Tag Archives: Roman Catholic Church

When bigots tried to ban Dev from Birmingham, Alabama

Éamon de Valera faced one of the most hostile receptions of his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland during an April 21, 1920, stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

De Valera in 1919

An American Legion post in the southern industrial city urged Alabama Gov. Thomas E. Kilby to declare de Valera persona non grata, in part because Irish separatists had sought German assistance during the late world war, when America allied with Britain. A Pennsylvania chapter of the patriotic veterans organization began grumbling about de Valera as he visited Pittsburgh in October 1919. Similar rhetoric surfaced a month later in Los Angeles

Now, however, the strongest opposition to de Valera’s appearance was driven by “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) hatred of Catholics that prevailed in Birmingham during the second and third decades of the twentieth century,” David B. Franklin wrote in a 2004 History Ireland article. “The Irish-American population in particular was an insidious threat, [because unlike blacks] that ethnic group mixed so freely with the WASP majority in all situations except religion.”

Kilby declined to grant the Legion’s requested declaration and steered away from overt anti-Catholicism. Instead, he released a statement that said the Sinn Féin leader should be deported by the U.S. State Department. And he suggested that some “patriotic Americans” were “seriously misled” in their “zeal for a cause which involves the internal affairs of a friendly nation [Britain].”1

Frank J. Thompson, state chairman of the American Commission on Irish Independence, rebuked Kilby on grounds of patriotism and politics:

The time is coming, whether Governor Kilby realizes it or not, when the same moral law that governs man shall govern nations and when robber nations, like the burglarious individual, will have to realize the truth of the principle and be governed by it. … [He should] familiarize himself more thoroughly with the attributes of a real American and the history of our country, before he attempts to catalogue or classify those who sympathize with the aspirations of the Irish people.”2

Thompson, leader of Alabama’s Irish bond drive effort, a few days earlier had welcomed de Valera to Mobile, the state’s more heavily Catholic port city, where there were no protests. Despite the agitation in Birmingham, de Valera was allowed to make his speech. He was joined by Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of County Antrim, who said that Irish freedom was not only a Catholic concern.

Anti-Catholic bigots tried to block Éamon de Valera from making an April 1920 speech at this Birmingham, Alabama, playhouse, then the Jefferson Theatre, later renamed Erlanger. Birmingham Public Library

Kilby and the Legion got more press attention before de Valera’s visit than the speech received afterward, according to a review of available digital newspaper archives. The New York Times reported de Valera “was greeted with mingled applause and shouts of ‘throw him out’ ” and that “objectors caused considerable confusion inside the crowded theatre.”3 The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to Sinn Féin leadership in Ireland, declared “a great throng crowded Jefferson Theatre to its utmost capacity … despite an organized attempt of bigots to prevent the meeting…”4

The Birmingham episode received only minimal attention in Irish newspapers, which focused more coverage on the deadly tornadoes that swept through Alabama and other U.S. southern states in the same week.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Religion

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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This series to date has covered half of Guest’s Ireland stories in the order they were published. This post explores three of his stories that primarily focused on religion.

Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say1

“The Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland is equally outspoken in its denunciation of the crime and outrage now existing there and of the causes which it holds responsible–the withholding of self-government, military oppression, and invasion of the people’s rights,” Guest opened this story. He noted the Jan. 27, 1920, meeting of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, County Kildare, about 25 miles west of Dublin, and quoted from their official pronouncement.

Cardinal Michael Logue

Guest also cited subsequent statements by Bishop of Cashel John Harty; Cardinal Michael Logue; Archbishop of Dublin William J. Walsh; Bishop of Waterford Bernard Hackett; and Bishop of Rapheo Patrick J. O’Donnell. It appears that Guest repeated their quotes from Irish newspaper accounts, rather than his own interviews.

The passage below shows Guest overstated the church’s diminished influence on Irish affairs, since the Catholic hierarchy would play a significant role in the development of the fledgling state through ratification of the Irish Constitution in 1937, and beyond. Guest could not have anticipated how much relations between the priests and the people would change as they have in the last 20 years due to church scandals. In March 1920, he wrote:

Although the church is still as strong numerically in proportion as it was a century ago, it is not the dominant influence politically today that it was then. I do not mean by this that those of the Catholic faith in Ireland are any less religious; they are not. But something of the awe with which the peasants used to regard the clergy and the mystical powers they were wont to attribute to the priesthood have been dissipated.  … 

The priest in Ireland is revered and loved today as much as ever, but he is less feared. The people see young priests mixing in politics and they appreciate that they are of the people, one of themselves. Better education, too, has helped the people think more for themselves. This is why I believe the church in Ireland has lost something of the power it formerly had to mould and direct public opinion. This holds true not only of the Catholic south of Ireland, but Protestant Ulster as well. 

The older leaders of both the Catholic and Protestant churches have not accepted this condition without resistance. Neither have the old-school politicians, who have not hesitated when they could gain their ends no other way to fan the slumbering fires of religious antagonism between the north and the south of Ireland.

Free Education As We Know It In This Country, Is Unknown in Ireland2

“Education and religion are inseparably interwoven in Ireland,” Guest wrote. “One cannot be educated at any school in the south or in Ulster without absorbing a great deal of religious propaganda. … Early in the school life the seeds of distrust and antagonism … are sown. … Unlike the north and the south in the United States, Ulster and the south of Ireland have never attempted to let bygones by bygones and forget the past.”3

Guest outlined the existing Irish education system and the proposed restructuring of it under 1919 legislation by the government in London. He referred again to the Jan. 27 meeting at Maynooth, presided over by Cardinal Logue, which issued a statement that described the bill “the most denationalizing scheme since the act of union.”4 The hierarchy’s opposition, Guest suggested, “well illustrates how closely education and religion are interwoven.”

The education bill was eventually withdrawn.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, July 2016.

Believe Irish Catholics And Protestants In Ulster May Bury The Hatchet5

Guest wrote that he asked nearly everyone he met in Ireland whether Catholics and Protestants would ever “bury the hatchet” of antagonism between the two religious traditions. “Taken in their entirety, the replies were not encouraging to the hope that someday the ancient bitterness … would disappear,” he reported. He suggested, as above, “those of little education were positive … an insurmountable barrier” would keep Ireland forever divided; while those “educated … to think for themselves” believed the barrier “would someday be shattered.”

Guest addressed the issue “with persons from all walks of life,” including a grocery store clerk; a farm laborer in County Tipperary; a linen mill superintendent and a hotel porter in Belfast; and a farm owner and his son in County Down. He also had conversations with Lord Justice James O’Connor in Dublin, and Liam Roche in Cork, but did not quote either in the story. Guest wrote:

… in almost every case, as between persons who had learned to think for themselves and others who had not, the lineup on one side of the question and on the other side was distinct, regardless of locality. … [Young Catholic priests and young Protestant ministers] will tell you quite frankly that this old enmity is a ‘bugaboo,’ which has been kept alive largely by frequent doses of stimulant administered by politicians in England and Ireland. …

Catholics and Protestants labor side by side in factories, mills and shops with only occasional friction. So long as the two refrain from religious or political discussion, all goes well.

NEXT: British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest

Ongoing analysis of Ireland’s 2020 elections

An overgrown canal bridge along the Boyne River, County Meath, July 2019

The ballots in Ireland’s Feb. 8 national election have been cast and counted. We’ve learned of Sinn Féin’s historic showing. Now, “tortuous coalition negotiations in the coming weeks will determine who, if anyone, can command enough support to lead the next government,” The New York Times reports. A new election might be needed. … The analysis below is mostly from outside of Ireland. I’ll refresh with newer articles at top until developments date these pieces. Email subscribers should visit the website to see the updates. MH

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What Happens Next in Ireland, Time, Feb. 14

For nearly a century, the center-right parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have had their way when it comes to forming governments, and both have refused to work with Sinn Féin in the past given their historic links to violence. That made sense when Sinn Féin was polling in the single digits and politically toxic, but a lot harder when they are the single-most popular party in the country.

Like many other advanced democracies of late, Ireland is now forced to confront the reality that its old political system—dominated by two main parties—is finished. That has serious implications for Ireland going forward, while at the same time adding yet another data point for the continued momentum of anti-establishment politics across Western democracies. Another reason Irish elections matter is that compared to other European countries seeing an upsurge of anti-establishment sentiment, Ireland’s economy was actually doing quite well.

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What do Ireland’s election results mean for the North?, Esquire, Feb. 14

The looming question, of course, is what will happen to the status of Northern Ireland, which has been in flux since the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. … I remain convinced that it would be god’s own craic if the British government manages to bungle its way into creating a 32-county Irish Republic.

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Did Ireland Go Populist-Nationalist? (In its own way, yes.), National Review, Feb. 14

Some Irish commentators … have been overanxious to deny the “populist” label that outsiders have attached to Sinn Féin. For many in Ireland, populist is not a synonym for a “bad guy” who is against the EU, doesn’t like immigration, or is generally right-wing.

Ireland has often flattered itself as immune to continental populism because it has, in the living memory of older voters, experienced the reign of a conservative, nationalist, and deeply Catholic government that sought to protect rural ways of life and make the economy a tool of foreign policy and statecraft.

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Irish Voters Cast Off Relic of Entrenched 2-Party System, The New York Times, Feb. 12

In recent years, successive public votes in Ireland to legalize same-sex marriage and repeal an abortion ban have pulled many young and dissatisfied people into politics, giving voters a chance to shake up traditions that were once rigidly enforced by the Roman Catholic Church. Their next target was Ireland’s ossified political hierarchy.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum conceded that the vote for Sinn Féin reflected the desire of a huge cohort of voters — young and old, urban and rural, working-class and middle-class — for new alternatives in a system that had long stamped them out.