Tag Archives: Gaelic American

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

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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

The Tyrone-born publisher of Philadelphia’s Irish Press

Joseph McGarrity, publisher of The Irish Press in Philadelphia, played a more direct role in America’s effort to secure Irish independence than William M. Higgins, publisher of the Kentucky Irish American in Louisville. [See earlier posts on the series landing page.]

Joseph McGarrity, circa 1900.

McGarrity was born in 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, 22 years after Higgins in Syracuse, N.Y., to Famine-era Irish immigrants. McGarrity immigrated to America in 1892, a year after Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. The 18-year-old McGarrity settled in Philadelphia, where he lived until 1940–15 year longer than Higgins.

The same name Irish Press in Dublin, begun nine years after McGarrity folded his Philadelphia journal, published this description at his death:

Joseph McGarrity was big in everything. Well over six feet in his socks, with the proportions of an athlete, and the strength of a lion, he was an Irishman good to look upon. Vigour radiated from him. In his talk … he could not keep still–the hands, the toss of the head, the sudden pacing of the floor, all drove home the point he was making. His voice–the American accent making musical the hard speech of his native Tyrone–was big, too, and he did not hesitate to use it to drown yours if the day was to be won by emphasis. Yet this virile person could suddenly become as gentle as a woman.1

McGarrity pursued business enterprises, including liquor wholesaling and real estate in Philadelphia and nearby New York and Atlantic City, N.J. He also was a leading member of the Clan na Gael, the secretive Irish republican organization in the United States that worked closely with the separatist movement in Ireland.

In March 1918, a week after St. Patrick’s Day, McGarrity launched The Irish Press as the U.S. Post Office, “yielding to British diplomatic pressure,”2 banned the New York-based Irish World and the Gaelic American newspapers from the mail due to war-related suspicions of espionage.

Patrick McCartan, another Tyrone native who McGarrity picked as editor of The Irish Press, recalled in his 1932 monograph:

He believed an Irish paper with a circulation of even two thousand would keep our flag flying [in Philadelphia], till the war ended. … [Clan na Gael members] sold the Irish Press at the doors of the churches, with the result that the circulation soon passed ten thousand. … [V]olunteers took the Irish Press in suit cases, or my motor express to New York, where they sold it at the churches.3

Circulating The Irish Press in New York City aggravated the feud between McGarrity and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist in America and publisher of the Gaelic American. “Even through the [mail] ban on the Gaelic American had lapsed, the new paper competed with Devoy’s as the voice of the militant exiles,” Devoy biographer Terry Goloway wrote.4

The core of the Devoy-McGarrity fight centered on how, or whether, America should recognize the newly proclaimed Irish Republic as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson negotiated the post-war order in Paris; how funds raised in America should be used to help the Irish; and who should control the message and the money. These tensions mounted in the weeks before the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia, and the June 1919 U.S. arrival of Irish President Eamon de Valera. Golway continued:

…this distrust, verging on paranoia and evident on all sides, would cripple the American movement. As war raged in Ireland, Irish rebels in America would watch each other with studied care, looking for nuances, hints, and suggestions that the war in Ireland might conclude with something less than the Republic the men of Easter [1916] had proclaimed and died for. It was as though they knew that the end would be bitter, that compromise would taint the purity of victory–and that somebody would have to bear the blame.5

More on McGarrity and Devoy and their newspapers as this series continues.

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Joseph McGarrity’s papers are held at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin. The McGarrity Collection at Villanova University, Philadelphia, contains monographs focusing on Irish history, literature, folklore, travel, music, and Irish-American history, in addition to microfilm of his papers held in Dublin. A selection of the material, including digitized copies of The Irish Press, is available in an online collection.