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.Edited versions of the Jan. 16, 1922, dispatch from Dublin appeared in numerous U.S. and Canadian papers.
New York WorldClip 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.”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
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.
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.””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.
”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.
American newspapers at the outset of 1922 contrasted the debut of an Irish republican weekly opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the Dublin dailies that supported the agreement. The first issue of Poblacht na h-Éireann (The Republic of Ireland) newspaper appeared days before Dáil Éireann voted on the proposal, announced Dec. 6, 1921.
“The question of outstanding interest in the Irish situation discussed by the Dublin newspapers this morning is the effect the expression of public sentiment in favor of ratification … will have on their opponents,” the Associated Press (AP) reported in a Jan. 2 story widely circulated in U.S. papers. It cited opinions from the Freeman’s Journal, the Irish Independent, and the Irish Times. AP quoted the Freeman’s view that, “No sophistry, however fine spun, can disguise the fact to thwart this will would betray a sacred trust.””Ireland Absorbed in Treaty’s Fate”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., Jan. 2, 1922, and other U.S. papers, from “The New Year”, Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, Jan. 2, … Continue reading
Poblacht na h-Éireann debuted the following day from the presses at Cahill & Co. on Ormand Quay, Dublin.Page 1 announcement, Freeman’s Journal, Dec. 30, 1921.Dáil TD Liam Mellows edited the paper with the assistance of established journalist Frank Gallagher.The Dictionary of Irish Biography entries for Mellows and Gallagher do not mention this publishing venture. Mellows was executed by the Free State government in December 1922. Gallagher’s … Continue reading Contributors included Cathal Brugha, Countess Georgina Markievicz, and Erskine Childress. “Virtually all of the protagonists of the Republican party except Mr. (Éamon) de Valera himself are represented on its staff or board of directors,” AP told American readers.”Republic The Demand of Dail Extremists, They Establish a Newspaper to Carry on Fight”, Associated Press, The New York (N.Y.) Herald, Jan. 3, 1922.
Small, partisan papers were a familiar feature of Ireland’s revolutionary period. Many were suppressed by British authorities at Dublin Castle. Sinn Féin launched The Irish Bulletin in November 1919 to publicize the Dáil and report the war activities of the Irish Volunteers. Gallagher was active on the staff. The Royal Irish Constabulary began to publish The Weekly Summary in August 1920 to counter republican propaganda as the island’s police force weathered attacks from the separatists. Both papers disappeared by January 1922, though some contemporaries described Poblacht na hÉireann as a successor to the Bulletin.
Since the July 1921 truce, Arthur Griffith’s Young Ireland had existed as the only republican Sinn Fein paper, AP reported. It “had taken no strong line on either side” of the treaty “in accord with the entire attitude of Mr. Griffith and Michael Collins who … have been careful to avoid any controversial public utterances.” Griffith and Collins helped negotiate the deal in London while de Valera remained in Dublin.
The first editorial in Poblacht na h-Éireann declared:
The Republic of Ireland stands for neither party nor person. … The supreme principal on which we take out stand is the declared independence of the Irish people, and we shall use all our influence and effort without rancor or facetiousness to prevent the surrender of that independence. … We oppose the treaty, not because we want war but because we want peace and the treaty makes peace impossible.
American journalist Hayden Talbot described a second editorial in the new paper, headlined “The Daily Press and the Treaty,” as a “scathing denunciation,” with “every Irish daily suffering equally for supporting ratification–the obvious intent being to make it appear that the entire Irish press has been bought by English money.””New Republican Organ”, Universal Service Special Cable Dispatch, The Anaconda (Montana) Standard, Jan. 4, 1922 Talbot would interview Collins in March, then produce an early book about the Irish Free State leader after his assassination in August 1922. More on Talbot and Collins later this year.
The Dáil narrowly approved the treaty on Jan. 7, 1922. Poblacht na h-Éireann appeared in several iterations over the following year: the original 4-page weekly published through June 1922; a “War News” bulletin or broadside printed on “one side of a large sheet of paper, yellow or pink or white,” which “bitterly arraigns all enemies of the Irish Republic, British or Free State, and encourages the (anti-treaty) Irregulars” through at least January 1923;”The Irish Republic Speaks”, The Nation, Aug. 2, 1922, p. 132-134. The magazine published facsimiles of two issues, dated June 30 and July 1, 1922. and an 8-page “Scottish edition” printed in Glasgow from about September 1922 through January 1923. The republican paper disappeared as the Irish civil war concluded later in 1923.
Villanova University’s Falvey Digital Library holds a limited collection of 37 issues of Poblacht na h-Éireann “War News.” University College Dublin Digital Library offers 18 issues of the paper’s larger Scottish edition.
The Dictionary of Irish Biography entries for Mellows and Gallagher do not mention this publishing venture. Mellows was executed by the Free State government in December 1922. Gallagher’s writing and political career continued until his death in 1963.
Retired federal judge Richard Campbell, secretary of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, in late October 1921 met the five Irish plenipotentiaries negotiating a peace treaty with the British government. Campbell, a County Antrim emigrant, and banker John J. Pulleyn, treasurer of the American Committee, had spent most of the month in Ireland overseeing the relief effort, subject of an earlier post.
In London, Campbell lunched with the Irish delegation at the Grosvenor Hotel and breakfasted with them at the Hotel Savoy, according to his account published in U.S. newspapers days before the Dec. 6 announcement of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Campbell began his career as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. His physical descriptions of the five Irish delegates are noteworthy because photos were only starting to become regular features in newspapers. Images of the Irish delegates were not included with Campbell’s descriptions in the two papers I reviewed.”Gives Impressions of Sinn Fein Leaders”, The Evening News, Wilkes Barre, Pa., Nov. 29, 1921, and “Meets Sinn Fein Delegates”, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, Dec. 4, 1921. The images on this page (except Campbell) were published in a Christmas Day photo spread in the Chicago Tribune three weeks after the treaty announcement.
I’ve edited Campbell’s commentary and added a few (italicized notes within parentheses), where appropriate.
… has the look of a Yale professor. His forehead is high and his head well shaped, and the cranial development impressive. He has a grayish-black mustache, blue eyes and carries the mark of introspection the bespeaks middle age in the student and thinker. (Griffith was 50 and would die in less than a year of cerebral hemorrhage, 10 days before Collins assassination.) … … By profession he is a journalist. … His mind runs in terms of commerce and industry. … He wishes to restore Irish shipping to the sea and is full of schemes for the development of Irish ports. His dream is to have Galway the great distribution point for goods from the United States to Europe.
… from his appearances is still under 30 years of age. (Collins was 31 on Oct. 16, 1921.) He reminds one of the whirlwind virility of the late Theodore Roosevelt, (Campbell worked in Roosevelt’s administration.) and gives one the impression of a perfect athlete fresh from the football field. … He is above medium height, broad shouldered (and) walks with a quick, long stride. … He is always in a rollicking humor, as if life were a great joke. But when you draw him into conversation you find a man who is keenly alive to the problems of the hour, both in domestic and world politics. … Collins is a singularly modest man … There is no doubt Collins has been one of the great driving forces of the republican movement and his career in Ireland will be a notable one, I am sure. (Collins was assassinated nine months later.)
George Gavan Duffy
… is of medium height and wears a reddish Van Dyke beard, he is still on the sunny side of middle age. (He was 39.) Duffy is a quiet man, slow and deliberate of speech, but always convincing. He is by profession a lawyer … If we had him here in America he would suggest a solid lawyer of the type who represents the average run of clients. … Since 1914 he was represented the Irish Republic in various countries of Europe, notably Italy and France. … He is the son of a former premier of New South Wales, Sir Charles Gavin Duffy.
Robert C. Barton
… has a shy, self-effacing approach and the look of an Episcopal clergyman. He is gray haired, middle aged (He was 40.) and has a florid complexion. His dress is immaculate and his outward appearance conveys anything but the impression of an uncompromising revolutionist that he is. … (As a British Army officer) in 1916 he commanded a company in the troops assigned to the task of suppressing the Easter rebellion in Dublin. At that time he says he began to think along republican lines. … (He later) became a candidate for the Irish Parliament on the Sinn Fein ticket and soon thereafter found himself in a jail in England under a three-year sentence for ‘seditious utterances’ (and released under a general amnesty in July 1921).
… gives the impression of the sort of man who if he were over here might be taken for a congressman or a United States senator. He wears a gray mustache, has a dapper appearance, is slightly bald and is just about medium height. (He was 43.) He is easy to approach … and has a distinct gift as a raconteur. Duggan is a Dublin lawyer, but he hails from the county of Armagh … he speaks with a strong North of Ireland burr. … He claims that outside the city of Belfast, Ulster is as Irish as any other part of Ireland. … He certainly impresses me as being a man of brains.
Altogether I may say that I was deeply impressed by the ability and scholarly attainments of the men who are representing Ireland. One may here this and that, but real impressions have to be made my personal contacts.
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.
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”).
I am pleased to welcome Dr. Michael Doorley, associate lecturer in History at the Open University in Ireland, as guest writer. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is widely published on the history of the Irish diaspora in the United States, including numerous book chapters. His own books include, Irish American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916—1935 (2005), and Justice Daniel Cohalan, 1865-1946: American patriot and Irish-American nationalist, from Cork University Press. MH
Irish-American isolationism and Irish internationalism: The dispute between Justice Daniel Cohalan and Éamon de Valera in 1920
In June 1919 Éamon de Valera, then leader of the Irish nationalist movement Sinn Féin and president of the newly established Irish Dáil, arrived in the United States. He would remain there until December 1920. De Valera sought to win American recognition for the self-proclaimed Irish Republic and raise money for the ongoing political and military campaign against British forces in Ireland.
In achieving these objectives, de Valera sought the help of two Irish-American nationalist organizations. The secret Clan na Gael, then led by the aged Fenian leader John Devoy and the more broad-based Friends of Irish Freedom organization (FOIF), founded by Judge Daniel Cohalan, at the first 1916 “Race Convention” in New York. The FOIF had branches across the United States and by the end of 1920 numbered 275,000 regular and associate members.1. The American-born Cohalan, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland during the Famine, was a New York State Supreme Court Justice with close connections to the American Catholic hierarchy and leading politicians from both main parties. In 1919, Henry Cabot Lodge, Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised Cohalan as “one of the ablest men to ever come to Washington to plead a cause. The citizens of Irish blood are fortunate in having him as a leader”.2
That de Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, would choose to remain in the United States for 18 months at such a momentous time, highlights the importance of the American dimension to the Irish struggle for independence. In justifying American intervention in the war, President Woodrow Wilson had called for the establishment of a League of Nations which would adjudicate disputes between nations so as to prevent future conflicts. Wilson had also highlighted that the war was being fought for the principle of justice for all nationalities though he had not the Irish in mind when he made this pronouncement. 3.
Judge Daniel Cohalan and Éamon de Valera soon after the Irish leaders June 1919 arrival. Library of Congress.
Irish-American nationalists had other ideas. In May 1919, just before de Valera’s arrival in the United States, Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho, a close ally of Cohalan, introduced a resolution in the Senate calling on the American delegation at the ongoing Paris Peace Conference to secure a hearing for an Irish delegation at the event. The resolution also expressed sympathy for Irish “self-determination” and was passed by 60-1, with 35 senators abstaining.4 President Wilson, unwilling to offend Britain, chose to ignore this resolution but de Valera had every reason to hope that further Irish-American political pressure could be applied to force the American government to back Irish demands.
One might have expected a close working relationship between the leaders of Irish and Irish-American nationalism and indeed relations between de Valera and Cohalan were initially good. In particular, De Valera recognized that Cohalan, with his social and political connections, could be a vital ally to his mission. In February 1919, a few months before de Valera’s arrival in the United States, an Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia, chaired by Judge Cohalan, launched a “Victory Fund” in support of the Irish cause. A portion of these funds facilitated de Valera’s successful tour of the United States. While Cohalan initially objected to de Valera’s bond drive, believing that the sale of bonds on behalf of a country that did not yet exist would be illegal, a compromise was found. Bond “certificates” rather than actual bonds were sold. FOIF National Secretary, Cork-born Diarmuid Lynch, who had fought heroically in the 1916 Rising, turned over the names and address of the organization’s members to de Valera’s bond drive committee. Meanwhile, members of the Clan and the FOIF enthusiastically participated in the Bond Drive. Over $5 million was collected and this aspect of de Valera’s American mission proved to be a resounding success.5
Despite Cohalan’s cooperation with de Valera’s bond drive, tensions developed between both men. Given Cohalan’s relative obscurity in Irish history, it would be easy to explain this dispute in terms of personality factors. Indeed, de Valera has lent credence to this view. In one report to Arthur Griffith, then acting head of the Irish cabinet in Dublin, de Valera expressed his frustration with Cohalan. “Big as the country is, it was not big enough to hold the Judge and myself”.6
However, a close study of Cohalan’s background and belief system offers another explanation for the growing tension. While the American-born Cohalan was an Irish nationalist and strongly anti-British, he also saw himself as a defender of the Irish “race” in the United States. Since its foundation in 1903, the Clan newspaper, the Gaelic American, edited by Devoy, confronted claims that the Catholic Irish were not fully loyal to the American nation and followed the orders of the Pope and Irish nationalist leaders. Cohalan was also an American isolationist and many of his publications attacked perceived attempts by so-called “pro-British” elements in the United States to forge an Anglo-American alliance. Cohalan believed that such an alliance would not only be detrimental to Irish-American and American interests but would also enhance the power of the British Empire and thus weaken Irish struggle for independence.7.
Like Devoy, Cohalan associated Wilson with a dominant Anglo-Saxon elite in American society that identified with the interests of Britain as much as the United States. He believed that Wilson’s proposed League of Nations was merely a cover for an Anglo-American alliance. As Cohalan remarked in a speech in Brooklyn, New York in March 1919: “How clever the Englishman who devised the term, but oh, how much more strongly an appeal a ‘League of Nations’ makes to mankind in general than a League for the preservation of the British Empire.”8
In contrast, de Valera was generally supportive of Wilson’s idea of a League of Nations once an independent Ireland could be a member. In a predatory international system of powerful and weak states, a functioning League could offer a degree of security to an emerging state like Ireland. In July 1919, just after he arrived in the United States, de Valera informed Arthur Griffith in Dublin that he was trying to let Wilson know that “if he goes for his 14 points as they were and a true League of Nations, men and women of Irish blood will be behind him”.9 De Valera’s awareness of the weakness of small independent states was also apparent in his famous Westminster Gazette interview in February 1920. Conscious of British security needs and the limited sovereignty of small nations, de Valera suggested that the Platt Amendment, which governed Cuba’s relations with the United States, could provide a possible model for Anglo-Irish relations after Ireland became independent10. This provoked a furious reaction from both Devoy and Cohalan who feared that such a move would only strengthen the British Empire. Devoy in the pages of the Gaelic American now openly attacked de Valera claiming that giving such rights to England would be “suicidal” for Irish interests.11
Broadly, the dispute between Cohalan and de Valera related to who should determine the strategy of the Irish nationalist movement in the United States. Some leading members of the American Clan such as Joseph McGarrity, publisher of The Irish Press in Philadelphia, believed that the direction of the movement should lie in Irish hands. Other followers of Cohalan such as Bishop Michael Gallagher of Detroit questioned de Valera’s right to dictate policy to Americans. According to Gallagher, such a policy would only confirm American nativist prejudice that the Irish followed the instructions of “foreign potentates”.12
Matters came to a head in June 1920 at the Republican National Convention in Chicago where a Cohalan delegation and a de Valera delegation appeared, each urging the U.S. political party to adopt competing policy planks in favor of Irish independence. Cohalan’s resolution was a loose wording in favor of Irish self-determination and had majority support within the Resolutions committee. In contrast, de Valera’s resolution called for recognition of an Irish republic and was rejected by the committee. Following de Valera disavowal of Cohalan’s policy plank, a perplexed committee decided to wash their hands entirely of the Irish question and adopted no resolution in favor of Ireland.13
In November 1920, Sinn Féin in America broke off relations with the Clan and the FOIF and formed a new organization called the American Association for the Recognition of an Irish Republic (AARIR). It is debatable whether de Valera really believed that he could persuade any American government to recognize an Irish Republic. To do so would lead to a serious rupture in relations between the U.S. and the U.K. In a letter to Michael Collins on his return to Ireland de Valera admitted as much:
Though I was working directly for recognition in America, I kept in mind as our main political objective the securing of America’s influence, in case she was to join the League of Nations, to securing us also a place with the League…. Recognition of the Irish Republic we will only get in case of a [US] war with England tho’ of course we should never cease our demand for it.14
Pro-Ireland parade outside the 1920 Republican convention in Chicago. The sign says, “Our Dead in France Demand Ireland’s Freedom. Don’t Break Faith with Our Dead.” The marchers waved U.S. flags to generate enthusiasm and avoid protest. Photo and original caption from the Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1920.
From de Valera’s perspective, to have accepted Cohalan’s resolution at the Republican convention would have made him appear a “puppet” of other forces. De Valera believed that Irish-Americans should follow the dictates of the “Home Organization” and in this regard he had the full support of the IRB in Ireland.15However, Cohalan and Devoy were not only motivated by loyalty to Ireland but also by loyalty to what they felt were the interests of the United States and Irish America. These interests were not always compatible with de Valera’s goals and the resulting tension and strife came at a time when a united front between Irish America and Ireland was sorely needed.
Russell arrived in Ireland the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 1919, a week before her 30th birthday. Over the next few months she reported from Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and rural Dungloe in County Donegal.1 At least two dozen of her dispatches appeared in the Chicago Daily News, and other U.S. and Canadian newspapers that subscribed to its foreign news service.
She was not the only Daily News reporter in Ireland, which had attracted scores of American and other foreign correspondents after Dáil Éireann, the break away parliament of the Irish Republic, was established Jan. 21, 1919. As Maurice Walsh notes, “The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.”2
Russell’s 1919 passport photo.
Russell’s first story from Ireland appeared in the Daily News on March 18, 1919, a day after the newspaper recognized St. Patrick’s Day with a full page of “greetings from noted Irish writers to their compatriots in Chicago.”3 She covered the prison release and triumphal Dublin return of Constance Georgine Markievicz, known as “Countess” Markievicz, who in December 1918 became the first woman elected to the British Parliament. As a separatist Sinn Féin candidate, Markievicz won a Dublin constituency while incarcerated for her role in Ireland’s anti-conscription protests earlier that year, months before the armistice.
Markievicz’s election and the Sinn Féin route of old guard Irish parliamentary nationalists received considerable press coverage in America. Her release from prison and decision to join the revolutionary parliament in Dublin was largely ignored by U.S. newspapers, giving Russell a scoop. Her story4 did not contrast Markievicz’s historic election win to American women still struggling for the vote. Her home state of Illinois would not ratify the 19th amendment until June, and U.S. suffrage waited until August 1920.
Instead, Russell offered a narrative, scene-setting approach to the homecoming that differed from most straight-news reporting of the day. She even placed herself in the action, close enough for Markievicz to whisper an aside. Listen to a lightly edited passage of the story, read by my wife, and reproduced below:
Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.”
Russell interviewed other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolutionary movement, including:
Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, describing his “white, ascetic, young–he is thirty-seven–face lined with determination”5;
“sharp-mustached, sardonic little”6 Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Féin founder;
Maud Gonne McBride, widow of an Irish revolutionary leader, “tall and slim in her deep mourning”7;
“keen, boyish” Michael Collins8, the revolution’s guerrilla warfare strategist; and
George William Russell [no relation], “the famous AE, poet, painter and philosopher, the ‘north star of Ireland.’ ”9
Russell witnessed the Dublin arrival of the American Commission on Irish Independence, a non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans sent to the 1919 Paris peace conference to lobby for Ireland. She reported on a failed effort in the international race to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
The three members of the Irish-American delegation, at right, receive an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.
As in her Markievicz piece, Russell was self-referential in other reporting, in both first and third person, such as her March 1919 interview with de Valera, then hiding from British authorities: “In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows Mr. de Valera was talking to me as a representative of the Chicago Daily News,” she wrote. Later in the same story, Russell described being escorted from the secret meeting location: “In the darkness the correspondent was guided along a narrow garden walled to a waiting car.”10
IN THE SHADOWS
Russell’s reporting was at its best when she mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, those in the shadow of the revolution. She lived in the Dublin slums with families crammed into one-room tenements. She applied for hard-to-find jobs with other women, many caring for children and supporting unemployed husbands and brothers. “Their constant toil makes the women of Ireland something less than well-cared for slaves,” Russell wrote.11
Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.
She interviewed workers and labor leaders in the short-lived Limerick soviet, at Belfast textile mills, and outside a soon to open Ford-owned tractor plant: “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” she reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”12
Most of Russell’s stories were published on inside pages of the Daily News with dispatches of its other foreign correspondents. A few times the paper promoted her by name in secondary headlines, such as “Ruth Russell Describes Barring of Workers from Home Town” (Limerick), and “Ruth Russell Tells Pathetic Story of Why Women Go to England”.13 It is unclear if this was an attempt by the Daily News to market her as a “stunt girl” reporter, or leverage the reputation of her late father, Martin J. Russell, one of Chicago’s pioneering newspaper editors.
In this reading from “Why Women Go to England”, Russell describes looking for work in Dublin with recently unemployed female munitions workers, like those she had labored with two years earlier in a Chicago armament plant.14:
Down a puddly, straw-strewn lane we were blown by the wind to a candy factory. It was next in factory size to the biscuit plant. Dublin considers a 50 to 100 hand plant very large. At this place, it was possible to earn $4.50 a week, but the thumbed sign on the door read: No hands wanted. … Up the narrow wooden treaded stairs we mounted to a big room where girls sitting sideways on a long table nailed yellow wooden candy containers together. Through a crack between the planks of the floor we could see hard red candies swirling below. As the melting sleet was pooling off our hats, the ticking aproned manager came out to sputter: Can’t you read? … That night along Gloucester Street, past the Georgian mansions built before the union of Ireland and England, flat uprising structures from behind whose verdigrised brass trimmed doors came the mummers of many membered tenement families–I walked until I came to a shining brass plated door. “Why don’t you go to England?” was the first question the matron of the working girls home put to me when I told her I could get no work. “All the girls are.”
Note how this story was published on June 3 but has a May 5 dateline.
IRISH CHILDREN, CHICAGO CONNECTIONS
Russell detailed malnourishment, mental illness, and other social problems in Ireland’s cities and rural western counties. She reported about children, teachers, and schools, likely drawing on her own earlier classroom training. Perhaps 175,000 of 500,000 enrolled children did not attend school; and only 3,820 of 13,538 teachers were efficient because their pay was low, $405 to $1,440 per year, she reported from government data.15
“Dead, mentally dead, teachers are frequent in Ireland,” Russell wrote.
Russell followed Daily News Publisher Victor F. Lawson’s advice about the paper’s correspondents to stay close to the native people. Here is an example from her stay in the Dublin slums16:
Then as a lodger I was given the only chair at the breakfast table. The mother and girl sat at a plank bench and supped their tea from their saucerless cups. As there was no place else to sit, the children took their bread and jam as they perched on the bed, and when they finished, surreptitiously wiped their fingers on the brown-covered hay mattress. Before we were through they had run to the streets to warm their cold legs inside the fender till the floor was tracked with mud from the street, ashes from the grate, and bits of crumbling bread.
Russell named other children in her reporting, detailing their young ages and harsh circumstances:
Six-year-old Mary Casey “has some difficulty curling her arm about the papers she carries” as the youngest member of the Dublin Newsgirls’ Club.
“Eight-year-old Michael Mallin drags kelp out of a rush basket and packs it down for fertilizer between the brown ridges of the little hand-spaded field in Donegal.”
“Nine-year-old Patrick Gallagher may go to the Letterkenny Hiring Fair to sell his baby services to a farmer.”
“Ten-year-old Margaret Duncan can be found sitting hunched up on a doorstep in a back street in Belfast.”17
And like any good reporter, Russell found Chicago connections in Ireland to relay back to her hometown readers:
Fr. J. P. Flannigan at St. Mary’s procathedral in Dublin, who led a committee of Catholic priests trying to quell Irish labor unrest, had studied in Rome with Archbishop George William Mundelein of Chicago.18
Progressive social reformer Jane Addams of Chicago helped send rubber boots to war-torn Germany through the Women’s International League.19
“Chicago girl” Stella M. Franklin, former secretary-treasurer of the city’s Woman’s Trade Union League, worked to improve housing conditions throughout the British Isles.20
Russell’s story on the Irish economy questioned whether England prevented Ireland from developing “all the Chicago side industries that can be established in connection with the cattle trade.” Money was lost shipping the animals across the Irish Sea for slaughter and processing. Russell reported that a London firm “has just issued a prospectus for a plant designed for slaughtering, tanning, chandlery, glue making, and which is intended to transform Drogheda in Ireland into a Chicago.”21
Some of Russell’s stories published up to two months after their dateline. Her byline from Ireland appeared in American newspapers at least through October 1919, though she returned home in August.22
In 1920, Russell would expand her reporting into magazine articles and her book, What’s the matter with Ireland? She also would take on a new role of publicly speaking out for Irish independence beyond the printed page.
DUBLIN~Here are gravestones of leading characters from the late 19th/early 20th century struggle for Irish independence. From top to bottom: Charles Stewart Parnell, Éamon de Valera, John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Michael Collins.
Many, many other political heroes, plus more than 1.5 million regular Irishmen and Irishwomen, are buried at this historic cemetery.
What to make of Gerry Adams’ recent observations about Michael Collins’ tactics with the critical media of nearly 100 years ago? Speaking at a $500-a-plate Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York City, he said:
He [Collins] went in, sent volunteers in, to the [newspaper] offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press. That’s what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I’m obviously not advocating that.
As context, Adams and the Irish Independent have feuded for years. Now Adams is feeling extra pressure related to the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.
According to the Independent:
…there is no evidence that Michael Collins or any of his followers held a gun to the editor of the Irish Independent/Freeman’s Journal. In 1919, a crowd of IRA men smashed the printing presses because of the newspaper’s criticisms; in 1922, Rory O’Connor, a Republican leader, smashed the presses because the newspaper was pro-Michael Collins.
Regardless the historical inaccuracy of Adams’ remark, the Independent‘s editors and other journalists in Ireland and elsewhere are outraged by the comment. An Independent editorial said:
If Mr Adams knew a little bit more about the Republic, he might understand the sensitivities of the Irish media about journalists being held at gunpoint. Someone might tell Mr Adams that Veronica Guerin, a crusading journalist, wife and mother, was murdered at gunpoint.Mr Adams might also recall that the courageous journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was kidnapped by the IRA, was shot by their terrorist kissing cousins the LVF.
The National Union of Journalists’ Irish organizer Seamus Dooley told the Independent his group opposes threats to journalist from politicians.
The price of seeking election is accepting that you will be held to account. Mr Adams is free to dislike the Sunday Independent but he is not free to threaten or use bullying language towards journalists. It is ironic that he should make his comments in America, where freedom of expression is prized. I also would remind Mr Adams that journalists are workers who deserve the right to be treated with dignity in the conduct of their job. If he has a complaint, let him lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.
Joel Simon of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists told the Independent:
While we realize Gerry Adams was joking when he made a remark about ‘holding an editor at gunpoint’, we are not amused. We are living through a period of record violence against journalists around the world. Quite simply this is not a laughing matter.
To date, neither of the media organizations has issued statements on their websites to bolster their comments reported by the Independent. And other than IrishCentral‘s coverage of the dinner, I haven’t seen any U.S. media reaction to Adams’ remarks.
Adams tells the same story about Collins and the press in his personal blog without the qualification that he is “obviously not advocating that.” He uses the episode and other stories of violence from Ireland’s revolutionary period to expose the hypocrisy of contemporary politicians who praise Collins but “ignore the brutality and the violence the men and women of that generation of the IRA” while condemning the IRA of the late 20th century.
I’ve given Adams the benefit of the doubt more often than not over the years. He played a critical role in helping to end the Troubles, and I general support his party’s goal of reunifying the 32 counties. But as a career journalist I can’t abide casual cracks about holding editors at gunpoint or destroying printing press. Instead of telling the dinner crowd he wasn’t advocating such action against the Independent, Adams should have noted the important role of a free press, even one that’s critical of him, in a free country.
But to me what’s more disturbing than Adams’ remark is reporting about the “laughter” and guffaws it drew from those well-heeled Irish-American supporters of Sinn Féin. Their amusement at threats to the free press scares me more than Adams.