Tag Archives: Daniel Cohalan

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1920: Politics and poetry

The Irish War of Independence had grow increasingly violent by St. Patrick’s Day, 1920. In America, Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera continued his effort to raise money and political support for the Irish cause. His St. Patrick’s Day message was quoted in many U.S. newspapers. It said, in part:

Sons and Daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the Motherland, greeting! … Never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland, but the world. … Those of our race who are citizens of this mighty land of America, whose thought will help to mould the policy of the leader among Nations–how much the world looks to you this St. Patrick’s Day–hopes in you–trusts in you. You can so easily accomplish that which is needed. You have only to have the will–the way is so clear. What would not the people in the old land give for the power which is yours!1

Éamon de Valera

New York City’s Irish community “answered the call to arms” in de Valera’s message “by throwing the greatest parade in the history of a city that held its first in 1766.”2 The Irish leader attended the March 17 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Hayes, who was appointed to the post a year earlier. Both men were seated together at the parade reviewing stand in front of the landmark church, along with New York City Mayor John F. Hylan and New York State Gov. Al Smith.

By odd coincidence, considering the Irish visitor, all four of these honorary parade-goers were New York natives. De Valera was born in the city in 1882 to a Irish immigrant mother and a Spanish father, who died three years later. The toddler was sent to Ireland to be raised in County Limerick by his relatives.

Any small talk about their shared birthplace, however, was secondary to the simmering tensions between de Valera and the American-based Friends of Irish Freedom, which was led by Gaelic American newspaper editor John Devoy and New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. At issue were disputes over control of the money being collected for Ireland and the efforts to influence American political leaders and U.S. policy.

None of this was on public view for the big day. As Hannigan writes:

At the end of St. Patrick’s Day, when Ireland held the city in its thrall, the impression may have been that the various combatants had put aside their personal grievances for the greater good. Though de Valera and Cohalan were at the same dinner by evening’s end with the appearance all was well, the truth was much different. The two men seemed to picture of professionalism that night, the politicking, scheming and plotting continued backstage. It would come to a boil very soon.”3

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For St. Patrick’s Day 1920, Denis Aloysius McCarthy released a poem that emphasized the historic connections between Ireland and America, especially in the struggle for freedom. Like de Valera’s message, “St. Patrick’s Day” also was circulated in U.S. papers.4 It including these stanzas:

When America first uprose
And flung defiance at her foes
No laggards were the Irish then
In purse or purpose, means or men.

And ever since in all our wars,
Wherever gleamed the Stripes and Stars,
The loyal Irish, heart and hand,
Have fought for this beloved land.

So in the springtime of the year
When St. Patrick’s Day again is here,
T’is not alone on Irish breasts
The spray of Ireland’s shamrocks rests.

Our great Republic’s heart
Reveals today its tend’rer part,
As, smiling in her state serene,
She wears a touch of Ireland’s green.

Denis A. McCarthy

This poem should not confused with McCarthy’s “St. Patrick’s Day Memories” , from his 1906 collection, Voices From Erin.

The poet and journalist emigrated from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, to America in 1886. He eventually settled in Boston. The Boston Globe did not mention him as having strong feelings about Irish independence in its August 1931 news obituary.

Historian Catherine M. Burns on 1920 Women’s Pickets

I connected last month with America historian Catherine M. Burns via Twitter (@cmburns21) as I published my Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland series. Burns has written about the April 1920 women pickets joined by Russell, both in her dissertation, “American Identity and the Transatlantic Irish Nationalist Movement, 1912-1925” (cited in my series), and in her chapter on Kathleen O’Brennan in The Irish in the Atlantic World

Burns holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The New York Irish History Roundtable recognized her dissertation research with its award for distinguished graduate work on the history of the Irish in New York City. Her articles on Irish-American courtship and the Irish Home Rule movement in New York City have appeared in the journal New Hibernia Review. She has also written about Irish-American theater and the 1922 fight for control of the Irish consulate for Gotham, for the scholarly blog of the Gotham Center for New York City History. We conducted this question-and-answer via email.

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What is the background of the 1920 women’s pickets on behalf of Irish independence?

BURNS: Dr. William J. Maloney, an advocate for U.S. recognition of the Irish Republic, orchestrated the picketing in Washington, D.C. that began on April 2, 1920. The women he organized are often called the American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, but that’s not right. I found that women with more radical outlooks later formed that group in New York City.

Maloney envisioned the picketing as a short-term publicity opportunity and deliberately selected young, pretty women who could easily get their photographs in newspapers. He thought the pickets would spend a few days in Washington protesting outside the British Embassy before the Easter holiday. They would call on the British government to pay back war loans owed to the United States rather than funding warfare in Ireland. All the while, the women would pose for newspaper photographers who would, in turn, spread their images and the Irish republican message across the country.

Maloney was surprised when 10 pickets were arrested on the Monday after Easter and faced a federal grand jury. The arrests effectively ended his involvement. Women bolder than Maloney took over the picketing, extended it, and turned it into something more in line with the media stunts of militant women suffragists. Two days after the arrests, Mollie Carroll, a young actress previously paid to picket by Maloney, generated newspaper copy all over the United States by flying an airplane over Washington and dropping pro-republican handbills over the city.

How was the media coverage? What was the reaction from the Irish and Irish America?

BURNS: Prior to the arrests newspaper coverage was relatively even-handed although suspicious of the women because picketing was associated with militant women suffragists. [The 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was passed Aug. 19, 1920.] Several newspapers throughout the country published photographs of a regal and somberlooking Mary Manning Walsh, co-leader of the picketing, carrying a sign reading: “England: American women condemn your reign of terror in the Irish Republic.” Maloney had hoped the picketing would brand Walsh as the face of women’s support for the Irish Republic in the United States. This did not come to pass, but Walsh did succeed in drawing the kind of attention Maloney envisioned. After police took pickets into custody, newspapers tended to portray the women as somewhat dangerous. Headlines describing Mollie Carroll’s airplane leafleting as a “bombingof the British Embassy served to imply that the violence of the Irish War for Independence had come to the United States.

Capt. Robert Emmet Doyle and Mary Manning Walsh, 1920.

Daniel Cohalan, the leader of the Friends of Irish Freedom, was also suspicious of Maloney and the pickets. He and his associates gathered intelligence on them, eager to see if they were being directed by Sinn Féin. The Friends advocated for Irish self-determination but stopped short of demanding that the United States risk its relationship with London by recognizing the Irish Republic. Maloney and the pickets rejected this view. Some newspapers, including the Washington Post, stated that the Friends were behind the pickets. Such reporting dismayed Cohalan.

In addition to Ruth Russell, who were the other journalists in the crowd?

BURNS: The Easter 1920 picketing venture was designed to appear in newspapers and female journalists and recognizable women with media connections helped to generate the publicity that Maloney and the pickets desired.

Hammon Lake County Times, April 13, 1920.

Picket Honor Walsh of Philadelphia made her living as a journalist and editor with the Catholic Standard and Times. Constance Todd, a magazine writer married to a Washington newspaper correspondent, was on picket duty. So too was Rosa Hanna, wife of the socialist journalist Paul Hanna. He penned sympathetic reports on the protest for the New York Call. Pickets Theresa Russell and Matilda Gardner were both prominent woman suffragists, but they, too, had close family ties to journalists and newspapers. Gardner’s father was the editor of the Chicago Tribune.

I think journalism is key to understanding the involvement of Kathleen O’Brennan and Gertrude Corless in the picketing. O’Brennan was an Irish journalist and her family played an important role in the revolutionary movement in Ireland. She relayed select information about the pickets to reporters, emphasizing their Protestant faiths and long family lineages in the United States in order to claim that people outside of Irish circles supported the Irish Republic. Gertrude Corless—who shared a Washington hotel room with Ruth Russellserved as the pickets’ co-leader and public spokesperson. Notably, she had ties to the Hearst newspapers. In 1920, the Hearst newspapers backed Irish envoy Harry Boland’s scheme to generate anti-British sentiments in the United States. Corless was the private secretary of an editorial writer who penned pro-republican editorials for Hearst newspapers. As picket co-leader, Corless directed the production of such propaganda.