Fast-moving events in Ireland compelled nationalist supporters in America to call their third “Irish Race Convention” since 1916 for late February 1919. The Friends of Irish Freedom would mobilize 5,000 delegates to Philadelphia within two months of the Sinn Féin election victory and first meeting of the Dáil Éireann.
The Philadelphia turnout was a tribute to the organizational skills of the FOIF’s national officers and the passion of its rank and file members. It built on momentum since the May 1918 second Irish Race Convention in New York City, including months of lobbying President Woodrow Wilson’s administration to recognize Irish independence, which culminated in “Self-Determination for Ireland Week” in December 1918.
The Irish Press, Philadelphia, unabashedly promoted the home city convention. The Feb. 8, 1919, edition contained content that made little distinction between the front page and the editorial page.
“Although several remarkable gathering representative of the Irish throughout the United States have been held in recent years, there is no no room for doubt that the convention to be held in Philadelphia, February 22 and 23, will be by far the most notable event of the kind that has ever taken place in this country,” the page 1 story said.
“In personnel and importance, the coming convention of the Irish Race in America completely overshadows all similar gathering held in these United States,” the page 4 editorial declared.
Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and editor, Patrick McCartan, were each involved in planning the convention and behind the scenes struggles over what would be publicly declared at the event. Historians have debated how much influence the newspaper’s leaders and their Philadelphia supporters exerted on the convention, or if John Devoy, Judge Daniel Cohalan, and other Irish activists in New York City really pulled the strings.
Far from these Irish hubs, the Feb. 8 issue of the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, featured a front page notice that “all societies in favor of Ireland’s national independence” were entitled to send five delegates to Philadelphia. Registrations were to be sent to FOIF National Secretary Diarmuid Lynch, care of the group’s headquarters, 1482 Broadway, in New York City. (Lynch and McCartan each won parliamentary seats in the December 1918 general election while in America. They were in absentia members of the first Dáil.)
The Feb. 15 issue of The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, noted on its front page that requests for credentials were due to New York by Feb. 12. “Delegates presenting themselves without credentials cannot be seated until after those bearing credentials have been dealt with,” it warned. Not to worry. A second story named six delegates selected from Minneapolis and St. Paul, including Rev. Jeremiah Harrington, a member of the FOIF national board.
In a page 4 editorial, the Standard complained: “The transactions and conclusions of the convention will command world wide attention, despite the apparent conspiracy of silence that seems to prevail among many of our great American newspapers when anything is done to arouse public interest in the promotion of Ireland’s welfare.”
In fact, mainstream newspapers did publish the names of local delegations heading to Philadelphia in the weeks before the convention. Many also announced the confirmation of headline speakers such as Cardinal James Gibbons, of Baltimore; Cardinal William Henry O’Connell, of Boston; Archbishop Dennis Joseph Dougherty, of Philadelphia; U.S. Senator William Borah, R-Idaho; and Pennsylvania’s newly-elected Republican Gov. William C. Sproul, among others.
More news coverage would come from the two-day event, as we will see in future posts. See previous posts in this series at: American reporting of Irish Independence, 1919-1922.
View the full 76-page Third Irish Race Convention program from the Villanova University digital collection.