Category Archives: Politics

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Rising & Partition

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

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Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and less than five months after the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, began the island’s political partition. In Dublin, the author observes “the ruined Post Office in Sackville [O’Connell] Street was the only standing reminder of what had gone before.”[1]Journey, p. 8. The iconic building at the center of the 1916 rebellion would not reopen until 1929.

On May 3, 1921, the official enactment day of partition, Ewart boarded a train “for the Northeast, being entertained throughout the journey by one of those merry old Irishmen who per se proclaim ‘Ireland a nation.’ ” The passenger also warns the author of the ” ‘narrow-minded Northern bigots … the men you are going to meet.’ “[2]Journey, pp.209-210. Ewart observes campaigning for the new Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast, but returns to England before the election.

Wilfrid Ewart

In some of his other writing, “Ewart expresses concern that the British interpretation of the Irish conflict made so little impact on world opinion as to raise questions of whether there was any  coherent justification for British actions,” Bew/Maume say. “It is clear Ewart supported a compromise settlement [in Ireland, and] … clearly feels more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists he interviews, who are leaning towards a Dominion settlement in hopes of saving something from the wreckage, than their more confident and intransigent Ulster brethren.”[3]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Like other journalists who visited Ireland during the war, Ewart made an honest effort to report a range of Irish opinions–from combatants, political and social leaders, and regular citizens–on both sides of the independence question and both sides of the new border. Unsurprising for the time, he did not devote much attention to the views of women.

Below are direct quotations from some of the people Ewart interviewed, or his reporting of their remarks, about the 1916 rising and 1921 partition. Most are identified by name and key background details, including the relevant pages in Journey. Read 100 years later, some were more prescient than others.

Rising:

Liam de Róiste

“The Easter Rebellion in spite of its failure drew all Irishmen together, and the executions that followed made an enduring impression. All the while we were told we were fighting for the principle of Self-Determination and the Rights of Small Nations. Then came the Peace Conference, ‘Wilsonism,’ and the League of Nations. These set people thinking and gave a constructive impetus to the movement. Since 1916, you must understand, the state of affairs has become steadily worse. The real change of feeling in this city began with the murder of Lord Mayor MacCurtain. The Government’s militant policy has had exactly the reverse effect of that intended.”Sinn Féin official Liam de Róiste in Cork, p. 41.

“Cork used to be a good enough place to live in. We prospered under the Union–till 1916.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

William O’Brien

“I have said my say. My friends and myself warned them of what was coming years ago. We could have shown them the way out through a policy of conference and conciliation. They paid no heed to us. Now they’ve gone back to it again, but they’ve got to deal with men who act first and talk afterwards.”–Former home rule M.P., newspaper editor, and semi-retired Irish nationalist William O’Brien in Mallow, p. 57

“The Easter Rebellion was condemned as a useless waste of life by many Irishmen. It raised the cry of ‘England’s tyranny’ certainly; it gave the impetus to violence. But it was the executions afterwards that left a rankling bitterness.  … The rising of 1916 gave a new soul to Ireland; she found her soul that day. ”Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, pp. 87-88

They got on well with their neighbors, taking no interest in politics, but keeping outside them as much as possible. The first change occurred after the 1916 rebellion. A subtle hostility began to manifest itself among the neighbors; custom fell off; when the W.’s went into other shops, they were told English customers were not wanted. In 1917, when Mr. de Valera visited the district, definite signs of enmity became apparent. One day a procession passed their windows, shouting ‘Bloody Protestants!’ [and] ‘To hell with the King!’Ewart’s reporting of “W.”, age 69, and his wife, who moved from England to Limerick in about 1908, pp. 106-107

“The Easter Rebellion, and the executions after it, brought the whole country to its feet. Coming to later days, the repeated executions–in Cork and Dublin–and the rule of the Crown Forces have made for greater and more bitter resentment every day. ”–An unnamed citizen at the Birr market, County Offaly, as Ewart leaves the South and enters “the less actively rebellious but more problematic Midlands,” p. 114.

The General Post Office in Dublin immediately after the 1916 Rising. It was still closed when Ewart visited in April 1921.

Partition:

“Who wants the Government of Ireland Act? Why, of 102 Irish M.P.’s not one has voted for it!”–Irish nationalist writer and poet George Russell, p. 19.

