Tag Archives: American Committee for Relief in Ireland

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.

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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. 

References

References
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.

American relief to Ireland, 1921

I am developing new projects, including future installments of my series about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. Below are the first two posts in the Irish relief series; the next, “Distress in Ireland,” will publish in early April.

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.

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

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.” He 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.”2

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.”3

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.4

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.

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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.

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 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.