Tag Archives: Dublin Castle

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Dublin arrival

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.


Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and three months before the truce that ended the fighting between Irish separatists and the British military. He opens the book by describing an April 18 bombing in Dublin, just hours after his arrival. Ewart heard the blast while eating dinner at a hotel near St. Stephen’s Green, probably the Shelbourne.

“No one took much interest in the matter,” he writes, which “conveyed two facts–that the incident really was a normal one in the city’s life and that the bomb, by reason of the hollowness of its explosion, was not heavily charged but was probably a casing detonated.” On this latter “fact,” Ewart draws from his experience on World War I battlefields. 

The next day’s Irish Independent reported three people were injured when a bomb exploded about 7:45 p.m. as a “large, armour-plated, wire-netted military lorry” turned the corner from Duke Street to Grafton Street heading toward St. Stephen’s Green. “The lorry dashed on, and there was no firing from soldiers.”[1]”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.

Newsboys on Grafton Street shouted, “Another Dublin Ambush,” Ewart writes. Two nights earlier, insurrectionists hurled three bombs at Crown forces on Eden Quay as “armed civilians opened fire with revolvers from concealed positions” the Irish Examiner reported.[2]”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921. Such attacks were common.

Armored military truck in Dublin. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Describing Dublin

“The abiding impression of Dublin at this time was the recurring contrast between the ordinary workaday life of a modern city and the queer forces which lurked such a little way beneath” Ewart wrote. He described old men dozing at benches and nursery-maids reading novelettes as they minded children playing on the grass at Phoenix Park, while lorries tear along the streets at 25 mph, “their dark green or khaki loads bristling with rifles.” He observed the high-end French restaurant Jammett’s half empty at luncheon-time, “yet contrived to maintain the illusion of a segregated and civilized society. He noted an Abbey Theatre revival of St John Greer Ervine’s “Mixed Marriage,” a 1911 play about sectarian strife in Belfast, and speculated “about that other deadly warfare of the protesting North.”[3]Journey, p. 6.

Ewart wrote:

… there was civility and to spare in the shops, but … [elsewhere, he] encountered that furtive, half-cowed and half-hostile attitude of the people which subsequently dogged your footsteps through Ireland. … [People] wear a shamed look as their their houses do, as the gray, peeling walls and dirty striped mattresses hanging out of windows do, as those wretched creatures in shreds of cloth or shawls, down-at-heel slippers, and frowsy hair, those hordes of filthy children happy in their ignorance … [At the North Dublin refuse heaps] things like wasps crawl on mountains of rubbish … They are old men, women, girls, children–Dublin’s ghouls.[4]Journey, p. 11.  

Two Interviews

During his five days in Dublin, Ewart interviewed representatives from each side of the war. At Dublin Castle, seat of British authority in Ireland, he spoke with government “mouthpiece” Basil Clarke, a former journalist, “through the service of whose intelligence all Irish news (and propaganda) passed.”

As efforts to settle the conflict warmed in April 1921, Clarke acknowledged to Ewart that “indirect” negotiations were underway “continuously” since June 1920, though “always” wrecked by the “extremist wing of Sinn Fein.”[5]Journey, pp. 8-9. Bew/Maume note that Clarke “denies the existence of a substantial Sinn Fein/Bolshevik connection at the very moment the papers were full of it,” including claims fed to American journalist Carl Ackerman by Scotland Yard.[6]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.

Ewart also called at the “red-brick Georgian house on Merrion Square” of Irish writer, poet, and painter George William Russell, known by the pseudonym Æ. Here, Ewart followed the footsteps of American reporter Ruth Russell [no relation to George], who in 1919 visited the artist at his home and Irish Homestead office.[7]Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109. This was not a coincidence. Teas with George Russell, historian Alice Stopford Green, and other “intellectual apologists” sympathetic to the nationalist cause were arranged for visiting reporters by Desmond FitzGerald and other Sinn Fein propagandists in what Dublin Castle derisively called the “republican scenic railway.”[8]Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice … Continue reading 

In his conversation with Ewart, Russell said:

All governments are rotten–though their individual members may be honest men–because they act not upon what is right but in obedience to forces more powerful than themselves. We Irish have no hatred of the English; our hatred is of the English government which treats Ireland, and so treated her through the centuries, as a slave race.[9]Journey, p. 18.

Bew/Maume suggest that in some unrecorded part of the conversation Ewart must have disclosed more of his war experience than is revealed in print. They cite Russell’s comments comparing IRA violence to English soldiers shooting German prisoners: “Such things happen in war and always will. People in England seem to forget or not to realize that a state of war prevails in this country.”[10]“Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.

British soldier harassing a Dublin civilian. Image from the 1921 American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report.

Curfew Parliament

Facing a 10 p.m. curfew, “the sinister boundary of every Irishman’s horizon in April 1921”[11]Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017. Ewart spent his evenings seated in front of the hotel fire with a small group of regulars he called the “Curfew Parliament.” They included an Irish lawyer who “kept his own counsel”; an American consular official who “contributed little”; a middle-aged land agent; a young medical student; and an “elderly landowner, descendant of [Henry] Grattan … with his weather-beaten face, sunken eyes and picturesque untidiness.” This last man shook his fist and denounced the Crown government and its police and military forces.

“Remember, it’s a vendetta! It’s blood for blood and life for life,” he says. “I tell you, the Irish people will not forget this thing for generations–unto the third and fourth generation.”

Others seated around the fire tell Ewart not to pay too much attention to the speaker. But the author is reluctant to dismiss the “grim old Nationalist”:

The deep-set eyes, the dull light that smoldered in them, the rugged face and powerful jaw with their suggestion of fanaticism, expressed a resentment that rankled deep and a determination that would brook no wrong. On the whole, this grim old Nationalist stood for the kind of man who for better or worse has suffered, fought, and in some cases died for Ireland during later periods of her history.[12]Journey, p.23-24

NEXT: In Cork


1 ”Evening Ambush in Dublin”, The Irish Independent, April 19, 1921.
2 ”Dublin Bomb Attack,” Irish Examiner, April 18, 1921.
3 Journey, p. 6.
4 Journey, p. 11.
5 Journey, pp. 8-9.
6 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xx.
7 Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, pp. 101-109.
8 Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921, The Collins Press, 2008, p. 69, citing Richard Bennett, The Black and Tans, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, and Maurice Walsh, “Shredding the Paper Wall: Republican Propaganda and International Press Coverage” in The Irish Revolution, 1919-21: A Global History, History Ireland Publications, 2019. p. 46.
9 Journey, p. 18.
10 “Introduction”, pp. ix-x, and Journey, p. 20.
11 Journey, p. 5. Curfew time from “Cowardly, Cunning and Contemptible–The British Campaign in Dublin, 1919-1921,” by John Dorney, in The Irish Story, Feb. 16, 2017.
12 Journey, p.23-24

From Boycott to Biden: My 2020 freelance work

This year I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. I thank the editors who worked with me on these projects and hope my readers will explore their websites after enjoying the articles linked below. MH

Will Biden Shake Up a Century of US-Ireland Relations?
History News Network, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Biden.

Though annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities at the White House have become a familiar tradition, Ireland hasn’t always fared well with U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson grew agitated with Irish activists, who helped scuttle the post-WWI League of Nations with war ally Britain. John F. Kennedy also was reluctant to jeopardize America’s “special relationship” with Britain during the Cold War. Now, Joe Biden’s presidency may be a boon to Irish politics, including new focus on the island’s century-old divided status.

Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland
Irish Diaspora Histories Network, Nov. 15, 2020

Clare native Patrick J. Guilfoil returned to Ireland in 1920.

Half of the 18 American witnesses who testified a century ago about their experiences in Ireland during the War of Independence were natives of the country who returned home in 1920. Their first-person accounts of the period’s violence and unrest, totaling more than 160 pages of verbatim transcript, illustrate both Irish nationalist and American identities. Most of the nine witnesses said they returned to Ireland to visit family. Then they got caught in the crossfire of war.

The History of the Boycott Shows a Real Cancel Culture
History News Network, Aug. 2, 2020

Charles Boycott

Dozens of writers, artists and academics signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that warned of growing “censoriousness” in our culture, including “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” While so-called “cancel culture” often deploys modern social media technology, it is hardly a new tactic. It most famously dates to 1880 in the west of Ireland, when English land agent Charles Boycott’s last name became a verb for the practice.

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

The British government in Ireland wielded suppression powers over papers and printing works they deemed were “used in a way prejudicial to the public safety” or potentially bothersome to King George V, as quoted in the headline. On Sept. 20, 1919, authorities made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. An American journalist in Ireland later observed that among papers suppressed and then allowed to resume publication, “it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.”

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Hyde’s travel journal was reissued in 2019.

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” and complained “the wind would cut your nose off” during his January 1906 visit. But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather or fine scenery. As with the other stops on an eight-month U.S. tour, Hyde came to raise awareness about the Gaelic League, the language revival organization he helped found in 1893 to nurture both cultural and political nationalism.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

1919 passport photo of Ruth Russell.

American journalist Ruth Russell interviewed Éamon de Valera and other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolution, including Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne McBride, Michael Collins, Constance Georgine Markievicz, and George William Russell (no relation) during her 1919 reporting trip. Russell also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she protested outside the British embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Three stories published beyond the blog

(I am currently working on long-term projects. The linked headlines below are from stories that I’ve freelanced this year beyond the blog. Please check back for occasional new posts over the summer. Enjoy. MH)

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

At midday Sept. 20, 1919, as “squally,” unseasonably cold weather raked across Dublin, “armed soldiers wearing trench helmets” joined by “uniformed and plain clothes police” made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. (See “Secret” document related to the raids at bottom of this post.)

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Douglas Hyde opened his 1906 speech in Gaelic, and many in the audience shouted back in Irish, according to the press reports: “It is doubtful if a more completely Irish assembly has ever been gathered together in Pittsburgh.”

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

The Chicago Daily News reporter interviewed leading Irish political and cultural figures. She also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she joined a protest against British rule in Ireland, and testified favorably to the Irish republican cause before a special commission. 

See my American reporting of Irish independence series for more stories about journalists and newspaper coverage of the Irish revolution. See my Pittsburgh Irish archives for more on the city’s immigrants.

Memorandum outlining the September 1919 newspaper raids from the secret files of British authorities in Ireland. Army of Ireland, Administrative and Easter Rising Records, Subseries – Irish Situation, 1914-1922, WO 35/107, The National Archives, Kew.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Newspapers

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. For this post only, I’ve linked the headline to a .pdf copy of the story for newspaper historians.  MH


British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest1

Guest, a veteran New York City reporter and editor, devoted this story to the antagonism between foreign and domestic newspapers and the British administration in Ireland at Dublin Castle. He wrote:

Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job. If you publish something which offends Dublin Castle, the police or military raids your offices and carry away vital parts of the presses. If you criticize Sinn Féin too severely, your office is likely to be stormed and the presses smashed.

As a newspaper man, I have great respect for the Irish newspapers. When one which has been suppressed receives permission to resume publication, it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1920

Guest again referenced the Defense of the Realm Act, or “Dora,” which he noted was used to exert “strict censorship not only over dispatches sent from Ireland, but foreign news sent to Ireland as well.” This may be why Guest waited until he returned to America before writing his series about Ireland, just as United Press correspondent Ralph F. Couch had done in early 1919 after his scoop interview with prison escapee Éamon de Valera.

Guest reported the mid-January 1920, Dublin post office seizures of the New York American, Irish World, and Gaelic American,2 with “thousands of copies … carried off to Dublin Castle” because they contained articles about the Irish bond drive in America. “This was not the first seizure of its kind in Ireland and it probably will not be the last,” he wrote.

It should be remembered that Britain was not the first or only democracy to censor or suppress the press. In America, the Committee of Public Information (CPI), created in April 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, “became the U.S. ministry for propaganda,” and an “unofficial censor” of the domestic and foreign press. Journalist George Creel and the secretaries of State, Navy, and War ran the CPI, which worked with the U.S. Postal Service to block distribution of the New York-based Gaelic American and Irish World, and the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal.3

Historian Ian Kenneally has explained the main political motivation for press censorship in Ireland was to keep the views and activities of the separatist Sinn Féin from Irish newspaper readers. He continued:

The situation worsened in September 1919 when the authorities in Dublin Castle abolished the post of censor. The decision was greeted by cynicism from the Irish press with newspaper editors deriding the fact that the censor may have gone but the restrictive regulations remained in place. A wave of newspaper suppressions swept the country. This was because the Irish press now had no censor to guide them as to what would be deemed unacceptable by Dublin Castle.4

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland. Late 19th or early 20th century image. National Library of Ireland image.

By the time Guest arrived in Ireland in early 1920, more than two dozen Irish newspapers had been suppressed or had their foreign circulation banned for “a few days [or] longer periods,” he reported. The digital Irish Newspaper Archives contains 50 titles that published during 1920. An estimated 332 newspapers circulated in Ireland during the period 1900 to 1922, excluding British or American titles.5

Guest listed these papers as being suppressed:

Mayo News * Clare Champion * Newcastle-West Weekly Observer * Kings County Independent * Belfast Evening Telegraph * Dublin Evening Herald * Meath Chronicle * Galway Express * Ballina Herald * Killkenny People * Irish Republic * Southern Star (County Cork)

Freeman’s Journal nameplate

Most of Guest’s story detailed the December 1919 suppression of the Freeman’s Journal, which extended into January 1920. The action “aroused a storm of protest against the methods of Dublin Castle, in which even the press of England joined … The circumstances attending the suppression of the newspaper and the subsequent negotiations over its resumption of publication constitute a chapter of English history in Ireland that reflects little credit on the present administration.”

As mentioned at the top, Guest’s full story can seen by clicking the linked headline. The Freeman’s Jan. 28, 1920, editorial cartoon about the suppression, referenced by Guest, can be viewed here via the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Shemus Cartoon Collection. More on the history of the Freeman’s Journal is available in this October 2019 guest post by Irish historian Felix Larkin, who also wrote the linked NLI collection description.

NEXT: English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Meeting Balfour

This blog serial explored the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited 


“What you expect is the thing you never find in Ireland.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Within hours of arriving in Dublin, Hurlbert visited Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour at Dublin Castle. The American described the seat of the British government administration in Ireland as “no more of a palace than it is of a castle … People go in and out of it as freely as through the City Hall in New York.”

Dublin Castle

Balfour, then 39, was “in excellent spirits; certainly the mildest mannered and most sensible despot who ever trampled the liberties of a free people,” Hurlbert wrote, tongue only partly in cheek. “He was quite delightful about the abuse which is now daily heaped upon him in speeches and in the press.”

The American asked Balfour about agrarian agitator Micheal Davitt’s statement the previous evening at Rathkeale, where he urged his supporters to stop using the phrase “bloody Balfour.”

“Davitt is quite right, the thing must be getting to be a bore to the people, who are not such fools as the speakers take them to be,” Balfour replied. “One of the stenographers told me the other day that they had to invent a special sign for the phrase ‘bloody and brutal Balfour,’ it is used so often in the speeches.”

This sounds a little dubious, a self-aggrandizing anecdote by the up-and-coming politician to the visiting journalist. It appears from the book passage that the interview did not last very long, but Hurlbert later insisted that Balfour had “obviously unaffected interest in Ireland.”

