Tag Archives: American Commission on Conditions in Ireland

Arthur Gleason’s ‘inside’ reporting of post-Rising Ireland

(This post continues my exploration of how American journalists covered the Irish revolution. Visit the project landing page to access earlier work and resources. MH)

The United States’ April 1917 entry into the First World War had two immediate impacts on Ireland: increased scrutiny of Irish American efforts to support the revolution in ally Britain’s backyard, first exposed a year earlier during the Easter Rising; and more American newspaper correspondents based in London to cover the arrival and battlefield engagements of U.S. troops on the continent. In addition to their eastward journeys across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, these reporters also travelled westward across the Irish Sea, usually boarding the overnight mail boats from Holyhead to Dublin.

Arthur H. Gleason, date unknown

Arthur H. Gleason was among the first American journalists to assess post-Rising Irish nationalism within the British Empire. Born in 1878 in Newark, N.J., he graduated from Yale University in 1901 and joined the New York Tribune as a reporter. For 10 years from 1903 Gleason worked as a writer and editor at Cosmopolitan, Country Life in America, and Collier’s Weekly magazines. At the outbreak of the war in 1914, he joined the Red Cross and served with the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps in Belgium. Gleason was briefly captured by the Germans, but managed to escape and report his observations of the front lines, including several popular books about the war, notably Golden Lads, co-written with his wife.[1]“Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.

Gleason rejoined the Tribune in 1916 as a European correspondent as U.S. entry into the war became inevitable. Arthur Draper, another of the paper’s London correspondents, had covered the Rising in Dublin. He was “an outspoken proponent of including interpretation in foreign news reports,” rather than the just-the-facts presentation of the wire services.[2]Gerald L. Fetner (2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332. Gleason wrote a series of articles for the Tribune‘s op-ed pages that aimed to educate readers about war conditions in Great Britain. He also produced articles on the same topic for Century Magazine. This work was collected nearly word-for-word as the book Inside the British Isles, published in spring 1917.


Gleason made what he described as a “brief visit” to Ireland, apparently before the end of 1916, to detail nationalist restiveness. “Sane opinion in Ireland is well aware that in any solution Ireland remains inside the federation of the British commonwealth,” he wrote, “but the status toward which the intelligent Irish work is that of a self-governing nation, like the free colonies.”[3]Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.

Gleason’s analysis focused more on economic, market, and labor conditions than politics. He reported:

The real Irish question is poverty. … The slums of Irish cities are among the worst in Europe. … Many of the farms are too small for economic working, and what there is of them is not good enough soil. Much of the best tillage remains in the hands of landlords and is used for grazing instead of the production of crops. The hope of Ireland lies in trade unionism, education, and cooperation. Ireland’s real problem is to increase production and distribute prosperity.[4]Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.

Gleason viewed wealthy Irish Americans as an important source of this hope. At the time of his visit, he “found Ireland stimulated” by the news that Henry Ford proposed building a tractor factory in Cork city, near the industrialist’s ancestral homeland. The reporter continued:

If the very rumor (of Ford’s plant) has given cheer to an underpaid population, how much new hope will flow in if Irish Americans whose hearts bleed for Ireland will invest some of their money in Irish agriculture and industry. A few million dollars invested where the heart is will relieve a pressure on Ireland, which today is resulting in bad housing, undernourishment, overwork and an undue proportion of pauperism. The real Irish question is not solved by political wrangling and chronically jangled nerves inside the island, nor by hot temper at long distance. The Irish Americans who have planted the tradition of Ireland’s wrongs inside the United States are two generations out of date. … American money is not needed for nationalist propaganda. It is needed for agricultural and industrial development. Our rich Irish Americans can do an immense service to Ireland. They can aid to set her free. But not by parliamentary debates, speech-making campaigns, and pitiful abortive rebellions. They can set her free by standing security for land improvement, better housing, the purchase of machinery and fertilizer plants.

Gleason interviewed and quoted English social and economic academics such as Graham Wallas, Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern, and Sir George G. Butler. He also discussed matters with Irish nationalist writers and journalists James Stephens and George William Russell, known by the pseudonym AE, and he quoted Ulster leader Sir Edward Carson. Gleason did not meet or mention Sinn Féin leaders Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera, and Michael Collins, who were incarcerated by the British at the time.


Gleason spoke with Dublin-born Lord Northcliffe, a powerful press baron of London’s Fleet Street. The reporter devoted one of his Tribune op-eds and a chapter of his book to a comparison of the British, Irish, and American press. He wrote:

I think the little independent spirited Irish weeklies are admirable. They sass the censor and the Lord Lieutenant and the (Dublin) Castle. I met some of the editors—poor men and honest, editing and writing papers in which they believe. They seem to me worth all the sleek, timid New York crowd put together. … A man believes something hard, and, being Irish, he has the knack of statement, so he publishes a paper.[5]Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.

New York Tribune headline of Gleason’s May 10, 1917, piece on the press.

Privately, Gleason shared drafts of his Irish reporting with key sources for their approval before publication, a common practice at the time but anathema to most modern journalists. His regular correspondents included Butler and Lord Eustace Percy, a British diplomat.

“Butler has handed me your article on Ireland: neither of us feel quite comfortable about making ourselves responsible for it to the extent of giving it special facilities for transmission to America as it stands at present,” Percy wrote to Gleason, then living in Hove, Sussex, on the English Channel coastline 65 miles south of London. “My criticism of your article is not that it is hostile to this country (though I think that is the net effect of it) but that it is not really calculated to enlighten America. … You are carrying coals to Newscastle in writing for America sentimental impressionism about great political problems.”[6]Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.

Gleason replied two days later.[7]Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers. He agreed to make some “modifications” to the content and withdraw other passages from his Tribune and Century dispatches; but not from the book, which he argued provided fuller context of the relationship between the two islands. “I want the article to be passed,” Gleason wrote, an acknowledgement of the realities of war-time censorship in Britain, which would soon to be duplicated in America. “I think you will agree I have met you seven eighths of the way.”

Gleason bristled at Percy’s charge of sentimental impressionism. “That which is excellent in Belgium and Serbia does not become ‘sentimental’ or selfish in Poland or Ireland. It merely remains the same principal for which French and English (and soon Americas) are fighting—the right of self-government.”


Gleason’s reporting from Ireland was subject to further editing. Soon after the publication of Inside The British Isles, he wrote to Douglas Z. Doty, editor at the Century publishing company, to complain that “heavy hunks” of content totaling 16 pages had been cut from the manuscript. “Everything that explains the state of mind, everything that voices the young men, has disappeared,” Gleason complained. “Poems, quotations, the statement of a young rebel to me, all have disappeared.”[8]Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.

Praise for Gleason’s book came from papers within the British Isles. Belfast Newsletter, April 1, 1918.

He questioned whether the missing material resulted from “editorial exigency” in New York or censorship by the British Foreign Office, which he claimed had approved the manuscript. The missing material, according to Gleason, included quotes from several Irish political leaders, among them Helena Malony, a 1916 Easter Rising participant and member of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women’s paramilitary organization. Malony’s feminism and labor activism were especially relevant to Gleason’s broader social and economic interests.

Also missing from the book, Gleason wrote, were his analysis of the Dublin rebellion; a tribute to the Gaelic League and similar Irish organizations; a poem written by executed Rising leader Pádraic Pearse; and references to The White Headed Boy, a 1916 comedy drama by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson.

Nevertheless, Inside the British Isles won praise on both sides of the Atlantic. “It is welcome as a contribution to the discussion which is not merely of interest to Ireland, but to thousands of Irish well-wishers and sympathizers in this country,” said one American review.[9]”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917. An advertisement in the Irish press (image) collected several favorable reviews.


Gleason returned to America as Irish separatists launched a guerilla war against the British military and police in Ireland. He continued to work on labor and economic issues through the New York-based Bureau of Industrial Research and with social reformer Paul Underwood Kellogg. They co-authored British Labor and the War in 1919. But Gleason’s insights about Ireland were called upon again in late 1920.

Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the weekly liberal journal the Nation, organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland on behalf of pro-Irish interests. He invited dozens of U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to form and oversee the eight-member panel of inquiry, which was not affiliated with the U.S. government. Villard and his supporters also intended to send a five-member investigative team to Ireland, including Gleason.

Other members of the proposed delegation included:

  • Major Oliver P. Newman, a journalist, sociologist, former Washington, D.C. commissioner and U.S. Army veteran of the Great War;
  • Rev. Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister, socialist political candidate, and publisher of the World Tomorrow;
  • James H. Mauer, a progressive labor leader and president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor; and
  • Robert Morse Lovett, dean of the University of Chicago.

For several weeks in November and December 1920 the New York Tribune, Gleason’s former employer, and other American newspapers published conflicting reports about whether the group would, or would not, be issued passports to visit Ireland; based on the approval or objections of the U.S. or British governments. The dispute continued as the commission, which included Newman, Thomas, and Mauer, opened public hearings on conditions in Ireland at a Washington hotel.

Privately, Gleason was skeptical of the investigative delegation to which he was publicly named. “Unless the strongest kind of commission is sent to England and Ireland, it will be better to send none at all,” he wrote to Villard. “To send a half dozen unknown or slightly known persons will injure the cause of good-will you have at heart. The work will be discredited, or treated with indifference and irony.”[10]Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.

Gleason subsequently complained there were too many socialists in the proposed group, with “no bishop, no judge, no ‘big’ business man. So idealistic a commission will not avail.”[11]Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.

The proposed delegation scuttled by the time the commission concluded its hearings in January 1921. A month later another group of American investigators travelled to Ireland as part of an overlapping effort called the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. This group’s account of distress in Ireland was released within days of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report based on the Washington hearing testimony. Pro-Irish supporters cheered the two narratives critical of British rule; the British government condemned both reports as exaggerations and fabrications; and U.S. officials mostly tried to remain neutral and outside the fray.[12]See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.


Though unstated in his letter to Villard, Gleason’s reluctance to join the proposed Irish delegation also might have been based on his skepticism of Irish American political meddling in the conflict, though he encouraged economic investment, as noted above. In his 1917 book, Gleason wrote:

The irreconcilable Irish in America had seemed to me a set of men “scrapping” volubly for the sake of words and dissension.  … (It is) the bitterness of Roman Catholic pulpits in Boston and Chicago, the railings of mass meetings in New York, the irresponsible perorations of Irish-American politicians that chiefly threatens the future of Ireland. … (Progressive British people) cannot and will not accept from America the last and worst doctrine of reaction.[13]Inside, pp. 173, 191.

It does not appear that Gleason wrote more about Ireland after 1917. The island was partitioned in 1921 as the war with Britain ended and devolved into the year-long Irish civil war. The revolutionary period that began at Easter 1916 ended in May 1923.

Gleason died of meningitis on Dec. 30, 1923, two weeks after his 45th birthday. He is buried in Washington, D.C.


1 “Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.
2 Gerald L. Fetner (2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332.
3 Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.
4 Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.
5 Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.
6 Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.
7 Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.
8 Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.
9 ”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917.
10 Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.
11 Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.
12 See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.
13 Inside, pp. 173, 191.

The D.C. death of an Irish ‘stormy petrel’, April 1923

Laurence Ginnell, Library of Congress photo

By mid-April 1923 the Irish Free State army regularly routed anti-government forces. Liam Lynch, the IRA’s chief of staff, was killed on April 10; Austin Stack, his deputy, was captured a few days later. Talk of a ceasefire and the end of Ireland’s 10-month-old civil war was in the air, and in the press.

But the death by natural causes of Irish politician Laurence Ginnell[1]See Dictionary of Irish Biography entry. in a Washington, D.C. hotel room also contributed to the demoralization of the “irregulars.” Since August 1922, the 71-year-old served as envoy to the United States for Éamon de Valera’s unrecognized Irish republic. Ginnell had no real diplomatic status, and his stature was diminished after a failed attempt to take control of the Free State’s consulate office in New York City.

“He was in apparent good health earlier today, and when a hotel attendant called to deliver a message said he would attend to it later. On going back he was found dead,” the Evening Star reported on page 13.[2]”Irish Republican Leader Dies Here”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 17, 1923. Historians have suggested Ginnell’s health suffered from the cumulative impacts of several imprisonments earlier in his life.

Ginnell died at D.C.’s Hotel Lafayette, about two miles west of the U.S. Capitol. Three Aprils earlier a dinner honoring de Valera, then on his 18-month tour of America, was staged in the hotel’s ballroom. From November 1920 through January 1921 the Lafayette became headquarters of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a non-U.S. government body created by pro-Irish interests to generate publicity and political support for the declared Irish republic. Ginnell’s combative and argumentative nature emerged at the outset of his Dec. 15, 1920, testimony before the commission, :

I cannot go into this thing unless I am allowed to state the conditions. The evidence I have to give you is at your disposal only on the condition that it is not to be made use of in any recommendations regarding Ireland. We in Ireland have settled our own government on the basis of your President’s own statements. We have applied the right of self-determination to our own country. Indeed, I will not go behind the present status of the Republican Government in Ireland today. Indeed, I will not give any evidence whatever unless I am assured that no effort will be made to go behind the Irish Republican Government, the only constitutional government in Ireland today. And to attempt to discuss the right of Ireland to her independence is to attempt to re-establish the English Government where she has lost all power and respect whatsoever. If I get the assurance that that is not your intention, then I will sit down and begin my evidence immediately.[3]See Ginnell’s full testimony, pages 462-505.

The Washington Herald described Ginnell as “one of Sinn Fein’s most militant spirits” upon his arrival in the city earlier in 1920.[4]”Notes By A Washington Observer”, The Washington Herald, July 29, 1920. In coverage of his 1923 death, the American, Irish, and British press noted Ginnell’s unique status of having been elected as an Irish Parliamentary Party member in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, and as a Sinn Féin republican in Dáil Éireann. The irascible Ginnell held the distinction of being ejected from both legislative bodies.

Following his 1920 American Commission appearance, Ginnell represented the Irish republic in South America. His telegramed vote against the Anglo-Irish Treaty was not accepted, but he became, at de Valera’s request, the only opposition member to sit in the Dáil. It was because of his relationship with de Valera that John Devoy’s Gaelic American offered a critical, if respectful, assessment of Ginnell’s career.[5]See “Ginnell, De Valera’s Envoy in America, Dies Suddenly“, The Gaelic American, April 28, 1923.

Ginnell entered politics during the Plan of Campaign agitation of the Irish Land War in the late 1880s, “the stormy petrel of Parnellite politics,” according to press accounts. He was the co-founder of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and the author of several books, including The brehon laws: a legal guide (1894), The doubtful grant of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II (1899), and Land and liberty (1908) .[6]DIB, linked in Note 1.

Hotel Lafayette in Washington D.C., between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress photo.

The first of three funeral Masses for Ginnell was held at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, 40 years later the site of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s service. Ginnell’s body was then conveyed to New York City, where another Mass occurred at the Carmelite Catholic church on East 28th Street.

During the Irish revolutionary period, the Manhattan church’s friars sheltered Irish revolutionaries on the run from British authorities, including de Valera. They also stashed part of a cache of 600 Thompson submachine guns, wrapped in burlap sacks and bound for Ireland during the war.[7]”The End of an Era at Bellevue and a Nearby Church”, The New York Times, June 27, 2007.

In a telegram to Alice Ginnell (née King), de Valera described his departed colleague as “one of the most indefatigable workers for Ireland.”[8]”Delegations From Many States At Ginnell Funeral”, Buffalo Morning Express, April 21, 1923. But only a week earlier de Valera effectively removed Ginnell from Irish activities in America, “an unfortunate and sad end to a long career.”[9]Dr. Paul Hughes, a Mullingar-based journalist and historian, in the “Laurence Ginnell–Part 2: from Ireland to America” podcast from the Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries, … Continue reading

Finally, the widow accompanied her husband’s body back to Ireland, contrary to an incorrect press report that Ginnell was buried in New York. Major Michael A Kelly, veteran of the Irish American 69th New York Infantry Regiment, represented De Valera at the May 1, 1923, service at the Carmelite church on Whitefriars Street, Dublin. Interment followed in Ginnell’s native Delvin, County Westmeath.

The Irish Civil War ended before the month concluded.


1 See Dictionary of Irish Biography entry.
2 ”Irish Republican Leader Dies Here”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 17, 1923.
3 See Ginnell’s full testimony, pages 462-505.
4 ”Notes By A Washington Observer”, The Washington Herald, July 29, 1920.
5 See “Ginnell, De Valera’s Envoy in America, Dies Suddenly“, The Gaelic American, April 28, 1923.
6 DIB, linked in Note 1.
7 ”The End of an Era at Bellevue and a Nearby Church”, The New York Times, June 27, 2007.
8 ”Delegations From Many States At Ginnell Funeral”, Buffalo Morning Express, April 21, 1923.
9 Dr. Paul Hughes, a Mullingar-based journalist and historian, in the “Laurence Ginnell–Part 2: from Ireland to America” podcast from the Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries, Jan. 24, 2022.

Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920. Part 2

Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among American journalists covering the Anglo-Irish War. Both were Irish immigrants who became naturalized U.S. citizens, then made separate but overlapping summer 1920 trips back home. Each man detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. This post is about Hackett. See Part 1 about Rev. Cotter.

‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland

Hackett was probably a better known journalist than Rev. Cotter at the time, as described further below, and in subsequent scholarship of the revolutionary period. Maurice Walsh devotes a chapter to Hackett and Philadelphia Public Ledger correspondent Carl Ackerman.[1]Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008. Other historians have cited Hackett’s work, but I have not yet found any similar references to Rev. Cotter

Hackett in 1935. Library of Congress.

Hackett emigrated from Kilkenny in 1900, age 18. He started his career as a beat reporter in Chicago, but later admitted he wasn’t cut out for the job. He shifted to writing editorials and literary criticism. By 1920 he was associate editor at The New Republic magazine.

Hackett visited Ireland in 1912/13 to care for his aging father.[2]Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174. His stay resulted in Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, published in 1918. In the preface to the third edition, published six months after the establishment of Dáil Éireann and start of the Irish  war, Hackett wrote:

So long as Britain holds an unwilling Ireland, her hands are unclean, and Ireland must continue to appeal to the society of nations against her. What, in the name of democracy, has Britain to gain? The whole import of this book is the crime that Britain has committed against democracy in denying self-determination to Ireland. That, with all its economic implications, is the substance of my argument. The situation is the kind of situation that confronted the founders of the United States. The proper answer in that case was the American Republic. And the proper answer in this case is–the Irish Republic.[3]Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.

In spring 1920, shortly before returning to Ireland, Hackett used the appointment of Sir Auckland Geddes as the new British ambassador to the United States to re-emphasize President Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of “self-determination” for small nations. Hackett wrote:

America has a moral interest in the agonizing struggle of any small nation striving against a more powerful nation … according to the ideas of internationalism that we preached during the war. … The Irish recognize just as well as Sir Auckland Geddes that America is the court of last resort. If America does “stand aside,” as England begs it to do , it is really taking sides against the principles of the recent war or any serious application of those principles to England.[4]Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.

Hackett wrote three Ireland pieces for the New Republic between his return to America and testimony to the American Commission:

  • Oct. 13, The Impasse In Ireland: “What is the practical outlook for Ireland? After a six weeks’ investigation it is rash to make an answer, but it is important in venturing any answer to recognize the conversion of seventy-five percent of Ireland to Sinn Fein.”
  • Oct. 20, A Sinn Fein Court: A novel-like treatment of the rival justice system established “in an act both of usurpation and propaganda,” Walsh says in his analysis of this piece.
  • Nov. 3, Books and Things: A reflection on the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in a London prison nine days earlier based on a revisit of Sir John Pope Hennessy’s 1883 book, Sir Walter Raleigh in Ireland.

Walsh notes:

Aside from their undisguised partisanship, Hackett’s articles on Ireland for the New Republic are clearly literary. His declared purpose not only to collect facts but to interpret them, his treatment of people and events through a series of novelistic scenes and the revelation of his political convictions in argument show that he had no intention of being bound by the standard rules of mainstream American journalism. The fact that he was writing for an intellectual magazine and not a mass-circulation newspaper only partially accounts for his suppressed disdain for conventional reportage.[5]Walsh, News, p.133-34.

Hackett did write a six-part series for the New York World, which syndicated the work to other U.S. dailies in early October 1920, before his American Commission testimony.[6]As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes … Continue reading The series introduction identified Hackett’s “just concluded visit” to Ireland, his Kilkenny heritage, role at the New Republic, and 1918 Study in Nationalism book. It also said:

This brilliant writer is a strong Sinn Fein partisan, and his point of view may be summarized in a sentence which appears in his first article. Mr. Hackett writes: ‘In this duel, in which my own sympathies are on the side of the republic, there is no doubt whatever that the superior morale is the morale of the Sinn Fein, that it is the British who are vindictive, lawless and demoralized.'[7]”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.

Hackett returned to the theme of morale, and his previous trip home, in his third installment:

A great change has taken place in the morale of the Irish people since I last visited here in 1913. … The pre-war Ireland is gone, never to return. The people now ‘have a heart in them.’ Their feelings and purposes are realized and organized now as never before in their history.[8]”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.

Promotion for Hackett’s six part series, New York Times, Oct. 2, 1920.

The News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a partisan monitor of press coverage of Ireland, praised Hackett’s work for the World, not the New Republic, as an “extremely intelligent series of articles on the present situation in Ireland.” The weekly described him as “a veracious American journalist” whose “personal observations in Ireland” contradicted pro-British accounts of the war and “aroused many thinking Americans.” Rev. Cotter received no such attention from the News Letter. [9]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.

Two years later, Hackett published The Story of the Irish Nation, a history. He thanked Herbert Bayard Swope, editor of the World, for his “superb confidence” to encourage the project. The author said the editor gave him “courage to attempt even this popular story.” Among dozens of sources, Hackett cited the American Commission’s report in his bibliography. He died in 1962.


1 Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008.
2 Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174.
3 Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.
4 Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.
5 Walsh, News, p.133-34.
6 As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes Hackett”, Oct. 5, 1920, 3 of 6.; “Union Deadliest Thing In Ireland”, Oct. 6 ,1920, 4 of 6; “Hackett Scores Racial Hatreds”, Oct. 7, 1920, 5 of 6; and “Home Rule Not Ready For Erin”, Oct. 8, 1920, 6 of 6.
7 ”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.
8 ”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.
9 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.

Two Irish immigrant journalists return home, 1920. Part 1

The Anglo-Irish War, 1919-1921, received regular attention in U.S. newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Journalists based in Ireland and visiting correspondents provided daily coverage, which ranged from straight news to opinion pieces, including propaganda from both sides of the conflict and both sides of the Atlantic.

Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among the American press who contributed to this body of work. Both men were born in 19th century Ireland, emigrated separately in their teens, and became naturalized U.S. citizens. In 1920, they made separate but overlapping late July through late September trips to Ireland to visit family and report on the war.

Rev. Cotter, 63, and Hackett, 37, each detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. It is likely, but unclear, if their day-apart appearances at the Washington, D.C., hearings were prompted by their published work. Only one other journalist was among the three dozen American, Irish, and British witnesses called before the Commission from November 1920 through January 1921. Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, then retold her experiences in magazine articles and a book published earlier in 1920.

Rev. Cotter and Hackett were hardly America’s first Irish immigrant journalists. Others included Jerome Collins, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan. During the Irish war, immigrants John Devoy owned and edited the Gaelic American, New York City, and Joseph McGarrity published the Irish Press, Philadelphia. What sets Hackett and Rev. Cotter apart is their summer 1920 travel to Ireland and American Commission testimony. It is unknown whether they read each other’s work or met in Washington that November.

‘Anxious to see conditions there’

Rev. Cotter emigrated from Tipperary in 1872, age 15, and was ordained at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1881. He became a Shakespeare scholar, author, and public speaker in addition to his priestly duties. Rev. Cotter served as editor-in-chief of the Catholic Union and Times in Buffalo, N.Y., and was a founder of the Catholic Press Association. He wrote for Donahoe’s Magazine, a Catholic-oriented general interest monthly, and later became an editor at The Columbiad, organ of the Knights of Columbus.[1]Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary … Continue reading

Rev. Cotter, 1913 newspaper image.

The priest was “proudly conscious of the character of Tipperary in everything which makes life estimable,” as he wrote in a 1915 column about the popular war song, “It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary.” He criticized the lyrics as “another instance of Albion’s [Great Britain’s] trickery to make Erin ridiculous.”

In the same column, Rev. Cotter revealed his Irish nationalist views by praising 19th century figures such as novelist and IRB man Charles Kickham; Young Islander William Smith O’Brien, “the lion-hearted”; and “the uniquely glorious” Robert Emmett of the 1798 and 1803 risings. “Let Ireland make the way to Tipperary short,” Rev. Cotter wrote, “by keeping her brave sons at at home for her great purpose and not permit them to go ways that they may never tread again. … God bless Tipperary! and control for her own destiny the fighting blood of her brave sons!”[2]”Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.

On Nov. 18, 1920, Rev. Cotter told the American Commission his return home was his first in 23 years. “I went to visit Ireland because I was anxious to see for myself the conditions there,” he said.[3]Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial … Continue reading Shortly after his return to America, Rev. Cotter gave an interview to the New York American, which most likely was a written statement handed to the daily. The the weekly Gaelic American, New York, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, soon republished the story. The priest said:

I personally saw many British atrocities and was fresh on the scene after others, and talked to the people. I made it a point to talk specially to Protestants. … I found that Protestants and Catholics alike are united in their firmness for Irish freedom. …

One murder was committed before my very eyes [at Galway.] … I was in Dublin the night [Sept. 23, Sinn Féin County Councillor] Jack Lynch was foully murdered at his room at the Exchange Hotel … I was in Limerick when a bomb was exploded in the next square and in Millstreet, Bantry and Cork when the nights were made hideous by armed ruffianism having all its own way.

Rev. Cotter also traveled to Brixton Prison in London to see Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, then on hunger strike. The priest said he was denied access, but met outside the walls with Anna and Mary MacSwiney, the prisoner’s sisters. Rev. Cotter said the family used a camera that belonged to his niece to take a photo, which showed the hunger striker’s “terrible emaciation. The teeth protrude, the temples are hollow, the eyes sunken, but for all that the mighty majesty of the man suffuses a holy calm over his face.”[4]Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.

Oct. 23, 1920, headline over Rev. Cotter’s story in the Kentucky Irish American.

Rev. Cotter’s published account did not include his Sept. 10 visit to the Galway Express newspaper offices the morning after a military raid. “The owner of the paper was picking up pieces of broken type off the floor,” he told the American Commission. “They gathered together enough to print a paper on a sheet about the size of that (indicating a sheet of business letter size), and in big block letters on the top of the sheet was ‘Keep Cool,’ which is really the philosophy of the passiveness that Ireland is practicing right now.”[5]The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and … Continue reading

In 1929, Rev. Cotter published Tipperary, which sprang from his 1915 column. He later worked as an associate editor and contributor to the The Irish World, New York, including a 1936 collection of his columns: Ireland: Travel Tabloids. I welcome information on locating a copy of either of these books, or more about Rev. Cotter. The priest died in 1947.

Next: Francis Hackett on ‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland


1 Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary of St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, Ironton, Ohio, 1852-1977”, a church-produced history, p. 17; and assorted period newspaper articles.
2 ”Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.
3 Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial page for James H Cotter (19 Aug 1857–9 Dec 1947), Find a Grave Memorial ID 99674115, citing Sacred Heart Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio, USA ; Maintained by CalamariGirl.
4 Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.
5 The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and December 1920 issues. A more extensive review of the archive was not immediately possible.

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The eight-member American delegation to Ireland visited 95 cities, towns, and villages, including the Aran Islands, in 22 of 32 counties, from mid-February to late March 1921. Now, the team prepared to report its investigation of Irish humanitarian needs to the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), its New York-based sending organization.

Delegation leader Clemens J. France, brother of a U.S. senator, and Oren Wilbur, a creamery and dairy farming expert, would remain in Dublin to help oversee the distribution of funds from America through the Irish White Cross. The other members disbursed in pairs:

  • attorney Walter C. Longstretch and architect William Price left by mid-March;
  • agricultural specialist John C. Baker and housing expert Philip W. Furnas sailed at the end of the month for France and Germany to meet their colleagues from the American Friends Services Committee, the Quaker humanitarian organization; and
  • former Friends Intelligencer editor R. Barclay Spicer and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy on April 1 boarded the Cunard liner Aquitania for America.[1]”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.

Simultaneously, the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) released a 152-page report based on its November 1920 through January 1921 hearings in Washington, D.C. The non-U.S. government panel interviewed three dozen Irish, English, and American witnesses, including the widow and sister of Irish hunger strike martyr Terence MacSwiney. The ACCI report concluded that “Imperial British forces” in Ireland had created a state of “terror” that deprived Irish citizen of legal and moral protection.

An image from the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

The British Embassy in Washington immediately rebutted the ACCI report as “biased and wholly misleading.” The embassy statement said that Ireland, “so far from being a devastated country, is the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom, and probably the whole of Europe.”

The statement also insisted that “widespread misapprehension appears to exist in regard to the necessity of raising funds from United States sources for relief work in Ireland. … [though] … banking and tax returns show Ireland as a whole has never been more prosperous. … Apart from … genuine unemployment, common to all countries at the present moment, and … normal poverty … every case of distress and destitution is directly due to the effects of the Sinn Féin in Ireland.[2]Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.

The ACRI responded with its own lengthy, at times, rambling, statement, which was reported in news stories and placed in paid advertising. [Bottom of post.] “Since its organization [in December 1920] our Committee has been closely in touch with conditions in Ireland, and the unit of workers in charitable relief, some of whom had experience in other war devastated countries, which our Committee sent to Ireland, has brought us closely in touch with this situation. From this unit [and other sources] … we unhesitatingly state that [the British Embassy statements are] inaccurate and unfounded.”[3]“To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.

Distress in Ireland

Original report linked in text.

McCoy released the ACRI delegation’s 14-page “Distress in Ireland” report on April 16 in New York. Many U.S. newspapers published an Associated Press story about its findings.

The delegation estimated that 25,000 families, or about 100,000 “men, women and children … are in pitiful need of instant help from the American people.” The report anticipated the skepticism of British and U.S. government officials, pro-British or anti-Sinn Féin journalists, and segments of the general public:

We are quite aware that the ordinary traveler through Ireland, going only by train, and not visiting two or three communities, would be unaware that any such degree of distress exists. From his train window he would see only green and fertile countryside, of immense agricultural wealth, and fully supporting its population. In towns he might visit he would see, in his casual walks through their busy streets, little that would lead him to believe that acute distress exists.

But if he looked beneath the surface, if he went from house to house, outside the beaten paths of travel, eliminating, though he might, all the distress from unemployment resulting from trade depression, and all the distress of the habitual mendicant class–he would still find in every little village that he entered two, three, or a half dozen families which had never before been in want and which, but for the fact that they had come face to face with starvation, would never let their need be guessed.[4]”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.  

The delegation’s report estimated the damage to Irish homes, shops, factories, and creameries totaled $20 million, about $294 million a century later.[5]Per U.S. Inflation Calculator. It noted extensive damage to Ireland’s important agricultural sector, including 55 attacks on creameries.

“I wish to express my conviction that the creameries and their auxiliaries are the most important of all the immediate relief needs which the American people can help,” the report quoted Wilbur, the dairy farming expert who remained in Ireland.

McCoy concluded the report with a personal thought about British military reprisals on Irish residences. “As an individual,” he wrote, “I am entirely convinced that many of these people were entirely innocent of any complicity in the acts for which they were punished by having their homes burnt.”

Behind the scenes

Samuel D. McCoy

Five days after the report’s public release McCoy met in Washington with an executive assistant to U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. McCoy proposed the American government help distribute the relief money for Ireland. He alleged the British had reneged on a promise to allow non-partisan relief to be distributed in Ireland. He suggested the State Department could allay British concerns about the partisanship of the Irish White Cross by supervising the relief in Ireland, as it had done in Belgium during the war.[6]Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: … Continue reading

Behind the scenes, forces had been quietly working against the ACRI before McCoy’s visit to the State Department. The U.S. consul in Dublin, Frederick T. F. Dumont, who had met the visiting ACRI delegation, sent several cables to Washington that suggested the group was being exploited by Sinn Féin operatives within the Irish White Cross. Other government insiders in Washington insisted the relief group was anti-British. The American Friends Services Committee and the American Red Cross backed off their earlier support of ACRI for the same reason.

Nevertheless, “the regular accounts in the newspapers, the findings of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, and the statistics produced in the reports of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish Write Cross provided persuasive evidence that there was a substantial measure of destruction and dislocation as the result of the fighting,” Carroll has noted.[7]Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40. ACRI’s network of state committees continued the fundraising efforts launched during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The campaign pushed forward, and the group continued to send money to the Irish White Cross.

New York Herald, April 7, 1921. Click to enlarge.


This is the third post about the ACRI. Find previous stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Relief quotas” will examine state fundraising goals, and how well each did. I’ll publish this installment in June. 


1 ”Going Home: American Relief Committee’s Tour of Inspection Finished”, Freeman’s Journal, March 28, 1921.
2 Embassy statements quoted from “British Embassy Replies to Irish” and “British Call Ireland Never More Prosperous” in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 1, 1921.
3 “To The American Public”, advert in the New York Herald, April 7, 1921.
4 ”Distress in Ireland”, p. 7.
5 Per U.S. Inflation Calculator.
6 Carroll, F. M. “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, 1920-22.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 89, 1982, pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette, United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006, See Ch. 8, “Harding, Irish Relief Aid And Recognition”, pp. 326-327.
7 Carroll, “ACRI, 1920-22”, p. 40.

St. Patrick’s Day, 1921: ‘A Summons to Service’

The American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) timed the official launch of its $10 million fundraising campaign to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, 1921. The committee bought newspaper advertising and released a 16-page booklet titled, A Summons to Service from the Women and Children of Ireland. It opened:

Day after day you read with fainting heart the desolation that is gripping Ireland. You know that what you read is but half the story. The destruction of creameries and factories, the firing of homes, the laying waste of cities, these are the tragic symbols of a greater and unrecorded horror that is taking its toll from among the innocent who have not part in political or religious conflicts.  …

This is not an “appeal.” It is rather a summons to Americans to join wholeheartedly in an enterprise of mercy. Never has such a summons failed. In full confidence that your response will be as prompt and generous as the need is urgent, we come to you on behalf of those who are looking to America for life itself.

Some ACRI advertising did use the word “appeal,” as seen here from the March 13, 1921, edition of The Times Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia:

The Summons to Service booklet featured 11 black and white photos of war-related devastation in Ireland, including Athlone, Balbriggan, Mallow, and Templemore. It highlighted testimony from several of the 38 witnesses at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) hearings in Washington, D.C., from November 1920 to January 1921. The ACCI report, released in late March 1921, accused the British government of a “campaign for the destruction of the means of existence of the Irish people … [that resulted] in wide-spread and acute suffering among women and children.”[1]The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Interim Report“, (1921) See “Conclusions”, #4, p. 13.

Counter narrative

There were counter narratives about conditions in Ireland. Liverpool-born journalist Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Irish Times‘ correspondent to the Philadelphia Public Ledger and its affiliated U.S. papers, charged that ACRI supporters “continue to send to America lurid tales of Irish distress.” Moreover, he charged that the funds “will go to the support of families of fighting Sinn Feiners interned or in jail or to rebuild houses burned by the Crown forces because their owners participated actively or passively in attacks on them.[2]”Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

Bretherton disputed reports from the ACRI investigative team in Ireland that 200,000 civilians were “in dire need” and insisted that “there are not in all Ireland 500 people in that condition.” Likewise, he said property damage in Ireland, estimated at $300 million by the ACRI team, “does not amount to one-tenth that sum.”[3]Ibid. See also the editorial: “News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis News, March 7, 1921, quoting Bretherton.

Clemens France, leader of the ACRI delegation in Ireland since mid-February, quickly cabled New York headquarters with a statement released to U.S. newspapers. France charged that Bretherton “has deliberately ignored facts which any unbiased journalist can obtain and which are known to crown authorities.” France also said that Bretherton’s four-part series in the Times “obviously sought to persuade our unit that no relief need exists in Ireland, and since he failed in this absurd attempt he is apparently attempting to influence opinion in America.”[4]”Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.

As these disputes unspooled in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, the ACRI and its network of state committees began collecting cash and other pledges for Ireland. The Summons to Service booklet encouraged $1 to $15 donations, with checks payable to the Emigrants’ Industrial Savings Bank in New York, founded during the Great Famine by the Irish Emigrant Society.

Supportive statements

Cardinal Gibbons

Public statements by several prominent figures bolstered the ACRI effort, including James Cardinal Gibbons, the most senior Catholic prelate in the United States. He was more sensitive to suffering in Ireland than most Americans. Born in Baltimore to Irish immigrants, his family moved back to Mayo before the famine, which he witnessed during his teen years, before returning to America.

In a statement issued two weeks before his death, Gibbons said:

I earnestly beg all kind hearted and generous Americans to contribute to the fund for the relief of the many thousands now suffering want in Ireland. … The whole Catholic church of America is most deeply indebted to the Irish people. It is not too much to expect that in every parish of our land effective means be taken to collect funds for the relief of the suffering in Ireland.

President Harding

President Warren G. Harding, inaugurated at the beginning of March 1921, also issued a statement: “The people of America never will be deaf to the call for relief in behalf of suffering humanity” in Ireland.[5]Reports, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, and Irish White Cross, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, New York, 1922. Gibbon’s statement, March 8, 1921, p. 19, and Harding’s … Continue reading

Now, a year after the U.S. launch of a bond drive to support the separatist Dáil Éireann government in Dublin,  another fundraising campaign for Ireland was fully engaged in America.


This is the second of several articles about the ACRI. Find the previous story, “American investigators visit Ireland”, in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. NEXT: “Distress in Ireland.” The ACRI investigative team returns home from Ireland and releases its report. I’ll post this installment in mid-April.

This advert in the March 17, 1921, edition of the New York Tribune appeared in at least three other New York papers on the same day.


1 The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Interim Report“, (1921) See “Conclusions”, #4, p. 13.
2 ”Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.
3 Ibid. See also the editorial: “News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis News, March 7, 1921, quoting Bretherton.
4 ”Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.
5 Reports, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, and Irish White Cross, American Committee for Relief in Ireland, New York, 1922. Gibbon’s statement, March 8, 1921, p. 19, and Harding’s statement, March 26, 1921, p. 6.

American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921

American relief workers sailed to Ireland early in 1921 to assess the country’s humanitarian needs after two years of guerrilla fighting between republican separatists and the British state. The team’s Feb. 12 arrival and six-week, island-wide investigation coincided with the most violent period of the war.1 Their report of widespread hardships and economic devastation bolstered an American fundraising campaign that would send $5 million in relief to Ireland. It also created tensions between the U.S. and British governments.

This is the first of several articles about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI), part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. I’ll post the next installment in mid-March.

Clemens J. France of Seattle led the American relief delegation. A lawyer, he helped oversee development of the city’s port during the war years. In November 1920, as a progressive Farmer-Labor candidate, he lost a U.S. Senate campaign in Washington state. His brother, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. France, a Maryland Republican, supported the Irish cause. During a stop in London before crossing the Irish Sea to Dublin, Clemens France told the Irish Independent that American citizens were deeply interested in Ireland.

“There is no group of people in our country who are liked better than the Irish,” France said. “The Irishman has been a good citizen, and has played a great part in the development of our country. I have great affection for Irishmen, and that feeling is general in the States.”2

This image of the visiting group appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1921, before and after the team sailed to Ireland. Walter Longstretch is not included.

Author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy of New York City served as the delegation secretary and the lead writer of the report it would issue in April. Other members were connected to the American Friends Services Committee, a Quaker humanitarian organization founded in 1917 and said to give the group a neutral perspective. They included:

  • R. Barclay Spicer, Philadelphia, former editor of the Friends Intelligencer and head of the post-war Friends Reconstruction Unit in Europe;
  • Oren Wilbur, Greenwich, N.Y., a creamery and dairy farming expert who had attended the Friends’ 1919 conference in Dublin;
  • William Price, Philadelphia, an architect and builder involved in the post-war reconstruction of France; 
  • Philip W. Furnas, Indianapolis, Ind., a housing expert with experience in France;
  • John C. Baker, Everett, Pa., a farm implements and agricultural machinery expert, also experienced with post-war reconstruction; and
  • Walter C. Longstretch, Philadelphia, a lawyer and the group’s mystery man. His U.S. passport application noted his affiliation with ACRI and intention to travel to Ireland aboard a different ship days behind the others. He was not in the publicity photo widely published in U.S. newspapers, shown on this page, or a different photo of the group’s arrival in Dublin. Longstretch stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, the group’s headquarters, but left Ireland weeks before the others.3

American Committee & Commission

James G. Douglas, a Quaker, businessman, and Irish nationalist met the group in Dubin. Weeks earlier, Douglas established the Irish White Cross Society to partner with ACRI, the visitors’ sending organization. The creation of both groups became necessary when the American Red Cross, urged by U.S. and British government officials, declined to distribute aid to Ireland because of “grave risk of the Red Cross involving America in a national controversy foreign to our interests.”4

New York-based physician and Irish nationalist Dr. William Maloney formed the ACRI in December 1920 as conditions worsened in Ireland, including the mid-month burning of Cork city by the British military. Maloney also established the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland (ACCI) a few months earlier. The non-U.S. government investigative panel held hearings in Washington, D.C., from November 1920 through January 1921.

Ironically, the ACCI in November 1920 sought permission to send a five-member delegation to Ireland to conduct a first-hand assessment of conditions. British Ambassador to the United States Sir Auckland Geddes approved the trip but was soon reversed by his superiors in London. The British government decision drew a protest letter from 10 U.S. senators, including Joseph I. France, brother of the relief group leader–and ACCI member–who arrived in Ireland three months later.5

ACRI’s appeal published in U.S. newspapers during February 1921.

Maloney intended to utilize the ACCI witness testimony to benefit the ACRI fundraising effort,6 Nine of the commission witnesses were Irish immigrants naturalized as U.S. citizens who had returned home during 1920. These Irish diaspora accounts of “dangerous and unpleasant encounters with British authorities … gave credibility to the work of the commission … (and) remains one of the most important and most moving accounts of the suffering caused by the war in Ireland.”7

As its investigative delegation headed to Ireland, ACRI sought to collect more stories about suffering in Ireland through an appeal published in U.S. newspapers:8

Persons who have received letters from friends or family in Ireland which give a picture of present conditions are urged to send a copy of the letters, addressed to the publicity department of the ACRI. First-hand human interest material of this character will aid the committee greatly in its drive for funds to relieve the destitute women and children. 

The American relief team headquartered at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

ACRI received early donations and distributed money to the Irish White Cross before the official U.S. fundraising campaign began on St. Patrick’s Day, 1921. Days after the American team arrived in Ireland, Lord Mayor of Dublin Laurence O’Neill sent a cable to America to thank the Catholic Archdiocese of New York for its donation. He also praised the just-arrived ACRI team. “Their study of relief needs here, and reports to you, will be invaluable to industrial re-construction work and alleviation of economic suffering here,” he said,9

In pairs and other combinations, the Americans would visit nearly 100 cities and villages in 22 of Ireland’s 32 counties through the end of March. As with the ACCI hearings in Washington, British and U.S. government officials worried the ACRI mission would either intentionally or unintentionally help the Irish separatists. Their concerns would grow in the months ahead.

NEXT: “A Summons to Service,” the St. Patrick’s Day 1921 official launch of the Irish relief campaign in America.

MacSwiney’s ‘Principles of Freedom’ makes U.S. debut

Terence MacSwiney

Nearly 150 Irish civilians were killed by military and police forces from the Oct. 25, 1920, voluntary hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney to the January 1921 U.S. publication of Principles of Freedom, a collection of his essays.1 Many of these deaths were reported in U.S. newspapers, most notably “Bloody Sunday” in November 1920, but few received as much ongoing attention as MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Three months after his death, the posthumous book prompted a new round of headlines. 

E.P. Dutton & Co. of New York published the 244-page book six months before the first Irish edition from Talbot Press Limited, Dublin.2 The book contained 19 chapters, what MacSwiney called “articles,” all but one of which was previously published in the Irish republican newspaper Irish Freedom during 1911-1912. In the preface, MacSwiney said:

It was my intention to publish these articles in book form as soon as possible. I had them typed for the purpose. I had no time for revision save to insert in the typed copy words or lines omitted from the original printed matter. I also made an occasional verbal alteration in the original. One article, however, that on “Intellectual Freedom,” though written in the series in the place in which it now stands, was not printed with them. It is now published for the first time.”

MacSwiney devoted three pages of the preface to explain his essay “Religion” to “avoid a possible misconception amongst people outside of Ireland.” He continued:

In Ireland there is no religious dissension, but there is religious insincerity. English politicians, to serve the end of dividing Ireland, have worked on the religious feelings of the North, suggesting the dangers of Catholic ascendancy. There is not now, and there never was, any such danger, but our enemies, by raising the cry, sowed discord in the North, with the aim of destroying Irish unity. 

Arrested Aug. 12, 1920, for possession of “seditious articles and documents,” MacSwiney was tried four days later and sentenced to two years at Brixton Prison in south London. He probably wrote the preface and finalized the book deal during his hunger strike.

E.P. Dutton & Co.’s correspondence related to the book is held by Syracuse University.3 My request for copies of this material is backlogged by COVID-19 slowdowns and lower priority due to being unaffiliated with the university. I’ll update in a future post.

U.S. Reviews

Reviews of MacSwiney’s book began to appear in U.S. newspapers the last week of January 1921, a month after his wife, Muriel, and sister, Mary, testified at American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C. The widow returned quickly to Ireland, but the sister remained in America to make the rounds of pro-Irish independence speaking engagements. 

MacSwiney’s “dying plea for Ireland” was “the peroration of a poet, an idealist, a dreamer, who possessed, nevertheless, a sense of humor, a leaning toward the practical, an insight into human nature which illuminate at frequent intervals the pages of the book,” The Evening World’s Martin Green wrote in one of the earliest reviews.4

“The martyr to the Irish cause was strong for the ‘dreamers, cranks and fools’. In his opinion those so designated are the backbone of a movement such as Ireland is undergoing.”

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, said the book was “a valuable contribution to philosophy … universal in its viewpoints; it happens to have Ireland as a particular and living illustration … though it can hardly be called a piece of Irish republican propaganda.”5

An editorial in the St. Louis Star said MacSwiney’s book “will not only prove a memorial to his life and his sacrifice, but it furnish the world a fresh insight into the spirit of the Irish people.”6

Period newspaper adverts show the book retailed for $2, or just under $30 with a century of inflation.7 Today, a California antiquarian and used book dealer advertises a 1921 first edition of the E.P. Dutton version in “Very Good Plus” condition for $150. (Digitized U.S. and Irish editions are linked in Note 2.)  

“Here is a document of extraordinary interest,” says the book’s original dust jacket. “It is the mind of an Irish irreconcilable turned inside out by himself for our inspection.”

From New York Herald, March 13, 1921.

From Boycott to Biden: My 2020 freelance work

This year I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. I thank the editors who worked with me on these projects and hope my readers will explore their websites after enjoying the articles linked below. MH

Will Biden Shake Up a Century of US-Ireland Relations?
History News Network, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Biden.

Though annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities at the White House have become a familiar tradition, Ireland hasn’t always fared well with U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson grew agitated with Irish activists, who helped scuttle the post-WWI League of Nations with war ally Britain. John F. Kennedy also was reluctant to jeopardize America’s “special relationship” with Britain during the Cold War. Now, Joe Biden’s presidency may be a boon to Irish politics, including new focus on the island’s century-old divided status.

Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland
Irish Diaspora Histories Network, Nov. 15, 2020

Clare native Patrick J. Guilfoil returned to Ireland in 1920.

Half of the 18 American witnesses who testified a century ago about their experiences in Ireland during the War of Independence were natives of the country who returned home in 1920. Their first-person accounts of the period’s violence and unrest, totaling more than 160 pages of verbatim transcript, illustrate both Irish nationalist and American identities. Most of the nine witnesses said they returned to Ireland to visit family. Then they got caught in the crossfire of war.

The History of the Boycott Shows a Real Cancel Culture
History News Network, Aug. 2, 2020

Charles Boycott

Dozens of writers, artists and academics signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that warned of growing “censoriousness” in our culture, including “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” While so-called “cancel culture” often deploys modern social media technology, it is hardly a new tactic. It most famously dates to 1880 in the west of Ireland, when English land agent Charles Boycott’s last name became a verb for the practice.

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

The British government in Ireland wielded suppression powers over papers and printing works they deemed were “used in a way prejudicial to the public safety” or potentially bothersome to King George V, as quoted in the headline. On Sept. 20, 1919, authorities made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. An American journalist in Ireland later observed that among papers suppressed and then allowed to resume publication, “it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.”

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

Hyde’s travel journal was reissued in 2019.

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” and complained “the wind would cut your nose off” during his January 1906 visit. But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather or fine scenery. As with the other stops on an eight-month U.S. tour, Hyde came to raise awareness about the Gaelic League, the language revival organization he helped found in 1893 to nurture both cultural and political nationalism.

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

1919 passport photo of Ruth Russell.

American journalist Ruth Russell interviewed Éamon de Valera and other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolution, including Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne McBride, Michael Collins, Constance Georgine Markievicz, and George William Russell (no relation) during her 1919 reporting trip. Russell also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she protested outside the British embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Coincidental crossings of the ‘Celtic’, December 1920

Muriel and Mary MacSwiney sailed from Ireland to America in late 1920 to testify about the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney, husband and brother, respectively, and the ongoing fight for freedom in their homeland. Their westbound journey aboard the liner Celtic was highly anticipated, and their arrival in New York City became front page news.

The Celtic.

Six days later, Irish leader Éamon de Valera was secreted aboard the same ship for its eastbound return to Europe, ending his 18-month mission to America. The stowaway risked arrest by British authorities if discovered once the Celtic berthed in Liverpool, England. Publicity was the last thing de Valera and other Irish supporters wanted.

These consecutive crossings of a ship named for the Irish race are coincidental. Yet they also symbolize the close relationship between Ireland and America, and highlight key events and participants of the Irish revolution at the end of its second year; what a Times of London correspondent described as “the transatlantic Irish pot boiling with a vengeance.”1 Muriel MacSwiney and de Valera each concluded their voyage aboard the Celtic with public statements about Irish hopes for American help, wishes that were mostly dashed in the new year, 1921.

‘Embarked Quietly’

Muriel MacSwiney, left, and Mary MacSwiney, right, at the Washington hearings.

News of Muriel MacSwiney’s trip aboard the Celtic began to appear in U.S. papers shortly after her husband’s Oct. 25 starvation death in a British prison. She accepted an invitation to appear before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, meeting in Washington, D.C. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, established the non-U.S. government commission on behalf of Irish sympathizers. British authorities, though dubious of the commission, privately assured U.S. officials that they would not refuse passports to Irish witnesses, including the MacSwineys.2 Nearly 40 Irish, British, and American witnesses testified at commission hearings from November 1920 through January 1921.

On Nov. 25, the MacSwineys  “embarked quietly” on the Celtic at  Queenstown, the Associated Press reported in U.S. papers. “Few people were aware that they were sailing.”3 Irish papers subsequently reported their departure with 400 others at the port, now called Cobh, a quick stop between Liverpool and New York City. The two women “were greeted on embarking the line with cheers from their fellow passengers.”4

The twin-funnel, 701-foot Celtic was launched in April 1901 from the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, part of the White Star fleet that later included Titanic. Converted to merchant and troop ship duty during the Great War, it struck a mine in 1917 off the Isle of Man, killing 17 people aboard. A year later it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea, causing six deaths. Once the war ended, the Celtic was restored to its original purpose, and people hurried to board and enjoy its accommodations on the nine-day crossings of safer seas. The Celtic called at New York about once a month, according to schedules published in 1920 newspapers.

MacSwineys Arrival

The Celtic arrived shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, at New York City’s Pier 60, a day behind schedule due to westerly gales. The next to last night at sea “was so violent that the tops of the angry waves were blown over the bridge and funnels, smothering the ship with icy spray,” The New York Times reported. Many passengers became seasick as “the big ship was tossed about.”5

This image appeared in the Boston Pilot on Dec. 5, 1920.

Muriel and Mary were the first passengers off the ship, their bags carried down the gangway by a special delegation of Irish longshoremen, ahead of American financier J. Peirpont Morgan and his wife. The two Irish women seemed unaware they had crossed the Atlantic with the famous couple, who had been in Europe since August, according to news accounts.6  

A crowd of up to 3,000 awaited them, less than half the estimated 10,000 that had gathered at the pier a day earlier. The scene turned chaotic as police confused which door the women would enter. Villard and Harry Boland, de Valera’s secretary, headed the reception. A parade of more than 70 automobiles followed, with crowds waving the Stars and Stripes and the tricolor of the Irish Republic.

Muriel MacSwiney was described as “a slender, gray eyed young woman dressed in deep mourning, with masses of black hair showing in ripples when she threw back her heavy widow’s veil.” At the end of the day, she issued a statement: 

I am deeply grateful for the wonderful reception given to me this morning, and especially to the women of America for their generous tribute to my husband’s memory. I have had many beautiful letters from America, even from American children, and I am happy to be in a country where so many are thinking about the cause of Ireland. … We feel in Ireland that America has a greater responsibility in the matter than any other land on account of her fine traditions and her war pledges, and because there are so many millions of our kin in this country.”

The women soon traveled to Washington and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland over three days, Dec. 8-10. Front page coverage of the MacSwineys appeared in the leading Irish-American weeklies, The Gaelic American, New York, and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, on Dec. 11. That same day, the Celtic began its eastward voyage back to Europe.

Eastward Crossing

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera’s return to Ireland was cloaked in as much mystery as his June 1919 arrival in America, when he’d been hidden aboard the White Star’s Lapland. Now, two weeks before Christmas, he was spirited aboard the Celtic shortly before it sailed for Liverpool. In both instances, White Star bosun Barney Downes and other Irish sailors provided key help in smuggling the leader aboard ship.7

Smuggling people, guns, and information aboard transatlantic ships was a regular operation of the war, according to an Irish Volunteer based in Liverpool from 1918-1922:

The liners plying between Liverpool and New York, especially the White Star and Cunard Boats, had Irishmen aboard who were employed to take dispatches from Liverpool for New York and vice versa. These sailors also engaged in the stowing away of leaders who wished to avoid arrest. The mode of procedure was for such a person or persons to go aboard several hours before the Liner was due to leave the dock for a landing stage and to be hidden away in the bowels of the ship. … The Atlantic route was our most important route both on account of the source of [weapons] supply at New York and because of the fact that sailings were very regular and frequent. Our best boats on that line were the Celtic and the Baltic [both of the White Star fleet].8

A few weeks before his clandestine voyage, de Valera publicly organized the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in a split from the establishment Friends of Irish Freedom. The rancorous move ended 18 months of nearly non-stop, coast-to-coast travel to raise money and political support for the Irish republic. By early December, Boland told the America reporters that de Valera needed rest from all the activity and was keeping out of view.

The Dec. 11, 1920, issue of The Evening World, New York, reported European-bound Christmas mail and some prominent passengers on the Celtic, but not stowaway Éamon de Valera.

Rumors of de Valera’s return to Ireland, however, soon began to “exercise the talents” of journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.9 The London press said de Valera was traveling to the capital for what turned out to be an unauthorized Irish peace overture. American reporters checked the hotels de Valera usually frequented in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Close associates of the Irish leader remained coy about his whereabouts. A Dec. 15 statement attributed to de Valera huffed: “I did not ask Mr. Lloyd George’s permission to come to the United States, and I shall not ask for it when the time of my return to Ireland comes.”10 He was already four days at sea.

It is unclear whether this crossing of the Celtic encountered rough weather, but de Valera was known to easily get seasick, especially hidden away from fresh air. The ship arrived in Liverpool on Dec. 20 (See maps below.), just as British officials ordered that de Valera not be prevented from landing. He was back in Dublin two before Christmas, but remained in hiding.11

Finally, on Dec. 31, Boland announced de Valera had return to Ireland. The story topped the year-end front pages of many U.S. newspapers and quoted from de Valera’s farewell message to America:

May you ever remain as I have known you, the land of the generous hearted and the kindly. … I came to you on a holy mission; a mission of freedom; I return to my people who sent me, not indeed as I had dreamed it, with the mission accomplished, but withal with a message that will cheer in the dark days that have come upon them and will inspire the acceptance of such sacrifices as must yet be made. …. You will not need to be assured that Ireland will ‘not be ungrateful.’12


Muriel MacSwiney sailed home to Ireland the next day, New Year’s Day, 1921, aboard the Panhandle State. Mary MacSwiney remained in America and continued to speak out for Irish independence. While many regular Americans supported the Irish cause, the U.S. government under new President Warren Harding considered it a British domestic issue, the same stance as predecessor Woodrow Wilson. In August, with a ceasefire agreed in the war, Mary MacSwiney and Boland returned to Ireland together aboard the White Star’s Olympic.13 Four months later a treaty ended the war and created the Irish Free State.

In December 1928 the Celtic ran aground in a storm on the approach to Queenstown (Cobh), near Roche’s Point Lighthouse. It was found unworthy of repair and scrapped.

Charting Dev’s Return to Ireland on the Celtic

The two maps below are from the “Shipping News” pages of The New York Herald. Note each map shows representations of more than two dozen passenger liners. Clicking the images will show a larger view in most browsers.

This map is from Dec. 12, 1920, a day after the Celtic left New York with stowaway Éamon De Valera. The Celtic is represented by the circled 1 in Row D, third block from bottom, in a cluster of ships off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

 This map is from Dec. 19, 1920. The Celtic is represented by the circled 3 in Row Q, second block from the top. It arrived the next day at Liverpool, England.


See all the stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.