Tag Archives: News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 3, Irish-American reaction

The is the third installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. See Part 1 and Part 2. © 2024.

Grasty’s Ireland series

“Grasty joins 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.”

Carl Ackerman told his editor in Philadelphia that Charles 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.” Ackerman didn’t attribute this detail to something Grasty said during their confrontation.[1]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress. He might have learned it from British intelligence, as we’ll see in Part 4.

Charles Grasty

Grasty, in a June 10 cable to Adolph Ochs, the Times publisher, said he had been “unable to settle down completing Irish letters”, which contained “interesting and rather important matter” from his reporting trip to Ireland. He promised to take the material on a forthcoming trip to Paris and write the “simple paragraphs” Ochs suggested in one of their earlier communications.[2]Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.

Seven weeks later Grasty wrote to Ochs again to ask why his “Irish stuff”—three cables and 10 letters sent to New York before the end of June—had not yet appeared in the Times. Grasty wrote:

The information these dispatches contained were from a source in Dublin which Ambassador Davis guided me to. So far as I know no one else has had a like chance to develop a balanced view of Ireland. I think these dispatches answered many of the questions that are puzzling people in America.”[3]Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.

Finally, in mid-August, the Times published four Grasty stories about Ireland. It’s possible that he returned there after his late May visit; roundtrip travel between London and Dublin or Belfast could be accomplished in a day. “I am just back from Ireland, whither I went to gather impressions of the present conditions there,” Grasty opened his first story. More likely, the Times changed the datelines to make his earlier material appear fresher than it was.

Each of the headlines below is linked to a copy of the original story, followed by the dateline and publication date, placeline, and a select excerpt:

Ireland’s Problems Seen At Close Range By An American, Aug. 1/Aug. 14, London

Most of the people I met were Sinn Feiners, and they were all most hospitable and obliging to me as an American. No American who leaves controversial matters severely alone need have any fears in visiting Ireland. In fact, the person of every American is sacred, for America is not the chief cornerstone of Sinn Fein hopes.

British Blundering And Sinn Fein Malice In Ireland, Aug. 3/Aug. 15, Dublin

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.

Ulster Men Look For Future Union, Aug. 5/Aug. 17, London

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.

Blames Both Sides For Irish Plight, Aug. 7/Aug. 18, London

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.

I have not located any communication about Ireland from Gasty to Wilson or other members of his administration. The journalist easily could have briefed U.S. officials at the embassy in London when he exchanged his passport. With the publication of his stories in the Times, Grasty’s views about Ireland were now available for anyone to read.

Irish-American reaction

The Friends of Irish Freedom, a four-year-old American group supporting Irish independence, certainly read Grasty’s stories in the Times. And the group didn’t believe the correspondent’s claim that “my mental attitude was impartial” about Ireland, also made in the first story.

Through its weekly News Letter, the Friends 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 Grasty made a “despicable attempt” to exploit sectarian division in Ireland, though religious issues hardly dominate 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.”[4]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.

The pro-Irish press delighted in the State Department denial of Ackerman’s story. This Aug. 28, 1920, headline appeared in ‘The Tablet’, a Catholic paper in Brooklyn, New York. 

In the next week’s issue, the News Letter again criticized Grasty as a “confident” of Lord Northcliffe, the British press magnate. This was certainly true.[5]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3. Weeks after the November 1918 armistice, Grasty reported from London that 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.”[6]“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918. As a former publisher, Grasty also favorably compared Northcliff and Ochs; noting the London and New York publishers each had “a passion for the news, and this forms the mainspring of success” for their respective papers.[7]“British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.

More importantly, the New Letter 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 had reported in June. News Letter chief Daniel T. O’Connell wrote to Secretary of State Colby 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.”[8]Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – … Continue reading

In a reply to O’Connell, one of Colby’s assistants said that Grasty “is not engaged in any Diplomatic mission, or assignment, under the authority of this Government.” The Times correspondent was not “an official or unofficial representative” and “not traveling with a Diplomatic passport.”[9]G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

It was the U.S. government’s second denial of Ackerman’s story since June. Like Ambassador Davis’ cable to Grasty, however, the reply to O’Connell parsed the words “official” and “diplomatic” while ignoring the “special” status of the original passport. A few pro-Irish papers published both letters as proof of mainstream press bias against Ireland.[10]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920; and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic … Continue reading The pages of the Public Ledger and the New York Times remained silent about the confrontation between the two reporters.

“I have received no denial from Grasty nor have I heard anything from any of our clients questioning in any way the Grasty cable,” Spurgeon in Philadelphia wrote to Ackerman in London. “I think it would be just as well to let the matter stand as it is unless something further develops.”[11]Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

Ochs discussed the Grasty matter on the telephone with Frederick T. Birchall, a British-born assistant editor at the Times. Birchall followed up their conversation with a handwritten note to the publisher, which reiterated that he did not want to repeat Ackerman’s original allegation. He also suggested that O’Connell’s letter was “harmful propaganda,” while the State Department reply “contains no news.”[12]Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.

But Ackerman and Grasty would each have more to say about Ireland.

NEXT: Behind the scenes 

References

References
1 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress.
2 Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.
3 Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.
4 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.
5 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3.
6 “Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.
7 “British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.
8 Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in 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.
9 G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.
10 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “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.
11 Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
12 Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.

Irish-American & Catholic press on 1921 truce in Ireland

Earlier this month I posted some examples of U.S. daily newspaper reporting of the July 11, 1921, truce between Irish republicans and the British military. Below are five examples of coverage of the same event from Irish-American weekly papers and a Catholic news service. The first and last examples reference the daily press. Three of the examples are linked to digital scans of the original July 1921 publications. MH

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“Since the negotiation of a truce which comes at the end of a cycle of 750 years of resistance to English usurpation in Ireland, the daily press in the United States as well as in England has done its best to befog by rumors and ill-informed gossip the simple, fundamental issues which must be met if the conferences in London are to turn the truce into a peace. The first and most important fact which must be borne in mind is that there is at this moment a Republican government in Ireland, functioning by the consent of the Irish people. The historian, Alice Stopford Green, makes the keen observation that: ‘In most revolutionary countries disturbances are caused by attempts to enforce the will of the people. In Ireland they are caused by efforts to suppress it.’

“The war in Ireland in which a truce has now been called has failed to suppress the will of the Irish people, it has failed to force them to disestablish their elected government. The truce itself is an acknowledgement of the fact. Nothing could show more clearly the true and restrained temper of the people of Ireland than the scrupulous manner in which the truce is being observed by them, nothing could more clearly demonstrate the surpassing discipline of the Irish Republican Army. If the truce is fruitless, if warfare is resumed in Ireland it will be the result of further efforts to suppress the will of the Irish people by attempting to force them to dis-establish their elected government.” — The Truce editorial in News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1921.

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“Optimism reigns in officialdom that the [London] conference will be productive of peace. It was stated that negotiations will probably last over a period of several month and that the Irish delegation likely will be increased by financial and legal experts as intricate financial and delicate constitutional points have to be settled.” — Front page news story and illustration in the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, July 16, 1921.

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“Special constables are regarded as chiefly responsible for the outrages and mischief reported from Ulster during the past week in marked contrast to the manner in which the Irish-English truce is being observed in the rest of the country. … Orangemen have broken both the spirit and letter of the armistice by killing Catholics, burning their houses, firing into a convent and creating disorder at the funerals of Catholic victims by hooting party songs and hurling foul epithets at the corsage. … Meanwhile the Catholics have remained under control.” — Special Cable to the National Catholic Welfare Council News Service, Washington, D.C., July 18, 1921.

***

“Mr. Lloyd George invited the heads of the Irish Republic to come and discuss with him a basis for peace; the little Welsh trickster did not, by virtue of that invitation, become any the less treacherous and unscrupulous. There is every evidence that the Irish President and his associates are fully aware of the character of the man with whom they have to deal, and despite all the wiliness and diplomacy at his command, he is not getting the best of it in his contest with their honesty and statesmanship. It would be well for Americans … to remember that it is a mistake to regard the proffer to Ireland as being actuated by good faith. Not only does the British Premier’s individual character make it plain that this is not the case, but the entire history of English dealings with Ireland also goes to prove the contrary.” —  The Conferences Continue editorial in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, July 23, 1921.

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“Zeal for the right of the Irish people to decide their own political future without interference from America is commendable, but it would be much more commendable if applied to interference from England. It is noteworthy that now when Lloyd George is trying to coerce the Irish people into abandoning the Republic which they have deliberately established and have fought for gallantly for two years, the letters appearing in the English organs in New York protesting against interference from Irishmen in America are all, with one exception, written by men who never lifted a finger, gave a dollar or opened their mouths in support of Ireland’s fight for freedom. They sign Irish names, but nobody knows them, and it is doubtful if they are really Irishmen. But, whoever they may be, their protests are English Propaganda, pure and simple. Their zeal is for the British Empire, not for Ireland.” — J.I.C. Clarke On The Wrong Trail editorial in The Gaelic American, New York City, July 23, 1921.

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See my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series.

Irish-American press on partition parliament, June 1921

I’m researching a few projects this summer and posting less frequently. Please check back for updates. Visit my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series and other site content. MH

Partitioned Ireland

The Northern Ireland parliament sat for the first time on June 7, 1921. Two weeks earlier, the Ulster Unionist Party won a two-thirds majority of votes cast and 40 of the 52 seats in the new assembly. Two weeks later, King George V traveled to Belfast for the parliament’s ceremonial opening. 

