American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH
By early April 1920, after writing nearly two dozen stories about Ireland, Guest began to conclude his series.1 He attempted to answer “the Irish question,” the century-old dispute between Irish nationalists and the British ruling class, which had drawn increased attention from America since the 1880s.
Financial Relations Of Ireland And England Very Intricate Problem2
Guest explored whether “Ireland is a financial burden on England, or English government is a millstone around the neck of Ireland.” Such analysis, working from government reports and data, marked his reportorial strength more than interviewing people.
Guest reported that England collected $186.3 million from Ireland for the 12-months ended March 31, 1919; with total expenditures of $110.8 million during the period. He cited figures and quoted from the Financial Relations Committee of 1896, and the Primrose Committee on Home Rule Finance in 1912, to delve into the history of the financial imbalance. He wrote:
That the financial relations between England and Ireland are in need of readjustment is generally admitted, but there is a wide difference between the proposed methods. At different times inquiries to this end have been held, the faults and injustices in the present system pointed out and recommendations made. Few if any important changes have resulted from the investigations, however, England apparently taking the view that it would be futile to go into this until some satisfactory solution of the Irish question itself has been arrived at.
England Has Four Course Open In Case That Ireland Refuses Home Rule Measure3
Guest detailed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, then being considered in London. When passed in December, this is that law that partitioned the island into six predominantly Protestant counties, called Northern Ireland (three majority Catholic counties in the province of Ulster were excluded), and 26 majority Catholic counties of southern Ireland.
“While I was in Ireland I did not hear one kind word for the bill in either Ulster or the south. It was condemned on all sides by all parties,” Guest wrote. “The 1920 home rule bill differs from its predecessors in that none of the Irish parties have been consulted in regard to its principles and that it comes up for passage at a time when many of the Irish members are absenting themselves from parliament. … The measure has been ridiculed in both press and pulpit.”
In these last two stories, Guest outlined what he described as “aspects of the Irish situation … established beyond dispute.” In the first he listed nine reasons “which favor Ireland’s side of the case.” These are lightly edited from the original:
- “Seventy-five percent of the Irish people are dissatisfied with the present form of government and opposed to the relief England offers in the home rule bill now before parliament.”
- “England today is governing Ireland by force of arms, violating the sanctity of the home, suppressing the press, prohibiting freedom of speech, and the right of peaceable assembly …”
- “The Macpherson-French has a record of one mistake after another …”
- “England has failed to encourage Irish industries …”
- “England has never made an effective effort to bring about a better understanding between Ulster Protestants and the southern Catholics …”
- “Had Ireland better educational facilities … her people would be more orderly and law-abiding …”
- “Ireland’s confidence in the sincerity of the English government has been shattered by the forthcoming repeal of the 1914 home rule act to satisfy a minority in Ulster.”
- “Ireland’s hope of freedom was encouraged” … by English statesmen and President Wilson.
- “It is probable that Ireland would make a ‘working agreement’ with England for mutual protection in the event of England offering her freedom.”
In the second story, Guest wrote “England’s position in Ireland rests on these factors”:
- “In justice to law-abiding citizens, the reign of terror and outrage in Ireland calls for drastic measures of suppression.”
- “Fair trial by jury in Ireland is responsible under existing conditions.”
- The English parliament has advanced many good laws for the benefit of the Irish people, such as land owning and land leasing, old age pensions, and health insurance.
- “England favored Ireland during the war by exempting her from conscription, food restrictions, etc. … Compared to England, Ireland did not feel the pinch of the war any more than the United States did.”6
- Despite “discrimination in the matter of commerce, trade, and industry,” Ireland enjoys “the greatest prosperity in her history. …”
- “England’s mistakes in Ireland have been due largely to the connivance of politicians rather than to a deliberate policy of government …”
- The racial and religious division of Ireland make solving the problems “the most difficult domestic problems which any nation has faced.”
- “English rule” has kept Ireland safe “from predatory nations.”
- “England’s principal freedom is and has been on strategic grounds, rather than because of any financial benefit …”
“I leave the weighting of the evidence to the reader,” Guest concluded. “I feel sure if the good wishes of every true American can help, the day will come soon when [the Irish question] will be settled fairly and without prejudice to either side.”
But violence and discord would grow worse in Ireland through the rest of 1920 and into 1921.
NEXT: In the concluding post, public reaction to Guest’s series, his career afterward, and my personal reflections on his work.