Tag Archives: Kentucky Irish American

Protestant preacher helped promote Irish independence

Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of Killead Church, County Antrim, arrived in America in March 1920 to help promote Irish independence. His particular mission: counter the prevailing notion that Irish nationalism was strictly a Catholic desire. The Protestant preacher toured with republican leader Éamon de Valera, who had reached U.S. shores in June 1919.

Rev. J.A.H.Irwin, a Presbyterian minister from near Belfast, arrived in America in March 1920 to present the case of Irish Protestants in favor of self-determination for Ireland. Library of Congress photo.

In one of his earliest U.S. newspaper interviews1, Rev. Irwin, then 44, said:

I have come to the United States mainly because I feel that the Irish issue is likely to be misconstrued to the American public. I knew that a deputation was sent to represent the extreme Unionist, and I knew that the southern aspect was capably presented by Mr. de Valera and his friends, but I felt that there was an entirely different aspect and point of view that neither of these parties could or would put before the American people.

It is absolutely and entirely false to say the issue [of Irish independence] is a religious one. … The question is purely political and economic. [Unionist leader] Sir Edward Carson … has allowed himself and his followers to use [sectarianism] as the last refuge of a defeated politician. He knows that it is the only weapon he can use with effect on the American people, who are lovers of freedom and justice, and who, he knows, would resent any form of Catholic aggression.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, a pro-nationalist weekly with ties to the provisional republican government in Dublin, reported on Rev. Irwin’s April 5, 1920, address to the Protestant Friends of Ireland2 in New York. “A sea of Irish faces, 5,000 strong, all eagerly wait[ed] to hear the speaker of the evening,” began the story3 by Agnes Newman, sister of 1916 Easter Rising martyr Sir Roger Casement.

Dr. Irwin emphasized the fact that if Britain would withdraw her present army of occupation from Ireland not one hair upon the head of a man, woman or child would be injured in any part of Ireland. He strongly denounced the oppression and cruelty of the present ‘Reign of Terror’ and said he had traveled these thousands of miles not in the cause of humanity alone, but in the cause of Christianity.

Within weeks of his U.S. arrival, Unionist forces began a smear campaign against Rev. Irwin. “His views [are] absolutely opposed to the whole mass of Irish Presbyterian opinion … his statement … a mass of falsehoods and misrepresentations. He has no credentials to speak for either Presbyterians or Protestants,” stated a widely-circulated April 10, 1920, letter from Belfast, attributed only to “responsible representatives.”4

Nevertheless, Rev. Irwin became a regular platform guest with de Valera as the Irish bond drive toured through the Southern states of America, including a controversial stop in Birmingham, Alabama. (I’ll explore that in a future post.) Rev. Irwin also visited several Canadian cities.

Upon his January 1921 return to Ulster, the preacher was arrested by British authorities on weapons charges. As colorfully described by the Fermanagh Herald, “a farmer’s gun for which there was no ammunition, and a revolver which would not revolve, with ammunition that would not fit it.”5

News coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested Rev. Irwin was the first Presbyterian minister arrested by the British state since the rebellion of 1798. These contemporary sources reported he was held at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, and/or the Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down; either for a few days or several weeks of a two-year sentence.

That summer, a special commission impaneled at Killead church considered complaints about  the preacher’s activities in America. The majority opinion was that “if outsiders had left the congregation alone there would have been no occasion for the commission. It was due, they said, to outside influence for political purposes.”6 Rev. Irwin remained at Killead for another five years, moved to Scotland until 1935, then settled in Dublin.7

In 1937, de Valera consulted with Rev. Irwin about the composition of the new Constitution of Ireland. The preacher later joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil political party, where he served on the national executive from 1945 until his death in 1954.8

Rev. J.A.H. Irwin in March 1921. Library of Congress photo.

1919 Revisited: American reporting of Irish independence

This year I explored 1919 U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of events in the struggled for Irish freedom. I produced 32 stand-alone posts for my American Reporting of Irish Independence series about developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including:

  • Dáil Éireann, revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic
  • Irish Race Convention
  • American Commission on Irish Independence
  • Éamon de Valera’s tour of America
  • News reporting and opinion pieces for and against the Irish cause

Many of my posts are focused on three Irish-American weeklies: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia paper with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; the Kentucky Irish American, published from 1898 to 1968 in Louisville; and The Irish Standard, circulated from 1886 to 1920 in Minneapolis, Minn. Since all three papers are digitized, my posts are laced with links to the original pages. The Irish American and Standard offered more moderate coverage of Ireland’s cause than the Press, reflecting a more conservative Irish America in the heartland, rather than the more activist immigrant pockets of the East Coast.

Ruth Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

I also produced a five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, about a young Chicago Daily News correspondent who reported from the early months of the revolution. Upon her return to America, Russell wrote a book about her experience, protested against British rule in Ireland; and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell said of the Sinn Féin leaders. “[They were] the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”1

Here’s the full series:

Thanks to the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland for the opportunity to present my research at conferences in Dallas and Belfast, respectively.

Presenting at the NPHFI conference, Queens University Belfast, November 2019.

De Valera’s bad headline day in L.A.

On Nov. 19, 1919, a year and a week after the armistice ending World War I, the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations. The same day, 2,670 miles west of Washington, D.C., Éamon de Valera was hammered by negative headlines in the Los Angeles Times as he arrived in the California city.

These seven headlines appeared below that day’s nameplate, taking half the available front page space:

Sims Denounces De Valera and Sinn Fein Plotters
Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, commander of the U.S. overseas fleet, said “this brotherhood is attempting to stir up hatred against our allies in the war.”

Irishman Near Collapse
“According to physicians, the Irish leader suffered a near-collapse that may necessitate his cancelling” other stops in California. Doctors in San Francisco had ordered de Valera to rest, but he pressed on to L.A.1

De Valera Unwelcome: Protest Against the Sinn Fein Leader by Societies Shows City’s Stand
“American Legion posts, church bodies and British societies have been particularly active in denouncing the Sinn Fein leader and have adopted resolutions declaring him a traitor to the cause of the Allies in the war and charging him with attempting to stir up enmity between the United States and England.”

San Diego Blow for De Valera
The city’s mayor said he would not greet the visitor on his next stop. “I am part Irish myself and he does not represent that part of me at all.”

Shriners Protest Use of Hall by De Valera
The philanthropic arm of the Masons cashed a rental deposit check from Irish supporters, then claimed they were unaware the event featured de Valera. Their change of mind appeared to be prompted by the Times’ amplified harangue against him.

Great Citrus Belt Hits Hard at Sinn Feiner
The Associated Chambers of Commerce of the San Gabriel Valley, representing 17 smaller towns, passed a resolution denouncing de Valera as a traitor.

No Music for Paraders: Pasadena and Long Beach Bands Refuse to Play for De Valera Today
The decision was driven in part by protests from a group of U.S. Civil War veterans, who compared de Valera and Sinn Fein to the Copperheads of the 1860s.

As Dave Hannigan explains:

The degree of vitriol directed toward de Valera can be traced to the publisher Harry Chandler, who a couple of months earlier had described his interest in the Versailles Treaty thus: “as far as the Los Angeles Times is concerned, the League [of Nations] is not our politics now but our religion.” Chandler obviously believed this Irishman was preaching a blasphemous doctrine against the League and had to be dealt with accordingly; not to mention that his visit was being sponsored, at least in part, by a rival paper, the Los Angeles Examiner.2

That night, the crowd gathered outside the Shrine Auditorium to see de Valera was prohibited from entering the building. The Irish leader, who gave a speech earlier in day at his hotel, avoided the scene and departed the next morning for San Diego, despite the expected snub by the city’s mayor.

De Valera before a Los Angeles crowd, a few days later than planned in November 1919.

Four days later, de Valera returned to Los Angeles for a rescheduled appearance at a minor league baseball stadium. The outdoor event drew a larger crowd than would have seen him at the indoor venue. The Times’ page 13 story described de Valera as “the mythical ‘president’ of a mythical Irish ‘republic.’ “3 The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, months earlier complained about the demeaning device of using quotes around the words such as president and republic.

The same day’s Times front page declared: “Sinn Fein Terrorist Rule Ireland With Hate“. The story by American correspondent George Seldes opened with this quote from a British military officer:

“Ireland is terrorized. It is seething with crime. Let me tell you one thing, it is no longer safe to go about in the King’s uniform.”

The generally negative portrait of Irish republican efforts nevertheless recognized the arrests and imprisonment without trial of members of Dáil Éireann. Seldes concluded: “Despite all this crime, a stranger in Ireland goes about freely and safely.”

Irish-American newspapers, though slowed by their weekly publication schedules and commitments to other news content, responded vehemently to the Times‘ L.A. coverage.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, with its direct links de Valera and the separatist government in Dublin, described the daily as “the best-known labor-hating and pro-British sheet in the west.” The Press continued:

The Times engaged for four weeks in the bitterest and most malignant campaign of misrepresentation and hatred that has been witnessed in this country in years. Lies–on several occasions six columns of them in one edition–were hurled at de Valera and the Irish people. Editorially and in news columns deliberately incited to mob violence.4

The Kentucky Irish American headlined “Notorious Sheet Exposed” (the Times) and noted the Hearst-owned Examiner “made a special fight in favor of a fair hearing and the other papers of that district were friendly to the lecture.”5

The Irish Standard barely mentioned the Times, except that “de Valera made only one reference to the newspaper which boasted of having prevented his appearance at the Shrine Auditorium, when he said, speaking of the Irish movement:

It is not racial, it is not religious. You are told it is religious. Now, it is very easy to see that it is not, and so difficult would it be to prove it religious that even the Los Angeles Times admits it is not a religious issue.6

De Valera and his supporters returned to New York from California, taking a short break from the coast-to-coast tour that began in June before tackling other problems. Hannigan writes:

By any standard of measurement, this extended cross-country jaunt was the most successful aspect of de Valera’s stay in America. In terms of raising awareness and drawing the attention of newspapers and the public alike, it was a fantastic achievement. For the duration of the tour and a good while after, coverage of all things Irish, especially in regional press, exploded.7

Hyde’s ‘American Journey’ re-launched in D.C.

Irish language advocate and academic Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) in November 1905 began an eight-month tour of the United States to promote the Gaelic League, which he helped co-found in 1893. Money raised from the tour was used to hire and train additional Irish language teachers and organizers. The Gaelic League sustained a cultural revolution that nurtured the political sovereignty movement that erupted over the next two decades. 

My America Journey, Hyde’s collection of journal and diary entries, was first published in 1937 in Irish. Now, the University College Dublin Press has reissued the collection as a 362-page bilingual hardcover, which also contains newly discovered archival material, extensive illustrations, maps, and an introduction by Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Daniel Mulhall

Hyde was “one of the most interesting and least known figures of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland,” Ambassador of Ireland to the United States Daniel Mulhall said during an Oct. 23 book launch at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Hyde’s 1892 National Literary Society lecture, “The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation”, ranks as “the most important speech in Ireland in 150 years,” Mulhall said. It awakened the realization that the Irish were an ancient people with their own language and culture, “not a pale imitation of our neighbor.”

The Irish community Hyde encountered in America was “fiercely committed to the welfare of their ancestral homeland,” the ambassador continued. Hyde encouraged the connection to be sure the immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic also didn’t drift away in spirit. It was the beginning of American influence on Irish affairs that continued through the revolutionary period, the Troubles, and continues to this day.

“I have personally experienced that commitment in the context of Brexit,” Mulhall said.

I’ll have more on Hyde’s book in future posts. For now, here is a link to “Objects, Aims and Philosophy of the Gaelic League Set Forth in Address“, an announcement of Hyde’s tour from the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League as published on the Oct. 14, 1905, front page of the Kentucky Irish American newspaper.

Statue outside of the Douglas Hyde Interpretive Centre in his native County Roscommon, February 2018.

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

“It is an anxious time for Northern Ireland’s unionists. Catholics will soon outnumber Protestants … and Brexit is wobbling the UK’s constitutional edifice. Conceivably, within a decade, a majority could vote in a border poll to join a united Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday agreement,” the Guardian reported about this year’s Twelfth celebrations.

ORIGINAL POST:

In a fiery July 12, 1919, speech near Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Edward Carson warned that changing Ireland’s government to a republic or home rule status would result in him calling out the Ulster Volunteers, an implicit threat of arms against the British authorities.

“Don’t let us talk. Let us be prepared for all and every emergency,” Carson bellowed before a large crowd of Orangemen.1

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

I today seriously say to America: You attend to your own affairs and we will attend to ours. You look after your own questions at home and we  will look after ours. We will not brook interference in our own affairs by any country, however powerful.

He took aim at the American Commission on Irish Independence (ACII), the three-member, non-government, delegation that visited Ireland in May on a side trip from its advocacy at the Paris peace conference. Carson said:

What right had the American mission to come to this country? To come here in a breach of hospitality on one nation toward another–to attempt to stir up strife in matters in which they were not connected? … The encouragement that those men gave to the Sinn Féin Party has created for His Majesty’s Government far more difficulty than they ever had before. I believe that the visit of these men and the encouragement they gave to lawlessness, which was being preached throughout the land, has added greatly to the campaign of assassination of innocent policemen …

Edward Carson, in 1919.

Carson also mocked Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, “who is now working against you in America with the help of the Catholic Hierarchy … and who imagines in his vanity that one day or the other he is going to march through Belfast and Ulster and you will all willingly take off your hats and bow the knee to the head of the organization, which in the darkest hour of the war for the world’s freedom shot his Majesty’s soldiers in the streets of Dublin.” De Valera was then one month into his tour of America to raise money and U.S. political support for an Irish republic.

An Associated Press report of Carson’s speech was widely published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers, which focused on the charge of American meddling and the ACII, not de Valera. The Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service cabled from London, “Sir Edward Carson’s simultaneous declaration against the British government, the  Sinn Féin, and the United States over the question of changing the present form of government in Ireland has met with general condemnation from the London press.”2

The Brooklyn Times Union was not fooled by the Carson’s hypocrisy, and noted on its editorial page:

Sir Edward Carson’s record for loyalty to his own country is not so immaculate that the citizens of the United States need feel greatly pained by his reckless and absurd animadversions … The politician who threatened to fight the British Government with arms rather than submit to the laws of the British Parliament manifestly does not speak for the majority of the people of Ireland and presumably speaks only for a small and bigoted moiety of any British constituency.3

The Kentucky Irish American published a rebuttal to Carson by ACII member Michael J. Ryan,  who noted that “Carson now asks that America should attend to its own affairs. This, however, is a change from the plea when the cry for help came across the ocean when England’s army faced certain defeat.” The piece also said the Ulster leader “represents intolerance and organized ignorance in Ireland.”4

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, dismissed Carson’s “Belfast outbreak” with an uncharacteristically restrained shrug.

We have in America–even if the breed be unknown in Britain–some politicians who ‘play politics’ and who recognize the elemental fact that there are men in this country who give or withhold their votes from an American candidate in an American contest because of his policy toward Ireland. So they act accordingly. But there was no need for Sir Edward Carson to warn the mass of the American people off the grass.  They were not on it.5

The centenary of Carson’s 1919 Twelfth speech comes as the Oct. 31 deadline for Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain to withdrawal from the European Union–Brexit–draws closer and talk of a united Ireland grows stronger.

“No flag will fly in Ulster but the Union Jack,” Carson was reported saying at the 229th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.6  Whether that remains true in five or 10 years remains to be seen.

The Union Jack flutters at a housing estate in the unionist Shankill Road section of Belfast in July 2016.

Select newspaper editorials on de Valera’s U.S. arrival

This is part of my year-long series of posts about American reporting of Irish independence, 1919, including the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s arrival in America. Below are select U.S. newspaper editorials from the start of his 18-month tour. The three Irish-American newspaper are hyperlinked to the corresponding page of the digitized issue. MH

The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, June 26, 1919

Crazy as the de Valera ideas may have seemed a few months ago, Premier Lloyd George has himself to thank for making them a serious element in the international situation … Delay in enforcing home rule was not inexplicable before the armistice. Since then the pernicious influence of Sir Edward Carson and the new dependence of the Premier on Tory support established by the [December 1918] parliamentary election are conditions, not explanations or justifications, for procrastination.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, June 28, 1919
Ireland’s President Visits America

The common people, who after all are what really count, do not feel themselves constrained to draw distinctions in the same way as Government officials. They do not believe that a Republic which has the support of the people living under it is a pretense–something to be named inside quotation marks–just because a foreign army is on its territory. … Few of the chief executives of republics represent so large a proportion of their people as does President de Valera. To emphasize these we need go no further than President Wilson (who in 1912 and 1916 received less than 50 percent of the popular vote, but put into office by the Electoral College.) … That ordinary people are indifferent to diplomatic formalities, and recognize Mr. de Valera as President of Ireland, is proved by the acclaim with which he has been greeted since his appearance in this country. … The friends of Ireland, who include all true Americans, will welcome the President, and will assist him in his efforts to make the heads of the American Government recognize the true status of Ireland.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 28, 1919
Welcome President De Valera

Of American birth himself and imbued with the American ideals of truth, justice and humanity, [de Valera] is particularly fitted to present the cause of Ireland to the America people. Of pure life, stainless character, and noble spirit and engaging personality his appeal cannot fail to engage the consideration of all Americans who cherish the traditions and policies of this great Republic of the West, and who are free from the obsession of British propaganda. A new Parnell has come to plead the cause of Ireland, but under circumstances that are far more promising and inspiring than those existing in the decade [1880s] of the visit of the great Home Rule leader; and he is asking not merely for colonial or dominion government of Ireland, but for absolute and complete independence, and in this stand he is sustained by more than three-fourths of his fellow countrymen. He seeks recognition of a government that is unquestionably of right as subjected to the tests of democracy and Americanism.

The Decatur (Illinois, 200 miles south of Chicago) Herald, June 29, 1919

These schoolmasters! One of them [U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a former college professor] brought his country into a successful war, defined the conditions of peace which brought the war to an end, and was the leading spirit a world court of peace enforcement. Another [de Valera] was a professor of mathematics in Dublin … [Though] there is nothing about Prof. De Valera suggesting the fiery Irish patriot of history … Ireland probably made no mistake in the gravely professorial Mr. De Valera. Schoolmasters have been known to turn out fairly successful politicians.

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Kentucky, July 5, 1919
Leader De Valera

…Irish skill and daring, in the hour of Ireland’s need, outmatched the might of the empire–outreached the lion’s claws! Like an eagle from the clouds, sudden [de Valera] is among us. … We are asked only to fill the war chest; to give a little work and a little money; to provide an Irish Victory Fund with which the last grim struggle on the field of world-wide public opinion may be waged and won. The Irish republic is a reality; but so is the British army of occupation in Ireland–and so is the British propaganda in America.

June 1919: U.S. editorials on Senate support for Ireland

On June 6, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution requesting the Paris peace conference to give a hearing to the delegation appointed by Dáil Éireann, and expressing sympathy with the “aspirations of the Irish people for a government of their own choice.” The U.S. House of Representatives had voted in favor of self-determination for Ireland in early March, on the last day of the previous legislative session, but a parliamentary maneuver by opponents delayed consideration in the Senate.

The combined legislative action “prove that there is in this country a general feeling in favor of having the case of Ireland presented at the peace conference,” The Washington Post editorialized a day after the Senate vote.1 The capital daily continued:

The present condition of Ireland—with a dwindling population, industries destroyed, law flouted, and her people on the ragged edge of rebellion kept down only by a large army of occupation—is altogether anomalous and … alarming.  It surely is not expecting too much of the peace conference to ask it to clean off the slate in this matter before it brings its labors to a close. … It is inconceivable that President Wilson and the other members of the American delegation at Paris will not heed the combined appeal of the Senate and the House.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1919.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to Ireland’s revolutionary government, correctly noted that such resolutions did not have the full force of legislation sent to Wilson to sign into law. It said such passage was critical, and continued:

If some step is not now taken by the United States to aid Ireland, there is little reason to hope that a situation will again soon present itself where anything can be done by the American government. … We have come to the end of a war in which the victory has rested with the powers which declared that they fought for world freedom and especially the rights of small nations. The spokesman of the United States [Wilson] has made very clear and specific declarations on this point. The people of Ireland have voted for separation from Great Britain, and have set up a government of their own. If under these conditions the government of this county does not take some action, it is hardly to be expected that it will do anything when the conditions are less favorable, as they undoubtedly will be later.2

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Irish Standard wondered if Ireland would have received her freedom at the peace conference if she had been among the oppressed nations of the German and Austrian empires.

