Tag Archives: dublin

The “striking contrast” of Dev’s second ‘Lapland’ boarding

John J. and Edmond I. O’Shea, County Waterford emigrants turned American priests, reunited with a famous friend at the June 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

The O’Shea brothers were among the Philadelphia area priests who attended the Eucharistic Congress. From pilgrim list published the Catholic  Standard & Times, May 27, 1932.

It was not the brothers first return to Ireland, but this time they arrived with 500 other pilgrims from the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, including Cardinal Dennis J. Doherty, the Pennsylvania-born son of County Mayo parents. More than a million people attended the week-long spectacle of processions and devotional ceremonies, which reinforced Irish-Catholic identity for generations.

In addition to the religious activities, the event also focused international attention on the decade-old Irish Free State and its leader, Éamon de Valera, the O’Shea’s friend. It was in this secular context that the brothers witnessed an ironic moment of Irish history, one that spanned 13 years of de Valera’s political career and their own roles in supporting him and their homeland’s independence. The episode was “so striking in its contrast,” one newspaper reported, “that it could form the theme of as fascinating a novel as any writer of romantic fiction could conceive.”1

Edmond delivered his friend to the reunion location, the deck of an aging ocean liner. John took photos and home movies.

Patriotic Priests

Edmond O’Shea emigrated in 1907 from Dungarvan, age 21, and was ordained in 1912 in Philadelphia.2 John O’Shea arrived in the City of Brotherly Love in 1915, age 31, after working as a newspaper reporter and member of the Dungarvan council. He was ordained by Cardinal Dougherty in 1919.3

Philadelphia, 1920.

The brothers supported the Irish cause from both sides of the Atlantic. They were among “the patriotic priests who encouraged the good work in Philadelphia” during the February 1919 Irish Race Convention, convened in the city soon after the Sinn Féin election victory in Ireland and establishment of a separatist Dáil Éireann parliament. They marched with de Valera later that year when he visited the city during his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland.4

“We have found a man we can trust,” Edmond declared in The Irish Press, Philadelphia’s pro-independence weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the Dáil.5 He hailed de Valera’s tour as “received with acclaim from coast to coast,”6 though it also had its share of critics.

Home in Ireland in August 1920, Edmond was attacked by two policemen, “thrown down, throttled,” their revolvers drawn, for flying an Irish tricolor flag at Blarney Castle. “Possibly influenced by the crowd which gathered, the police returned to barracks without me,” he swore in testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.7

John spent the first three years of his priesthood at two parishes 100 miles west of Philadelphia’s core Irish community, then second in size only to New York.8 He also spoke against British rule, telling audiences of how soldiers and police dragged innocent Irish from their beds at night and deported them to English prisons without a hearing “for no other reason than that they loved their country.”9 

As events in Ireland settled in the mid-1920s after the founding of the Free State, partition of the island, and civil war, John was transferred back to a Philadelphia parish. Cardinal Dougherty tasked Edmond with founding a new parish and building a church in the city.10 Both brothers regularly returned to Ireland to visit family and friends, including de Valera, who held several political roles through the 1920s and early 1930s.11

Pilgrimage to Ireland

Given such backgrounds, it’s not surprising the O’Shea brothers joined the 500 priests, nuns, and laity from the Archdioceses of Philadelphia at the 31st Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. Cardinal Daugherty announced the trip in October 1931. He told his flock it would be “an occasion for a visit to the place of their birth … [or] a golden opportunity to make a journey to the land of their Fathers. … [It was also an] extraordinary opportunity to profess publicly their devotion to the Blessed Eucharistic, and to refresh their souls by a visit to the land whose soil has been hallowed by the blood of martyrs.”12

Over the next nine months details of the pilgrimage were published in the diocesan Catholic Standard & Times, proclaimed at Sunday masses, and promoted by the Thomas Cook & Sons travel agency. Costs started at $250, about $4,700 today,13 rather dear for the third year of the Great Depression. The tour package included using the luxury steamship chartered for the transatlantic journey as the pilgrims’ floating hotel accommodations in Dublin. That ship was the Red Star Line’s S.S. Lapland

In June 1919, de Valera stowed away aboard the Lapland in Liverpool as he avoided British authorities for his secret mission to America. As I’ve detailed in an earlier post, plenty of other Irish passengers boarded the ship as paying emigrants or tourists, according to the manifest. Built in 1908 in Belfast, the Lapland was a troop transport in the war years immediately prior to de Valera’s crossing. The ship got a makeover in early 1931, as described by the Catholic Standard & Times:

Everything necessary was done to make her physically a most modern cabin liner. Every convenience known to ocean transportation … is available to her passengers. Thus, the Lapland has a delightful newness about her, yet she has retained her former personality that made her so popular with thousands of travelers.14

Philadelphia’s diocesan newspaper promoted the pilgrimage to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The April 29 issue featured a photo of the Lapland and two stories (“Excellent Accommodations,” left, and “Dublin Beauty,” left center) on the front page.

President Comes Aboard

In Ireland, Edmond O’Shea accompanied de Valera and his two sons on a captain’s launch from the Dublin dockside to the anchored Lapland.15 The Irish Press described the Philadelphia priest as “an old friend of his and a staunch supporter of the Irish cause.” Edmond was a director of The Irish Press Corporation in America, which supported the paper de Valera founded nine months earlier.16

De Valera’s shipboard visit returned the courtesy call Cardinal Dougherty had paid to his government offices a few days prior. The Press revealed:

During his conversation with [Cardinal Dougherty], Mr. de Valera related a dramatic story concerning the last time on which he had been on board the Lapland. It was in 1918 [sic, 1919] in the height of the war with England, that he had been stowed away on board and brought to New York for an important mission there. He had been sheltered in the lamp room and was very sea sick for the entire voyage.  

Details of de Valera’s 1919 crossing were closely guarded at the time and caused wild speculation: “Did he fly?” “Come on a sub?” That doesn’t mean the particulars remained unknown to Irish insiders. By 1931, Cardinal Dougherty almost seemed to wink when he wrote the Lapland was “especially engaged” for the pilgrimage.17 He and de Valera, and their senior aides, communicated during the 1919-1920 U.S. tour and remained in contact up to and after the 1932 event.18

The Press reported the pilgrims who lined the Lapland‘s deck rails gave de Valera “a remarkable ovation” … [and he] shook hands with several hundreds of the American visitors on board.” Any triumphalism for de Valera during the one-hour visit was likely moderated by the death of his County Limerick-born mother less than two week earlier in Rochester, New York. She had planned to attend the Eucharistic Congress.19

Several Irish newspapers reported de Valera’s second boarding of the Lapland, and some repeated the Independent‘s description of a “striking contrast” and “fascinating novel.” The president asked to visit the lamp room where he had hidden 13 years earlier. The captain “gladly acceded to his request.”

American secular papers ignored the story.20 The Catholic Standard & Times noted Edmond’s role in bringing de Valera aboard the Lapland, but not the Irish leader’s past association with the ship. John surly recounted the visit weeks later when he gave a presentation about the Eucharistic Congress to his home parish. The evening featured his “seven moving picture reels” of highlights and photos of the Irish leader.21

Benediction in Dublin during the 1932 Eucharistic Congress.

It’s worth remembering that de Valera was opposition leader, not president, in the fall of 1931 when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia made its Lapland arrangements. It’s unlikely the ship was chartered intentionally. It seems just as unlikely that Cardinal Dougherty and the O’Shea brothers were hearing about Dev’s 1919 crossing for the first time in 1932, as suggested in the press accounts. The reveal appears designed to generate those accounts, especially since the same papers also described the visit as “purely private.” De Valera and his supporters recognized the opportunity presented by the coincidence and leveraged it to bolster his reputation.22

If there was a conspiracy or inside joke among the priests and the politicians, they likely carried it to their graves. When Edmond O’Shea died in 1949, The Irish Press noted his close friendship with de Valera and said his “last letters home spoke of his deep longing for the re-unification of the country.”23 John O’Shea died in 1956, five years after Cardinal Dougherty. De Valera remained in government until 1973, after a political career of more than 50 years. He died two years later. 

As for the Lapland, its 1931 makeover was short-lived. The ship was sold to Japan for scrap a year after the Eucharistic Congress and the second boarding of the former stowaway.24

FURTHER READING: “History Now” presenter Barry Sheppard has written several articles about the 1932 Eucharistic Congress for The Irish Story:

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Religion

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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This series to date has covered half of Guest’s Ireland stories in the order they were published. This post explores three of his stories that primarily focused on religion.

Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say1

“The Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland is equally outspoken in its denunciation of the crime and outrage now existing there and of the causes which it holds responsible–the withholding of self-government, military oppression, and invasion of the people’s rights,” Guest opened this story. He noted the Jan. 27, 1920, meeting of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, County Kildare, about 25 miles west of Dublin, and quoted from their official pronouncement.

Cardinal Michael Logue

Guest also cited subsequent statements by Bishop of Cashel John Harty; Cardinal Michael Logue; Archbishop of Dublin William J. Walsh; Bishop of Waterford Bernard Hackett; and Bishop of Rapheo Patrick J. O’Donnell. It appears that Guest repeated their quotes from Irish newspaper accounts, rather than his own interviews.

The passage below shows Guest overstated the church’s diminished influence on Irish affairs, since the Catholic hierarchy would play a significant role in the development of the fledgling state through ratification of the Irish Constitution in 1937, and beyond. Guest could not have anticipated how much relations between the priests and the people would change as they have in the last 20 years due to church scandals. In March 1920, he wrote:

Although the church is still as strong numerically in proportion as it was a century ago, it is not the dominant influence politically today that it was then. I do not mean by this that those of the Catholic faith in Ireland are any less religious; they are not. But something of the awe with which the peasants used to regard the clergy and the mystical powers they were wont to attribute to the priesthood have been dissipated.  … 

The priest in Ireland is revered and loved today as much as ever, but he is less feared. The people see young priests mixing in politics and they appreciate that they are of the people, one of themselves. Better education, too, has helped the people think more for themselves. This is why I believe the church in Ireland has lost something of the power it formerly had to mould and direct public opinion. This holds true not only of the Catholic south of Ireland, but Protestant Ulster as well. 

The older leaders of both the Catholic and Protestant churches have not accepted this condition without resistance. Neither have the old-school politicians, who have not hesitated when they could gain their ends no other way to fan the slumbering fires of religious antagonism between the north and the south of Ireland.

Free Education As We Know It In This Country, Is Unknown in Ireland2

“Education and religion are inseparably interwoven in Ireland,” Guest wrote. “One cannot be educated at any school in the south or in Ulster without absorbing a great deal of religious propaganda. … Early in the school life the seeds of distrust and antagonism … are sown. … Unlike the north and the south in the United States, Ulster and the south of Ireland have never attempted to let bygones by bygones and forget the past.”3

Guest outlined the existing Irish education system and the proposed restructuring of it under 1919 legislation by the government in London. He referred again to the Jan. 27 meeting at Maynooth, presided over by Cardinal Logue, which issued a statement that described the bill “the most denationalizing scheme since the act of union.”4 The hierarchy’s opposition, Guest suggested, “well illustrates how closely education and religion are interwoven.”

The education bill was eventually withdrawn.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, July 2016.

Believe Irish Catholics And Protestants In Ulster May Bury The Hatchet5

Guest wrote that he asked nearly everyone he met in Ireland whether Catholics and Protestants would ever “bury the hatchet” of antagonism between the two religious traditions. “Taken in their entirety, the replies were not encouraging to the hope that someday the ancient bitterness … would disappear,” he reported. He suggested, as above, “those of little education were positive … an insurmountable barrier” would keep Ireland forever divided; while those “educated … to think for themselves” believed the barrier “would someday be shattered.”

Guest addressed the issue “with persons from all walks of life,” including a grocery store clerk; a farm laborer in County Tipperary; a linen mill superintendent and a hotel porter in Belfast; and a farm owner and his son in County Down. He also had conversations with Lord Justice James O’Connor in Dublin, and Liam Roche in Cork, but did not quote either in the story. Guest wrote:

… in almost every case, as between persons who had learned to think for themselves and others who had not, the lineup on one side of the question and on the other side was distinct, regardless of locality. … [Young Catholic priests and young Protestant ministers] will tell you quite frankly that this old enmity is a ‘bugaboo,’ which has been kept alive largely by frequent doses of stimulant administered by politicians in England and Ireland. …

Catholics and Protestants labor side by side in factories, mills and shops with only occasional friction. So long as the two refrain from religious or political discussion, all goes well.

NEXT: British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

“The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.” –Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution

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On Dec. 30, 1919, American journalist Harry Frazier Guest sailed to Ireland “for the purpose of gathering news and making observations for the New York Globe,” his editor assured the U.S. government.1 Guest later told his readers that he intended to describe conditions in Ireland “as seen through unbiased American eyes.”2 During January and February 1920 he toured many sections of the island, urban and rural. “I had never visited Ireland or England before and had taken no interest in the so-called Irish question,” Guest wrote in the first of two dozen articles published after he returned to America.3I went with an open mind, free from racial or religious prejudice.”

Over the next few weeks I will explore Guest’s dispatches, which the Globe syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is part of my ongoing series about American reporting of Irish independence, which includes my earlier series about Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March through July 1919. Here, I will provide headlines, highlight key details and historical points, and quote compelling or controversial passages from Guest’s stories as they appeared in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, which are available through digital archives. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I am unable at this time to read his series on microfilm as published in the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, or do other library and archival research.

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

Harry F. Guest was 41 when he traveled to Ireland. He had been at the Globe for six years, according to his editor’s letter. A 1917 story in the Times Union of Brooklyn, N.Y., described him as “prominent in newspaper circles for many years, serving as reporter and editor on the Brooklyn and Manhattan dailies,” including correspondent from the state capital in Albany.4 His 1918 draft registration for World War I listed his work as “Asst. Direct. Pub.” for the U.S. Food Administration, likely a temporary “publicity” or “publications” job.5

After the war, Guest spent part of 1919 reporting for the Globe from Texas for a series of articles about the state’s booming oil industry:

I came to Texas an unbeliever prepared to see much overrated oil development. But after having an opportunity to see what has been done and what conservative eastern capital is planning for the future, backing its judgement with millions, I can say that the Texas oil industry is building on a solid business foundation.6

Before he boarded Cunard’s RMS Mauretania for Ireland, Guest said goodbye to Blanche, his wife of 16 years, though the couple had no children. He was 5-foot, 8 ½-inches tall, with green-gray eyes, and brown-gray hair, according to his passport application. He had survived broken ribs and internal injuries after being hit by a car less then three years earlier. He wore glasses and had an artificial right eye.7

Guest returned to New York on March 1 aboard the RMS Carmania.8 His first story about revolutionary Ireland appeared in newspapers a week later.

A March 1920 promotional notice in The Baltimore Sun for Harry Guest’s upcoming series on Ireland.

Ireland By Day Land of Peace, And Business Hums In Its Cities9

Guest told readers that his first two stories would be scene setters, Ireland by day, and Ireland by night, “for the two are very different.” He described heightened security at the Kingstown docks and Dublin rail stations. “Somehow, all the time I was in Ireland I never quite got over the feeling that I was under the eyes of policemen and soldiers.”

He referenced a newspaper story of the Jan. 3, 1920, raid on Carrightwohill barracks, in County Cork, shortly before his arrival. It was among the earliest in the rapidly escalating attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary posts by the Irish Republican Army. Guest also mentioned the midday Feb. 7 holdup in Dublin of a motor lorrie with two police officers and two soldiers, all unarmed, by 20 men with weapons, “but such exhibitions during the daytime are rare.”

Inside Carrigtwohill barracks after the attack. Photo, Illustrated London News

In Dublin’s Grafton Street, “the windows of many shops were covered with steel shutters which extended down to the sidewalk,” Guest wrote. “The faces of the men and women walking by … looked just as dour and serious as the police. It was only the young–the boys and girls in their teens–who smiled.”

He wrote that most Irish people at first were reluctant to talk with him, wary that he might work for the authorities. “They would not even commit themselves to admitting that conditions were bad, but when they learned I was a newspaper man from the United States they talked freely.”

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign10

“It is between midnight and dawn that most of the blood is spilled in Ireland,” Guest reported in his followup Ireland at night story. “The popular hour for attacks on police barracks and the round up of Sinn Féinners is 2 a.m. At that hour, if one is in the right place, it is possible to see armored motorcars, with rapid-fire guns poking through their turrets, and motor lorries filled with steel-helmeted, fully armored soldiers speeding through deserted city streets, and over dark country roads, bound on mysterious missions, the object of which will not be disclosed until a day or two later at military headquarters.”

Guest referenced the Jan. 31 roundup of 100 Sinn Féin members across the country after the installation of local officers in eight cities, “but half of them were released within a few hours of their arrests.”

