Tag Archives: Ruth Russell

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Murdered mayors

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence

***

Ewart arrived in Limerick on April 27, less than two months after the city’s mayor and his predecessor were murdered. The visitor interviewed Stephen O’Mara, 76, the city’s first Irish nationalist mayor, from 1885. He tells Ewart that his same-name son, 37, the current Limerick mayor, has just been imprisoned by the British military for not complying with orders.

All of this, Ewart writes, is “very characteristic of Ireland in 1921.”

In January 1921, George Clancy succeeded Michael O’Callaghan as Limerick mayor. Then, between late evening March 6 and early morning March 7, both men were shot dead at their homes. A third man, an Irish Volunteer, also was killed that night, and Clancy’s wife was wounded. The killers belonged to a Royal Irish Constabulary auxiliary unit, potentially in collusion with military authorities, historians say. 

At the time of Ewart’s visit, however, the crimes were as unresolved and divisive as the Irish war. He wrote:

Nothing remains more strange, and nothing more sinister, in a long history of Irish crime than the murders of the two Mayors of Limerick. Strange and sinister in particular, because here are two of the most prominent citizens of one of the largest towns in Ireland done to death in the same night — and to this day none shall say by whom. … A world of intrigue, of punishment or reprisal, of accusation and counter accusation, of suspicion, and semi-certainty then again doubt. … Who shall unravel the truth, or will it ever be unravelled? Will it ever see the light of day?[1]Journey, p. 100.

The two mayors had publicly defended Limerick’s citizens against military and police harassment. Their killings were retaliation for earlier Irish republican attacks, and also intended to terrorize the population.

Michael O’Callaghan, left, and George Clancy.

As Bew/Maume note, Ewart too quickly “entertains the possibility” the two mayors were “killed by IRA hardliners, rather than Crown forces, when he is told this by a fellow British officer.” He fails to show the skepticism he demonstrated about official versions of the burning of Cork.[2]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv. See In Cork. Pointing fingers at the IRA simply diverted attention from the auxiliaries and sowed doubt and division among Irish separatists. 

Ewart is told this story during a visit to the military’s New Barracks, where he also attempts to unravel the dispute between the authorities and Mayor Stephen M. O’Mara, Jr., Clancy’s successor. An officer says O’Mara, Jr., opted for a week’s imprisonment rather than paying a £10 fine for breaking curfew regulations. Ewart asks to see the imprisoned mayor, but a guard refuses him access and insists O’Mara doesn’t want to receive visitors.

Within days of this episode, the authorities released young O’Mara from jail. He soon sailed to the United States to replace another brother, James, as a fiscal agent in raising funds for the Irish Republic.

Economic conditions

Ewart describes Limerick as an “ugly” place, its “abiding impression” that of a garrison town with limited commerce.  

“The economic history of Limerick was that of the majority of Irish towns in 1921 – you could read it in the look of the place,” Ewart writes. “Trade bad, nobody buying, no ships coming up the river … not a ship to be seen along the quays … progressive decay had set in before the war. Limerick lacks energy, lacks healthy vitality.”[3]Journey, p.78.

Limerick waterfront in the 1920s.

Throughout his travels in Ireland, Ewart repeatedly asks his interview subjects whether Bolshevism is playing a role in the Sinn Féin revolution. “No,” he is told, including by O’Mara, Sr., “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer.”

Ewart does not mention the Limerick soviet of two years earlier. The headline-making general strike by trade unionists protested the military’s heavy-handed lock-down of the city. American journalist Ruth Russell, in the city at the time, highlighted the workers’ strong ties to the Catholic Church, which made their soviet less radical than other Marxist factions.

In her Ireland book, Russell observes how the red-badged guards rose to bless themselves on hearing the tolling Angelus bells of St. Munchkin’s chapel. “Isn’t it well that communism is to be Christianized?”, Bishop Michael Fogarty replies when she describes the scene.[4]Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 136 and 142.

Russell also interviewed Alphonsus O’Mara; another son of Stephen, Sr., brother of Stephen, Jr., and predecessor of the murdered O’Callaghan. As Limerick mayor in April 1919, “Phons” helped to end the soviet after two weeks.[5]Ibid, p. 133, and “Will Ireland Go On Strike”, Russell’s April 21, 1919, dispatch from Limerick, Kansas City Star, April 21, 1919. Russell’s Limerick reporting also cited by … Continue reading

In 1921, a century before Brexit, O’Mara, Sr. tells Ewart that England is the “natural market” for Ireland’s eggs, butter, bacon, cattle, and linen. “We might find other markets for ourselves, but England is the natural one and always will be,” he says.[6]Journey, p.88.

NEXT: Ulster attitude

References

References
1 Journey, p. 100.
2 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv. See In Cork.
3 Journey, p.78.
4 Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 136 and 142.
5 Ibid, p. 133, and “Will Ireland Go On Strike”, Russell’s April 21, 1919, dispatch from Limerick, Kansas City Star, April 21, 1919. Russell’s Limerick reporting also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, p. 171.
6 Journey, p.88.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: In Cork

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey In Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

Ewart traveled by train from Dublin to Cork city on April 23. “That Cork was full of spies and that a stray Englishman bent upon an apparently aimless mission was bound to be taken for one, soon became evident,” he wrote. 

He mentioned that morning’s citywide holdup of 32 postmen by groups of four or five men who robbed more than 7,300 letters “in the name of the IRA,” the Skibbereen Eagle reported a week later. There was no violence, the paper said, but it was “extraordinary that the coup was accomplished without attracting the attention of police and military patrols.”[1]“7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.

And yet, to Ewart, “Cork city seemed quiet after Dublin.” He noticed the burned out buildings on St. Patrick Street, remembered the devastation he had seen in Europe during the war, and realized such sights were “inconspicuous because they had grown normal and customary in seven years, because ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921.”[2]Journey, pp. 27-28.

Nevertheless, “the site of the burnings demanded a first-hand explanation.” He found Cork three residents willing to discuss the city’s Dec. 11-12, 1920, conflagration. The unnamed witnesses accused the military’s K Division of the arson, scoffed at the name of Chief Secretary of Ireland Sir Hamar Greenwood, and said a few other “rude things,” Ewart reported.

Cork city after the December 1920 fires set by the authorities. Ewart visited four months later. “Ruins were characteristic of Ireland in 1921,” he wrote.

Like the three witnesses, Ewart realized that Greenwood’s Dec. 14, 1920, House of Commons explanation of the Cork fires was a lie. The author discredited the Chief Secretary’s assertion the fire spread unchecked from Grant & Co. on Patrick Street to the Carnegie Library and City Hall by observing the wide span of unburnt territory during a 5-minute walk between the two points.[3]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.

Republican interviews

Ewart interviewed Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Barry M. Egan and Alderman Liam de Róiste (William Roach) of the Irish Industrial Development Association. The two men “appear to have been the main Sinn Féin contacts for visiting journalists in this period,” including a late 1920 interview with Russell Browning of United Press.[4]Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. … Continue reading

Ewart’s Cork interviews occurred two days after Irish republican leader Eamon de Valera and Edward George Villars Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, met privately in Dublin to discuss a possible peace settlement. Lord Derby’s visit to Catholic Church hierarchy was reported at the time, though whether he met with any Dáil Éireann representative was less clear. Ewart mentioned these “unofficial negotiations” to Egan, who replied:

This is a question for the Irish people. It is a question for ‘we ourselves’ (Sinn Féin) English politicians had much better keep out of it. I believe Lord Derby is an honest man and a gentleman; no doubt he means well. But anything this is done had got to be done ‘over the counter.’ We want no secret negotiations. President de Valera has made that clear.[5]Journey, p. 36.

The Irish leader and Lord Derby “had tea and discussed the situation for two or three hours,” according to de Valera biographer David McCullagh. “While the discussion did not produce much movement, de Valera regarded it as the first important contact with the British and as an indication that they ‘desired to make peace if satisfactory terms could be arranged.’ ”[6]McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.

Barry M. Egan

Egan later wrote a letter to the Westminster Gazette to “protest in a mild and unembittered way” Ewart’s description of him in the paper. “Your report … amused and puzzled me,” the Cork mayor wrote, as also reported in the Freeman’s Journal. “I do not think I am a thin-lipped doctrinaire, nor like a symbolist of the French Revolution. I do not think I am personally embittered. What loss I have suffered personally has seemed a small thing compared to my predecessors, Thomas MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney.”[7]Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, … Continue reading 

De Róiste echoed what George Russell had told Ewart: “We feel no hostility to the English people or to the Army; only to the Irregular Forces of the Crown and other instruments of your Government.”[8]Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series. A 1903 co-founder of the Industrial Development Association,[9]De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB. de Róiste conceded that while Irish agriculture was “stimulated by the war … industrially, we’ve probably gone back, if anything.”  

Ford shutdown

Ewart, like Ruth Russell and Harry Guest and other journalists, noted the Ford tractor plant in Cork. When Russell visited in spring 1919, shortly before the plant opened, she observed: “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men. Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”[10]“New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?

In late March 1921, a few weeks before Ewart’s visit, the two-year-old plant closed suddenly, “without any explanation from management,” the Freeman’s Journal reported. The paper suggested this was “a mere temporary suspension, rendered necessary by the exceptional economic circumstances of the moment.”[11]“Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.

Ewart described the impact:

There were to be seen at all hours, it is true, an extraordinary number of young and middle- aged, able-bodied men standing about the streets; and that seemed typical of Cork, as of most other Irish towns. It was due, in part, to the slackness of the port and of business generally, but mainly to the closing down of Ford’s Works which had been established to supply agricultural tractors for the whole of Ireland and had hitherto employed between 700 and 800 men.[12]Journey, p. 28-29. 

He later described “a long queue of respectable-looking people … waiting to receive their dole (£1 to £2 a week) from the fund subscribed by the United States of America and the City of Cork for sufferers in the ‘war.’ They looked the sort of people who, in peaceable times would have enjoyed an income of £1 to £2 a day.”[13]Journey, p. 35.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork city, 1919.

The length of the 1921 Ford shutdown is unclear, but the plant reopened by late summer, according to contemporary newspaper accounts. The Cork District Committee distributed £170,398 of “personal relief” from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland through its city and county branches from 1921 through August 1922.[14]Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87. 

 “Best commentary”

Ewart wrote “the best commentary on daily life in Cork” was a local newspaper placard at a street corner, which read:

THE WEEK’S WARFARE

MURDER BY INSANE PROFESSOR

CAUGHT AT DRILL

FIVE CIVILIANS KILLED

GARDENING AND POULTRY NOTES

TALKS ON HEALTH

ALL THE USUAL FEATURES

The Skibbereen Eagle published this observation and Ewart’s other descriptions of Cork on its front page a month after his visit.[15]“A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921. The piece was attributed to The Times, London, without the author’s byline. It did not include his interviews with Egan or de Róiste.

NEXT: Twice detained

References

References
1 “7,386 Letters Taken”, Skibbereen Eagle, April 30, 1921.
2 Journey, pp. 27-28.
3 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xv.; and Journey, pp.45-47.
4 Egan, Barry M., Patrick Maume in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and “Irish Claim Great Britain Throttle Commerce”, (de Roiste), The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, Dec. 10, 1920, and other U.S. newspapers.
5 Journey, p. 36.
6 McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, pp.201-202.
7 Ewart’s original story: “Talks With Sinn Fein”, Westminster Gazette, June 10, 1921, and Journey, p. 35. Egan’s reply: “To Mr. Wilfrid Ewart: A Correction”, Westminster Gazette, June 20, 1921, and “Amused and Puzzled”, Freeman’s Journal, June 24, 1921.
8 Journey, p.42. See “Dublin Arrival” in this series.
9 De Róiste, Liam, by Paul Rouse, DIB.
10 “New Irish Factory Has American Ideas”, Omaha (NE) World Herald, July 6, 1919. Not included in What’s the matter with Ireland?
11 “Closing of Ford Works”, Freeman’s Journal, March 29, 1921.
12 Journey, p. 28-29.
13 Journey, p. 35.
14 Reports: American Committee for Relief in Ireland and Irish White Cross, New York, 1922, p. 87.
15 “A Visitor’s View of Cork”, May 21, 1921.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: An introduction

Wilfrid Ewart, from January 1923 Illustrated London News, weeks after his death at age 30.

English novelist and journalist Wilfrid Herbert Gore Ewart traveled throughout Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. He filed dispatches for the Times and Sunday Times (London) and the Westminster Gazette; then revised his reporting as the book A Journey In Ireland, 1921, published a year later.[1]Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.

Ewart wrote that his 22-day journey during the guerrilla war between Irish separatists and British military forces was conducted:

…with the single object of studying the state of the country and the state of feeling in the country, as to which newspapers contradict each other and propaganda and partisanship persistently vied. How far this could be done in so short a space of time the reader may judge for himself.[2]Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.

This series will review and give context to Ewart’s travels and writing, either by chronology or topic. I, too, will allow readers to judge the success of either of us.

The original book contained a map of Ewart’s travels on the cover. This screenshot of scanned edition cuts off the bottom portion.

Ewart insisted that no incident of any interest or significance was “suppressed” from his book. He attributed its year-long delay to the July 1921 truce in the Irish war and the “protracted negotiations which followed … making it inadvisable (in the public interest) to publish an account, however non-partisan, of a journey through a country at its stormiest period.”[3]Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.

Several publishers have reissued A Journey In Ireland, 1921 since the original from G. P. Putnam’s Sons, including a 2009 University College Dublin Press edition with an introduction by Paul Bew and Patrick Maume. Maurice Walsh includes Journey in the “Literary Tourists” chapter of his 2008 book, The News from Ireland, and 2016 Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World: 1918-1923. Journey is also included in Travellers’ Accounts as Source-Material for Irish Historians, a reference by Christopher J. Woods; and The Tourist’s Gaze, Travellers to Ireland, 1800 to 2000, an anthology edited by Glen Hooper. I’ll cite these and other sources in this series.

Journey is a quick and engaging read, an accessible middle ground between the usual daily newspaper reports and more advanced literary styles. “Ewart’s love of detail made him a good interview,” Bew/Maume say.[4]”Introduction”, p. xv. Ewart reports he jotted notes of his conversations “in some cases literally as they were spoken” or immediately afterward. When stopped and searched on the road by five Irish republicans, he writes that one perused “the hieroglyphics in my notebook.”[5]Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.

Journalists in Ireland

Many journalists and writers were attracted to Ireland’s War of Independence. It was one of the next big stories in the aftermath of the Great War, one steeped in centuries of history. Walsh notes some writers wanted to “examine one of the great moral questions of the day: the justice of British rule” and also explore “the paradox of revolution in a society that otherwise appears stable.”[6]Walsh, News, p. 154, 177. It generated strong interest among the Irish diaspora in the United States and the United Kingdom, and with other readers in other places.

Though Ewart was English, I can’t resist the opportunity to retrace his travels for my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” centenary series, where future installments will be collected. His approach is similar to Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March to June 1919, then refreshed her work as the 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? The New York Globe‘s Harry F. Guest spent January and February 1920 in Ireland, then produced a 12-part series upon his return to America. Both are profiled in my linked series.