The partition of six northeastern counties began with passage of Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. A  treaty creating the Irish Free State from the remaining 26 counties would be reached in December 1921.

The three editorials below are from June 1921 issues of the Irish-American press. All three publications were strongly pro-independence and against the island’s political division. David Lloyd George was the British prime minister from 1916-1922. Publication dates are linked to digital scans of the original editorial and the remaining pages of each issue.

Partition vs. Commonsense

The performances in connection with the attempted enforcement of Lloyd George’s farcical partition act in Northeast Ulster have served little other purpose than to expose, more clearly perhaps than ever before, the simple fact that partition is not an Irish but an English-made issue—a patent device to keep in existence an artificially engendered feud. But the logic of events and of the present situation is moving swiftly to convince the most sceptical that commonsense and common interests point clearly to the fact that independence of foreign rule and intrigue is the only solution of this so-called difficulty. 

The Belfast area is in reality the spearhead of English intrigue in Ireland. But the Belfast area cannot live and thrive cut off from the rest of the island. Its new partition parliament will be a parliament without an opposition party to serve as a mask for the true nature of the English intrigue at its heart. It will be a parliament staggering from the outset under an over burden of taxation for tribute. Thus it is clear that partition can no longer be mistaken for anything but the betrayal of Irish rights. It is clearly the Irish Republicans who are the defenders of the inalienable rights of the whole Irish people, in Antrim as well as in Cork, in Down as well as in Kerry.

–News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, June 4, 1921

Lloyd George’s Game In Ulster

What Lloyd George is aiming at is an artificial “Ulster” controlled by the British Government of the day. If he include the whole Northern Province there would be a majority, including Protestant Nationalists, against England, so he grouped the six Northeastern Counties together, called them “Ulster,” gerrymandered the electoral districts and placed the election machinery in the hands of the Carsonites so that a safe majority for England’s purposes might be secured. It was secured in the last election by gross fraud and intimidation. 

The next move in the game will be a “settlement” based on “an agreement between North and South,” in which the fraudulently created Ulster of six counties will have an equal vote with the other twenty-six counties of Ireland–which means a Veto on the decisions of the majority. 

–The Gaelic American, June 11, 1921

The “Six County” Parliament

The Loyalists elected to the “six-county” parliament held their first meeting last week. In the coming into existence under British law, of this body, some in the press on this side of the water pretends to see a factor tending to make what it calls a confusing situation still more confusing. “Southern” Ireland, the papers tell us, would have accepted “Home Rule” in 1914; today, the same part of Ireland will not accept it under any conditions. And, say those who seek to puzzle by their explanations, these same six counties seven years ago were ready to take up arms before they would allow “Home Rule” to be forced upon them, but today they are the only part of Ireland willing to have that same “Home Rule.” 

–The Irish Press, June 18, 1921

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election outcome

Warren G. Harding, 1920.

In the November 1920 U.S. presidential election, Irish-American voters joined the overwhelming majority, including newly enfranchised women, who rejected the pro-British policies of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio, overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox by an Electoral College margin of 404 to 127.

The election occurred a week after the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney in a London prison and just a few weeks before “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin. In the United States, Éamon De Valera was laying the ground work for the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland would begin hearings in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month.

The U.S. election outcome was not front page news in The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, or the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Washington. John Devoy’s Gaelic American editorialized that Irish-American voters:

…did not care particularly for Harding, but they were cut to defeat the League of Nations, and they took the most practical way of accomplishing that object. The result is that the League of Nations is dead in America, and all the efforts of all the Anglomaniacs, International Financiers, peace cranks and the British agents will not be able to restore the corpose to life.1

In Ireland, the Irish Independent quoted from the president-elect’s March 1920 letter to Frank P. Walsh, member of American Commission on Irish Independence:

I have a very strong conviction myself of the very great part played by Americans of Irish ancestry in winning the independence and in the making of our great United States. More than that, I have very great and sympathetic feeling for the movement to bring about the independence of Ireland and the establishment of Irish nationality, which is the natural aspiration of any liberty-loving people.2

Few people on either side of the Atlantic were fooled by such platitudes. The Independent noted Harding’s earlier Senate votes against the Irish cause, as Devoy also had pointed out during the campain, when he backed another Republican senator. Again, the outcome was more a vote against Wilson and the Democrats than for Harding.

Democrats were bitter. George White, chairman of the Democaratic National Committee, said:

The fate of Irish freedom has been settled adversely. Men and women of Irish blood have voted for the candidate who has declared the Irish question to be a domestic problem of Great Britain, in which we can have no official concern. With their support the American people have returned the Irish problem to Downing Street.3

Once he took office in March 1921, Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as the nation focused on domestic affairs and Ireland deteriorated into civil war.4

Earlier posts on the 1920 U.S. presidential election:

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.2

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.3 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 Freedom4 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 papers 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.”5 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.”6

“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.7 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.