Monthly Archives: August 2020

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.

***

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.”

***

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.

Select press coverage of summer 1920 Belfast riots

On July 21, 1920, unionist mobs in Belfast, many affiliated with Protestant Orange Order lodges, forced thousands of mostly Catholic, nationalist workers from their jobs, including the Harland and Wolff shipyards. Days of sectarian street fighting followed, leaving more than a dozen dead and hundreds injured. A second round of riots began Aug. 22 in what became a two-year stretch of unrest in the northern manufacturing hub. The events were simultaneously related to, but separate from, the revolution against British rule occurring on the rest of Ireland.

Belfast became a regular dateline in U.S. mainstream newspapers and Irish-American press coverage of the turmoil on the island. Wire services provided mostly straight accounts, such as this from the Associated Press: “Serious rioting broke out in Belfast tonight, during which there was considerable shooting and some incendariarism.”1

Big city dailies also sent their own correspondents, often more opinionated, and syndicated the reporting beyond their own pages. For example, The Gaelic American, a pro-independence weekly in New York City, republished a favorable dispatch from the American correspondent Arno Dosch-Fleurot shortly after his work appeared in The New York World:

The rioting began with the expulsion from Harland and Wolff Shipyards of all the Catholic workmen by the champions of ‘civil and religious liberty,’ and the British Government did nothing whatever to prevent it, or to punish the rioters after their bloody work was done. This is how ‘justice’ is administered in Ireland by the British Government. Practically all the magistrates are Orangemen and they do not even make a pretense of being impartial. The rioters are ‘loyalists’ and therefore protected and encourage; all Catholic workmen are classified as ‘disloyal’ and therefore it is all right to break their heads or to kill them if the Orange mob is in the mood for murder, and the work is done to the cry of ‘To hell with the pope’ and ‘Down with the Papishes.’ Yet these Orange fanatics have nothing to gain by their insane work. They are nearly all members of the same labor unions as the men they attack and when strikes come Protestants and Catholics act together against the same Plutocrats who are the oppressors of both.[“Belfast Orange Riots Fostered By England”, The Gaelic American, July 31, 1920.[/note]

By 1920, photography increasingly supplemented news coverage of events such as the Belfast riots. This is a cropped portion of a New York Times photo page; which contained two additional images of Belfast, and three unrelated photos.

U.S. papers also included reporting from the Irish and British press, and the perceived or actual bias of the cited newspapers could be used to either bolster or dismiss reporting of the events. For example, The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the separatist parliament in Dublin, readily cited coverage from a half dozen English newspapers as proof the “Belfast Riots Were Instigated by British.2 The London Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, Times of London, Daily News, and Manchester Guardian all “admitted … the Belfast riots were organized at a meeting of Unionists and were begun by the Orange workers at the shipyards.”

In particular, the Press and the Washington, D.C.-based News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom3 quoted from July 23, 1920, coverage in the Westminster Gazette: “It is common knowledge in Belfast, and has frequently been admitted by individual Unionists, that plans were matured at least two months ago to drive all [nationalist] Home Rule workers in the shipyard out of their employment.”

The weekly Kentucky Irish American, without naming any publications, complained that accounts in many daily paper created “the impression that Sinn Féin is to blame” for the riots, but also noted “significant little paragraphs betray the real cause of the disorders” as Orangemen and the British government. “The Catholics of Belfast are simply defending themselves.”4 Likewise, the Gaelic American cited reporting from the Irish News, a nationalist paper in Belfast, about Catholics being “driven from their homes, the premises were taken possession of by Protestant families.”5

“As the conflict progressed, this meant that reporting of various incidents could be quite unbalanced,” Kieran Glennon, who wrote a centenary overview of the Belfast riots for The Irish Story, said in an email exchange. “Some of this imbalance may simply have reflected a degree of physical danger for reporters from one side’s papers trying to report on things that happened on the other side’s “turf.” As a crude example, if the Special Constabulary shot up a nationalist area, the Irish News would interview residents of the area, while the unionist papers might have to settle for simply carrying statements issued by the [police authorities, rather than going into the neighborhoods].

Photo in the Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Aug. 13, 1920.

In Butte, Montana, a heavily Irish mining town 2,300 miles west of New York, the Daily Bulletin published an account from Belfast by the newly established Federated Press, a left-leaning, pro-labor wire service.6 It began:

Workers here are gradually realizing that the riots at shipyards on July 21, when the Protestants drove the Catholics from their jobs, were engendered by the employers for the purpose of keeping labor divided. Seventeen dead must be charged against those who reap the profits at the expense of the plain people.

The story concluded:

The Belfast newspapers, both Catholic and Protestant, have followed their usual tactics of publishing editorials which are counsels of perfection, and in the next column painting their opponents in a manner to further incite the mob.

***

See my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series for more centenary coverage. See Glennon’s book, From Pogrom To Civil War: Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA.

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.

Police behavior matters: America, 2020 & Ireland, 1920

U.S. President Donald Trump caused an uproar earlier this summer by sending federal agents, indistinguishable from soldiers, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle to quell Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. State and local officials said the unrequested agents acted like “outside agitators” with tactics that included grabbing protesters from the streets and forcing them into unmarked vans. The images flashed instantly around the world on social media. 

“Many of those federal agents aren’t easily recognizable as law enforcement officials, nor do they act like them,” The New York Times editorialized.1 “Even the military is concerned about the public confusion sown into society when heavily armed federal agents dress like soldiers. All the more reason that the federal agents on the streets of American cities be required to wear uniforms that clearly identify themselves and their civilian agency.”

A century ago, the irregular uniforms and heavy-handed tactics of hastily-trained Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) recruits caused in uproar in revolutionary Ireland. Though press coverage wasn’t nearly as fast as today, the “Black and Tans” soon became notorious.

The nickname is attributed to Christopher O’Sullivan, a reporter for the Limerick Echo, who encountered an early group of the recruits at a local train station. In a March 25, 1920, story, he applied the nickname of a local hunt club’s pack of foxhounds to describe their mismatched dark green and khaki uniforms.

The Limerick Echo is not included in the Irish Newspaper Archive of nearly 90 titles. The earliest use of the name that I found in the database (besides adverts for shoes and other leather goods) was a July 1, 1920, story in the Freeman’s Journal. It mentioned the train boarding of “armed soldiers and khaki policemen now-known in the country as ‘Black and Tans.’”2

Within two months, however, the name was in wide circulation. It became notorious after the Sept. 21, 1920, sack of Balbriggan, when Black and Tans rampaged in revenge for the Irish Republican Army murder of RIC officers (and brothers) Peter and William Burke. A week later, the Belfast Newsletter published a statement from the Irish Office in London responding to press inquiries about the “exact relationship” between the Black and Tans and the RIC. It said:

The Black and Tans, so-called because of their hybrid uniform of dark green and khaki, were recruited solely on account of the shortage of men in Ireland. They are, it is stated, genuine recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary, and it is due only to the lack of Royal Irish Constabulary uniforms that they appear in their present dress. The suggestion that these men are in any way connected with the military was denied at the Irish Office yesterday. The auxiliary division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, also named Black and Tans on account of their uniforms, were recruited for the purpose of instructing the existing men of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the defense of their barracks.3

Black and Tans in Dublin.

The term Black and Tans began to appear in U.S. newspaper reporting of Ireland by mid-August 1920. The source appears to be an Associated Press story datelined from Dublin, July 30: “The recruits from across the Channel and soldiers specially detached for police duty are nicknamed ‘Black and Tans.’”4

As in Ireland, press use of the name became frequent after Balbriggan. The New York Times, no supporter of Irish independence, editorialized:

Violence, arson, murder by Sinn Feiners have of late been not repressed, but provoked and imitated by a series of reprisals. To private tumultuary lawlessness a sort of official tumultuary lawlessness has responded. The police have been driven into a natural but none the less unpardonable frenzy. Apparently some English recruits and demobilized army officers, hastily and unnecessarily impressed of enlisted for purposes of defense, have had a hand in the series of ‘Black and Tan’ raids. Private war prevails.5

Earlier this year the Irish government planned to recognize the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), most of whom were Irish-born men who carried out their duties with honor at a troublesome time, as part of the country’s “Decade of Centenaries.” The event was cancelled, however, after days of protest that it would honor the still-notorious Black and Tans.

August 1920 appeals for James Larkin in U.S. prison

From New York Daily News, May 4, 1920.

Numerous Irish politicians, writers, and other public figures espoused the rights of their homeland during late 19th century and early 20th century visits the United States. They included Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt in the 1880s; William Butler Yeats in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, and 1920; and Éamon de Valera’s 18-month tour from June 1919 to December 1920.

Leftist labor activist James Larkin is also among this cohort, but his American experience was more troubled than the others. He arrived shortly after the 1913/14 Dublin strikes and became involved with the Socialist Party of America, Industrial Workers of the World, and eventually the Communist Party of America. His association with the latter group in the aftermath of World War I, “with America gripped by major strikes and a ‘red scare’ ” resulted in his November 1919 arrest for “criminal anarchy.”1

Larkin was convicted in April 1920 and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He was sent to New York State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a notorious maximum security prison opened nearly 100 years earlier. Advocacy for Larkin’s release and return to Ireland gathered pace by August 1920:

  • The Irish Labor Party and Trade Union Congress meeting in Cork city passed a resolution calling Larkin’s imprisonment a “gross outrage of every principal of justice, a violation of individual liberty, and the right of freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, a brutal and criminal act of class hatred, inspired by ruthless and unscrupulous capitalism, an attack upon the rights of the working class as much in Ireland as in America.”2
  • The Associated Press reported that several of the town and county councils elected in June “have taken up the matter and are busy passing resolutions about it.”3
  • In America, the James Larkin Defense Fund raised money and circulated an appeal on his behalf that was published in friendly U.S. newspapers.4 It said in part:

We feel that he is the victim of as foul a conspiracy as was ever hatched against a member of our race by the hidden hand of the British government. It is your fight as well as ours. Today it is Larkin who lies in jail on a trumped up charge of ‘criminal anarchy.’ Tomorrow it may be de Valera. Irishmen and Irishwomen and lovers of human freedom, your attitude toward Larkin in this critical hour will be the acid test of your professed devotion to the Gael. Larkin today is in a felon’s cell, but remember in the Irish history it was no disgrace to be a felon. Larkin is in jail because he was fighting your battle.

Actor Charles Chaplin and Irish activist Constance Georgine (Countess) Markievicz, who had participated in the 1913 lockout, visited Larkin in prison. It took three years, however, until he was pardoned and deported by newly-elected New York Gov. Al Smith, who later became the first Irish Catholic presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. Larkin returned to Ireland in April 1923 and renewed his trade union activities.

Larkin also was elected three times to Dáil Éireann. When he died in 1947, Irish newspapers dismissed his U.S. imprisonment as simply “because of his pacifist and labor activities.”5. His burial at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery drew much attention, and he has been immortalized in songs, poems, and a 1979 statue on O’Connell Street.

No disgrace for the former felon.

Larkin statue. Image from Stair na hÉireann.