Other journalists who visited Ireland during this period include:

  • London-based reporter Hugh Martin published Ireland in Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, based on his 1920 reporting, about the same time Ewart was traveling through through the country.
  • Kilkenny native and naturalized American citizen Francis Hackett, associate editor at The New Republic, reported from his homeland in 1920 for the New York World; testified later that year about his observations to the American Commission on  Conditions in Ireland; then produced the 1922 book, The Story of the Irish Nation.
  • New York-based author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy sailed to Ireland with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland delegation in February 1921. He wrote the group’s report on return to America, then went back to Ireland and produced a newspaper series about the end of the war, which was published in 1922.
  • Americans Dorothy Thompson, Carl Ackerman, and Charles Grasty, among others, also filed important dispatches from revolutionary Ireland.

Aug. 27, 1922, book advert in the New York Tribune.

Ewart biography

Ewart was born in 1892 in London. At a boarding school in the Sussex countryside, “he grew introverted and acutely sensitive to criticism,” according to the finding guide biography for a collection of Ewart’s papers at the University of Texas. Soon, Ewart:

began to write about the English rural life around him and developed a love for the writings of Thomas Hardy. While still in his teens, he became one of the country’s leading experts on hens. He collaborated with John Stephen Hicks on a book titled The Possibilities of Modern Poultry Farming (1909), based on his previously serialized articles for Farm Life. He also began writing satirical pieces about the London society and manners he encountered on his visits back to the city.

Ewart joined the army in the summer of 1914. He obtained a commission, serving as a captain in the Scots Guards. … During the war, Ewart wrote articles, sometimes pseudonymously, about the Scots Guards and combat. After the war, he published a novel, The Way of Revelation; A Novel of Five Years (1921), which drew on his wartime experiences. It became a bestseller and was highly praised even at a time when readers were becoming weary of war memoirs and novels.

Ewart concluded his trip to Ireland a week before he turned 29, a year younger than Russell. Like Guest, 41, Ewart was blind in one eye. The Englishman was killed on Dec. 31, 1922, in Mexico, when hit by a stray bullet fired in the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Over the coming few weeks I’ll explore multiple aspects of A Journey in Ireland, 1921, at the 100th anniversary of Ewart’s travels. NEXT: Dublin arrival.

References

References
1 Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey In Ireland, 1921. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, April 1922. I worked from a 2021 HardPress Publishing reprint of the original.
2 Journey, Preface, July 3, 1921, p. ix.
3 Journey, Preface, and Note of March 23, 1922, p. xi.
4 ”Introduction”, p. xv.
5 Journey, p. ix, and p. 128.
6 Walsh, News, p. 154, 177.

Best of the Blog, 2020

Welcome to my eighth annual Best of the Blog. The pandemic prevented me from traveling to Ireland or doing any in-person domestic research this year, but I am grateful that so much work can be done online. Enjoy this year’s roundup. MH

Centenary series

I added more than 30 posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, up through Éamon de Valera’s December 1920 return to Ireland after 18 months in America. Highlights included:

  • a 10-part post on New York Globe journalist Harry F. Guest’s 1920 reporting in Ireland;
  • American journalist Dorothy Thompson’s “last interview” scoop with Irish separatist Terence MacSwiney before his Aug. 12, 1920, arrest for sedition;
  • the Irish question and the 1920 U.S. presidential election; and
  • several of my freelance pieces published beyond this blog and guest contributors welcomed to this space. (See below.)

Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s centenary series:

This was the most viewed story in the series this year:

Pittsburgh newspaper headline about Bloody Sunday, November 1920.

Ruth Russell remembered

My wife and I gave a March 7 presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore, about “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland,” based on my 2019 research. I also had Ruth’s name inscribed on the gravestone in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she was buried with her sister.

Ruth’s name and dates were added to the headstone of the grave where she is buried with her sister, Cecilia.

Freelance work

I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. The work was collected in my previous post, From Boycott to Biden.

Guest posts

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and others are welcome to offer submissions via a new landing page and contact form. This year contributors included:

News & other history through the year

The pandemic was the biggest story of the year, of course, but there was other news, and more history to explore than just 1920. Below are the top story from each month, followed by a link to my regular monthly roundup.

From my August 2019 visit to Inisheer. God willing, I’ll get back to Ireland in 2021.

From Boycott to Biden: My 2020 freelance work

This year I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. I thank the editors who worked with me on these projects and hope my readers will explore their websites after enjoying the articles linked below. MH

Will Biden Shake Up a Century of US-Ireland Relations?
History News Network, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Biden.

Though annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities at the White House have become a familiar tradition, Ireland hasn’t always fared well with U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson grew agitated with Irish activists, who helped scuttle the post-WWI League of Nations with war ally Britain. John F. Kennedy also was reluctant to jeopardize America’s “special relationship” with Britain during the Cold War. Now, Joe Biden’s presidency may be a boon to Irish politics, including new focus on the island’s century-old divided status.

Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland
Irish Diaspora Histories Network, Nov. 15, 2020

Clare native Patrick J. Guilfoil returned to Ireland in 1920.

Half of the 18 American witnesses who testified a century ago about their experiences in Ireland during the War of Independence were natives of the country who returned home in 1920. Their first-person accounts of the period’s violence and unrest, totaling more than 160 pages of verbatim transcript, illustrate both Irish nationalist and American identities. Most of the nine witnesses said they returned to Ireland to visit family. Then they got caught in the crossfire of war.

The History of the Boycott Shows a Real Cancel Culture
History News Network, Aug. 2, 2020

Charles Boycott

Dozens of writers, artists and academics signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that warned of growing “censoriousness” in our culture, including “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” While so-called “cancel culture” often deploys modern social media technology, it is hardly a new tactic. It most famously dates to 1880 in the west of Ireland, when English land agent Charles Boycott’s last name became a verb for the practice.

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

The British government in Ireland wielded suppression powers over papers and printing works they deemed were “used in a way prejudicial to the public safety” or potentially bothersome to King George V, as quoted in the headline. On Sept. 20, 1919, authorities made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. An American journalist in Ireland later observed that among papers suppressed and then allowed to resume publication, “it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.”

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Hyde’s travel journal was reissued in 2019.

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” and complained “the wind would cut your nose off” during his January 1906 visit. But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather or fine scenery. As with the other stops on an eight-month U.S. tour, Hyde came to raise awareness about the Gaelic League, the language revival organization he helped found in 1893 to nurture both cultural and political nationalism.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

1919 passport photo of Ruth Russell.

American journalist Ruth Russell interviewed Éamon de Valera and other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolution, including Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne McBride, Michael Collins, Constance Georgine Markievicz, and George William Russell (no relation) during her 1919 reporting trip. Russell also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she protested outside the British embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

U.S. reporter scooped last Terence MacSwiney interview

American journalist Dorothy Thompson interviewed Irish separatist Terence MacSwiney hours before his Aug. 12, 1920, arrest for sedition. He died two months later on hunger strike in a London prison, a martyr for the cause of Irish freedom. She became one of the world’s most famous foreign correspondents, propelled by her “last interview” scoop.

Thompson in 1920.

Thompson turned 27 in July 1920 as she sailed to Europe to pursue a journalism career. The 1914 Syracuse University graduate had worked as an organizer and publicity agent in the women’s suffrage movement, including articles in The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune.1

Thompson was three years younger than Ruth Russell, who reported from Ireland in spring 1919 for the Chicago Daily News. More than three dozen women had filed dispatches from Europe during the just-ended Great War for U.S. newspapers and magazines, but such roles for female journalists remained exceptional.2

MacSwiney had worked for the Irish republican cause since at least 1913. He was Lord Mayor of Cork when Thompson arrived in Ireland trying to track down distant relatives. Their interview happened “completely by accident,” according to Thompson biographer Peter Kurth, who wrote the mayor was arrested “barely an hour” after the reporter left his office.3 In fact, Thompson reported MacSwiney’s arrest came “two hours after I left the city hall.”

Kurth maintains that Thompson “had no idea of the value of her notes until, sometime later, she carried them back to England, stuffed casually in the pocket of her coat.” International News Service London chief Earl Reeves recognized their worth as MacSwiney’s arrest made global headlines.4 Yet Reeves dispatched the story to America by mail rather than more expensive wire transmission, which further explains the more than two week gap before the interview began to appear in U.S. papers.

MacSwiney

MacSwiney was 41, married, with a 2-year-old daughter. Thompson described him as “a slender, rather youthful man, with a characteristic south-of-Ireland face, very dark, blue eyes, set in a thicket of black lashes, an impulsive mouth, and dark, curly hair. He looked tired and a little pale.”

Much of their conversation focused on the Sinn Féin courts, which operated as part of the fledgling Irish Republic simultaneous with the established British government. MacSwiney refused to recognize the latter’s authority when charged with possession of seditous articles and documents. Thompson also asked him about police murders in Ireland, and whether such attacks jeopardized “good will” among the Irish people. He replied:

“You must understand that we are in a state of war. For the English government to deny does not alter the facts. The police–the Royal Irish Constabulary–never have been a bona fide police force. They have always been in a measure an army of occupation. They live in barracks. They are armed.”

Read 100 years later, the interview is noteworthy for Thompson’s opening sentences that “a flash of premonition” appeared on MacSwiney’s “almost mystic smile” when she suggested he occupied “a very dangerous position.”

“ ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ he replied slowly, then added with another smile, ‘if I were to think about it.’ ”

The Minneapolis (Minnesota) Star headlined MacSwiney’s “premonition of death” when it published the interview on Sept. 1, 1920,  seven weeks before he passed. (At left.)  

Thompson’s hometown newspaper headlined “Buffalo Girl Last to See MacSwiney” and boasted of her “distinction of being the last representative of the press” to interview the Sinn Féin mayor.5 At least one paper used the sexist “woman reporter” trope to promote the story.6 The interview does not appear to have attracted attention in the Irish press.

Back to Ireland

The International News Service sent Thompson back across the Irish Sea to write a “series of pen pictures from Ireland.” In one dispatch7, she described the “sunny, windy day on which I went to Cork,” finding it “singularly peaceful and remote” at first glance. Thompson continued:

It’s wide, quiet streets, the old plastered houses, clambering up the hillside, many of them buried in rank gardens, the almost total absence of automobiles, the girls sauntering along with shawls over their heads, all add to the impression of age, as thought the city had been left in the backwaters of progress. It seemed so casual and friendly a place that the report that it, among all cities in Ireland, was nearest civil war was incredible.

But the faces of the people, when you looked at them closely, were strained, and their eyes rather abnormally bright. All of them were either profoundly discouraged or showed traces of an ugly mood lying underneath a surface of disciplined restraint. …

On the one night that I spent in Cork I remained out after the 10 o’clock curfew deliberately. The city seemed to be in a nervous mood, greatly augmented when the soldiers rode down from the barracks on the hill with fixed bayonets and with machine guns rattling after them.

Markievicz

Like Russell in March 1919, Thompson interviewed Constance Georgine Markievicz, a leader of the separatist government. “She is a tall, gaunt, blond woman careless about her dress, nervous and hurried in her speech, with something of the same humorless intensity that distinguishes [Eamon] De Valera [then nearing the end of his 18-month U.S. tour],” Thompson wrote. “In internal politics she is a socialist and very radical, standing in that particular almost alone among the members of the Sinn Fein ministry.”8

Thompson’s Ireland dispatches appeared in U.S. newspapers through October 1920. I have not found any of her clips where she made additional references to the MacSwiney interview or reported on his death.

After Ireland, Thompson’s career took off and evolved to include radio broadcasting. She “was lionized as few journalists before or since have been. … the model for the glamorous foreign correspondent and columnist played by Katherine Hepburn in the 1942 film Woman of the Year. Typically, she was identified as the second most influential and admired women in the United States, after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.”9 Thompson died in 1961.

***

I’ll explore U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of MacSwiney’s martyrdom in a future post. See previous stories in my American reporting of Irish independence series, including my Ruth Russell monograph.

On our eighth blogiversary & first pandemic

The blog is eight years old and has published just under 800 posts. Thank you email subscribers, social media followers, and readers who find their way to the site via search engines. Thanks also to my guest contributors.

We’ve had seven consecutive months of record site traffic and July is on pace as well. Some of the activity since March no doubt has been driven by COVID-19 quarantine on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m happy if I’ve helped readers pass some of their time inside; I know researching and writing the posts is helpful to me.

All-time most popular post: Yeats, Kennedy, ‘Vietnam’ and ‘The Second Coming’

Prior to the pandemic, the past year was especially gratifying to me for two reasons:

First, last August I celebrated my 60th birthday with my wife during a two-week trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Angie is the blog’s biggest supporter and a great quarantine mate. I love her.

Second, I presented my research on “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland” at the American Journalism Historians Association’s annual conference in Dallas; the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland conference in Belfast; and the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore. Find the Russell monograph at my “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series landing page, which features more than 60 posts about the period, plus a list of source material.

As for the island of Ireland, I can’t wait to go back. The last birthday and the pandemic have created a growing realization of how limited and precious is our time here. Enjoy each day. Stay safe.

From a birthday walk in Innisheer, August 2019.

Three stories published beyond the blog

(I am currently working on long-term projects. The linked headlines below are from stories that I’ve freelanced this year beyond the blog. Please check back for occasional new posts over the summer. Enjoy. MH)

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

At midday Sept. 20, 1919, as “squally,” unseasonably cold weather raked across Dublin, “armed soldiers wearing trench helmets” joined by “uniformed and plain clothes police” made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. (See “Secret” document related to the raids at bottom of this post.)

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Douglas Hyde opened his 1906 speech in Gaelic, and many in the audience shouted back in Irish, according to the press reports: “It is doubtful if a more completely Irish assembly has ever been gathered together in Pittsburgh.”

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

The Chicago Daily News reporter interviewed leading Irish political and cultural figures. She also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she joined a protest against British rule in Ireland, and testified favorably to the Irish republican cause before a special commission. 

See my American reporting of Irish independence series for more stories about journalists and newspaper coverage of the Irish revolution. See my Pittsburgh Irish archives for more on the city’s immigrants.

Memorandum outlining the September 1919 newspaper raids from the secret files of British authorities in Ireland. Army of Ireland, Administrative and Easter Rising Records, Subseries – Irish Situation, 1914-1922, WO 35/107, The National Archives, Kew.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Reactions

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. This is the last of 10 posts in this series. Earlier posts and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence are found at the linked project landing page. MH

***

Near the end of his series on Ireland, Guest wrote that “extremists of both sides have been busy writing letters to the editor” of the New York Globe.1 He continued:

First, the articles were damned by one group as ‘British propaganda,’ and later denounced by the other camp as briefs for the Sinn Féin cause. At the same time there were letters from Englishmen and Irishmen, and from Americans who were free enough from prejudice and sufficiently fairminded to appreciate that blame probably attached to both sides, and that an unbiased presentation of the facts would perhaps contribute to better understanding all around. As the Globe has pointed out editorially, it is to these middle-grounders that both Ireland and England must look for a solution of the Irish question.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been unable to access the original 1920 New York Globe series on microfilm at the Library of Congress.2 Instead, I have reviewed Guest’s stories as published in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, both available online. Such digital sources also reveal some of the reactions to his stories. Here are three examples; the first two critical, the third more nuanced :

  • In The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct links to the separatist Sinn Féin government in Ireland, Associate Editor Joseph A. Sexton accused the Globe of publishing the series “for the evident purpose of influencing American opinion in favor of English domination in Ireland. We make mention of these articles, not because such of them that have come to our attention are essentially different from the usual anti-Irish article, but rather because on the contrary they are of just the type that has become so common … [filled with] the stock tale of outrages, of secret societies and so forth.”3 Sexton published these comments two weeks before the Guest series was concluded.

 

  • In The Baltimore Sun, which published some but not all of Guest’s stories, “Two Youthful Sinn Féiners” wrote a letter to the editor that suggested the reporter “compiled his series from stories he heard during his stay in London.” The writers described Irish bond buyers in America as “men and women of stout Irish lineage and we are sure that reports of ‘such shocking outrages’ will not cause them to withdraw their subscriptions.”4

 

  • More significantly, Irish-born writer Ernest A. Boyd referenced Guest’s “excellent articles” in an April 30, 1920, dispatch from Dublin, also published in the Sun. “That there are crimes and outrages nobody can deny,” Boyd wrote. “If the government department concerned produces statistics, what can one do but reprint them? Mr. Guest did so, and was accordingly denounced as a sinister agent of John Bull.”5

Boyd warned:

To understand these statistics it is essential to have an idea of the peculiar position of the English administration in Ireland … [which is] to prove that Sinn Féin is a criminal conspiracy. … In official circles all Irish crimes are now Sinn Féin crimes, just as they were all Nationalist crimes in the days of Parnell. … It is easy to conceive the impossible position of a special correspondent who has to rely for information upon informants of this type.

To partisans and propagandists, Boyd noted, “the journalist who accepts their own dope is an unbiased champion of truth and justice; the journalist who accepts the other fellow’s is a scoundrel. The illusion is inevitable and human. … For many obvious reasons the American press has given the best outside accounts of current affairs in Ireland.”

It should also be remembered that Guest’s series debuted a month after the New York Globe published a controversial story about Éamon de Valera’s views on foreign policy. The Sinn Féin leader, then touring America to raise money and political support for Ireland, made an awkward comparison of U.S. government relations with Cuba under the Monroe Doctrine to potential British recognition of Ireland, provided Ireland agreed to avoid international alliances hostile to Britain.

De Valera had given a draft of his views to the American correspondent for The Westminster Gazette, presumably hoping to influence prominent politicians back in London. He didn’t realize the Gazette had a cooperative arrangement with the Globe, which Feb. 6, 1920, published a story under the headline “De Valera Opens the Door”. De Valera’s enemies in America seized on the Globe’s (mis)interpretation, which widened hostilities among pro-Irish independence factions.6 The episode also might have biased reactions to Guest’s series, at least among Sinn Féin supporters.

The outcome of Guest’s Ireland trip and reporting differed from the simultaneous 1920 experiences of Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News. He did not turn his Ireland reporting into a book, as she did. He was not invited to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, which in November 1920 opened public hearings in Washington, D.C., as she was.

British forces confront Irish republican rally in Dublin, 1920.

AFTERWARD

Guest became the Globe’s “special stock investigator.”7 He wrote a series of stories about securities fraud and other schemes “in which the promoters appeal to the cupidity of the public through the lure of large possible profits on small investment.”8

In June 1923, the Globe was merged into the New York Sun. Guest eventually left journalism. The 1930 U.S. Census shows he held a “council” position in the “public retail construction” industry.9 By the mid-1930s he became executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, where he shaped industrial development reports, similar to those he had focused on in several of his Ireland stories.10

It appears that Guest died in late September 1960, age 81, though I haven’t located an online obituary to confirm he is the person whose cremated remains were placed in the urn garden at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.11 If this Harry F. Guest is the former Globe reporter, he joined journalists Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, and Henry Chadwick, the British-born sportswriter who became the “father of baseball,” as Green-Wood denizens in eternal rest.

REFLECTION

Harry F. Guest traveled to Ireland and wrote his series for the New York Globe as the two-year-old influenza pandemic began to ease. More than 20,000 people died in Ireland, though Guest didn’t mention the outbreak in the reporting available for review.12 It is ironic, to be sure, that I have revisited his series while quarantined in my Washington, D.C. apartment due to another pandemic.

Having survived the Spanish flu era, Guest probably considered the possibility of a similar outbreak during his lifetime. It is unlikely, however, that he imagined the technology that has allowed me to read his work 100 years later. Newspaper preservation on microfilm didn’t begin until some 15 years after the publication of his Ireland series,13 let alone digital access to those images via computer and internet. Eventually, I hope to review the 1920 issues of the Globe on microfilm at the Library of Congress. I want to see the paper’s promotion and placement of Guest’s stories, its other news coverage and editorials about Ireland, including de Valera and related activity in the U.S., and the letters to the editor.

Ruth Russell lived among the poor in Dublin’s slums, stood outside factories with striking and unemployed workers; and listened to the animated conversations of Irish revolutionaries in their homes and meeting places. Guest was less of a participant and more journalist-as-observer, his reporting almost technocratic. Unlike Russell, his work leaves the impression of someone who was around the Irish people and the British authorities, but not fully among them. His coverage of the Glengarriff mummers performance and the Ballynahinch market confrontation are notable exceptions.

Russell picked a side. She stated her case for Irish independence and against British imperialism in print and in public. It probably cost not only her job at the Daily News, but also her career as a journalist. She became a school teacher. Guest presented his aspects of the Irish situation,” nine points each for the Irish and English sides, then left “the weighting of the evidence to the reader.” He became an industrial development lobbyist. 

Charges that Guest was pro-British or pro-Sinn Féin missed the mark. He was objective to a fault. His arms-length engagement with 1920 Ireland resulted in a series that, 100 years on, is an interesting and informative snapshot of the period, but ultimately unsatisfying. In times of revolution and pandemic, readers generally prefer more passion in the prose.

With many thanks to those who have read my series about Guest’s 1920 Ireland reporting during these difficult weeks of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As always, comments, corrections, and other feedback are welcome. Stay safe. MH

Another scene of confrontation between Irish citizens and British troops in 1920 Dublin.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Labor

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

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

***

Organized Labor Playing Big Part in Ireland’s Life1

Guest wrote “the so-called labor movement … is more than a mere development of the industrial workers, it is really a people’s movement.” He reported Ireland had 18 trade councils with approximately 200,000 members, including the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, National Union of Railway Men, and Amalgamated Society of Engineers. People in the building trades and clerical workers also had begun to organize. He provided these unsourced average weekly wages in Ireland, but noted the gains were not as strong as in England:

  • 1914: skilled workers, $9.70; unskilled, $5.50
  • 1920: skilled workers, $15.50; unskilled, $8.75
  • 1913: farmers, $5
  • 1920: farmers, $9.50

Of interest to his American readers, Guest reported on the Henry Ford tractor plant near Cork city. Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell had visited the plant just before it opened in July 1919.2 Guest acknowledged the plant’s location near the birthplace of Ford’s father, William, at Ballinascarthy, in County Cork. Guest reported:

The equipment is American and the plant is operated much like Ford plants in America. The minimum wage, however, is not $8 a day or even $5 a day. Such wages, to use an expression of the manager of the plant, “would have caused a revolution among Irish laborers.” The minimum wage is about $2.75 a day.

Farm laborers were antagonistic when the plant first opened. They saw American tractors driving them out of their occupations. It took considerable propaganda to make it clear that while the tractor is a labor-saving device, it saves animal power rather than man power.

It took some time for the Irish laborers who sought employment at the factory to understand that they were paid only for the time they worked. When, due to lateness or absence, they found their pay envelope short, they were indignant; their indignation vanished, however, when they found they were paid for overtime.

Just two months earlier Henry Ford had expressed his pride in the Cork factory during a steel-ordering stop in Pittsburgh. “I want to help add to the smokestacks in Ireland,” he said. “Ireland is among the foremost industrial countries, and will get her much deserved freedom and home rule.”3

Ford, or one of his business associates, took note of Guest’s story. The reporter’s “articles on Ireland” are included in the Dearborn, Michigan, archives of the legendary industrialist.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork, 1919.

Ireland Enjoys Greatest Prosperity In Its History With Big Trade Expansion4

Guest devoted most of this story to an analysis of Irish bank deposits. His approach recalled the reporting of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert in his 1888 book, Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Hurlbert cited increased Post Office Savings Banks deposits from 1880 to 1887 as evidence that rural Ireland was not suffering from crushing poverty caused by the Iandlord system, as alleged by agrarian activists.

Guest “marveled” at why Sinn Féin found it necessary “to borrow ten million dollars from American citizens [the then two-month old bond campaign] to develop Irish resources when the people of Ireland have more than one billion dollars in bank deposits and government securities?”

He cited bank reports other public records to illustrate that major Irish commercial banks enjoyed “record-breaking business” in 1918, and large increases from the period ending June 30, 1919, and Dec. 31, 1919. He included figures from the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Provincial Bank, and Munster & Leinster Bank.5 Deposits in trustee savings banks and postoffice  banks also increased during the same period, Guest reported. He continued:

In consider the financial condition of the Irish people, one should not lose site of the fact that depositors in these three classes of banks, taken as a whole, were able to increase their accounts in the banks by more than 95 percent, in the face of a 140 percent increase in the cost of living over the same period.  … That a considerable part of the Irish public-at-large evidently has more confidence in the stability of the present government than the Sinn Féin propagandists would have them believe, and is not adverse to loaning its money, is attested by the fact that the government stock on which dividends were payable through the Bank of Ireland on June 30, 1919, amounted to $451,465,000, an average of more than $100 for every man, woman, and child in Ireland, including Sinn Féinners. This represented an increase of more than 114 percent over similar holdings in 1914.

Guest also detailed what he described as “a remarkable expansion in Irish trade” during the first two decades of the 20th century. He cited favorable excesses in both volume and cost of exports over imports. He concluded:

Farmers who were never out of debt before now have comfortable bank accounts. In addition, they have spent money in improving their homes and outbuilding and in contracting for the purchase of modern farm machinery. The farmers are ‘the backbone of the country’ in the fullest meaning of the term. Aside from political conditions and military oppression, they are more satisfied with their lot today than ever before. The majority of them I believe would ask nothing better than to be left alone by both the politicians and the military.6

NEXT: Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret