Tag Archives: Royal Irish Constabulary

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

“The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.” –Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution

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On Dec. 30, 1919, American journalist Harry Frazier Guest sailed to Ireland “for the purpose of gathering news and making observations for the New York Globe,” his editor assured the U.S. government.1 Guest later told his readers that he intended to describe conditions in Ireland “as seen through unbiased American eyes.”2 During January and February 1920 he toured many sections of the island, urban and rural. “I had never visited Ireland or England before and had taken no interest in the so-called Irish question,” Guest wrote in the first of two dozen articles published after he returned to America.3I went with an open mind, free from racial or religious prejudice.”

Over the next few weeks I will explore Guest’s dispatches, which the Globe syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is part of my ongoing series about American reporting of Irish independence, which includes my earlier series about Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March through July 1919. Here, I will provide headlines, highlight key details and historical points, and quote compelling or controversial passages from Guest’s stories as they appeared in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, which are available through digital archives. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I am unable at this time to read his series on microfilm as published in the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, or do other library and archival research.

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

Harry F. Guest was 41 when he traveled to Ireland. He had been at the Globe for six years, according to his editor’s letter. A 1917 story in the Times Union of Brooklyn, N.Y., described him as “prominent in newspaper circles for many years, serving as reporter and editor on the Brooklyn and Manhattan dailies,” including correspondent from the state capital in Albany.4 His 1918 draft registration for World War I listed his work as “Asst. Direct. Pub.” for the U.S. Food Administration, likely a temporary “publicity” or “publications” job.5

After the war, Guest spent part of 1919 reporting for the Globe from Texas for a series of articles about the state’s booming oil industry:

I came to Texas an unbeliever prepared to see much overrated oil development. But after having an opportunity to see what has been done and what conservative eastern capital is planning for the future, backing its judgement with millions, I can say that the Texas oil industry is building on a solid business foundation.6

Before he boarded Cunard’s RMS Mauretania for Ireland, Guest said goodbye to Blanche, his wife of 16 years, though the couple had no children. He was 5-foot, 8 ½-inches tall, with green-gray eyes, and brown-gray hair, according to his passport application. He had survived broken ribs and internal injuries after being hit by a car less then three years earlier. He wore glasses and had an artificial right eye.7

Guest returned to New York on March 1 aboard the RMS Carmania.8 His first story about revolutionary Ireland appeared in newspapers a week later.

A March 1920 promotional notice in The Baltimore Sun for Harry Guest’s upcoming series on Ireland.

Ireland By Day Land of Peace, And Business Hums In Its Cities9

Guest told readers that his first two stories would be scene setters, Ireland by day, and Ireland by night, “for the two are very different.” He described heightened security at the Kingstown docks and Dublin rail stations. “Somehow, all the time I was in Ireland I never quite got over the feeling that I was under the eyes of policemen and soldiers.”

He referenced a newspaper story of the Jan. 3, 1920, raid on Carrightwohill barracks, in County Cork, shortly before his arrival. It was among the earliest in the rapidly escalating attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary posts by the Irish Republican Army. Guest also mentioned the midday Feb. 7 holdup in Dublin of a motor lorrie with two police officers and two soldiers, all unarmed, by 20 men with weapons, “but such exhibitions during the daytime are rare.”

Inside Carrigtwohill barracks after the attack. Photo, Illustrated London News

In Dublin’s Grafton Street, “the windows of many shops were covered with steel shutters which extended down to the sidewalk,” Guest wrote. “The faces of the men and women walking by … looked just as dour and serious as the police. It was only the young–the boys and girls in their teens–who smiled.”

He wrote that most Irish people at first were reluctant to talk with him, wary that he might work for the authorities. “They would not even commit themselves to admitting that conditions were bad, but when they learned I was a newspaper man from the United States they talked freely.”

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign10

“It is between midnight and dawn that most of the blood is spilled in Ireland,” Guest reported in his followup Ireland at night story. “The popular hour for attacks on police barracks and the round up of Sinn Féinners is 2 a.m. At that hour, if one is in the right place, it is possible to see armored motorcars, with rapid-fire guns poking through their turrets, and motor lorries filled with steel-helmeted, fully armored soldiers speeding through deserted city streets, and over dark country roads, bound on mysterious missions, the object of which will not be disclosed until a day or two later at military headquarters.”

Guest referenced the Jan. 31 roundup of 100 Sinn Féin members across the country after the installation of local officers in eight cities, “but half of them were released within a few hours of their arrests.”

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Cancellation of police force remembrance stirs debate

The Irish government has cancelled plans to recognize British police forces–many of them born in Ireland–who fought against pro-independence rebels a century ago. The commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), was set for Jan. 17 at Dublin Castle, former seat of British administration in Ireland and now a historical site used for state events.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s center-right government noted that not only were many members of the police forces Irish, but also some were sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others suggested the ceremony was part an effort to understand pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom and is now convulsed by Brexit.

Opposition party members and the mayors of several Irish cities said they would boycott the event. One suggested that no other state would commemorate those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom, especially the brutalities of the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans, the RIC’s special reserve and paramilitary units.

Commemorating Ireland’s bloody War of Independence (1919-1921) “will prove delicate for the Irish state for many reasons,” John Dorney, editor of The Irish Story, writes in The perils of reconciliation. “One being the potentially antagonistic result of evoking the political violence of the era. But another is that the suggestion that the commemoration of such a bloody and polarizing time can be about ‘reconciliation’, like the 2016 commemoration of the Easter Rising, is probably wishful thinking.”

At The Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole wonders, Why do we fear the ghosts of dead policemen?:

Is it obscene merely to remember such men? Must there be a hierarchy of victims in which they remain, not just at the bottom but even lower down, in the underground darkness of oblivion?

We have, supposedly, been trying to rise above such mentalities, to accept that history, when it turns violent, sweeps all sorts of human lives into the gutter. A society that has moved beyond violence does not leave them there.

Dorney, however, concludes that “value-free commemorations” of the War of Independence, partition of the island, and Civil War (1922-1923) “in general are not possible. It is not ‘mature’ to impose a false consensus but rather to understand the political differences that led to bloody strife in Ireland 100 years ago and how they shaped the Ireland of today.”

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter suggested “an academic event – a conference or seminar – that would look at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period” was more appropriate than a state commemoration.

Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) inspection.