Tag Archives: Freeman’s Journal

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.

T. Roosevelt’s letters to the Davitts, and more, now online

In February 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt thanked Irish activist Michael Davitt for the gift of “two blackthorns, which, at the beginning of a Presidential year, I shall accept as good omens.”1 Nine months later, Roosevelt won re-election.

Halfway through that second term, the American president wrote to Davitt’s American-born wife, the former Mary Yore of St. Joseph, Michigan, to express condolences about his death two days earlier in Dublin.  

Theodore Roosevelt

“It was my good fortune to number among my friends your late husband, Mr. Michael Davitt,” Roosevelt wrote.2 “I valued his, and I beg that you will accept my most sincere sympathy in your great bereavement.”

Both letters are part of the massive Theodore Roosevelt Collection, released online 17 October by the Library of Congress. The digital collection contains about 276,000 documents, including letters, speeches, executive orders, scrapbooks, diaries, White House reception records and press releases of his administration, as well as family records, and about 461,000 images.

Michael Davitt

Roosevelt’s 1904 thank you note to Davitt is mentioned in Laurence Marley’s 2007 biography of the County Mayo native.3 The author cites the Papers of Michael Davitt Collection at Trinity College Dublin, which is not fully digitized. Marley also noted Roosevelt’s 1906 letter Davitt’s widow.4 His source for this is an 8 June Reuter’s dispatch from Boston published in the Freemans Journal.

A day earlier, The New York Times reported that Roosevelt declined an invitation by the United Irish League to attend a memorial service for Davitt in Boston.5 The Times reprinted a 4 June letter from Roosevelt that said, “Mr. Davitt was a personal friend of mine, and I sincerely regret his loss. I have written to Mrs. Davitt to express my sympathy.”

These examples illustrate how the digitized Roosevelt papers, part of the ever-expanding universe of similar online collections, is widening historical research opportunities. I’m fortunate to have done in-person research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and at Trinity College Dublin, where I reviewed a one-year portion of the Davitt collection for my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series. (See posts 15 & 16.) But not everyone has the chance to make such onsite visits.

The Roosevelt collection contains other Ireland-related letters and documents. These include correspondence from:

  • Irish Folk Song Society, 1910
  • Irish Gaelic League, 1913
  • Irish National Foresters, 1910
  • Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, 1911
  • Irish Unionist Alliance, 1918
  • United Irish-American Society, 1911

I’m sure there is much, much more. I still getting familiar with the collection, as you should, too.

Davitt’s grave, Straide, County Mayo, February 2018.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish press

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“It was difficult to recognize the [eviction] events yesterday witnessed by us at Glenbehy [Glenbeigh] in the accounts which we read of them to-day when we got the newspapers.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Few newspaper readers pay as close attention to press coverage as reporters who cover the same topics and events for competing publications. Hurlbert, the veteran New York City journalist, was no exception.

As detailed in my previous post, Hurlbert witnessed the 22 February 1888, eviction of tenant farmer James Griffin in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, which he described as being “as dull as a parish meeting.” The American reporter, whose coverage revealed his own conservative, pro-landlord bias, was wary of Irish nationalist propaganda. “I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote.

In the 23 February 1888, entry of Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert does not name the newspaper coverage of the Griffin eviction he found “difficult to recognize.” He suggested that because “these accounts are obviously intended to be read, not in Ireland, where nobody seems to take the least interest in Irish affairs beyond their own bailiwick, but in England and America, it is only natural, I suppose, that they should be coloured to suit the taste of the market for which they are destined.”

There is a grain of truth here. News of Irish tenant evictions and the Home Rule struggle certainly attracted the attention of politicians and large immigrant communities across the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

But Irish newspaper readership was growing in the 1880s. As noted by Marie-Louise Legg and other historians, Ireland’s literacy rate increased as its population declined since the mid-century Famine. About 31 new papers, a 25 percent increase, began circulating during the period. “An important feature of the 1880s was not just the increase in numbers of provincial newspapers, but the increase in the number of newspapers which claimed to have nationalist politics,” Legg observed.

The Irish press “performed a central and essential role in the spread of the Land League,” Legg wrote. Agrarian activism “flourished on a network of communications dependent on the press, and newspaper proprietors and editors were major Land League politicians.”

James Daly of the Connaught Telegraph helped to organize the League’s first meeting in County Mayo in 1879. In Kerry, brothers Edward and Timothy Harrington, owners of the Kerry Sentinel, were both Irish nationalist MPs. North Meath MP Pierce O’Mahony generated considerable attention about mass evictions at Glenbeigh in 1887 with his newspaper article “The Truth About Glenbeigh” (where at least one reporter was assaulted as the authorities removed tenants.)

An evicted family in Glenbeigh, probably 1887.

Hurlbert probably read the 23 February 1888, issue of The Irish Examiner, published in nearby Cork. Under the headline “An Extraordinary Display of Force,” Griffin was said to have “naturally anticipated a little extra persecution on the part of the landlord,” and the tenant took the eviction “calmly and even cheerfully.” Where Hurlbert concluded that Griffin was “very well off” for not paying rent, the Examiner described his farm as “good land, as land goes in Glenbeigh,” where “the chief crop seems to be rock.”

Published beneath the page 3 news story was a letter from Father Thomas Quilter, the Glenbeigh parish priest who calmed neighboring tenants during the Griffin eviction. Quilter wrote the episode was another example of “the hydra of landlordism.” In a nod to one of Aesop’s Fables, Quilter also wrote the eviction “was a fiasco, the mountain in labor with the tiny product.”

The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper, recalled the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions in its next-day, page 5 story about Griffin. It suggested that his removal was “the first shot in a new [eviction] campaign.”

Two days later, the weekly Kerry Sentinel said the booing, horn-blowing neighbors who watched the eviction from the hillside, which Hurlbert described, “had by their presence shown their sympathy for Mr. Griffin, and that was all that was required of them, and their was no use in their coming into unnecessary collision with the police.”

All three of these pro-tenant papers confirmed that Griffin was an active leader in National League agitation, who in fact owed quite a lot of back rent. They also portrayed the 50 or so police and military on hand to carry out the eviction as brusque and heavy-handed.

On 27 February 1888, The Times of London, hardly sympathetic to tenant activism, noted Griffin’s eviction near the end of a page 7 roundup of Irish news. The story made the same point Hurlbert did in his book: while Griffin refused to pay rent on the farm he occupied illegally since his first eviction in 1883, the landlord Rowland Winn remained liable for all the property taxes.

Griffin’s eviction does not appear to have been reported in the American press, according to my search of three newspaper databases containing hundreds of titles. Plenty of other cases during this period, including the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions, were covered in detail.

NOTES: From page 215 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Pages 119-120, 125, and 135 (reporter assaulted at Glenbeigh) of Newspaper and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850 – 1892, by Marie-Louise Legg, Four Courts Press, 1999. .. Newspapers accessed via Irish Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com.

NEXT: Cork tourism

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dublin arrival

(This is part 2 of my work-in-progress blog serial about 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 )

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“I had expected to come upon unusual things and people in Ireland … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert arrived in Ireland on 30 January 1888, having departed from London the previous evening. He had been to Rome earlier, which is important for reasons that will become clear later in the book.

“We made a quick quit passage to Kingstown,” (Dún Laoghaire since 1920), across the Irish Sea from Holyhead, Wales, arriving in the morning. “A step from the boat at Kingstown puts you into the train for Dublin,” about nine miles to the north.

Kingstown in the 1890s, a few years after Hurlbert’s arrival.

Hurlbert was accompanied by Lord Ernest Hamilton, elected three years earlier as M.P. for North Tyrone. A dockside news vendor who recognized the Conservative member of parliament “promptly recommended us to buy the Irish Times and the Express,” then “smiled approval when I asked for the Freeman’s Journal also,” the American wrote. The first two papers were unionist; the third moderately nationalist.

Hurlbert’s attention was drawn to the Freeman‘s report about the previous evening’s nationalist demonstration in Rathkeale, County Limerick, about 20 miles southwest of Limerick city. Thousands of men from counties Limerick, Kerry and Clare attended the rally, which featured a speech by agrarian activist Michael Davitt. To Hurlbert, it was “chiefly remarkable for a sensible protest against the ridiculous and rantipole abuse lavished upon Mr. [Authur] Balfour by the nationalist orators and newspapers.”

Balfour

In March 1887, just 10 months earlier, Balfour had been appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle, Lord Salisbury, then the British Prime Minister. Balfour quickly introduced, and Parliament approved, a tough new law to crack down on resurgent agrarian violence and political protests in Ireland. In September 1887, three people were killed at Mitchelstown, County Cork, when officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) fired into a crowd of demonstrators. Thereafter, the Chief Secretary was nicknamed “bloody Balfour.”

According to the Freeman‘s page 6 story, Davitt said that Balfour:

“…is not a man who cares very much about the names he is called, and calling names, let me add, is not a very scientific method of fighting Mr. Balfour’s policy. Calling him ‘bloody Balfour’ may be a truthful description … but its constant use in newspapers and on platforms is becoming what the Americans term a ‘stale chestnut.’ … What we have got to recognize is the policy of this man, and what we have got to do is, to beat that policy by cool, calculating resistance.”

Davitt

Hurlbert says that “Davitt has the stuff in him of a serious revolutionary leader … bent on bringing about a thorough Democratic revolution in Ireland. I believe him to be too able a man to imagine … this can be done without the consent of Democratic England [and he knows] that to abuse an executive officer for determination and vigour is the surest way to make him popular.”

In fact, Davitt also criticized Balfour during the Rathkeale speech. Davitt noted that at the current pace of arrests under the 1887 law, it would take the chief secretary more than 500 years to imprison all supporters of Irish nationalism and tenant rights:

“If we judge of what he can do to save the life of Irish landlordism by all he has performed up to the present, we need have very little apprehension about the final result. … He will discover, if he has not done so already, that imprisonment will not beget loyalty, nor plank beds gratitude to the power he represents. It is with a nation, as with an individual, a tussle with persecution brings out great qualities of endurance, the courage of conviction, and a faith which scorns to abdicate to brute force.”

From the Dublin rail station, Hurlbert and Hamilton rode an “outside car,” a two-seat, two-wheeled, horse-pulled carriage also known as a jaunting car, to the Maples Hotel on Kildare Street, “a large, old-fashioned but clear and comfortable house.” (It was mentioned by James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916; then torn down after World War II to make way for the Department of Industry and Commerce building.) Hurlbert also writes of the nearby Leinster Hall theater, “the fashionable and hospitable Kildare Street Club,” a hideaway of Dublin’s Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and the Shelburne Hotel, “known to all Americans” and “furbished up since I last saw it.”

NEXT: Meeting Balfour

NOTES: This post is based on pages 35 to 41 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanAccess to the Freeman’s Journal via Irish Newspaper Archive. Most hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. Dublin locations mentioned in the last paragraph are hyperlinked to images in the National Library of Ireland.

The time element of the arrival from Holyhead was revised from the original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan