Tag Archives: American Committee for Relief in Ireland

America’s 1921 relief to Ireland, revisited

Most of my work this year for the American Reporting of Irish Independence section of this blog has focused on the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. The 1921 fund drive provided $5 million to Ireland through summer 1922. Three of the 10 stories below were published outside the blog. Three key relief committee documents are also linked below the photo.

American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921

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

Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to Ireland, Catholic Review (Baltimore)

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland 

War relief to Listowel and North Kerry, 1921Listowel Connection

‘A duty to their own flesh & blood’

Forgotten Charity Between Ireland and America, 1889 & 1921, The Irish Story

The lawyer, the banker & money to Ireland, fall 1921

Irish visitor thanks America for 1921 financial relief

The American Committee for Relief in Ireland inspecting factory ruins at Balbriggan. Hogan, W. D. (1921).

KEY DOCUMENTS

Irish visitor thanks America for 1921 financial relief

James G. Douglas, honorary treasurer of the Irish White Cross, visited U.S. cities in November 1921 to acknowledge the $5 million in relief Americans donated since the start of the year. The American Committee for Relief in Ireland, which collected the money, described him as “a prominent (drapery) merchant in Dublin, a member of the religious Society of Friends (Quakers) … held in the highest esteem by all classes of people of whatever religious or political affiliation.”[1]Report of American Committee for Relief in Ireland, New York, 1922 , p. 51. Douglas “almost singlehandedly” operated the Irish White Cross, which distributed the aid in Ireland through summer 1922.[2]See Dictionary of Irish Biography

Douglas made his first stop in Pittsburgh, where he was honored by members of the local American Committee at a Knights of Columbus hall.

Douglas

“I addressed the gathering, conveyed the thanks of the White Cross and the Irish people for what they had done and explaining the manner in which the White Cross had administered the relief made possible by the American Committee’s funds,” Douglas wrote in a seven-page account of the tour held by the National Library of Ireland. He never mentioned fundraising totals, which are in some dispute.[3]See my earlier posts: The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland and ‘A duty to their own flesh & blood‘.

From Pittsburgh, Douglas traveled to Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. His report is filled with the names of long-ago discontinued passenger railroad lines and prominent early 20th century political and church leaders:

  • Bishop Hugh C. Boyle of Pittsburgh, whose Irish immigrant father was killed in the 1889 Johnstown flood.
  • Archbishop George W. Mundelein of Chicago, son of an Irish immigrant mother.
  • Former Wisconsin Gov. Francis E. McGovern.
  • Archbishop John J. Glennon of St. Louis, a County Westmeath native.
  • Dr. Vernon Kellogg, director of the National Research Council.
  • U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was elected U.S. president in 1928.
  • Limerick Mayor Stephen M. O’Mara, also visiting America.
  • William A. Brady, president of the National Association of Motion Picture Producers.
  • Cardinal William O’Connell of Boston, son of Irish parents.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Channing H. Cox.

Douglas made several reference to his encounters with newspaper reporters and photographers, but most press coverage was brief and placed on inside pages. His month-long visit was hardly generated as much attention as Éamon de Valera’s U.S. tour from June 1919 through December 1920.

By early December 1921, the treaty between Irish separatists and the British government dominated the news as Douglas returned to Ireland. He served in the Irish Senate from 1922 until his death in 1954.

From the front page of The Evening Times, Sayre, Pa., Nov. 21, 1921. This image and a wire service story about Douglas’ American visit appeared in U.S. papers through December 1921.

References

References
1 Report of American Committee for Relief in Ireland, New York, 1922 , p. 51.
2 See Dictionary of Irish Biography
3 See my earlier posts: The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland and ‘A duty to their own flesh & blood‘.

Reciprocal relief between Ireland and Johnstown, Pa.

This year I’ve been exploring aspects of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, which began collecting funds at the start of 1921 and distributed $5 million in relief through mid-1922.

In September I wrote a piece for The Irish Story about how the people of Johnstown and surrounding Cambria County in Pennsylvania contributed to the effort “as a token of gratitude” for aid the community received 32 years earlier from Ireland, when the raging waters of a broken dam killed 2,209 people, including Irish immigrants, in an infamous flood.

The Tribune-Democrat of Johnston wrote a short feature about my research into this forgotten story: Amateur historian discovers connection between Johnstown, Ireland.

Bird’s-eye view of Johnstown, Pa., after the 1889 flood.      Image from Library of Congress.

‘A duty to their own flesh & blood’

Americans of Irish descent owed a “special duty to their own flesh and blood,” Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore emphasized in a spring 1921 fundraising appeal. The Irish had “given generously to all other suffering peoples,” he said, “they will not forget their own.” 

Cardinal Gibbons

Gibbons was an honorary leader of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland as the war with Britain entered its third year. The New York-based organization described itself as a “non-political and non-sectarian body, solely humanitarian in aim,”[1]“American Committee For Relief In Ireland, Part 1, Suggested Plan for National Organization”, Undated. From Series X: Manuscripts & Printed Material, page 1. From “Maloney collection of … Continue reading but had strong Irish nationalist and Catholic connections. Just over 1 million Irish immigrants lived in America at the time. Their U.S.-born children and grandchildren swelled that number many times over. 

The American Committee sought as many contributors as possible, especially the rich. Organizers emphasized that “securing a large number of contributions early in the campaign” would encourage others to “enlarge their gifts because of the example set by wealthy fellow citizens.”[2]“Suggested Plan”, p 3. Promotional material suggested $10 contributions would “provide food, clothing and shelter for some homeless Irish waif for one month.”[3]Flier in the John B. Collins Papers, University of Pittsburgh, ULS Archives & Special Collections, Series I, Folders 12/13, “American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” Digital copies … Continue reading

The campaign set a $10.2 million nationwide goal. For perspective, that was just less 10 cents–a dime–from each of America’s 107 million residents, or $10 from every Irish native. Final donations from the 48 states and the District of Columbia totaled $4,555,313, just over 4 cents per capita for all Americans and about $4.55 for Irish immigrants.[4]Excludes $100,000 from the American Red Cross and $13,881 from Alaska, not a state at the time, Canada, the Canal Zone, Mexico, and other foreign contributions, none of which were included in the … Continue reading

New York and Massachusetts, with the first and second largest Irish immigrant populations, finished first and second in collections, respectively. Pennsylvania, with the third largest Irish population, finished seventh in U.S. fundraising.

Here are the collection totals, number of Irish immigrants, and the Irish per capita rates for those seven states:

  • New York: $1,192,603 * 284,747 * $4.18
  • Massachusetts: $734,058 * 183,171 * $4.01
  • Connecticut: $358,508 * 45,404 * $7.89
  • Illinois: $330,533 * 74,274 * $4.45
  • California: $330,448 * 45,308 * $7.29
  • New Jersey: $226,476 * 65,971 * $3.43
  • Pennsylvania: $210,795 * 121,601 * $1.73

The American Committee’s 1922 final report and audited statement praised Connecticut for its $358,000 collection on a $100,000 quota, the highest return by percentage over any assigned state goal. Thomas Lawrence Reilly, the New Haven sheriff and son of Irish immigrants, chaired the state campaign.[5]1920; Census Place: New Haven Ward 10, New Haven, Connecticut; Roll: T625_193; Page: 23A; Enumeration District: 375. In March 1921, local volunteers canvassed with buttons, pledge cards, and receipt books.

“Every person giving a subscription will receive a button and a receipt for the amount they contribute,” a Meriden paper reported on St. Patrick’s Day. “The buttons have a red, white and blue background with the letters A.C.R.I across them in green letters.”[6]”Irish Relief Appointment”, The Journal (Meriden, Conn.), March 17, 1921.

The formula for determining state quotas is not described in the American Committee’s 1922 final report, its six-page “Suggested Plan for National Organization”, or a 12-page memorandum of national committee meetings from December 1920 through October 1921.[7]American Committee for Relief In Ireland, Schedule A, pp. 43-44; “Suggested Plan” in Maloney collection; and “Committee for Relief in Ireland’, providing accounts of several meetings of … Continue reading Without such context or background, it is difficult to evaluate the success or failure of individual states. I welcome reader input on these details.  

Some additional perspective on the nationwide collections:

  • 21 of 48 states returned less than half of their assigned quota;
  • 18 states surpassed their quota;
  • 11 states returned more than $100,000; and
  • 9 states contributed less than $10,000; with $547 from Arkansas the smallest return.

Gibbons died shortly after issuing the statement quoted at the top and shown below in a Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper advertisement. American relief was distributed in Ireland through summer 1922.

Also see: The Pittsburgh fight over relief to Ireland

References

References
1 “American Committee For Relief In Ireland, Part 1, Suggested Plan for National Organization”, Undated. From Series X: Manuscripts & Printed Material, page 1. From “Maloney collection of Irish historical papers, 1857-1965”, New York Public Library.
2 “Suggested Plan”, p 3.
3 Flier in the John B. Collins Papers, University of Pittsburgh, ULS Archives & Special Collections, Series I, Folders 12/13, “American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” Digital copies provided by Jon Klosinski, May 26, 2021. I have previously reviewed these files in-person.
4 Excludes $100,000 from the American Red Cross and $13,881 from Alaska, not a state at the time, Canada, the Canal Zone, Mexico, and other foreign contributions, none of which were included in the campaign’s stated goal.
5 1920; Census Place: New Haven Ward 10, New Haven, Connecticut; Roll: T625_193; Page: 23A; Enumeration District: 375.
6 ”Irish Relief Appointment”, The Journal (Meriden, Conn.), March 17, 1921.
7 American Committee for Relief In Ireland, Schedule A, pp. 43-44; “Suggested Plan” in Maloney collection; and “Committee for Relief in Ireland’, providing accounts of several meetings of the Commission in New York, Dec. 16, 1920-Oct. 26, 1921, in Patrick McCartan Papers, 1912-1938, Library of Ireland.

The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland

The two-year war between Irish separatists and the British military grew so bitter by 1921 that even providing humanitarian relief to innocent victims turned controversial. British and U.S. government officials said money from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland succored the rebels. Historic animosity between pro-unionist Protestants and pro-nationalist Catholics became another factor. 

The campaign against the American Committee described below is an under-examined, if not untold, story of the 1921 Irish relief drive. It probably suppressed fundraising in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere, though it was not widely covered by the press in 1921 or mentioned in the 1922 final reports of the American Committee and Irish White Cross, which is not surprising. Historians Francis M. Carroll and Bernadette Whelan have not referenced this counter campaign in their analysis.[1]Carroll, Francis M.“The American Committee for Relief in Ireland”, in Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 23, No. 89 (May, 1982), pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette. United States Foreign Policy and … Continue reading Readers are encouraged to point out work I might have missed or suggest sources of further exploration.

American Committee leaders in Pittsburgh asked clergy of all denominations to announce from their pulpits on Sunday, April 3, 1921, the nationwide fundraising campaign to aid victims of the war in Ireland. The committee emphasized “impartial distribution of food and clothing to Protestant and Catholic women and children who are suffering.”[2]”Church Pleas For Irish Relief Tomorrow Asked”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921. The Ulster Society of Pittsburgh countered with a quarter-page advertisement that denied the need for relief in Ireland and alleged the appeal was “purely a political stunt.”[3]”American Committee” advertisement, page 10, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921.

This was the latest provocation between Pittsburgh’s Irish Protestant immigrants, who settled in the city from the early 19th century, and famine-fleeing Irish Catholics who arrived mid-century. In 1914, a ground-breaking sociological study of the city observed “here the old Irish cleavage has been repeated in the two strong religious elements in the community life.”[4]Woods, Robert A., “Pittsburgh: An Interpretation Of Its Growth” in The Pittsburgh Survey, Findings in Six Volumes, edited by Paul Underwood Kellogg, Survey Associates Inc., New York, 1914, p.9. This cleavage deepened during the Great War as Irish republicans stepped up their campaign for independence and the United States allied with Britain.   

The “cablegram of inquiry” mentioned in the Ulster Society ad was initiated by Rev. Edward M. McFadden, who founded the group soon after the 1912 Ulster Covenant was signed in Belfast. He organized an annual “Ulster Day” commemoration of the declaration against Irish home rule and was quoted using the familiar formulation of “Home rule means Rome rule.”[5]”Local Ulsterites Claim”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 23, 1914 McFadden had emigrated from Larne, County Antrim, in 1883, age 20, and settled in Philadelphia. After being ordained by the city’s Reform Presbyterian Theological Seminary, he preached in Rhode Island, Iowa, and Ohio, as well as Dumbarton, Scotland. He arrived in Pittsburgh about 1911.[6]“Rev. E. Marshall McFadden”, obituary, The Pittsburgh Press, Jan. 7, 1933. McFadden obituary in Presbytery of Monongahela (Pa.), minutes, March 28, 1933, from Presbyterian Historical Society. PHS … Continue reading

McFadden in undated photo used for his 1933 obituary.

Once the Irish war began in January 1919, McFadden would have become more familiar to the city’s 14,000 native Irish[7]1920 U.S. Census, Vol. 3, “Population-United States, Composition and Characteristics”, Table 13, Country of Birth for Cities of 100,000 or More, p. 50. and their offspring. That July, he invited Ulster unionist leader Sir Edward Carson to the United States to “offset the propaganda for Irish independence.” In December, he testified against recognition of the Irish republic at a U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in Washington, D.C.[8]“Sir Edward Carson Asked To Come Here”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 17, 1919, “Ulster Day Is Observed At Services”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, Sept. 29, 1919, and U.S. Congress, House Committee … Continue reading 

Also in December 1919, McFadden traveled to New York City to meet a delegation of Protestant ministers from Ulster who sailed to America to speak against Irish separatism. The group included the same C. Wesley Maguire quoted in the 1921 Ulster Society ad against Irish relief. McFadden welcomed the Ulster delegation to Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque theater in January 1920 for what became a raucous evening of anti-Sinn Féin speeches and pro-independence counter protest.[9]“Hecklers Lose In Disorder At Irish Meeting”, “Speaker Denies That Ireland Is Downtrodden; Calls It Most-Favored Island”, “Irish Speaker Means Tumult, Speaker Says” and “Sinn Fein … Continue reading Afterward, he joined the visiting ministers as they toured other cities, while members of the Ulster Society of Pittsburgh boasted about the delegation’s local visit in letters back to Belfast:

“Sinn Feinism is dead in this country. No chance of any recognition of Irish republic,” one wrote. Another cheered: “Hurrah! Hurrah! Our society slew that horrid monster, Sinn Fein … and it will see that it is never resurrected.”[10]”The Ulster Delegation in Chicago”, The Christian Workers Magazine, March 1920, p. 544, (McFadden toured), and “Effect Of Their Work: Testimony From Pittsburgh”, Belfast … Continue reading

On the first Sunday of April 1921, when Pittsburgh’s religious leaders were asked to announce the American Committee’s relief drive, McFadden scheduled a sermon titled, “What The Starving Irish Need.”[11]“Religious Services Tomorrow”, p. 8, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921. He likely reflected the Ulster Presbyterian view of Irish Catholics as misled by Rome and republican radicals. His preaching probably sounded similar to what Ulster delegation ministers had delivered 15 months earlier, as recalled by Maguire: ” … the secret of Irish unrest is neither oppression nor lack of self-determination, but a closed Bible, with all that a closed Bible means in the life of the community.”[12]”Ulster Delegation, The Visit to America” by C. W. Maguire, Belfast News-Letter, Feb. 21, 1920. NOTE: Protestant ministers W.J. Dempster and David Lang of Pittsburgh traveled to Belfast … Continue reading  

Press coverage

The Protestant Ministerial Union of Pittsburgh passed a resolution that also denied the existence of hunger in Ireland. It cast the Irish relief campaign as a “scheme … of Sinn Féin propaganda to raise funds to assist those who are in rebellion against the constituted authorities of their country.” The resolution urged “our people to do nothing to aid a movement having for its object creating a spirit of antagonism between the United States and its friend and ally in the late war, Great Britain.”[13]“Ministers Score Irish Relief Campaign”, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1921.

In addition to Maguire’s cable to McFadden, the resolution referenced a second message from Belfast[14]Attributed to “Sir Robert Liddell, former Lord Mayor of Belfast.” The title was incorrect. Sir Robert Liddell held the government designation of deputy lieutenant and was a member of the … Continue reading to Ulster Society Secretary John H. Fulton. This statement made a simple and incendiary sectarian connection: “Relief fund, Roman Catholic administration.”

Above the fold: The Pittsburgh Catholic, April 7, 1921.

The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper described the counter campaign as “malicious propaganda introduced by bigoted factionalists” in one of four front page stories on April 7. Only the death of Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore competed for space above the fold. An advertisement for the American Committee campaign filled the issue’s back page. Inside, one editorial lamented “Ireland’s Plight” of poverty and another urged “all liberty-loving Americans” to attend the fifth anniversary observance of the Easter Rising, the failed 1916 strike for independence.

A week before the Ulsterite counter campaign, the Catholic complained that a “preliminary canvas” of city parishes yielded poor responses to the plea for Irish relief. “In hundreds of homes where they called at the supper hour, the head of the family left a table weighted down with food, to ignore the call from Ireland. It is a notable fact that few gave more than a dollar,” the paper reported.[15]“Pathetic Plea Of Starving Women And Children Has Touched America’s Heart”, The Pittsburgh Catholic, March 31, 1921.

While the Catholic newspaper fumed, the city’s secular press ignored the controversy, including the Ministerial Union’s demand that its resolution be published in full. There were a few exceptions outside the region.

Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1921.

Some 2,500 miles west of Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Times did publish the resolution. Publisher Harry Chandler was a critic of Irish nationalism’s impact on the League of Nations, which he supported. In November 1919, the Times splashed its front page with seven negative headlines about Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera’s visit to the city.[16]Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, page 88; and “Dev’s bad headline day in L.A.” , Mark … Continue reading

News of Maguire’s cable and the Ministerial Union’s resolution also reached a Sacramento paper, which reported it reignited “war” and “bickering” between the local Protestant church federation and pro-nationalist Irish societies. These hostilities had smoldered since Maguire and the Ulster delegation visited the California state capital in January 1920, soon after their stop in Pittsburgh.[17]“Church Union Is After Parish”, The Sacramento Star, April 16, 1921; “Irish Party Here Jan. 28”, Sacramento Daily Union, Jan. 11, 1920.

A secular newspaper in central Ohio also published the resolution in a letter to the editor. The writer indicated the content was copied from the pages of the Methodist Recorder in Pittsburgh, which demonstrates some extra attention to the resolution in the originating city.[18]“The Irish Question”, The Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, May 9, 1921, citing the “People’s Forum” section of the Methodist Recorder newspaper in Pittsburgh.

Other secular and religious publications probably reported this story but are not available to review in digitized newspaper archives. The limited search returns from the hundreds of digitized titles indicates the coverage was not widespread. The trouble in Pittsburgh was not covered by the National Catholic Welfare Council News Service, which supplied content to diocesan newspapers, and pro-Irish republican organs including The Irish Press, Philadelphia; The Gaelic American, New York City; and the Friends of Irish Freedom News Letter, Washington, D.C.

The Catholic New Service did report on a cablegram to the American Committee from 30 “prominent non-Catholics” in Ireland, including poet William Butler Yeats, writer George Russell, and playwright Lennox Robinson, in addition to Church of Ireland, Methodist, and Jewish clergy who attested to the need for immediate relief. “Having heard that statements have been made in America that there is no distress in Ireland … we desire to express our opinion that there is work to be done,” the signatories wrote.[19]“Prominent Protestants Urge Relief For Ireland”, NCWC News Service, Week of April 25, 1921, p. 22. It is unclear whether they were responding to the counter campaign in Pittsburgh (and the quoted cables from Belfast), or statements by the British Embassy in Washington, which also cast doubt on the need for Irish relief. It’s possible that government propaganda operatives had planted the Ulster Society effort from the start.    

 Anti-Catholic

The Ulster Society of Pittsburgh fraternized with local Orange Order lodges and other Protestant groups, newspaper society columns show. More insight about the Society is found in the personal papers of businessman and former Memphis, Tennessee, mayor Harry H. Litty. The collection includes three Society newsletters from January, February, and March 1922, each signed by Fulton, the secretary who received the “Roman Catholic administration” cablegram from Belfast a year earlier. I have not determined whether the newsletter was published in spring 1921, and, if so, the circulation of the mailing list. But the three 1922 issues illustrate how it could have further damaged the Irish relief campaign.

March 1922 issue of the Ulster Society of Pittsburgh newsletter.

One issue fondly recalls the 1920 Ulster delegation visit to America. Another urges the year-old Northern Ireland parliament to “put down the Sinn Fein murderers.” And the Society’s anti-Catholic bias is clear: “It is certainly an anxious time for those of us who have relatives living on the old sod, but we know that Ulster will fight to the death before it submits to be ruled by murderers and cut-throats who represent that blood-stained fabric called the Roman Catholic Church.”[20]Harry H. Litty Family Collection, Box 1, Folder 12, “Litty, Harry H.–Clubs & Societies Involved In”, Jan. 12, 1922, Feb. 16, 1922 (1920 reference), and March 14, 1922 (both quotes). … Continue reading

Anti-Catholic bias was a regular feature of the war, from the bigotry in Birmingham, Alabama, when de Valera visited in April 1920, to the brutality of Belfast later that summer. Though the American Committee described itself as a “non-political and non-sectarian body, solely humanitarian in aim,” it closely affiliated with the Catholic Church through Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, an honorary national vice chairman, and other high-profile clergy.

“The whole Catholic Church of America is deeply indebted to the Irish people,” Gibbons wrote in a St. Patrick’s Day appeal at the start of the relief drive, shortly before his death. “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 suffering in Ireland.”[21]”non-sectarian” from “American Committee For Relief In Ireland, Part 1, Suggested Plan for National Organization”, Undated. From Series X: Manuscripts & Printed Material, page 1, … Continue reading Several U.S. Catholic dioceses, institutions, and individuals sent money directly to Ireland outside the collections by the American Committee; notably, newly-elevated Cardinal Dennis Joseph Dougherty of Philadelphia.

This ad appeared on the back page of the May 5, 1921 issue of The Pittsburgh Catholic, front page show above.

The American Committee also deployed hardball tactics. An advertisement in Pittsburgh said the executive committee, in reviewing the donors list, “was surprised to note the number of well-known men and women … conspicuous by their absence.” Its name-and-shame threat targeted the local Irish immigrant community, “the very people who have drawn the line when their own flesh and blood is appealing have had their names high up in the lists of every other movement in Pittsburgh.”[22]“Names of Men and Women … “ advertisement. The Pittsburgh Catholic, May 5, 1921. 

Relief results

The American Committee assigned a $1.5 million quota to Pennsylvania, or 15 percent of the campaign’s nationwide goal. The 23-county Western Pennsylvania region set a $400,000 goal, or just over a quarter of the state quota from a third of its 67 counties. Pittsburgh businessman J. Rogers Flannery, chairman of the Pennsylvania campaign, expressed early confidence in meeting both the state and regional goals.

By late May, as the national campaign was ending, Flannery announced that $256,321 was collected toward a new $300,000 goal, without a reason reported for the 25 percent reduction. In reporting both these figures, the Pittsburgh Catholic noted the returns of eight counties and 50 local teams remained outstanding. “The Pittsburgh result will be more than was raised throughout the entire state,” the Catholic predicted, without providing any details of the Pennsylvania total.[23]“Box Sale Begun To Complete Irish Fund”, Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1921; and “Irish Drive A Big Success In Pittsburgh Dioceses”, The Pittsburgh Catholic, May 26, 1921.

The newspaper also qualified its enthusiasm. “No campaign ever conducted in Western Pennsylvania encountered so much public opposition,” it wrote. In addition to the Ministerial Union’s resolution and Ulster Society’s ad, the paper suggested that Pittsburgh’s department stores, “which have contributed in all worthy causes, sent out a message that they would not assist in the Irish drive.” This is curious, given that Flannery announced the $256,321 total during a meeting at Kaufmann’s department store, also site of the campaign’s mid-April kickoff banquet.

The Catholic also insisted the final record would show “few dollars came from other than Catholic sources.” If true, this could be more evidence the Ulsterite counter campaign had hurt the relief drive, at least in Western Pennsylvania.

This March 31, 1921, advertisement in The Pittsburgh Catholic quoted Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, a national leader of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, who died a week after the campaign’s St. Patrick’s Day kickoff.

A June 3 benefit show raised another $10,000 for the campaign, now largely closed. By November, when an Irish White Cross leader visited Pittsburgh to thank contributors, city newspapers reported “approximately $300,000” in local contributions.[24]“Irish Relief Show Of All Stars Nets $10,000 For Fund”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 4, 1921, and “Envoy Brings Thanks Of Irish For Funds”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 2, 1921.

There is a contradiction, however, between the $300,000 reportedly collected in Western Pennsylvania and the $210,798 credited to the entire state in the American Committee’s 1922 audited report. Moreover, even including separate Catholic donations, the state campaign failed to reach a third of its $1.5 million quota.[25]American Committee for Relief In Ireland, 1922, Schedule A, p. 44, and “Copy list for American subscriptions other than those of the American Committee for the Relief in Ireland”, Undated. In … Continue reading America’s second most populous state, with the third largest number of Irish immigrants, finished seventh in donations to the relief campaign.

The $5 million collected nationwide by the American Committee, though only half the goal, was still “a remarkable amount of money,” Carroll wrote. He also notes that by 1921, Americans had donated millions to post-war relief in Europe, and more than $6 million to Irish causes: $1 million to the Irish Victory Fund in 1919, and $5.1 million to the Irish bond drive of 1920.

The Pittsburgh fight over Irish relief was surely another factor that depressed the result in Western Pennsylvania.


See more stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, and Pittsburgh Irish series.

© 2021, Mark Holan

References

References
1 Carroll, Francis M.“The American Committee for Relief in Ireland”, in Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 23, No. 89 (May, 1982), pp. 30-49. Whelan, Bernadette. United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-1929. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2006.
2 ”Church Pleas For Irish Relief Tomorrow Asked”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921.
3 ”American Committee” advertisement, page 10, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921.
4 Woods, Robert A., “Pittsburgh: An Interpretation Of Its Growth” in The Pittsburgh Survey, Findings in Six Volumes, edited by Paul Underwood Kellogg, Survey Associates Inc., New York, 1914, p.9.
5 ”Local Ulsterites Claim”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 23, 1914
6 “Rev. E. Marshall McFadden”, obituary, The Pittsburgh Press, Jan. 7, 1933. McFadden obituary in Presbytery of Monongahela (Pa.), minutes, March 28, 1933, from Presbyterian Historical Society. PHS does not hold individually cataloged information about the Ulster Society of Pittsburgh, per July 27, 2021, letter from senior reference archivist Lisa Jacobson.
7 1920 U.S. Census, Vol. 3, “Population-United States, Composition and Characteristics”, Table 13, Country of Birth for Cities of 100,000 or More, p. 50.
8 Sir Edward Carson Asked To Come Here”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 17, 1919, “Ulster Day Is Observed At Services”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, Sept. 29, 1919, and U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “To provide for the salaries of a minister and consuls to the Republic of Ireland”, p. 86.
9 “Hecklers Lose In Disorder At Irish Meeting”, “Speaker Denies That Ireland Is Downtrodden; Calls It Most-Favored Island”, “Irish Speaker Means Tumult, Speaker Says” and “Sinn Fein Denounced, De Valera Assailed By Ulster Speakers”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 13, 1920.
10 ”The Ulster Delegation in Chicago”, The Christian Workers Magazine, March 1920, p. 544, (McFadden toured), and “Effect Of Their Work: Testimony From Pittsburgh”, Belfast Newsletter, Feb. 25, 1920.
11 “Religious Services Tomorrow”, p. 8, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 2, 1921.
12 ”Ulster Delegation, The Visit to America” by C. W. Maguire, Belfast News-Letter, Feb. 21, 1920. NOTE: Protestant ministers W.J. Dempster and David Lang of Pittsburgh traveled to Belfast in August 1920. They were thanked for “services rendered” during the Ulster delegation’s Pittsburgh visit seven months earlier. “U.S. Ministers in Belfast”, Belfast News-Letter, Aug. 27, 1920.
13 “Ministers Score Irish Relief Campaign”, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1921.
14 Attributed to “Sir Robert Liddell, former Lord Mayor of Belfast.” The title was incorrect. Sir Robert Liddell held the government designation of deputy lieutenant and was a member of the Down County Council. He helped establish the Ulster Volunteer Force and was involved in unionist activity, according to an April 17, 1928, obituary in the Belfast News-Letter. Another Robert Liddell, born in England, was mayor of Pittsburgh from 1878-1881. He died in 1893.
15 “Pathetic Plea Of Starving Women And Children Has Touched America’s Heart”, The Pittsburgh Catholic, March 31, 1921.
16 Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, page 88; and “Dev’s bad headline day in L.A.” , Mark Holan’s Irish-American Blog, Nov. 22, 2019.
17 “Church Union Is After Parish”, The Sacramento Star, April 16, 1921; “Irish Party Here Jan. 28”, Sacramento Daily Union, Jan. 11, 1920.
18 “The Irish Question”, The Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, May 9, 1921, citing the “People’s Forum” section of the Methodist Recorder newspaper in Pittsburgh.
19 “Prominent Protestants Urge Relief For Ireland”, NCWC News Service, Week of April 25, 1921, p. 22.
20 Harry H. Litty Family Collection, Box 1, Folder 12, “Litty, Harry H.–Clubs & Societies Involved In”, Jan. 12, 1922, Feb. 16, 1922 (1920 reference), and March 14, 1922 (both quotes). Memphis Public Library. Retrieved and digital copies by Scott Healy, History Department, June 5, 2021.
21 ”non-sectarian” from “American Committee For Relief In Ireland, Part 1, Suggested Plan for National Organization”, Undated. From Series X: Manuscripts & Printed Material, page 1, in  “Maloney collection of Irish historical papers, 1857-1965”, New York Public Library; and American Committee for Relief In Ireland, 1922, p. 19. The letter was widely published, including the March 31, 1921 advertisement in The Pittsburgh Catholic shown in this post.
22 “Names of Men and Women … “ advertisement. The Pittsburgh Catholic, May 5, 1921.
23 “Box Sale Begun To Complete Irish Fund”, Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1921; and “Irish Drive A Big Success In Pittsburgh Dioceses”, The Pittsburgh Catholic, May 26, 1921.
24 “Irish Relief Show Of All Stars Nets $10,000 For Fund”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 4, 1921, and “Envoy Brings Thanks Of Irish For Funds”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 2, 1921.
25 American Committee for Relief In Ireland, 1922, Schedule A, p. 44, and Copy list for American subscriptions other than those of the American Committee for the Relief in Ireland”, Undated. In Senator James Green Douglas Papers, National Library of Ireland.

ACIS presentation & leaning into the summer

I will attend and present a paper at the American Conference for Irish Studies, June 2-5. Unfortunately, the conference is switched to virtual from in-person at Derry city, Northern Ireland, as originally scheduled. I am taking some time away from the blog to finalize my presentation about the Irish diaspora witnesses at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings, 1920-21. I will post a limited amount of new content this summer as I work on several projects. As the weather warms and COVID restrictions continue ease, it’s a good time to get outside and away from the screens that have become too ubiquitous in our lives. Below, some of my work from the first part of the year. MH

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited

Wilfrid Ewart

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, A Journey in Ireland, 1921. This series revisits aspects of his journey at its 100th anniversary, though the book was not published until a year later.

American Committee for Relief in Ireland

I’ve written three posts about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland and intend to add a few more before the end of the year.

Cardinal Gibbons Centenary

Cardinal Gibbons

I gave a virtual presentation in March about Cardinal James Gibbons for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore. He was born in the Maryland city in 1834, lived in Ireland with his family during the Great Famine, then returned to America. Cardinal Gibbons became involved in the cause of Irish freedom and humanitarian relief as the leading churchman in the United States. He died March 24, 1921, age 86.

My story for the Catholic Review (Baltimore):

Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to 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.

***

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.