Historian Lewis Perry Curtis Jr. later noted: “For Balfour the struggle in Ireland was between the forces of law and decency on the one hand and those of organized rebellion and robbery on the other.” A week after Hurlbert’s visit, Balfour wrote to a Parliamentary colleague, “To allow the latter to win is simply to give up on civilization.”

Hurlbert also sought an interview with Davitt, “who was not to be found at the [Irish] National League headquarters, nor yet at the Imperial Hotel, which is his usual resort …” He admitted to “sharing the usual and foolish aversion of my sex to asking questions on the highway” and being confused about the name of the major Dublin thoroughfare then transitioning from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street.

The Imperial Hotel on Sackville/O’Connell Street. Archiseek.com.

When the reporter settled on sending a note to the revolutionary, an unnamed companion warned him to seal it with wax.


“All the letters to well-know people that are  not opened by the police are opened by the nationalists clerks in the Post-Office. ‘Tis a way we’ve always had with us in Ireland.”

NEXT: Home Rule

NOTES: This post is based on pages 42 to 53 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Page 408 of Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880-1892, by Lewis Perry Curtis Jr.,  Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1963. Cites letter from Balfour to J. Roberts, 6 February 1888. This citation added May 17, 2018, four months after original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ellis Island, Annie Moore and other Irish news of 1892

Happy New Year!  Today is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Ellis Island immigration center in New York. Cork teenager Annie Moore, joined by two younger brothers, was the first immigrant to enter this busy portal to America. She stepped off a steamship gangplank and into the massive building, where she was greeted by U.S. government officials.

The “rosy-cheeked Irish girl” was handed a $10 gold piece in a brief ceremony scaled back from earlier plans for a “pretentious opening,” The New York Times reported. Her arrival in America also was noted a few days later in a one-paragraph brief on page 2 of the Irish Examiner.

The attention didn’t last long.

“Annie may have stepped off the boat and into American legend—the first of 12 million to pass through Ellis Island in its 62 years of operation—but as an actual person she seemed to dissolve the minute she reached Manhattan,” Jesse Green wrote in this 2010 New York magazine piece that explores the fact and fiction of the popular immigration story.

The Times story that helped make Annie a legend also reported that Ellen King, “on her way from Waterford, Ireland, to a small town in Minnesota,” was the first to purchase a railroad ticket at Ellis Island. And it hinted ominously of detained immigrants placed “in a wire-screened inclosure (sic).”

The arrival of these immigrants at Ellis Island was not the only Ireland-related news reported by the Times in the first days of January 1892. Other stories included:

  • The  wreck of the schooner Catherine Richards off the coast of county Kerry on 29 December 1891, killing six crew.  The sailing vessel was carrying a cargo of grain from Africa to Limerick.
  • The 31 December 1891, explosion at Dublin Castle, two months after the death of Charles Stuart Parnell, which stirred “whisperings that the ‘physical force’ party were tired of their enforced inactivity and had given up all hope of Ireland gaining her independence through Parliamentary agitation.”
  • The pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Supreme Court of Nebraska and allow James E. Boyd to become governor of the state. Boyd was born county Tyrone in 1834 and emigrated to America 10 years later with his family. Boyd’s father applied for U.S. citizenship in Ohio but never completed the process, later moving the family to Nebraska, where his son become involved in business and politics. Once Boyd won the 1890 governor’s contest, outgoing Gov. John M. Thayer challenged his citizenship and refused to yield the office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Boyd and other residents of Nebraska gained citizenship when the state joined the union in 1867.

Five years after opening, the Ellis Island center that welcomed Annie Moore burned to the ground in a massive fire that also consumed 40 year of federal and state immigration records. It is the replacement building opened in December 1900 that became the iconic symbol of U.S. immigration through 1954. This is where my Kerry-born maternal grandmother and grandfather arrived in 1912 and 1913, respectively. Today, it operates as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

The original immigration center at Ellis Island, top, opened New Year’s Day, 1892. It burned to the ground five years later. It was replaced by the iconic building, below, that is now a national museum of immigration.