Tag Archives: Irish Civil War

U.S. press opinions on end of the Irish Civil War

In May 1923, U.S. newspaper editorial pages assessed Ireland’s 11-month-old civil war as Éamon de Valera and recalcitrant republicans took the final halting steps toward ending their insurgency against the Irish Free State. “Strong hope that peace nears in Ireland is voiced by American editors,” began an “editorial digest” from more than a dozen dailies. (Clicking the image will enlarge it in most browsers.) Below it are opinions from three other papers after the IRA’s May 24 order to “dump arms,” officially ending the hostilities.

Periodic violence and political turmoil continued to trouble Ireland, but the revolutionary period that began in 1912 with the arming of Ulster and Nationalist volunteers had finally ended. As important, the civil war permanently shifted Irish American attention from the politics of the old country to assimilation in their adopted country, though affection remained for the homeland.

From the Evening Star, Washington, D.C., May 8, 1923.

The Buffalo (N.Y.) Enquirer compared the situation in Ireland to the U.S. Civil War, which ended nearly 60 years earlier.

If de Valera is seeking an example for the future he may find it in America where all are friends of Ireland. Our own civil war was fought with all the bitterness of Ireland’s civil war: but when the Confederacy laid down its arms, it did so with no thought of taking up arms again after a period of recouperation. It kept alive no purpose to take up arms again. To that noble action this country owes its present peace, unity, prosperity, and greatness. It will serve Ireland as magnificently as it has served the United States.[1]”Peace In Ireland”, The Buffalo Enquirer, May 31, 1923.

The Birmingham (Ala.) News, which encouraged anti-Catholic and nativist opposition to de Valera’s April 1920 visit to the city, remained hostile to the republican leader:

Lack of common sense has been de Valera’s besetting sin–or was it ambition? … For de Valera’s ambition or idealism or lack of common sense the greensward of Ireland has been drenched in the blood of Irishmen–and women–shed by other Irishmen. … It is well that Mr. de Valera has finally admitted that he cannot impose his will upon the majority of the Irish–but at what ghastly price has he become convinced! The wraiths of the unnecessary dead should attend him always; the sorrows of mothers who have lost their sons–at his command; the wailings of helpless children who are so by his devotion to his ambition in the fade of the majority; the moans of the widows–made so at his behest–should ring in his ears as the tolling of some ceaseless, solemn knell.[2]”De Valera At Last Bows To Inevitable; He Orders A Cessation of Hostilities”, The Birmingham News, May 31, 1923.

While heartened that de Valera and Irish republicans had finally decided to stop fighting, the Decatur (Ill.) Herald noted other roadblocks remained for Ireland’s path forward:

The chaos brought by the Republicans afforded exactly the opportunity desired by the Communists, including large groups of strongly organized workers. The Communists will scarcely cease their activities because the Republicans have decided to become good citizens. Finally, of course, there is Ulster, a problem as relentless and troublesome as ever. If the Free State does succeed in overcoming all of the difficulties thrown in its way … it will be entitled to credit for a remarkable achievement. It is not yet time for the expression of unreserved optimism.[3]”It Comes Late”, Decatur (Ill.) Herald, May 30, 1923.

See my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.


1 ”Peace In Ireland”, The Buffalo Enquirer, May 31, 1923.
2 ”De Valera At Last Bows To Inevitable; He Orders A Cessation of Hostilities”, The Birmingham News, May 31, 1923.
3 ”It Comes Late”, Decatur (Ill.) Herald, May 30, 1923.

Hearing the Irish Civil War silence breakers

Queen’s University Belfast lecturer Síobhra Aiken has detailed the 100-year history of how officially and collectively sanctioned silence about the Irish Civil War is regularly pierced by the silence breakers who have documented the “unspeakable war.” Aiken’s new book, Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony and the Irish Civil War (Irish Academic Press), also notes the irony that recent generations of silence breakers are often unaware they belong to such a lineage because the earlier efforts have been forgotten.

The June 1922 to May 1923 war sparked by the Irish republican split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty has notoriously been absent from Irish school texts and memoirs, Aiken said. Ireland’s “Decade of Centenaries” commemorations of the revolutionary period originally was to end this year, excluding the civil war. But public outcry resulted in an extension that is allowing the country to grapple with its legacy through next year.

“The paradox of intentionally forgetting is that it ensures attention,” Aiken said during her Oct. 25 lecture for the Irish Studies program at Boston College. This has typically been accomplished over the century through autobiographical novels and other works of fiction, many of them created by women. But these sources have been overlooked or dismissed by the “strong gatekeeping” of mainstream historians and more established male writers, she said.

Síobhra Aiken at Boston College.

Some of the works Aiken citied include: Tragedies of Kerry, 1922-1923, by Dorothy Macardle, 1924; Legion of the Rearguard, by Francis Carty, 1934; The Bitter Glass, by Eilís Dillon, 1958; and The Scorching Wind, by Walter Macken, 1966. More Irish writers have tackled the civil war since the new century began, aided by access to digital resources such as the Bureau of Military History and Military Service Pension Collection. Contemporary writer Orna Ross (Aine McCarthy), who has written about the civil war, has said that “silence is always a magnet.”

Aiken noted that more of the narratives come from the defeated, anti-treaty side, rather than those who supported the new 26-county Irish Free State. Works from the prevailing side are generally more disillusioned than pro-government or triumphalist. Aiken also acknowledged that in Irish politics, intentional forgetting played a role in helping to maintain stability and allow the state to move forward.

Spiritual Wounds is based on Aiken’s doctoral research at the University of Galway, which was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies Adele Dalsimer Prize for Distinguished Dissertation in 2021.

American partners help restore Four Courts archive

Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury is a new database and website that catalogues substitute sources for the records destroyed in the June 30, 1922, fire at Dublin’s Four Courts. The fire began as forces of the provisional Irish Free State government removed IRA rebels who had occupied the building since April 1922. This was the start of the Irish Civil War.

The new virtual Four Courts resurrects millions of words from the destroyed documents, now linked and reassembled from copies, transcripts, and other records scattered among archive and library collections in Ireland, Britain, and America. Here are the U.S.-based partners:

  • American Conference for Irish Studies
  • Historical Society of Philadelphia
  • Houghton Library, Harvard University
  • Huntington Library, San Marino, California
  • Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas
  • Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • The Morgan Library and Museum, New York City
  • Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame

Watch a short video introduction of the project:

Getting the story: Reporting challenges in 1922 Dublin

International journalists faced two challenges in late June 1922 as Irish Free State forces began to oust anti-government rebels from the Four Courts in Dublin. First, the reporters had to reach the military engagement along the River Liffey. Then they had to find a way to send their observations to their newspaper offices.

This story dated June 28, 1922, published the following day. Story continued beyond clipped portion.

IRA “irregulars” had occupied the government buildings since April. As Free State troops moved to retake the property, the rebels severed the telegraph “submarine cable” between Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) and Anglesey, Wales. A second cable at Belfast remained untouched, but communications within Ireland were cloudy. As New York Times special correspondent Frederic B. Harvey reported:

“While Dublin is thus in a ferment a veil of silence has closed down on the rest of the country, for use of the telephone except for official purposes is forbidden and the telegraph is subject to censorship. There is no communication at all with Ulster (Belfast), and there is that uncertainty of feeling with regard to the rest of the county which this silence always induces.”[1]“Reports Dash With Dublin News”, The New York Times, June 30, 1922. Story dated June 29.

This was no coincidence. In the post-Great War era, “armies realized that information sent ever more speedily over the telegraph wire meant that vital knowledge was disseminated much faster,” Maurice Walsh noted in The News From Ireland, his survey of foreign correspondents covering the Irish revolution. “Increasingly they kept the correspondent away from the front line, making him dependent on the military for information, and insisting his copy be check before it was transmitted.[2]Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p.31.

Harvey and reporter L.J. Randall flew to Dublin as the battle at the Four Courts began the morning of June 28. First World War aviator and test pilot Hubert Stanford Broad flew the De Haviland aircraft from the London aerodrome at Hendon, about eight miles northwest of Westminster.[3]See Hubert Broad. The trio likely squeezed into a bi-winged, open cockpit DH.4, which had been flown as bombers in the war and now were being retrofitted to carry mail and commercial passengers.

“Bad weather during the early part of the journey and a constant strong headwind made flying difficult, but we reached Dublin in four hours,” Randall reported. (Today the flight takes about 75 minutes … inside a closed cabin.) “Before landing we flew over the city and were able to observe the extent of the battle.”[4]“Views Dublin Fight From An Airplane” The New York Times, June 29, 1922. Story dated June 28

In his separate dispatch, Harvey reported being detailed by British military authorities at Collingstown aerodrome a few miles north of Dublin, site of the modern Dublin Airport. He did not mention Randall in his story, as Randall referenced Harvey. Harvey claimed he was held until the following afternoon, June 29, when he was “told I was free to proceed wherever I wished.”

Story dated June 29, 1922, published the next day. Story continued beyond clipped portion.

While most coverage of the Four Courts battle focused on key participants, such as rebel leader Rory O’Connor, and maneuvers related to the fighting, the reporting occasionally referenced people and scenes away from the main action. Harvey’s dispatch included these descriptions of Dublin:

“The streets through which I passed where practically free of all wheeled traffic, but numbers of pedestrians were about, and I even saw women wheeling out their babies … Ambulances are busy and all over the city the hospitals are filling. Business is at a standstill, all shops being closed, but on the outskirts of the city bread carts are delivering as usual. … Inner Dublin, in short, is not a place to linger in unless your business there is urgently necessary. … Beyond roughly a mile circle drawn with the Four Courts for centre, the risks are so lessened as to be practically negligible. … A touch of irony is supplied by the fact that Trinity College, in spite of the racket outside and the circumstances that the fate of the nation is in the melting pot, is holding examinations for degrees within the gray old pile of College Green.”

Such copy is an example of reporters “accreting details when they didn’t have a clue” about what was going on with the main story, to paraphrase a review of historian Deborah Cohen’s Last Call at the Hotel Imperial, a new portrait of American foreign correspondents between the two world wars. It was a period when “plucky stringers could elbow their way into almost any beat.”[5]Krithika Varagur, “The Birth Of The American Foreign Correspondent” in The New Yorker, March 17, 2022.

Harvey and Randall were both English correspondents. Once they collected their observations, they still needed to file their dispatches to London before the copy could make its way across the Atlantic to American papers. Here, the two reporters diverged not only in when and how they transmitted the content, but also a key detail of their Dublin arrival.

Again, Randall’s dispatch named Harvey. He reported that at Collingswood, the Irish airfield, “we learned that the commanders of the Free State troops had received wireless news of our impending arrival and through the medium of the British Headquarters had issued orders that we were to be detained. At one time it seemed we should be unable to leave the aerodrome, but through the good offices of one of the chief officials of the Free State, to whom Harvey was well know, permission was given for me to return to England with news which he had been able to gather.” (My emphasis.)

Randell reported Broad flew him from Dublin to Shotwick R.A.F. Aerodrome, about 15 miles south of Liverpool, just inside the Wales border. They took off from Ireland at 8:45 p.m. June 28, the same day as their arrival, and covered the shorter distance over the Irish Sea in 70 minutes. Randall filed his story to the London Daily Chronicle, probably via telegraph at the air force base. The Chronicle made the content available to the New York Times, which published it on the front page June 29.

It appears Harvey and Randall both reported from Dublin during the afternoon and early evening of June 28. While Randall was able to leave Ireland, Harvey was detained overnight, then made a second tour of the city on June 29. To file his story bearing the latter date, Harvey boarded the mail boat Hibernia, used its wireless at sea, then finished the job by telephone at Holyhead. His “reporter’s dash” was highlighted in the headline, editor’s note, and an ALL CAPS dateline of a “special cable” on the front page of the Times’s June 30 issue.

Smoke from a massive explosion at the Four Courts, Dublin, June 1922.

Harvey returned to Dublin and filed a July 2 story, published in the Times the next day. He reported having to dodge sniper fire with another colleague named Powell.  He added: “When one uses the word quiet in regard to this city it is purely a relative term … No trams were running. Still, at noon numbers of girls and even elderly women could be seen mingling with the sparse traffic on their way to and from mass, prayer books in hand …”[6]”Quiet Before The Attack”, The New York Times, July 3, 1922.

