Tag Archives: News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom

MacSwiney’s martyrdom in the Irish-American press

MacSwiney

The Oct. 25, 1920, hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in an English prison increased international attention on Ireland’s fight for independence. Irish leader Eamon de Valera, nearing the end of his 18-month tour of the United States, said that MacSwiney and other Irish hunger strikers “were forced by the tyranny that would deprive them of liberty to make death the alternative.” The Friends of Irish Freedom organized “manifestations of indignation and sorrow” in American cities. At New York City’s Polo Grounds, an estimated 40,000 attended an observance inside the baseball stadium, with another 10,000 kept outside the gates.

Below are short excerpts from four editorials in the Irish-American press about MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Click the hyperlinked headline below each quote to see the digitized newspaper page with the full editorial.

“What must be the infamy of a system that survives only by sending Pearse and Casement to a quicklime grave, or MacSwiney to a death such as that described by the dispatches of recent days have given so much space.”

MacSwiney, The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Oct. 30

“At the funeral in the city of which MacSwiney was the Chief Magistrate, the English savages made utterly needless display of machine guns, armed motor lorries and ‘Black and Tan’ murderers and looters for the purpose of overawing the people, but which only succeeded in demonstrating to the world that England holds Ireland only by brute force. The whole MacSwiney episode, designed by Lloyd George as a means of striking terror into the Irish people has had the very opposite effect.”

MacSwiney’s Spirit Still Lives, The Gaelic American, New York, Nov. 6

“During the past week the tricolor of the Irish republic, carried in tremendous demonstrations on every continent of the globe, has been saluted as the emblem of the universal freedom sanctified and made secure by the voluntary sacrifice of the martyred Irishman.”

The Tribute of Humanity, News Letter, Washington, D.C., Nov. 6

” ‘It is not,’ MacSwiney told his fellow countrymen upon his election as Lord Mayor of Cork on March 30, 1920, ‘to those who can inflict the most suffering, but to those who can suffer most that victory will come.’ ”

Martyred, Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Oct. 30

U.S. & Irish news coverage of the ‘Templemore miracles’

Stories of the supernatural interrupted the usual war news from Ireland and headlined newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic in late summer 1920. A teenage boy reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary; he said a spiritual font gurgled from the interior dirt floor of his rural home; statues and other religious images appeared to weep and bleed; and thousands of the sick and lame who traveled to touch these items claimed miraculous cures. The events were so astonishing that the Irish Republican Army and British police and military combatants briefly entered an informal truce.

The episode began with the Aug. 16, 1920, IRA murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer at Templemore, County Tipperary, about 90 miles southwest of Dublin and 50 miles east of Limerick cities. RIC and soldiers from a nearby barracks quickly responded with their own violence in the town. That’s when teen James Walsh started sharing his visions of the Virgin, which he said began weeks earlier, and relocated his fluid-oozing religious items from Curraheen townland to the Templemore front yard of newsagent Thomas Dwan.

Suddenly, “weird manifestations of healings” replaced the Irish revolution’s tit-for-tat, as the Associated Press reported in the first dispatch published in U.S. newspapers.1 Templemore was temporarily spared further violence.

The makeshift altar of religious items in the Templemore yard of Thomas Dwan.

A “special cable” published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported:

DUBLIN, Aug. 28–In South Ireland, where the country is terrorized by racing lorries bristling with English bayonets, the state of mind of the whole population is so nearly hysterical it has paid more than the usual attention to the supposed miraculous bleeding of the religious images in a house near Templemore, and the simple people are traveling miles to see it. … Priests retain their reserve and stories of miraculous cures are dying out. The Dublin newspapers have ignored the story as well.2

In fact, there was plenty of news coverage, in Dublin and elsewhere. The “miraculous happenings at Templemore were first published in the evening papers of Saturday the 21st August,” Rev. P. Collier wrote in the opening sentence of his first-person account, published in Ireland and America.3

Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal of Aug. 23 headlined “Templemore Sensation.” The front page of the next day’s Evening Herald reported:

The rush of pilgrims to Templemore, Co. Tipperary, continues. To-day large crowds arrived by train from North and South. From an early hour this morning the traffic was almost continuous through the town of carts and motor cars bringing people from different parts of the country. Very many of these arrivals were invalids. Without any way prejudicing the authenticity or otherwise of the extraordinary events the general public (says the ‘Irish Independent’) would be well advised to observe due caution and patience until more complete investigations have taken place and an authoritative ecclesiastical pronouncement has been made. … 4

A correspondent for the Skibbereen Eagle of County Cork cited the (Dublin) Evening Mail and (London) Daily Express in a more skeptical dispatch:5

I came to see a miracle and I saw one. It was not a miracle of bleeding statues, but of limitless, almost pathetic belief. … The local priests are not enthusiastic. Their attitude is one of reserve. They refuse to discuss the matter with Press representatives, and appear to think every man must decide for himself.

1920 Ireland

Remember that Ireland in 1920 was “terrorized” not only by the year-old violence between the IRA and Britain authorities, but also the accumulated death, injury, and other horrors of the just-ended Great War. Some people  still became “hysterical” at the sight of a motor vehicle or an airplane. Electric lighting would not arrive in the countryside for decades. A potent mix of Catholic beliefs and folklore illuminated the popular imagination.

Secular and sectarian press coverage of Templemore continued through September 1920. The Catholic Standard and Times of Philadelphia and other diocesan newspapers published stories from the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) News Service, forerunner of today’s Catholic News Service. The Philadelphia paper published this story6 on its front page three weeks after the dateline:

DUBLIN, Aug. 27–Whatever view the Church may take of the so-called miraculous happenings at Templemore and Curraheen, after all the evidence with respect to them has been obtained and weighed, there is no doubt that these happenings have resulted in an exalted piety and an intensified fervor in the town and country. The mysterious, and as generally believed, supernatural events are regarded as an omen of great suffering combined with divine protection for Ireland in the immediate future. …

Image published in the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune on Oct. 3, 1920. Thomas Dwan’s surname is misspelled as Divan, the ‘w’ split into an ‘i’ and ‘v’.

The Irish-American press minimized the story, mostly likely to avoid embarrassing efforts to win U.S. political recognition of the fledgling Irish republic, or inflaming Catholic-Protestant divisions. The New York-based Gaelic American buried a few lines on an inside page roundup of Irish news.7 The Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, republished a New York Times account based on the testimony of a South Dakota priest, identified in the photo caption above.8 The Irish Press, Philadelphia, and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., skipped the story. Other Irish-American papers were not immediately available for review.

Lourdes & Knock

Rev. Collier, in his first-person account “in a spirit of devotional inquiry,” reported that Templemore had been a “quiet town” until the mysterious events “brought it into startling prominence as the newest holy well or Lourdes.” Templemore, he wrote, was “strangely similar” to the 1858 apparition of the Virgin Mary to a French peasant girl, a comparison made in other reports from Ireland. What Collier’s piece and most other accounts did not mention, however, is the Marian apparition at Knock, County Mayo, about 100 miles northwest of Templemore. There, 41 years earlier almost to the day, the Virgin Mary and other religious figures were said to have appeared to 15 witnesses.

The Offaly Independent offered a thoughtful exception in a mid-September 1920 column, which framed all three events in a tone neither dismissive nor credulous:

Templemore continues to be the mecca for invalids from every part of Ireland, and will in all probability continue to be while the fine weather lasts. … There are fresh stories of fresh cures brought back every day, with the result that invalids continue to flock to it. There are many people, both lay and clerical, very skeptical. They do not believe in the thing at all and insist in asserting that it is all humbug. … There are numerous stories going the rounds in regard to the extraordinary happenings at Templemore. The stories lose nothing in the process of narration; to a great extent they are rather over-developed and enhanced and sensationalized by a little addition. … The same is true of the manifestations at Lourdes [and] the same is true of the apparition at Knock, Co. Mayo, in 1879. In time the atmosphere of skepticism which hovered around Lourdes began to melt away and … became an accredited fact. … The story of the apparition at Knock failed to obtain the same recognition, but still the people finally believed, and cures were effected.9   

Today, Lourdes and Knock remain Catholic Church-recognized Marian pilgrimage sites, drawing tens of thousands of visitors annually prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (See my 2017 post, What you need to know about Knock’s vision visitors.) Templemore’s brush with the supernatural is conspicuously absent from the history section of the town’s website.

This image from Templemore appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on Sept. 12, 1920. Boy at right of women holding statue appears to be the same as top photo.

Violence Returns

The IRA eventually became suspicious that Walsh faked the “miracles”, or worse that he was a spy for the British, and the young man was exiled to Australia. Some pilgrims had probably been healed by faith, but the cure-seeking crowds ceased as violence returned to Templemore. The New York Tribune reported the “utter savagery” of a Black and Tan attack on the “scene of the recent bleeding statue miracles.”10

For more details about these events, see John Reynolds’ stories in History Ireland and  The Irish Times. He is the author of The Templemore Miracles, Jimmy Walsh, Ceasefires and Moving Statues.

Read more about “American Reporting of Irish Independence” in my ongoing series.

Select press coverage of summer 1920 Belfast riots

On July 21, 1920, unionist mobs in Belfast, many affiliated with Protestant Orange Order lodges, forced thousands of mostly Catholic, nationalist workers from their jobs, including the Harland and Wolff shipyards. Days of sectarian street fighting followed, leaving more than a dozen dead and hundreds injured. A second round of riots began Aug. 22 in what became a two-year stretch of unrest in the northern manufacturing hub. The events were simultaneously related to, but separate from, the revolution against British rule occurring on the rest of Ireland.

Belfast became a regular dateline in U.S. mainstream newspapers and Irish-American press coverage of the turmoil on the island. Wire services provided mostly straight accounts, such as this from the Associated Press: “Serious rioting broke out in Belfast tonight, during which there was considerable shooting and some incendariarism.”1

Big city dailies also sent their own correspondents, often more opinionated, and syndicated the reporting beyond their own pages. For example, The Gaelic American, a pro-independence weekly in New York City, republished a favorable dispatch from the American correspondent Arno Dosch-Fleurot shortly after his work appeared in The New York World:

The rioting began with the expulsion from Harland and Wolff Shipyards of all the Catholic workmen by the champions of ‘civil and religious liberty,’ and the British Government did nothing whatever to prevent it, or to punish the rioters after their bloody work was done. This is how ‘justice’ is administered in Ireland by the British Government. Practically all the magistrates are Orangemen and they do not even make a pretense of being impartial. The rioters are ‘loyalists’ and therefore protected and encourage; all Catholic workmen are classified as ‘disloyal’ and therefore it is all right to break their heads or to kill them if the Orange mob is in the mood for murder, and the work is done to the cry of ‘To hell with the pope’ and ‘Down with the Papishes.’ Yet these Orange fanatics have nothing to gain by their insane work. They are nearly all members of the same labor unions as the men they attack and when strikes come Protestants and Catholics act together against the same Plutocrats who are the oppressors of both.[“Belfast Orange Riots Fostered By England”, The Gaelic American, July 31, 1920.[/note]

By 1920, photography increasingly supplemented news coverage of events such as the Belfast riots. This is a cropped portion of a New York Times photo page; which contained two additional images of Belfast, and three unrelated photos.

U.S. papers also included reporting from the Irish and British press, and the perceived or actual bias of the cited newspapers could be used to either bolster or dismiss reporting of the events. For example, The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the separatist parliament in Dublin, readily cited coverage from a half dozen English newspapers as proof the “Belfast Riots Were Instigated by British.2 The London Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, Times of London, Daily News, and Manchester Guardian all “admitted … the Belfast riots were organized at a meeting of Unionists and were begun by the Orange workers at the shipyards.”

In particular, the Press and the Washington, D.C.-based News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom3 quoted from July 23, 1920, coverage in the Westminster Gazette: “It is common knowledge in Belfast, and has frequently been admitted by individual Unionists, that plans were matured at least two months ago to drive all [nationalist] Home Rule workers in the shipyard out of their employment.”

The weekly Kentucky Irish American, without naming any publications, complained that accounts in many daily paper created “the impression that Sinn Féin is to blame” for the riots, but also noted “significant little paragraphs betray the real cause of the disorders” as Orangemen and the British government. “The Catholics of Belfast are simply defending themselves.”4 Likewise, the Gaelic American cited reporting from the Irish News, a nationalist paper in Belfast, about Catholics being “driven from their homes, the premises were taken possession of by Protestant families.”5

“As the conflict progressed, this meant that reporting of various incidents could be quite unbalanced,” Kieran Glennon, who wrote a centenary overview of the Belfast riots for The Irish Story, said in an email exchange. “Some of this imbalance may simply have reflected a degree of physical danger for reporters from one side’s papers trying to report on things that happened on the other side’s “turf.” As a crude example, if the Special Constabulary shot up a nationalist area, the Irish News would interview residents of the area, while the unionist papers might have to settle for simply carrying statements issued by the [police authorities, rather than going into the neighborhoods].

Photo in the Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Aug. 13, 1920.

In Butte, Montana, a heavily Irish mining town 2,300 miles west of New York, the Daily Bulletin published an account from Belfast by the newly established Federated Press, a left-leaning, pro-labor wire service.6 It began:

Workers here are gradually realizing that the riots at shipyards on July 21, when the Protestants drove the Catholics from their jobs, were engendered by the employers for the purpose of keeping labor divided. Seventeen dead must be charged against those who reap the profits at the expense of the plain people.

The story concluded:

The Belfast newspapers, both Catholic and Protestant, have followed their usual tactics of publishing editorials which are counsels of perfection, and in the next column painting their opponents in a manner to further incite the mob.

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See my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series for more centenary coverage. See Glennon’s book, From Pogrom To Civil War: Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA.

Reading the Irish-American press from July 1920

I am currently working on long-term projects. Below, I encourage readers to explore four Irish-American weekly news publications from late July 1920. A few headlines are previewed. Click the linked date to access digitized copies of the century-old issues with coverage of the Irish War of Independence and other news. These resources are made available by Villanova University Digital Library, Hathi Trust Digital Library, and the Library of Congress. Enjoy. MH

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PHILADELPHIA, July 24, 1920: British Murder Plans Are Revealed, Irish Court As Seen By Ulsterman, President And Archbishop Tendered Great Reception In N.Y.

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NEW YORK, July 24, 1920: New York Welcomes Archbishop Mannix, Admits Raiding 3,094 Irish Homes In 5 Months, English Seize Letters of De Valera’s Aides 

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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 24, 1920: The News Letter was circulated by the Friends to journalists, politicians, embassies, and other influential individuals in American society. Each 8-page issue included a series of Ireland-related briefs, typically without headlines, photos, or advertising. Gaelic American owner and editor John Devoy was a key player in the Friends, so his paper and the News Letter had similar editorial outlooks and shared content; while the Irish Press represented a competing faction of Irish interests in America.

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LOUISVILLE, July 31, 1920 (July 24 issue is missing. The paper covered Irish, Catholic church, and local issues.): Ireland: Lloyd George Informs Commons There Will Be No Negotiations Over Bill, Sinn Fein: Movement Is National Rather Than Religious Or Roman Catholic, Republican: Governor Gets Speaker Job Much To Delight of Hert-Bingham Press

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See my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series.