Tag Archives: Ruth Russell

American journalists describe Michael Collins, 1919-1922

This post is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. I am developing this content and new research into a book about how U.S. journalists covered the Irish revolution. MH

***

Days after Michael Collins was killed in an Aug. 22, 1922, military ambush, Hearst newspapers rushed to publish American journalist Hayden Talbot’s interviews with the slain Irish leader. The chain’s newspapers from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco promoted the series–more than two dozen installments in some papers, depending on editing–as an exclusive Collins biography “as told to” Talbot. The content was a huge “beat,” the contemporary slang term for scoop.

“ ‘One the run’ from the Black and Tan, then ‘on the run’ from Irishmen who put personal feelings above the principal of freedom, ‘on the run’ pursuing enemies in the field, and ‘on the run’ mentally in the Dáil  to meet parliamentary tricks, Michael Collins had few leisure moments to write his biography or to tell of his aspirations for Ireland,” an editor’s note exclaimed. “He said to Hayden Talbot: ‘I’ll tell it to you. You write it for Ireland.’ ”[1]“Collins’ Story of Life”, The Washington Times, Aug. 25, 1922.

Talbot, a veteran newspaper reporter and playwright, produced a similar treatment with stage and screen actress Mary Pickford a year earlier for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.[2]“‘My Life’ By Mary Pickford”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 29, 1921, and other papers. The Collins newspaper series and instant book blended authorized and unauthorized biography, since Collins consented to the interviews and reviewed some of the early chapters before his death.

Talbot raced to finish the series as it was being published. He dictated more than 10,000 words a day over 10 days using a corps of stenographers and Dictaphones, then his installments were “wirelessed” from London to America.[3]”Daily News Letter” column, New Castle (Pa.) News, Sept. 25, 1922, and other Hearst papers. In an example of the rush, Dublin’s Gresham Hotel appeared as “Graham,” an error corrected in the book.[4]”Collins Story”, Washington Times, and Hayden Talbot, Michael Collins’ Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923).

The portrait of Michael Collins appeared as the front piece in Hayden Talbot’s book on the Irish leader.

Collins was “the most interesting figure” of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the 26-county Irish Free State, Talbot reported in his opening installment. “It was greatness in big things that made him Ireland’s leader; it was greatness in every little thing that enshrined him in every Irish heart—and for all time.”[5]”Collins Story”, Washington Times.

The series also appeared in the Sunday Express of London, which distributed copies in Ireland. Piaras Béaslaí, chief censor of the fledgling Irish Free State, immediately suppressed the content. He called Talbot’s reporting “a deliberate forgery” and vowed to stop further circulation of the series and book in Great Britain and America.[6]“Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, Sept. 11, 1922, and other Irish papers. The Express dropped the series[7]“Michael Collins’s Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot”, Book review in The Guardian, London, June 21, 1923. but published Talbot’s rebuttal.

If any of his content about Collins was fiction, the American reporter wrote, “it was fiction supplied to me not only by Collins” but also other Irish insiders.[8]“Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, and “Addendum” in Michael Collins’ Own Story. He fired back at Béaslaí, saying most American correspondents in London knew he had been negotiating to write “inside stuff” about Collins for the past year but failed to obtain approval. “In the past nine months I have been alone with Michael Collins more days than he has been minutes,” Talbot boasted.[9]More documentation of this tit-for-tat in the Piaras Béaslaí Papers, National Library of Ireland.

Béaslaí was selected to write Collins’s biography “late in 1922 by the Collins family, overcoming considerable reluctance within the government and army leadership,” according to the online Dictionary of Irish Biography.[10]Béaslaí, Piaras” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009. The entry is silent about Talbot, as is DIB’s profile of Collins. Béaslaí’ in 1926 published a two-volume Collins biography, which was roundly criticized at the time and now considered hagiography.

Mystery man

A century after his death, Michael Collins is familiar to many Americans, thanks to the 1996 biopic starring Liam Neeson in the title role. Most U.S. newspaper readers would have been unfamiliar with Collins at the start of the Irish War of Independence in January 1919. Frank P. Walsh, chairman of a pro-independence delegation from America that visited Ireland that spring, wrote a column that said the finance minister of the upstart Irish parliament was “undoubtedly a fiscal expert of remarkable ability.”[11]“What American Irishman Saw at ‘Siege of Dawson Street’”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 30, 1919. Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell described the “keen, boyish” Collins in her newspaper reporting and book about the early months of the war.[12]Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, (New York: Devin-Adain, 1920), pp 68, 73, & 79.

In June 1919, Irish republican leader Éamon de Valera arrived in America and became the center of U.S. press attention over the 18 months of his visit. Simultaneously, as the war in Ireland escalated, Collins became more elusive as he focused on the guerilla campaign against the British military and police. Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe, Francis Hackett of the Nation, and other reporters who traveled to Ireland in this period wrote multiple dispatches without naming Collins. Others, such as Webb Miller of United Press, made short mentions of Collins that helped establish his reputation as an “on the run” mystery man. This paragraph is from January 1920:

Within the past week, Collins walked boldly down the main thorofare (in Dublin), and met two government secret service men who immediately recognized him. Collins coolly shoved his hand in his hip pocket and walked between the detectives. Knowing his reputation as a desperate and daring fighter, the detectives feared to tackle him. Within a few minutes the district was swarming with police but Collins had vanished.[13]“Irish Cabinet Holds Secret Meetings”, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa., Jan. 30, 1920.

Miller’s story is ambiguous as to whether he observed this episode. Likewise, he reported without any source attribution Collins’ narrow escape from Sinn Féin‘s Dublin headquarters by jumping to an adjoining hotel rooftop. The reporter cited Irish Republic loan drive appeals plastered on the city’s walls and signboards as evidence of Collins’ role as finance minister.

Top of Carl Ackerman’s August 1920 exclusive interview with Michael Collins.

Ackerman exclusives

In late August 1920 Carl Ackerman of the Public Ledger, Philadelphia, obtained “the first interview ever granted” by Collins.[14]“Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y., Aug. 26, 1920. “First interview” quote from editor’s note at top of story. The correspondent’s copy burnished the Collins mystique:

I knew that the British military authorities and police considered him the field marshal of the Irish Army and that they fear him as he was able to guide, direct and inspire the republican forces and at the same time evade arrest. Mr. Collins himself confessed to me what I had already been told by competent military authorities: that the British government for two years had been trying to capture him.

Ackerman received regular briefings from British military and government officials prior to this interview and acted as a liaison between the two sides of the war, as Maurice Walsh has detailed.[15]Maurice Walsh, The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011) pp 144-146. “I do not accept their opinion of me,” the reporter quoted Collins, who added individual leaders were of little importance in the Irish republican movement. This no doubt was Collins’ effort to soften his “feared field marshal” image.

Collins most likely wrote out his quotes for Ackerman, as was customary at the time. The editor’s note leading the story acknowledges that Collins “approved” Ackerman’s report. In his book, Talbot described such arrangements as being typical between U.S. journalists and European statesman. “Whereas in America anything that is said to a newspaper man is properly part of an interview and so to be published” Talbot wrote.[16]Michael Collins’ Own Story p.15.

Ackerman’s description continued:

… I found Mr. Collins a young man, apparently still in his thirties, (He turned 30 on Oct. 16, 1920, after the story was published.) has such a keen sense of humor that no one enjoys so much as he the efforts of the British authorities to capture him. His face reflects the confidence in Ireland, in the Sinn Fein and in himself. … He spoke always with a smile and a kindly expression on his face. He seemed throughout the interview to be the last man in Ireland to be the terrorist I had been told he was.

Ackerman interviewed Collins again “from somewhere in Ireland” in April 1921. “How I arrived here and where I am is a secret and must remain so,” his story began. The reporter wrote of his caution to “cover up my tracks” to avoid being responsible for the British discovering the rebel headquarters. But Collins “had no anxiety,” Ackerman reported. “Being an Irishman, he feels secure in his own country.”[17]”Irish Armies Winning”, Boston Evening Transcript, April 2, 1921.

This story, and others like it, was clipped and added to Dublin Castle’s growing file on “IRA propaganda” in the foreign press.[18]Irish Government. Public Control And Administration, 1884-1921 (CO 904, Boxes 159-178). Public Records Office, London, England. 1921 CO 904/162; Seditious Literature, Censorship, Etc.: Seizure Of … Continue reading

Post truce

With the July 1921 truce in the war and start of negotiations between Irish republicans and the British government, Collins did more interviews, and his name appeared more frequently in U.S. newspaper coverage. Retired U.S. federal judge Richard Campbell, secretary of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, met twice in London with Collins and the other four Irish negotiators. Originally from County Antrim, Campbell began his professional career in America as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. In a newspaper column syndicated shortly before the Dec. 6, 1921, Anglo-Irish Treaty announcement, he wrote of Collins:

… from his appearances is still under 30 years of age. (Collins had just turned 31.) He reminds one of the whirlwind virility of the late Theodore Roosevelt, (Campbell had worked in Roosevelt’s administration.) and gives one the impression of a perfect athlete fresh from the football field. … He is above medium height, broad shouldered (and) walks with a quick, long stride. … He is always in a rollicking humor, as if life were a great joke. But when you draw him into conversation you find a man who is keenly alive to the problems of the hour, both in domestic and world politics. … Collins is a singularly modest man … There is no doubt Collins has been one of the great driving forces of the republican movement and his career in Ireland will be a notable one, I am sure.[19]”Gives Impressions of Sinn Fein Leaders”, The Evening News, Wilkes Barre, Pa., Nov. 29, 1921, and “Meets Sinn Fein Delegates”, Sioux City Journal, (Iowa), Dec. 4, 1921.

As the Dáil debated and ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922, another portrait of Collins emerged from the typewriter of Samuel Duff McCoy. He arrived in Ireland in February 1921 as secretary of the relief committee’s eight-member delegation sent to access Ireland’s humanitarian needs. He returned to America that spring to publish his report, then sailed back to Ireland, where he remained until November. Collins and Ireland’s other four treaty delegates signed an Oct. 30, 1921, letter that thanked the relief committee for its work, including McCoy by name.

“On the very first day I arrived in Ireland I heard about Michael Collins. And what I learned … (was) the British government ranked (him) as their most dangerous enemy,” McCoy wrote in his “The Lads Who Freed Ireland” series, which United Features Syndicate distributed to its U.S. subscribers.[20]”The Lads Who Freed Ireland: Michael Collins”, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Feb. 8, 1922. McCoy quoted British Gen. Sir Nevil Macready as describing Collins as “‘head of the whole rebel gang’” in Ireland, “snorting with rage as he pronounced the name.”

Nine months later, during a treaty negotiating session in London, McCoy reported that British Prime Minister David Lloyd George summoned Macready into a room at No. 10 Downing Street, where Collins sat with the other Irish negotiators. George asked Macready a few questions about alleged truce violations, then quickly dismissed the general. But Collins remained at the table with George, McCoy emphasized, a long way from being “the ragged outlaw being hunted through the country like an animal.”

McCoy repeated the story of Collins’ daring rooftop escape. More significantly, he noted that since the truce, “thousands” of photographs of Collins entering and leaving the London talks had become public worldwide. It surely frustrated the British army, which “never had quite sufficient intelligence … to lay hands on” Collins, McCoy wrote. “No wonder they cursed.”

But McCoy’s early 1922 portrait of Collins was soon dated by events in Ireland: the split of the Irish parliament over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the start of civil war, and the death of Collins. Talbot’s newspaper series and book were not the last word on Collins, but the opening lines of what has become a century of articles and books speculating what might have happened had he lived to lead his country.

Michael Collins grave at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. From my 2016 visit.

References

References
1 “Collins’ Story of Life”, The Washington Times, Aug. 25, 1922.
2 “‘My Life’ By Mary Pickford”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 29, 1921, and other papers.
3 ”Daily News Letter” column, New Castle (Pa.) News, Sept. 25, 1922, and other Hearst papers.
4 ”Collins Story”, Washington Times, and Hayden Talbot, Michael Collins’ Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923).
5 ”Collins Story”, Washington Times.
6 “Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, Sept. 11, 1922, and other Irish papers.
7 “Michael Collins’s Own Story Told to Hayden Talbot”, Book review in The Guardian, London, June 21, 1923.
8 “Suppressed”, Belfast Newsletter, and “Addendum” in Michael Collins’ Own Story.
9 More documentation of this tit-for-tat in the Piaras Béaslaí Papers, National Library of Ireland.
10 Béaslaí, Piaras” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009.
11 “What American Irishman Saw at ‘Siege of Dawson Street’”, The Pittsburgh Press, June 30, 1919.
12 Ruth Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, (New York: Devin-Adain, 1920), pp 68, 73, & 79.
13 “Irish Cabinet Holds Secret Meetings”, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa., Jan. 30, 1920.
14 “Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y., Aug. 26, 1920. “First interview” quote from editor’s note at top of story.
15 Maurice Walsh, The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011) pp 144-146.
16 Michael Collins’ Own Story p.15.
17 ”Irish Armies Winning”, Boston Evening Transcript, April 2, 1921.
18 Irish Government. Public Control And Administration, 1884-1921 (CO 904, Boxes 159-178). Public Records Office, London, England. 1921 CO 904/162; Seditious Literature, Censorship, Etc.: Seizure Of Articles In Various Journals And Other Publications: 1. I.R.A. Propaganda In Dominion And Foreign Newspapers.
19 ”Gives Impressions of Sinn Fein Leaders”, The Evening News, Wilkes Barre, Pa., Nov. 29, 1921, and “Meets Sinn Fein Delegates”, Sioux City Journal, (Iowa), Dec. 4, 1921.
20 ”The Lads Who Freed Ireland: Michael Collins”, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Feb. 8, 1922.

