Tag Archives: Carl Ackerman

‘Irish Bulletin’ subscription replies, December 1921

The “Irish Papers” collection at Boston Public Library contains letters, documents, pamphlets, and other material related to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, 1919-1923. I recently reviewed portions of the collection related to press activity in Ireland during the period as part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series and book project. MH

The Irish Bulletin debuted in November 1919 as the official organ of the provisional Irish Republic. Its original press run of less than 50 copies grew to about 1,200 over two years.[1]See Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of Kathleen Napoli-McKenna, who worked at the Bulletin, p. 5. Readers included political insiders on both sides of the Irish Sea, the continent, and across the Atlantic, including American and other foreign journalists.

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 7, 1921. Bulletin referenced below George photo.

The Bulletin operated underground for most of its exitance. It effectively countered British propaganda and helped make the Irish republican case before the world. British operatives raided the Bulletin’s Dublin offices in March 1921 and soon published a forged edition, which fooled few readers. After the July 1921 truce, the Bulletin emerged from the shadows as Irish and British representatives began to negotiate a treaty settlement.

On Nov. 25, 1921, the Bulletin “manager” mailed a circular to known recipients from Mansion House, Dublin, likely working from the publication’s daily and weekly lists of names and addresses as of late July 1921.[2]Held by Bureau of the Military History, Dublin. Reference Code BMH-CD-006-09-16(k) and Reference Code BMH-CD-006-09-16(l), respectively. The circular stated:

The circumstances of the situation in Ireland have hitherto prevented direct communications between the readers of the IRISH BULLETIN and those responsible for its publication. This difficulty does not at present exist, and if recipients wish to communicate with the publishers they can do so (via Mansion House). We shall be glad to hear from those who receive the BULLETIN as to change of address, non-receipt, etc. … If no such acknowledgement reaches (the manager) he will discontinue sending the BULLETIN to that address.

A follow up circular mailed Dec. 12, 1921, said, “We have had no acknowledgement from you … (and) would be glad if you will let us know whether the copies of the BULLETIN sent you have arrived.”

The “Irish Papers” collection contains 216 replies, most of them on the bottom of either the first or second circular. John Steele, the Chicago Tribune‘s London correspondent, replied to the first notice with “many thanks for the Bulletin which is being received regularly.” He often referenced the Bulletin in his dispatches to America, but the Dec. 7, 1921, story clipped here appears to be the last time. Steele and American journalist Carl Ackerman, also on the Bulletin’s daily recipients list, in 1920 and 1921 shuttled between Irish and British officials to assist negotiations leading to the treaty, as detailed our previous post.

Other Americans on the Bulletin’s daily mailing list included:

  • The American Consul’s office, Dublin
  • Clemens J. France, leader of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, Dublin
  • Associated Press of America, London
  • P.J. Kelly, Irish-born correspondent of the New York World, Dublin
  • John H. McHugh Stuart, New York Herald, London
  • Webb Miller, United Press, London
  • E.C. Reeves, International News Service, London
  • Frank P. Walsh, a member of the American Commission on Irish Independence that visited Ireland in May 1919, and other activities, New York

American recipients on the Bulletin’s weekly mailing list included the Irish Diplomatic Mission, Washington, D.C.; Notre Dame University library, Indiana; and nearly 50 chapters of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), which splintered from the Friends of Irish Freedom in late 1920 to support Éamon de Valera. Almost 100 newspapers and magazines are on the list, most of them Catholic weeklies. The list included secular Irish papers such as The Irish News and Chicago Citizen; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, The Irish Standard, Minneapolis; The Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, New York City; the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and a few labor organs. Mainstream press included The Nation magazine, which backed the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland in late 1920 and early 1921; and The New York Times, hardly a supporter of Irish independence at any time.

The Pennsylvania state chapter of the AARIR, based in Philadelphia, and the Catholic Sentinel of Portland, Oregon, nearly 7,500 miles from Dublin, are among the American groups that replied to the circular, as contained in the Boston archive.

G. K. Chesterton

English author G. K. Chesterton, who wrote a book and newspaper columns in favor of Irish independence, also sent a hand-written note to the Bulletin, apparently after reading the second notice:

“I hope you will forgive both delay & haste, as I am in a domestic rush. I certainly supposed I had read all of the issues of the Bulletin sent to me, with great interest and admiration for the ability and sincerity with which your case is argued; but it is clear that I missed the one you mention, or I should have sent the acknowledgement before. Yours very truly,”

The Bulletin ceased publication on Dec. 11, 1921, after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London, as referenced in Steele’s story above. The timing of the paper’s closure suggests some miscommunication among the editorial staff and other treaty supporters, or possibly disappointment with the subscriber notification response.

