Tag Archives: Frank P. Walsh

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

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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.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election outcome

Warren G. Harding, 1920.

In the November 1920 U.S. presidential election, Irish-American voters joined the overwhelming majority, including newly enfranchised women, who rejected the pro-British policies of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio, overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox by an Electoral College margin of 404 to 127.

The election occurred a week after the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney in a London prison and just a few weeks before “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin. In the United States, Éamon De Valera was laying the ground work for the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland would begin hearings in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month.

The U.S. election outcome was not front page news in The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, or the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Washington. John Devoy’s Gaelic American editorialized that Irish-American voters:

…did not care particularly for Harding, but they were cut to defeat the League of Nations, and they took the most practical way of accomplishing that object. The result is that the League of Nations is dead in America, and all the efforts of all the Anglomaniacs, International Financiers, peace cranks and the British agents will not be able to restore the corpose to life.1

In Ireland, the Irish Independent quoted from the president-elect’s March 1920 letter to Frank P. Walsh, member of American Commission on Irish Independence:

I have a very strong conviction myself of the very great part played by Americans of Irish ancestry in winning the independence and in the making of our great United States. More than that, I have very great and sympathetic feeling for the movement to bring about the independence of Ireland and the establishment of Irish nationality, which is the natural aspiration of any liberty-loving people.2

Few people on either side of the Atlantic were fooled by such platitudes. The Independent noted Harding’s earlier Senate votes against the Irish cause, as Devoy also had pointed out during the campain, when he backed another Republican senator. Again, the outcome was more a vote against Wilson and the Democrats than for Harding.

Democrats were bitter. George White, chairman of the Democaratic National Committee, said:

The fate of Irish freedom has been settled adversely. Men and women of Irish blood have voted for the candidate who has declared the Irish question to be a domestic problem of Great Britain, in which we can have no official concern. With their support the American people have returned the Irish problem to Downing Street.3

Once he took office in March 1921, Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as the nation focused on domestic affairs and Ireland deteriorated into civil war.4

Earlier posts on the 1920 U.S. presidential election:

1920 Irish bond drive, U.S. state chairmen list

Ireland’s breakaway government, Dáil Éireann, in 1920 began to raise money in America through the sale of small denomination bond certificates. Éamon de Valera launched the effort Jan. 17 in New York City with great fanfare. The kickoff “Irish Loan Week” continued through Jan. 26.

As Robin Adams writes on the Century Ireland blog:

This was a period of intense canvassing, with promotional events in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Widening its geographical footprint, the drive was then launched around the country at public meetings. The initial focus of each state was the large cities, with the less populated areas to follow. The meetings were addressed by prominent local personalities, but as ‘President of the Irish Republic’ de Valera was the main attraction.

The American Commission on Irish Independence (ICII) helped to organize the bond drive across the country. This was the non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans that in 1919 visited Ireland and lobbied on its behalf at the Paris peace conference. ICII Chairman Frank P. Walsh of Kansas City, a national vice chairman of the Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), directed a roster of state chairmen selected to coordinate central committees representing geographic areas, rather than smaller communities or individual organizations. 1

“A multitude of meetings throughout the country are being planned by the state chairmen and the committees working under their direction … and I am sure that the educational benefit of the drive to the American people will be as great as the satisfaction all lovers of liberty will get from knowing that they have worked in the Cause of Liberty in Ireland,” Walsh said.2

Historian Francis M. Carroll writes:

These leaders and their staffs were to utilize the manpower of local Irish groups, such as the Friends, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish Progressive League, the Knights of Columbus, and others, to do the canvassing and selling. If a separate sales force were needed it could be created when and where appropriate. … Handbooks, promotional literature, and letters of advice poured out of the New York headquarters to inform and guide the organizers across the country.”3

The list of 40 state chairmen below comes from The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn.4 No information is provided in the paper for nine states left blank5; smudged, unreadable letters or numbers are represented by ?. I’ve added details about many of the chairman from newspaper stories and the 1920 U.S. Census. Readers are encouraged to provide additional information.

Like Walsh, six other chairmen were FOIF national officers from the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. Later in the year, several became state directors of the rival, pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. At least six of the chairmen were Irish immigrants; others were first-generation Irish Americans. Their work as lawyers and judges, physicians, bankers, and merchants demonstrates ascendant Irish middle class 70 years after Famine immigration.

  • Alabama: Frank J. Thompson, 65 St. Francis St., Mobile. Real estate salesman publicly defended de Valera against calls for his deportation from the state’s governor.6
  • Arizona:
  • Arkansas: James E. Gray, Gans Building, Little Rock
  • California: Judge Bernard J. Flood,  City Hall, San Francisco. State Superior Court jurist.
  • Colorado:
  • Connecticut: John J. Splain, Bijou Theatre, New Haven. Theatre manager; both parents born in Ireland.7. FOIF national vice president.8
  • Delaware: John F. Malloy, 1402 Ford Building, Wilmington. Lawyer and city official.
  • District of Columbia: William M. Phelan, Washington Savings Bank. Born in Ireland about 1862; emigration year unknown; naturalized U.S. citizen in 1895.9 As the bank’s president, in December 1920 he also served as treasure of a fund-raising committee for a parade to honor Muriel MacSwiney, widow of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, who visited Washington to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. He also received subscriptions to assist the stricken town of Mallow, County Cork, after a British raid.10
  • Florida:
  • Georgia: E.J. O’Connor, 1320 Green St., Augusta
  • Idaho: J.J. McCue, Idaho Building, Boise City. Lawyer, father born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Boise, Ada, Idaho; Roll: T625_287; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 20.[/note]
  • Illinois: Richard W. Wolfe, 5344 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Real estate proprietor; born in Ireland; emigration and naturalization unknown.11 FOIF national trustee.12
  • Indiana: Judge James E. Deery, 312 Law Building, Indianapolis
  • Iowa: Dr. William P. Slattery, 9th & Locust Sts. Dubuque. Physician; born in Ireland; emigrated in 1886; naturalization unknown.13
  • Kansas: Judge Michael J. Manning, 1708 Central Ave., Kansas City. Hardware store merchant; both parents born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Kansas City Ward 5, Wyandotte, Kansas; Roll: T625_556; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 185.[/note]
  • Kentucky: Thomas F. Maguire, Louisville. Dry good merchant; both parents born in Ireland.14
  • Louisiana: A.G. Williams, Maison Blanche Building, New Orleans
  • Maine:
  • Maryland: M.P. Kehoe, Equitable Building, Baltimore. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated in 1898; naturalized in 1905.15 Vice president of the Celtic Club, 1916; President of the Shamrock Club, 1918. 16
  • Massachusetts: John F. Harrington, 66 High St., Worcester. Railroad station freight handler and union member; both parents born in Ireland.[1920 U.S. Census, Leominster Ward 2, Worcester, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_747; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 335, and multiple mentions in the Fitchburg (Mass) Sentinel, 1915-1925.[/note]
  • Michigan: Patrick J. Murphy, Buhl Block, Detroit. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated 1870.[1920 U.S. Census, Detroit Ward 1, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_803; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 38.[/note] FOIF national trustee.17
  • Minnesota: Edward T. Foley, Gilfillan Block, St. Paul. Railroad contractor.18
  • Mississippi: William Vollor, First National Bank Building, Vicksburg. Lawyer. “I am gratified, indeed, that there are so few people here in Vicksburg who cannot appreciate the right that Ireland claims for liberty and nationhood. … opposition here only adds to the generous response that our good people gave to President de Valera’s appeal for justice for the oppressed people of Ireland.”19
  • Missouri: A.J. Donnelly, 3846 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis
  • Montana: James E. Murray, 35 N. Main St., Butte. Laywer. FOIF national trustee.20 In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.21.
  • Nebraska: Col. P.S. Heafey, 2611 Farnum St., Omaha
  • Nevada:
  • New Hampshire: James J. Griffin, 789 Beach St., Manchester. Grocery merchant; both parents born in Ireland.22
  • New Jersey:
  • New Mexico:
  • New York: William Bourke Cockran, 100 Broadway, New York City. Lawyer and former U.S. Congressman; chief of Tammany Hall, the Democratic party machine in New York.23
  • North Carolina: Dr. John S. Clifford, 609 Commercial Bank Building, Charlotte. In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.24.
  • North Dakota: Hon. John Carmody, 5 Huntington Block, Fargo
  • Ohio: M.P. Mooney, Society Savings Bank, Cleveland. Lawyer and member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.25.
  • Oklahoma: Arthur P. Sweeney, 204 Robinson Building, Tulsa
  • Oregon: Dr. Andrew W. Smith, Medical Building, Portland
  • Pennsylvania: Hon. Eugene C. Bonniwell, 690 City Hall, Philadelphia. Municipal Court judge had been Democratic Party nominee for governor in 1918; member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.26 See note for list of Pennsylvania county chairmen.27
  • Rhode Island: Hon. Cornelius C. Moore, ???? Thompson St., Newport. FOID national trustee.28
  • South Carolina: Hon. John P. Grace, 45 Broad St. Charleston. FOIF national vice president.29
  • South Dakota:
  • Tennessee: Edward F. Walsh, 600 Market St., Knoxville. In November 1920, was named state director of the pro-de Valera American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.30.
  • Texas:
  • Utah: Thomas Maginnis, Eecles Building, Ogden. Lawyer.
  • Vermont: Dr. John V. Derven, Putney
  • Virginia: Daniel G. O’Flaherty, 11??? Mutual Building, Richmond
  • Washington: G.P. Gleason, 2nd & Madison Sts., Seattle
  • West Virginia: Timothy S. Scanlon, Huntington. City official and state roads commissioner; Catholic.31
  • Wisconsin: Joseph P. Callan, 10?0 First National Bank Building, Milwaukee. Lawyer; born in Ireland; emigrated 1895; naturalized in 1900.32 FOIF national trustee.33
  • Wyoming: Michael Purcell, Casper

At the end of January 1920, the Standard reported:

The work of organization is farther advanced in some States than in others … As might have been expected, the most rapid progress has been made in those States where there have been numerous meetings during the past year, where there has  been plentiful publicity, and where the various societies friendly to the Irish cause have been active. In such places it was only necessary to name a campaign period and the campaign organization required produced itself with surprising speed. It did not take long to learn, however, that this desirable condition does not exist in the same degree of perfection in every State … Probably the most forward in the matters of preparation are the areas around New York and Philadelphia [which] contain more people of Irish descent than are found in many Southern or Western States combined.34

The bond drive opened with a public target of $10 million and private expectation of $5 million. Just over $5.1 million was collected. More in future posts of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Witness

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

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The Library of Congress received What’s the matter with Ireland?, Russell’s expansion of her 1919 Daily News reporting, on July 20, 1920, nearly a year after she returned from Ireland.1 The front page of that day’s Washington Post reported on a “night of terror” in Cork city, as civilians threw home-made bombs at two military lorries in reprisal for an earlier “boyonetting incident” and “indiscriminate firing” by British troops, the latest example of how violence had escalated since Russell’s departure.2

Publisher Devin-Adair Co. of New York does not appear to have aggressively marketed the 160-page book, which was not widely reviewed. Russell’s split from the Daily News and participation in the British Embassy protests3 are not mentioned in the reviews or advertising that I have located. The book’s title, which implies something is wrong with Ireland, may have soured ardent nationalists able to select other 1920 offerings with more uplifting names, such as The Invincible Irish and Why God Loves the Irish.

Original edition of Russell’s 1920 book at the Library of Congress. Digital versions of the book are widely available online.

The New York Tribune’s review suggested the title was “misleading since this little volume … offers not a solution but a statement of the problem.”4 It added: “Her volume is a forthright presentation of the situation as it offers itself to the inquiring sojourner, given in the journalist’s terms of first-hand observation and current statistics.”

The Tribune also found: “Not the least interesting actors in the Irish drama are the women leaders of the revolutionary party.” It pointed to Russell’s reporting of Countess Markievicz; Maud Gonne McBride; suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst; writer and activist Susan Langstaff Mitchell; and Countess Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett, president of the United Irishwomen.

The Catholic World was tougher on Russell: “She succeeds in rousing our sympathy for the poor working girls of Dublin, and other unfortunate people of the city and the bog-field. But when she takes up the political she seems unable to do justice to her subject. … There is no doubt Miss Russell’s intentions are good, but it is doubtful if such books as this will help Ireland’s cause.”5

The Chicago-based Illinois Catholic Historical Review supported the hometown author. It described Russell as a “brilliant young writer” whose “powerful book, in language simple and direct, and yet at times dramatic or poetic” was worthwhile for anyone “interested in knowing the truth about the Irish question.”6 By coincidence, the same issue of the Review featured a story on “The Irish of Chicago,” which mentioned Russell’s editor father and referred readers to the review of his daughter’s “most interesting book.”7

An advertisement for the book8 declared: “Only a determined woman can get at the bottom of the facts,” and Russell “saw Ireland, its people, and its problems as no one else has seen them.” It quoted Eamon de Valera’s January 1920 letter from the front matter, and a testimonial from Frank P. Walsh, a member of the American Commission on Irish Independence, whom Russell met in Ireland. He wrote:

“It is a most valuable contribution to the literature of Ireland. It is a breezy, well-told narrative of Irish life, is more human and charming than anything which I have read, while the economic background is presented in a way that should bring home with terrific force to the reader the real heart of the Irish controversy.”

Here’s the full ad:

On a personal level, Russell dedicated the book to her widowed mother, who she lived with in Chicago. As the year drew to a close, the reporter received one more opportunity to publicly address her experiences in Ireland and her views on its struggle for independence.

COMMISSION TESTIMONY

Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, in 1920 organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. He invited U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to establish a “Committee of One Hundred” to form and oversee the eight-member
commission of inquiry.

“The situation in Ireland was a proper subject of concern for all peoples claiming either humanity or civilization,” the commission summarized. “It seemed to us that we could best serve the cause of peace by placing before English, Irish and American public opinion the facts of the situation, free from both agonized exaggeration and merciless understatement; for a knowledge of the facts might reveal their cause, and recognition of that cause might permit its cure, by those whose purpose was not to slay but to heal.”9

The commission held six hearings from November 1920 through January 1921, with 18 witnesses from Ireland; two from England (others were invited, but declined); and 18 Americans. The opening session came three weeks after the hunger-strike death of Irish nationalist and Cork Mayor Terance MacSwiney generated international headlines. His widow and sister testified in early December; Russell appeared a week later, Dec. 15, 1920, at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late Cork mayor, testified Dec. 8, 1920, at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a week before Ruth Russell. Library of Congress.

Commission Chairman Frederic Howe called the session to order at 10:05 a.m.10 After stating her name for the record, Russell told the commission she “was employed” by the Daily News “when I went to Ireland … as foreign correspondent studying special economic, social, and political conditions.” She was not asked why she no longer worked at the paper. Questioned about her investigative methods, Russell answered she “used both interviews and personal experiences,” including living in the Dublin slums.

And her views about the Irish republican leaders she met?

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell replied. “The crowd of Sinn Féin leaders … were, I think, the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”11 In Russell’s opinion “it would have been impossible for these brilliant young leaders to rally the forces in Ireland behind them unless the people were driven to revolt by the economic conditions that are pressing into them.” She blamed Protestant politicians in the province of Ulster, today’s Northern Ireland, who “work on the religious prejudices of the people, so that the rich mill owners profit by the division of the people, especially the laboring people.”12

For more than two hours,13 Russell answered the commission’s questions about political, economic,  social, educational, and religious conditions. Jane Addams, the Chicago-based progressive social reformer referenced in one of Russell’s Daily News stories, was one of the eight commissioners. She asked Russell about Irish schools, labor laws, and housing conditions.

Near the end of session commission attorney Basil M. Manly asked Russell how conditions in Ireland compared to the streets of New York, Chicago, or other American cities.

“I felt perfectly safe,” Russell replied. “I walked from the telegraph office in Limerick at two o’clock in the morning through perfectly black streets to my hotel. I inquired the direction several times, and was finally assisted to my hotel by a member of the Black Watch (an ancient form of civilian night guard). But there was no interference with my progress at all. … I only had one unpleasant experience while I was in Ireland. It was about three o’clock in the morning in [the Galway] railroad station; but that was all.”14

Manly did not ask her for details.

PRESS COVERAGE

Associated Press coverage of Russell’s testimony identified her 1919 Irish reporting trip for the Daily News,15, and this detail was repeated by newspapers that used the wire service across the country. These reports did not identify Russell with the April 1920 demonstrations at the British Embassy, which also was absent in her testimony. The Daily News did not publish a story about that day’s commission hearing.

The AP highlighted Russell’s comment that religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster were “artificially worked up.”16 The Irish News and Chicago Citizen quoted her more localized remark that “in some of the southern towns of my own state there is more religious intolerance than there is in Ireland.”17 The Irish Press, Philadelphia, reported Russell’s testimony that blamed British authorities for economic distress in Ireland by turning small farms to gazing land and exporting cattle on the hoof, thus idling farm laborers and industries dependent on agriculture.18 

Coverage of that day’s commission testimony appeared two weeks later in Irish newspapers and focused more on the testimony of nationalist legislator Laurence Ginnell. The Evening Herald of Dublin reported that Russell “gave a terrible picture of poverty in Ireland, and on sweating in mills and factories in the North of Ireland.”19

In spring 1921 the commission released a 152-page interim report. It quoted Russell only once: “On the whole, testified Miss Ruth Russell of Chicago, ‘I think there is possibly the greatest unanimity there that has ever existed in any country of the world.’ “20 Her response had been to a question from U.S. Sen. David I. Walsh, a Massachusetts Democrat, who asked Russell if she had ever known “unanimity of opinion upon any great question anywhere in the world?”21

Iconic image of an IRA patrol on Grafton Street in Dublin during the Irish Civil War.

Russell was mentioned in some press coverage of the report, which British officials dismissed as biased toward the revolutionaries. Fast-moving developments in Ireland continued to eclipse Russell’s 1919 reporting, as violence escalated up until a July 1921 truce. Five months later, Irish and British authorities agreed to treaty that created the 26-county, majority Catholic, Irish Free State, while the 6-county, predominantly Protestant, Northern Ireland remained part of Britain. The dominion status of southern Ireland fell short of the full republic sought by Sinn Féin leaders.

Bitter disappointment about this outcome in 1922 erupted in a bloody civil war in the Free State that lasted for the next two years. By then, Russell had slipped from the spotlight of Irish politics and returned to a quieter life in Chicago.

NEXT:  The rest of Russell’s life, and my personal thoughts, in the series conclusion.

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”

Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2

“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3

In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.

Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:

Also see:

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.