‘The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live … ‘

John Steele’s Jan. 8, 1922, Chicago Tribune story. Front page banner below.

“The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live the Irish Free State,” declared Chicago Tribune correspondent John Steele in the opening sentence of his story about Dáil Éireann‘s narrow and bitter vote to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty.[1]”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers. The Irish-American journalist also promoted his role in reaching the Jan. 7, 1922, vote and later claimed that pro-treaty leader Arthur Griffith described the outcome as “better to be an equal partner in a big concern than to keep a little sweet shop in a back street.”[2]”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.

Steele’s news lead echoed the treaty debate speech of Dáil member Patrick McCartan three weeks earlier. He uttered the “is dead” formulation seven times within a few minutes:

The Republic of which President (Éamon) de Valera was president is dead. … I submit it is dead, and that the men who signed the (treaty) document opposite Englishmen wrote its epitaph in London. It is dead naturally because it depended on the unity of the Irish people … the Cabinet … (and) this Dáil. … Internationally the Republic is dead. We were looking for recognition of the republic in foreign countries. Michael Collins said we were not recognized in the United States. That is true. … You cannot go to the secretary of state of any foreign government and ask him to recognize the Republic of Ireland, because I submit it is dead …  as a political factor the Republic is dead. … We were an inspiration to the patriots of India and the patriots of Egypt. Today we give heart to the compromisers in India and Egypt as well as the compromisers in Ireland. I say, therefore, the Republic of Ireland is dead.[3]Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.

As a separatist promoting the Irish cause in America, McCartan edited The Irish Press in Philadelphia from its first issue in March 1918 through September 1920. The pro-de Valera weekly battled John Devoy’s New York City-based Gaelic American over control of American grassroots financial support for the Dáil and the U.S. government’s Ireland policies. Four days after McCartan’s debate speech in Dublin, and without naming its former editor, the Irish Press editorialized that the Irish Republic “is neither dead nor dying.” The paper continued:

The spirit that created it, like itself, is immortal. The temporary subversion of its name, or of its ideals, resembles a swiftly moving cloud that for an instant dims the penetrating waves of the sun or the light of the moon. Let no one say the Republic of Ireland is dead. It lives and will live on, in glory and splendor, when its enemies are dead and forgotten. … The Republic of Ireland is in God’s keeping.[4]Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.

Whether plagiarism or paraphrase of the popular proclamation, Steele’s January 1922 ratification story did not identify McCartan’s words or his vote for the treaty. The reporter had quoted McCartan in late December 1921 coverage of the debates. Steele described the sessions as “a battle between the living and the dead.” He continued:

The dead were represented by old men and widows and the living by young men who have fought in the battle for Ireland’s independence and survived. The living are all in favor of ratification and the dead against it. So far I have seen nothing to induce me to change my opinion that the living will win.[5]”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.

The epanalepsis, “The king is dead, long live the king,” is said to have originated from the French, Le roi est mort, vive le roi!, upon the accession of Charles VII after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.[6]From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021. A king was never proposed for the Irish republic; the Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy.

“Long live the Irish Free State, and three cheers for a speedy establishment of an independent Irish Republic,” a New York City union organ declared shortly after the Dec. 6, 1921, treaty announcement.[7]”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23. The Baltimore Sun repeated “Long live the Irish Republic” in an editorial that applauded the Dáil vote. The daily also noted that the Irish faced the challenge of disproving enemies and detractors who charged, prophetically: “The minute they stop fighting outsiders they will begin fighting among themselves.”[8]”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.

