Tag Archives: Carl Ackerman

American journalists describe Michael Collins, 1919-1922

This post is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. I am developing this content and new research into a book about how U.S. journalists covered the Irish revolution. MH

***

Days after Michael Collins was killed in an Aug. 22, 1922, military ambush, Hearst newspapers rushed to publish American journalist Hayden Talbot’s interviews with the slain Irish leader. The chain’s newspapers from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco promoted the series–more than two dozen installments in some papers, depending on editing–as an exclusive Collins biography “as told to” Talbot. The content was a huge “beat,” the contemporary slang term for scoop.

“ ‘One the run’ from the Black and Tan, then ‘on the run’ from Irishmen who put personal feelings above the principal of freedom, ‘on the run’ pursuing enemies in the field, and ‘on the run’ mentally in the Dáil  to meet parliamentary tricks, Michael Collins had few leisure moments to write his biography or to tell of his aspirations for Ireland,” an editor’s note exclaimed. “He said to Hayden Talbot: ‘I’ll tell it to you. You write it for Ireland.’ ”[1]“Collins’ Story of Life”, The Washington Times, Aug. 25, 1922.

Talbot, a veteran newspaper reporter and playwright, produced a similar treatment with stage and screen actress Mary Pickford a year earlier for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.[2]“‘My Life’ By Mary Pickford”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 29, 1921, and other papers. The Collins newspaper series and instant book blended authorized and unauthorized biography, since Collins consented to the interviews and reviewed some of the early chapters before his death.

Talbot raced to finish the series as it was being published. He dictated more than 10,000 words a day over 10 days using a corps of stenographers and Dictaphones, then his installments were “wirelessed” from London to America.[3]”Daily News Letter” column, New Castle (Pa.) News, Sept. 25, 1922, and other Hearst papers. In an example of the rush, Dublin’s Gresham Hotel appeared as “Graham,” an error corrected in the book.[4]”Collins Story”, Washington Times, and Hayden Talbot, Michael Collins’ Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923).

The portrait of Michael Collins appeared as the front piece in Hayden Talbot’s book on the Irish leader.

Collins was “the most interesting figure” of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the 26-county Irish Free State, Talbot reported in his opening installment. “It was greatness in big things that made him Ireland’s leader; it was greatness in every little thing that enshrined him in every Irish heart—and for all time.”[5]”Collins Story”, Washington Times.

The series also appeared in the Sunday Express of London, which distributed copies in Ireland. Piaras Béaslaí, chief censor of the fledgling Irish Free State, immediately suppressed the content. He called Talbot’s reporting “a deliberate forgery” and vowed to stop further circulation of the series and book in Great Britain and America.[6]“Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, Sept. 11, 1922, and other Irish papers. The Express dropped the series[7]“Michael Collins’s Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot”, Book review in The Guardian, London, June 21, 1923. but published Talbot’s rebuttal.

If any of his content about Collins was fiction, the American reporter wrote, “it was fiction supplied to me not only by Collins” but also other Irish insiders.[8]“Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, and “Addendum” in Michael Collins’ Own Story. He fired back at Béaslaí, saying most American correspondents in London knew he had been negotiating to write “inside stuff” about Collins for the past year but failed to obtain approval. “In the past nine months I have been alone with Michael Collins more days than he has been minutes,” Talbot boasted.[9]More documentation of this tit-for-tat in the Piaras Béaslaí Papers, National Library of Ireland.

Béaslaí was selected to write Collins’s biography “late in 1922 by the Collins family, overcoming considerable reluctance within the government and army leadership,” according to the online Dictionary of Irish Biography.[10]Béaslaí, Piaras” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009. The entry is silent about Talbot, as is DIB’s profile of Collins. Béaslaí’ in 1926 published a two-volume Collins biography, which was roundly criticized at the time and now considered hagiography.

