Tag Archives: Ruth Russell

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

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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

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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

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

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

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

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

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign10

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

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

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

On Oct. 2, 1961, former journalist and retired public school teacher Ruth Russell, “of sound and disposing mind and memory,” signed her Last Will and Testament in Chicago. Her first direction was to be buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “next to the grave of my sister, Cecilia Russell.” Her second direction called on the University of Arkansas to use the proceeds of the $10,000, 1960 U.S. Series H Bond she donated to establish a scholarship in Cecilia’s name to help “needy and worthwhile individuals” with the study of French.1

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, died two years later, on Nov. 28, 1963, of heart disease.2 She was 74.

Headlines about the assassination and burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy had dominated the news during the final week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, 81, was among the international mourners who attended Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Russell had interviewed de Valera 44 years earlier in Dublin. He provided a supportive letter that was published at the front of her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? “You succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” the revolutionary leader wrote.3

See my five-part monograph, “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland

Russell’s body was conveyed to Fayetteville, a 650-mile journey mostly likely accomplished by rail. She had moved there in 1954 after retiring from the Chicago public school system to join Cecilia, a romance languages teacher at the University of Arkansas since 1942.4 Ruth remained in Fayetteville after her sister died in October 1959. In August 1963, nearly two years after signing her will, she returned to Chicago and entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her childhood.5 She died in the care of Dominican Sisters.

Mourners prayed the rosary for Russell the evening of Dec. 2, 1963, at Moore’s Chapel, Fayetteville; followed the next morning by the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church.6 Father Edward R. Maloy presided at the burial in the church cemetery on a clear, dry day as temperatures climbed to near 60.7 The priest prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O’ Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Fr. Maloy and whatever number of mourners joined him at the graveside turned from the headstone Ruth Russell purchased after her sister’s death: the surname engraved slightly above center; Cecilia’s first name and birth and death years in the bottom left corner. The bottom right space for Ruth’s name and years to be similarly etched remained smooth that day … and for the next 57 years.

Russell grave, March 2019.

Like her sister, Ruth Russell never married or had children. Her will named two nephews, two young heirs of one of her late brothers, and a brother-in-law, as one-fifth beneficiaries to any funds that remained after her estate was settled, excluding the $10,000 bond for the university scholarship. None of these people, or her Fayetteville friends, engaged a monument company to inscribe Ruth’s name on the headstone. Such oversights are not unusual, as I detailed in a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, “Life Without an End Date“.

I first learned that Ruth’s name was not on the gravestone through the Findagrave.com website, part of my research of Illinois and Arkansas newspaper obituaries that referenced her life in Chicago and Fayetteville. Paul A. Warren, operations director at St. Joseph’s, confirmed the oversight when he provided the photo above, and a copy of the church’s handwritten burial log that shows Ruth’s internment details.

With Paul’s help, and the excellent work of the Emerson Monument Company, Springdale, Ark., (Thank you Alison and Glenn), Ruth’s name was added to the gravestone in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across America. It is a fitting memorial at the 100th anniversary of her reporting from Ireland and activism on behalf of Irish independence. It is a lasting remembrance … at last … like the Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship that Ruth endowed and that remains active at the university.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

Russell grave, March 2020.

Ruth Russell in revolutionary Ireland talk coming March 7

Thank you Irish Railroad Workers Museum. Angie & I enjoyed giving the presentation. Thanks to all who attended and asked great questions. MH

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I am presenting “What’s the matter with Ireland?” at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore. The free talk is based on my research and writing about journalist Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, then became active in the Irish cause in America.

Please register in advance. The museum is located at 918 Lemon St., a group of five alley houses where many Irish immigrants lived from the mid-19th century. It is near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Ruth Russell in 1919

Russell worked for the Chicago Daily News, then a leading U.S. provider of foreign news. Her reporting from Ireland was syndicated across America, including the Baltimore Sun. What’s the matter with Ireland? was the title of her 1920 book based on that reporting.

I presented my research at 2019 annual conferences of the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. Here is my five-part monograph:

My wife Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com editor-in-chief, will join me to read selections of Russell’s work. We also will recreate portions of Russell’s December 1920 testimony before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

3-way tie predicted in Irish elections as counting continues

UPDATE:

Sinn Féin candidates have swept to a spectacular general election victory with nearly 25 percent of first round votes, “reshaping Ireland’s political landscape as party leaders begin to turn their attention to how the next government might be formed,” The Irish Times reports.

ORIGINAL POST:

Exit polling in Ireland indicates Feb. 8 polling will result in an unprecedented three-way tie between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin.  Ballot counting was underway Sunday, Feb. 9.

“It may be many days before we know fully what Saturday’s vote means in terms of the allocation of Dáil seats and many weeks before we know what that in turn means for the formation of a viable government,” says Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole. “But this we know and know full well: that old system is finished and it is not coming back any time soon. This is not just a change election – it has changed Irish elections themselves for the foreseeable future.”

I will monitor the outcome and publish a more detailed post soon.

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Ruth Russell Talk is March 7 in Baltimore

I’m giving a talk about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 reporting trip to revolutionary Ireland on Saturday, March 7, at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.

The talk is based on my five-part monograph about Russell’s life. I presented this research at the 2019 annual conferences of the American Journalism Historians Association, in Dallas, and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, in Belfast.

Register for the free event, which begins at 11 a.m. The museum is located at 918 Lemon St., near downtown Baltimore. Here’s my earlier post about the museum, which is worth visiting anytime.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

1919 Revisited: American reporting of Irish independence

This year I explored 1919 U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of events in the struggled for Irish freedom. I produced 32 stand-alone posts for my American Reporting of Irish Independence series about developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including:

  • Dáil Éireann, revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic
  • Irish Race Convention
  • American Commission on Irish Independence
  • Éamon de Valera’s tour of America
  • News reporting and opinion pieces for and against the Irish cause

Many of my posts are focused on three Irish-American weeklies: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia paper with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; the Kentucky Irish American, published from 1898 to 1968 in Louisville; and The Irish Standard, circulated from 1886 to 1920 in Minneapolis, Minn. Since all three papers are digitized, my posts are laced with links to the original pages. The Irish American and Standard offered more moderate coverage of Ireland’s cause than the Press, reflecting a more conservative Irish America in the heartland, rather than the more activist immigrant pockets of the East Coast.

Ruth Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

I also produced a five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, about a young Chicago Daily News correspondent who reported from the early months of the revolution. Upon her return to America, Russell wrote a book about her experience, protested against British rule in Ireland; and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell said of the Sinn Féin leaders. “[They were] the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”1

Here’s the full series:

Thanks to the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland for the opportunity to present my research at conferences in Dallas and Belfast, respectively.

Presenting at the NPHFI conference, Queens University Belfast, November 2019.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Afterward

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. The post concludes a five-part series: 1) Beginnings 2) Correspondent 3) Activist 4) Witness © 2019

***

Russell slipped from public attention soon after her December 1920 testimony before the American Commission on Condition in Ireland. She began working as a Chicago public high school English teacher and student newspaper adviser.1 She traveled back to Ireland and other parts of Europe a few times with her younger sister, Cecilia, also a teacher.2

Ruth Russell in 1932 Calumet High School, Chicago, yearbook photo, about age 43.

Eleven years after What’s the matter with Ireland?, Ruth published Lake Front, her novel of Chicago’s first 100 years told through three generations of the O’Mara family. The book nods to 19th century Irish nationalism through a character called “the Fenian,” an immigrant veteran of the 1848 Young Irelander Rebellion. “Irishmen must no longer be subject but free, and they must have the chance to be free in their own republic,” he says. “I will hold that every Irishman’s first duty is to Ireland.”3

In a review, the Chicago Tribune’s Fanny Butcher identified Russell as “a native Chicagoan, daughter of the late Martin J. Russell,” then dead for 31 years. The reviewer named three newspapers he was associated with in the 19th century, but nothing of his daughter’s work at the Daily News, or her earlier Ireland book.4

Robert Morss Lovett also praised Lake Front. An associate editor of The New Republic and an English professor at the University of Chicago, Russell’s alma mater, he also was a former member of the Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Lovett wrote, “in Lake Front, an outstanding piece of writing, Miss Russell has made excellent use of her great opportunity and a stout bid toward its fulfillment.”5

In an interview with the hometown Hyde Park Herald, Russell described Lake Front as “the book I have always wanted to write.”6 She dedicated the novel to Cecilia, “whose faith and love created this book.”7 Ruth was a “guest of honor” at the Friends of American Writers meeting in the Wedgwood room of Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store.8 The 1932 yearbook at Calumet High School, where she taught, also noted her novel.9 

Russell continued teaching another 20 years. She took a few sabbaticals to continue her education at the University of Chicago, including an English course on narration. In January 1954, she “resigned” from the public school system shortly before her 65th birthday, though nothing in the file suggests this was other than a routine retirement.10 Soon after, she moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to join Cecilia, then a romance language teacher at the University of Arkansas.

The two unmarried sisters attended book groups and university functions together, according to newspaper social columns. Cecilia died in 1959 and was buried at the St. Joseph Catholic Church cemetery in Fayetteville. Two years later, Ruth filed her will at the Washington County, Arkansas, courthouse, which provided a $10,000 endowment upon her own death for a university scholarship in her sister’s name.11 The Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship to this day provides study abroad funding for students focused on French.

Ruth remained in Fayetteville until August 1963, when she entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her youth. She died there Nov. 28, 1963, age 74, of heart disease.12 Headlines about the assassination and burial of John F. Kennedy, America’s first Irish-American and Catholic president, dominated the last week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, then 81, returned to America for Kennedy’s funeral, 44 years after being interviewed by Russell in Ireland and providing the letter for What’s the matter with Ireland?

In a short news obituary, the Daily News described Russell as a “onetime reporter” for the paper and noted her teaching career. It mentioned Lake Front, her novel, and suggested she wrote “a number of books on Ireland.”13 I have not found any other references or evidence that Russell wrote about Ireland after her 1920 book.

Russell’s body was returned to Fayetteville, and buried Dec. 2, 1963, next to her sister, according to the wishes of her will.14 On the headstone, below the centered Russell surname, the bottom left corner was engraved with Cecilia’s first name and dates. The bottom right corner of the headstone, where Ruth’s name and dates would be similarly etched, remained smooth until 2020.15

The Russell grave in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2019.

The Russell headstone in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This monograph is the first attempt to detail Ruth Russell’s life. Her Irish reporting and activism have received limited attention from historians, though not in as much detail as this series.16 I believe more material about Russell’s life remains to be discovered. Since I began publishing this series, one historian has made me aware that the Kathleen O’Brennan papers in Ireland contain a hotel receipt showing that Russell and activist Helen Merriam Golden shared a Washington, D.C. hotel room during the April 1920 women’s protest. The 1919 American consulate in Ireland records are another source of potential material.

After a year of research, however, I wanted to post this series in the heart of the centenary of Russell’s 1919-1920 Irish activity. I hope the open, easily accessible format will prompt more research suggestions or sources. I will update the material as appropriate as I continue to work toward a print monograph. I invite readers to submit comments, including criticism.

Beyond What’s the matter with Ireland? and her December 1920 testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, I have not located any diaries, letters, or interviews with Russell that illuminate her private thoughts about the 1919 reporting trip to Ireland or journalism in general. “I was sent as a correspondent to Ireland and wrote a book about it,” she told the Hyde Park Herald in a 1931 interview about her novel. The story says Russell “gave up newspaper work” and began teaching in 1921.17

I wonder if her decision to leave newspapers was driven by the limited opportunities available to women at the time, or by harassment from male colleagues or reporting subjects? Was she professionally blacklisted for her short burst of pro-Irish activism, or privately steered away from revolutionary politics and social activism under the threat of scandal or the risk of losing a middle-class inheritance? Or was Russell simply needed at home to care for her widowed mother, whom she lived with for nearly 20 years after her Ireland trip, never marrying?

Describing Russell as a pioneering woman journalist is probably an overstatement. Her undercover reporting from Chicago’s factory floors and Dublin slums appeared more than 30 years after Elizabeth Cochran (Nellie Bly), Nora Marks, and other “stunt girl” reporters began writing first-person accounts about oppressive conditions in workplaces, hospitals, and public institutions. Margaret Sullivan’s book about Ireland’s social, economic, and political troubles under British rule was published in 1881, nearly 40 years before Russell’s trip. As Russell’s book circulated in 1920, Ireland’s revolutionary women published their views in nationalist newspapers, pamphlets, and books on both sides of the Atlantic.

Women reporters like Russell “have been hiding in plain sight” for over a century, Alice Fahs has observed: “They achieved a measure of fame in their own day; enlivened the pages of metropolitan mass-circulation papers that sometimes reached hundreds of thousands of readers; innovated across a variety of new genres, developed styles of newspaper writing that in some cases remains startlingly fresh today; and created a rich set of public conversations within the public spaces of the newspaper.”18

Maurice Walsh has noted: “The evident reluctance in Irish historiography to take an interest in the work of journalists is puzzling …  When media scholars do get around to writing history they are curiously neglectful of individual journalists.”19

This is changing. Groups such as the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland encourage research and widen interest in journalists like Russell. I have benefited from and contributed to that work as a non-academic member of both groups.

Making my presentation about Russell at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s 2019 conference, Queens University Belfast.

Expanding digitization also increases access to the work of early journalists. Many of Russell’s 1919 dispatches are available through online newspaper databases, though not the Daily News. Digital editions of What’s the matter with Ireland?, now out of copyright, are easy to find online.

The Irish republican website An Sionnach Fionn posted the book in 2017. It described Russell’s work as “notable for its intimate and sympathetic style, with no sign of the phonetic ‘stage Irish’ accents and racist caricatures which were so beloved by the press in Britain.”20

Indeed, Russell’s reporting from the early months of the Irish revolution, especially her focus on women and workers, helped counter prevailing British and American press narratives of a contented Irish peasantry. Her vivid, 400- to 600-word dispatches would be at home on today’s digital news platforms. These vignettes about ordinary Irish lives caught in the crossfire of the revolution’s social and economic strife are valuable, underutilized snapshots of the period.

The lives of these forgotten people are worth weaving into the tapestry of historical consideration, as well as Russell’s encounters with Ireland’s mainstream political and social figures, especially at the centenary of the revolution. This mostly forgotten woman journalist is also worthy of rediscovery and reconsideration.

Ruth M. Russell’s enlarged signature from a 1961 document establishing a scholarship in her sister’s name.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Witness

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

***

The Library of Congress received What’s the matter with Ireland?, Russell’s expansion of her 1919 Daily News reporting, on July 20, 1920, nearly a year after she returned from Ireland.1 The front page of that day’s Washington Post reported on a “night of terror” in Cork city, as civilians threw home-made bombs at two military lorries in reprisal for an earlier “boyonetting incident” and “indiscriminate firing” by British troops, the latest example of how violence had escalated since Russell’s departure.2

Publisher Devin-Adair Co. of New York does not appear to have aggressively marketed the 160-page book, which was not widely reviewed. Russell’s split from the Daily News and participation in the British Embassy protests3 are not mentioned in the reviews or advertising that I have located. The book’s title, which implies something is wrong with Ireland, may have soured ardent nationalists able to select other 1920 offerings with more uplifting names, such as The Invincible Irish and Why God Loves the Irish.

Original edition of Russell’s 1920 book at the Library of Congress. Digital versions of the book are widely available online.

The New York Tribune’s review suggested the title was “misleading since this little volume … offers not a solution but a statement of the problem.”4 It added: “Her volume is a forthright presentation of the situation as it offers itself to the inquiring sojourner, given in the journalist’s terms of first-hand observation and current statistics.”

The Tribune also found: “Not the least interesting actors in the Irish drama are the women leaders of the revolutionary party.” It pointed to Russell’s reporting of Countess Markievicz; Maud Gonne McBride; suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst; writer and activist Susan Langstaff Mitchell; and Countess Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett, president of the United Irishwomen.

The Catholic World was tougher on Russell: “She succeeds in rousing our sympathy for the poor working girls of Dublin, and other unfortunate people of the city and the bog-field. But when she takes up the political she seems unable to do justice to her subject. … There is no doubt Miss Russell’s intentions are good, but it is doubtful if such books as this will help Ireland’s cause.”5

The Chicago-based Illinois Catholic Historical Review supported the hometown author. It described Russell as a “brilliant young writer” whose “powerful book, in language simple and direct, and yet at times dramatic or poetic” was worthwhile for anyone “interested in knowing the truth about the Irish question.”6 By coincidence, the same issue of the Review featured a story on “The Irish of Chicago,” which mentioned Russell’s editor father and referred readers to the review of his daughter’s “most interesting book.”7

An advertisement for the book8 declared: “Only a determined woman can get at the bottom of the facts,” and Russell “saw Ireland, its people, and its problems as no one else has seen them.” It quoted Eamon de Valera’s January 1920 letter from the front matter, and a testimonial from Frank P. Walsh, a member of the American Commission on Irish Independence, whom Russell met in Ireland. He wrote:

“It is a most valuable contribution to the literature of Ireland. It is a breezy, well-told narrative of Irish life, is more human and charming than anything which I have read, while the economic background is presented in a way that should bring home with terrific force to the reader the real heart of the Irish controversy.”

Here’s the full ad:

On a personal level, Russell dedicated the book to her widowed mother, who she lived with in Chicago. As the year drew to a close, the reporter received one more opportunity to publicly address her experiences in Ireland and her views on its struggle for independence.

COMMISSION TESTIMONY

Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, in 1920 organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. He invited U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to establish a “Committee of One Hundred” to form and oversee the eight-member
commission of inquiry.

“The situation in Ireland was a proper subject of concern for all peoples claiming either humanity or civilization,” the commission summarized. “It seemed to us that we could best serve the cause of peace by placing before English, Irish and American public opinion the facts of the situation, free from both agonized exaggeration and merciless understatement; for a knowledge of the facts might reveal their cause, and recognition of that cause might permit its cure, by those whose purpose was not to slay but to heal.”9

The commission held six hearings from November 1920 through January 1921, with 18 witnesses from Ireland; two from England (others were invited, but declined); and 18 Americans. The opening session came three weeks after the hunger-strike death of Irish nationalist and Cork Mayor Terance MacSwiney generated international headlines. His widow and sister testified in early December; Russell appeared a week later, Dec. 15, 1920, at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late Cork mayor, testified Dec. 8, 1920, at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a week before Ruth Russell. Library of Congress.

Commission Chairman Frederic Howe called the session to order at 10:05 a.m.10 After stating her name for the record, Russell told the commission she “was employed” by the Daily News “when I went to Ireland … as foreign correspondent studying special economic, social, and political conditions.” She was not asked why she no longer worked at the paper. Questioned about her investigative methods, Russell answered she “used both interviews and personal experiences,” including living in the Dublin slums.

And her views about the Irish republican leaders she met?

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell replied. “The crowd of Sinn Féin leaders … were, I think, the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”11 In Russell’s opinion “it would have been impossible for these brilliant young leaders to rally the forces in Ireland behind them unless the people were driven to revolt by the economic conditions that are pressing into them.” She blamed Protestant politicians in the province of Ulster, today’s Northern Ireland, who “work on the religious prejudices of the people, so that the rich mill owners profit by the division of the people, especially the laboring people.”12

For more than two hours,13 Russell answered the commission’s questions about political, economic,  social, educational, and religious conditions. Jane Addams, the Chicago-based progressive social reformer referenced in one of Russell’s Daily News stories, was one of the eight commissioners. She asked Russell about Irish schools, labor laws, and housing conditions.

Near the end of session commission attorney Basil M. Manly asked Russell how conditions in Ireland compared to the streets of New York, Chicago, or other American cities.

“I felt perfectly safe,” Russell replied. “I walked from the telegraph office in Limerick at two o’clock in the morning through perfectly black streets to my hotel. I inquired the direction several times, and was finally assisted to my hotel by a member of the Black Watch (an ancient form of civilian night guard). But there was no interference with my progress at all. … I only had one unpleasant experience while I was in Ireland. It was about three o’clock in the morning in [the Galway] railroad station; but that was all.”14

Manly did not ask her for details.

PRESS COVERAGE

Associated Press coverage of Russell’s testimony identified her 1919 Irish reporting trip for the Daily News,15, and this detail was repeated by newspapers that used the wire service across the country. These reports did not identify Russell with the April 1920 demonstrations at the British Embassy, which also was absent in her testimony. The Daily News did not publish a story about that day’s commission hearing.

The AP highlighted Russell’s comment that religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster were “artificially worked up.”16 The Irish News and Chicago Citizen quoted her more localized remark that “in some of the southern towns of my own state there is more religious intolerance than there is in Ireland.”17 The Irish Press, Philadelphia, reported Russell’s testimony that blamed British authorities for economic distress in Ireland by turning small farms to gazing land and exporting cattle on the hoof, thus idling farm laborers and industries dependent on agriculture.18 

Coverage of that day’s commission testimony appeared two weeks later in Irish newspapers and focused more on the testimony of nationalist legislator Laurence Ginnell. The Evening Herald of Dublin reported that Russell “gave a terrible picture of poverty in Ireland, and on sweating in mills and factories in the North of Ireland.”19

In spring 1921 the commission released a 152-page interim report. It quoted Russell only once: “On the whole, testified Miss Ruth Russell of Chicago, ‘I think there is possibly the greatest unanimity there that has ever existed in any country of the world.’ “20 Her response had been to a question from U.S. Sen. David I. Walsh, a Massachusetts Democrat, who asked Russell if she had ever known “unanimity of opinion upon any great question anywhere in the world?”21

Iconic image of an IRA patrol on Grafton Street in Dublin during the Irish Civil War.

Russell was mentioned in some press coverage of the report, which British officials dismissed as biased toward the revolutionaries. Fast-moving developments in Ireland continued to eclipse Russell’s 1919 reporting, as violence escalated up until a July 1921 truce. Five months later, Irish and British authorities agreed to treaty that created the 26-county, majority Catholic, Irish Free State, while the 6-county, predominantly Protestant, Northern Ireland remained part of Britain. The dominion status of southern Ireland fell short of the full republic sought by Sinn Féin leaders.

Bitter disappointment about this outcome in 1922 erupted in a bloody civil war in the Free State that lasted for the next two years. By then, Russell had slipped from the spotlight of Irish politics and returned to a quieter life in Chicago.

NEXT:  The rest of Russell’s life, and my personal thoughts, in the series conclusion.