His defense of the Government of Ireland Act–and he seemed to be its only defender was based on the belief that if the Irish people as a whole desired a Republic or a Dominion, they desired one thing more–a settlement. He regarded the Act, moreover, as a good one in itself, not indeed as an instrument capable of settling the Irish Question, but as a transition measure which by bringing the parties together and as a pledge–that pledge so often demanded of the Government by the irreconcilables–contained the germ and the promise of better things.–Ewart describing the views of “a Cork newspaperman,” p. 50

“No interest is taken in the Partition Act here because it divides the country, because that division would become accentuated instead of the reverse, and because it would express itself through the boycott of Belfast, as at present, and by means of retaliation between Protestant and Catholic.Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, p. 85.

“Nobody has any use for the Government of Ireland Act hereabouts. It will fail.”Unnamed citizen at the Birr market, p. 114

John P. Hayden

“[The Act is] no good in its present form. The Southern Irish see in it two things: (1) Partition; (2) Plunder. It divides the country on sectarian lines and imposes a huge tribute on us. Ireland, mind you, has to pay for all services, some of which she will not control herself … Is it fair that six counties should have the same representation as 26, as in the Council for All Ireland? Another extraordinary thing about the Act is that there should be a Senate in each Parliament nominated by the Crown in the case of the South and elected by the dominant party in the case of the North?”John P . Hayden, Irish nationalist M.P. for South Roscommon and a leading resident Mullingar, pp. 136-137.

“The present Act of Parliament is the only form of Home Rule acceptable to us. We never asked for the Government of Ireland Act, but in my opinion it’s a good Act, and we mean loyally to work it, whatever happens. In doing that we’re only carrying out the law. … Through the Council of Ireland … North and South would be brought into constant contact, and the possibilities of ultimate union are on the whole great.”Hugh Pollack, Northern Ireland finance minister-designate, pp. 156-157.

“There can be no question of a lasting settlement through the Partition Act. Under it, the British Government keeps everything that matters for the commercial and industrial prosperity of Ireland. The number of our members at Westminster is reduced. No common trade arrangements are possible while you have one form of Government in the North and another in the South. On the other hand, we have to pay eighteen millions a year to the English Exchequer, and England generously returns a small proportion of it! The root of the matter is that it is not to the interest of England to have us as a commercial rival.”–Professor Robert M. Henry of Queens University Belfast, p. 164.

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921, a month after Ewart’s departure.

“Nobody wants the Partition Act, nobody in the South cares a brass button for it. Good or bad, it’s no use giving a man something he doesn’t want  … And the finance of the thing is rotten. … The dual legislature is enough in itself to ruin this unfortunate country.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

“Ulster remains as ever, the crux of the question. But I am convinced that if a Parliament sat in Dublin, Ulster would soon want to come into it. The Partition Act is useless if only because nobody in the country wants it except Antrim, Armagh, and Down. Far from making for a united Ireland, under it North and South would steadily drift apart.”John Dooley, member of the Kings (now Offaly) County Council and representative at the 1917 Irish Convention, p. 116

“Nobody trusts the present Government. The Partition Act is a useless farce; nobody wants it. A terrible account lies at Sir Edward Carson’s door.”Archdeacon Arthur Ryan of Birr, p. 120.

NEXT: Mysterious Mr. X.

References

References
1 Journey, p. 8.
2 Journey, pp.209-210.
3 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Troubles & Trimble return to Northern Ireland

The 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) arrives with a surge of violence in Northern Ireland. Though not a 10-year or quarter-century mark that would normally draw attention, events of the past week make this post as unavoidable as the media coverage from Belfast.

As The Washington Post reported, the violence has been “triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world.” Then, “hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, which led to the deaths of 3,500 civilians, British security personnel and paramilitary members.”

David Trimble, left, and the late John Hume after winning the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Irish Times photo.

One early opinion piece about the latest round of troubles comes from David Trimble, the former unionist leader, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with the late nationalist John Hume for their work leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Trimble says the GFA:

protected the union and put the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its people. Voters put their trust in my assurances and supported the agreement. Now this promise of self-determination is under threat due to the Northern Ireland protocol …

The protocol doesn’t safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. It demolishes the agreement’s central premise by removing the assurance that democratic consent is required to change Northern Ireland’s status. That is why I feel betrayed personally by the protocol; it is also why the unionists in Northern Ireland are so incensed at its imposition.

Unsurprisingly, Trimble’s piece is pocked by selective memory and self-promotion.

  • He spits about the terrorism of Irish republicans but ignores the murders and other violence committed by Northern Ireland’s loyalist mobs in collusion with British police and military officers.
  • He avoids mentioning that that majority of people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit … they wanted to remain in the EU … but got drag in by the conservative xenophobes of the English Midlands.
  • He neglects to say that PM Boris Johnson and the British government that he and other unionists are so attached to (along with the monarchy) negotiated and agreed to this protocol.
  • Finally, he willfully ignores the fact that Johnson and many MPs in Parliament would be happy to jettison the six counties of the North, which are a drag on the British treasury.

Trimble should work to facilitate the smooth reunification of Ireland, which would eliminate all the trade barriers he ostensibly worries about. More importantly, it would help bring about the healing of the now 100-year-old division of the island of Ireland. This ultimately would be more in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’m not saying this would be easy. But it is the best solution for the future.

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The eight-member American delegation to Ireland visited 95 cities, towns, and villages, including the Aran Islands, in 22 of 32 counties, from mid-February to late March 1921. Now, the team prepared to report its investigation of Irish humanitarian needs to the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), its New York-based sending organization.

Delegation leader Clemens J. France, brother of a U.S. senator, and Oren Wilbur, a creamery and dairy farming expert, would remain in Dublin to help oversee the distribution of funds from America through the Irish White Cross. The other members disbursed in pairs:

  • attorney Walter C. Longstretch and architect William Price left by mid-March;
  • agricultural specialist John C. Baker and housing expert Philip W. Furnas sailed at the end of the month for France and Germany to meet their colleagues from the American Friends Services Committee, the Quaker humanitarian organization; and
  • former Friends Intelligencer editor R. Barclay Spicer and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy on April 1 boarded the Cunard liner Aquitania for America.[1]”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.

Simultaneously, the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) released a 152-page report based on its November 1920 through January 1921 hearings in Washington, D.C. The non-U.S. government panel interviewed three dozen Irish, English, and American witnesses, including the widow and sister of Irish hunger strike martyr Terence MacSwiney. The ACCI report concluded that “Imperial British forces” in Ireland had created a state of “terror” that deprived Irish citizen of legal and moral protection.

An image from the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

The British Embassy in Washington immediately rebutted the ACCI report as “biased and wholly misleading.” The embassy statement said that Ireland, “so far from being a devastated country, is the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom, and probably the whole of Europe.”

The statement also insisted that “widespread misapprehension appears to exist in regard to the necessity of raising funds from United States sources for relief work in Ireland. … [though] … banking and tax returns show Ireland as a whole has never been more prosperous. … Apart from … genuine unemployment, common to all countries at the present moment, and … normal poverty … every case of distress and destitution is directly due to the effects of the Sinn Féin in Ireland.[2]Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.

The ACRI responded with its own lengthy, at times, rambling, statement, which was reported in news stories and placed in paid advertising. [Bottom of post.] “Since its organization [in December 1920] our Committee has been closely in touch with conditions in Ireland, and the unit of workers in charitable relief, some of whom had experience in other war devastated countries, which our Committee sent to Ireland, has brought us closely in touch with this situation. From this unit [and other sources] … we unhesitatingly state that [the British Embassy statements are] inaccurate and unfounded.”[3]“To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.

Distress in Ireland

Original report linked in text.

McCoy released the ACRI delegation’s 14-page “Distress in Ireland” report on April 16 in New York. Many U.S. newspapers published an Associated Press story about its findings.

The delegation estimated that 25,000 families, or about 100,000 “men, women and children … are in pitiful need of instant help from the American people.” The report anticipated the skepticism of British and U.S. government officials, pro-British or anti-Sinn Féin journalists, and segments of the general public:

We are quite aware that the ordinary traveler through Ireland, going only by train, and not visiting two or three communities, would be unaware that any such degree of distress exists. From his train window he would see only green and fertile countryside, of immense agricultural wealth, and fully supporting its population. In towns he might visit he would see, in his casual walks through their busy streets, little that would lead him to believe that acute distress exists.

But if he looked beneath the surface, if he went from house to house, outside the beaten paths of travel, eliminating, though he might, all the distress from unemployment resulting from trade depression, and all the distress of the habitual mendicant class–he would still find in every little village that he entered two, three, or a half dozen families which had never before been in want and which, but for the fact that they had come face to face with starvation, would never let their need be guessed.[4]”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.  

The delegation’s report estimated the damage to Irish homes, shops, factories, and creameries totaled $20 million, about $294 million a century later.[5]Per U.S. Inflation Calculator. It noted extensive damage to Ireland’s important agricultural sector, including 55 attacks on creameries.

“I wish to express my conviction that the creameries and their auxiliaries are the most important of all the immediate relief needs which the American people can help,” the report quoted Wilbur, the dairy farming expert who remained in Ireland.

McCoy concluded the report with a personal thought about British military reprisals on Irish residences. “As an individual,” he wrote, “I am entirely convinced that many of these people were entirely innocent of any complicity in the acts for which they were punished by having their homes burnt.”

Behind the scenes

Samuel D. McCoy

Five days after the report’s public release McCoy met in Washington with an executive assistant to U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. McCoy proposed the American government help distribute the relief money for Ireland. He alleged the British had reneged on a promise to allow non-partisan relief to be distributed in Ireland. He suggested the State Department could allay British concerns about the partisanship of the Irish White Cross by supervising the relief in Ireland, as it had done in Belgium during the war.[6]Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: … Continue reading

Behind the scenes, forces had been quietly working against the ACRI before McCoy’s visit to the State Department. The U.S. consul in Dublin, Frederick T. F. Dumont, who had met the visiting ACRI delegation, sent several cables to Washington that suggested the group was being exploited by Sinn Féin operatives within the Irish White Cross. Other government insiders in Washington insisted the relief group was anti-British. The American Friends Services Committee and the American Red Cross backed off their earlier support of ACRI for the same reason.

Nevertheless, “the regular accounts in the newspapers, the findings of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, and the statistics produced in the reports of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish Write Cross provided persuasive evidence that there was a substantial measure of destruction and dislocation as the result of the fighting,” Carroll has noted.[7]Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40. ACRI’s network of state committees continued the fundraising efforts launched during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The campaign pushed forward, and the group continued to send money to the Irish White Cross.

New York Herald, April 7, 1921. Click to enlarge.

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This is the third post about the ACRI. Find previous stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Relief quotas” will examine state fundraising goals, and how well each did. I’ll publish this installment in June. 

References

References
1 ”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.
2 Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.
3 “To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.
4 ”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.
5 Per U.S. Inflation Calculator.
6 Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, See Ch. 8, “Harding, Irish Relief Aid And Recognition”, pp. 326-327.
7 Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

Two of the blog’s sharp-eyed email subscribers, both journalists, tipped me on two of the stories in this month’s roundup, which includes news about an old building in New York City, and a new building in Cork city. Enjoy. MH

  • For the second year, St. Patrick’s Day parades and related events were either cancelled, downsized, or made virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 6,800 people have died in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the pandemic began a year ago.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has agreed to review the proposed sale of the American Irish Historical Society building in Manhattan. The 1901 Gilded Age mansion has been the society’s home for 80 years. The Irish government, which has given nearly $1 million to the society since 2008, has decried the proposed sale, and dozens of prominent artists and business leaders have joined nearly 30,000 others in petitioning James to step in. (Thanks Gary S.)

American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK.

  • Marty Walsh, the Irish-American mayor of Boston since 2014, was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. His parents were 1950s emigrants of County Galway.
  • Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), is said to be on President Joe Biden’s short list for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Others include Chicago lawyer John Cooney, New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, former Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick,  Massachusetts state rep Clare Cronin, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tommy O’Neill, son of former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, according to IrishCentral.
  • Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Biden ally earlier believed to be in line for the ambassador’s post, instead joined the Irish executive consultancy and lobbying firm Teneo as a senior adviser.
  • Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement is under threat and a “Pandora’s box” of protest and political crisis will be opened unless the European Union agrees to significant changes in the Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. At issue is a dispute over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in the Irish Sea, which is designed to prevent a hard land border with the Irish Republic. Militant unionists in the north complain the arrangement segregates them from the rest of the U.K..
  • The Journal.ie attempted to answer, “How would a united Ireland do economically?
  • The Republic announced “Our Rural Future, 2021-2025” plan, which calls for 20 percent of government employees to work remotely  or mixed city center and rural locations by December, with further decentralization in following years.
  • Old Ireland in Colour, a collection of 170 black and white photos colorized through a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and old fashioned historical research, has been enjoying huge sales since its 2020 release. CNN and the Daily Mail published the latest features. (Thanks Bill T.)
  • Pope Francis elevated to International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine status the church and grounds at Knock, County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • Technology firm Intel announced it will create 1,600 permanent high-tech jobs at its Leixlip campus in County Kildare.
  • Cork city officials and business leaders have applauded the decision by An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national planning review board, to grant permission for a 34-story hotel and commercial tower on the site of the former Port of Cork. It would become Ireland’s tallest building. An Taisce, Ireland’s national historic trust, complained it will create “enormous change in the character of the city’s skyline.”

Artist rending of Cork city tower.

Irish Americans back united Ireland with ad buy

I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements as I scan the headlines and top paragraphs of The Washington Post, the day’s first pot of coffee percolating near the left edge of the newspaper spread on my kitchen counter. The half-page ad on A5–my second page turn–caught my attention: A United Ireland: Let The People Have Their Say.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA and five other Irish-American groups paid for the black and white ads in the March 10 issues of the Post and The New York Times a week before St. Patrick’s Day focuses on relations between the two countries. Full-page with spot color versions of the ads appear in the Irish Voice and Irish Echo newspapers. The ad says, in part:

A new Ireland is emerging, and more and more people are looking beyond the divisions of the past. A new Ireland is seeking to undo the damage of the undemocratic partition of Ireland 100 years ago and the recent British government imposed Brexit.

“Britain’s exit”, or Brexit, was decided by a 2016 referendum. Voters in the six counties of Northern Ireland opposed leaving the European Union. The British and E.U. governments, including the Republic of Ireland, spent years hammering out the details of the departure.

Earlier this month, the Post published a Bloomberg business analysis that said while a united Ireland is “unlikely anytime soon … the fact that the possibility is being openly discussed again is testament to the forces unleashed by Brexit.”

We’ve been hearing this since 2016. Nearly two years ago to the day, Times columnist Timothy Egan, also citing Brexit, wrote: “From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.”

Let’s see what happens by St. Patrick’s Day, 2022.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day, updated

U.S President Joe Biden this week issued the annual proclamation to declare March as Irish-American Heritage Month. “As I said when I visited Dublin in 2016, our nations have always shared a deep spark — linked in memory and imagination, joined by our histories and our futures,” he says. Due to lingering concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day meeting in Washington, D.C. between U.S. and Irish leaders will be a virtual affair, The Irish Times reports.

In 2016 I wrote a five-part series on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day leading up to the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. I explored 1916 and 25 year increments afterward: 1941, 1966, and 1991, plus a post about St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial. Here are short descriptions of the series with links to the original posts:

Part 1: St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. President Woodrow Wilson wore “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from  John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader,” The Washington Post reported.

Iconic image of the General Post Office in Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Part 2: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not recognize St. Patrick’s Day 1941 with any Irish guests or events. As war raged in Europe, Irish leader Éamon de Valera said in a radio address broadcast on both side of the Atlantic: “A small country like ours that had for centuries resisted imperial absorption, and that still wished to preserve its separate national identity, was bound to choose the course of neutrality in this war.”

Part 3: In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, President Lyndon B. Johnson welcomed Ambassador of Ireland H.E. William Fay and Mrs. Fay to the Oval Office. The official record says Johnson was presented with “fresh shamrocks [redacted] flown in from Ireland.” It appears that two words are blacked out between “shamrocks” and “flown.” My guess: “and whiskey.”

Part 4: On St. Patrick’s Day 1976, President Gerald Ford expressed “the appreciation of the American people to the people of Ireland” for their participation in the founding and growth of the United States. He welcomed Taoiseach Liam M. Cosgrave. They also talked about The Troubles.

Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford in 1976.

Part 5: St. Patrick’s Day 1991 came some 20 years into the Troubles, and the Irish Republic was taking a cautious approach to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Rising. “Officials say at a time when talks are soon to open over the future of Northern Ireland, they do not want to be seen celebrating an event that could be exploited by the outlawed Irish Republican Army as justification for its own violent campaign to oust British rule from the province,” The Washington Post reported.

Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, 2016, President Barack Obama described Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation as “a vision statement 100 years ago, and it would be a visionary statement today. It’s a universal value, like the ones in America’s own founding documents, that compels us to continually look forward; that gives us the chance to change; that dares us, American and Irish alike, to keep toiling towards our better selves.”

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

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.

***

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.

***

“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

***

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.

***

“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

***

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

***

“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

***

“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

***

“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.

***

“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.