But because the despotism under which she is groaning is the British brand, it is not to be interfered with. Was it then to curb the tyranny and autocracy of certain particular nations only that the world war was fought, or was it against all such anachronisms of government wherever found? … The world’s wounds are about to be sewed up while at least one dangerous source of infection is left within—that of the rankling Irish discontent at British domination.3

In Louisville, the Kentucky Irish American suggested that Britain’s “domineering and bulldog tactics” regarding Ireland and other matters “has aroused much indignation in this country. … Despite the efforts of the pro-English press on this side, the American public as a whole is fast discovering the hypocrisy and hoggishness of the English nation.”4

On June 17 in Dublin, Dáil Éireann passed a motion of thanks to the Senate to “assure the people of America that the ties of blood and friendship which subsisted between both nations in the days of their subjection to one common oppressor have endured and are indissoluble.”

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1919

UPDATE:

Against the backdrop of Brexit chaos, the classic “England Get Out of Ireland” banner in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day is damaging political discourse, Stephen Collins writes in The Irish Times. Plus, a 2018 New York Times piece about the sign. See bullet points below.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar March 14 at the White House, continuing a St. Patrick’s week tradition that began in 1952. Things were much different in 1919: the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann, had been established for two months; skirmishes and ambushes in the War of Independence flared across Ireland; more than 5,000 supporters of Irish independence gathered in late February in Philadelphia to bring attention to the cause; and the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of March passed a resolution in favor of Irish self-determination. All of this nationalist activity on both sides of the Atlantic influenced 1919’s annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Trump and Varadkar in 2018. White House photo

Below, a look at March 1919 coverage in the Irish-American and mainstream press. MH


“Irish freedom was demanded, and the league of nations, as proposed at present, was condemned at a mass meeting last night at Liberty Hut under the auspices of the United Irish Societies of the District that was the climax of the National Capital’s celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Ten thousand people were packed in the spacious auditorium, while more than 5,000 other clamored for admission to the most wildly enthusiastic meeting ever held in Washington in the cause of Irish independence. There was almost constant applause as the speakers extolled the virtues of Ireland and her sons.” The Washington Post, March 18, page 1

Of course, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City drew plenty of press attention:

“The existence of the Irish Republic, and the demand that it be recognized as one of the sovereign nations of the earth, were proclaimed by the great demonstration held [in New York City]. Probably the most notable feature of the parade, and one in which it differed considerably from the processions of earlier days, was display of thousands upon thousands of tri-colored flags, the emblem of the Republic of Ireland. The old green flag with the harp on it was entirely abandoned … ” The Irish Press, Philadelphia, March 22, page 1

The New York Times coverage of the massive parade, placed on page 4 of the March 18 issue, said “it was a perfect day” for the event, and “not a single unpleasant incident marred the celebration.” Rather than noting the change of flags, the report made an extensive inventory of political banners carried by the marchers. These included:

  • England–Damn your concessions. We want our country.
  • “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it has no desire to live.”–President Woodrow Wilson
  • There will be no peace while Ireland is ruled by a foreign force.
  • If there is right and justice in the world, then Ireland should have its share.
  • A true American is a true Sinn Feiner.

More mainstream celebrations occurred in the American heartland:

“Ireland and St. Patrick were by no means forgotten on Monday, the greatest of Irish holidays, in Minneapolis. Many store windows were dressed up in green in honor of the day. The shamrock, the harp, and many other emblems of the old sod were seen in generous abundance.” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., March 22, page 1

“In a room hung with the green flag of old Ireland, and the three-colored flag of the hopes for a new Ireland, intermingled with shamrocks and entwined around the Stars and Stripes of America, 450 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sand the songs of old Erin, and cheered and applauded each expression of faith in the hoped-for republic, when the annual St. Patrick’s day dinner of the order was held in the Fort Pitt Hotel last night.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, page 11

“Native born and American born Irish men and women of Louisville paid fitting and credible tribute to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. The religious observances began with the Ladies Auxiliary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians who filled St. Patrick’s Church early Sunday morning … Monday night there were numerous attractions … but it remained for the AOH to eclipse it all with their celebration at Bertrand Hall, which was profusely decorated with the national colors and the flag of the Irish republic and flags and banners of the Ancient Order.” Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Ky., March 22, page 1

Washington, D.C. in 1919.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events: