Category Archives: Religion

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

“The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.” –Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution

***

On Dec. 30, 1919, American journalist Harry Frazier Guest sailed to Ireland “for the purpose of gathering news and making observations for the New York Globe,” his editor assured the U.S. government.1 Guest later told his readers that he intended to describe conditions in Ireland “as seen through unbiased American eyes.”2 During January and February 1920 he toured many sections of the island, urban and rural. “I had never visited Ireland or England before and had taken no interest in the so-called Irish question,” Guest wrote in the first of two dozen articles published after he returned to America.3I went with an open mind, free from racial or religious prejudice.”

Over the next few weeks I will explore Guest’s dispatches, which the Globe syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is part of my ongoing series about American reporting of Irish independence. 4 I will provide the headlines from each of Guest’s stories, highlight key details and historical points, and quote compelling or controversial passages. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I am unable to do supporting library and archival research. Reader input and suggestions are welcome.

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

Harry F. Guest was 41 when he traveled to Ireland. He had been at the Globe for six years, according to his editor’s letter. A 1917 story in the Times Union of Brooklyn, N.Y., described him as “prominent in newspaper circles for many years, serving as reporter and editor on the Brooklyn and Manhattan dailies,” including correspondent from the state capital in Albany.5 His 1918 draft registration for World War I listed his work as “Asst. Direct. Pub.” for the U.S. Food Administration, likely a temporary “publicity” or “publications” job.6

After the war, Guest spent part of 1919 reporting for the Globe from Texas for a series of articles about the state’s booming oil industry:

I came to Texas an unbeliever prepared to see much overrated oil development. But after having an opportunity to see what has been done and what conservative eastern capital is planning for the future, backing its judgement with millions, I can say that the Texas oil industry is building on a solid business foundation.7

Before he boarded Cunard’s RMS Mauretania for Ireland, Guest said goodbye to Blanche, his wife of 16 years, though the couple had no children. He was 5-foot, 8 ½-inches tall, with green-gray eyes, and brown-gray hair, according to his passport application. He had survived broken ribs and internal injuries after being hit by a car less then three years earlier. He wore glasses and had an artificial right eye.8

Guest returned to New York on March 1 aboard the RMS Carmania.9 His first story about revolutionary Ireland appeared in newspapers a week later.

Ireland By Day Land of Peace, And Business Hums In Its Cities10

Guest told readers that his first two stories would be scene setters, Ireland by day, and Ireland by night, “for the two are very different.” He described heightened security at the Kingstown docks and Dublin rail stations. “Somehow, all the time I was in Ireland I never quite got over the feeling that I was under the eyes of policemen and soldiers.”

He referenced a newspaper story of the Jan. 3, 1920, raid on Carrightwohill barracks, in County Cork, shortly before his arrival. It was among the earliest in the rapidly escalating attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary posts by the Irish Republican Army. Guest also mentioned the midday Feb. 7 holdup in Dublin of a motor lorrie with two police officers and two soldiers, all unarmed, by 20 men with weapons, “but such exhibitions during the daytime are rare.”

Inside Carrigtwohill barracks after the attack. Photo, Illustrated London News

In Dublin’s Grafton Street, “the windows of many shops were covered with steel shutters which extended down to the sidewalk,” Guest wrote. “The faces of the men and women walking by … looked just as dour and serious as the police. It was only the young–the boys and girls in their teens–who smiled.”

He wrote that most Irish people at first were reluctant to talk with him, wary that he might work for the authorities. “They would not even commit themselves to admitting that conditions were bad, but when they learned I was a newspaper man from the United States they talked freely.”

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign11

“It is between midnight and dawn that most of the blood is spilled in Ireland,” Guest reported in his followup Ireland at night story. “The popular hour for attacks on police barracks and the round up of Sinn Féinners is 2 a.m. At that hour, if one is in the right place, it is possible to see armored motorcars, with rapid-fire guns poking through their turrets, and motor lorries filled with steel-helmeted, fully armored soldiers speeding through deserted city streets, and over dark country roads, bound on mysterious missions, the object of which will not be disclosed until a day or two later at military headquarters.”

Guest referenced the Jan. 31 roundup of 100 Sinn Féin members across the country after the installation of local officers in eight cities, “but half of them were released within a few hours of their arrests.”

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Protestant preacher helped promote Irish independence

Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of Killead Church, County Antrim, arrived in America in March 1920 to help promote Irish independence. His particular mission: counter the prevailing notion that Irish nationalism was strictly a Catholic desire. The Protestant preacher toured with republican leader Éamon de Valera, who had reached U.S. shores in June 1919.

Rev. J.A.H.Irwin, a Presbyterian minister from near Belfast, arrived in America in March 1920 to present the case of Irish Protestants in favor of self-determination for Ireland. Library of Congress photo.

In one of his earliest U.S. newspaper interviews1, Rev. Irwin, then 44, said:

I have come to the United States mainly because I feel that the Irish issue is likely to be misconstrued to the American public. I knew that a deputation was sent to represent the extreme Unionist, and I knew that the southern aspect was capably presented by Mr. de Valera and his friends, but I felt that there was an entirely different aspect and point of view that neither of these parties could or would put before the American people.

It is absolutely and entirely false to say the issue [of Irish independence] is a religious one. … The question is purely political and economic. [Unionist leader] Sir Edward Carson … has allowed himself and his followers to use [sectarianism] as the last refuge of a defeated politician. He knows that it is the only weapon he can use with effect on the American people, who are lovers of freedom and justice, and who, he knows, would resent any form of Catholic aggression.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, a pro-nationalist weekly with ties to the provisional republican government in Dublin, reported on Rev. Irwin’s April 5, 1920, address to the Protestant Friends of Ireland2 in New York. “A sea of Irish faces, 5,000 strong, all eagerly wait[ed] to hear the speaker of the evening,” began the story3 by Agnes Newman, sister of 1916 Easter Rising martyr Sir Roger Casement.

Dr. Irwin emphasized the fact that if Britain would withdraw her present army of occupation from Ireland not one hair upon the head of a man, woman or child would be injured in any part of Ireland. He strongly denounced the oppression and cruelty of the present ‘Reign of Terror’ and said he had traveled these thousands of miles not in the cause of humanity alone, but in the cause of Christianity.

Within weeks of his U.S. arrival, Unionist forces began a smear campaign against Rev. Irwin. “His views [are] absolutely opposed to the whole mass of Irish Presbyterian opinion … his statement … a mass of falsehoods and misrepresentations. He has no credentials to speak for either Presbyterians or Protestants,” stated a widely-circulated April 10, 1920, letter from Belfast, attributed only to “responsible representatives.”4

Nevertheless, Rev. Irwin became a regular platform guest with de Valera as the Irish bond drive toured through the Southern states of America, including a controversial stop in Birmingham, Alabama. (I’ll explore that in a future post.) Rev. Irwin also visited several Canadian cities.

Upon his January 1921 return to Ulster, the preacher was arrested by British authorities on weapons charges. As colorfully described by the Fermanagh Herald, “a farmer’s gun for which there was no ammunition, and a revolver which would not revolve, with ammunition that would not fit it.”5

News coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested Rev. Irwin was the first Presbyterian minister arrested by the British state since the rebellion of 1798. These contemporary sources reported he was held at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, and/or the Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down; either for a few days or several weeks of a two-year sentence.

That summer, a special commission impaneled at Killead church considered complaints about  the preacher’s activities in America. The majority opinion was that “if outsiders had left the congregation alone there would have been no occasion for the commission. It was due, they said, to outside influence for political purposes.”6 Rev. Irwin remained at Killead for another five years, moved to Scotland until 1935, then settled in Dublin.7

In 1937, de Valera consulted with Rev. Irwin about the composition of the new Constitution of Ireland. The preacher later joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil political party, where he served on the national executive from 1945 until his death in 1954.8

Rev. J.A.H. Irwin in March 1921. Library of Congress photo.

Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

On Oct. 2, 1961, former journalist and retired public school teacher Ruth Russell, “of sound and disposing mind and memory,” signed her Last Will and Testament in Chicago. Her first direction was to be buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “next to the grave of my sister, Cecilia Russell.” Her second direction called on the University of Arkansas to use the proceeds of the $10,000, 1960 U.S. Series H Bond she donated to establish a scholarship in Cecilia’s name to help “needy and worthwhile individuals” with the study of French.1

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, died two years later, on Nov. 28, 1963, of heart disease.2 She was 74.

Headlines about the assassination and burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy had dominated the news during the final week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, 81, was among the international mourners who attended Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Russell had interviewed de Valera 44 years earlier in Dublin. He provided a supportive letter that was published at the front of her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? “You succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” the revolutionary leader wrote.3

See my five-part monograph, “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland

Russell’s body was conveyed to Fayetteville, a 650-mile journey mostly likely accomplished by rail. She had moved there in 1954 to join Cecilia, a romance language teacher at the University of Arkansas since 1942, after retiring from the Chicago public school system.4 Ruth remained in Fayetteville after her sister’s death in October 1959. In August 1963, she returned to her native Chicago for the last time and entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her youth.5 She died in the care of Dominican Sisters.

A rosary was prayed for Russell the evening of Dec. 2, 1963, at Moore’s Chapel, Fayetteville; followed the next morning by the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church.6 Father Edward R. Maloy presided at the burial in the church cemetery on a clear, dry day as temperatures climbed to near 60.7 The priest prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O’ Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Fr. Maloy and whatever number of mourners joined him at the graveside turned from the headstone Ruth Russell purchased after her sister’s death: the surname engraved slightly above center; Cecilia’s first name and birth and death years in the bottom left corner. The bottom right space for Ruth’s name and years to be similarly etched remained smooth that day … and for the next 57 years.

Russell grave, March 2019.

Like her sister, Ruth Russell never married or had children. Her will named two nephews, two young heirs of one of her late brothers, and a brother-in-law, as one-fifth beneficiaries to any funds that remained after her estate was settled, excluding the $10,000 bond for the university scholarship. None of these people, or her Fayetteville friends, engaged a monument company to inscribe Ruth’s name on the headstone. Such oversights are not unusual, as I detailed in a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, “Life Without an End Date“.

I first learned that Ruth’s name was not on the gravestone through the Findagrave.com website, part of my research of Illinois and Arkansas newspaper obituaries that referenced her life in Chicago and Fayetteville. Paul A. Warren, operations director at St. Joseph’s, confirmed the oversight when he provided the photo above, and a copy of the church’s handwritten burial log that shows Ruth’s internment details.

With Paul’s help, and the excellent work of the Emerson Monument Company, Springdale, Ark., (Thank you Alison and Glenn), Ruth’s name was added to the gravestone in March 2020. It is a fitting memorial at the 100th anniversary of her reporting from Ireland and activism on behalf of Irish independence. It is a lasting remembrance … at last … like the Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship that Ruth endowed and that remains active at the university.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

Russell grave, March 2020.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

 

 

Did JFK want to ‘get even’ for Boston’s anti-Irish Catholic bias?

In February 1960, a month after John F. Kennedy announced for the U.S. presidency, a syndicated newspaper columnist suggested the campaign was prompted by his family’s desire to “get even” for decades of prejudice against them.

“Get even … is a hard phrase to explain,” Edwin A. Lahey, chief correspondent for Knight Newspapers, wrote in a dispatch from the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He continued:

But basically it means that any ambitious man from Boston with Irish forebears needs spiritual compensation for the humiliating experiences of his grandparents, who suffered social ostracism and economic discrimination at the hands of the Boston Brahmins.  … Unless you have an Irish Catholic background, and have seen the Boston mind in operation, you cannot understand the full nuances of the phrase which describes a Boston Irishman’s success and distinction as a means of ‘getting even.’

Lahey was no slapdash columnist. In 1939, he joined the inaugural class of the Neiman Fellows at Harvard University. He became Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Daily News, then moved over to a similar post with the Knight chain.1

Lahey based the “get even” notion in his column on a just-published book, The Remarkable Kennedys, by Boston journalist Joe McCarthy. The 190-page work is a profile of the family, especially the candidate and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a business tycoon and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom just before World War II. McCarthy wrote:

Where does the Kennedy drive come from? Most probably it stems originally from the chafing, frustrating atmosphere of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice in Boston fifty years ago that made the young Joe Kennedy determined to push himself and his children to a place at the top of the world where they would not have to take a back seat to anybody.2

McCarthy (1916-1980) was born to 1890s Irish immigrant parents3 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, a year before JFK’s birth. After graduating from Boston College, McCarthy began a newspaper reporting and magazine editing career that included producing an overview of Ireland for Time-Life.4 

Book advert in The Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1960.

A profile of McCarthy based on the release of The Remarkable Kennedys colorfully described him as “a tall, slightly stooped, gray-haired man in his middle 40’s” who “lumbered” across the room and “slowly rummaged through a tiny pile of rumpled newspapers, envelopes and magazines he had stuffed under his weather-beaten trenchcoat thrown carelessly over the back of a chair.”5

In the book, McCarthy quoted Joe Kennedy as saying he moved his young family from Boston proper to suburban Brookline (where JFK was born) and other homes in New York, Cape Cod, and Florida, because “it was no place to bring up Irish Catholic children. I didn’t want them to go through what I had to go through.”6

There are numerous similar passages, such as this one in McCarthy’s voice:

Resentment probably burned hotter in Joe Kennedy than in most of the Boston Irish of his generation because he associated more closely with the Yankee Brahmins than did most Irish of his time. Consequently, he was more exposed to slurs, more aware from first-hand experience of the cool condescension with which Beacon Hill looked down on people of his religion and racial background.7

The Kennedy family’s Irish-Catholic heritage and their national ambitions were well documented before 1960, including beyond Boston and Massachusetts political circles. But JFK’s run for the White House and the political journalism of Lahey and McCarthy magnified the anti-Irish Catholic narrative.

The Lahey column swept across the country: The Miami Herald, Feb. 12; The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Feb. 18; Detroit Free Press, Feb. 18; Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, Feb. 19; The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Feb. 19; Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Feb. 21; Oakland (California) Tribune, Feb. 24; The Herald-News (Passaic, N.J.), Feb. 25; and likely many others that did not appear in my searches of digital newspaper archives. McCarthy’s book was serialized in many newspapers later that autumn, publishing just before Election Day.

In a book review, The New York Times also noted that “Kennedy, père, second generation descendant of Irish Catholic immigrants, suffered all the slights and indignities Brahmin Boston could contrive for its despised minorities in the decades around the turn of the [20th] century.”8

Kennedy’s Catholicism remained a larger campaign issue than his Irish roots, since prejudice against the religion was hardly confined to Boston’s elites. In November, “Kennedy’s victory not only broke through the age-old American bigotry against Catholics, but it also overcame the prejudice against the Irish.”9

Sixty years later, what is probably most remembered from McCarthy’s book is the prophetic quote that he obtained from JFK: “Just as I went into politics because [older brother] Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.”10

Previous posts on JFK:

Reprising three stories for St. Valentine’s Day

It’s time for a break from the Irish elections. The first of the three previously publish stories below is focused on Ireland’s direct connection to St. Valentine. The Feb. 14 date in the other two stories is a coincidental element, but I hope you enjoy reading them all the same. MH

Statue and crypt of St. Valentine at Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin.

St. Valentine rests at Carmelite church in Dublin: The third century saint’s mortal remains are a popular attraction. Watch a 2-minute video, and link to more history from the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street.

***

Reporter’s 19th century visit to Ireland’s National Gallery: On Valentine’s Day 1888, American journalist William Henry Hurlbert toured the Dublin collection with Gallery Director Henry Edward Doyle. From my Ireland Under Coercion: Revisited series.

***

An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918: Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; shipped to France as a U.S. soldier in 1917; and was finally released from the military on Valentine’s Day, 1919. From my Pittsburgh Irish series.

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.”

New book explores role of Catholic Church in The Troubles

Dr. Margaret M. Scull, (@MaggieMScull) the Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway, is the author of a new book, The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998.

The 256-page book evaluates the Irish and English churches role in mediating the conflict, including new perspectives on religious institutions as such mediators in the 20th century. In additional to church and state archival research, Scull interviewed bishops, priests, religious women, former paramilitaries, community organizers, and politicians.

Scull gave Nov. 18 talks in Washington, D.C., at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University, and the Global Irish Studies program at Georgetown University. Some office obligations and late-afternoon D.C. traffic made me late for the latter, so instead of my own reporting, I’m posting a Nov. 11 interview Scull did with Barry Sheppard (@barry_shep), presenter on NVTV’s “History Now” program, and a friend from the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland.

One quick note: Scull is expanding her work to explore the role of the American Catholic Church during the Troubles, specifically the dioceses of Boston and Chicago. A follow up journal article is expected in 2020.

History Now: The Catholic Church and the Troubles – Ep 48 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

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.

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.