Éamon de Valera faced one of the most hostile receptions of his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland during an April 21, 1920, stop in Birmingham, Alabama.
De Valera in 1919
An American Legion post in the southern industrial city urged Alabama Gov. Thomas E. Kilby to declare de Valera persona non grata, in part because Irish separatists had sought German assistance during the late world war, when America allied with Britain. A Pennsylvania chapter of the patriotic veterans organization began grumbling about de Valera as he visited Pittsburgh in October 1919. Similar rhetoric surfaced a month later in Los Angeles.
Now, however, the strongest opposition to de Valera’s appearance was driven by “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hatred of Catholics that prevailed in Birmingham during the second and third decades of the twentieth century,” David B. Franklin wrote in a 2004 History Ireland article. “The Irish-American population in particular was an insidious threat, [because unlike blacks] that ethnic group mixed so freely with the WASP majority in all situations except religion.”
Kilby declined to grant the Legion’s requested declaration and steered away from overt anti-Catholicism. Instead, he released a statement that said the Sinn Féin leader should be deported by the U.S. State Department. And he suggested that some “patriotic Americans” were “seriously misled” in their “zeal for a cause which involves the internal affairs of a friendly nation [Britain].”1
Frank J. Thompson, state chairman of the American Commission on Irish Independence, rebuked Kilby on grounds of patriotism and politics:
The time is coming, whether Governor Kilby realizes it or not, when the same moral law that governs man shall govern nations and when robber nations, like the burglarious individual, will have to realize the truth of the principle and be governed by it. … [He should] familiarize himself more thoroughly with the attributes of a real American and the history of our country, before he attempts to catalogue or classify those who sympathize with the aspirations of the Irish people.”2
Thompson, leader of Alabama’s Irish bond drive effort, a few days earlier had welcomed de Valera to Mobile, the state’s more heavily Catholic port city, where there were no protests. Despite the agitation in Birmingham, de Valera was allowed to make his speech. He was joined by Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of County Antrim, who said that Irish freedom was not only a Catholic concern.
Anti-Catholic bigots tried to block Éamon de Valera from making an April 1920 speech at this Birmingham, Alabama, playhouse, then the Jefferson Theatre, later renamed Erlanger. Birmingham Public Library
Kilby and the Legion got more press attention before de Valera’s visit than the speech received afterward, according to a review of available digital newspaper archives. The New York Times reported de Valera “was greeted with mingled applause and shouts of ‘throw him out’ ” and that “objectors caused considerable confusion inside the crowded theatre.”3The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to Sinn Féin leadership in Ireland, declared “a great throng crowded Jefferson Theatre to its utmost capacity … despite an organized attempt of bigots to prevent the meeting…”4
The Birmingham episode received only minimal attention in Irish newspapers, which focused more coverage on the deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama and other U.S. southern states in the same week.
Ireland’s breakaway government, Dáil Éireann, in 1920 began to raise money in America through the sale of small denomination bond certificates. Éamon de Valera launched the effort Jan. 17 in New York City with great fanfare. The kickoff “Irish Loan Week” continued through Jan. 26.
This was a period of intense canvassing, with promotional events in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Widening its geographical footprint, the drive was then launched around the country at public meetings. The initial focus of each state was the large cities, with the less populated areas to follow. The meetings were addressed by prominent local personalities, but as ‘President of the Irish Republic’ de Valera was the main attraction.
The American Commission on Irish Independence (ICII) helped to organize the bond drive across the country. This was the non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans that in 1919 visited Ireland and lobbied on its behalf at the Paris peace conference. ICII Chairman Frank P. Walsh of Kansas City, a national vice chairman of the Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), directed a roster of state chairmen selected to coordinate central committees representing geographic areas, rather than smaller communities or individual organizations. 1
“A multitude of meetings throughout the country are being planned by the state chairmen and the committees working under their direction … and I am sure that the educational benefit of the drive to the American people will be as great as the satisfaction all lovers of liberty will get from knowing that they have worked in the Cause of Liberty in Ireland,” Walsh said.2
Historian Francis M. Carroll writes:
These leaders and their staffs were to utilize the manpower of local Irish groups, such as the Friends, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish Progressive League, the Knights of Columbus, and others, to do the canvassing and selling. If a separate sales force were needed it could be created when and where appropriate. … Handbooks, promotional literature, and letters of advice poured out of the New York headquarters to inform and guide the organizers across the country.”3
The list of 40 state chairmen below comes from The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn.4 No information is provided in the paper for nine states left blank5; smudged, unreadable letters or numbers are represented by ?. I’ve added details about many of the chairman from newspaper stories and the 1920 U.S. Census. Readers are encouraged to provide additional information.
