Fourteen London-based newspaper correspondents clambered aboard a British naval destroyer at Holyhead, Wales, in the pre-dawn hours of April 27, 1916. They were soon underway for Dublin, where three days earlier Irish separatists seized several buildings and proclaimed a republic. Chief Secretary for Ireland Augustine Birrell and the British Admiralty invited the reporters to make the 67-nautical-mile sprint across the Irish Sea. They hoped to influence coverage of the insurrection cabled to the rest of the world, though Britain also imposed censorship and disseminated propaganda through its own press bureau since it began fighting the First World War two years earlier.
Arthur S. Draper, 34, of the New York Tribune was among the group of what today would be called embedded reporters. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to an English father and an American mother, he graduated from New York University in 1905 and soon joined the Tribune. The paper transferred him to London in 1915 to cover the war.1910 U.S. Census, Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 24, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_975; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0656; FHL microfilm: 1374988; “Arthur Draper, Literary Editor”, The New … Continue reading
In one of several stories syndicated to U.S. newspapers, Draper recounted the correspondents were cold and shivering after the hastily organized, 300-mile train trip from London to Holyhead.“Fierce Fighting Rages in Fire-Swept Dublin”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, April 30, 1916 (Dateline April 29, 1916). Also, “Tales Of ‘The Week Of Dublin’s Nightmare’ ”, by … Continue reading Once aboard the destroyer, ironically named Dove, the correspondents welcomed the ship steward’s offer of hot chocolate.
We crawled through a coal hole aft and dropped into a cabin built to hold four instead of 14 men. Mr. Birrell found a place in the captain’s cabin. If you have never been on a destroyer crossing the Irish Sea you can get some notion of the motion by crawling into a barrel and taking a trip through Hell Gate.Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City. … Fourteen guests taxed (the steward’s) supply of cups and saucers, and we were well away before the first steaming bowl came teetering in from the pantry.
One of the correspondents soon turned “pale about the gills” and lurched for the ladder leading up to the deck. Others quickly followed as the ship “pitched, tossed, rolled, her lower decks awash like a Long Island Sound racer running before a swift breeze,” Draper wrote. “Holding fast to anything within their grasp, 11 regular reporters were swaying and lunging in imminent danger of being swept away.” While the majority lacked sea legs, the man from The Christian Science Monitor “slept peacefully with his head on the edge of a bunk and his feet on top of a bag of posters proclaiming martial law in Ireland.”
In his stories about the insurrection, the Boston newspaper correspondent repeatedly referred to himself as “the representative of The Christian Science Monitor,” with no byline on the reporting. Most of the other journalists aboard the Dove were not Americans but natives of the United Kingdom who worked as stringers for U.S. papers or wire services. They were selected for the journey because of the influence their reporting might have to counter the anticipated anti-British reaction of Irish Americans as the United States remained on the sidelines of the Great War.Eddie Bohan, The 1916 Easter Rising & The American Press Pack, 2017. This 50-page paperback, published independently, contains a short bibliography but does not footnote specific details.
Wilbur S. Forrest of United Press, the 29-year-old, Illinois-born son of physician, was another native of America. His career began at The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Transcript after attending Bradley University in Peoria. He joined the wire service in 1910, working in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., before being sent to Europe as an assistant general manager. In May 1915 Forrest reported from Queenstown (Cobh) on the German torpedo sinking of the Lusitania off the south Irish coast.”Wilbur S. Forrest, 90, Is Dead; Was Herald Tribune Executive”, The New York Times, March 26, 1977. Eleven months later he steamed back to Ireland on the Dove.
“The little ship shivered in every plate and joint, and pitching like a bronco, it swayed and rolled at decidedly disturbing angles,” Forrest recalled of his ride to the rising.Wilbur Forrest, Behind The Front Page: Stories of Newspaper Stories in the Making. (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., 1934). See Chapter 4, “Dublin Explodes”, pp 46-65. “The destroyer was running dark. A think, damp mist hung low and obscured the sky. The ship’s high speed added to the darkness was good protection against the German U-boats which roamed the Irish Sea at will.”
Finally, as dawn broke “after what seemed a lifetime of misery” aboard the Dove, Draper wrote, the newspaper men got their first look at smoke-shrouded Irish capital. Birrell, who for nine years as chief secretary had loathed making the Irish Sea crossing by regular mail boat,Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2006), pp 24, 188. re-emerged to offer the journalists a quick farewell: “Good luck, gentlemen. I don’t know what will become of all of you,” he shouted as he disembarked to a waiting motor car under heavy guard. The Monitor correspondent added, “it was impossible to avoid retorting, ‘The same to you, sir.’ “”Summary Given Of Short-Lived Rising In Dublin”, The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1916.
Draper continued: “We stood there for ten minutes absolutely ignorant of the danger surrounding us. The worst shot in the Irish Republic’s army could not have missed us had he shut his eyes and pulled the trigger with his big toe.” Forrest recalled the scene differently, writing the Dove sprayed a warning of machine-gun fire that briefly silenced the rebel snipers. “Not a shot was being fired when our party disembarked one by one, jumping from the destroyer’s prow to the quay and heading at no slow pace and with zigzag steps toward a British barricade three hundred yards away.”
The reporters dashed for the nearby London and North Western Hotel. They arrived without injury at the red brick, three-story building on the quayside next to the London and North Western Railway Company train station and steam packet terminal. The 19th century building still stands in the city’s Docklands district, about three blocks east of the Samuel Beckett Bridge.
“We watched the bombardment from a window on the third floor of a hotel,” Forrest wrote in one of his contemporary dispatches. “Naval boats, swinging in close to shore, sent shells screaming into the city, bringing the rebel strongholds crashing down with loud roars. … Soldiers were posted in large force along the quays and in the warehouses across the street from our hotel, answering the sharp volleys of the sniping rebels.””Shells Rout Rebels”, by Wilbur S. Forrest, The Washington Post, April 30, 1916.(Dateline April 29, 1916).
Draper’s analysis of the rising proved prescient about the short-term military outcome, condescending of the “hot-blooded Irish,” enamored with Britain’s weapons of war, and incorrect about the long-term political consequences. He wrote:
Possibly before this dispatch reaches you the Sinn Fein rebellion will be over. It’s life, however short, will be remembered. … It is seldom that reporters can sit in a hotel room and by peeping through drawn blinds see revolutionary history being made … I saw yesterday a British gun not one hundred feet away perform a marvelous feat of marksmanship. Directly opposite, across the (Liffey) river, stands a big distillery occupied by rebel snipers who had the audacity to fly the flag of the Irish republic from its roof. … Ten times (the gun) roared, every shot finding a mark … It was a wonderful exhibition of shooting. Later came the roar of machine guns and rifles telling the final story. Another rebel stronghold gone. …
A systematic search is being made by the military in all the suspected districts. Young Irishmen are very volatile. Their range of emotions is great. From the crest of so-called patriotism they drop quickly to the depths of despair. … They don’t look like martyrs on this chilly gray morning. Just poor, plain Irish lads, huddled together like so many sheep in the stockyards. … Brave they were, without doubt, but they were victims of misguided judgement. They deserve no sympathy. They will get little. …
To me the chief interest is not in the number of deaths or the amount of destruction, both of which are lamentably large, but in the types of men who have thrown away lives for a futile cause. In New York we have many of them. You see them on the bleachers at the Polo Grounds (baseball stadium), at the Socialist meetings in Union Square, at the strikes in West Street, and on the surface lines. …
Whatever following (Sinn Fein) had in civilian ranks has gone forever, as the people are already feeling the pangs of hunger as a result of the food shortage, due to the rebellion. After talks with a few civilians and a brief study of the faces of the frightened, worried, dazed women huddled in the doorways, I judge there is little sympathy of any kind with the rebellion. … The “republic” is shot to pieces. All the spirit of the rebellion is gone.
The rebels surrendered a few days later. Birrell returned to London “on a small destroyer, lately employed in bombarding Liberty Hall,” he recalled 21 years later.Augustine Birrell, Things Past Redress (London: Farber and Farber Limited, 1937). See Chapter 11, “Ireland, 1907-1916”, pp. 219-220. Whether Birrell returned aboard the Dove or another navy vessel is unclear, but it turned out to be his last Irish Sea crossing as chief secretary. He resigned from the government as soon as he reached London.
During the first two weeks of May 1916 the British military executed 15 leaders of the rising, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and support that Draper failed to anticipate. Later that summer, insurrectionist Sir Roger Casement, who had been captured at Kerry, was tried for treason in London. “His expression did not change when the Lord Chief Justice arose to declare him guilty of the crime and pronounce the sentence of death,” Forrest recalled in his memoir nearly 20 years later. The reporter’s more detailed description of Casement “must have been too sympathetic,” he concluded, because the British censor declined to pass his story at the time.
A year after the rising, the United States finally joined Britain and the Allies in the Great War. In addition to those reporting of events on the continent, Draper returned to Dublin in July 1917 to cover the opening of the Irish Convention, the British government’s failed effort to resolve the separatist crisis. Draper transferred back to America in 1925 as foreign editor of the newly merged New York Herald Tribune; and the following year he became assistant editor of the paper. Draper left that position in 1933 to become editor-in-chief of the Literary Digest but he resigned two years later. He worked briefly for the U.S. Department of Labor.Draper obituary, N.Y. Times, 1963.
Forrest joined Draper as a member of the Herald Tribune staff in 1918. In 1927, Forrest became the first correspondent to report aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s safe landing in Paris. Through the 1930s he served as a special writer in China, Japan, and Washington. This is also when he authored his memoir, Behind The Front Page, quoted above. Forrest later became an executive at the Herald Tribune and served as head of the Reid Foundation, which provided fellowships to journalists.Forrest obituary, N.Y. Times, 1977.
By coincidence, HarperCollins Publishers this month released, The Turning Tide: A Biography of the Irish Sea by Welshman Jon Gower. The book is described as “a hymn to a sea passage of world-historical importance” that combines “social and cultural history, nature-writing, travelogue and politics.” I don’t know if the narrative includes the crossing detailed in this post.
- See all my work on American Reporting of Irish Independence.
|↑1||1910 U.S. Census, Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 24, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_975; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0656; FHL microfilm: 1374988; “Arthur Draper, Literary Editor”, The New York Times, Oct. 26, 1963.|
|↑2||“Fierce Fighting Rages in Fire-Swept Dublin”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, April 30, 1916 (Dateline April 29, 1916). Also, “Tales Of ‘The Week Of Dublin’s Nightmare’ ”, by Arthur S. Draper, New York Tribune, June 4, 1916 (Dateline May 5, 1916).|
|↑3||Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City.|
|↑4||Eddie Bohan, The 1916 Easter Rising & The American Press Pack, 2017. This 50-page paperback, published independently, contains a short bibliography but does not footnote specific details.|
|↑5||”Wilbur S. Forrest, 90, Is Dead; Was Herald Tribune Executive”, The New York Times, March 26, 1977.|
|↑6||Wilbur Forrest, Behind The Front Page: Stories of Newspaper Stories in the Making. (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., 1934). See Chapter 4, “Dublin Explodes”, pp 46-65.|
|↑7||Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2006), pp 24, 188.|
|↑8||”Summary Given Of Short-Lived Rising In Dublin”, The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1916.|
|↑9||”Shells Rout Rebels”, by Wilbur S. Forrest, The Washington Post, April 30, 1916.(Dateline April 29, 1916).|
|↑10||Augustine Birrell, Things Past Redress (London: Farber and Farber Limited, 1937). See Chapter 11, “Ireland, 1907-1916”, pp. 219-220.|
|↑11||Draper obituary, N.Y. Times, 1963.|
|↑12||Forrest obituary, N.Y. Times, 1977.|