“With the coming of the Truce “The Irish Bulletin” on which I had the honour to work, had successfully completed its mission,” Kathleen Napoli-McKenna says in her Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, linked in Note 1. (She seems to mean the treaty.) “I recall the days of my work on the Bulletin with a deep sense of nostalgic happiness.”

Subsequent iterations of the Bulletin were published by anti-treaty forces through spring 1923.

See earlier posts on the 100th anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty:

Dec. 6, 1921: When U.S. newspapers headlined Irish peace

Irish-American press reactions to Anglo-Irish Treaty

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

(This post was updated Dec. 13, 2022.)

References

References
1 See Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of Kathleen Napoli-McKenna, who worked at the Bulletin, p. 5.
2 Held by Bureau of the Military History, Dublin. Reference Code BMH-CD-006-09-16(k) and Reference Code BMH-CD-006-09-16(l), respectively.

Reporter vs. reporter: Ackerman & Grasty in Ireland, 1920

This post is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. I am grateful to Maurice Walsh, author of ‘The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution’, who provided material from the Ackerman papers at the Library of Congress. MH

A few of the American journalists who detailed the war between Irish separatists and the British government for U.S. newspapers also joined back-channel efforts to help resolve the conflict. Such an intrigue surfaced in June 1920, when Philadelphia Public Ledger correspondent Carl W. Ackerman reported that another American newsman had come to Ireland on behalf of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Ackerman’s June 1, 1920, story mentioned Grasty in the fourth paragraph.

“One of the most significant, undoubtedly, of all the recent developments in the Irish situation is the arrival in Dublin of Charles H. Grasty, a well-known journalist, a member of the staff of The New York Times, was frequently during the war an observer for the president,” Ackerman wrote. Grasty “is in confidential communication with the White House, and probability is that the president has followed his war custom of commissioning some journalist to make a special investigation for him, while ostensibly representing an American newspaper.”[1]“President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.

Ackerman was correct about Wilson using journalists as scouts. The president sent pioneering muckraker Ray Stannard Baker (McClue’s, American magazine) to Ireland during the spring 1918 conscription crisis. “The extreme Ulsterman, it seemed to me, was exactly matched by the extreme Sinn Feiner, both for themselves alone,” Baker wrote. “There seemed to be no spirit of give and take: no desire anywhere for what Mr. Wilson called accommodation.”[2]Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945), “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I … Continue reading

Less than a year later, Wilson dispatched George Creel to Ireland. Creel (Kansas City World, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) had just finished his duties as head of the U.S. government’s Committee for Public Information during the Great War. In a March 1,1919, memorandum to Wilson, he described the Irish in Ireland as more flexible than the Irish Americans. Creel said that Sinn Fein’s December 1918 election success had finished off the 40-year-old Irish home rule movement. He believed dominion status would be accepted immediately, otherwise sentiment in Ireland and America would harden in favor of an Irish republic. Creel also warned of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s duplicity and stressed settlement in order to placate Irish Americans.[3]George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and The War, The World, and Wilson (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.

Ackerman reported that Grasty arrived in Europe on a diplomatic passport, which he obtained about a month earlier. “Mr. Grasty admitted at the time, when questioned by customs officials, that he was on a special appointment by President Wilson,” Ackerman wrote. The U.S. State Department on April 9 stamped “SPECIAL” on Grasty’s passport, eight days before he boarded the Baltic to cross the Atlantic. The haste of Grasty’s application and departure is suggested by his sudden withdrawal from an April 14-16 business convention in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech titled, “The New Balance of Power.”[4]“Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.

