Category Archives: Politics

Guest post: Irish-American isolationism and Irish internationalism

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Michael Doorley, associate lecturer in History at the Open University in Ireland, as guest writer. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is widely published on the history of the Irish diaspora in the United States, including numerous book chapters. His own books include, Irish American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916—1935 (2005), and Justice Daniel Cohalan, 1865-1946: American patriot and Irish-American nationalist, from Cork University Press. MH

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Irish-American isolationism and Irish internationalism: The dispute between Justice Daniel Cohalan and Éamon de Valera in 1920

In June 1919 Éamon de Valera, then leader of the Irish nationalist movement Sinn Féin and president of the newly established Irish Dáil, arrived in the United States. He would remain there until December 1920. De Valera sought to win American recognition for the self-proclaimed Irish Republic and raise money for the ongoing political and military campaign against British forces in Ireland. 

In achieving these objectives, de Valera sought the help of two Irish-American nationalist organizations. The secret Clan na Gael, then led by the aged Fenian leader John Devoy and the more broad-based Friends of Irish Freedom organization (FOIF), founded by Judge Daniel Cohalan, at the first 1916 “Race Convention” in New York. The FOIF had branches across the United States and by the end of 1920 numbered 275,000 regular and associate members.1. The American-born Cohalan, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland during the Famine, was a New York State Supreme Court Justice with close connections to the American Catholic hierarchy and leading politicians from both main parties. In 1919, Henry Cabot Lodge, Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised Cohalan as “one of the ablest men to ever come to Washington to plead a cause. The citizens of Irish blood are fortunate in having him as a leader”.2

That de Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, would choose to remain in the United States for 18 months at such a momentous time, highlights the importance of the American dimension to the Irish struggle for independence. In justifying American intervention in the war, President Woodrow Wilson had called for the establishment of a League of Nations which would adjudicate disputes between nations so as to prevent future conflicts. Wilson had also highlighted that the war was being fought for the principle of justice for all nationalities though he had not the Irish in mind when he made this pronouncement. 3.

Judge Daniel Cohalan and Éamon de Valera soon after the Irish leaders June 1919 arrival. Library of Congress.

Irish-American nationalists had other ideas. In May 1919, just before de Valera’s arrival in the United States, Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho, a close ally of Cohalan, introduced a resolution in the Senate calling on the American delegation at the ongoing Paris Peace Conference to secure a hearing for an Irish delegation at the event. The resolution also expressed sympathy for Irish “self-determination” and was passed by 60-1, with 35 senators abstaining.4 President Wilson, unwilling to offend Britain, chose to ignore this resolution but de Valera had every reason to hope that further Irish-American political pressure could be applied to force the American government to back Irish demands.   

One might have expected a close working relationship between the leaders of Irish and Irish-American nationalism and indeed relations between de Valera and Cohalan were initially good. In particular, De Valera recognized that Cohalan, with his social and political connections, could be a vital ally to his mission. In February 1919, a few months before de Valera’s arrival in the United States, an Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia, chaired by Judge Cohalan, launched a “Victory Fund” in support of the Irish cause. A portion of these funds facilitated de Valera’s successful tour of the United States. While Cohalan initially objected to de Valera’s bond drive, believing that the sale of bonds on behalf of a country that did not yet exist would be illegal, a compromise was found. Bond “certificates” rather than actual bonds were sold. FOIF National Secretary, Cork-born Diarmuid Lynch, who had fought heroically in the 1916 Rising, turned over the names and address of the organization’s members to de Valera’s bond drive committee. Meanwhile, members of the Clan and the FOIF enthusiastically participated in the Bond Drive. Over $5 million was collected and this aspect of de Valera’s American mission proved to be a resounding success.5

Tensions Developed

Despite Cohalan’s cooperation with de Valera’s bond drive, tensions developed between both men. Given Cohalan’s relative obscurity in Irish history, it would be easy to explain this dispute in terms of personality factors. Indeed, de Valera has lent credence to this view. In one report to Arthur Griffith, then acting head of the Irish cabinet in Dublin, de Valera expressed his frustration with Cohalan. “Big as the country is, it was not big enough to hold the Judge and myself”.6 

John Devoy

However, a close study of Cohalan’s background and belief system offers another explanation for the growing tension. While the American-born Cohalan was an Irish nationalist and strongly anti-British, he also saw himself as a defender of the Irish “race” in the United States. Since its foundation in 1903, the Clan newspaper, the Gaelic American, edited by Devoy, confronted claims that the Catholic Irish were not fully loyal to the American nation and followed the orders of the Pope and Irish nationalist leaders. Cohalan was also an American isolationist and many of his publications attacked perceived attempts by so-called “pro-British” elements in the United States to forge an Anglo-American alliance. Cohalan believed that such an alliance would not only be detrimental to Irish-American and American interests but would also enhance the power of the British Empire and thus weaken Irish struggle for independence.7.

Like Devoy, Cohalan associated Wilson with a dominant Anglo-Saxon elite in American society that identified with the interests of Britain as much as the United States. He believed that Wilson’s proposed League of Nations was merely a cover for an Anglo-American alliance. As Cohalan remarked in a speech in Brooklyn, New York in March 1919: “How clever the Englishman who devised the term, but oh, how much more strongly an appeal a ‘League of Nations’ makes to mankind in general than a League for the preservation of the British Empire.”8   

In contrast, de Valera was generally supportive of Wilson’s idea of a League of Nations once an independent Ireland could be a member. In a predatory international system of powerful and weak states, a functioning League could offer a degree of security to an emerging state like Ireland. In July 1919, just after he arrived in the United States, de Valera informed Arthur Griffith in Dublin that he was trying to let Wilson know that “if he goes for his 14 points as they were and a true League of Nations, men and women of Irish blood will be behind him”.9 De Valera’s awareness of the weakness of small independent states was also apparent in his famous Westminster Gazette interview in February 1920. Conscious of British security needs and the limited sovereignty of small nations, de Valera suggested that the Platt Amendment, which governed Cuba’s relations with the United States, could provide a possible model for Anglo-Irish relations after Ireland became independent10. This provoked a furious reaction from both Devoy and Cohalan who feared that such a move would only strengthen the British Empire. Devoy in the pages of the Gaelic American now openly attacked de Valera claiming that giving such rights to England would be “suicidal” for Irish interests.11

Joseph McGarrity

Broadly, the dispute between Cohalan and de Valera related to who should determine the strategy of the Irish nationalist movement in the United States. Some leading members of the American Clan such as Joseph McGarrity, publisher of The Irish Press in Philadelphia, believed that the direction of the movement should lie in Irish hands. Other followers of Cohalan such as Bishop Michael Gallagher of Detroit questioned de Valera’s right to dictate policy to Americans. According to Gallagher, such a policy would only confirm American nativist prejudice that the Irish followed the instructions of “foreign potentates”.12

Matters came to a head in June 1920 at the Republican National Convention in Chicago where a Cohalan delegation and a de Valera delegation appeared, each urging the U.S. political party to adopt competing policy planks in favor of Irish independence. Cohalan’s resolution was a loose wording in favor of Irish self-determination and had majority support within the Resolutions committee. In contrast, de Valera’s resolution called for recognition of an Irish republic and was rejected by the committee. Following de Valera disavowal of Cohalan’s policy plank, a perplexed committee decided to wash their hands entirely of the Irish question and adopted no resolution in favor of Ireland.13

New Group

In November 1920, Sinn Féin in America broke off relations with the Clan and the FOIF and formed a new organization called the American Association for the Recognition of an Irish Republic (AARIR). It is debatable whether de Valera really believed that he could persuade any American government to recognize an Irish Republic. To do so would lead to a serious rupture in relations between the U.S. and the U.K. In a letter to Michael Collins on his return to Ireland de Valera admitted as much:

Though I was working directly for recognition in America, I kept in mind as our main political objective the securing of America’s influence, in case she was to join the League of Nations, to securing us also a place with the League…. Recognition of the Irish Republic we will only get in case of a [US] war with England tho’ of course we should never cease our demand for it.14

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

From de Valera’s perspective, to have accepted Cohalan’s resolution at the Republican convention would have made him appear a “puppet” of other forces. De Valera believed that Irish-Americans should follow the dictates of the “Home Organization” and in this regard he had the full support of the IRB in Ireland.15 However, Cohalan and Devoy were not only motivated by loyalty to Ireland but also by loyalty to what they felt were the interests of the United States and Irish America. These interests were not always compatible with de Valera’s goals and the resulting tension and strife came at a time when a united front between Irish America and Ireland was sorely needed.

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Potential guest writers are welcome to contact me through the comments feature. See my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series for more articles about this period.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

This month’s round up leads with two deaths, one on each side of the Atlantic, both connected to Northern Ireland: 1998 Nobel Prize-winning Irish politician John Hume, 83, of Derry, who helped forge the Good Friday Agreement; and journalist and author Pete Hamill, 85, the Brooklyn-born son of Belfast Catholic immigrants.

Hume

“Hume combined moral clarity against violence and strategic vision for what peace might entail with a politician’s embrace of life’s complexities, the need to compromise and to take risks, to find where power lies and to exploit it,” Tom McTague wrote in The Atlantic. “Hume was supremely successful in this effort, whether you agree with the ends he pursued or the tactics he deployed to achieve them; he was not a saint, but a man who made judgments that are not beyond reproach. He abhorred violence, but brought Sinn Fein’s leaders (who did not) to the top table of Northern Irish politics. In seeking out giants, we are too quick to seek out perfection, when no such thing exists. Hume’s legacy lies in the compromises he championed and the complexities he recognized.

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Hamill

“Hamill was among the last symbols of a bygone era, when idiosyncratic newspaper columnists like Mike Royko in Chicago and Jimmy Breslin in New York were celebrities in the cities they covered,” Harrison Smith wrote in the Washington Post. “He was in the vanguard of the New Journalism movement, when writers such as Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Breslin applied the traditional tools of literary fiction to works of reporting, often while writing about ordinary people who usually never made headlines.”

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Also in August:

  • The Irish Examiner was first to report that more than 80 people attended an Irish golf society event in Clifden, County Galway, breaching COVID-19 restrictions in spirit, if not in fact. Three Irish politicians have resigned their posts. The scandal is emblematic of larger problems in the three-party coalition cobbled together four months after Irish elections, the Examiner’s Gerald Howlin wrote under the headline, “Golfgate shows the government has the wrong clubs in the bag“.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, 1,777 people died of coronavirus as of Aug. 30, and 142 new cases at month’s end caused health officials to warn of a second national lock down, The Irish Times reported. At least 871 people have died from COVID-19 in Northern Ireland through Aug. 21.
  • The North’s top tourist attraction reopened Aug. 1 with safety measures to cope with the ongoing pandemic. “But it could be months, possibly years, before Titanic Belfast is anywhere near back to delivering the sort of economic statistics which has earned it international plaudits,” The Irish News reported.
  • Next to the museum, Harland & Wolff has benefited from ferry and cruise ship firms using the famous shipyard’s dry docks to carry out maintenance during the pandemic shutdown. The firm is still fighting for its long-term financial survival.
  • One more from the North: “No United Ireland. Not Now. Not Ever,” says Briefings For Britain, which insists “the impact of Brexit on Irish unity remains unclear.” … U.K. and E.U. negotiators are still trying to reach a trade agreement before the Dec. 31 end of the Brexit transition period.  
  • Fitch Ratings affirmed an A+ Stable Outlook for the Republic, factoring the uncertainties of the pandemic, Brexit, and the coalition government.
  • The Republic’s population is on the threshold of 5 million, reaching an estimated 4.98 million as of April, according to the Central Statistics Office. Total population on the island of Ireland, including the North, reached 5.1 million in 2016, exceeding the 1851 post-Famine census total for the first time.

A road on Inisheer, August 2019.

Votes for women, support for Ireland

National Museum of American History

In 10 weeks American women are expected to have a large impact in deciding the U.S. presidential election, which arrives at the centenary of their enfranchisement. The August 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution also was followed by a presidential vote in America as the war of independence unfolded in Ireland.

“Women of Irish blood in the United States should lose no time in qualifying as voters, so that their wonderful influence may be used to make better laws in the United States, as well as assisting to secure recognition of the Irish Republic,” The Irish Press of Philadelphia editorialized. “Those who fail to do so are neglecting their duty and will be held responsible for their negligence by those of the race who make use of this new and powerful weapon, which the vote places in the hands of every woman who can qualify as a citizen of this Republic.1

Irish women had received restricted voting rights in February 1918. Ten months later they helped sweep republican Sinn Féin candidates to office, including Constance Georgine Markievicz, the first women elected to Parliament. “Countess” Markievicz and the other separatists refused their seats in London and instead formed a breakaway government in Dublin.

By August 1920, the war in Ireland was turning more brutal. Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and others were dying in prison hunger strikes. “Will the newly-enfranchised American Women show their love for freedom and justice by asking their Government to prove its good faith to the democracies of the world by stopping the murder of Mayor MacSwiney and his companions?” Irish activist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington asked in a public cable.2

A small but determined group of American women activists continued their months-long protest against imperial rule in Ireland through demonstrations outside the British embassy and other locations in Washington, D.C. Some suffragists and supporters of Irish independence criticized their tactics as counterproductive.

In a pair of early September 1920 editorials, The Irish Press addressed both the “women pickets” and MacSwiney’s pending martyrdom:3

American women will appreciate the suffering of the wives and mothers of Irishmen who are forced to sacrifice all for their motherland. American women are now fully enfranchised citizens; will they by their votes permit the continued recognition by the United States of the Government in Ireland [Britain] that is responsible for conditions such as this? …

The people of Ireland … may expect the utmost assistance of all American women. … Picketing … is not easy work [and] many men would not care to undertake it. … If all the women in the United States would take action, not necessarily in the same manner, but with the same earnestness, the mothers of Ireland would never again need to sacrifice their sons.

Ireland was not a major issue in the November 1920 election. Republican Sen. Warren G. Harding of Ohio overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox in a rebuke to Woodrow Wilson’s eight years in the White House. Women swelled the voting turnout to nearly 27 million from 18.5 million four years earlier. Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief early in 1921, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as Americans focused on domestic affairs.4

American women pickets on behalf of Ireland, April 1920.

Further reading:

Tara M. McCarthy’s Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920 is “an important and understudied perspective on the evolution of women’s activism in the United States … emphasizing the particular role of Irish American women in the politics of reform through the interlinked lenses of Irish nationalism, labor, and suffrage,” the Women’s History Association of Ireland said in a review. “These are explored using local, national, and transnational contexts and therefore provide a useful addition to the study of American politics in addition to the Irish diaspora’s experiences abroad.”

The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial website offers several profiles of native Irish and Irish-American women who helped win the vote a century ago. They including:

Burns and other women are also in the “Fearless: A Tribute to Irish American Women” feature from the Library of Congress.

My “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series includes an interview with American historian Catherine M. Burns about the 1920 women’s pickets. A separate post about Mary Galvin of Philadelphia explores the activity of one of the women.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City, October 1917.

Catching up with modern Ireland: July

This time last year my wife and I were enjoying a two-week holiday on both sides of the Irish border. Millions of other visitors did the same last summer. Now, tourism to Ireland is experiencing “an extraordinary collapse” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as detailed by the Central Statistics Office.

Visitors have declined by two thirds over the first six months of this year against the same period last year; while June arrivals plummeted 97 percent compared to June 2019.

“Decimated is how I’d describe the business,” Dublin-born Niall Leogue, owner of Caddie Tours near Washington, D.C., told The Irish Times. The 10 tours he had arranged for some 400 people have been cancelled.

“No one wants to travel at this point,” said Leogue, an acquaintance through  Irish Network-DC. “What this will come down to will be the confidence of the consumer. Without the consumer there is no travel.”

Those who do visit are testing Ireland’s famous welcome and creating a new threat: “Tourists, particularly American ones, who flout Ireland’s quarantine rule,” The New York Times reported. “They aren’t the only tourists ignoring the requirement that people arriving in Ireland isolate themselves for 14 days, but most of the public complaints involve Americans.”

The U.S. Embassy in Ireland warns Americans to be prepared for the Irish government to enforce new “travel restrictions with little or no advance notice.” Its July 28 alert continues:

The Irish government continues to advise against all non-essential foreign travel, and requires visitors arriving in Ireland, with limited exceptions, to restrict their movements and fill in a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form indicating where they will self-isolate for 14 days. Failure to complete the form and providing false or misleading information is an offense under Irish law, with a fine of up to €2,500 (nearly $3,000) and/or imprisonment of up to six months.

Other news in July:

  • A Guardian editorial enthused: “Step by step, Ireland’s old nationalist politics, shaped by Britain in so many ways, have moved on. Ireland is prospering by doing things more rationally and in ways that are firmly rooted in the state’s membership of multilateral institutions.”
  • Archaeologists have discovered evidence of extensive activity at Navan Fort—a circular earthwork near Armagh city in Northern Ireland—including a vast Iron Age temple complex and residences perhaps occupied by the kings of Ulster.
  • The Irish government has provided €66,561 in funding to keep open the acclaimed Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), which documents the Troubles. The comprehensive resource at Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry still needs additional support to avoid future problems.
  • A Hong Kong property tycoon has proposed building a new city, called Nextpolis, between Dublin and Belfast, for up to 50,000 refugees of the troubled Asian financial hub.
  • Loftus Hall in County Wexford, said to the most haunted house in Ireland, is for sale, which has generated a wave of media reports.
  • Amazon announced it would add 1,000 jobs in Ireland, bringing its workforce in the country to 5,000.
  • First the pandemic cancelled St. Patrick’s Day parades, now it’s claiming Irish America summer events including the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, Milwaukee Irish Fest, and Great American Irish Festival (Utica, N.Y.), and businesses such as Fado Irish Pub in Washington, D.C., and the Irish Walk store in Alexandria, Va.
  • The Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha will be hosted July 31 at Dublin’s Croke Park, home of the 136-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and symbol of an Irish identity that was nationalist and Catholic. The open stadium is being used to meet social distancing requirements. And in this case, the Irish welcome appears to be fully intact.
  • See previous monthly roundups and our annual “Best of the Blog.”

No masks: Galway city, August 2019.

JFK’s 1960 presidential nomination at 60

Sixty years ago U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts became the second Irish-American Catholic nominated for president. New York Gov. Al Smith was the first in 1928. Both were Democrats. Smith lost to Herbert Hoover. Kennedy would go on to beat Richard Nixon.

The Democrat’s 1960 national convention was staged July 11-15 in Los Angeles. In an explanatory preview, The Irish Press of Dublin described the U.S. presidential nomination and party policy process, its ardfheis, as “the most spectacular free show on the American continent.” These conventions were “the nearest approach to a parliamentary type of government that the American political system allows.”1

Kennedy’s nomination was front-page news across the nation and around the world. The host city Los Angeles Times reported the next morning:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, who at 43 knew what he wanted and went after it, last night was acclaimed Democratic candidate for President of the United States. His self-predicted victory was clinched 45 minutes after the first balloting began … Kennedy is the second American of the Roman Catholic religion to win presidential nomination by a majority party, and, if the luck of the Irish that attended him July 13 continues through Nov. 8, he would be the youngest U.S. president ever elected.”2

John F. Kennedy delivers his July 1960 nomination acceptance speech. Watch the 22-minute speech.

A few days later in Ireland, the Sunday Independent published a front page “exclusive” on Kennedy’s reply to its request for a “special statement” about his nomination. Kennedy answered:

I am most grateful for the many messages of goodwill and friendship which I have received from Ireland since my nomination. … I am confident that a Democratic Party victory in November will offer us all an opportunity and occasion to break new ground in our common search for peace. In this effort Ireland will unquestionably play an important role … especially by its unique and influential place in the United Nations. … The association between Ireland and USA is an enduring one. In my own public career I have always been impressed by the many unities which exist between the living tradition of Ireland and the ideal of our own democracy. … I am heartened by the generous hope and high resolves which have been conveyed to me from Ireland.3

Liam Cosgrave, 1974

The Independent also featured a guest column by Liam Cosgrave, TD, who said he first met Kennedy in 1955 in Dublin, and again the following year in Washington, D.C. “He impressed me by his lack of pretense and by his direct approach,” Cosgrave wrote. He continued:

I was much taken by his easy, relaxed manner, which was devoid of showmanship of any kind, and also by his sense of humor, so characteristic of an American with Irish antecedents. … Kennedy is shrewd, capable and determined and has employed all these attributes in his carefully planned and efficiently conducted campaign for nomination. … [He] is a worthy inheritor of a great Catholic tradition brought to America by his Irish ancestors. … His achievements may yet add another page to the glorious history of America and to the distinguished part played in that history by men and women of Irish descent.4

Six years later — three years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas — Cosgrave was interviewed in Limerick for a John F. Kennedy Library oral history project. Read the transcript.

Previous posts about JFK:

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

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

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

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

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

Read Part 1 about the Republican Convention

Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campbell

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

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

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

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

De Valera

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

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

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

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

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

The main news from Ireland in June was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and approval of a new coalition government. From the Associated Press and other media reports:

Centrist politician Micheál Martin became Ireland’s new prime minister on June 27, fusing two longtime rival parties into a coalition four months after an election that upended the status quo.

The deal will see Martin’s Fianna Fail govern with Fine Gael — the party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar —and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the 1920s civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never before formed a government together.

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

Under the plan approved by the three parties’ memberships, Martin is taoiseach, or prime minister until the end of 2022. He then hands the job back to his predecessor, Varadkar, who has won high praise for steering the country through the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Varadkar will serve as deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

The historic coalition pushed aside leftist Sinn Fein, which did better than expected in the February election, but failed to run candidates in all constituencies and could not attract coalition partners. It becomes Ireland’s main opposition party.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the principal chamber of the Irish legislature. Sinn Fein has 37 seats; Fine Gael has 35, and Greens have 12 seats. The balance are other small parties and independents.

Other headlines from June:

    • Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy clan sister who as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s helped pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement, died at 92. “The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy,” she said in 1998.
    • Statues are being toppled around the world as protesters rise up against racism and other forms of oppression. TheJournal.ie offered a round up of statues and monuments already removed from Irish streetscapes (Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin), and those that could soon disappear (Columbus in Galway).
    • In a Washington Post op-ed, former Seattle police chief and Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, and Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant and former diplomat, wrote about their efforts to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • A post-Brexit opinion poll found the U.K. departure from the E.U. has squeezed the political middle in Northern Ireland and pushed more people into unionist and nationalist trenches, The Guardian reported.
    • Bloomberg profiled notorious businessman Sean Quinn.
    • Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council. Mexico, India, and Norway also were selected for the same two-year terms on the 15-member panel.
    • The false widow spider, an invasive species first spotted in Ireland in 1998, has been multiplying quickly and is more venomous than first assumed, researchers at NUI Galway have found.
    • All in the family: New analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, the Stone Age tomb mounds in the Boyne River valley, reveals a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child, or brother and sister. The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built the mounds 5,000 years ago lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite.

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.

Three stories published beyond the blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

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

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

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

Mary Galvin’s year of protest for Ireland, 1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women pickets outside the British Embassy, April 1920.

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

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

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

*** 

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

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

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

Galvin’s group quickly issued a statement:

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Cork city ruins, December 1920.

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

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

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

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

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