Tag Archives: Harry Boland

U.S. press on Harry Boland’s ‘race vendetta’ remark

Irish Republican and Sinn Fein politician Harry Boland in 1919. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Irish separatist Harry Boland urged a “race vendetta” against the British empire during a Jan. 6, 1921, speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The U.S. press jumped on his comment, reported in several variations, as highlighted:

  • “If England does not stop its campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta among the millions of Irish throughout the world and take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Times[1]“Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.
  • “If England does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland we will preach a race vendetta all over the world, and when an Irishman is killed we will demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”–New York Herald[2]“Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921
  • “I say as calmly and deliberately as I can, that if Britain does not stop her campaign of murder in Ireland, then we will preach to our millions scattered all over the world, a race vendetta, and demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The Irish Times, Philadelphia[3]“No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the … Continue reading

Some papers simply quoted the phrase “race vendetta” in the headlines or body of their story, then used other direct quotes from the speech. Either way, Boland’s remark added to the swirl of Irish news in the American press at the start of 1921:

  • Lord Mayor of Cork Donal O’Callaghan on Jan. 4 arrived as a stowaway aboard a commercial ship at Newport News, Virginia. He became the subject of a deportation debate as U.S. officials also renewed their attention on Boland’s status in the country without a passport.
  • The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland continued its hearings on allegations of British atrocities in the two-year-old Anglo-Irish War. The American Committee for Relief in Ireland launched a separate effort to raise money for civilian victims of the war.
  • The upstart American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) and the established Friends of Irish Freedom publicly feuded over the best way for the Irish in America to secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

One of the first complaints about Boland’s broadside came from Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation magazine and a key supporter of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Villard addressed a letter to Boland, which the writer released to the press, to “protest most vigorously” the race vendetta comments “if they are correctly reported in the press.”[4]Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The top of Villard’s letter to Boland. (Harvard)

Villard quoted Boland as calling for “a race vendetta in America” on behalf of the Irish cause. His letter continued:

…any suggestion that the (Irish) struggle be transferred to this side of the ocean will be resented throughout this country by all right-thinking Americans. The one hope of winning large numbers of Americans to the Irish cause is first to prove the justice of it, and second, to refrain from any acts of violence either in Ireland or here. … If any considerable number of our citizens of Irish birth and sympathies should act upon your advice and start a vendetta in this country against things or persons English over here, a justified wave of resentment would sweep from one side of the nation to the other and make it impossible for the Irish cause to obtain further hearing. Do not make any mistake; American interest in self-determination for Ireland does not imply hostility to England.[5]Ibid.

The New York Tribune editorialized that Boland’s “ravings” should not to be taken seriously and were just another example of Ireland being “attacked from the rear by fool friends.”[6]“The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921 The paper suggested “a committee of friends of Ireland might attend him on his tours as a guard, ready to yank him to his seat when signs come that his temperament is about to boil over.”

The New York Times, regularly critical of the Irish cause and dubious of the American Commission, praised Villard for drawing a “broad and clear” line against “Bolandism or Bolandery or whatever that incitement to violence may be called.”[7]“Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921. The Times suggested that the “right-thinking Americans” described by Villard “are well aware that England will not grant complete independence to Ireland” for the same reasons the U.S. government would not grant sovereignty to Long Island, New York, “no matter how fiercely they might demand it.”

A third editorial, which was syndicated nationwide, noted Villard’s “friendliness to the Irish cause cannot be questioned” and praised his letter as “good advice … administered with rare effectiveness.” The editorial “hoped that Irish leaders who, perhaps unwittingly, have been offending against American traditions and interests, and thereby hurting their own cause, will be more circumspect hereafter.”[8]“Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.

But the harshest editorial criticism came from John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic American, who regularly sparred with Boland and his boss, Irish President Eamon de Valera. The pair had created the AARIR only weeks before Boland’s Garden speech, shortly before de Valera returned to Ireland. The strategy of confrontation with Devoy and the Friends of Irish Freedom was de Valera’s, but Boland was largely responsible for its execution, according to Boland biographer David Fitzpatrick. While this alienated many old supporters of the Irish cause in America, it also mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans, including those without Irish heritage, behind the demand for self-determination.[9]David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.


Devoy reported Boland’s controversial comment as: “If Britain does not stop her campaign of murder we will start a race vendetta, take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and I tell you again that you should tear down everything English in America if this does not stop.”[10]“Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921. Devoy acknowledged that Boland described himself as speaking “calmly,” but the editorialist insisted the speaker “was very much heated up” and “shouted” his remarks. Devoy continued:

The restraining hand of de Valera has been withdrawn, and Boland is free to wag his tongue and make a fool of himself. Men who really contemplate vendettas and exacting ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth’ don’t swagger about it on public platforms and enable the enemy to take precautions and get evidence to secure convictions. Someone close to Boland ought to take Daniel O’Connell’s saying to heart when he was interrupted by a fool at a public meeting: ‘Will someone stuff a wisp of hay in that calf’s mouth.’”[11]The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.

Boland acknowledged to his diary that he had been in “bad form” and “made an error” in the speech, which brought a “full blast” from the press. He told de Valera that he had “let my heart run away with my head.” Boland attempted to walk back his remark over the next few months, even as he insisted that he was “sadly misquoted.” Others urged him to let the matter rest.[12]David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.

Over the next year Boland returned briefly to Ireland, came back to United States, then went back to Ireland again. He was shot while fighting against government forces during the Irish Civil War and died Aug. 1, 1922, age 35.


1 “Boland Threatens World Vendetta”, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1921.
2 “Irish In America Are Called Upon To Fight Britain”, New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1921
3 “No Cause To Question Faith Of Ireland’s Leaders, Says Boland” The Irish Times, Jan. 15, 1921. The pro-Irish independence weekly reported the quote as what appears to be the full text of the speech, but is not identified as such.
4 Villard to Boland, Jan. 7, 1921, Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
5 Ibid.
6 “The Boland Vendetta”, New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1921
7 “Topics of the Times: Mr. Villard Sounds A Warning”, New York Times, Jan. 10, 1921.
8 “Advice To A Propagandist”, Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, Jan. 15, 1921, and other papers.
9 David Fitzpatrick, Boland, Henry James (“Harry”) in the online Dictionary of Irish Biography, 2009.
10 “Boland Makes An Idiotic Speech”, The Gaelic American, Jan. 15, 1921.
11 The “wisp of hay” comment found in Michael MacDonagh, The Life of Daniel O’Connell, (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1903), p. 320.
12 David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, 1887-1922. (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003), p. 195.

Dec. 6, 1921: When U.S. newspapers headlined Irish peace

More than 1 million Irish immigrants were living in America on Dec. 6, 1921, when Sinn Féin separatists and the British government signed an accord that ended their three-year war and provided limited political autonomy to four fifths of Ireland. The day climaxed centuries of struggle, but hardly ended strife on the island, which was partitioned six months earlier.

Most Irish immigrants and the U.S. press welcomed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During Dublin debates about the deal, Sinn Féin‘s Harry Boland observed “the great public opinion of America is on the side of this treaty … [and] just as it seems the press of Ireland has adopted a unanimous attitude in favor of this treaty, so too did the American press adopt that attitude.”[1]Dáil Éireann debates, Jan. 7, 1922. Houses of the Oireachtas.

As was often the case during earlier events in the revolutionary period, some Irish republicans on both sides of the Atlantic alleged bias in mainstream newspaper coverage. Mary MacSwiney, also addressing the treaty debates, complained of “the pro-English American press.” She specifically targeted “the Hearst papers as being utterly unfair.”[2]Dáil Éireann debates, Dec. 21, 1921. Houses of the Oireachtas. Hearst owned nearly two dozen U.S. dailies at the time.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, with direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, charged: “The deliberate attempt of the American press to mislead the people as to the meaning of the articles of the treaty is to say the least despicable. Their efforts … [are] proof that they do not will a free Ireland.”[3]Irish Republic Triumphs“, The Irish Press, Dec. 10, 1921.

The Dec. 6, 1921, frontpage headlines of the Irish accord were the “breaking news” of an age just before widespread radio access. Some of the papers mixed other international, national, or local news in their top banners. The dozen examples below include three New York City dailies and papers in nine other U.S. cities and towns. Notes are offered below the headlines. I’ll explore Irish-American press reaction to the treaty in my following post. MH

Horace Greeley’s daily.

Favored the views of the British establishment over Irish separatists.

Seen at the White House and Congress.

Warren G. Harding was the U.S. president referenced in the top headline. He also owned the Star of Marion, Ohio, from 1884 until his 1923 death in office. Harding’s administration generally kept “the Irish question” at arm’s length.

Philadelphia had the second largest Irish population behind New York City, about 65,000 to 204,000, respectively.

Boston had the third largest Irish immigrant population, about 57,000.

Chicago’s Irish population was only slightly smaller than Boston.

Largest Irish-born population on the West Coast, about 14,000.

More than quarter of the 60,000 to nearly 100,000 residents of Butte, Montana, were Irish immigrants. They began arriving in the 1880s and worked in the Anaconda copper mine. Eamon de Valera visited the town in 1919, raising a large amount of money for the Irish cause.

Mississippi had the least number of Irish immigrants of the 48 states, fewer than 500.

My own Kerry-born maternal grandparents and other relations in Pittsburgh read this headline.

I like the dual headline treatment above and below the World’s nameplate.


1 Dáil Éireann debates, Jan. 7, 1922. Houses of the Oireachtas.
2 Dáil Éireann debates, Dec. 21, 1921. Houses of the Oireachtas.
3 Irish Republic Triumphs“, The Irish Press, Dec. 10, 1921.

Coincidental crossings of the ‘Celtic’, December 1920

Muriel and Mary MacSwiney sailed from Ireland to America in late 1920 to testify about the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney, husband and brother, respectively, and the ongoing fight for freedom in their homeland. Their westbound journey aboard the liner Celtic was highly anticipated, and their arrival in New York City became front page news.

The Celtic.

Six days later, Irish leader Éamon de Valera was secreted aboard the same ship for its eastbound return to Europe, ending his 18-month mission to America. The stowaway risked arrest by British authorities if discovered once the Celtic berthed in Liverpool, England. Publicity was the last thing de Valera and other Irish supporters wanted.

These consecutive crossings of a ship named for the Irish race are coincidental. Yet they also symbolize the close relationship between Ireland and America, and highlight key events and participants of the Irish revolution at the end of its second year; what a Times of London correspondent described as “the transatlantic Irish pot boiling with a vengeance.”1 Muriel MacSwiney and de Valera each concluded their voyage aboard the Celtic with public statements about Irish hopes for American help, wishes that were mostly dashed in the new year, 1921.

‘Embarked Quietly’

Muriel MacSwiney, left, and Mary MacSwiney, right, at the Washington hearings.

News of Muriel MacSwiney’s trip aboard the Celtic began to appear in U.S. papers shortly after her husband’s Oct. 25 starvation death in a British prison. She accepted an invitation to appear before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, meeting in Washington, D.C. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, established the non-U.S. government commission on behalf of Irish sympathizers. British authorities, though dubious of the commission, privately assured U.S. officials that they would not refuse passports to Irish witnesses, including the MacSwineys.2 Nearly 40 Irish, British, and American witnesses testified at commission hearings from November 1920 through January 1921.

On Nov. 25, the MacSwineys  “embarked quietly” on the Celtic at  Queenstown, the Associated Press reported in U.S. papers. “Few people were aware that they were sailing.”3 Irish papers subsequently reported their departure with 400 others at the port, now called Cobh, a quick stop between Liverpool and New York City. The two women “were greeted on embarking the line with cheers from their fellow passengers.”4

The twin-funnel, 701-foot Celtic was launched in April 1901 from the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, part of the White Star fleet that later included Titanic. Converted to merchant and troop ship duty during the Great War, it struck a mine in 1917 off the Isle of Man, killing 17 people aboard. A year later it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea, causing six deaths. Once the war ended, the Celtic was restored to its original purpose, and people hurried to board and enjoy its accommodations on the nine-day crossings of safer seas. The Celtic called at New York about once a month, according to schedules published in 1920 newspapers.

MacSwineys Arrival

The Celtic arrived shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, at New York City’s Pier 60, a day behind schedule due to westerly gales. The next to last night at sea “was so violent that the tops of the angry waves were blown over the bridge and funnels, smothering the ship with icy spray,” The New York Times reported. Many passengers became seasick as “the big ship was tossed about.”5

This image appeared in the Boston Pilot on Dec. 5, 1920.

Muriel and Mary were the first passengers off the ship, their bags carried down the gangway by a special delegation of Irish longshoremen, ahead of American financier J. Peirpont Morgan and his wife. The two Irish women seemed unaware they had crossed the Atlantic with the famous couple, who had been in Europe since August, according to news accounts.6  

A crowd of up to 3,000 awaited them, less than half the estimated 10,000 that had gathered at the pier a day earlier. The scene turned chaotic as police confused which door the women would enter. Villard and Harry Boland, de Valera’s secretary, headed the reception. A parade of more than 70 automobiles followed, with crowds waving the Stars and Stripes and the tricolor of the Irish Republic.

Muriel MacSwiney was described as “a slender, gray eyed young woman dressed in deep mourning, with masses of black hair showing in ripples when she threw back her heavy widow’s veil.” At the end of the day, she issued a statement: 

I am deeply grateful for the wonderful reception given to me this morning, and especially to the women of America for their generous tribute to my husband’s memory. I have had many beautiful letters from America, even from American children, and I am happy to be in a country where so many are thinking about the cause of Ireland. … We feel in Ireland that America has a greater responsibility in the matter than any other land on account of her fine traditions and her war pledges, and because there are so many millions of our kin in this country.”

The women soon traveled to Washington and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland over three days, Dec. 8-10. Front page coverage of the MacSwineys appeared in the leading Irish-American weeklies, The Gaelic American, New York, and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, on Dec. 11. That same day, the Celtic began its eastward voyage back to Europe.

Eastward Crossing

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera’s return to Ireland was cloaked in as much mystery as his June 1919 arrival in America, when he’d been hidden aboard the White Star’s Lapland. Now, two weeks before Christmas, he was spirited aboard the Celtic shortly before it sailed for Liverpool. In both instances, White Star bosun Barney Downes and other Irish sailors provided key help in smuggling the leader aboard ship.7

Smuggling people, guns, and information aboard transatlantic ships was a regular operation of the war, according to an Irish Volunteer based in Liverpool from 1918-1922:

The liners plying between Liverpool and New York, especially the White Star and Cunard Boats, had Irishmen aboard who were employed to take dispatches from Liverpool for New York and vice versa. These sailors also engaged in the stowing away of leaders who wished to avoid arrest. The mode of procedure was for such a person or persons to go aboard several hours before the Liner was due to leave the dock for a landing stage and to be hidden away in the bowels of the ship. … The Atlantic route was our most important route both on account of the source of [weapons] supply at New York and because of the fact that sailings were very regular and frequent. Our best boats on that line were the Celtic and the Baltic [both of the White Star fleet].8

A few weeks before his clandestine voyage, de Valera publicly organized the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in a split from the establishment Friends of Irish Freedom. The rancorous move ended 18 months of nearly non-stop, coast-to-coast travel to raise money and political support for the Irish republic. By early December, Boland told the America reporters that de Valera needed rest from all the activity and was keeping out of view.

The Dec. 11, 1920, issue of The Evening World, New York, reported European-bound Christmas mail and some prominent passengers on the Celtic, but not stowaway Éamon de Valera.

Rumors of de Valera’s return to Ireland, however, soon began to “exercise the talents” of journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.9 The London press said de Valera was traveling to the capital for what turned out to be an unauthorized Irish peace overture. American reporters checked the hotels de Valera usually frequented in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Close associates of the Irish leader remained coy about his whereabouts. A Dec. 15 statement attributed to de Valera huffed: “I did not ask Mr. Lloyd George’s permission to come to the United States, and I shall not ask for it when the time of my return to Ireland comes.”10 He was already four days at sea.

It is unclear whether this crossing of the Celtic encountered rough weather, but de Valera was known to easily get seasick, especially hidden away from fresh air. The ship arrived in Liverpool on Dec. 20 (See maps below.), just as British officials ordered that de Valera not be prevented from landing. He was back in Dublin two before Christmas, but remained in hiding.11

Finally, on Dec. 31, Boland announced de Valera had return to Ireland. The story topped the year-end front pages of many U.S. newspapers and quoted from de Valera’s farewell message to America:

May you ever remain as I have known you, the land of the generous hearted and the kindly. … I came to you on a holy mission; a mission of freedom; I return to my people who sent me, not indeed as I had dreamed it, with the mission accomplished, but withal with a message that will cheer in the dark days that have come upon them and will inspire the acceptance of such sacrifices as must yet be made. …. You will not need to be assured that Ireland will ‘not be ungrateful.’12


Muriel MacSwiney sailed home to Ireland the next day, New Year’s Day, 1921, aboard the Panhandle State. Mary MacSwiney remained in America and continued to speak out for Irish independence. While many regular Americans supported the Irish cause, the U.S. government under new President Warren Harding considered it a British domestic issue, the same stance as predecessor Woodrow Wilson. In August, with a ceasefire agreed in the war, Mary MacSwiney and Boland returned to Ireland together aboard the White Star’s Olympic.13 Four months later a treaty ended the war and created the Irish Free State.

In December 1928 the Celtic ran aground in a storm on the approach to Queenstown (Cobh), near Roche’s Point Lighthouse. It was found unworthy of repair and scrapped.

Charting Dev’s Return to Ireland on the Celtic

The two maps below are from the “Shipping News” pages of The New York Herald. Note each map shows representations of more than two dozen passenger liners. Clicking the images will show a larger view in most browsers.

This map is from Dec. 12, 1920, a day after the Celtic left New York with stowaway Éamon De Valera. The Celtic is represented by the circled 1 in Row D, third block from bottom, in a cluster of ships off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

 This map is from Dec. 19, 1920. The Celtic is represented by the circled 3 in Row Q, second block from the top. It arrived the next day at Liverpool, England.


See all the stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Guest post: ‘Crowdfunding the Revolution’ in Ireland

I’m pleased to welcome a contribution from Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author of Crowdfunding the Revolution – The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence. His book tells the history of the fight for the revolutionary government’s funds, the bank inquiry that shook the financial establishment, and the first battle in the intelligence war. Patrick, of Killarney, Co. Kerry, is an activist shareholder for almost 20 years, award-winning equity analyst, and qualified Chartered Accountant. He can be reached via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn. MH

Money to Ireland

Michael Collins wanted to move to America in 1916, after spending 10 years in London, because the country offered “a fair chance to get ahead.” Fortunately for Ireland, he instead returned to Dublin to participate in the Easter Rebellion. Three years later he was appointed Minister for Finance in the Dáil government set up in open defiance of the British administration in Ireland. The counter-state government was determined not only to replace the Dublin Castle administration, but to implement its own industrial, financial, and trade policies. 

The fledgling government launched an audacious plan to fund the counter-state by raising the equivalent of $35 million today. Half the money was to be raised in Ireland and half in America. Collins took charge of the Loan organisation in Ireland. Nothing was left to chance to ensure the success of the Loan by the young, energetic, and innovative Minister for Finance; 3 million promotional leaflets, 400,000 copies of the prospectus and 50,000 customized letters were printed and distributed throughout the country; full-page advertisements were submitted to national newspapers; a 7-minute promotional film was produced showing Collins seated at a table receiving Loan subscriptions from a who’s who of Irish revolutionary figures.

Despite British attempts to prohibit the Loan, Collins exceeded his target by 50 percent. On Feb. 10, 1920, he wrote to Éamon de Valera – who had gone to America to raise the external part of the Loan – that the British had attempted to suppress the Loan organisation with “determination and savagery.” Dublin Castle had even established a bank inquiry to locate and seize the funds secretly deposited in commercial banks.  

The Loan in America initially faced regulatory and self-inflicted organisational setbacks. To such an extent that Harry Boland, who was also in America, wrote to Collins that “the organizing of this bond issue is a tremendous undertaking, and it is my judgement that you are now wanted here.” The temptation on Collins to leave must have been great, but he replied that he had too many responsibilities in Ireland, though he mysteriously added that “there is still only one thing that would take me away, and when the time comes for that, I’m off without delay.”

Although Boland would not get to meet Collins until he returned to Ireland for a visit in the summer of 1920, he did get to see him. A copy of the promotional film had been spirited across the Atlantic. After watching the film, Boland wrote to Collins to poke fun at his good friend: “That film of yourself…selling Bonds brought tears to my eyes. Gee Boy! You are some movie actor. Nobody could resist buying a bond and we have such a handsome minister of finance.” 

When eventually the Loan was launched in America and the money needed to be transferred home, Collins was responsible for getting the funds safely and securely into the financial system in Ireland. Of course, he did not do this on his own. Daithi O’Donoghue was Collin’s right-hand man in finance matters. A former high-ranking civil servant dismissed for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, he made the banking arrangements after consulting with Collins. Vera McDonnell, who had come to Dublin in 1917 to study shorthand and typing, had been quickly recruited by Sinn Féin as a stenographer. She prepared the cablegrams and codes for the transfer of the American funds.

Corrigan & Corrigan, solicitors, also played an important role in laundering the Loan funds. The firm acted as a clearing house for particularly large cheques sent from America. A friendly firm of lawyers prepared the paperwork linking the funds to a legacy or some other seemingly legal activity. Corrigan & Corrigan would carry out any formalities that might be necessary and afterwards transfer the money to the custody of the Dáil government. That was only one method of getting the funds to Ireland.

Michael Collins

Collins also sent a list of trusted individuals who agreed to receive bank drafts sent from the States. The Irish mission in America organised the issue of the bank drafts with friendly managers. Drafts were issued for an average amount of £14,500 ($1 million today) and were drawn on commercial banks in Dublin and London. The first bank draft was issued by the National City Bank of New York. The draft was for a massive £58,880 ($4M today). Drafts were also issued by Brown Brothers & Co., the Guaranty Trust Company of New York and Kountze Brothers, New York. 

Drafts drawn on banks in London were sent to the recipients using the address of the Jermyn Court Hotel in Piccadilly. The hotel was used regularly by those in Ireland on political business in London. Private addresses were also used, including the London home of Erskine Childers, which was one of the first addresses used for the transfer of American funds. 

The courier network operating between America and Ireland had been built up over many years. Individuals sent from Ireland on political and intelligence work brought messages and funds back on return journeys. New York and Boston based supporters of the republican movement took jobs on passenger ships above and below deck, to act as couriers and to provide support to those smuggled to America, including de Valera who made the journey as a stowaway.

One of the most successful initiatives of the young government was the establishment of the National Land Bank. A dummy corporation was used to cloak the investment of the Dáil in the new business. After a successful start in early 1920, Collins wanted more of the American Loan injected as capital into the bank. He asked the Dáil to authorise the investment of a further $500,000. The necessary drafts were couriered to Ireland from America.

The First Dáil Loan raised over $5.2 million in America. Plans were made for a second loan of $20 million. The Loan was launched Oct. 15, 1921, and raised $622,720 before being stopped when the treaty was signed two months later.


  • Bureau of Military History: Statements of Vera McDonnell (1050), Daithi O’Donoghue (548), Elizabeth MacGinley (860) and Kitty O’Doherty (355).
  • UCD Archives, De Valera papers, P150/1125.
  • Hart, P. Mick: the real Michael Collins. Penguin, New York. 2006, p. 195.
  • Lavelle, P.  James O’Mara: the story of an original Sinn Féiner. History Publisher, Dublin, p. 186.
  • Mitchell, A. Revolutionary government in Ireland: Dáil Éireann, 1919– 22. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1995, p. 87.
  • Michael Collins’ Own Story, Told to Hayden Talbot, Hutchinson & Company, Indiana University, 1923. (“a fair chance to get ahead”).

Irish Pittsburgh’s November to remember, 1920

Terence MacSwiney

Pittsburgh’s Irish community in November 1920 mourned the hunger-strike death of Terence MacSwiney and remembered the Manchester Martyrs of 1867. It followed news of “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin; the opening of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C.; and the launch of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) to rival the established Clan na Gael and affiliated Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF).

About 14,000 Irish immigrants lived in Pittsburgh at the time, or 2.4 percent the city’s population; down from an 11 percent post-Famine peak of 27,000 in 1890.1 The population of first generation Irish Americans with at least one Irish-born parent in the city and surrounding regions is not clear.

Mourning MacSwiney

A reported 5,000 Irish sympathizers packed the Lyceum Theater in downtown Pittsburgh the evening of Oct. 31, 1920, to mourn MacSwiney’s death six days earlier. Another 2,000 unable to get inside held an overflow demonstration on Penn Avenue. Both groups listened to speeches for more than two hours about MacSwiney and the other hunger strikers Joseph Murphy and Michael Fitzgerald.2

Lyceum Theater sign can be seen in middle of the block of this 1914 photo. The downtown vaudeville house was a popular meeting place for Pittsburgh’s Irish community, including an anti-conscription protest and “Self-Determination for Ireland” rally in 1918.

Three days later, Catholic church hierarchy and over 2,000 mourners attended a solemn high mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city’s Oakland district. An Irish tricolor was placed over a coffin. Subsequent memorial masses were held at St. Patrick’s Church, near downtown, with a sermon on “Destiny of the Irish Race”; and St. John the Evangelist, on the city’s Southside. 3

Martyrs Meeting

Western Pennsylvania representatives of the Clan na Gael packed the Lyceum again on Nov. 21 to hear Fenian legend John Devoy, then 78. There is no indication in the Pittsburgh newspaper coverage that news of the Bloody Sunday events hours earlier that day in Ireland reached the meeting. Instead, Devoy framed his Manchester Martyrs remembrance around the launch of the AARIR by Harry Boland and Éamon De Valera.

Pittsburgh newspaper headline the morning after John Devoy appearance in the city.

The “attempt to wreck the old organization which has kept the I.R.B. in Ireland alive for half a century, has had no effect whatever in Pittsburgh, except to make the members angry at [the] unwarrantable action, and they crowded the theater with their wives, children and neighbors to testify to their unbroken faith in the organization and the cause it represents in America but for its steadfastness and devotion.” Devoy’s Gaelic American reported two weeks later.4

The New York newspaper said its editor’s Pittsburgh hotel quarters were crowded “with old timers and young men who came to pledge their support in opposing the attempt to break the organization and to learn the inside history of the latest scheme to make a split among the American Irish.”

John Devoy

In his speech, Devoy recounted that he was locked up at Millbank Prison in London, about 200 miles south of Manchester, when William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien were executed. He said newspaper accounts were smuggled to him by the I.R.B.’s Tom O’Bolger, who had avoided capture in the attempt to free Fenian prisoners from English custody, the event that ensnared Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien.

“The executions were intended to strike terror into the Irish people, but they had the very opposite effect. A wave of anti-English feeling swept over Ireland,” Devoy told the Lyceum audience.5

‘Avoid Splits’

Devoy also warned the Pittsburgh Irish to “avoid splits, which have ruined every Irish movement for the past 100 years. … Now, when the Irish in America are more united than at any other period in the history of the country, a new split is launched. It can only help England and bring discouragement to the people in the Old Land. The one thing that Ireland needs most is a United Irish Race in America, standing shoulder to shoulder, and acting under their own elected leaders.”

The split did occur, as further reported in the same issue of the Gaelic American: “… De Valera … said there was no split and that the two organizations could get along without friction. While making this statement he was making all the friction he possibly could. … [FOIF members were] induced by gross falsehood and misrepresentation to succeed and join the rival organization which is creating disunion in America while Lloyd George is butchering the people of Ireland.”6

Commission Hearings

The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland was a non-U.S. government body created in autumn 1920 to generate political support for the Irish cause. Pittsburgh Leader Publisher Alexander P. Moore was selected to sit on the high-profile panel. A year earlier, as event co-chairman for de Valera’s visit to Pittsburgh, Moore described himself as “the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”7 The newspaper man excused himself from commission service because he was “unable to give the time necessary to the inquiry,” with hearings that lasted from November through January 1921.8

In early December, Pittsburgh innkeeper and Irish immigrant Patrick J. Guilfoil was called before the commission to testify about his experiences in Ireland earlier in the year. He described how Irish republican gunmen killed two Royal Irish Constabulary officers at Feakle, Co. Clare, where he was staying, which resulted in military reprisals on the village 50 miles north to Limerick city. Guilfoil also described the Cork city funeral procession of hunger striker Michael Fitzgerald. “Pittsburgh Witness In Irish Probe P.J. Guilfoil Tells of Raid by Military on County Clare Town’ and “Local Man Tells of Burning of Town in County Clare,” the city’s newspapers headlined.9

Guilfoil’s testimony was noted in other U.S. newspaper coverage of the Dec. 10 hearing, but it was overshadowed by the same-day testimony of Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late hunger striker; and by three former RIC officers who quit the force in protest of British “misrule” in Ireland. A treaty to separate Ireland from that rule and end the war would be agreed within a year. But the island was partitioned and the new free state plunged into civil war.

Related Work:

‘The Irish Press’ withheld news of de Valera’s U.S. arrival

In June 1919, The Irish Press of Philadelphia obtained one of the biggest international news scoops since the end of the Great War. It sat on the story.

Irish leader Éamon de Valera, who evaded British authorities to sneak aboard the S.S. Lapland at Liverpool, arrived June 11 in New York City. Reports that he was missing from Ireland and possibly heading to America were just beginning to appear in U.S. newspapers.

Éamon de Valera

For a dozen days, de Valera’s whereabouts remained a secret kept by a small circle of supporters, including  Joseph McGarrity and Dr. Patrick McCartan, publisher and editor of the Press, respectively. McGarrity met de Valera on his first night in New York. A few days later he welcomed de Valera to his home in Philadelphia, where McCartan briefed the visitor on American efforts to help Ireland.1

Joseph McGarrity

McGarrity and McCartan were both natives of Ireland: the publisher used his business fortune to bankroll the newspaper and other nationalist efforts, the editor was an elected member of the first Dáil Éireann. The “primary concern in the Irish Press remained the cause of recognition of the Irish Republic in the United States,” McCartan wrote of this period.2 A look at the paper’s June 14 and June 21 issues reveals just how deeply they deceived their readers to serve that cause, rather than transparent journalism.

Harry Boland

The front page of the June 14 issue reported that Harry Boland, another member of the Dáil, “recently arrived” in the U.S. as “special envoy” to America. In fact, Boland had been in the country for over a month. Shortly after his arrival he met with McGarrity and McCartan in Philadelphia.3 Boland also joined McGarrity to welcome de Valera the night of June 11 in New York .

Even more audacious, however, was the page 3 guest column by the Irish leader: Application of Our Principals Means Free Erin, Says De Valera.  The sub-headline, “President of the Irish Republic Forwards Statement to People of the United States,” implied that de Valera had mailed the commentary from Ireland. It is unclear when, from where, or even if he penned the piece:

All liberty-loving nations of the world owe to the Irish the recognition of the independence of Ireland, not only because of the indisputable right of the people of Ireland to govern their own national destinies, but also because that right is deprived by England on grounds which are a negation of national liberty everywhere, and subversive to international peace and order.

The deceit continued in the June 21 issue of the Press. Tucked in the bottom right corner of the front page were two small briefs that speculated about de Valera’s whereabouts:

  • The first, dated June 17, suggested “well-informed circles” in Paris reported he was in Switzerland, but “the nature of the mission could not be learned.”
  • A June 11 Universal Services dispatch from Dublin suggested de Valera left Ireland June 1 “on an unknown mission” to England. “The news comes as a surprise to all Ireland. Speculation as to the purpose of his trip and his present whereabouts is intense.”

Dr. Patrick McCartan

This was pure nonsense and misdirection, truly “fake news,” from McGarrity and McCartan, who knew de Valera had been in America for 10 days. Their newspaper was just playing along with similar stories in the mainstream U.S. press. McCartan wrote:

We kept secret the manner of his coming. His arrival when announced, created a great sensation, and the mysterious ease with which he had eluded the British added to the popular interest in him. … Nothing was lacking to make him a popular hero. And America was eager to see him and to do him homage.4

Finally, in its June 28 issue, the Press headlined:

Irish President Reaches America

Eamon de Valera, Head of Republic, Arrives in New York.

To Work for Recognition.

The story was dated June 25, two days after de Valera’s public debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. McGarrity and McCartan were among the hundreds of supporters packed into the ballroom reception.5 The Press story was silent as to when de Valera arrived in America, but noted that speculation about him “had been reported for some days … [and] concoctions of all sorts had been published in the newspapers.”

The Irish Press had perpetrated the biggest concoction of all.

Hiding Disney’s Florida land deals

Other newspapers have withheld information from their readers for what publishers believed to be a greater good. In the early 1960s, for example, Orlando, Florida, newspaper publisher Martin Andersen tamped down news that entertainment entrepreneur Walt Disney was buying huge tracts of acreage in the central part of the state for a second Disneyland theme park. The Orlando Sentinel recalls the story.