Mystery man

A century after his death, Michael Collins is familiar to many Americans, thanks to the 1996 biopic starring Liam Neeson in the title role. Most U.S. newspaper readers would have been unfamiliar with Collins at the start of the Irish War of Independence in January 1919. Frank P. Walsh, chairman of a pro-independence delegation from America that visited Ireland that spring, wrote a column that said the finance minister of the upstart Irish parliament was “undoubtedly a fiscal expert of remarkable ability.”[11]“What American Irishman Saw at ‘Siege of Dawson Street’”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 30, 1919. Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell described the “keen, boyish” Collins in her newspaper reporting and book about the early months of the war.[12]Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, (New York: Devin-Adain, 1920), pp 68, 73, & 79.

In June 1919, Irish republican leader Éamon de Valera arrived in America and became the center of U.S. press attention over the 18 months of his visit. Simultaneously, as the war in Ireland escalated, Collins became more elusive as he focused on the guerilla campaign against the British military and police. Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe, Francis Hackett of the Nation, and other reporters who traveled to Ireland in this period wrote multiple dispatches without naming Collins. Others, such as Webb Miller of United Press, made short mentions of Collins that helped establish his reputation as an “on the run” mystery man. This paragraph is from January 1920:

Within the past week, Collins walked boldly down the main thorofare (in Dublin), and met two government secret service men who immediately recognized him. Collins coolly shoved his hand in his hip pocket and walked between the detectives. Knowing his reputation as a desperate and daring fighter, the detectives feared to tackle him. Within a few minutes the district was swarming with police but Collins had vanished.[13]“Irish Cabinet Holds Secret Meetings”, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa., Jan. 30, 1920.

Miller’s story is ambiguous as to whether he observed this episode. Likewise, he reported without any source attribution Collins’ narrow escape from Sinn Féin‘s Dublin headquarters by jumping to an adjoining hotel rooftop. The reporter cited Irish Republic loan drive appeals plastered on the city’s walls and signboards as evidence of Collins’ role as finance minister.

Top of Carl Ackerman’s August 1920 exclusive interview with Michael Collins.

Ackerman exclusives

In late August 1920 Carl Ackerman of the Public Ledger, Philadelphia, obtained “the first interview ever granted” by Collins.[14]“Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y., Aug. 26, 1920. “First interview” quote from editor’s note at top of story. The correspondent’s copy burnished the Collins mystique:

I knew that the British military authorities and police considered him the field marshal of the Irish Army and that they fear him as he was able to guide, direct and inspire the republican forces and at the same time evade arrest. Mr. Collins himself confessed to me what I had already been told by competent military authorities: that the British government for two years had been trying to capture him.

Ackerman received regular briefings from British military and government officials prior to this interview and acted as a liaison between the two sides of the war, as Maurice Walsh has detailed.[15]Maurice Walsh, The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011) pp 144-146. “I do not accept their opinion of me,” the reporter quoted Collins, who added individual leaders were of little importance in the Irish republican movement. This no doubt was Collins’ effort to soften his “feared field marshal” image.

Collins most likely wrote out his quotes for Ackerman, as was customary at the time. The editor’s note leading the story acknowledges that Collins “approved” Ackerman’s report. In his book, Talbot described such arrangements as being typical between U.S. journalists and European statesman. “Whereas in America anything that is said to a newspaper man is properly part of an interview and so to be published” Talbot wrote.[16]Michael Collins’ Own Story p.15.

Ackerman’s description continued:

… I found Mr. Collins a young man, apparently still in his thirties, (He turned 30 on Oct. 16, 1920, after the story was published.) has such a keen sense of humor that no one enjoys so much as he the efforts of the British authorities to capture him. His face reflects the confidence in Ireland, in the Sinn Fein and in himself. … He spoke always with a smile and a kindly expression on his face. He seemed throughout the interview to be the last man in Ireland to be the terrorist I had been told he was.

Ackerman interviewed Collins again “from somewhere in Ireland” in April 1921. “How I arrived here and where I am is a secret and must remain so,” his story began. The reporter wrote of his caution to “cover up my tracks” to avoid being responsible for the British discovering the rebel headquarters. But Collins “had no anxiety,” Ackerman reported. “Being an Irishman, he feels secure in his own country.”[17]”Irish Armies Winning”, Boston Evening Transcript, April 2, 1921.

This story, and others like it, was clipped and added to Dublin Castle’s growing file on “IRA propaganda” in the foreign press.[18]Irish Government. Public Control And Administration, 1884-1921 (CO 904, Boxes 159-178). Public Records Office, London, England. 1921 CO 904/162; Seditious Literature, Censorship, Etc.: Seizure Of … Continue reading

Post truce

With the July 1921 truce in the war and start of negotiations between Irish republicans and the British government, Collins did more interviews, and his name appeared more frequently in U.S. newspaper coverage. Retired U.S. federal judge Richard Campbell, secretary of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, met twice in London with Collins and the other four Irish negotiators. Originally from County Antrim, Campbell began his professional career in America as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. In a newspaper column syndicated shortly before the Dec. 6, 1921, Anglo-Irish Treaty announcement, he wrote of Collins:

… from his appearances is still under 30 years of age. (Collins had just turned 31.) He reminds one of the whirlwind virility of the late Theodore Roosevelt, (Campbell had worked in Roosevelt’s administration.) and gives one the impression of a perfect athlete fresh from the football field. … He is above medium height, broad shouldered (and) walks with a quick, long stride. … He is always in a rollicking humor, as if life were a great joke. But when you draw him into conversation you find a man who is keenly alive to the problems of the hour, both in domestic and world politics. … Collins is a singularly modest man … There is no doubt Collins has been one of the great driving forces of the republican movement and his career in Ireland will be a notable one, I am sure.[19]”Gives Impressions of Sinn Fein Leaders”, The Evening News, Wilkes Barre, Pa., Nov. 29, 1921, and “Meets Sinn Fein Delegates”, Sioux City Journal, (Iowa), Dec. 4, 1921.

As the Dáil debated and ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922, another portrait of Collins emerged from the typewriter of Samuel Duff McCoy. He arrived in Ireland in February 1921 as secretary of the relief committee’s eight-member delegation sent to access Ireland’s humanitarian needs. He returned to America that spring to publish his report, then sailed back to Ireland, where he remained until November. Collins and Ireland’s other four treaty delegates signed an Oct. 30, 1921, letter that thanked the relief committee for its work, including McCoy by name.

“On the very first day I arrived in Ireland I heard about Michael Collins. And what I learned … (was) the British government ranked (him) as their most dangerous enemy,” McCoy wrote in his “The Lads Who Freed Ireland” series, which United Features Syndicate distributed to its U.S. subscribers.[20]”The Lads Who Freed Ireland: Michael Collins”, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Feb. 8, 1922. McCoy quoted British Gen. Sir Nevil Macready as describing Collins as “‘head of the whole rebel gang’” in Ireland, “snorting with rage as he pronounced the name.”

Nine months later, during a treaty negotiating session in London, McCoy reported that British Prime Minister David Lloyd George summoned Macready into a room at No. 10 Downing Street, where Collins sat with the other Irish negotiators. George asked Macready a few questions about alleged truce violations, then quickly dismissed the general. But Collins remained at the table with George, McCoy emphasized, a long way from being “the ragged outlaw being hunted through the country like an animal.”

McCoy repeated the story of Collins’ daring rooftop escape. More significantly, he noted that since the truce, “thousands” of photographs of Collins entering and leaving the London talks had become public worldwide. It surely frustrated the British army, which “never had quite sufficient intelligence … to lay hands on” Collins, McCoy wrote. “No wonder they cursed.”

But McCoy’s early 1922 portrait of Collins was soon dated by events in Ireland: the split of the Irish parliament over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the start of civil war, and the death of Collins. Talbot’s newspaper series and book were not the last word on Collins, but the opening lines of what has become a century of articles and books speculating what might have happened had he lived to lead his country.

Michael Collins grave at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. From my 2016 visit.

References

References
1 “Collins’ Story of Life”, The Washington Times, Aug. 25, 1922.
2 “‘My Life’ By Mary Pickford”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 29, 1921, and other papers.
3 ”Daily News Letter” column, New Castle (Pa.) News, Sept. 25, 1922, and other Hearst papers.
4 ”Collins Story”, Washington Times, and Hayden Talbot, Michael Collins’ Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923).
5 ”Collins Story”, Washington Times.
6 “Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, Sept. 11, 1922, and other Irish papers.
7 “Michael Collins’s Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot”, Book review in The Guardian, London, June 21, 1923.
8 “Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, and “Addendum” in Michael Collins’ Own Story.
9 More documentation of this tit-for-tat in the Piaras Béaslaí Papers, National Library of Ireland.
10 Béaslaí, Piaras” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.
11 “What American Irishman Saw at ‘Siege of Dawson Street’”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 30, 1919.
12 Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, (New York: Devin-Adain, 1920), pp 68, 73, & 79.
13 “Irish Cabinet Holds Secret Meetings”, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa., Jan. 30, 1920.
14 “Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y., Aug. 26, 1920. “First interview” quote from editor’s note at top of story.
15 Maurice Walsh, The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011) pp 144-146.
16 Michael Collins’ Own Story p.15.
17 ”Irish Armies Winning”, Boston Evening Transcript, April 2, 1921.
18 Irish Government. Public Control And Administration, 1884-1921 (CO 904, Boxes 159-178). Public Records Office, London, England. 1921 CO 904/162; Seditious Literature, Censorship, Etc.: Seizure Of Articles In Various Journals And Other Publications: 1. I.R.A. Propaganda In Dominion And Foreign Newspapers.
19 ”Gives Impressions of Sinn Fein Leaders”, The Evening News, Wilkes Barre, Pa., Nov. 29, 1921, and “Meets Sinn Fein Delegates”, Sioux City Journal, (Iowa), Dec. 4, 1921.
20 ”The Lads Who Freed Ireland: Michael Collins”, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Feb. 8, 1922.

On Michael Collins and Abraham Lincoln

UPDATE:

My ongoing research about press coverage of the Irish revolution discovered this passage by Irish journalist Ernest Boyd in the September 1922 issue of Foreign Affairs, two months before the Carl Ackerman piece referenced near the bottom:

The parallel between this loss to Ireland and that of the United States when Lincoln was assassinated has already suggested itself. The parallel is more apt than in the case of most parallels of this kind, for it not only emphasizes the particular hold which Michael Collins had upon the hearts and imaginations of his countrymen, but also reminds us of the hope that emerges from such tragic events. The murder of Lincoln deprived America of her man of destiny, yet the United States fulfilled their destiny without him, and ideals of the dead leader and of the Civil War did not perish.[1]Ernest Boyd, “Ireland: Resurgent and Insurgent,” Foreign Affairs 1, no. 1 (September 15, 1922): 86-97.

ORIGINAL POST:

Michael Collins, the Irish Free State government and army leader, was shot near Bandon, County Cork, on Aug. 22, 1922. For some, his death in the second month of the Irish Civil War evoked the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, days after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

This dispatch by Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Williams appeared in U.S. newspapers including the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun the day after the Collins shooting. Note the quote about Lincoln in the fourth paragraph:

Baltimore Sun, Aug. 23, 1922. (Story continued).

The unnamed Freeman’s editor most likely was Harry Newton Moore, a Canadian journalist who “shook out picturesque phrases” during his turn in the role.[2]Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion. Arthur Blake, Ltd. London, 1934. Thanks to Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin for pointing me to this source. The Freeman’s Aug. 24, 1922, editorial about Collins, “Greatest and Bravest,” contained no such reference to Lincoln, nor did the paper’s other assassination coverage.

But during an Aug. 28, 1922, requiem high mass for Collins at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, County Tipperary, the Rev. Joseph McCarthy suggested the slain Irish leader drew inspiration from the late American president. The priest said:

It seems to me he went to a very good master to learn the art of government–Abraham Lincoln. A passage from one of Lincoln’s great addresses quoted in speeches by Michael Collins might well have been in his mind as a guiding motto, ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right–as God gives us to see the right–let us serve on to the finish the work we are in, to build up the nation’s wounds.'[3]”Tipperary’s Grief, Eloquent Clerical Tributes” Evening Echo, Aug. 29, 1922. Also quoted in Irish Independent, same day.

Collins quoted this familiar passage from Lincoln’s second inaugural address (Given 41 days before his assassination.) in an April 23, 1922, speech at Tralee, County Kerry, according to the Cork Examiner.[4]”At Tralee, Very Successful Meeting”, The Cork Examiner, April 25, 1922. Collins and Arthur Griffith also released a joint statement shortly after a peace conference earlier that month at the Mansion House in Dublin failed to resolve difference between factions for and against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Their statement quoted Lincoln’s Nov. 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[5]”Opposition Leaders Turn Down Plebiscite”, Freeman’s Journal, May 1, 1922.

Hearst’s International magazine, November 1922. (Full story linked in Note 5.)

American journalist Carl W. Ackerman made the Lincoln connection in the headline and final paragraph of his November 1922 magazine remembrance: “Ireland tomorrow will be a united, prosperous, homogenous country, and in her history Collins. for all time, will stand out as the Lincoln of Ireland.”[6]The Dream of Ireland’s Lincoln” , Hearst’s International, November 1922, Vol. XLII, No. 5, p 81. Ackerman had interviewed Collins in July 1920, “when he was a fugitive” from the British army, the article’s introductory text noted. Collins gave more regular press interviews after the July 1921 truce, including with Americans Samuel Duff McCoy and Hayden Talbot. (More on Talbot in an upcoming post.)

In a modern assessment, John Dorney made a different connection between Collins and Lincoln. The Dublin historian, in an Aug. 17, 2017, article for The Irish Story, questioned whether the former was the founder of Irish democracy or an aspirant dictator. Dorney wrote:

Collins, had he had the chance to defend himself in later years, from charges he was an aspirant dictator, would no doubt have argued that putting off the opening of the Third Dáil in July and August 1922 was merely a short-term emergency measure and not a portent of any kind of dictatorship.

He might have cited the parallel between himself and Abraham Lincoln, the American president during that country’s civil war. Like Collins, Lincoln’s enemies characterized him as a ‘tyrant’ and like Collins, Lincoln did take all the measures he felt necessary to win the Civil War and save the Union. In 1861 for instance, he too suspended habeus corpus, imposed censorship and military courts and shut down the legislatures of ‘disloyal’ states such as Maryland.

Just like Collins, Lincoln justified such measures on the grounds that he was fighting so that ‘government of the people for the people and by the people shall not perish from the earth’. Regarding the suspension of habeas corpus, Lincoln contended that it was necessary if the laws of the Union were to have any meaning, ‘are all the laws [of the United States] but one [the right to trial] to go unexecuted?’ he wrote.

Civil wars and assassinations are bloody business, in any country, at any time. And we are left to ponder “what might have been” had such leaders lived longer lives.

(NOTE: I revised the first paragraph to remove that Collins was “assassinated,” as this seems a matter of some debate. Explore my full “American Reporting on Irish Independence” series. MH)

References

References
1 Ernest Boyd, “Ireland: Resurgent and Insurgent,” Foreign Affairs 1, no. 1 (September 15, 1922): 86-97.
2 Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion. Arthur Blake, Ltd. London, 1934. Thanks to Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin for pointing me to this source.
3 ”Tipperary’s Grief, Eloquent Clerical Tributes” Evening Echo, Aug. 29, 1922. Also quoted in Irish Independent, same day.
4 ”At Tralee, Very Successful Meeting”, The Cork Examiner, April 25, 1922.
5 ”Opposition Leaders Turn Down Plebiscite”, Freeman’s Journal, May 1, 1922.
6 The Dream of Ireland’s Lincoln” , Hearst’s International, November 1922, Vol. XLII, No. 5, p 81.

‘The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live … ‘

John Steele’s Jan. 8, 1922, Chicago Tribune story. Front page banner below.

“The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live the Irish Free State,” declared Chicago Tribune correspondent John Steele in the opening sentence of his story about Dáil Éireann‘s narrow and bitter vote to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty.[1]”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers. The Irish-American journalist also promoted his role in reaching the Jan. 7, 1922, vote and later claimed that pro-treaty leader Arthur Griffith described the outcome as “better to be an equal partner in a big concern than to keep a little sweet shop in a back street.”[2]”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.

Steele’s news lead echoed the treaty debate speech of Dáil member Patrick McCartan three weeks earlier. He uttered the “is dead” formulation seven times within a few minutes:

The Republic of which President (Éamon) de Valera was president is dead. … I submit it is dead, and that the men who signed the (treaty) document opposite Englishmen wrote its epitaph in London. It is dead naturally because it depended on the unity of the Irish people … the Cabinet … (and) this Dáil. … Internationally the Republic is dead. We were looking for recognition of the republic in foreign countries. Michael Collins said we were not recognized in the United States. That is true. … You cannot go to the secretary of state of any foreign government and ask him to recognize the Republic of Ireland, because I submit it is dead …  as a political factor the Republic is dead. … We were an inspiration to the patriots of India and the patriots of Egypt. Today we give heart to the compromisers in India and Egypt as well as the compromisers in Ireland. I say, therefore, the Republic of Ireland is dead.[3]Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.

As a separatist promoting the Irish cause in America, McCartan edited The Irish Press in Philadelphia from its first issue in March 1918 through September 1920. The pro-de Valera weekly battled John Devoy’s New York City-based Gaelic American over control of American grassroots financial support for the Dáil and the U.S. government’s Ireland policies. Four days after McCartan’s debate speech in Dublin, and without naming its former editor, the Irish Press editorialized that the Irish Republic “is neither dead nor dying.” The paper continued:

The spirit that created it, like itself, is immortal. The temporary subversion of its name, or of its ideals, resembles a swiftly moving cloud that for an instant dims the penetrating waves of the sun or the light of the moon. Let no one say the Republic of Ireland is dead. It lives and will live on, in glory and splendor, when its enemies are dead and forgotten. … The Republic of Ireland is in God’s keeping.[4]Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.

Whether plagiarism or paraphrase of the popular proclamation, Steele’s January 1922 ratification story did not identify McCartan’s words or his vote for the treaty. The reporter had quoted McCartan in late December 1921 coverage of the debates. Steele described the sessions as “a battle between the living and the dead.” He continued:

The dead were represented by old men and widows and the living by young men who have fought in the battle for Ireland’s independence and survived. The living are all in favor of ratification and the dead against it. So far I have seen nothing to induce me to change my opinion that the living will win.[5]”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.

The epanalepsis, “The king is dead, long live the king,” is said to have originated from the French, Le roi est mort, vive le roi!, upon the accession of Charles VII after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.[6]From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021. A king was never proposed for the Irish republic; the Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy.

“Long live the Irish Free State, and three cheers for a speedy establishment of an independent Irish Republic,” a New York City union organ declared shortly after the Dec. 6, 1921, treaty announcement.[7]”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23. The Baltimore Sun repeated “Long live the Irish Republic” in an editorial that applauded the Dáil vote. The daily also noted that the Irish faced the challenge of disproving enemies and detractors who charged, prophetically: “The minute they stop fighting outsiders they will begin fighting among themselves.”[8]”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.

Promoting Steele

John Steele in Dec. 7, 1921, Chicago Tribune photo.

For the Chicago Tribune and other papers that subscribed to its foreign news service, the treaty ratification was another opportunity to promote Steele’s role in brokering 1920 secret talks between Sinn Féin leaders and British government officials. The Tribune boasted: “Mr. Steele in his dispatches always insisted that actual peace was coming. … his accomplishments in aiding the contracting parties to common ground ranks high in the newspaper’s achievement.[9]”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922. This work was done through Patrick Moylett, a Galway businessman and associate of Griffith, according to accounts by Steele and Moyett.[10]”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in … Continue reading

In a chapter of an unfinished memoir published in 1949, Steele quoted Griffith, who died in August 1922, as saying:

You always replied to my demands for a separate republic that we would never get it but that we could and would get dominion status within the British empire. Every other correspondent from abroad whom I talked to pretended to sympathize with me and assure me we would win full freedom and separation. I knew that contact had to be made with the British thru a neutral, and that the most available neutral would be a newspaper correspondent of international standing who was on good terms with both sides. You were obviously the man I wanted.

The Belfast-born Steele emigrated to America in 1887, age 17. According to information Steele provided for biographical publication, he was “educated privately and in newspaper offices.” He joined the New York Herald staff in 1890, followed by turns as a reporter and editor at three other papers in the city. He became managing editor of a London-based syndicate during World War I, then took charge of the Chicago Tribune‘s London bureau in 1919, where he remained until 1935.[11]”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH … Continue reading

Steele wasn’t the only American correspondent in Ireland to mix public journalism and private diplomacy. Carl Ackerman of the Philadelphia Public Ledger also shuttled messages and documents between the two sides. Other journalists stepped beyond their newspaper roles. Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News and Kilkenny native Francis Hackett of the New York World gave pro-Ireland testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Author Samuel Duff McCoy parlayed his work with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland into a 1922 newspaper series.

Newspaper journalism was highly competitive in the 1920s, with exaggerations and claims of “scoops” a regular part of the business, just like on today’s faster-moving digital platforms. Historians have suggested that Steele and Moylett amplified their roles; that Michael Collins and other Irish republicans described the backchannel arrangement as a “fiasco” and viewed Steele as being out for a story and a tool of Lloyd George; and that Griffith was concerned about the appearance of settling for less than a republic, while the January 1922 post-ratification quote Steele attributed to him (second sentence of this post) cannot be independently verified.[12]See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University … Continue reading

In the memoir chapter published two years after his death, Steele recalled:

To every reporter at some time of his career there comes the high spot. … My high spot was … the opportunity and great good fortune to play a part in the settlement of the age old quarrel between Ireland and England which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State. … I never lost affection for the land of my birth. Moreover, wherever the English language is spoken, Ireland is news and Ireland’s struggle for freedom was big news.

This Aug. 3, 1922, advertisement in the Washington Herald promoted Steele’s work in Ireland. Steele’s Ireland work also appeared in the (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) Sun, and other papers. (Apologies for the poor quality of the photos in digital scan.)

After ratification

Three years after the treaty ratification, in June 1925, de Valera addressed the Wolfe Tone commemoration at the Irish patriot’s grave in Bodenstown, County Kildare, a regular rally for Irish republicans. De Valera said:

By your presence you proclaim your undiminished attachment to the ideals of Tone, and your unaltered devotion to the cause for which he gave his life. It is your answer to those who would have it believed that the Republic of Ireland is dead and its cause abandoned.[13]Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.

Less than a year later De Valera established the Fianna Fáil party, which abandoned Sinn Féin abstentionism and in 1932 won elected power in the Dáil. Republican aspirations were finally realized on April 18, 1949, with the full establishment of the 26-county representative state. That day, the Chicago Tribune published the “never been told full story” of Steel’s memoir, including the quotes attributed to Griffith, by then 27 years dead.

In his 1952 Bureau of Military History statement, Moylett said that he had promised Steele exclusive U.S. rights to his own experience in revolutionary Ireland. “But, as I have been disillusioned over the way things have been conducted in this country during and since 1922, I have no wish to publish it.”

Nevertheless, the Irish Free State was dead. Long live the Republic of Ireland.

References

References
1 ”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers.
2 ”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.
3 Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.
4 Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.
5 ”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.
6 From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021.
7 ”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23.
8 ”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.
9 ”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922.
10 ”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in “Go-Between”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949. Patrick Moylett, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 767, Dec. 16, 1952. Page 50.
11 ”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH microfilm: 1241105.
12 See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 2017, Collins quote: NLI, Art Ó Briain Papers, Ms. 8426/7, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, 15 December 1920; NLI, Art Ó Briain, Ms. 8430/12, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, Jan. 4, 1921. Also: We Bled Together: Michael Collins, The Squad and The Dublin Brigade, Dominic Price, Collins Press, 2017.
13 Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.