after his service in World War II, when he interviewed Taoiseach Éamon de Valera for the New York Journal-American; and in 1955, as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, when he met with T.D. Liam Cosgrave.

“We should like to think that during his term of office he will visit again the land of his forebears,” wished the Evening Herald, Dublin.4 Kennedy did return to Ireland in June 1963, a triumphal, multi-stop visit overshadowed five months later by his assassination in Dallas.

Kennedy’s election came 32 years after anti-Catholic bias was used to help defeat New York Gov. Al Smith’s campaign for the presidency. The issue of religious prejudice resonated in 1960 Northern Ireland, a decade before the Troubles, as editorialize by Derry People:

By the election of Senator John F. Kennedy as next President of the United States a bigoted and vengeful tradition has come to an end, the voters showing that they will no longer accept that a Catholic candidate must be denied the highest office is his country’s gift.  … Here in Ireland there is rejoicing at the result. It is indeed a wonderful thing that the great-grandson of a poor Irish farmer, one of the millions of victims of the artificial Famine in this land, has ascended to the highest post, which a layman can occupy in the world today. …

We are not at all reluctant to point the moral of the Catholic candidate’s success, and as we see it, Senator Kennedy’s victory shows what can be done for truth and justice if decent people unite against bigotry and spleen. Let our readers reflect that if Senator Kennedy were today an applicant in these Six Counties for appointment as a consultant physician, the higher civil service, a county surveyorship, a clerk of the Crown and Peace or any of the other top jobs, he would not be successful. The truth is that the distinguished young man who today is America’s President-Elect would be voted down, as a Catholic if he dared to stand for the Mayoralty of Derry.5

Kennedy and De Valera in 1963.

Kennedy never mentioned his Catholic faith in his 1963 address to the Dáil. He acknowledged Ireland’s many contributions to the United States and its contemporary work at the United Nations, including, by then, the deaths of 26 peacekeeping troops in the Congo.

And Kennedy humorously noted the irony of how he was the first American president to visit Ireland during a term of office, while the American-born de Valera (who tried to influence the 1920 U.S. presidential election) watched in the chamber as the president of Ireland.

“I am deeply honored to be your guest in a Free Parliament in a free Ireland,” Kennedy said. “If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course if your own President had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.”

Earlier posts on Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for U.S. president:

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.

MacSwiney’s martyrdom in the Irish-American press

MacSwiney

The Oct. 25, 1920, hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in an English prison increased international attention on Ireland’s fight for independence. Irish leader Eamon de Valera, nearing the end of his 18-month tour of the United States, said that MacSwiney and other Irish hunger strikers “were forced by the tyranny that would deprive them of liberty to make death the alternative.” The Friends of Irish Freedom organized “manifestations of indignation and sorrow” in American cities. At New York City’s Polo Grounds, an estimated 40,000 attended an observance inside the baseball stadium, with another 10,000 kept outside the gates.

Below are short excerpts from four editorials in the Irish-American press about MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Click the hyperlinked headline below each quote to see the digitized newspaper page with the full editorial.

“What must be the infamy of a system that survives only by sending Pearse and Casement to a quicklime grave, or MacSwiney to a death such as that described by the dispatches of recent days have given so much space.”

MacSwiney, The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Oct. 30

“At the funeral in the city of which MacSwiney was the Chief Magistrate, the English savages made utterly needless display of machine guns, armed motor lorries and ‘Black and Tan’ murderers and looters for the purpose of overawing the people, but which only succeeded in demonstrating to the world that England holds Ireland only by brute force. The whole MacSwiney episode, designed by Lloyd George as a means of striking terror into the Irish people has had the very opposite effect.”

MacSwiney’s Spirit Still Lives, The Gaelic American, New York, Nov. 6

“During the past week the tricolor of the Irish republic, carried in tremendous demonstrations on every continent of the globe, has been saluted as the emblem of the universal freedom sanctified and made secure by the voluntary sacrifice of the martyred Irishman.”

The Tribute of Humanity, News Letter, Washington, D.C., Nov. 6

” ‘It is not,’ MacSwiney told his fellow countrymen upon his election as Lord Mayor of Cork on March 30, 1920, ‘to those who can inflict the most suffering, but to those who can suffer most that victory will come.’ ”

Martyred, Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Oct. 30