Tag Archives: George William Russell

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Rising & Partition

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.

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Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and less than five months after the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, began the island’s political partition. In Dublin, the author observes “the ruined Post Office in Sackville [O’Connell] Street was the only standing reminder of what had gone before.”[1]Journey, p. 8. The iconic building at the center of the 1916 rebellion would not reopen until 1929.

On May 3, 1921, the official enactment day of partition, Ewart boarded a train “for the Northeast, being entertained throughout the journey by one of those merry old Irishmen who per se proclaim ‘Ireland a nation.’ ” The passenger also warns the author of the ” ‘narrow-minded Northern bigots … the men you are going to meet.’ “[2]Journey, pp.209-210. Ewart observes campaigning for the new Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast, but returns to England before the election.

Wilfrid Ewart

In some of his other writing, “Ewart expresses concern that the British interpretation of the Irish conflict made so little impact on world opinion as to raise questions of whether there was any  coherent justification for British actions,” Bew/Maume say. “It is clear Ewart supported a compromise settlement [in Ireland, and] … clearly feels more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists he interviews, who are leaning towards a Dominion settlement in hopes of saving something from the wreckage, than their more confident and intransigent Ulster brethren.”[3]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Like other journalists who visited Ireland during the war, Ewart made an honest effort to report a range of Irish opinions–from combatants, political and social leaders, and regular citizens–on both sides of the independence question and both sides of the new border. Unsurprising for the time, he did not devote much attention to the views of women.

Below are direct quotations from some of the people Ewart interviewed, or his reporting of their remarks, about the 1916 rising and 1921 partition. Most are identified by name and key background details, including the relevant pages in Journey. Read 100 years later, some were more prescient than others.

Rising:

Liam de Róiste

“The Easter Rebellion in spite of its failure drew all Irishmen together, and the executions that followed made an enduring impression. All the while we were told we were fighting for the principle of Self-Determination and the Rights of Small Nations. Then came the Peace Conference, ‘Wilsonism,’ and the League of Nations. These set people thinking and gave a constructive impetus to the movement. Since 1916, you must understand, the state of affairs has become steadily worse. The real change of feeling in this city began with the murder of Lord Mayor MacCurtain. The Government’s militant policy has had exactly the reverse effect of that intended.”Sinn Féin official Liam de Róiste in Cork, p. 41.

“Cork used to be a good enough place to live in. We prospered under the Union–till 1916.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

William O’Brien

“I have said my say. My friends and myself warned them of what was coming years ago. We could have shown them the way out through a policy of conference and conciliation. They paid no heed to us. Now they’ve gone back to it again, but they’ve got to deal with men who act first and talk afterwards.”–Former home rule M.P., newspaper editor, and semi-retired Irish nationalist William O’Brien in Mallow, p. 57

“The Easter Rebellion was condemned as a useless waste of life by many Irishmen. It raised the cry of ‘England’s tyranny’ certainly; it gave the impetus to violence. But it was the executions afterwards that left a rankling bitterness.  … The rising of 1916 gave a new soul to Ireland; she found her soul that day. ”Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, pp. 87-88

They got on well with their neighbors, taking no interest in politics, but keeping outside them as much as possible. The first change occurred after the 1916 rebellion. A subtle hostility began to manifest itself among the neighbors; custom fell off; when the W.’s went into other shops, they were told English customers were not wanted. In 1917, when Mr. de Valera visited the district, definite signs of enmity became apparent. One day a procession passed their windows, shouting ‘Bloody Protestants!’ [and] ‘To hell with the King!’Ewart’s reporting of “W.”, age 69, and his wife, who moved from England to Limerick in about 1908, pp. 106-107

“The Easter Rebellion, and the executions after it, brought the whole country to its feet. Coming to later days, the repeated executions–in Cork and Dublin–and the rule of the Crown Forces have made for greater and more bitter resentment every day. ”–An unnamed citizen at the Birr market, County Offaly, as Ewart leaves the South and enters “the less actively rebellious but more problematic Midlands,” p. 114.

The General Post Office in Dublin immediately after the 1916 Rising. It was still closed when Ewart visited in April 1921.

Partition:

“Who wants the Government of Ireland Act? Why, of 102 Irish M.P.’s not one has voted for it!”–Irish nationalist writer and poet George Russell, p. 19.

His defense of the Government of Ireland Act–and he seemed to be its only defender was based on the belief that if the Irish people as a whole desired a Republic or a Dominion, they desired one thing more–a settlement. He regarded the Act, moreover, as a good one in itself, not indeed as an instrument capable of settling the Irish Question, but as a transition measure which by bringing the parties together and as a pledge–that pledge so often demanded of the Government by the irreconcilables–contained the germ and the promise of better things.–Ewart describing the views of “a Cork newspaperman,” p. 50

“No interest is taken in the Partition Act here because it divides the country, because that division would become accentuated instead of the reverse, and because it would express itself through the boycott of Belfast, as at present, and by means of retaliation between Protestant and Catholic.Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, p. 85.

“Nobody has any use for the Government of Ireland Act hereabouts. It will fail.”Unnamed citizen at the Birr market, p. 114

John P. Hayden

“[The Act is] no good in its present form. The Southern Irish see in it two things: (1) Partition; (2) Plunder. It divides the country on sectarian lines and imposes a huge tribute on us. Ireland, mind you, has to pay for all services, some of which she will not control herself … Is it fair that six counties should have the same representation as 26, as in the Council for All Ireland? Another extraordinary thing about the Act is that there should be a Senate in each Parliament nominated by the Crown in the case of the South and elected by the dominant party in the case of the North?”John P . Hayden, Irish nationalist M.P. for South Roscommon and a leading resident Mullingar, pp. 136-137.

“The present Act of Parliament is the only form of Home Rule acceptable to us. We never asked for the Government of Ireland Act, but in my opinion it’s a good Act, and we mean loyally to work it, whatever happens. In doing that we’re only carrying out the law. … Through the Council of Ireland … North and South would be brought into constant contact, and the possibilities of ultimate union are on the whole great.”Hugh Pollack, Northern Ireland finance minister-designate, pp. 156-157.

“There can be no question of a lasting settlement through the Partition Act. Under it, the British Government keeps everything that matters for the commercial and industrial prosperity of Ireland. The number of our members at Westminster is reduced. No common trade arrangements are possible while you have one form of Government in the North and another in the South. On the other hand, we have to pay eighteen millions a year to the English Exchequer, and England generously returns a small proportion of it! The root of the matter is that it is not to the interest of England to have us as a commercial rival.”–Professor Robert M. Henry of Queens University Belfast, p. 164.

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921, a month after Ewart’s departure.

“Nobody wants the Partition Act, nobody in the South cares a brass button for it. Good or bad, it’s no use giving a man something he doesn’t want  … And the finance of the thing is rotten. … The dual legislature is enough in itself to ruin this unfortunate country.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

“Ulster remains as ever, the crux of the question. But I am convinced that if a Parliament sat in Dublin, Ulster would soon want to come into it. The Partition Act is useless if only because nobody in the country wants it except Antrim, Armagh, and Down. Far from making for a united Ireland, under it North and South would steadily drift apart.”John Dooley, member of the Kings (now Offaly) County Council and representative at the 1917 Irish Convention, p. 116

“Nobody trusts the present Government. The Partition Act is a useless farce; nobody wants it. A terrible account lies at Sir Edward Carson’s door.”Archdeacon Arthur Ryan of Birr, p. 120.

NEXT: Mysterious Mr. X.

References

References
1 Journey, p. 8.
2 Journey, pp.209-210.
3 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Correspondent

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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Russell arrived in Ireland the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 1919, a week before her 30th birthday. Over the next few months she reported from Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and rural Dungloe in County Donegal.1 At least two dozen of her dispatches appeared in the Chicago Daily News, and other U.S. and Canadian newspapers that subscribed to its foreign news service. 

She was not the only Daily News reporter in Ireland, which had attracted scores of American and other foreign correspondents after Dáil Éireann, the break away parliament of the Irish Republic, was established Jan. 21, 1919. As Maurice Walsh notes, “The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.”2

Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

Russell’s first story from Ireland appeared in the Daily News on March 18, 1919, a day after the newspaper recognized St. Patrick’s Day with a full page of “greetings from noted Irish writers to their compatriots in Chicago.”3 She covered the prison release and triumphal Dublin return of Constance Georgine Markievicz, known as “Countess” Markievicz, who in December 1918 became the first woman elected to the British Parliament. As a separatist Sinn Féin candidate, Markievicz won a Dublin constituency while incarcerated for her role in Ireland’s anti-conscription protests earlier that year, months before the armistice.

Markievicz’s election and the Sinn Féin route of old guard Irish parliamentary nationalists received considerable press coverage in America. Her release from prison and decision to join the revolutionary parliament in Dublin was largely ignored by U.S. newspapers, giving Russell a scoop. Her story4 did not contrast Markievicz’s historic election win to American women still struggling for the vote. Her home state of Illinois would not ratify the 19th amendment until June, and U.S. suffrage waited until August 1920. 

Instead, Russell offered a narrative, scene-setting approach to the homecoming that differed from most straight-news reporting of the day. She even placed herself in the action, close enough for Markievicz to whisper an aside. Listen to a lightly edited passage of the story, read by my wife, and reproduced below:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

Russell interviewed other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolutionary movement, including: 

  • Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, describing his “white, ascetic, young–he is thirty-seven–face lined with determination”5;
  • “sharp-mustached, sardonic little”6 Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Féin founder;
  • Maud Gonne McBride, widow of an Irish revolutionary leader, “tall and slim in her deep mourning”7;
  •  “keen, boyish” Michael Collins8, the revolution’s guerrilla warfare strategist; and
  • George William Russell [no relation], “the famous AE, poet, painter and philosopher, the ‘north star of Ireland.’ ”9

Russell witnessed the Dublin arrival of the American Commission on Irish Independence, a non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans sent to the 1919 Paris peace conference to lobby for Ireland. She reported on a failed effort in the international race to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight. 

The three members of the Irish-American delegation, at right, receive 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.

As in her Markievicz piece, Russell was self-referential in other reporting, in both first and third person, such as her March 1919 interview with de Valera, then hiding from British authorities: “In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows Mr. de Valera was talking to me as a representative of the Chicago Daily News,” she wrote. Later in the same story, Russell described being escorted from the secret meeting location: “In the darkness the correspondent was guided along a narrow garden walled to a waiting car.”10

IN THE SHADOWS

Russell’s reporting was at its best when she mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, those in the shadow of the revolution. She lived in the Dublin slums with families crammed into one-room tenements. She applied for hard-to-find jobs with other women, many caring for children and supporting unemployed husbands and brothers. “Their constant toil makes the women of Ireland something less than well-cared for slaves,” Russell wrote.11

Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.

She interviewed workers and labor leaders in the short-lived Limerick soviet, at Belfast textile mills, and outside a soon to open Ford-owned tractor plant:  “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” she reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”12

Most of Russell’s stories were published on inside pages of the Daily News with dispatches of its other foreign correspondents. A few times the paper promoted her by name in secondary headlines, such as “Ruth Russell Describes Barring of Workers from Home Town” (Limerick), and “Ruth Russell Tells Pathetic Story of Why Women Go to England”.13 It is unclear if this was an attempt by the Daily News to market her as a “stunt girl” reporter, or leverage the reputation of her late father, Martin J. Russell, one of Chicago’s pioneering newspaper editors.

In this reading from “Why Women Go to England”, Russell describes looking for work in Dublin with recently unemployed female munitions workers, like those she had labored with two years earlier in a Chicago armament plant.14:

Down a puddly, straw-strewn lane we were blown by the wind to a candy factory. It was next in factory size to the biscuit plant. Dublin considers a 50 to 100 hand plant very large. At this place, it was possible to earn $4.50 a week, but the thumbed sign on the door read: No hands wanted. … Up the narrow wooden treaded stairs we mounted to a big room where girls sitting sideways on a long table nailed yellow wooden candy containers together. Through a crack between the planks of the floor we could see hard red candies swirling below. As the melting sleet was pooling off our hats, the ticking aproned manager came out to sputter: Can’t you read? … That night along Gloucester Street, past the Georgian mansions built before the union of Ireland and England, flat uprising structures from behind whose verdigrised brass trimmed doors came the mummers of many membered tenement families–I walked until I came to a shining brass plated door. “Why don’t you go to England?” was the first question the matron of the working girls home put to me when I told her I could get no work. “All the girls are.”  

Note how this story was published on June 3 but has a May 5 dateline.

IRISH CHILDREN, CHICAGO CONNECTIONS

Russell detailed malnourishment, mental illness, and other social problems in Ireland’s cities and rural western counties. She reported about children, teachers, and schools, likely drawing on her own earlier classroom training. Perhaps 175,000 of 500,000 enrolled children did not attend school; and only 3,820 of 13,538 teachers were efficient because their pay was low, $405 to $1,440 per year, she reported from government data.15

“Dead, mentally dead, teachers are frequent in Ireland,” Russell wrote.

Russell followed Daily News Publisher Victor F. Lawson’s advice about the paper’s correspondents to stay close to the native people. Here is an example from her stay in the Dublin slums16:

Then as a lodger I was given the only chair at the breakfast table. The mother and girl sat at a plank bench and supped their tea from their saucerless cups. As there was no place else to sit, the children took their bread and jam as they perched on the bed, and when they finished, surreptitiously wiped their fingers on the brown-covered hay mattress. Before we were through they had run to the streets to warm their cold legs inside the fender till the floor was tracked with mud from the street, ashes from the grate, and bits of crumbling bread.

Russell named other children in her reporting, detailing their young ages and harsh circumstances:

  • Six-year-old Mary Casey “has some difficulty curling her arm about the papers she carries” as the youngest member of the Dublin Newsgirls’ Club.
  • “Eight-year-old Michael Mallin drags kelp out of a rush basket and packs it down for fertilizer between the brown ridges of the little hand-spaded field in Donegal.”
  • “Nine-year-old Patrick Gallagher may go to the Letterkenny Hiring Fair to sell his baby services to a farmer.”
  • “Ten-year-old Margaret Duncan can be found sitting hunched up on a doorstep in a back street in Belfast.”17 

And like any good reporter, Russell found Chicago connections in Ireland to relay back to her hometown readers: 

  • Fr. J. P. Flannigan at St. Mary’s procathedral in Dublin, who led a committee of Catholic priests trying to quell Irish labor unrest, had studied in Rome with Archbishop George William Mundelein of Chicago.18
  • Progressive social reformer Jane Addams of Chicago helped send rubber boots to war-torn Germany through the Women’s International League.19
  • “Chicago girl” Stella M. Franklin, former secretary-treasurer of the city’s Woman’s Trade Union League, worked to improve housing conditions throughout the British Isles.20
  • Russell’s story on the Irish economy questioned whether England prevented Ireland from developing “all the Chicago side industries that can be established in connection with the cattle trade.” Money was lost shipping the animals across the Irish Sea for slaughter and processing. Russell reported that a London firm “has just issued a prospectus for a plant designed for slaughtering, tanning, chandlery, glue making, and which is intended to transform Drogheda in Ireland into a Chicago.”21 

Some of Russell’s stories published up to two months after their dateline. Her byline from Ireland appeared in American newspapers at least through October 1919, though she returned home in August.22

In 1920, Russell would expand her reporting into magazine articles and her book, What’s the matter with Ireland? She also would take on a new role of publicly speaking out for Irish independence beyond the printed page.

NEXT: Russell’s Irish activism in America.