Category Archives: Politics

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

1919 Revisited: American reporting of Irish independence

This year I explored 1919 U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of events in the struggled for Irish freedom. I produced 32 stand-alone posts for my American Reporting of Irish Independence series about developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including:

  • Dáil Éireann, revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic
  • Irish Race Convention
  • American Commission on Irish Independence
  • Éamon de Valera’s tour of America
  • News reporting and opinion pieces for and against the Irish cause

Many of my posts are focused on three Irish-American weeklies: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia paper with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; the Kentucky Irish American, published from 1898 to 1968 in Louisville; and The Irish Standard, circulated from 1886 to 1920 in Minneapolis, Minn. Since all three papers are digitized, my posts are laced with links to the original pages. The Irish American and Standard offered more moderate coverage of Ireland’s cause than the Press, reflecting a more conservative Irish America in the heartland, rather than the more activist immigrant pockets of the East Coast.

Ruth Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

I also produced a five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, about a young Chicago Daily News correspondent who reported from the early months of the revolution. Upon her return to America, Russell wrote a book about her experience, protested against British rule in Ireland; and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell said of the Sinn Féin leaders. “[They were] the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”1

Here’s the full series:

Thanks to the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland for the opportunity to present my research at conferences in Dallas and Belfast, respectively.

Presenting at the NPHFI conference, Queens University Belfast, November 2019.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

November began with more than 1,000 people from the academic, arts, business, community, education, health, labor, law, media, and sports sectors; on both sides of the Irish border, and the diaspora in America, Canada, and Australia; signing an open letter calling for a “new conversation” about the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. The “Ireland’s Future” group urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to establish a citizens’ assembly to pave the way for a united Ireland. By the month’s end, Varadkar and opposition party leader Micheál Martin had rebuffed the request.

“In recent decades Irish nationalism has moved beyond slogans like ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ into an appreciation that co-operation rather than conflict is a far better route to an agreed Ireland. Attempting to take advantage of the Brexit confusion to pursue a united Ireland is little more than a reworking of that tired old cliché,” Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins wrote.

Other News 

  • A new round of talks to reopen the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, dormant since January 2017, is scheduled for Dec. 16, four days after U.K. elections that will impact the fate of Brexit.
  • Results of four by-elections in the Republic of Ireland were still being determined as I publish. Turnout was low. A national election is expected before May.
  • The Republic launched a Rural Broadband Plan to address the lack of digital coverage in black spots that cover 80 percent of its land mass. Varadkar hailed the project as the “most important since rural electrification.”
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf course reported a $1.7 million loss for 2018, the fifth-straight year the County Clare club has failed to make a profit, The Washington Post reported, citing Irish government filings. In October, the Clare County Council approved the Trump Organization’s request to build 53 homes on the site; but a request to build a rock barrier to shield the seaside resort from erosion remains pending with Ireland’s national planning board. 
  • Irish and U.K. media outlets have reported more anti-immigrant, alt-right activity in the Republic, which previously prided (or fooled) itself that it avoided the racism and xenophobia that plagues Europe and America.

Book News

  • Laying it on the Line – The Border and Brexit, a collection of 26 essays by “informed voices” (Only one woman!) from the Republic, Northern Ireland, the U.K., and the USA was released late in the month.
  • Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, published, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics. My friend Felix M. Larkin’s review in The Irish Catholic.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland was selected for The Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2019,” and The New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2019.” It was not included in The Irish Times‘ “What Irish Writers are Reading” list.

NOTE: I’ll publish my seventh annual “Best of the Blog” near the end of December. The monthly roundup will resume in the new year. MH

From my morning walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens in early November.

Some unusual maps of Ireland

The anthropomorphic maps of Ireland shown below were drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939 … also known under her married name, Tennant) in the mid-19th century. They are part of the “Purpose and Portrayal: Early Irish Maps and Mapmaking” exhibit at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, which I viewed earlier this month. The exhibit continues through 26 January 2020. Lancaster produced similar treatments of other countries, including the United States.

Below, note the discrepancy in the two maps of the former Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland on the spine of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century, which I found next to each other on the shelf of a Barnes & Nobel store in Pittsburgh. The 2018 hardcover at left shows only Northern Ireland (under the “KI” of Kingdom), though the island’s political partition didn’t occur until 15 years after the 1800-1906 period assessed in the book. The 2019 softcover at right corrects the error. “Yes, it was an oversight, which was later put right!,” Cannadine replied to my email outreach.

Map images of the U.K. and/or the Republic of Ireland typically shade the north and south differently to make the distinction, keeping whole the island’s physical geography. Less-used maps showing only the 6-county North, or 26-county Republic, floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea must make cartographers crazy, and surely enrage # united Ireland supporters.

I can hardly wait to see the post-Brexit maps of Europe.

Remembering Belfast’s war dead, before the war ended

On a wall of a side entry into the ornate St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast, a modest plaque speaks to a troubled time, and not the period most would associate with the city. The brass-on-wood message reads, in part:

“Pray for the repose of the souls of the sailors and soldiers who have fallen in this war.”

In this case, “this war” is the Great War, “the war to end all wars.” The plaque is dated August 1917 … 15 months before the November 1918 armistice.

Praying for the dead of any period or place is encouraged in Catholic belief, particularly during the month of November, and the priests of this parish have never removed this reminder of early 20th century sacrifice. They are still talking about it at Mass.

The plaque at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast. Yes, that’s me reflected in the brass after the Nov. 9, 2019, Vigil Mass.

Ireland’s Memorial Records, a digital archive of the Flanders Field Museum in Belgium, lists 2,268 fatalities who were born in Belfast among 49,000 Irish soldiers killed in the war. The archive does not record their faith affiliation, let alone their home church.

Some 4,000 Catholic men from Belfast enlisted in the nine Irish regiments of the British Army, many joining the 6th Connaught Rangers, “the regiment of choice for Belfast Catholics,” historian Eamon Phoenix of Strainmillis University College says in a 2014 BBC podcast about the plaque. Many of these men supported pro-Home Rule nationalist John Redmond’s Irish National Volunteers and probably worshiped at St. Malachy’s, Phoenix says.

Of nearly 63,000 war recruits from the then nine-county province of Ulster, about 27 percent (17,092) were Catholics, at the time 44 percent of the region’s population. Overall, however, more Catholics than Protestants joined the war from Ireland in the years just before the island’s 1921 partition. More on faith affiliation and “the numbers involved,” from the Queen’s University Belfast Irish History Live blog.  

At this time, British officer Major Charles Blakiston Houston, a Protestant, was married to Norah Emily Persse, a Catholic woman and benefactor of St. Malachy’s Church. (Such “mixed marriages” were less than 1 percent of all unions in early 20th century Ireland, even more rare in Ulster, according to a 2015 study.) Norah convinced her parish priest, Fr. Dan McCashen, to install the plaque while the outcome of the war remained unresolved, Phoenix says.

“This must be very unique across the British Isles, a plaque that went up before the end of the war to remember soldiers; usually they went up afterward about 1920 or 1922,” he adds.

Why the early memorial? Phoenix speculates Norah sensed the shift from Redmond’s Home Rule nationalism to the post-Easter Rising surge of separatist Irish republicanism. If she anticipated the Sinn Féin election triumph of December 1918, she wanted to be sure the Redmond nationalists were remembered and respected.

“Many veterans returning to nationalist areas met grudging acceptance, hostility, or even physical violence,” the Queen’s History blog says. “For all of them the high public honor and celebration with which they had departed contrasted sharply with the changed circumstances of their return.”

A July 1919 press report of a Belfast event to honor veterans, however, included “a notable demonstration of the part played by Belfast nationalists” in the war. But it took until the approaching centenary of the Great War for it to become more widely acceptable, even expected, to recognize the sacrifices of Irish soldiers, especially nationalist Catholics.  

At St. Malachy’s, they have never stopped remembering and praying for the war dead, including at the Vigil Mass I attended Nov. 9. The priest noted the plaque during his homily. Otherwise, I would have missed it, since this feature is not described in the history section or other parts of the church’s website.

I sent an email to the church after returning to America and finding the Phoenix account. I’ll update the post if I receive new information.

***

Related: An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918 Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910. Eight years later, he was shipped to France.

The Belfast Cenotaph commemorating World War I opened in 1929 at Belfast City Hall. July 2019 photo.

Hyde’s ‘American Journey’ re-launched in D.C.

Irish language advocate and academic Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) in November 1905 began an eight-month tour of the United States to promote the Gaelic League, which he helped co-found in 1893. Money raised from the tour was used to hire and train additional Irish language teachers and organizers. The Gaelic League sustained a cultural revolution that nurtured the political sovereignty movement that erupted over the next two decades. 

My America Journey, Hyde’s collection of journal and diary entries, was first published in 1937 in Irish. Now, the University College Dublin Press has reissued the collection as a 362-page bilingual hardcover, which also contains newly discovered archival material, extensive illustrations, maps, and an introduction by Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Daniel Mulhall

Hyde was “one of the most interesting and least known figures of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland,” Ambassador of Ireland to the United States Daniel Mulhall said during an Oct. 23 book launch at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Hyde’s 1892 National Literary Society lecture, “The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation”, ranks as “the most important speech in Ireland in 150 years,” Mulhall said. It awakened the realization that the Irish were an ancient people with their own language and culture, “not a pale imitation of our neighbor.”

The Irish community Hyde encountered in America was “fiercely committed to the welfare of their ancestral homeland,” the ambassador continued. Hyde encouraged the connection to be sure the immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic also didn’t drift away in spirit. It was the beginning of American influence on Irish affairs that continued through the revolutionary period, the Troubles, and continues to this day.

“I have personally experienced that commitment in the context of Brexit,” Mulhall said.

I’ll have more on Hyde’s book in future posts. For now, here is a link to “Objects, Aims and Philosophy of the Gaelic League Set Forth in Address“, an announcement of Hyde’s tour from the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League as published on the Oct. 14, 1905, front page of the Kentucky Irish American newspaper.

Statue outside of the Douglas Hyde Interpretive Centre in his native County Roscommon, February 2018.

Reports: Brexit deal agreed as deadline nears

UPDATE 2:

A special Saturday (Oct. 19) sitting of the British Parliament was supposed to decide the fate of the Brexit deal described below. Instead, the process has been delayed again. The Irish Times explains what happened. Further twists before the Oct. 31 leave deadline will appear in a new post. MH

FIRST UPDATE 1:

  • “Boris Johnson’s prospects of taking Britain out of the European Union by the end of this month were on a knife-edge … as he scrambled for support at Westminster for a deal agreed with 27 other leaders.” The vote is scheduled for Saturday, 19 October.
  • “Many traditional Unionist supporters in the Northern Ireland business community and farming community were less worried about the uncertain long-term constitutional implications of a deal that perhaps brings Northern Ireland a little closer to the Republic of Ireland and more concerned with the short-term impact on the economy and political stability of a hard Brexit, which would probably have led to new customs posts along the border. They are likely to accept the outcome, and the politicians they support may similarly be quietly relieved, even if they would never admit it in public.”
  • “The irony of the plan for Northern Ireland to remain legally in the UK customs regime, while in practice following the EU’s, is that its most obvious precedent is in Irish nationalism. De Valera’s solution to the conundrum of getting on with governing 26 counties while claiming jurisdiction over 32 was the handy dualism of de jure/de facto: the North would be claimed de jure as part of the State while recognising that de facto it was not. There is something almost amusing in this Jesuitical device now defining Northern Ireland itself – UK by law, EU by fact.”

ORIGINAL POST:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Union officials have reached a Brexit deal, according to media reports.

The proposal requires approval by E.U. and U.K. governing bodies by the Oct. 31 deadline. U.K voters approved Britain’s separation from the E.U. in a June 2016 referendum.

The terms of Brexit will have tremendous impact on the island of Ireland, which has the only land border between the E.U. and U.K. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, a key part of Johnson’s coalition, says it does not support the latest deal. The DUP scuttled a 2017 proposal by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

The Irish Times reports:

  • Northern Ireland will be treated significantly differently from Great Britain, a sticking point with the DUP. There will be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
  • The Republic of Ireland has conceded on consent and time-limit on border arrangements. Northern Ireland could get out of arrangement. For foreseeable future, however, there would be no hardening of the border in Ireland.

This is a fast-developing story. I will post updates. For immediate news resources, see The Irish Times and BBC.

Three Irish writers on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. Below are short biographies of three native Irish writers and excerpts from columns they had published in October 1919.

***

Harris

Frank Harris (1855-1931) was born in Galway and emigrated to America in 1869, age 13. He worked odd jobs and eventually moved west and earned a law degree. Harris returned to Europe and began his journalism career as a correspondent for U.S. newspapers before settling in London, where he worked at several publications. He began to write novels in the early 20th century; returned to America at the outbreak of the Great War; and became the editor at Pearson’s, a left-leaning monthly featuring fiction and arts and political coverage. In 1917, he wrote an essay “An Englishman on Ireland”. The column below was originally published in Pearson’s (linked) and syndicated to U.S. newspapers in October 1919. Two years later, Harris wrote another essay, “The Reign of Terror in Ireland”, and also became an American citizen.

How England Robs Ireland, from Pearson’s magazine

If I have fought for the ‘underdog’ all my life, and have championed lost causes continually without hope of success; if, as Bernard Shaw says, I have been wise by dint of pity, it is partly because in Ireland pity is a religion and the general atmosphere is softer and more affectionate than in any country I know, with the possible exception of Russia. … I can live in England with pleasure; I couldn’t live in Ireland or face Irish life for a year; it is too poor and drab. … Yet I am a Sinn Feiner and want to see an Irish republic, though twenty years ago I should have been satisfied with Home Rule; for I know that England is incapable of justice to Ireland … When (Ireland) appeals to kith and in in America she is insulted … America deserts you! or rather Mr. Wilson!”

***

Desmond

Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) was born in County Waterford. An early (possibly first) novel, “Democracy”, was published in 1919. In a review, American author Upton Sinclair wrote “the work is deeply felt and intensely sincere.”1 Desmond went on to write more than 60 books, many of them about psychic phenomena, the occult, and spiritualism.

U.S. Converting Englishmen to Irish Freedom, from the New York Herald, Oct. 12, 1919

This is Ireland’s hour. There is not an Irishman throughout the world who does not feel it. England herself is feeling it. … In the twilight of the gods that to-day broods over Ireland the Irishman, whether Ulsterman or Southerner feels it. It is a feeling that rises above economic contentions, above policy, above reason itself. …

[Conservatives in Parliament] are astonished to find that Americans without distinction are ardent “Irishmen” whether they have Irish blood or not. When they hear of the Sinn Fein colors being carried down Fifth Avenue by New York regiments who are as anti-German as any Conservative among them they think it a horrible dream. To them it is as insoluble as so many other things American.

Ireland has put out the Sinn Fein constructive programme, which a prominent American lawyer told me the other day could be taken to any bank in Wall Street and money raised on it. Behind that programme is the brain of the movement–Arthur Griffith–for de Valera is only the inspirer. … I believe that Griffith and de Valera … feeling that the hour, which, if allowed to pass, may not return, has come, the psychological moment when Ireland has the ear of the world, are determined to put all on a throw of the dice. … We believe that English democracy has been educated to the point which has rendered Ireland’s self-government assured; that a way can be found out of the Ulster impasse; and that a little more patience will see the full fruition of Ireland’s hopes.

***

MacManus

Seumas MacManus (1867-1960) was born in Mountcharles, County Donegal. The author, dramatist, and poet began writing for U.S. publications in the 1890s, including a 1907 piece for the North American Review, “Sinn Fein“: “Very quietly and silently, during the past decade, a change has been coming over the face of things political in Ireland … one of the greatest, most revolutionizing, that Ireland has known for a century…”  In 1917, he published Ireland’s Cause. His book Lo, And Behold Ye!, “of kings and peasants, of saints and sinners, of fairies and others of the tribes of little folk in a maze of bewitching Irishry”2 was making its U.S. debut at the time this column was published.

Forces Opposed to Sinn Fein in Ireland Are in State of Collapse, from The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), Oct. 25, 1919

Ireland is the land of pilgrims. And the season just ended together with the year 1918 have been far and away the most wonderful pilgrimage seasons Ireland has known since the Middle Ages. The 1918 threatened conscription–Irishmen fighting under England’s flag–made wonderful impetus for the pilgrimage movement, and hundreds of thousands journeyed in prayer and penance to their favorite holy places. …

The most significant sign of the times in Ireland is the fact that the Freeman’s Journal, the oldest newspaper in Ireland and a newspaper that for long years had carried by far the greatest sway in Ireland, has just gone under and disappeared.3 While Sinn Fein was growing the Freeman’s Journal was prone to libel the character of the movement and the men. This was done only to prevent the virile new movement from indecently hurrying the demise of the played out [Irish Parliamentary Party, which supported late 19th century home rule.]

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.

Irish Network USA gathers in DC

Irish Network USA holds its annual national conference Oct. 10-13 in Washington, D.C.

Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall opens the event with an Oct. 10 reception at the Irish Embassy. He will be interviewed the following day on the state of Irish-US relations “in times of change” and what Brexit means for transatlantic ties.

Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland; Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland; and Seamus Carroll, IDA Ireland, & TBC, Invest Northern Ireland will discuss Ireland’s trade, investment and tourism relations with the US, what Brexit might mean for those relations, and the role of IN chapters in advancing economic objectives in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Another session will review the new diaspora policy the Irish government plans to publish in 2020 as part of its commitment to double Ireland’s global impact by 2025.

Irish Network USA is the national umbrella organization of 19 Irish Networks chapters in cities across America. Its more than 3,500 members connect with their peers and to develop relationships that will foster success in their business, economic, cultural and sports ventures, and bolster business opportunities and economic development between America and Ireland.

Éamon de Valera’s October 1919 visit to Pittsburgh

This post fits two ongoing series: “American Reporting of Irish Independence” and “Pittsburgh Irish.” Check out my earlier stories from each link. MH

***

De Valera in 1919

Éamon de Valera had been touring America for three months when reports of his upcoming stop in Pittsburgh appeared in the city’s newspapers. The Sept. 18 Post-Gazette announced a Sept. 26 visit, but the next day told readers “no date has been set.” On Sept. 28, the newspaper reported the Irish leader would arrive in the city on Oct. 3. 

The Daily Post announced the itinerary:

Upon his arrival Friday evening he will be escorted to the William Penn Hotel by prominent friends of Irish freedom. After dinner he will attend a meeting of representatives of the Irish American societies of Western Pennsylvania in the ballroom … Admission to this meeting will be by card. On Saturday he will attend exercises at Duquesne University, where he will have conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. On Saturday evening he will address two meetings, on at the Syria Mosque and the other at Memorial hall. … While de Valera is speaking in one hall the meeting in the other will be addressed by either Frank P. Walsh, former chairman of the war labor board and now chairman of the American commission on Irish independence, or by Harry J. Boland, secretary of the Sinn Fein organization in Ireland.1

This event would cap more than a year of large, passionate public meetings in the city focused on Irish independence. In May 1918, Pittsburgh’s Irish community protested British military conscription in Ireland, six months before the end of the Great War. In December 1918, they rallied again to support Ireland’s cause at the post-war Paris peace conference. In June 1919, a “record-breaking crowd” of 5,000 gathered for a “non-denominational self-determination mass meeting where speakers discussed the claims of Ireland to conduct its own affairs without interference.”2

Domestic Opposition 

The same edition of the Daily Post that published de Valera’s Pittsburgh itinerary also reported on “Ulster Day” in the city, a seventh anniversary commemoration of the Ulster Covenant against home rule in Ireland. North of Ireland Protestants opposed this milder form of political autonomy before the war; now they disparaged the independent government sought by de Valera and the republican Sinn Féin party.

The Ulster Society of Pittsburgh gathered at the Smithfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church, where Rev. E. M. McFadden preached on the history of “Ulsterites in Ireland.” It is unclear from newspaper accounts whether McFadden mentioned de Valera’s upcoming visit, only that he orated about how the spirit of prior generations of Ulstermen “finds a parallel in the accentuating motives that dominate the minds of their descendants in their continuation of the fight today.”3 

Two month earlier, McFadden organized a resolution inviting unionist leader Sir Edward Carson to the United States to “offset the propaganda for Irish independence.”4 In December, McFadden traveled to New York City to meet the visiting delegation of Protestant clergy, sans Carson, from Ulster.5

Secular opposition to de Valera also mounted the week of his Pittsburgh visit. In Harrisburg, 200 miles to the east, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution that declared New York City-born de Valera “was an American and should have served in the army of navy and that he should not be accepted or recognized by any city of the United States.” The patriotic veterans organization, chartered by Congress a month earlier, adopted the motion to considerable cheering, despite attempts to speak against it.6

His Arrival

De Valera reached Pittsburgh’s Union Station about 8 p.m. Oct. 3, more than an hour late. Such evening arrivals were by design, “so as to facilitate demonstrations” that working people could not attend during the day.7 Boland and Walsh accompanied de Valera, as advanced, and they were cheered by a crowd of about 5,000. Two columns of uniformed veterans and cadets flanked the path to 100 waiting automobiles, but “it was almost impossible for police to clear a passageway” for the motorcade to make the half-mile trip to the William Penn Hotel.8

In two speeches the following evening, de Valera compared Ireland to the 13 American colonies.

We ask but one thing for ourselves–freedom. We have no fight with Great Britain on other subjects. Let us govern ourselves as we see fit, have some say in the making of laws which we must obey, and Ireland will rise among the great nations of the world, a credit to the land that gave us freedom.9

The Daily Post reported that de Valera was “warmly greeted by thousands of Irish sympathizers” who lined up for blocks an hour before the speech and filled the overflow hall. Their “wildly enthusiastic demonstrations testif[ied] to the popularity of the cause.”10 The newspaper reports do not mention any counter protests.

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the Sinn Féin government in Ireland, devoted its Oct. 9 issue to de Valera’s two-day visit to that city prior to his Pittsburgh stop. The Pittsburgh coverage appeared a week later and emphasized the two halls needed to accommodate “the great crowd … overwhelmed with joy, many standing on their seats and all cheering and applauding several minutes” upon his arrival.11

Undated photo of the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. The building opened in 1916, three years before de Valera’s visit. It was demolished in 1991.

The nationalist weekly also reported the comments of Alexander P. Moore, publisher of the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper and one of the event co-chairmen. Unsurprisingly, the city’s other dailies were silent about the comments of the rival publisher. Moore downplayed the religious divide in Ireland.

“I am a living denial of the statement that the Irish cause is a religious question,” he said. “I am the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”12 

Return Visits

Before his Pittsburgh speeches, De Valera made a brief visit to Duquesne University, but he was unable to attend the announced ceremony due to a schedule “misunderstanding.”13 He returned to Pittsburgh eight months later to give an address and accept the honorary degree from the Catholic college.14

This second visit came shortly after de Valera’s failure to convince the U.S. Republican Party to adopt a pro-Irish plank at its national convention in Chicago, and before a similar effort fell short at the Democratic convention in San Francisco. Animosity deepened between factions of Irish America. Some U.S. newspapers reported de Valera had “outstayed his welcome in the United States” and was about to leave America.15 In Pittsburgh, de Valera told reporters: “I will not leave this county until I am definitely recalled by the Irish parliament or deported.”16 He remained in America until December 1920.

De Valera’s reception at the Catholic university was warmed by a special connection to Ireland:

The University thus honours him not merely in consideration of this scholarship, which is widely acknowledged, not merely out of sympathy with the cause which he represents, but also as a tribute to one who has attained eminence and has been associated both as pupil and teacher with a sister college, namely, Blackrock College in Dublin.17

De Valera returned to Pittsburgh in March 1930, then an out-of-power leader of the opposition Fianna Fáil political party and chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He was in the United States to raise money for a newspaper venture, The Irish Press, which a year later would begin to publish in Dublin. The same-name Philadelphia paper that reported his 1919 U.S. visit ceased publication in 1922.

De Valera’s 1920 and 1930 trips to Pittsburgh didn’t generate nearly as much excitement or press coverage as in October 1919. The 1930 visit came within a decade of the war-ending treaty that created the 26-county Irish Free State, shy of the republic de Valera and his supporters had sought in 1919. Six counties in Ulster were partitioned as Northern Ireland and remained part of Great Britain. A bloody civil war divided the Irish in the south. 

“Irish Americans became utterly disillusioned” by the two-year civil war and “enthusiasm for the nationalist movement in Ireland dissipated.18 In America, as in Ireland, many would blame de Valera for the division that lingered for decades to come.

***

In addition to cited newspapers, these books also were consulted:

  • Dolan, James P., The Irish Americans: A History. Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2008.
  • Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010.
  • McCartan, Patrick, With De Valera In America. Brentano, New York, 1932.
  • McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932. Gill Books, New York, 2017.
  • O’Doherty, Katherine, Assignment America: De Valera’s Mission to the United States. De Tanko Publishers, New York, 1957.
  • O’Neil, Gerard F., Pittsburgh Irish: Erin on the Three Rivers. The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2015.