Like Walsh, six other chairmen were FOIF national officers from the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. Later in the year, several became state directors of the rival, pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. At least six of the chairmen were Irish immigrants; others were first-generation Irish Americans. Their work as lawyers and judges, physicians, bankers, and merchants demonstrates ascendant Irish middle class 70 years after Famine immigration.
Alabama: Frank J. Thompson, 65 St. Francis St., Mobile. Real estate salesman publicly defended de Valera against calls for his deportation from the state’s governor.6
Arkansas: James E. Gray, Gans Building, Little Rock
California: Judge Bernard J. Flood, City Hall, San Francisco. State Superior Court jurist.
Connecticut: John J. Splain, Bijou Theatre, New Haven. Theatre manager; both parents born in Ireland.7. FOIF national vice president.8
Delaware: John F. Malloy, 1402 Ford Building, Wilmington. Lawyer and city official.
District of Columbia: William M. Phelan, Washington Savings Bank. Born in Ireland about 1862; emigration year unknown; naturalized U.S. citizen in 1895.9 As the bank’s president, in December 1920 he also served as treasure of a fund-raising committee for a parade to honor Muriel MacSwiney, widow of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, who visited Washington to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. He also received subscriptions to assist the stricken town of Mallow, County Cork, after a British raid.10
Georgia: E.J. O’Connor, 1320 Green St., Augusta
Idaho: J.J. McCue, Idaho Building, Boise City. Lawyer, father born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Boise, Ada, Idaho; Roll: T625_287; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 20.[/note]
Illinois: Richard W. Wolfe, 5344 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Real estate proprietor; born in Ireland; emigration and naturalization unknown.11 FOIF national trustee.12
Indiana: Judge James E. Deery, 312 Law Building, Indianapolis
Iowa: Dr. William P. Slattery, 9th & Locust Sts. Dubuque. Physician; born in Ireland; emigrated in 1886; naturalization unknown.13
Kansas: Judge Michael J. Manning, 1708 Central Ave., Kansas City. Hardware store merchant; both parents born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Kansas City Ward 5, Wyandotte, Kansas; Roll: T625_556; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 185.[/note]
Kentucky: Thomas F. Maguire, Louisville. Dry good merchant; both parents born in Ireland.14
Louisiana: A.G. Williams, Maison Blanche Building, New Orleans
Maryland: M.P. Kehoe, Equitable Building, Baltimore. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated in 1898; naturalized in 1905.15 Vice president of the Celtic Club, 1916; President of the Shamrock Club, 1918. 16
Massachusetts: John F. Harrington, 66 High St., Worcester. Railroad station freight handler and union member; both parents born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Leominster Ward 2, Worcester, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_747; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 335, and multiple mentions in the Fitchburg (Mass) Sentinel, 1915-1925.[/note]
Michigan: Patrick J. Murphy, Buhl Block, Detroit. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated 1870.[1920 U.S. Census, Detroit Ward 1, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_803; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 38.[/note] FOIF national trustee.17
Minnesota: Edward T. Foley, Gilfillan Block, St. Paul. Railroad contractor.18
Mississippi: William Vollor, First National Bank Building, Vicksburg. Lawyer. “I am gratified, indeed, that there are so few people here in Vicksburg who cannot appreciate the right that Ireland claims for liberty and nationhood. … opposition here only adds to the generous response that our good people gave to President de Valera’s appeal for justice for the oppressed people of Ireland.”19
Missouri: A.J. Donnelly, 3846 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis
Montana: James E. Murray, 35 N. Main St., Butte. Laywer. FOIF national trustee.20 In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.21.
New Hampshire: James J. Griffin, 789 Beach St., Manchester. Grocery merchant; both parents born in Ireland.22
New York: William Bourke Cockran, 100 Broadway, New York City. Lawyer and former U.S. Congressman; chief of Tammany Hall, the Democratic party machine in New York.23
North Carolina: Dr. John S. Clifford, 609 Commercial Bank Building, Charlotte. In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.24.
North Dakota: Hon. John Carmody, 5 Huntington Block, Fargo
Ohio: M.P. Mooney, Society Savings Bank, Cleveland. Lawyer and member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.25.
Oklahoma: Arthur P. Sweeney, 204 Robinson Building, Tulsa
Oregon: Dr. Andrew W. Smith, Medical Building, Portland
Pennsylvania: Hon. Eugene C. Bonniwell, 690 City Hall, Philadelphia. Municipal Court judge had been Democratic Party nominee for governor in 1918; member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.26 See note for list of Pennsylvania county chairmen.27
Rhode Island: Hon. Cornelius C. Moore, ???? Thompson St., Newport. FOID national trustee.28
South Carolina: Hon. John P. Grace, 45 Broad St. Charleston. FOIF national vice president.29
Tennessee: Edward F. Walsh, 600 Market St., Knoxville. In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.30.
Utah: Thomas Maginnis, Eecles Building, Ogden. Lawyer.
Vermont: Dr. John V. Derven, Putney
Virginia: Daniel G. O’Flaherty, 11??? Mutual Building, Richmond
Washington: G.P. Gleason, 2nd & Madison Sts., Seattle
West Virginia: Timothy S. Scanlon, Huntington. City official and state roads commissioner; Catholic.31
Wisconsin: Joseph P. Callan, 10?0 First National Bank Building, Milwaukee. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated 1895; naturalized in 1900.32 FOIF national trustee.33
Wyoming: Michael Purcell, Casper
At the end of January 1920, the Standard reported:
The work of organization is farther advanced in some States than in others … As might have been expected, the most rapid progress has been made in those States where there have been numerous meetings during the past year, where there has been plentiful publicity, and where the various societies friendly to the Irish cause have been active. In such places it was only necessary to name a campaign period and the campaign organization required produced itself with surprising speed. It did not take long to learn, however, that this desirable condition does not exist in the same degree of perfection in every State … Probably the most forward in the matters of preparation are the areas around New York and Philadelphia [which] contain more people of Irish descent than are found in many Southern or Western States combined.34
The bond drive opened with a public target of $10 million and private expectation of $5 million. Just over $5.1 million was collected. More in future posts of my American Reporting of Irish Independenceseries.
This year I explored 1919 U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of events in the struggled for Irish freedom. I produced 32 stand-alone posts for my American Reporting of Irish Independence series about developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including:
Dáil Éireann, revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic
Irish Race Convention
American Commission on Irish Independence
Éamon de Valera’s tour of America
News reporting and opinion pieces for and against the Irish cause
Many of my posts are focused on three Irish-American weeklies: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia paper with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; the Kentucky Irish American, published from 1898 to 1968 in Louisville; and The Irish Standard, circulated from 1886 to 1920 in Minneapolis, Minn. Since all three papers are digitized, my posts are laced with links to the original pages. The Irish American and Standard offered more moderate coverage of Ireland’s cause than the Press, reflecting a more conservative Irish America in the heartland, rather than the more activist immigrant pockets of the East Coast.
Ruth Russell’s 1919 passport photo.
I also produced a five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, about a young Chicago Daily News correspondent who reported from the early months of the revolution. Upon her return to America, Russell wrote a book about her experience, protested against British rule in Ireland; and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.
“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell said of the Sinn Féin leaders. “[They were] the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”1
Russell arrived in Ireland the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 1919, a week before her 30th birthday. Over the next few months she reported from Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and rural Dungloe in County Donegal.1 At least two dozen of her dispatches appeared in the Chicago Daily News, and other U.S. and Canadian newspapers that subscribed to its foreign news service.
She was not the only Daily News reporter in Ireland, which had attracted scores of American and other foreign correspondents after Dáil Éireann, the break away parliament of the Irish Republic, was established Jan. 21, 1919. As Maurice Walsh notes, “The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.”2
Russell’s 1919 passport photo.
Russell’s first story from Ireland appeared in the Daily News on March 18, 1919, a day after the newspaper recognized St. Patrick’s Day with a full page of “greetings from noted Irish writers to their compatriots in Chicago.”3 She covered the prison release and triumphal Dublin return of Constance Georgine Markievicz, known as “Countess” Markievicz, who in December 1918 became the first woman elected to the British Parliament. As a separatist Sinn Féin candidate, Markievicz won a Dublin constituency while incarcerated for her role in Ireland’s anti-conscription protests earlier that year, months before the armistice.
Markievicz’s election and the Sinn Féin route of old guard Irish parliamentary nationalists received considerable press coverage in America. Her release from prison and decision to join the revolutionary parliament in Dublin was largely ignored by U.S. newspapers, giving Russell a scoop. Her story4 did not contrast Markievicz’s historic election win to American women still struggling for the vote. Her home state of Illinois would not ratify the 19th amendment until June, and U.S. suffrage waited until August 1920.
Instead, Russell offered a narrative, scene-setting approach to the homecoming that differed from most straight-news reporting of the day. She even placed herself in the action, close enough for Markievicz to whisper an aside. Listen to a lightly edited passage of the story, read by my wife, and reproduced below:
Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.”
Russell interviewed other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolutionary movement, including:
Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, describing his “white, ascetic, young–he is thirty-seven–face lined with determination”5;
“sharp-mustached, sardonic little”6 Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Féin founder;
Maud Gonne McBride, widow of an Irish revolutionary leader, “tall and slim in her deep mourning”7;
“keen, boyish” Michael Collins8, the revolution’s guerrilla warfare strategist; and
George William Russell [no relation], “the famous AE, poet, painter and philosopher, the ‘north star of Ireland.’ ”9
Russell witnessed the Dublin arrival of the American Commission on Irish Independence, a non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans sent to the 1919 Paris peace conference to lobby for Ireland. She reported on a failed effort in the international race to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
The three members of the Irish-American delegation, at right, receive an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.
As in her Markievicz piece, Russell was self-referential in other reporting, in both first and third person, such as her March 1919 interview with de Valera, then hiding from British authorities: “In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows Mr. de Valera was talking to me as a representative of the Chicago Daily News,” she wrote. Later in the same story, Russell described being escorted from the secret meeting location: “In the darkness the correspondent was guided along a narrow garden walled to a waiting car.”10
IN THE SHADOWS
Russell’s reporting was at its best when she mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, those in the shadow of the revolution. She lived in the Dublin slums with families crammed into one-room tenements. She applied for hard-to-find jobs with other women, many caring for children and supporting unemployed husbands and brothers. “Their constant toil makes the women of Ireland something less than well-cared for slaves,” Russell wrote.11
Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.
She interviewed workers and labor leaders in the short-lived Limerick soviet, at Belfast textile mills, and outside a soon to open Ford-owned tractor plant: “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” she reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”12
Most of Russell’s stories were published on inside pages of the Daily News with dispatches of its other foreign correspondents. A few times the paper promoted her by name in secondary headlines, such as “Ruth Russell Describes Barring of Workers from Home Town” (Limerick), and “Ruth Russell Tells Pathetic Story of Why Women Go to England”.13 It is unclear if this was an attempt by the Daily News to market her as a “stunt girl” reporter, or leverage the reputation of her late father, Martin J. Russell, one of Chicago’s pioneering newspaper editors.
In this reading from “Why Women Go to England”, Russell describes looking for work in Dublin with recently unemployed female munitions workers, like those she had labored with two years earlier in a Chicago armament plant.14:
Down a puddly, straw-strewn lane we were blown by the wind to a candy factory. It was next in factory size to the biscuit plant. Dublin considers a 50 to 100 hand plant very large. At this place, it was possible to earn $4.50 a week, but the thumbed sign on the door read: No hands wanted. … Up the narrow wooden treaded stairs we mounted to a big room where girls sitting sideways on a long table nailed yellow wooden candy containers together. Through a crack between the planks of the floor we could see hard red candies swirling below. As the melting sleet was pooling off our hats, the ticking aproned manager came out to sputter: Can’t you read? … That night along Gloucester Street, past the Georgian mansions built before the union of Ireland and England, flat uprising structures from behind whose verdigrised brass trimmed doors came the mummers of many membered tenement families–I walked until I came to a shining brass plated door. “Why don’t you go to England?” was the first question the matron of the working girls home put to me when I told her I could get no work. “All the girls are.”
Note how this story was published on June 3 but has a May 5 dateline.
IRISH CHILDREN, CHICAGO CONNECTIONS
Russell detailed malnourishment, mental illness, and other social problems in Ireland’s cities and rural western counties. She reported about children, teachers, and schools, likely drawing on her own earlier classroom training. Perhaps 175,000 of 500,000 enrolled children did not attend school; and only 3,820 of 13,538 teachers were efficient because their pay was low, $405 to $1,440 per year, she reported from government data.15
“Dead, mentally dead, teachers are frequent in Ireland,” Russell wrote.
Russell followed Daily News Publisher Victor F. Lawson’s advice about the paper’s correspondents to stay close to the native people. Here is an example from her stay in the Dublin slums16:
Then as a lodger I was given the only chair at the breakfast table. The mother and girl sat at a plank bench and supped their tea from their saucerless cups. As there was no place else to sit, the children took their bread and jam as they perched on the bed, and when they finished, surreptitiously wiped their fingers on the brown-covered hay mattress. Before we were through they had run to the streets to warm their cold legs inside the fender till the floor was tracked with mud from the street, ashes from the grate, and bits of crumbling bread.
Russell named other children in her reporting, detailing their young ages and harsh circumstances:
Six-year-old Mary Casey “has some difficulty curling her arm about the papers she carries” as the youngest member of the Dublin Newsgirls’ Club.
“Eight-year-old Michael Mallin drags kelp out of a rush basket and packs it down for fertilizer between the brown ridges of the little hand-spaded field in Donegal.”
“Nine-year-old Patrick Gallagher may go to the Letterkenny Hiring Fair to sell his baby services to a farmer.”
“Ten-year-old Margaret Duncan can be found sitting hunched up on a doorstep in a back street in Belfast.”17
And like any good reporter, Russell found Chicago connections in Ireland to relay back to her hometown readers:
Fr. J. P. Flannigan at St. Mary’s procathedral in Dublin, who led a committee of Catholic priests trying to quell Irish labor unrest, had studied in Rome with Archbishop George William Mundelein of Chicago.18
Progressive social reformer Jane Addams of Chicago helped send rubber boots to war-torn Germany through the Women’s International League.19
“Chicago girl” Stella M. Franklin, former secretary-treasurer of the city’s Woman’s Trade Union League, worked to improve housing conditions throughout the British Isles.20
Russell’s story on the Irish economy questioned whether England prevented Ireland from developing “all the Chicago side industries that can be established in connection with the cattle trade.” Money was lost shipping the animals across the Irish Sea for slaughter and processing. Russell reported that a London firm “has just issued a prospectus for a plant designed for slaughtering, tanning, chandlery, glue making, and which is intended to transform Drogheda in Ireland into a Chicago.”21
Some of Russell’s stories published up to two months after their dateline. Her byline from Ireland appeared in American newspapers at least through October 1919, though she returned home in August.22
In 1920, Russell would expand her reporting into magazine articles and her book, What’s the matter with Ireland? She also would take on a new role of publicly speaking out for Irish independence beyond the printed page.
“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”
Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.
Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2
“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3
In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.
Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:
The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.
Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1
Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2
Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3
Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America. Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4
At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5
The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic. In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:
“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6
The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.
“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect. We have come to Paris for his answer.”7
More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.