Promoting Steele

John Steele in Dec. 7, 1921, Chicago Tribune photo.

For the Chicago Tribune and other papers that subscribed to its foreign news service, the treaty ratification was another opportunity to promote Steele’s role in brokering 1920 secret talks between Sinn Féin leaders and British government officials. The Tribune boasted: “Mr. Steele in his dispatches always insisted that actual peace was coming. … his accomplishments in aiding the contracting parties to common ground ranks high in the newspaper’s achievement.[9]”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922. This work was done through Patrick Moylett, a Galway businessman and associate of Griffith, according to accounts by Steele and Moyett.[10]”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in … Continue reading

In a chapter of an unfinished memoir published in 1949, Steele quoted Griffith, who died in August 1922, as saying:

You always replied to my demands for a separate republic that we would never get it but that we could and would get dominion status within the British empire. Every other correspondent from abroad whom I talked to pretended to sympathize with me and assure me we would win full freedom and separation. I knew that contact had to be made with the British thru a neutral, and that the most available neutral would be a newspaper correspondent of international standing who was on good terms with both sides. You were obviously the man I wanted.

The Belfast-born Steele emigrated to America in 1887, age 17. According to information Steele provided for biographical publication, he was “educated privately and in newspaper offices.” He joined the New York Herald staff in 1890, followed by turns as a reporter and editor at three other papers in the city. He became managing editor of a London-based syndicate during World War I, then took charge of the Chicago Tribune‘s London bureau in 1919, where he remained until 1935.[11]”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH … Continue reading

Steele wasn’t the only American correspondent in Ireland to mix public journalism and private diplomacy. Carl Ackerman of the Philadelphia Public Ledger also shuttled messages and documents between the two sides. Other journalists stepped beyond their newspaper roles. Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News and Kilkenny native Francis Hackett of the New York World gave pro-Ireland testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Author Samuel Duff McCoy parlayed his work with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland into a 1922 newspaper series.

Newspaper journalism was highly competitive in the 1920s, with exaggerations and claims of “scoops” a regular part of the business, just like on today’s faster-moving digital platforms. Historians have suggested that Steele and Moylett amplified their roles; that Michael Collins and other Irish republicans described the backchannel arrangement as a “fiasco” and viewed Steele as being out for a story and a tool of Lloyd George; and that Griffith was concerned about the appearance of settling for less than a republic, while the January 1922 post-ratification quote Steele attributed to him (second sentence of this post) cannot be independently verified.[12]See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University … Continue reading

In the memoir chapter published two years after his death, Steele recalled:

To every reporter at some time of his career there comes the high spot. … My high spot was … the opportunity and great good fortune to play a part in the settlement of the age old quarrel between Ireland and England which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State. … I never lost affection for the land of my birth. Moreover, wherever the English language is spoken, Ireland is news and Ireland’s struggle for freedom was big news.

This Aug. 3, 1922, advertisement in the Washington Herald promoted Steele’s work in Ireland. Steele’s Ireland work also appeared in the (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) Sun, and other papers. (Apologies for the poor quality of the photos in digital scan.)

After ratification

Three years after the treaty ratification, in June 1925, de Valera addressed the Wolfe Tone commemoration at the Irish patriot’s grave in Bodenstown, County Kildare, a regular rally for Irish republicans. De Valera said:

By your presence you proclaim your undiminished attachment to the ideals of Tone, and your unaltered devotion to the cause for which he gave his life. It is your answer to those who would have it believed that the Republic of Ireland is dead and its cause abandoned.[13]Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.

Less than a year later De Valera established the Fianna Fáil party, which abandoned Sinn Féin abstentionism and in 1932 won elected power in the Dáil. Republican aspirations were finally realized on April 18, 1949, with the full establishment of the 26-county representative state. That day, the Chicago Tribune published the “never been told full story” of Steel’s memoir, including the quotes attributed to Griffith, by then 27 years dead.

In his 1952 Bureau of Military History statement, Moylett said that he had promised Steele exclusive U.S. rights to his own experience in revolutionary Ireland. “But, as I have been disillusioned over the way things have been conducted in this country during and since 1922, I have no wish to publish it.”

Nevertheless, the Irish Free State was dead. Long live the Republic of Ireland.

References

References
1 ”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers.
2 ”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.
3 Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.
4 Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.
5 ”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.
6 From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021.
7 ”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23.
8 ”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.
9 ”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922.
10 ”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in “Go-Between”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949. Patrick Moylett, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 767, Dec. 16, 1952. Page 50.
11 ”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH microfilm: 1241105.
12 See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 2017, Collins quote: NLI, Art Ó Briain Papers, Ms. 8426/7, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, 15 December 1920; NLI, Art Ó Briain, Ms. 8430/12, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, Jan. 4, 1921. Also: We Bled Together: Michael Collins, The Squad and The Dublin Brigade, Dominic Price, Collins Press, 2017.
13 Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.

A 1921 ‘Journey in Ireland’ revisited

Ewart

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. The series below, published earlier this year, revisits aspects of his journey at its 100th anniversary.

See other stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including special projects about the Irish travels of U.S. journalists Ruth Russell and Harry F. Guest. I am currently developing new material for outside editors.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Final thoughts

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, which also includes my earlier work on Ruth Russell. By coincidence, Russell is included in the just released ‘Toward America‘ video at the new Mná100 website, part of the Irish government’s Decade of Centenaries commemorative program.

***

Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919, shortly after the separatist Dáil Éireann opened in Dublin and the first shots of the War of Independence. Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland in spring 1921, shortly before the truce that helped end the war later that year.

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Both journalists recorded their observations of Ireland for newspapers: Russell in America, Ewart in Britain. Each expanded their work into books that combined their journalism with literary flourishes: Russell’s What’s The Matter With Ireland?, and Ewart’s A Journey In Ireland, 1921.

The two books are complementary, similarly-styled snapshots from opposite ends of the war. Both reporters interviewed and quoted key people who are still remembered in histories of the period. Both also mingled with the Irish living in the shadows of the revolution: Russell among women and children of the Dublin slums and the west of Ireland; Ewart with characters he encountered on several 20-mile walks between towns and at markets and rail stations. Both journalists sought to calculate nationalist and unionist enthusiasm and measure Catholic and Protestant division.

Though written two decades into the 20th century, the two books each offer glimpses of the long dusk of 19th century Irish rural life. They also offer wartime descriptions of Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Dublin.

From Russell:

In the evening I heard the murmur of revolution. With the shawled mothers who line the lane on a pleasant evening, I stood between the widow and a twenty-year-old girl who held her tiny blind baby in her arms. Across the narrow street with its water-filled gutters, barefoot children in holey sweaters or with burlap tied about their shoulders, slapped their feet as they jigged, or jumped at hop-scotch. Back of them in typical Dublin decay rose the stables of an anciently prosperous shipping concern; in the v dip of the roofless walls, spiky grass grew and through the barred windows the wet gray sky was slotted. 

From Ewart:

When night did finally close down and as curfew hour approached, the tide of the people set hurrying, over O’Connell Bridge towards the tram junction at the Nelson Pillar. The street lamps were lit and there were vague, shadowy crowds through which one had to press one’s way. Black motor cars containing mysterious-looking men rushed out of College Green at breakneck speed like bats or night-insects. Half an hour later–silence. I looked out of a window high up and saw spires, chimneys, rooftops bathed in moonlight, and heard one sound–a rifle shot.

Wilfrid Ewart

Both writers were college educated. Neither arrived in Ireland as wide-eyed innocents, nor were they as hardened and cynical as many journalists and politicians. Russell, 29, was the daughter of a Chicago newspaper editor who cut her reporting teeth on undercover assignments about women munitions plant workers. Ewart, 28, witnessed the horrors of Great War battlefields, where he survived wounds and illness. 

To be sure, Russell and Ewart each missed some nuisances of Irish revolutionary politics. Both appear to have allowed some personal bias to creep into their reporting. The same could probably be said of most journalists or historians.

On her return to America, Russell joined a Washington, D.C. protest against British rule in Ireland and testified about her experiences at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Ewart, a former British military officer, published an acclaimed debut novel about the Great War. 

Year-long delays in publishing their Ireland books and rapidly evolving events minimized the impact of their reporting in the country. Russell disappeared into the career of a Chicago public school teacher; Ewart was accidentally killed at the end of 1922. His book has received more attention and reissues than hers. One reason could be a sexist bias for the male military officer over the American woman. Another, I believe, is that Ewart wrote the better book.

This blog occasionally considers the cinematic possibilities of Irish history, such as the 1913 travels of two French women who produced the first color photographs of the country, and the Lartigue monorail of County Kerry. There is an opportunity for a movie about Russell and Ewart traveling through revolutionary Ireland, at the same time instead of two years apart. They compete for scoops, dodge danger, and, of course, fall in love. The film has either a tragic ending amid the ambushes and reprisals, or a happy one at the threshold of Irish independence.

For now, their accounts stand together as companions on my bookshelf.

Below: Adverts for Russell’s and Ewart’s Ireland books.

 

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Mysterious Mr. X.

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.

***

Journalists faced danger and intimidation in Ireland throughout the revolutionary period. Examples include:

  • In March 1919, Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News wrote of being secreted to an interview with Irish leader Eamon de Valera, then on the run after escaping from an English prison.[1]Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 58, p.105.
  • In early 1920, Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe reported on growing violence by government authorities and Sinn Féin rebels, including suppression of the Irish press and seizure of American newspapers.[2]“British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest”, New York Globe, March 24, 1920.
  • By late 1920, embattled police pointed guns and threatened the life of Hugh Martin of the Daily News, London. His reporting of episodes in Dublin and Kerry aroused international condemnation and sparked parliamentary debate about the safety of journalists in Ireland, as detailed by Walsh.[3]Daily News, Oct. 25, 1920, Nov. 3, 1920, and Nov. 4, 1920; Martin, Hugh, Ireland In Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, Daniel O’Connor, London, 1921, pp. 133-134, 142-144. Walsh, News, … Continue reading

In spring 1921, Ewart dodged peril first at the hands of the police and British military, then from a gang of young Irish republicans, as detailed in my earlier “Twice detained” post. Released unharmed in  both instances, he faced recurring intimidation from “Mr. X.”, a mystery man first encountered in Cork.

Tough-looking customer

Ewart writes:

Mr. X. was a tall man of fine physique, dressed in a grey tweed suit, and he always wore a black tie with a rather flash-looking pearl pin. On the street he wore a “billycock”; he never carried a stick, umbrella, or gloves. He had a hard, bony face, a short bristly mustache, and a devil-may-care expression which boded ill for anyone who should cross him. Altogether a tough-looking customer.

He appeared to have plenty of money too, and nothing to do all day but chaff the waiters, drink whiskies-and-sodas and stand at the door of the hotel with his hands in his pockets. Once or twice I met him in the street, standing out- side some tea-shop or lounging along the pavement treating the world to a defiant sneer. If by chance one fell into conversation with the hall-porter of the hotel or any of its residents, this individual appeared from nowhere; you would suddenly find him lighting a cigar at your elbow or looking out of the window within hearing distance, or he would frankly seat himself opposite and order a drink.

We had a conversation about nothing. We regarded one another with hostility. I never discovered anything about X. except that he had served in the South African War and had held a commission during the European War. To the end of my journey — and we were often to meet — X. remained a mystery.[4]Journey, pp. 26-27.

The shadowy figure reappears at the Charleville Junction rail station on the border of Cork and Limerick counties, in Limerick city, and in Belfast. He was probably a Special Branch agent assigned to keep an eye on Ewart. The government probably wanted to avoid more negative attention like that generated by Martin. The book version of his newspaper reporting published just before Ewart arrived in Ireland.[5]Reviews of Martin’s Ireland in Insurrection began to appear in February 1921. Coincidentally, Martin refers to a Mr. X., “an American journalist of high standing,” clearly a … Continue reading

Cork-Bandon railway terminus, Cork city, 1920. (Cork City Library)

Mr. X. may have been the hidden hand that waved approval for Ewart’s release from police authorities in Mallow. He does not seem to have been near the author’s encounter with five republican youths on the road to Tullamore. Had that episode turned violent against Ewart, a former British military officer, it surely would have been exploited for propaganda.

Other journalists

In Journey, Ewart complains how “propaganda and partisanship persistently vied” for attention in Ireland, and “newspapers contradict each other” in their coverage of the war.[6]Journey, p.ix. In addition to his encounters with Mr. X., the author also crosses paths with other journalists during his travels.

He stops in a Dublin newspaper office to ask about a curfew pass and interviews “a Cork newspaperman” who defends the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. One journalist in Limerick discusses “the temperamental difference between Englishman and Irishman”, another reporter in the city tells Ewart it “was a bad day for Ireland when the shooting began.”[7]Journey, pp. 8, 76, 118, 135, respectively. Ewart interviews Irish nationalists George Russell, editor of the Irish Homestead, and former United Ireland editor William O’Brien, but does not mention if they discussed journalism.

The author alludes to “a special correspondent of one of the great London newspapers,” without naming the individual or the publication, in regard to reporting about the two murdered mayors of Limerick. He cites the Illustrated Sunday Herald and the Morning Post.[8]Ibid, pp. 153, 101, 230. 

Ewart reproduces the multi-headlined street placard of an unnamed Cork newspaper. Newsboys on Grafton Street shout about “Another Dublin Bombing”; in Belfast, they hawk the “early sixth” edition of the Freeman’s Journal.[9]Ibid, pp. 51, 3, 232. 

Ewart’s accounts of his April-May 1921 travels in Ireland appeared in the Times and Sunday Times, London, and Westminster Gazette nearly a year before his book published in 1922. In the front matter, he thanks Freeman’s editor Patrick Joseph Hooper for his assistance in preparing the book. Hooper had been the paper’s assistant correspondent in London from 1897 to 1912, then chief correspondent from 1912 to 1916, making him a natural contact for British journalists in Ireland.[10]Journey, Preface, p. x. Hooper referenced by title, not by name. “Hooper, Patrick Joseph” by Felix M Larkin in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and my correspondence with Larkin.

Delayed publication

In a March 23, 1922, “Note” for the front matter of Journey, Ewart blames the book’s delay on the protracted negotiations between the British government and Irish separatists that began in July 1921. [Earlier, according to his own reporting.] He says it was “inadvisable in the public interest” to publish sooner. This is dubious. Biographer Stephen Graham wrote that Journey was delayed to avoid conflicts with Ewart’s debut novel, The Way of Revelation.

Dublin Castle

I wonder if there is another possibility:

  • Did Dublin Castle or London, still smarting from bad experiences with Martin and other reporters beyond the government’s control, exert pressure on Ewart or his publisher for the delay?
  • Had Mr. X. obtained some compromising detail about Ewart’s travels in Ireland, perhaps threatening the author’s military pension, in order to enforce the delay or alter the content?
  • Did Ewart know or learn the identity of his stalker before he published Journey, contradicting his declaration that no incident of any interest or significance was “suppressed” from his book?  

Of course, Mr. X. may have been a fiction, a literary feint to create narrative tension and personify “the somber realities of Ireland, 1921,” which Ewart writes late in the book “could not be ignored, even in Belfast.” There, as in other parts of the country, armored lorries and tenders and vansful of soldiers careened about the streets, so familiar “that one hardly noticed them.” Spies and suspicion of spies seemed to be everywhere. Tensions grew between unionists and republicans, Protestants and Catholics. It is in Belfast that Ewart encounters Mr. X’s “defiant sneer at the world” for the last time.[11]Journey, p. 251.

The identity of Mr. X is unknown and probably unknowable. Ewart was accidental killed on Dec. 31,1922, age 30. Graham’s 1924 biography does not offer any clues about Ewart being followed in Ireland; he simply describes his friend as “an intrepid foreign correspondent or war correspondent in embryo … [who] showed great personal courage.”[12]Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, p. 159.

NEXT: Ewart reviewed

References

References
1 Russell, What’s the matter with Ireland?, p. 58, p.105.
2 “British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest”, New York Globe, March 24, 1920.
3 Daily News, Oct. 25, 1920, Nov. 3, 1920, and Nov. 4, 1920; Martin, Hugh, Ireland In Insurrection: An Englishman’s Record of Fact, Daniel O’Connor, London, 1921, pp. 133-134, 142-144. Walsh, News, pp. 74-75, 87-92.
4 Journey, pp. 26-27.
5 Reviews of Martin’s Ireland in Insurrection began to appear in February 1921. Coincidentally, Martin refers to a Mr. X., “an American journalist of high standing,” clearly a different person. Insurrection, p. 138.
6 Journey, p.ix.
7 Journey, pp. 8, 76, 118, 135, respectively.
8 Ibid, pp. 153, 101, 230.
9 Ibid, pp. 51, 3, 232.
10 Journey, Preface, p. x. Hooper referenced by title, not by name. “Hooper, Patrick Joseph” by Felix M Larkin in Dictionary of Irish Biography, and my correspondence with Larkin.
11 Journey, p. 251.
12 Grahan, Stephen, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 1924, p. 159.

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.