Archbishop George W. Mundelein, speaking at Chicago’s 1923 St. Patrick’s Day banquet, described a secret meeting between Éamon de Valera, leader of the republican faction opposed to the fledgling Irish Free State, and General Richard Mulcahy, chief of government forces during the Irish Civil War. The prelate said the two combatants embraced each other as they met at a Dublin retreat house, then got down on their knees together to pray the “Hail Mary” and this litany:
“St. Patrick; apostle of Ireland, pray for us; St. Bridgit, patroness of Ireland, pray for; All ye holy men and women who died for Ireland, pray for us.”
The archbishop assured the Ancient Order of Hibernians and its Ladies Auxiliary that the two sides were “groping for some way out of their difficulty,” which he suggested could be ended if only some strong man had the courage to “knock their heads together” in common and united effort. His story “moved hundreds to tears,” according to the news account. He was “the only speaker at the celebration who had the courage to make reference to present day conditions in the Emerald Isle.”
The next day’s Chicago Tribune reported the story on page 5 (see below), but without the head knocking quote.Mundelein Tells How Foes In Erin Knelt Together”, Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1923. The Associated Press wired its version of the story, with the quote, to other U.S. secular daily newspapers. The National Catholic Welfare Council news service distributed this version to Catholic weeklies, which published the story through the rest of March.”Declares De Valera Knelt With Mulcahy”, The New York Times, March 19, 1923; “De Valera a And Mulcahy Reported Friends Again”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1923; … Continue reading A brief version of the story from Central News also appeared in the Irish Examiner,Mulcahy & De Valera, American Archbishop’s Statement”, Irish Examiner, March 20, 1923. but the Free State government denied it the next day.”Praying Story Denied”, Belfast News-Letter, March 21, 1923.
Archbishop Mundelein attributed the story to one of his recent visitors, “the only person who witnessed this meeting,” but did not name his source. His informant must have been Monsignor John Rogers, a County Wexford native and pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in San Francisco active in Irish republican affairs.”Monsignor John Rogers Drops Dead At Funeral”, The Sacramento Bee, May 6, 1935.
A week before St. Patrick’s Day 1923, Monsignor Rogers cabled the Irish Independent to claim credit for the Sept. 8, 1922, meeting between De Valera and Mulcahy. In February 1923, Free State President William T. Cosgrave told the Independent that “a high church dignitary from another country” helped arrange the meeting, which did not yield a peace settlement.”Monsignor Rogers’ Part”, Irish Independent, March 13, 1923.
De Valera’s personal papers at University College Dublin contain “correspondence between Monsignor John Rogers, Ernie O’Malley (Acting Assistant Chief of Staff), de Valera and Eamon Donnelly (‘Mr D’) on the organization of a meeting, through the auspices of Monsignor Rogers, between de Valera and General Richard Mulcahy and the issuing of a form of safe conduct for Mulcahy. Also includes a list of six propositions (8 September 1922, 1p) submitted by Monsignor Rogers to de Valera, as a ‘basis of action or agreement’ (3–8 September 1922 & February 1923, 14 items).” I have not reviewed this material, which is not available online.Eamon de Valera Papers P150, UCD Archives finding guide page 535.
Monsignor Rogers, in an Oct. 8, 1922, letter to Joseph McGarrity of Philadelphia, wrote that he had dinned the previous evening in Chicago with Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna of San Francisco and Archbishop Mundelein, whom he describe as “a true friend of De Valera.” McGarrity, who published the Irish Press from March 1918 until May 1922, was a key de Valera supporter before and after the Anglo-Irish Treaty split. The priest reported the Chicago archbishop had just read “the Chief’s last communication” with interest.
At the time, the American press was reporting the Free State army had intercepted multiple correspondence from de Valera. One letter said he had no influence over armed republicans. It also suggested that even if republicans could somehow “overthrow” the provisional government “they would themselves be ousted by the people at the next election.””De Valera Is Discouraged Over Affairs”, The Fresno (California) Morning Republican, Oct. 15, 1922.
Archbishop Mundelein, 50 in 1923, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and a German father. He became archbishop in 1915. In 1921, he was listed on the national council of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, and he also served on the executive committee of the committee’s Illinois delegation. The prelate’s 1923 St. Patrick’s Day “story”, by then six months old, clearly was intended to give hope to Irish American Catholics, who had become disgusted and disillusioned with the civil war. His description of the two combatants seeking the intercessions of familiar Irish saints probably was overly greened malarkey, but certainly suited the occasion and the church.
The civil war ended two months later. Archbishop Mundelein was elevated to cardinal the following year. The finding guide of his archive lists a 1927 Christmas letter from de Valera to the prelate and an undated photo of the two of them. The archbishop died in 1939, four years after Monsignor Rogers. A newspaper obituary described the San Francisco priest as “a personal friend” of de Valera.”Rogers Drops Dead”, Sacramento Bee, May 6, 1935.
You could say he once was in the room where it didn’t happen.
(See all the posts in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.)
|↑1||Mundelein Tells How Foes In Erin Knelt Together”, Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1923.|
|↑2||”Declares De Valera Knelt With Mulcahy”, The New York Times, March 19, 1923; “De Valera a And Mulcahy Reported Friends Again”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1923; “De Valera And Mulchy Meet And Pray Together For Peace And Protection In Ireland”, The Pittsburgh Catholic, March 29, 1923; “De Valera Meets And Prays With General Mulcahy”, The Catholic Advocate, Wichita, Kansas, March 31, 1923.|
|↑3||Mulcahy & De Valera, American Archbishop’s Statement”, Irish Examiner, March 20, 1923.|
|↑4||”Praying Story Denied”, Belfast News-Letter, March 21, 1923.|
|↑5||”Monsignor John Rogers Drops Dead At Funeral”, The Sacramento Bee, May 6, 1935.|
|↑6||”Monsignor Rogers’ Part”, Irish Independent, March 13, 1923.|
|↑7||Eamon de Valera Papers P150, UCD Archives finding guide page 535.|
|↑8||”De Valera Is Discouraged Over Affairs”, The Fresno (California) Morning Republican, Oct. 15, 1922.|
|↑9||”Rogers Drops Dead”, Sacramento Bee, May 6, 1935.|