Tag Archives: Ruth Russell

U.S. press coverage of April 1919 ‘Limerick soviet’

“The story of the Limerick soviet has always had a special place in the narrative of the Irish left,” Patrick Smyth wrote earlier this year in The Irish Times. “For two weeks in [April] 1919 the ordinary people of the city took over, creating, albeit briefly, the embryonic elements of workers’ control – or, some would say, a new society – that mirrored developments throughout a revolutionary Europe convulsed and worn down by war.”

Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.

The Limerick soviet occurred three months after the establishment of the first Dáil Éireann and the earliest skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence. In Paris, an Irish-American delegation had just arrived at the post-war peace conference to press world leaders to recognize Irish self-determination. The trio would soon visit Ireland; just before Irish leader Eamon de Valera’s June 1919 arrival in America.

The front page of the April 26, 1919, issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, declared:

LIMERICK IN STATE OF SIEGE

Remember, the newspaper had direct ties to the provisional government in Dublin through its editor, Patrick McCartan. The Pressun-bylined story, datelined four days earlier, vividly set the scene:

This city is an armed camp with large forces of troops supported with tanks and machine guns in control. Numerous shots were fired Monday morning (April 21) but there were no casualties. The troops are in full war panoply, even to their tin hats. All the roads leading into the city are guarded and at some points barbed wire entanglements are set up. The principal bridge over the Shannon is being patrolled. Tanks are drawn up in the principal streets with the guns trained to sweep the thoroughfares. The muzzles of Lewis machine guns peer menacingly from windows of buildings. Armoured cars lumber through the streets and at night the city is patrolled by soldiers with fixed bayonets.

The event also caught the attention of the American mainstream press. Several U.S. newspaper headlines are shown in the video below. Ruth Russell, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, brought readers even closer to the action. This is from her April 10, 1919, dispatch:

“Permit?” demanded the soldier with the bayonet.

Two by two a long dark line up the white road from Caherdavin a thousand workers marched permitless to the Sarsfield bridge over the Shannon at Limerick. Girls with primroses tucked in their waists, breathless boys with hurling sticks in their hands, stooped, mustached laborers.

“What permit? I want to go to my home,” said a workman.

The crowd come with its incessant demand to pass. Past the sentry the workers swung around a corner between the soldiers and Thomas Johnson, national executive of the Irish Trade and Labor council. They swung down the right of the bridge and up the left again–an unending circle picketing the military, whose presence in Limerick they are protesting against.

Russell expanded on her experiences in Limerick in her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? Jump to page 127.

Cian Prendiville, a contemporary Limerick activist and member of the Limerick Soviet Centenary Committee, has written a two-part remembrance for the Limerick Leader:

Below, a 7-minute video explaining the origins and more details of the event:

March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera and two other Sinn Féin revolutionaries escaped from Lincoln Gaol (prison) in England on Feb. 4, 1919. The Irish republican leader was spirited back to Ireland on Feb. 20, where he balanced the need to evade British authorities with the desire to communicate with the Irish people, including the diaspora in America, which he knew was critical to support for the fledgling republic.

American journalist Ralph F. Couch, a United Press correspondent, claimed he “found” de Valera, or was provided the opportunity to interview the escapee. The reporter was taken on a two-hour, late-night drive on winding country roads near Dublin, pushed into a second car, his cap pulled over his eyes, before finally being ushered up a stairway and let into a room.

“Before the great fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall man in a baggy black suit, with a black silk handkerchief around his throat instead of a collar. He wore rubber sole slippers. This was de Valera,” Couch reported.1

Couch obtained a signed statement from de Valera, smuggled it out of Ireland, and returned to the United States, “thus insuring safe delivery to New York of his information without interference by the censors,” United Press reported. The Feb. 24 interview was not published until the middle of March.

In addition to appearing in mainstream U.S. dailies, the interview was published on the front page of the March 15 issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government.

DE VALERA INTERVIEWED IN HIDING

Secret Meeting With Newspaper Correspondent Near Dublin.

Issues Message to America

“Violence will be the only alternative remaining to Irish Patriots if the Peace Conference at Paris fails to take steps to extend self-determination to Ireland. The means continued revolution until Ireland’s rights are recognized,” de Valera said in the interview, now two months after the first meeting of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the provisional republic, and early skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence.

The story noted that de Valera was the “American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.” Some versions say that de Valera’s “black eyes flashed” when he spoke the quote above, “his big jaw squared. He spoke quietly. Nevertheless he was emphatic.” 

Eamon de Valera during his 1919 tour of America.

De Valera’s Feb. 25 statement to Couch was datelined “Somewhere in Ireland.” It began:

“England has no right in Ireland. England’s de facto government here rests solely on the number of her bayonets. We challenge England to allow Ireland the principal of self-determination.”

On March 27, de valera arrived at Mansion House in Dublin, where he was received by the Lord Mayor. The Associated Press reported “that owing to the attitude of the censors [de Valera said] it would be useless to make a statement at present, but that he would take the opportunity later to express his views.”2

Within days, an interview by Henry Hyde of the Chicago Tribune was syndicated in U.S. newspapers. “I had an interview with de Valera shortly before he entered Dublin,” it began. “Up to a certain point he proved a very mild and constitutional rebel with his eyes fixed on Paris.”3

Another Chicago correspondent, Ruth Russell of the Daily News, also interviewed de Valera in late March.

“In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows … the tall, pale man, 37 years of age, stood against the glow of a grate fire and spoke with a student’s concentration. He was slightly breathless, as he had just arrived and was about to leave again. His white silk muffler was still pinned with a bar about his throat.”4

The reporter promised that soon “de Valera will let himself be seen in Dublin.” On April 1, he was named president of the second Dáil Éireann. In June, he sailed secretly to America to begin a campaign for political recognition and funding for Ireland.

Covering the countess’s return to Dublin, 1919

When Constance Georgine Markievicz became the first woman elected to the British parliament in December 1918, she was far from the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency she won with two thirds of  the vote. The republican leader known as Countess Markievicz was held at Holloway Prison, in England, for her role in anti-conscription protests earlier in the year, before the Great War ended in November.

Upon her release from the prison 15 March, 1919, Markievicz returned to Dublin, where she was greeted by cheering supporters. The Irish Times, on page 6 of its St. Patrick’s Day issue, reported:

A demonstration of welcome had been organized at Liberty Hall for Madame Markievicz, and at 6 p.m. a large crowd assembled at Beresford place, where a procession was formed by the Citizen Army, headed by the St. James band, and including such bodies as the Cuman na mBan, Fianna, Irish Women’s Franchise League, Sinn Fein bodies, Irish Volunteers, and trades organizations. … She entered Liberty Hall amidst loud cheers and the waving of Sinn Fein flags from the windows. Addressing the crowd from one of the windows as “Fellow Rebels” … she said that it was worthwhile going to prison to find such a reception awaiting her … and advised them to work for an Irish republic.  

The Times reported “a strong force of policemen was on duty,” but “the proceedings passed off without any incident of a disorderly character, and when the procession had passed by, the crowd rapidly melted away.”

The Irish Independent of 17 March, page 5, published the photo at the top of this post under the headline, “Warm Welcome Home From Prison.” The caption underneath said, “A big demonstration of welcome was accorded to Countess Markievicz on her arrival in Dublin on Sat. evening. In the photo … taken at Liberty Hall, she is in the center with bouquet.”

Markievicz’s release was largely ignored in the American press, including the New York Times and Washington Post, except for one or two lines in wire service stories. The Chicago Daily News, however, published an account from its own correspondent, Ruth Russell, who had arrived in Dublin about the same time. Here is some of Russell’s reporting from the 18 March 1919, issue of the Daily News. Note how the American female reporter places herself inside Liberty Hall, close enough for the Irish female politician to make a personal aside:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. About them were grouped laborers shamrocked for St. Patrick’s day. On the railway bridge that spans the Liffey above Butt bridge soldiers on night patrol were silhouetted against the moon whitened sky, impatiently the crowd awaited the coming of the Countess Markievicz, released eight years before the expiration of her term in Holloway jail.  … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the two-month-old Dáil Éireann, suggested that “it seemed as though everyone in the Irish metropolis had turned out to do honor to this notable Irish woman patriot.” The story disputed wire service reports that Markievicz would take her seat in the British House of Commons.