Tag Archives: New York Times

Police behavior matters: America, 2020 & Ireland, 1920

U.S. President Donald Trump caused an uproar earlier this summer by sending federal agents, indistinguishable from soldiers, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle to quell Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. State and local officials said the unrequested agents acted like “outside agitators” with tactics that included grabbing protesters from the streets and forcing them into unmarked vans. The images flashed instantly around the world on social media. 

“Many of those federal agents aren’t easily recognizable as law enforcement officials, nor do they act like them,” The New York Times editorialized.1 “Even the military is concerned about the public confusion sown into society when heavily armed federal agents dress like soldiers. All the more reason that the federal agents on the streets of American cities be required to wear uniforms that clearly identify themselves and their civilian agency.”

A century ago, the irregular uniforms and heavy-handed tactics of hastily-trained Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) recruits caused in uproar in revolutionary Ireland. Though press coverage wasn’t nearly as fast as today, the “Black and Tans” soon became notorious.

The nickname is attributed to Christopher O’Sullivan, a reporter for the Limerick Echo, who encountered an early group of the recruits at a local train station. In a March 25, 1920, story, he applied the nickname of a local hunt club’s pack of foxhounds to describe their mismatched dark green and khaki uniforms.

The Limerick Echo is not included in the Irish Newspaper Archive of nearly 90 titles. The earliest use of the name that I found in the database (besides adverts for shoes and other leather goods) was a July 1, 1920, story in the Freeman’s Journal. It mentioned the train boarding of “armed soldiers and khaki policemen now-known in the country as ‘Black and Tans.’”2

Within two months, however, the name was in wide circulation. It became notorious after the Sept. 21, 1920, sack of Balbriggan, when Black and Tans rampaged in revenge for the Irish Republican Army murder of RIC officers (and brothers) Peter and William Burke. A week later, the Belfast Newsletter published a statement from the Irish Office in London responding to press inquiries about the “exact relationship” between the Black and Tans and the RIC. It said:

The Black and Tans, so-called because of their hybrid uniform of dark green and khaki, were recruited solely on account of the shortage of men in Ireland. They are, it is stated, genuine recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary, and it is due only to the lack of Royal Irish Constabulary uniforms that they appear in their present dress. The suggestion that these men are in any way connected with the military was denied at the Irish Office yesterday. The auxiliary division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, also named Black and Tans on account of their uniforms, were recruited for the purpose of instructing the existing men of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the defense of their barracks.3

Black and Tans in Dublin.

The term Black and Tans began to appear in U.S. newspaper reporting of Ireland by mid-August 1920. The source appears to be an Associated Press story datelined from Dublin, July 30: “The recruits from across the Channel and soldiers specially detached for police duty are nicknamed ‘Black and Tans.’”4

As in Ireland, press use of the name became frequent after Balbriggan. The New York Times, no supporter of Irish independence, editorialized:

Violence, arson, murder by Sinn Feiners have of late been not repressed, but provoked and imitated by a series of reprisals. To private tumultuary lawlessness a sort of official tumultuary lawlessness has responded. The police have been driven into a natural but none the less unpardonable frenzy. Apparently some English recruits and demobilized army officers, hastily and unnecessarily impressed of enlisted for purposes of defense, have had a hand in the series of ‘Black and Tan’ raids. Private war prevails.5

Earlier this year the Irish government planned to recognize the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), most of whom were Irish-born men who carried out their duties with honor at a troublesome time, as part of the country’s “Decade of Centenaries.” The event was cancelled, however, after days of protest that it would honor the still-notorious Black and Tans.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election: Part 2

Less than a month after he failed to win recognition of the Irish Republic at the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention in Chicago, Éamon de Valera tried for a better outcome at the Democratic Party gathering in San Francisco. His effort was doomed from the start.

National Democratic Convention, San Francisco, June 28-July 6, 1920. From the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

“Even before he’d gotten off the train, the local papers were speculating that his chances of getting the type of resolution he desired were almost nonexistent and that he well might end up with no resolution,” Dave Hannigan wrote. 1

The Democrats were the party of President Woodrow Wilson, who disdained the Irish independence movement and denied their repeated requests for support since the 1916 Rising. The GOP’s earlier rejection of an Irish plank in their party platform gave the Democrats additional cover with their Irish voters.

Read Part 1 about the Republican Convention

Glass

“We shall have our hands full for some time attending to the affairs of America without going farther afield,” U.S. Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia, chairman of the Democrats’ resolutions committee and Wilson’s former Treasury secretary, said of the prospects for an Irish plank.2 A few days later, the request for “full, formal and official recognition” of the Irish Republic failed 31-17 in the committee, “another resounding defeat for de Valera.”3

Unlike Chicago, however, where the issue died in committee, the full assembly of Democratic state delegates considered a compromise Irish plank on the convention floor. It also was defeated, but The New York Times reported the second Irish plank “was debated at some length, and finally got more than 400 votes. This is considered an impressive showing, and particularly so in a convention so thoroughly determined as this one to support the policies of the [Wilson] administration.”4

The Times noted the Irish effort would have had more success if operated internally by party leaders instead of being “managed chiefly from the outside.” The paper’s analysis said nothing about the opposition.

State vote totals for and against Irish recognition, and coverage of the San Francisco convention, can be seen on the July 10, 1920, front page of The Irish Press.

The 665-402 state delegate vote against recognition reveals the geographic limits of de Valera’s efforts to win American support for Ireland. Backing remained confined to the Northeast and Midwest regions, to states with thick Irish and Irish-American populations, such as Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Irish plank received unanimous support from the Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., delegations.

The plank failed, however, to win even one Democratic delegate vote from 16 states, all but one — Delaware — in the American South and West. This accounted for 270 opposition votes, nearly 41 percent of the total. Another 21 states from the same regions, including convention host California, cast the majority of their ballots against the Irish plank, most by high margins.

Campbell

“It is not an American issue at present,” said former Texas Gov. Thomas M. Campbell, whose entire 40-member delegation voted against the measure. “Ireland is premature in her demands, we believe.”5

Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, were reluctant to cross war ally Britain on the Irish issue, which they considered an internal matter. Perhaps some remained suspicious of Irish republican connections to Germany. At least a few of the state delegations probably voted en bloc against Irish recognition simply to please their chairman or other party arm-twisters. It was not a wrenching choice.

“For traditional and practical reasons, sympathy for the Irish problem remained strong within the Democratic Party, but not so strong as to tie the party or presidential candidate to any action on the matter,” Bernadette Whelan observed.6

The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the separatist Dáil Éireann in Dublin, quoted the Times’ “impressive showing” analysis of the 400 pro-recognition votes. The Press suggested that “even those who voted against the Irish recognition plank are ill at ease since witnessing the mighty demonstration of popular support accorded the Irish president on his arrival here.”7  

De Valera

De Valera believed the Democratic Party had underestimated “the great volume of public sentiment in this country behind the demand for justice in Ireland.” He vowed to create “a more systematic and thorough organization of the friends of the cause in America” and “an intensive campaign of education will be carried into every state and will reach every citizen.”

This was a remarkable statement from a man who had spent the past year traveling across America, holding hundreds of public rallies and private meetings, to promote Irish independence. His efforts generated substantial local and national media coverage, much of it favorable. A massive bond drive to raise U.S. dollars for Ireland had been underway since January. Nevertheless, de Valera and his supporters soon launched a new organization, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, in a split from the established Friends of Irish Freedom.

More about the new group and the impact of Irish voters in the 1920 U.S. presidential election in future posts.

De Valera’s departure from San Francisco also became the first step of his December 1920 return to Ireland. The Democratic convention failure faded into a few bad days in a political career that would span more than 50 years. In his two-volume biography of the Irish leader, totaling more than 800 pages, David McCullaugh reduced the episode to just one sentence.8

The U.S. press on Sinn Féin election wins, 1918 and 2020

Ireland’s Feb. 8 national election has produced the unexpected result of Sinn Féin out-polling two mainstream center-right parties. As CNN reports:

The votes are still being counted but this left-wing, Irish nationalist party has pulled off a major political upset, breaking a century of dominance by establishment heavyweight parties (Fine Gael and Fianna Fail) and changing the political landscape of Ireland likely forever.

Dublin historian John Dorney, chief editor of The Irish Story, wrote on Twitter that some people (including Gerry Adams) are drawing comparisons to Sinn Féin‘s historic 1918 election shocker, when it swept aside the previously dominant Irish Parliamentary Party. By coincidence, both votes were held on Saturdays. Dorney cautioned, “It’s not really a good comparison.”

For perspective, Dorney reposted his centenary story about the 1918 election. “From this election comes the roots of the modern Irish state, but also of modern Irish Republicanism and its claim for a mandate for the full independence of all Ireland.”

Here are my own 100th anniversary posts about:

Here is more 2020 American press coverage of the latest Sinn Féin win:

From The New York Times:

Sinn Féin, a leftist party long ostracized from Irish politics over its ties to sectarian violence, won the popular vote and seized its largest-ever share of parliamentary seats in the country’s national elections … . The vote loosened a 90-year stranglehold on power by two center-right parties in Ireland and put Sinn Féin on the doorstep of joining a coalition government, a remarkable rebuke to a political establishment that tried to paint it as aberrant and unelectable throughout the campaign.

From National Public Radio:

Despite the peace [in the North], bad memories linger on both sides of the border, and Sinn Féin continues to carry the baggage of its historical association with the IRA. … Hence the reluctance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail leaders to even work with the party … But among voters, it appears that baggage has become lighter with time.

From The Washington Post:

Sinn Féin is rooted in the cause of Irish unity. … With the armed conflict in Northern Ireland largely over, it’s grown into a broadly center left party, contesting elections north and south of the border on a platform of tackling austerity and taxing the wealthy.

From NBC News:

Those who lived through “the Troubles” … will never forgive Sinn Féin for their historic link with the IRA, while the younger generation simply don’t have the same associations. The question now is whether Sinn Féin will turn out to be the party the older generation is so afraid of, or the party into which young people have put all their hopes.

From Bloomberg:

Irish stocks dropped as investors digested Sinn Féin’s potential influence on policy. … Betting odds suggest a coalition between Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin and the Green Party remains the most likely outcome.

W.B. Yeats arrives in New York, January 1920

Irish poet William Butler Yeats sailed into New York City on Jan. 24, 1920, for what was his fourth of five lifetime visits to America. The other tours were in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year in the United States.

“Spurred no doubt by the strength of patriotic sentiment he encountered among Irish Americans, he made some of his most overtly nationalistic pronouncements while he was in America,” according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. “By the time Yeats returned to the United States in 1920 everything in Ireland had, as he put it in Easter 1916  ‘changed utterly’ and the country was in the throes of a war of independence. The Easter Rising had revived Yeats’s interest in Irish affairs and encouraged him to move back to Ireland from London where he had lived for most of the previous three decades.” 

Clipping from the Daily News (New York, N.Y.), Jan. 27, 1920, page 10.

Yeats’ 1920 U.S. tour began a year after the first Dáil Éireann was established in Dublin, seven months after stowaway Éamon de Valera arrived in New York; and a week after the Irish bond drive was launched in America. It was Yeats first American visit with his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he’d married in 1917.

He “looked every bit the idealist and dreamer he is said to be, with his unruly hair pushed back from his well-shaped brow and a flowing tie setting off the English tweed suit he wore,” The New York Times reported.1 The newspaper quoted him:

Ireland is now a country of oppression. While there is much talk of freedom, there is little to be had. Because of the great political battles now being waged one must guard his speech and even the mail is not allowed to pass untouched. It is quite [clear] something must be done in Ireland. A settlement will be difficult because of many factors, but a settlement there must be.

Of course, at the present time the Sinn Feiners are in the majority, and will remain so until something is offered, but the Dominion Government, which wants the largest possible measure of home rule, is also very powerful. I do not think that Ulster should be coerced any more than the remainder of the country. There should be some way to permit both to work out their destiny.

Personally, I am an Irish Nationalist, and believe that the present unrest will settle as soon as there is some form of self-government.

See more of my series: American Reporting of Irish Independence.

T. Roosevelt’s letters to the Davitts, and more, now online

In February 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt thanked Irish activist Michael Davitt for the gift of “two blackthorns, which, at the beginning of a Presidential year, I shall accept as good omens.”1 Nine months later, Roosevelt won re-election.

Halfway through that second term, the American president wrote to Davitt’s American-born wife, the former Mary Yore of St. Joseph, Michigan, to express condolences about his death two days earlier in Dublin.  

Theodore Roosevelt

“It was my good fortune to number among my friends your late husband, Mr. Michael Davitt,” Roosevelt wrote.2 “I valued his, and I beg that you will accept my most sincere sympathy in your great bereavement.”

Both letters are part of the massive Theodore Roosevelt Collection, released online 17 October by the Library of Congress. The digital collection contains about 276,000 documents, including letters, speeches, executive orders, scrapbooks, diaries, White House reception records and press releases of his administration, as well as family records, and about 461,000 images.

Michael Davitt

Roosevelt’s 1904 thank you note to Davitt is mentioned in Laurence Marley’s 2007 biography of the County Mayo native.3 The author cites the Papers of Michael Davitt Collection at Trinity College Dublin, which is not fully digitized. Marley also noted Roosevelt’s 1906 letter Davitt’s widow.4 His source for this is an 8 June Reuter’s dispatch from Boston published in the Freemans Journal.

A day earlier, The New York Times reported that Roosevelt declined an invitation by the United Irish League to attend a memorial service for Davitt in Boston.5 The Times reprinted a 4 June letter from Roosevelt that said, “Mr. Davitt was a personal friend of mine, and I sincerely regret his loss. I have written to Mrs. Davitt to express my sympathy.”

These examples illustrate how the digitized Roosevelt papers, part of the ever-expanding universe of similar online collections, is widening historical research opportunities. I’m fortunate to have done in-person research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and at Trinity College Dublin, where I reviewed a one-year portion of the Davitt collection for my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series. (See posts 15 & 16.) But not everyone has the chance to make such onsite visits.

The Roosevelt collection contains other Ireland-related letters and documents. These include correspondence from:

  • Irish Folk Song Society, 1910
  • Irish Gaelic League, 1913
  • Irish National Foresters, 1910
  • Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, 1911
  • Irish Unionist Alliance, 1918
  • United Irish-American Society, 1911

I’m sure there is much, much more. I still getting familiar with the collection, as you should, too.

Davitt’s grave, Straide, County Mayo, February 2018.

U.S. media plays sectarian card in N.I. election coverage

News of Sinn Féin‘s big gains in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections is reaching American media outlets, and with it the usual sectarian shorthand that has virtually disappeared from Irish and British coverage.

While Jewish-Muslim tension remains fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Catholic-Protestant animosity has a shrinking role in today’s Northern Ireland political narrative. But the storyline remains catnip to many U.S. news outlets.

Here’s the top of The New York Times‘ Assembly election coverage, which appeared at the bottom of page 10 of the 5 March print issue:

Sinn Féin, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest number of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

This is an improvement over the 16 January Times’ story reporting the pending election:

Voters in Northern Ireland will go to the polls on March 2 in a snap election that was forced by the main Catholic party, Sinn Féin, after the collapse of a regional government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power.

The newer story introduces the concept of a nationalist party — instead of simply Catholic –in the first sentence. In the January story, the word nationalist isn’t used at all. The fourth paragraph does explain: “Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually reunite with Ireland.” The word unionism is introduced in the same graph. Both stories were written by Sinead O’Shea.

The Washington Post published an Associated Press story on its website, though none has appeared in print as of 5 March. Here’s the lede:

Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape. The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Féin.

“Unionist” doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph, in the formal name Democratic Unionist Party, then a graph later as lowercase “unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.”

The descriptions could benefit from modifiers such as “predominantly Catholic nationalists” or “historically Protestant unionists,” leaving room for those who do not fit the easy stereotype. We are a long way from the days of “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” Northern Ireland is increasingly diverse in its religious (or non-religious), racial and political make up. Winners of 13 of 90 seats in this election are from parties or independents that eschew traditional Catholic or Protestant affiliation. Their 14.4 percent share is up from 12.9 percent in the May 2016 election.

Think it’s impossible for U.S. media to avoid this sectarian shorthand? NPR’s coverage, by Colin Dwyer, shows how the basic political divide can be explained without using religious identifiers.

When the dust finally settled Saturday on Northern Ireland’s snap assembly election, it became clear a new political reality now awaits voters there. After an exceedingly strong showing by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s government is split all but down the middle between Irish nationalists and their pro-British counterparts.

The story does not use the words Catholic or Protestant.  Only an online photo caption describes “the Catholic Falls Road” in Belfast. The word nationalist appears three times in this story, lowercase unionist four times, plus an additional reference to the Democratic Unionists.

The opening of The Irish Timeselection wrap-up is representative of how Northern politics is reported on the island of Ireland, and in Britain. Note the use of the word republican instead of nationalist:

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

Peace walls, right, gated roads , center, and boarded windows are reminders of the lingering Catholic-Protestant divide in Belfast. Mark Holan photo, July 2016.

I’m not saying sectarian labels are never used in Irish and British media coverage, but they are becoming as sparse as people in Northern Ireland church pews. I wonder if these newsrooms have made conscious decisions to keep religious affiliation out of their political coverage.

To be sure, the “peace walls” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder that sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland. And the U.S. media coverage does include the important contemporary context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland renewable energy scandal.

Alan Bairner wrote a chapter about international and local media coverage of the Troubles in the 1996 book, Northern Ireland Politics, edited by Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago, and two years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland could have no grounds for complaint about the levels of interest shown by the international media, although they were frequently uneasy about the quality of the analysis which resulted from that media interest. … There is little evidence, for example, that British or, indeed, international coverage of the Troubles had a significant impact on the views of people in Northern Ireland itself. Most Northern Irish people formulate political views on the basis of numerous factors and their reaction to media output, regardless of its aim, is more or less predetermined.

And the local press coverage?

It would be preposterous to suggest that the owners and editors of Northern Ireland’s local newspapers are responsible for the divisions in their society. It is undeniable, however, that their papers, through the choice of stories which are published and even the use of language to tell these stories, give voice to the rival perspectives of the two communities and, as a consequence, give added strength to these perspectives in the eyes of those who hold them. Therefore, local papers as well as the [Protestant] News Letter and the [Catholic] Irish News have helped to reproduce sectarian attitudes and in so doing they have become complicit in the maintenance of the politics of division.

(I added the paragraph beginning “Such descriptions … ” and made other minor revisions from the original post. MH)