Tag Archives: Irish Examiner

Ireland’s forgotten records fire of 1922

Just as truth is the first casualty of war, government records are the first victim of changes in administration. Some documents disappear with ousted officials, others are intentionally destroyed; many are legally shielded from public view for long periods.

Records were torched in the Jan. 16, 1922, handover of Dublin Castle, seat of the British administration in Ireland for more than 700 years, to the provisional government of the Irish Free State. As workman dismantled wire screens and other barricades that protected the castle from attack during the Irish revolution, “ashes of burning documents were sprinkled over the spectators outside,” the Associated Press reported to American readers.[1]Edited versions of the Jan. 16, 1922, dispatch from Dublin appeared in numerous U.S. and Canadian papers.

New York World[2]Clip from Baltimore Sun, Jan. 16, 1922, p. 2. correspondent P. J. Kelly was more direct in his reporting:

The Bantry, County Cork-born Kelly, then about 32, was editor of the Evening Telegraph in Dublin. He had covered the 1916 Easter Rising and during the War of Independence began stringing for the World, which distributed his work to U.S. papers including the Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kelly was wounded in an April 16, 1921, bomb attack on Crown forces at the O’Connell Bridge in Dublin. A blast fragment tore his cheek.[3]”PJ Kelly, 1880-1958″, The Cork Examiner, Nov. 26, 1958, and other obituaries. Editorship detail provided by Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin. See separate note on modification of this … Continue reading

Digital resurrection

Note Kelly’s concern that “records of historical value will be made unavailable to Irish historians.” He reported the removal of documents to England. It is possible, perhaps likely, that copies of the burned records, whether originals or facsimiles, also were sent to London or other locations and still exist today.

Such document duplication and secondary storage, plus advances in digital archiving, are allowing the Beyond 2022 project  to virtual reconstruct the Public Record Office of Ireland, destroyed June 30, 1922, in a fire at the Four Courts. Irish historians have long bemoaned the documentary losses at the start of the Irish Civil War. The digital records resurrection goes public on the centenary date.

There’s no doubt that Michael Collins and his network of spies and sympathizers had already seen some of the Castle records burned during the handover. Some “records of members of the new government” that Kelly reported could be the Colonial Office 904, or “Dublin Castle Records“, held by the National Archives in London.[4]See “Keeping an eye on the usual suspects: Dublin Castle’s ‘Personalities Files’, 1899–1921” by Fearghal McGarry, in History Ireland, November/December 2006.

But what files were lost forever? Some of the Castle’s forgeries of Dáil Éireann proclamations, created on captured stationary? Secret propaganda files of Basil Clarke and the Public Information Branch? It seems impossible to know.

A few days after the Dublin Castle handover, the Irish Examiner suggested “most Irishmen with any historical sense would like to go through its many chambers, and not a few would like to examine its records. Why not convert the Castle into an Irish historic museum and record office, where students could congregate to write Ireland’s history.”[5]”Future of Dublin Castle”, Irish Examiner, Jan. 18, 1922.

That’s largely what happened. The Castle today is a tourist destination, now featuring centenary events about the handover. A new book by John Gibney and Kate O’Malley also details the handover. I’m curious whether it addresses the “bonfires of officials papers” reported by Kelly. I’ve reached out to the Castle archives department and will update the post as appropriate.


NOTE: This post was modified Jan. 17 to add more details about Kelly, which were moved higher in the story. My Jan. 16 Twitter post, which referred to him as “an American reporter,” was corrected. Kelly’s citizenship was not mentioned in the original blog post. … See more of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. MH

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland into 1922. This photo from late 19th or early 20th century. National Library of Ireland image.


1 Edited versions of the Jan. 16, 1922, dispatch from Dublin appeared in numerous U.S. and Canadian papers.
2 Clip from Baltimore Sun, Jan. 16, 1922, p. 2.
3 ”PJ Kelly, 1880-1958″, The Cork Examiner, Nov. 26, 1958, and other obituaries. Editorship detail provided by Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin. See separate note on modification of this post. Wounded: “12 Houses Burned For Irish Murder … Correspondent Wounded” The New York Times, April 17, 1921.
4 See “Keeping an eye on the usual suspects: Dublin Castle’s ‘Personalities Files’, 1899–1921” by Fearghal McGarry, in History Ireland, November/December 2006.
5 ”Future of Dublin Castle”, Irish Examiner, Jan. 18, 1922.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish press

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An evicted family in Glenbeigh, probably 1887.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan