I’ve written several pieces about Ruth Russell, the Chicago Daily News correspondent who in 1919 covered the early months of the Irish War of Independence. Notably, she lived in the Dublin slums to report about poor women and children. On her return to America, Russell expanded her newspaper dispatches into the 1920 book What’s the matter with Ireland? As an advocate for Irish independence, she protested with other women outside the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.See Beginnings; Correspondent; Activist; Witness; Afterward; and Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later
Russell’s 103-year-old book is available online. Until recently, the only hard copy I’d seen was requested from storage at the Library of Congress in Washington. But I found What’s the matter with Ireland? while exploring the stacks at Harvard’s flagship Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library.
Harvard acquired the book on Oct. 7, 1920, according to the date stamp on the copyright page. Borrowers checked out the book 10 times during its first year in the library, as recorded by the due dates stamped on a schedule pasted to the inside back cover. These dates are shown below with select Irish-related news and other content from that day’s Boston Globe. The mix of local and international events offers a thumbnail sketch of events during the last year of the war as Harvard students or faculty read Russell’s book.
- Nov. 20, 1920: John Derham, town commissioner of Balbriggan, and Francis Hackett, associate editor of The New Republic, testified at the American Committee on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C. Russell testified to the commission on Dec. 15, 1920. (See image of the Globe’s story below.)
- Jan. 8, 1921: The censorship trial of Capuchin chaplain Fr. Dominic O’Connor, charged with making statements “likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty,” opened in Dublin. Convicted and sentenced to prison later that month, he was released on general amnesty upon ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922.
- Jan. 21, 1921: Lord Mayor of Cork Donal O’Callaghan, a stowaway to America after the December 1920 British rampage in the city, said he would surrender to U.S. immigration authorities.
- Feb. 9, 1921: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said he offered Ireland a greater measure of home rule than Gladstone or Asquith. “But they won’t take it. … They must have an Irish Republic, an Irish Army, an Irish Navy. They won’t get it.”
- Feb. 19, 1921: The Moore & McCormack cargo line advertised a Feb. 23 sailing from Boston to Belfast, Cork, and Dublin. The service, which began in September 1919 from Philadelphia, was citied by Sinn Féin as an example of Ireland’s commercial independence. The route was discontinued in 1925.See An American reporters in 1920 Ireland: Industry.
- March 16, 1921: Fr. John W. Meehan of Castlebar, County Mayo, continued to address local groups interested in Irish independence and conditions in the country. He arrived in Boston two months earlier.
- April 4, 1921: A front-page Associated Press report said that “competent observers” believed prospects for peace in Ireland had brightened since St. Patrick’s Day.
- May 11, 1921: More than 300 delegates representing 146 councils of the Massachusetts State Council of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution favoring immediate recognition of the Republic of Ireland. … “Pure linen” handkerchiefs imported from Belfast were on sale at 29 cents each at Chandler & Co. on Tremont Street.
- Oct. 4, 1921: The Associated Press reported that “numerous newspapers writers and photographers” were permitted to observe an Irish Republican Army battalion in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. “Throughout Ireland drilling and inspections of this kind have been proceeding since the truce was signed (in July),” the story said.
- Oct. 25, 1921: Éamon de Valera’s message to Pope Benedict XV regarding “formally proclaimed” independence of Ireland stirred “the first real crisis” in negotiations toward a peace agreement with Great Britain, the AP reported. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed Dec. 6, 1921.
It’s unclear if any of the Harvard borrowers paid the 5 cents per day fine for returning the book after the stamped due date. Interest in Russell’s book waned after the treaty. The next three due dates were May 19, 1931; Sept. 18, 1946; and May 28, 1955. The book remained shelved for 41 years, then was checked out three more times in April and May 1996.
Subsequent activity–if any–was recorded on electronic library systems and cannot be retrieved, according to the librarian who checked out the book for me. I was curious whether there was activity at the centenary of the Irish revolution and 100th anniversary of the book’s publication.
The online Quercus Rare Books offers an original hardcover inscribed by Russell for $250. It says: “To the President of the Irish Republic Eamon de Valera, with best wishes from a citizen of the United States.” Below the inscription is the stamp from de Valera’s library. De Valera provided a Jan. 29, 1920, letter praising Russell’s work, which appears as front matter in the book. Quercus also offers an unsigned first edition in “very good plus” condition (below “Near Fine” and “Fine”) for $100.
The back pages of Russell’s book contained advertisements for three other contemporary Irish titles from publisher Devin-Adair: The Invincible Irish, by J.C. Walsh; Why God Loves The Irish, by Humphry J. Desmond; and The Irish Rebellion of 1916 And Its Martyrs–Erin’s Tragic Easter, a collection of essays by eight writers. While it’s great these titles are available online, nothing beats the feel and smell of on old book pulled from the library shelf.