Tag Archives: American Commission on Irish Independence

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“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:

Also see:

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

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

Walsh

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

Dunne

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

 

Ryan

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.