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Reprising three stories for St. Valentine’s Day

It’s time for a break from the Irish elections. The first of the three previously publish stories below is focused on Ireland’s direct connection to St. Valentine. The Feb. 14 date in the other two stories is a coincidental element, but I hope you enjoy reading them all the same. MH

Statue and crypt of St. Valentine at Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin.

St. Valentine rests at Carmelite church in Dublin: The third century saint’s mortal remains are a popular attraction. Watch a 2-minute video, and link to more history from the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street.

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Reporter’s 19th century visit to Ireland’s National Gallery: On Valentine’s Day 1888, American journalist William Henry Hurlbert toured the Dublin collection with Gallery Director Henry Edward Doyle. From my Ireland Under Coercion: Revisited series.

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An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918: Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; shipped to France as a U.S. soldier in 1917; and was finally released from the military on Valentine’s Day, 1919. From my Pittsburgh Irish series.

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

Guest post: The slow death of the Freeman’s Journal

Historian Felix M. Larkin specializes in the study of Irish newspapers, especially the Freeman’s Journal, the prominent Dublin daily published from 1763 to 1924. (See his website and our 2017 Q&A.) In October 1919, Irish writer Seumas MacManus noted the Freeman’s troubles in a U.S. newspaper column, excerpted in my Oct. 13 post. I asked Felix to write this guest post after he rightly corrected one of my notes at this centenary of a key moment in the Freeman’s history. MH

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On Oct. 27, 1919, Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal newspaper was sold to a prominent local businessman, Martin Fitzgerald, and a former English journalist now living in Ireland, Robert Hamilton Edwards. The Freeman had been associated with the Irish home rule movement for the previous four decades– back to Charles Stewart Parnell’s time – and its sale represented the final step in the fall of that movement, which began with the 1916 Rising and culminated in the victory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election.1

Founded in 1763, the Freeman had become an important newspaper under the ownership of the Gray family from 1841 to 1892. Though more moderately nationalist in editorial policy than Parnell, it had eventually accepted his leadership and had remained loyal to him at the outset of the Parnell ‘split’ in 1890.2 However, when the anti-Parnellites launched their own daily newspaper, the National Press, in March 1891 and the Freeman began to lose circulation and revenue as a result, it switched sides. The Freeman and the National Press later merged in March 1892. There followed a long and bitter struggle for control of the paper between rival anti-Parnell factions led by Tim Healy and John Dillon, both MPs; this struggle was ultimately resolved in the latter’s favor in 1896.

Thomas Sexton, another prominent anti-Parnell MP, became chairman of the Freeman company in 1893. He remained chairman until 1912. The period of Sexton’s chairmanship was one of relentless decline in the Freeman’s fortunes. The National Press had inflicted grave damage on it, and it continued to face strong competition from the Irish Daily Independent – established as a pro-Parnell organ when the Freeman changed sides in the ‘split’, but purchased by William Martin Murphy in 1900 after the ‘split’ was healed. The Freeman thus lacked funds for investment and was unable to respond to the greatly increased demand for newspapers nationally at this time.

In contrast, Murphy transformed the Independent into a modern, mass-circulation organ. It soaked up the increased demand for newspapers and became the market leader. The Freeman began as a result to incur trading losses, and no dividends were paid by the company after 1908. The home rule leaders eventually acted to save it and forced Sexton’s resignation in 1912. It was subsequently run by a group of party stalwarts and subsidized from party sources, and its parlous condition was exacerbated by the destruction of its premises during the 1916 Rising. After the Rising, money was raised from home rule supporters in Britain and in the United States, as well as in Ireland, in a desperate effort to keep it afloat.3

Following the 1918 general election, the company – without the financial support of the now defunct home rule party –collapsed and went into liquidation.4 It was then purchased by Fitzgerald and Edwards as a commercial venture. Fitzgerald – a wholesale wine and spirit merchant – had been a home ruler and the Freeman’s new management soon committed itself to a policy of advocating dominion status for Ireland.

Martin FItzgerald

It was an inauspicious time to attempt to revive an ailing Irish newspaper of moderate nationalist sympathies. The difficulties that the new owners encountered were extraordinary. The Freeman was suppressed by the British military authorities for seven weeks from December 1919 to January 1920; Fitzgerald, Edwards and the editor, Patrick Hooper, were imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail for a month at Christmas 1920 following publication by the Freeman of a story about army brutality; and after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which was strongly supported by the Freeman, its printing presses were smashed in March 1922 by a raiding party of 200 anti-Treatyites.

Fitzgerald played a role in the process leading up to the 1921 Treaty. Once the Government decided to explore settlement possibilities, he was able to use his standing as a newspaper proprietor to act as an intermediary between Sinn Féin and Dublin Castle.5 He was in regular contact both with Michael Collins and with Alfred Cope, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Castle. Cope, adopting the nom de guerre ‘Mr. Clements’, frequently visited Fitzgerald’s home. Their relationship took on a further dimension when, during the Treaty negotiations, Cope sought to influence the shapers of public opinion in Ireland to support the emerging settlement. Through Fitzgerald, Cope gained a measure of control over the contents of the Freeman’s Journal at that time.

The Freeman’s campaign in favor of the Treaty was generally regarded, even by many on the pro-Treaty side, as unduly partisan. However, the new administration in Dublin came increasingly to rely upon it for propaganda. In recognition of this, Fitzgerald was nominated to the first Senate of the Irish Free State in 1922. He served in that forum until his death in 1927. By then, the Freeman had succumbed to its many tribulations. The main factor in its eventual demise was that the partnership of Fitzgerald and Edwards had ended in grief when the latter tried unsuccessfully to corner the market in newsprint and then absconded, leaving debts which the enfeebled Freeman could not meet. The last issue appeared on Dec. 19, 1924.6 The Freeman’s assets, including the title, were later bought by the Independent. It was a sad end for a distinguished newspaper.

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For more on the Freeman’s Journal, see Larkin’s Aug. 21, 2012 guest blog for the National Library of Ireland, and May/June 2006 piece in History Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

Political uncertainty means economic uncertainty. And so it is with the looming Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

“Risks from the international environment are increasing due to continued uncertainty over Brexit and the growing evidence of a slowdown amongst some of Ireland’s most important trading partners. If a no-deal Brexit occurs in late 2019, it is not inconceivable that the Irish economy could contract in 2020,” the Economic & Social Research Institute said in a Sept. 26 report.

Brexit developments are changing daily. As The Telegraph explains, “Things are not going well.” Elsewhere …

  • The Catholic Church in Ireland recognized as a miracle the 1989 healing of an Athlone woman with multiple sclerosis claimed. She claimed the cure resulted from her visit to the Knock Shrine in County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • The New York Times revealed Irish diplomats saved one its reporters from being arrested by Egyptian officials after the Trump administration refused their request for help.
  • A £1.25 billion contract to build five Royal Navy frigates is a lifeline to the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, which in August entered administration. About 130 people work at the historic shipyard, down from a peak of 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.
  • An art exhibit that draws its inspiration from the W. B. Yeats’ poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” has opened at the Irish Consulate in New York City. The exhibition, curated by the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo, features art works by 129 artists themed around the poem. The catalog is available on YouTube as a series of short videos.
  • Glaslough in County Monaghan won the 2019 Tidy Towns competition.
  • Finally–hate to say it–Dublin beat Kerry for a record fifth straight All-Ireland Championship.

Yeats statue in Sligo city. August 2019

Kerry & Dublin Tie in All-Ireland Final; Redo Sept. 14

An epic All-Ireland Final between defending champions Dublin and all-time wins leader Kerry has ended tied, requiring a Sept. 14 rematch.

  • “The closing stages of this game were incredible to witness, Croke Park shaking on its foundations at every tackle made and score kicked. The tension was unbearable,” RTÉ’s Peter Sweeney reported.
  • “Packed with drama from start to finish neither outfit could summon a knockout blow in an intense game featuring so many intriguing subplots,” Cian O’Connell wrote for the GAA website.

Michael Fitzsimons, Dublin (in blue), and Paul Geaney, Kerry, (green), during the tie match Sept. 1. GAA photo.

Dublin is playing for a record fifth straight All-Ireland title. Kerry won four successive titles from 1929 to 1932, then repeated the feat 1978 to 1981. A last-minute goal by Offaly in the 1982 final defeated Kerry by one point. Wexford also claimed four consecutive All-Ireland crowns from 1915 to 1918.

Kerry has the most wins since the tournament began in 1887, with 37, and Dublin is next with 28. Galway, with nine titles, is a distant third place. (The championship was not played in 1888, when teams traveled to America to raise money and promote awareness for the sports of the then four-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association.)

Read more history of the championship and Sam Maguire Cup.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

I’m posting the August round up a few days before the Kerry-Dublin All-Ireland Final, and will update the result in a fresh post. I did not publish a July round up due to my two-week travels in Ireland.

In late July/early August, people on both sides the Irish border shrugged when I asked about Brexit: there was concern, but not panic. Now, developments are gathering pace ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. Brexit is intensifying like a hurricane, with the outcome equally unpredictable. British PM Boris Johnson has abruptly suspended the opening of Parliament; an alternative proposal to solve the Irish border riddle is gaining attention.

People on each side of the border voiced caution when I asked about whether a messy, “no deal” Brexit would lead to Irish reunification. “Not right off,” was the general consensus. The passage below is from Daniel Finn’s Aug. 21 piece in Foreign Affairs, Ireland’s Rocky Road to Unity: Can Demographic Shifts Undo a Hundred Years of Separation?

The terms of the impending separation from the European Union [Brexit] remain uncertain, but nothing since the June 2016 referendum has discouraged the belief that the end result will be messy and disruptive. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland will take a much bigger and more immediate hit than the rest of the United Kingdom, because of its reliance on cross-border trade with the south. In a region that voted to remain in the EU by a solid majority (56 to 44 percent), that prospect is widely and bitterly resented. Especially among soft nationalists and soft unionists—those who take a more pragmatic and transactional view of the union with Britain—the shock of a chaotic Brexit could push more voters to embrace Irish unity as a safer option than remaining tethered to the United Kingdom.

  • Fáilte Ireland and accountancy firm Crowe have developed a Brexit Readiness Check for businesses to determine “how prepared you are to respond to the potential impact of Brexit.”
  • Catholics and Protestants lived side by side in Northern Ireland for decades, “but they had very few social or economic ties across the communities,” academic researchers Joseph M. Brown and Gordon C. McCord wrote in The Washington Post story marking the 50th anniversary of the Troubles. “This meant geographic proximity bred violence instead of mutual tolerance.”
  • The New York Times this month published several stories about Ireland and Northern Ireland, ranging from surfing and television to abortion and housing:

Chasing Waves on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

In ‘Derry Girls,’ the Lighter Side of Life in a Conflict Zone

Climate of Fear: When One Part of a Country Bans Abortion

Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After the Property Bubble Burst

From an evening walk on Inisheer, looking west to Inis Meain.

Guest post: A touching surprise at The Mansion House

My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a Florida-based retreat leader and spiritual director, is a frequent visitor to Ireland. My only regret is that she and I haven’t been in the country at the same time. This is her third guest post for the blog. MH

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Although I’ve been to Ireland many times since 1986, I’ve just made my first visit to The Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. For two days the mansion, built in 1710, was open to the public with an exhibit commemorating the 1916 Easter Uprising and the first sitting of the separatist parliament, Dáil Éireann, in 1919. The latter took place in the mansion’s Round Room.

The importance of the building is enough for anyone interested in Irish history. Meeting Lord Mayor Nial Ring was an honor. But what really touched my heart was a plaque in the Entrance Hall. It reads:

Once again I was moved by the story of the Choctaws giving generously from their meager resources to assist the Irish people during the Great Famine in 1847. I was reminded of the Choctaw Nation sculpture I saw in County Cork shortly after its 2017 dedication. The striking sculpture of feathers pays tribute to the humanity of the Choctaw people who reached out beyond their own needs to respond in compassion to the suffering of others.

Shortly after the Mansion House plaque was installed, a group of Hiberians and other Irish joined in a march retracing of the Trail of Tears, the name of the forced migration of the Choctaw people from the Deep South to Oklahoma. It was a show of empathy and solidarity. The Choctaw tribe made Ireland’s then President Mary Robinson an honorary chief. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaws last year, offering scholarships for study in Ireland.

Dev in 1919.

This year also marks the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s visit to the Chippewa reservation in Wisconsin. The American-born president of Ireland’s fledgling revolutionary government was made an honorary tribal leader. “Dev” accepted a ceremonial head dress and posed in his suit for a famous photo.

“We, like you, are a people who have suffered and I feel for you with a sympathy that comes only from one who can understand as we Irishmen can,” de Valera told the Native Americans.

Goodness and generosity are human traits that give me hope. I was delighted to see them commemorated in such a grand place as The Mansion House.