Tag Archives: New York Times

Reporter vs. reporter: Ackerman & Grasty in Ireland, 1920

This post is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. I am grateful to Maurice Walsh, author of ‘The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution’, who provided material from the Ackerman papers at the Library of Congress. MH

A few of the American journalists who detailed the war between Irish separatists and the British government for U.S. newspapers also joined back-channel efforts to help resolve the conflict. Such an intrigue surfaced in June 1920, when Philadelphia Public Ledger correspondent Carl W. Ackerman reported that another American newsman had come to Ireland on behalf of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Ackerman’s June 1, 1920, story mentioned Grasty in the fourth paragraph.

“One of the most significant, undoubtedly, of all the recent developments in the Irish situation is the arrival in Dublin of Charles H. Grasty, a well-known journalist, a member of the staff of The New York Times, was frequently during the war an observer for the president,” Ackerman wrote. Grasty “is in confidential communication with the White House, and probability is that the president has followed his war custom of commissioning some journalist to make a special investigation for him, while ostensibly representing an American newspaper.”[1]“President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.

Ackerman was correct about Wilson using journalists as scouts. The president sent pioneering muckraker Ray Stannard Baker (McClue’s, American magazine) to Ireland during the spring 1918 conscription crisis. “The extreme Ulsterman, it seemed to me, was exactly matched by the extreme Sinn Feiner, both for themselves alone,” Baker wrote. “There seemed to be no spirit of give and take: no desire anywhere for what Mr. Wilson called accommodation.”[2]Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945), “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I … Continue reading

Less than a year later, Wilson dispatched George Creel to Ireland. Creel (Kansas City World, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) had just finished his duties as head of the U.S. government’s Committee for Public Information during the Great War. In a March 1,1919, memorandum to Wilson, he described the Irish in Ireland as more flexible than the Irish Americans. Creel said that Sinn Fein’s December 1918 election success had finished off the 40-year-old Irish home rule movement. He believed dominion status would be accepted immediately, otherwise sentiment in Ireland and America would harden in favor of an Irish republic. Creel also warned of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s duplicity and stressed settlement in order to placate Irish Americans.[3]George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and The War, The World, and Wilson (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.

Ackerman reported that Grasty arrived in Europe on a diplomatic passport, which he obtained about a month earlier. “Mr. Grasty admitted at the time, when questioned by customs officials, that he was on a special appointment by President Wilson,” Ackerman wrote. The U.S. State Department on April 9 stamped “SPECIAL” on Grasty’s passport, eight days before he boarded the Baltic to cross the Atlantic. The haste of Grasty’s application and departure is suggested by his sudden withdrawal from an April 14-16 business convention in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech titled, “The New Balance of Power.”[4]“Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.

Second-day iterations of Ackerman’s story contained a State Department denial of the special passport or any official connection to American diplomatic activities. The U.S. government “acknowledged that (Grasty) might have gone to Dublin under a ‘special’ form of passport such as is issued often by American embassies or legations to messengers charged with the duty of conveying diplomatic papers to consular agents.” Meanwhile, “the British government understands that (Grasty’s) mission to Ireland is purely one of observation on behalf of President Wilson.”[5]”England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star … Continue reading

The Baltic‘s passenger records show Grasty, 57, arrived at Liverpool on April 27.[6]The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669. Nothing on the manifest indicates diplomatic status. The word “Editor” is written in the space for occupation. On May 1, Grasty filed a dispatch from Paris about the just-concluded San Remo conference in Italy.[7]”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920. His subsequent reports about Europe’s efforts to recover from the Great War included a long opinion piece from London dated June 1, the day he was named in Ackerman’s story. Under the headline, “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe.” Grasty’s view was: “The United States is in greater danger today than at the time of the German offensive in March 1918. … The feeling in Europe against America has grown, as the feeling in America against Europe has grown.”[8]“Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe” , The New York Times, June 13, 1920.

Second passport, Wilson connection

On June 9, Grasty dropped by the U.S. Embassy in London to complete an “Emergency Passport Application.” He stated his occupation as “journalist” and “journalistic work” as the reason for his travel.[9]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain. Grasty was no stranger to the U.S. State Department. He had applied for and obtained several passports for Atlantic voyages in the previous decade. In 1920, the United States was beginning to standardize passports in the aftermath of the World War.[10]Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.

Charles H. Grasty, undated.

Grasty was a known Wilson supporter and confidante. The reporter detailed their relationship in a January 1920 piece for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, “The Personality Behind the President.” In 1912, as owner of the Baltimore Sun, Grasty used the newspaper to back Wilson as the Democratic presidential nominee at the party’s national convention in that city. The newsman supported the candidate through his successful campaign against Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt of the progressive Bull Moose party.

From 1912 to 1922, Wilson and Grasty exchanged at least four dozen letters, though none of the correspondence in two archives dates from 1920.[11]Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & … Continue reading The president and the reporter “were in intimate contact” during the 1919 Paris peace conference and in Washington, D.C., the Times reported at Grasty’s death in January 1924.[12]”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London” , The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924. Grasty “enjoyed the former president’s highest respect and confidence and was a warm personal friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” The obituary also said that Grasty held the trust and confidence of Lloyd George, who relied on the relationship to send key messages to America during the war years and afterward. And the Times noted Grasty’s frequent interviews with London newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe.

Grasty confronts Ackerman 

On June 12, Grasty confronted Ackerman at the latter’s office at Charing Cross, London. The men “argued” for about 90 minutes over the June 1 story, according to Ackerman’s three-page letter to his editor, John J. Spurgeon.[13]Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England. Grasty showed Ackerman a copy of his own letter to Spurgeon “denying that he was in Ireland on official business.”

It seems undisputed that Wilson, his physician and confidante Dr. Gary T. Grayson, and U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby asked Grasty to undertake a special mission to Europe, including Ireland. Problems appear to have developed when Grasty told New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs, who objected to the arrangement while he represented the newspaper.

“Grasty states that he told Mr. Ochs that he would not accept the President’s offer and that he wrote a letter to Mr. Colby refusing to undertake the work,” Ackerman wrote. “Grasty admits, however, that he did accept a special diplomatic passport from Mr. Colby … (but) could not afford to have the question of his special passport discussed in the press. … (He) admits that The Times accuses him of double-dealing and that Mr. Ochs is ‘sore.'”

Ackerman wrote that Grasty “did not telegraph anything to the New York Times while he was in Ireland, although he did begin to send messages as soon as he reached London.” It is unclear how Ackerman knew of Grasty’s telegraph activities, though he likely learned such information from British intelligence, as we’ll see a little later.

Irish series

Before he updated his passport and confronted Ackerman in London, Grasty on May 26 “tea’d & supped” with Sir Horace Plunkett in Dublin, according to a diary entry by the Irish agricultural reformer and home rule supporter.[14]1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland. This  was not surprising, as the two men had known each other for years. “Wherever he goes he makes friends through his gentle optimism and sturdy character,” Grasty wrote in his 1918 book, Flashes from the Front. “For British patriot that he is, he is an Irishman to his heart’s core. His life has been a labor of love for Ireland.”[15]Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.

It’s likely that Grasty made multiple trips to Ireland between May and August. The four-part series he wrote for the Times, published in mid-August, shows datelines from earlier in the month. The headlines below are linked to a pdf of each story, followed by the dateline and publication date, and a select excerpt:

“I am just back from Ireland, whither I went to gather impressions of the present conditions there. My mental attitude was impartial and I shall try to report facts and opinions as I encountered them in my visit. If in transcribing my notes, made as I went along, the Sinn Fein viewpoint stands out less than the opposite one, it is because ‘of low visibility’ on that side of the fence.

“After talking with as many people on both sides as I was able to see, and getting the opinion of the few neutrals whom it was possible to find in Ireland, I came to the conclusion that the minimum that Sinn Fein would accept was full dominion rule like Canada, omitting the Governor General and including control of excise, customs and police. They will not consent to leaving Ulster out. That is the situation at this time. Of course, if some adversary should overtake the movement for independent Ireland, and especially if there should be a split with the labor union, the demand might be modified; of if, on the other hand, British helplessness continued and the Presidential campaign in America crystalized American sympathy, Sinn Fein might decide to go the whole hog.”

“I don’t believe that Ulster is as eager for British rule as you might think after reading one of Sir Edward Carson’s speeches. Ulster people do not want to have Dublin rule put upon them just at this stage, but they are looking ahead to a future when Ireland may become a great industrial kingdom, dominated commercially and financially by Belfast, the well-organized capital of Ulster. Indeed, it was often in my mind as I traveled through Ireland what great possibilities awaited Ireland when permanent order should come.”

“Judging by results, British rule in Ireland has been a failure. Britain cannot plead the peculiarities and shortcomings of the Irish race as an excuse for her failure. She has been mistress of the situation for centuries and has had the power to enforce her authority and to apply the necessary remedies. The simple fact is that she has refused to bring to her task the kind of study and effort which the Irish situation called for. … But Ireland will be a unit sooner or later. The silent and irresistible forces of commercial and industrial self-interest will bring the North and South together.”

It is unclear whether Grasty sent any private communication to the Wilson administration about his interactions in Ireland. Now, his views about the Irish situation were available for anyone to see.

Irish-American reaction

The Friends of Irish Freedom, through its weekly News Letter, immediately dismissed Grasty as part of “the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.” The News Letter said he made a “despicable attempt” to exploit sectarian division in Ireland, though religion hardly dominates the series. Ever watchful of real or perceived slights against the Irish cause by mainstream American or British newspapers, the News Letter also said the New York Times “has gone far in championing England’s course in Ireland.”[16]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.

In its following issue, the News Letter criticized Grasty as “confident” of British press magnate Lord Northcliffe, a nemesis of Irish republicans on both sides of the Atlantic. This was certainly true. Shortly after the end of the Great War, Grasty had reported from London on how Northcliffe “is making a wonderful hit with the American newspaper men. … always accessible to them … indefatigable in his efforts to help them … [with] a very large accumulated influence among Americans generally, but particularly among American working newspaper men.”[17]“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.

The pro-Irish press, including ‘The Tablet’, Aug. 28, 1920, delighted in the State Department denial of Ackerman’s story.

The New Letter also questioned whether Grasty could write a “disinterested” journalistic assessment of the Irish situation while simultaneously acting “confidentially” for President Wilson and the U.S. State Department, as Ackerman reported in June. News Letter chief Daniel T. O’Connell wrote to the U.S. State Department to complain the articles contained “statements grossly unfair and calculated to advance British interests in relation to England’s treatment of Ireland. … [I]f Grasty is empowered to act for our Government in any capacity whatsoever, it is obvious he should not be permitted to utilize such relationships as a means for spreading misstatements and otherwise giving circulation to error.”[18]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219, Aug. 14, 1920, … Continue reading

The State Department replied to O’Connell that Grasty “is not engaged in any Diplomatic mission, or assignment, under the authority of this Government.” The Times reporter was not “an official or unofficial representative”  and “not traveling with a Diplomatic passport.”[19]State Department Records, Roll 219, Aug. 18, 1920, from G. Howland Shaw to O’Connell, and News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3, Tablet, Aug. 28, and … Continue reading It was the government’s second denial since Ackerman’s story was published in June.

Some of the pro-Irish press in America cast the denial as a swipe at both journalists. The Times never addressed the matter on its pages.

Ackerman’s work

Ackerman, 30, had arrived in London in March 1920 as correspondent for the Public Ledger’s new foreign service. He made several trips to Ireland over the following months and filed stories before and after Grasty’s August series in the Times. As Walsh details in The News from Ireland, Ackerman’s reporting was influenced by two insiders–one American, one British–and he actively participated in back-channel efforts to bring peace to Ireland. In this regard, his outing of Grasty as working for the Wilson administration smacks of hypocrisy.

Top of March 7, 1920, Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement for the new foreign news service.

The Public Ledger retained Col. Edward House, Wilson’s former confidant and fixer, as an advisor on diplomacy for its foreign bureau. He regularly advised Ackerman. Such reliance, Walsh writes, “was not unconnected to [Ackerman’s] view of how he should collect news as a journalist; the idea that good journalism was the fruit of being on excellent terms with powerful contacts,” which Ackerman described as ” ‘key men’ in ‘key positions.’ “[20]Walsh, News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141. In fact, Ackerman also paid a June 30 visit to Plunkett with a note from House “about the Irish situation & the possibility of his arbitrating betw’n the British & Irish Governments.”[21]1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), National Library of Ireland.

Ackerman’s second inside source was Sir Basil Thomson, director of intelligence at Scotland Yard. Beginning in May 1920, Thomson selectively leaked documents gathered by British intelligence to “prepare the ground for negotiation with IRA leaders” and “briefed Ackerman to carry messages to Sinn Fein and IRA leaders in Ireland, using Ackerman’s journalistic mission as cover for advancing an Irish settlement by negotiation.”[22]Ibid., p. 143. Through the summer officials contemplated using Col. House as a mediator in the negotiations. While the effort eventually fizzled, Walsh notes that, “Ackerman’s role as go-between” continued to evolve.[23]Ibid., p. 145. Walsh also writes:

“There is no sign that Ackerman’s employers were aware of the secret work he had undertaken. In August 1920 Ackerman’s editor, John J. Spurgeon, wrote to him expressing relief that Col. House had abandoned the idea of becoming a mediator in Ireland. The editor felt that for House, ‘in his present capacity as a member of the editorial staff of an American newspaper, such a role would be absolutely out of the question.’ If it was out of bounds to become a mediator on grounds of preserving editorial independence–even though he was an advisor to the Public Ledger and not a journalist–it must have been an equally forbidden path for Ackerman.”[24]Ibid., p. 146, citing letter from Spurgeon to Ackerman, Aug. 6, 1920.

‘Irish Realities’

Grasty updated his reporting from Ireland in a September piece for Atlantic Monthly  headlined “Irish Realities.” Among his conclusions related to America:

“I begin by saying that the common belief in America that the present movement in Ireland is a spontaneous eruption of a people smarting under tyrannous oppression is not well-founded. The movement, unlike similar movements in the past, has been carefully planned by a few bold and astute leaders. … For without financial help from America and an American sympathy that will constantly embarrass Britain, the enterprise of an Irish republic is a mere chimera.”

“The movement went forward without a single setback until the month of June of this year. First, the Republican Convention in Chicago, and then the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, refused to indorse Irish independence. De Valera failed in his task. With American sympathy and help, the achievement of a republic in Ireland was a possibility. Without them, the extreme of the Irish demand can never be attained. … The failure to get the Irish question into the American presidential election, in my opinion, reduces to nil the chance, always slender, in view of Britain’s necessities, of establishing an Irish republic as the result of this particular movement. Without strong American aid, the conflicting elements in Sinn Fein cannot long be held together in the effort along the present lines for full independence.”

The Atlantic piece received wide attention from U.S. newspaper editorial pages, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Palm Beach Post, and Kansas City Times. Even the Brooklyn Daily Eagle commented on Grasty’s “recently returned … investigation of Irish conditions in England and Ireland.”[25]”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920. It did not mention the Ackerman story about Grasty published four months earlier.

Collins interview

Ackerman’s “exclusive and authorized interview” with Irish leader Michael Collins also drew significant press attention about the same time. An editor’s note said, “For more than two years the British Government has searched for him. Today every policeman and officer in Ireland carries his photograph and description and has orders to arrest him at sight on the general charge of directing assassinations and raids on government offices.”[26]”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.

Walsh has detailed how Irish propaganda minister Desmond FitzGerald proposed the Collins interview to Ackerman shortly after the plan to use Col. House as a mediator fell from favor. Ackerman delayed his Irish Sea crossing a few days until he could first discuss the matter with Thompson, the Scotland Yard intelligence director. The reporter then debriefed the spy master on his return to London, even writing a private memorandum for British government officials about whether the Irish were hardened on a republic or willing to negotiate a settlement.[27]Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.

Such behind the scenes intrigues were unknown at the time, but would be revealed after the Irish and British reached a December 1921 treaty agreement. The Lowell (Mass.) Courier-Citizen lauded Ackerman’s scoop in an editorial widely republished on the opinion pages of other U.S. papers.[28]Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best … Continue reading It said:

The American newspaperman is the best detective there is. … (British officials) can’t get near (Collins). Yet over to Dublin goes Carl Ackerman … and secures a two-hour interview with this very genuine celebrity. … Ackerman, of course, started (with) some advantages which the agents of Scotland Yard don’t have. He was personally known to some of ‘Mick’s’ friends as a chap who could be trusted. That’s always a newspaperman’s greatest asset when he’s on a difficult and dangerous job.

State Department files

U.S. Consulate in Ireland records for 1920 contain at least two other references to Grasty and Ackerman.

Not long after Grasty published his Ireland series in the Times, he asked to see the official cables of U.S Consul Frederick T. F. Dumont, then stationed in Dublin, “in order to keep him fully informed from authoritative sources as to present events in Ireland.” Grasty essentially made a public records request nearly 50 years before the federal law providing access to such U.S. government documents. A State Department official commented: “This strikes me as rather an unusual request. It might eventually prove to be an embarrassing precedent to establish to allow newspaper men access to our official files.”

Nevertheless, Grasty’s request was relayed to Washington, which responded two days later with a two-word reply: “Certainly not.”[29]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from … Continue reading

Dumont, a frequent critic of press coverage of the Irish war, that November complimented Grasty and Ackerman in one of his regular dispatches to Washington:

The Irish press devotes a column at a time to men like Grasty of the New York Times or Ackerman of the Philadelphia (Public) Ledger when they tell the truth concerning the Irish situation, calling them and their papers paid agents of the British Government. Each paper has repeatedly been denounced as a paper owned by the Government. Events in various parts of the world have accustomed the public to sensations and they must be served up by the press of all countries to their readers if circulation and the money which comes from this circulation is to be retained.[30]Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State … Continue reading

Dumont wrote his comments nine days before Bloody Sunday in Dublin and a month before the burning of Cork city. Irish war “sensations” continued another six months into 1921, before the truce agreement and treaty negotiations. Ackerman and Grasty continued to report on Ireland, the former still involved in back-channel maneuverings. John Steele of the Chicago Tribune also claimed a role in the Irish peace settlement.

The veteran correspondent Steele had accompanied Ackerman on his first trip to Ireland in spring 1920 and introduced him to several key contacts, including Dumont and FitzGerald, the Irish propaganda minister. Ackerman acknowledged Steele’s role in peace negotiations when he revealed his own efforts in an April 1922 magazine story:

At the same time Mr. Steele was ‘carrying on’ negotiations between Sir Hamar Greenwood and other Sinn Fein leaders which resulted in the final negotiation of the truce last summer (July 1921). Unknown to the outside world two American newspaper men were acting as the sole connecting links between Sinn Fein and Downing Street … “[31]Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

Whatever intentions the Wilson administration once had for Grasty, his chance to play a part in the Irish peace settlement seems to have been scuttled by Ackerman’s June 1920 exposure of his trip to Ireland. We can never know what impact this might have had on the course of the Irish war.

References

References
1 “President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.
2 Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945), “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I Saw”, p. 337.
3 George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and The War, The World, and Wilson (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.
4 “Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.
5 ”England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, 1920.
6 The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669.
7 ”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920.
8 “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe” , The New York Times, June 13, 1920.
9 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.
10 Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.
11 Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & Research Center Digital Archive.
12 ”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London” , The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924.
13 Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
14 1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland.
15 Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.
16 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.
17 “Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.
18 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219, Aug. 14, 1920, letter from O’Connell to Sec. Colby, and “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920, and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic American, (New York, N.Y.) Sept. 4, 1920.
19 State Department Records, Roll 219, Aug. 18, 1920, from G. Howland Shaw to O’Connell, and News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3, Tablet, Aug. 28, and Gaelic American, Sept. 4, 1920.
20 Walsh, News from Ireland, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.) p. 141.
21 1920 Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932), National Library of Ireland.
22 Ibid., p. 143.
23 Ibid., p. 145.
24 Ibid., p. 146, citing letter from Spurgeon to Ackerman, Aug. 6, 1920.
25 ”People In Ireland Bound To Win In End, Observer’s Belief”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 12, 1920.
26 ”Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms–Collins”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.
27 Walsh, News from Ireland, p. 145.
28 Publication date of original editorial unavailable. Reproductions include “Ackerman Among The Sinn Feiners”, St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 21, 1920; “Newspapermen Best Detective”, The Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, Kentucky, Nov. 9, 1920; and others.
29 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 217: to Hurley from Winslow, Oct. 5, 1920; to “Dear Mr. Secretary” from V. H.,  Oct. 6, 1920; and to Winslow from Hurley, Oct. 7, 1920.
30 Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Role 217, Dumont to State Department, Nov. 12, 1920.
31 Carl W. Ackerman, “Ireland From A Scotland Yard Notebook”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1922.

Getting the story: Reporting challenges in 1922 Dublin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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)