Second-day iterations of Ackerman’s story contained a State Department denial of the special passport or any official connection to American diplomatic activities. The U.S. government “acknowledged that (Grasty) might have gone to Dublin under a ‘special’ form of passport such as is issued often by American embassies or legations to messengers charged with the duty of conveying diplomatic papers to consular agents.” Meanwhile, “the British government understands that (Grasty’s) mission to Ireland is purely one of observation on behalf of President Wilson.”[5]”England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star … Continue reading

The Baltic‘s passenger records show Grasty, 57, arrived at Liverpool on April 27.[6]The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669. Nothing on the manifest indicates diplomatic status. The word “Editor” is written in the space for occupation. On May 1, Grasty filed a dispatch from Paris about the just-concluded San Remo conference in Italy.[7]”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920. His subsequent reports about Europe’s efforts to recover from the Great War included a long opinion piece from London dated June 1, the day he was named in Ackerman’s story. Under the headline, “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe.” Grasty’s view was: “The United States is in greater danger today than at the time of the German offensive in March 1918. … The feeling in Europe against America has grown, as the feeling in America against Europe has grown.”[8]“Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe” , The New York Times, June 13, 1920.

Second passport, Wilson connection

On June 9, Grasty dropped by the U.S. Embassy in London to complete an “Emergency Passport Application.” He stated his occupation as “journalist” and “journalistic work” as the reason for his travel.[9]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain. Grasty was no stranger to the U.S. State Department. He had applied for and obtained several passports for Atlantic voyages in the previous decade. In 1920, the United States was beginning to standardize passports in the aftermath of the World War.[10]Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.

Charles H. Grasty, undated.

Grasty was a known Wilson supporter and confidante. The reporter detailed their relationship in a January 1920 piece for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, “The Personality Behind the President.” In 1912, as owner of the Baltimore Sun, Grasty used the newspaper to back Wilson as the Democratic presidential nominee at the party’s national convention in that city. The newsman supported the candidate through his successful campaign against Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt of the progressive Bull Moose party.

From 1912 to 1922, Wilson and Grasty exchanged at least four dozen letters, though none of the correspondence in two archives dates from 1920.[11]Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & … Continue reading The president and the reporter “were in intimate contact” during the 1919 Paris peace conference and in Washington, D.C., the Times reported at Grasty’s death in January 1924.[12]”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London” , The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924. Grasty “enjoyed the former president’s highest respect and confidence and was a warm personal friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” The obituary also said that Grasty held the trust and confidence of Lloyd George, who relied on the relationship to send key messages to America during the war years and afterward. And the Times noted Grasty’s frequent interviews with London newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe.

Grasty confronts Ackerman 

On June 12, Grasty confronted Ackerman at the latter’s office at Charing Cross, London. The men “argued” for about 90 minutes over the June 1 story, according to Ackerman’s three-page letter to his editor, John J. Spurgeon.[13]Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England. Grasty showed Ackerman a copy of his own letter to Spurgeon “denying that he was in Ireland on official business.”

It seems undisputed that Wilson, his physician and confidante Dr. Gary T. Grayson, and U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby asked Grasty to undertake a special mission to Europe, including Ireland. Problems appear to have developed when Grasty told New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs, who objected to the arrangement while he represented the newspaper.

“Grasty states that he told Mr. Ochs that he would not accept the President’s offer and that he wrote a letter to Mr. Colby refusing to undertake the work,” Ackerman wrote. “Grasty admits, however, that he did accept a special diplomatic passport from Mr. Colby … (but) could not afford to have the question of his special passport discussed in the press. … (He) admits that The Times accuses him of double-dealing and that Mr. Ochs is ‘sore.'”

Ackerman wrote that Grasty “did not telegraph anything to the New York Times while he was in Ireland, although he did begin to send messages as soon as he reached London.” It is unclear how Ackerman knew of Grasty’s telegraph activities, though he likely learned such information from British intelligence, as we’ll see a little later.

Irish series

Before he updated his passport and confronted Ackerman in London, Grasty on May 26 “tea’d & supped” with Sir Horace Plunkett in Dublin, according to a diary entry by the Irish agricultural reformer and home rule supporter.[14]1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland. This  was not surprising, as the two men had known each other for years. “Wherever he goes he makes friends through his gentle optimism and sturdy character,” Grasty wrote in his 1918 book, Flashes from the Front. “For British patriot that he is, he is an Irishman to his heart’s core. His life has been a labor of love for Ireland.”[15]Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.

It’s likely that Grasty made multiple trips to Ireland between May and August. The four-part series he wrote for the Times, published in mid-August, shows datelines from earlier in the month. The headlines below are linked to a pdf of each story, followed by the dateline and publication date, and a select excerpt:

“I am just back from Ireland, whither I went to gather impressions of the present conditions there. My mental attitude was impartial and I shall try to report facts and opinions as I encountered them in my visit. If in transcribing my notes, made as I went along, the Sinn Fein viewpoint stands out less than the opposite one, it is because ‘of low visibility’ on that side of the fence.

“After talking with as many people on both sides as I was able to see, and getting the opinion of the few neutrals whom it was possible to find in Ireland, I came to the conclusion that the minimum that Sinn Fein would accept was full dominion rule like Canada, omitting the Governor General and including control of excise, customs and police. They will not consent to leaving Ulster out. That is the situation at this time. Of course, if some adversary should overtake the movement for independent Ireland, and especially if there should be a split with the labor union, the demand might be modified; of if, on the other hand, British helplessness continued and the Presidential campaign in America crystalized American sympathy, Sinn Fein might decide to go the whole hog.”

“I don’t believe that Ulster is as eager for British rule as you might think after reading one of Sir Edward Carson’s speeches. Ulster people do not want to have Dublin rule put upon them just at this stage, but they are looking ahead to a future when Ireland may become a great industrial kingdom, dominated commercially and financially by Belfast, the well-organized capital of Ulster. Indeed, it was often in my mind as I traveled through Ireland what great possibilities awaited Ireland when permanent order should come.”

“Judging by results, British rule in Ireland has been a failure. Britain cannot plead the peculiarities and shortcomings of the Irish race as an excuse for her failure. She has been mistress of the situation for centuries and has had the power to enforce her authority and to apply the necessary remedies. The simple fact is that she has refused to bring to her task the kind of study and effort which the Irish situation called for. … But Ireland will be a unit sooner or later. The silent and irresistible forces of commercial and industrial self-interest will bring the North and South together.”

It is unclear whether Grasty sent any private communication to the Wilson administration about his interactions in Ireland. Now, his views about the Irish situation were available for anyone to see.

Irish-American reaction

The Friends of Irish Freedom, through its weekly News Letter, immediately dismissed Grasty as part of “the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.” The News Letter said he made a “despicable attempt” to exploit sectarian division in Ireland, though religion hardly dominates the series. Ever watchful of real or perceived slights against the Irish cause by mainstream American or British newspapers, the News Letter also said the New York Times “has gone far in championing England’s course in Ireland.”[16]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.

In its following issue, the News Letter criticized Grasty as “confident” of British press magnate Lord Northcliffe, a nemesis of Irish republicans on both sides of the Atlantic. This was certainly true. Shortly after the end of the Great War, Grasty had reported from London on how Northcliffe “is making a wonderful hit with the American newspaper men. … always accessible to them … indefatigable in his efforts to help them … [with] a very large accumulated influence among Americans generally, but particularly among American working newspaper men.”[17]“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.

The pro-Irish press, including ‘The Tablet’, Aug. 28, 1920, delighted in the State Department denial of Ackerman’s story.

The New Letter also questioned whether Grasty could write a “disinterested” journalistic assessment of the Irish situation while simultaneously acting “confidentially” for President Wilson and the U.S. State Department, as Ackerman reported in June. News Letter chief Daniel T. O’Connell wrote to the U.S. State Department to complain the articles contained “statements grossly unfair and calculated to advance British interests in relation to England’s treatment of Ireland. … [I]f Grasty is empowered to act for our Government in any capacity whatsoever, it is obvious he should not be permitted to utilize such relationships as a means for spreading misstatements and otherwise giving circulation to error.”[18]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219, Aug. 14, 1920, … Continue reading

The State Department replied to O’Connell that Grasty “is not engaged in any Diplomatic mission, or assignment, under the authority of this Government.” The Times reporter was not “an official or unofficial representative”  and “not traveling with a Diplomatic passport.”[19]State Department Records, Roll 219, Aug. 18, 1920, from G. Howland Shaw to O’Connell, and News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3, Tablet, Aug. 28, and … Continue reading It was the government’s second denial since Ackerman’s story was published in June.

Some of the pro-Irish press in America cast the denial as a swipe at both journalists. The Times never addressed the matter on its pages.

Ackerman’s work

Ackerman, 30, had arrived in London in March 1920 as correspondent for the Public Ledger’s new foreign service. He made several trips to Ireland over the following months and filed stories before and after Grasty’s August series in the Times. As Walsh details in The News from Ireland, Ackerman’s reporting was influenced by two insiders–one American, one British–and he actively participated in back-channel efforts to bring peace to Ireland. In this regard, his outing of Grasty as working for the Wilson administration smacks of hypocrisy.

Top of March 7, 1920, Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement for the new foreign news service.

The Public Ledger retained Col. Edward House, Wilson’s former confidant and fixer, as an advisor on diplomacy for its foreign bureau. He regularly advised Ackerman. Such reliance, Walsh writes, “was not unconnected to [Ackerman’s] view of how he should collect news as a journalist; the idea that good journalism was the fruit of being on excellent terms with powerful contacts,” which Ackerman described as ” ‘key men’ in ‘key positions.’ “[20]Walsh, News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141. In fact, Ackerman also paid a June 30 visit to Plunkett with a note from House “about the Irish situation & the possibility of his arbitrating betw’n the British & Irish Governments.”[21]1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), National Library of Ireland.

Ackerman’s second inside source was Sir Basil Thomson, director of intelligence at Scotland Yard. Beginning in May 1920, Thomson selectively leaked documents gathered by British intelligence to “prepare the ground for negotiation with IRA leaders” and “briefed Ackerman to carry messages to Sinn Fein and IRA leaders in Ireland, using Ackerman’s journalistic mission as cover for advancing an Irish settlement by negotiation.”[22]Ibid., p. 143. Through the summer officials contemplated using Col. House as a mediator in the negotiations. While the effort eventually fizzled, Walsh notes that, “Ackerman’s role as go-between” continued to evolve.[23]Ibid., p. 145. Walsh also writes:

“There is no sign that Ackerman’s employers were aware of the secret work he had undertaken. In August 1920 Ackerman’s editor, John J. Spurgeon, wrote to him expressing relief that Col. House had abandoned the idea of becoming a mediator in Ireland. The editor felt that for House, ‘in his present capacity as a member of the editorial staff of an American newspaper, such a role would be absolutely out of the question.’ If it was out of bounds to become a mediator on grounds of preserving editorial independence–even though he was an advisor to the Public Ledger and not a journalist–it must have been an equally forbidden path for Ackerman.”[24]Ibid., p. 146, citing letter from Spurgeon to Ackerman, Aug. 6, 1920.

‘Irish Realities’

Grasty updated his reporting from Ireland in a September piece for Atlantic Monthly  headlined “Irish Realities.” Among his conclusions related to America:

“I begin by saying that the common belief in America that the present movement in Ireland is a spontaneous eruption of a people smarting under tyrannous oppression is not well-founded. The movement, unlike similar movements in the past, has been carefully planned by a few bold and astute leaders. … For without financial help from America and an American sympathy that will constantly embarrass Britain, the enterprise of an Irish republic is a mere chimera.”

“The movement went forward without a single setback until the month of June of this year. First, the Republican Convention in Chicago, and then the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, refused to indorse Irish independence. De Valera failed in his task. With American sympathy and help, the achievement of a republic in Ireland was a possibility. Without them, the extreme of the Irish demand can never be attained. … The failure to get the Irish question into the American presidential election, in my opinion, reduces to nil the chance, always slender, in view of Britain’s necessities, of establishing an Irish republic as the result of this particular movement. Without strong American aid, the conflicting elements in Sinn Fein cannot long be held together in the effort along the present lines for full independence.”

The Atlantic piece received wide attention from U.S. newspaper editorial pages, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Palm Beach Post, and Kansas City Times. Even the Brooklyn Daily Eagle commented on Grasty’s “recently returned … investigation of Irish conditions in England and Ireland.”[25]”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920. It did not mention the Ackerman story about Grasty published four months earlier.

Collins interview

Ackerman’s “exclusive and authorized interview” with Irish leader Michael Collins also drew significant press attention about the same time. An editor’s note said, “For more than two years the British Government has searched for him. Today every policeman and officer in Ireland carries his photograph and description and has orders to arrest him at sight on the general charge of directing assassinations and raids on government offices.”[26]”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.

Walsh has detailed how Irish propaganda minister Desmond FitzGerald proposed the Collins interview to Ackerman shortly after the plan to use Col. House as a mediator fell from favor. Ackerman delayed his Irish Sea crossing a few days until he could first discuss the matter with Thompson, the Scotland Yard intelligence director. The reporter then debriefed the spy master on his return to London, even writing a private memorandum for British government officials about whether the Irish were hardened on a republic or willing to negotiate a settlement.[27]Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.

Such behind the scenes intrigues were unknown at the time, but would be revealed after the Irish and British reached a December 1921 treaty agreement. The Lowell (Mass.) Courier-Citizen lauded Ackerman’s scoop in an editorial widely republished on the opinion pages of other U.S. papers.[28]Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best … Continue reading It said:

The American newspaperman is the best detective there is. … (British officials) can’t get near (Collins). Yet over to Dublin goes Carl Ackerman … and secures a two-hour interview with this very genuine celebrity. … Ackerman, of course, started (with) some advantages which the agents of Scotland Yard don’t have. He was personally known to some of ‘Mick’s’ friends as a chap who could be trusted. That’s always a newspaperman’s greatest asset when he’s on a difficult and dangerous job.

State Department files

U.S. Consulate in Ireland records for 1920 contain at least two other references to Grasty and Ackerman.

Not long after Grasty published his Ireland series in the Times, he asked to see the official cables of U.S Consul Frederick T. F. Dumont, then stationed in Dublin, “in order to keep him fully informed from authoritative sources as to present events in Ireland.” Grasty essentially made a public records request nearly 50 years before the federal law providing access to such U.S. government documents. A State Department official commented: “This strikes me as rather an unusual request. It might eventually prove to be an embarrassing precedent to establish to allow newspaper men access to our official files.”

Nevertheless, Grasty’s request was relayed to Washington, which responded two days later with a two-word reply: “Certainly not.”[29]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from … Continue reading

Dumont, a frequent critic of press coverage of the Irish war, that November complimented Grasty and Ackerman in one of his regular dispatches to Washington:

The Irish press devotes a column at a time to men like Grasty of the New York Times or Ackerman of the Philadelphia (Public) Ledger when they tell the truth concerning the Irish situation, calling them and their papers paid agents of the British Government. Each paper has repeatedly been denounced as a paper owned by the Government. Events in various parts of the world have accustomed the public to sensations and they must be served up by the press of all countries to their readers if circulation and the money which comes from this circulation is to be retained.[30]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State … Continue reading

Dumont wrote his comments nine days before Bloody Sunday in Dublin and a month before the burning of Cork city. Irish war “sensations” continued another six months into 1921, before the truce agreement and treaty negotiations. Ackerman and Grasty continued to report on Ireland, the former still involved in back-channel maneuverings. John Steele of the Chicago Tribune also claimed a role in the Irish peace settlement.

The veteran correspondent Steele had accompanied Ackerman on his first trip to Ireland in spring 1920 and introduced him to several key contacts, including Dumont and FitzGerald, the Irish propaganda minister. Ackerman acknowledged Steele’s role in peace negotiations when he revealed his own efforts in an April 1922 magazine story:

At the same time Mr. Steele was ‘carrying on’ negotiations between Sir Hamar Greenwood and other Sinn Fein leaders which resulted in the final negotiation of the truce last summer (July 1921). Unknown to the outside world two American newspaper men were acting as the sole connecting links between Sinn Fein and Downing Street … “[31]Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

Whatever intentions the Wilson administration once had for Grasty, his chance to play a part in the Irish peace settlement seems to have been scuttled by Ackerman’s June 1920 exposure of his trip to Ireland. We can never know what impact this might have had on the course of the Irish war.

References

References
1 “President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.
2 Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945), “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I Saw”, p. 337.
3 George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and The War, The World, and Wilson (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.
4 “Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.
5 ”England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, 1920.
6 The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669.
7 ”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920.
8 “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe” , The New York Times, June 13, 1920.
9 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.
10 Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.
11 Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & Research Center Digital Archive.
12 ”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London” , The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924.
13 Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
14 1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland.
15 Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.
16 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.
17 “Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.
18 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219, Aug. 14, 1920, letter from O’Connell to Sec. Colby, and “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920, and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic American, (New York, N.Y.) Sept. 4, 1920.
19 State Department Records, Roll 219, Aug. 18, 1920, from G. Howland Shaw to O’Connell, and News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3, Tablet, Aug. 28, and Gaelic American, Sept. 4, 1920.
20 Walsh, News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141.
21 1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), National Library of Ireland.
22 Ibid., p. 143.
23 Ibid., p. 145.
24 Ibid., p. 146, citing letter from Spurgeon to Ackerman, Aug. 6, 1920.
25 ”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920.
26 ”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.
27 Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.
28 Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best Detective”, The Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, Kentucky, Nov. 9, 1920; and others.
29 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from Winslow, Oct. 5, 1920; to “Dear Mr. Secretary” from V. H.,  Oct. 6, 1920; and to Winslow from Hurley, Oct. 7, 1920.
30 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State Department, Nov. 12, 1920.
31 Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

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.