The battle at the Four Courts drew international media attention. Extolling airplane reporting and extraordinary measures to file stories was part of the period’s competitive newspaper market. At the time, photography was still being introduced to regular coverage and radio was in its infancy. A century later, the Russian war on Ukraine is reported in words and moving images disseminated in real time via international television feeds, websites, and social media.

“We trust our correspondents on the ground first and foremost,” the New York Times explained of its coverage early in the current conflict. “In situations where they cannot be physically present, we work to obtain reliable, first-hand information about events, interviewing witnesses throughout the region. We strive to see through the fog of propaganda and misinformation that emanates from governments on both sides of the conflict.”

And so it was at the 1922 start of the Irish Civil War.


1 “Reports Dash With Dublin News”, The New York Times, June 30, 1922. Story dated June 29.
2 Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p.31.
3 See Hubert Broad.
4 “Views Dublin Fight From An Airplane” The New York Times, June 29, 1922. Story dated June 28
5 Krithika Varagur, “The Birth Of The American Foreign Correspondent” in The New Yorker, March 17, 2022.
6 ”Quiet Before The Attack”, The New York Times, July 3, 1922.

Dual delegations at St. Patrick’s Day, 1922

St. Patrick’s Day of 1922 was the first since 1915 without war on the European continent or the island of Ireland. The saint’s feast arrived two months after Dáil Éireann narrowly approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a month before anti-treaty republicans seized the Four Courts in Dublin, and three months before their pro-treaty colleagues topped the 26-county Dáil election and bombarded the building holding outs, thus beginning the Irish Civil War.

Francis M. Carroll has written, “the growing disunity among the nationalist leaders in Ireland was dramatically revealed to the Irish in America in the form of two rival delegations sent to the United States on behalf of their respective factions. … Both groups began touring the country, denouncing their opponents in Ireland with all the malice and vituperation previously reserved for the British government. … This spectacle … severely demoralized the Irish American community.”[1]Carroll, Francis M., America And The Making of An Independent Ireland, A History, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 148.

The rival delegations arrived in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day 1922 aboard the Aquitania. The pro-treaty representatives included James O’Mara, Piaras Beaslai, and Sean MacCaoilte. Austin Stack and J.J. O’Kelly stood for the anti-treaty faction. The New York Evening World reported, “one hotel was not large enough to harbor both parties.” When Stack and O’Kelly checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, described by the paper as the original destination for all five men, the other three “traveled up Fifth Avenue until they reached the St. Regis, where they engaged quarters.”[2]”Two Rival Groups Come To Campaign For Ireland Here”, New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.

New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.

Both sides issued statements to the press. The pro-treaty group said:

We wish to make it perfectly clear that we have not come to America to make Irish internal political differences subjects of agitation in the United States. … We are not here to assert the exact political formula of the treaty is the ideal one which we would choose. It represents a compromise between two countries at war with each other, but we think the treaty gives us the substance of the liberty for which we fought–freedom from foreign occupation and foreign control–and the entire mastery of our own affairs without involving the abandonment of our right to future readjustment with England that might be considered necessary.[3]”Statement of the Free State Envoys”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.

The anti-treaty delegation said it came to “explain the actual situation in Ireland” to national and state conventions of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, the group created by Éamon de Valera at the end of 1920, a year before the treaty, in a split with the U.S.-based Friends of Irish Freedom. The delegation statement continued:

Multitudes are being misled as to the real character of the proposed Irish Free State by a press propaganda that is ill-informed, biased and in many cases, partisan. We wish to explain to the people of America the actual nature of the so-called Treaty and to tell them what the Irish people think of it. The people of America have heard one side of the story.[4]”Rival Envoys Here From Ireland”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.

The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922, page 1.

The pro-treaty (and anti-de Valera) Gaelic American of New York City and anti-treaty Irish Press of Philadelphia (with direct ties to de Valera) each published statements from both groups in their March 25 editions. The Free State comments published in the Gaelic American (above) were attributed to the New York Herald. The Irish Press published different, though similar, remarks from the Free Staters, but the same anti-treaty comments.

Visitors from Ireland reinforced both sides in the coming weeks: Denis McCullough on behalf of the Free Staters and Countess Markievicz and sister of Kevin Barry for the anti-treatyites. The division worsened as the Gaelic American accused de Valera of encouraging civil war, and the anti-treaty Irish World of New York described “Freak State” leaders as “traitors.”

As Carroll has noted, “Very soon after, events in Ireland surpassed even this. … The shelling of the Four Courts and the outbreak of the Civil War in Ireland were calamitous for Irish American morale. Observers were shocked and bewildered …”[5]Carroll, America … , p. 149.

More at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.


1 Carroll, Francis M., America And The Making of An Independent Ireland, A History, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 148.
2 ”Two Rival Groups Come To Campaign For Ireland Here”, New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.
3 ”Statement of the Free State Envoys”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.
4 ”Rival Envoys Here From Ireland”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.
5 Carroll, America … , p. 149.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Civil War

This blog serial explored 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


“For today in Ireland, as then in America, we find a grave question of politics … seriously complicated and aggravated, not only by considerations of moral right and wrong, but by a profound perturbation of the material interests of the community.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In addition to his comments about the Irish in America, Hurlbert also made numerous references to the U.S. Civil War, which he witnessed a quarter century before his visit to Ireland. “Hurlbert’s home country and its history were never far from mind as he explored the Emerald Isle,” historian Daniel Crofts wrote in his book about the 19th century American journalist.

Hurlbert suggested the 1867 Fenian Rising “was undoubtedly an indirect consequence of our own Civil War in America.” He wrote of meeting a Colonel Talbot, “the only foreign officer” at the Battle of Petersburg [Virginia], who relayed a story about then U.S. General and later President [1869-1877] Ulysses S. Grant. He reported the U.S. northern state of New Hampshire was the only state to lose population during the war decade of the 1860s, which he compared to Irish emigration in the 1880s:

This phenomenon, unique in American history, is to be explained by only three causes, all active in the case of congested Ireland,–a decaying agriculture, lack of communications, and the absence of varied industries.

Hurlbert’s assessment of Ireland during the Land War as similar to America during the Civil War is most evident in this extended passage from the Epilogue of Ireland Under Coercion. The Border States were slave states that did not secede from the Union and did not join the Confederacy:

Not once, but a hundred times, during the visits to Ireland recorded in this book, I have been reminded of the state of feeling and opinion which existed in the Border States … of the American Union … For today in Ireland, as then in America, we find a grave question of politics … seriously complicated and aggravated, not only by considerations of moral right and wrong, but by a profound perturbation of the material interests of the community. … [I]t would be uncandid not to say that the optimists of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee had greater apparent odds in their favor [for reaching a peaceful solution] in 1861 than the optimists of Ireland seem to me to have in 1888.  Ireland stands to-day between Great Britain and the millions of the Irish race in America and Australia very much as the Border States of the American Union stood in 1861 between the North  and the South. … [T]he Border States enjoyed all the advantages and immunities of ‘Home Rule’ to an extent and under guarantees never yet openly demanded for Ireland by any responsible legislator within the walls of the British Parliament. But so powerful was the leverage upon them of conflicting passions and interests beyond their own borders that this sovereign states, well organized, homogeneous, prosperous communities, much more populous and richer in the aggregate in 1861 than Ireland is to-day, practically lost the control of their own affairs, and were swept helplessly into a terrific conflict, which the had the greatest imaginable interest in avoiding, and no interest whatever in promoting.

As Crofts noted, “Hurlbert recognized that analogies were deceptive,” yet he “understood, better than many of his contemporaries,” the similarities of “ideological polarization” and  “absolutist mentalities” at work in America during the mid-1800s and Ireland in the late 1800s. Crofts continued:

[Hurlbert’s] dour warnings about how the Irish situation might trigger a civil war were not fulfilled during his own lifetime, but he was correct to predict that the struggles of the 1880s could have a violent sequel [and did in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, 1919-1923]. … The conflict that led to partition [in Ireland] was mercifully less bloody than the American Civil War, but it was bad enough [and] persisted for the rest of the 20th century.

“The War in the Border States,” by Thomas Nast. Published in Harper’s Weekly, January, 1863.

NOTES: From pages 145, 220, 394, and 417-18 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Pages 183-84, 186-87 of A secession crisis enigma : William Henry Hurlbert and “The diary of a public man, by Daniel W. Crofts.

NEXT: Hurlbert reviewed

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan