Tag Archives: Sinn Féin

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

UPDATE: This story broke Aug. 31, a day after the original post, found below the graphic.

The population of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland has eclipsed 5 million for the first time since 1851, near the end of the Great Famine, according to the Central Statistics Office. Then, about 6.6 million people lived on the island of Ireland, including the six counties of the North. Today about 1.9 million people live in Northern Ireland, for an island-wide total surpassing 170 years ago.

CSO graphic

ORIGINAL POST

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Connecticut, closed for over a year due to COVID-19, will not reopen, owner Quinnipiac University says. The museum is said to hold the world’s largest collection of historic and contemporary Irish famine-related art works. The pandemic has further eroded the museum’s poor financial footing, which surfaced in 2019.

“The university is in active conversations with potential partners with the goal of placing the collection on display at an organization that will increase access to national and international audiences,” Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan wrote in an early August statement.

The museum opened in 2012. The 175th anniversary of “Black ’47”, the worst year of the famine, is next year.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, founded and directed by history professor Christine Kinealy, remains open, as does the special collection of famine-related books, journals, and documents at the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel Campus, Morgan said.

I visited the library and museum in March 2013. I hope this impressive collection finds a good home.

More news from August:

  • “With economic crises spiraling out of control and Brexit casting the uneasy post-Troubles peace into doubt, republicans have found their political niche and are capitalizing on it,” Aidan Scully writes in Harvard Political Review. “Across the island, Sinn Féin is pushing up against decades-old traditions and systems and finding little pushing back. Ireland’s two-party system is gone, forever, and Sinn Féin is here to stay.”
  • Fresh polling by the Belfast Telegraph shows support for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has dropped 13 percent, placing it third among unionist parties and fourth overall in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin at the top. Elections in the North as scheduled for May 2022.
  • Ryanair announced it is leaving Northern Ireland, blaming air passenger duty and a lack of “incentives” from Belfast International and Belfast City airports. The carrier pulled out of Derry airport earlier this year.
  • Tourism Ireland, the island-wide marketing agency, has drawn criticism for using “Londonderry” instead of “Derry” in some materials. The former is still the official name, the latter in wider usage, especially since the hit television show “Derry Girls.”
  • Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell made headlines with comments about the church’s “underlying crisis of faith” and “current model of the Church is unsustainable.” Further context and perspective from Gladys Ganiel on the Slugger O’Toole Blog.
  • An eight-foot-tall, 1,600-year-old wooden sculpture was recovered a bog in Gortnacrannagh townland, Co. Roscommon during excavations for a road construction project, Smithsonian reported. The Iron Age figure was made from a split oak trunk and has what appears to be a human head and a series of horizontal notches carved along its body.
  • Ireland is missing its chance to protect its dwindling biodiversity with several iconic species of bird, fish and mammals under threat, TheJournal.ie reports in a special investigation.
  • “What I will miss most about the US is the people,” Irish Times Washington correspondent Suzanne Lynch wrote in her farewell column. “Wherever I traveled, I was consistently struck by the generosity and warmth of American people. Their relentless optimism, good humor and willingness to engage make it a pleasure to live in this country.”
  • See previous monthly round ups and our annual “Best of the Blog.”

Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry.                                                  Courtesy Kevin Griffin via Fáilte Ireland.

Irish Americans back united Ireland with ad buy

I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements as I scan the headlines and top paragraphs of The Washington Post, the day’s first pot of coffee percolating near the left edge of the newspaper spread on my kitchen counter. The half-page ad on A5–my second page turn–caught my attention: A United Ireland: Let The People Have Their Say.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA and five other Irish-American groups paid for the black and white ads in the March 10 issues of the Post and The New York Times a week before St. Patrick’s Day focuses on relations between the two countries. Full-page with spot color versions of the ads appear in the Irish Voice and Irish Echo newspapers. The ad says, in part:

A new Ireland is emerging, and more and more people are looking beyond the divisions of the past. A new Ireland is seeking to undo the damage of the undemocratic partition of Ireland 100 years ago and the recent British government imposed Brexit.

“Britain’s exit”, or Brexit, was decided by a 2016 referendum. Voters in the six counties of Northern Ireland opposed leaving the European Union. The British and E.U. governments, including the Republic of Ireland, spent years hammering out the details of the departure.

Earlier this month, the Post published a Bloomberg business analysis that said while a united Ireland is “unlikely anytime soon … the fact that the possibility is being openly discussed again is testament to the forces unleashed by Brexit.”

We’ve been hearing this since 2016. Nearly two years ago to the day, Times columnist Timothy Egan, also citing Brexit, wrote: “From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.”

Let’s see what happens by St. Patrick’s Day, 2022.

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.

U.S. reporter scooped last Terence MacSwiney interview

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

Thompson in 1920.

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

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

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

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

MacSwiney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Ireland

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

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

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

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

Markievicz

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

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

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

***

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

Feakle ambush & reprisals: Multiple views of an event

At midmorning Oct. 7, 1920, nearly two dozen Irish Republic Army gunmen hidden in houses fired on six Royal Irish Constabulary officers outside the Feakle, Co. Clare, post office. Two policemen were killed in the ambush; another badly wounded as he escaped with the other three officers after they exchanged fire with the snipers. 

What happened next was typical of the tit-for-tat of Ireland’s revolutionary period, as described by three people involved in the events:

  • “Everybody anticipated reprisals,” a local priest wrote a week later to an Irish newspaper. He described being “thrashed” by soldiers who also set fires “to illuminate the night’s proceedings.”1  
  • “The police and military come down the street banging and shooting and throwing hand grenades in all directions,” an American visitor to Feakle testified two months later at a Washington, D.C. hearing.2
  • “I asked for reinforcements … and wanted to teach the enemy a lesson that this form of activity could be costly,” the IRA leader who instigated the ambush recalled more than three decades later for an oral history project.3

The three witness perspectives, combined with the findings of a military inquiry, press reports, and related documents provide a multidimensional snapshot of the Feakle ambush and reprisals. These sources also illustrate the dangers of reconstructing such emblematic events. In a History Ireland piece about the Bureau of Military History (BMH) witness statements of the Irish revolutionary period, Fearghal McGarry warned: 

Such a source inevitably raises a host of problematic issues, both ideological and practical: these include the subjectivity of oral history, the role of the state in the creation of a project intended to record and shape historical memory, the selective nature of the testimony collected, the reliability of the witnesses’ memories, the influence of subsequent events and knowledge, and the potential for bias …Like any historical source …  they must be evaluated carefully. They record not the events of the revolution but the witnesses’ imperfect recollections of them  … Dates, numbers and other details are often inaccurate, and some claims seem less plausible than others. 

However imperfect the individual recollections, they collectively help to form a vivid mosaic of the Feakle ambush and reprisals. This event, in turn, is another piece of the larger mosaic of the Irish War of Independence.

Prelude 

Feakle, middle right, on modern map.

Feakle village and the same-named townland and Catholic parish is located 50 miles north of Limerick city and 20 miles east of Ennis in the northeast corner of Clare. The upland topography includes the southern declivities of the Slieve Baughta mountains. People there still talk about herbalist and healer “Biddy” Early, an independent woman accused of witchcraft in the mid-19th century.   

In 1917, the young Éamon de Valera, a participant in the year-earlier Easter Rising, challenged an older establishment candidate in an historic by-election for the East Clare constituency. Feakle parish priest Father Michael Hays declared de Valera’s Sinn Féin “a party of socialism and anarchy and bloodshed which struck at the roots of society.”4 The London government at Dublin Castle reported “disaffection lurked under the surface ready to break out on very small provocation” and “turmoil increased with the approach of election day, intimidation was freely practiced, and there was growing disregard for all law and order.”5 The maverick de Valera won by more than 2 to 1 margin, and two years later declared president of Sinn Féin’s breakaway Irish republic. 

Thomas “Tomo” Tuohy, IRA captain:

Tuohy was born Nov. 23, 1898, in Laccaroe townland, neighboring Feakle, the eldest of 10 children. He joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers in 1915 and rose to leadership by October 1920, according to his 1954 BMH statement.

Volunteers in Clare attacked the Feakle RIC barracks in June 1920, and three months later attempted to capture the Scarriff RIC Barracks, about six miles to the east. Such efforts were part of the IRA’s national strategy to drive the authorities from the countryside to boost its own operational base. Shortly after the Scarriff attack, Volunteers seized mail from the postman making a delivery to the Feakle RIC barracks. Postal and railroad hold ups also were typical IRA tactics at the time. To counter this, Feakle RIC began collecting their mail at the post office. 

“I decided to attack this party and gave instructions to the Volunteers living in the Feakle village to keep the patrol under close observation, particularly as to the time on which it left the barracks and the formation in which it moved,” Tuohy said.

On the morning of Oct. 7, as six RIC officers spaced apart in three pairs began the three quarter mile walk from their barracks to the post office, a scout notified Tuohy. He quickly positioned 20 Volunteers and told them to wait for his warning shot. One man, “contrary to orders,” fired directly at a constable who had given him “a bad beating” the previous evening, Tuohy said. The other five officers scrambled for cover as the remaining Volunteers opened fire.

Military inquiry:

Constable William Stanley and Sgt. Francis Doherty were killed in the ambush. Both men were 46; each with more than 20 years of RIC service. Doherty was a bachelor from Mohill, Co. Leitrim; Stanley a Co. Cork native with a wife and four children.6

Doherty and Stanly shown in register of cases for courts of inquiry in lieu of inquest, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. The National Archives, Kew, WO 35/162.

A military inquiry at Dublin Castle issued this statement:7

The police party were walking in couples 10 yards apart towards the P.O. when fire was opened on them from the upper windows of the P.O., from the adjoining house, and from a farmyard on the opposite side of the road, thus placing them in the centre of a triangle of fire. … The Court found the two men were willfully murdered by rifles, revolvers and shotguns fired at close range by persons unknown, that a large number of men took part in the shooting, which was premeditated, and that deceased were robbed after death. … The third constable named Murphy was wounded by an expanding bullet. … The police had a dog with them, and when the sergeant [Doherty] fell it ran to him and stood by him on the road. In the next volley the dog fell wounded, three of his legs being broken.

Seán Moroney, Irish Volunteer:

Moroney was 23 at the time of the Feakle attack, a year older than Tuohy. Moroney’s 1956 BMH statement8 provides several examples of McGarry’s warning about such records:

  • Moroney said the RIC officers “travelled in pairs, with about 200 yards between each pair.” This is a big difference from the 10 yards of separation mentioned in the military inquiry. He probably said 20 yards, but the transcript typist added an extra “0” keystroke.
  • One of the Volunteers “accidentally discharged a shot” at the police, Moroney said, rather than taking revenge on the constable for an earlier beating, as suggested in Tuohy’s statement. Both could be true. Either way: “This, of course, alerted the patrol and spoiled our plan,” Moroney said.
  • Moroney said the IRA captured two carbines and about 150 rounds of ammunition. Tuohy claimed they collected 4 carbines, one .45 revolver, 300 rounds .303, and 24 rounds .45 ammunition, and 1 Mills bomb [a World War I era British hand grenade].
  • Tuohy is not mentioned in Moroney’s statement. Moroney is not among the 19 attackers listed by Tuohy. 

Freeman’s Journal headline over Oct. 15, 1920, story that introduced priest’s letter.

Rev. Patrick O’Reilly, Feakle priest:

“On Thursday last, October 7th, there occurred here the tragic event in which two policemen lost their lives,” the priest began his letter to the Freeman’s Journal, published eight days later.

“I was immediately called by a courageous girl to administer the last Sacraments to them. I went at once and did so. This was about 10:30 a.m. Irish time. The doctor arrived shortly after, but could then do nothing.”

Thomas Tuohy:

He said the IRA sustained no deaths or injuries. The rebel’s search for weapons and other victims of the ambush lasted about 20 minutes “when Fr. O’Reilly, C.C., Feakle, came on the scene to administer the last rites of the church to the police. He shouted to us from the road ‘The horsemen will be on top of you in a few minutes as a messenger had gone for them before I left the village.’ ” 

Patrick J. “PJ” Guilfoil, American tourist:

Guilfoil was born in Scarriff on May 29, 1880, emigrated to America in 1900, and naturalized as a U.S. citizen at Detroit in 1906. He married a Clare woman and they had two sons. Guilfoil was working as a Pittsburgh innkeeper in March 1920 when he applied for his family’s U.S. passports.9 They sailed to Ireland two months later to visit his wife’s sister in Feakle, where they remained through October.10 

Patrick J. Guilfoil, left, and his family in 1920 passport photos.

In Dec. 10, 1920, testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Guilfoil said that on the morning of Oct. 7 he learned that two policemen had been shot outside the post office a quarter mile away from where he was staying. He said that he already intended to walk to the post office to wire the Thomas Cook & Sons travel firm in Dublin about his family’s return to Pittsburgh. “Being an American citizen and having my passport there, and being of good courage, I went out there after this happened,” he said.

He found the two slain policemen attended by “a young priest, Father O’Reilly,” the town physician having already left the scene.  “I asked the priest if he did not run great danger of reprisals for remaining there. But he said, what could he do? He could not leave two dead bodies by the road, because there were pigs and dogs around there, and what could he do? I told him that if he felt that way about it, I would remain with him, which I did.”

He said the military arrived about 2 p.m. “They got the priest to provide a horse and cart to carry the remains into town.”

Father O’Reilly:

“From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I remained alone practically all the time to take care of the remains and I could find no means of having them removed. At 2:30 the military arrived and I was peremptorily ordered to commandeer a horse and cart to remove the bodies. I did so and returned no more. I had had quite enough.”

PJ Guilfoil:

He testified that once he returned to his sister-in-law’s cottage in the village, a military officer asked to see his American passport and recorded his name and number. “And he said he was going to put me on the black list.”

Guilfoil said that at 6:30 p.m. a District Inspector and six soldiers arrived at Father O’Reilly’s house and dragged the priest outside–three at the head, three at the feet. They accused him of murdering the two policemen. “I stood directly across the street taking it all in,” Guilfoil said.

One of the officers commanded, “ ‘Let him have it.’ ” and a soldier delivered “three horrible blows across the hips” of the priest with the butt of his rifle, an attempt to coerce a confession, Guilfoil testified. An officer told the priest to get up and get back into his house, but as the cleric complied with the order, the officer kicked him and “called him some terrible names.” 

Father O’Reilly:

“An officer, a district inspector, and eight or ten soldiers knocked at 5:30 p.m. I opened the door and was ordered out. I was told I was to be ‘thrashed soundly,’ and there and then the soldiers caught hold of me by the hands and feet, knocked me down, and dragged me to the wall in front of the house, and proceeded to thrash me with a stock of a rifle. The officer struck me very violently with a stick when I protested. The District Inspector then interceded, be it said to his credit, and thereby saved me from further ill-treatment.

“I was ordered in, while being told I would be shot. I closed the door and thanked God I had come off so well.”

PJ Guilfoil:

“I went across the street and knocked at the door of the priest’s house, and he let me into the house, and I said, ‘My God, are you able to stand up?’

“And he said, ‘I got some awful wallops and am suffering some great pain, but what am I going to do?’

“And I said, ‘I don’t suppose your feet can carry you very far, but as far as they can carry you, I would advise you to get out of the town. There are going to be reprisals tonight.’

“He said, ‘Well, if there are reprisals, there will be people dying and they will need a priest.’” 

Father O’Reilly:

“The kind neighbors rushed in at the back to see if I was hurt. They were terrified and expected my death at each moment. They besought me most earnestly to leave the house for the night. I refused to leave until I would see things out, and I consoled them to the best of my ability. They left.”

PJ Guilfoil:

Guilfoil said he met Dr. O’Hallaron, the village physician, on the street as he returned from treating the wounded officer at the RIC barracks. “The conditions up there are terrible. They are all wild drunk,” the doctor said.

Reprisals on the village, which Guilfoil estimated at about 300 people, began soon after. He testified that he moved his family to an upstairs room and told them to lie on the floor next to the walls. “I do not need to tell you how nervous those children were,” he said. “They were shaking so that I got to shaking myself.”

The police and military set fire to the thatched roof of the Considine house, about 50 yards away, he continued. Then they torched the cottage where the Guilfoils were staying, which was partitioned and also occupied by members of the O’Brien family. 

“We have no time to fool around here,” Guilfoil said he yelled to his wife and sons as the flames surrounded the windows. “Take what you have and get out of here. I prefer to be shot than to be burned to death.”

Thomas Tuohy:

The IRA summoned “over 40 men” to defend Feakle and “teach the enemy a lesson,” Tuohy said. As the group got within a quarter mile of the village at about about 8 p.m., “flames were seen rising from three houses – Considines, O’Brien’s and Fr. O’Reilly’s. Realizing that we had been forestalled it was agreed right away to send back the reinforcements.”

The rebels abandoned the village and withdrew to the hills for the next three days.

Father O’Reilly:

“I lay in the centre of the kitchen floor, and I anticipated death at any moment. I made many an Act of Contrition, said the Rosary a few times … A bomb came through the parlour window, exploded with a deafening sound, and drove broken glass in all directions.It sprinkled the oil from the table lamp all over the room, and it is a miracle no fire resulted.”

The priest said he escaped about 3:30 a.m. to a house in the country, where he found other refugees from the town. He remained there the next evening, which was fortunate “as the [village] house was again bombed and densely riddled with bullets. The door was driven in and all my belongings piled on the village street and burned.”

PJ Guilfoil:

Some neighbors helped put out the fire at the O’Brien house as the police and military withdrew to their barracks, Guilfoil testified.

“At six o’clock in the morning I got hold of a car to convey my baggage and the children out of town, and about ten o’clock I left myself” to “a place in the country” where his wife’s family lived.

The police and troops returned in the daylight. They asked the woman who rented the house to Father O’Reilly whether any of the furniture inside belonged to her. When she said no, they pulled it into the street and set it on fire.

“And they said they were only sorry that they did not have that bloody bastard, as they called the priest, to put him on top of it,” Guilfoil testified.

A local history book published 70 years later claims the police dressed an effigy in the priest’s clothes and tied it to a chair, which was burned with the other furniture. The officers danced and sang, “The rebel padre is roasting.”11  

Press Reports:

Irish and British newspapers coverage of Feakle tended to emphasize the slain officers or the reprisals, depending on when the reports were published and the target readership. The military inquiry statement was published in papers on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Several Irish dailies carried a Press Association, Dublin, account, which corrected an Ennis correspondent’s early reporting that the Feakle RIC barracks had been attacked.12 The reprisals got more attention after the Freeman’s Journal published Father O’Reilly’s letter eight days later.

In London, The Times, an establishment paper, attributed its next day story to Dublin Castle, with nothing said about reprisals.13 A week later, The Guardian’s Dublin correspondent noted the burning of houses at the “little out-of-the-way village” of Feakle in a roundup of other reprisals in Ireland.14

The Weekly Summary, an RIC newspaper launched two months earlier to bolster force morale, published an editorial that said:

Reprisals are wrong. They are bad for the discipline of the force. They are bad for Ireland, especially if the wholly innocent suffer. Reprisals are wrong but reprisals do not happen only by accident. They are the result of the brutal, cowardly murder of police officers by assassins, who take shelter behind the screen of terrorism and intimidation they have created. Police murder produces reprisals. Stop murdering policemen.15 

This Associated Press dispatch appeared in an Oct. 24, 1920 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Oct. 23 dateline says the officers were killed “yesterday.”

The first Associated Press report published in American newspapers said Stanley was killed and Doherty only wounded. An updated version saying both officers were killed “yesterday” continued to be published through late October.16

In November, the pro-Irish Gaelic American, a New York weekly, over two issues republished the Limerick Echo’s report about Father O’Reilly’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal.17 The News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., included Father O’Reilly in a roundup of attacks on other priests and looting of Catholic churches. “The latest phase of the ruthless campaign against the Irish nation seems to have taken the form of ‘reprisals’ for the crime of being Irish and Catholic,” the weekly newsletter said.18

A constable’s life, 1920:

An RIC Division before the force was disbanded in 1922. Note the dog at front right. Image from Royal Irish Constabulary.com.

A day before the Feakle ambush, the Royal Irish Constabulary Office at Dublin Castle announced a pay bonus for “permanent members” of the force, veterans such as Constable Stanley and Sgt. Doherty.19 The money was intended to boost morale in the difficult circumstances of “the life of the average constable,” as described a year later by a Dublin Castle intelligence officer:

He lived in a fortified barrack, probably overcrowded owing to the concentration of the Force, and certainly never designed to resist determined assault with modern weapons. He was surrounded by a populace which, if not definitely hostile, was at all events so intimidated that the members of the civil population hardly dare be seen speaking with him. Lurking throughout the countryside were members of the Republican Army, who, instigated by their leaders, regarded him not as an enemy to be faced in the open, but to be prosecuted by every means from petty annoyance to treacherous murder. His life was spent in constant apprehension of danger. His barrack might be attacked at any hour of the day or night, but usually the latter, by overwhelming numbers of callus ruffians, who would use every weapon of brutality against him. If he would go out of the barracks, he was compelled to do so as one of a party operating in practically an enemy’s country. He could never predict the moment when a hail of bullets would burst upon him from a carefully prepared ambush, his assailants being the apparently harmless citizens who surrounded him every day.20

Stanley and Doherty’s deaths raised to 120 the toll of RIC fatalities in Ireland since Jan. 1, 1919. Another 72 officers were killed by the end of 1920.21 Stanley’s widow received “special advances” to survivors of RIC murdered on duty at least through 1922, when the force was disbanded.22

Thomas Tuohy:

“After the Feakle ambush the local parish priest, Father Hayes [Father O’Reilly’s superior, who spoke against Éamon de Valera during the 1917 election.23 ], a violent imperialist who regularly entertained members of the enemy forces, strongly denounced the IRA from the pulpit. He referred to us as a murder gang, and declared that any information which he could get would be readily passed on to the British authorities and that he would not desist until the last of the murderers was swung by the neck. This denunciation led to unpleasant consequences and for some time services at which he officiated were boycotted by most of the congregation.”

Remember that Tuohy said Father O’Reilly had warned the IRA ambushers that military “horsemen will be on top of you in a few minutes.” Tuohy also said that Father O’Reilly administered Confession and Holy Communion to about nine IRA men in December 1920. If true, the local priests were certainly at odds, and the police and soldiers seem correct in their suspicions of Father O’Reilly.

A few days after receiving the sacraments from Father O’Reilly, Tuohy was arrested by the RIC and accused of having seditious documents. He was sentenced to two years hard labor, but released from Limerick County Jail 11 months later.

Father O’Reilly

Given Tuohy’s statements, the conclusion of the priest’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal is ambiguous:

“My last sermon in the parish prior to the occasion had been solely a counsel of moderation.  … I have appealed for nothing but peace and unity amongst all Irishmen. … I most heartily forgive all who attacked me, and also those who were the deliberate and malicious cause of it. … I stand for peace, peace with honor, and though my life may now be in danger I will never be a traitor to the flag of my country. God save Ireland.”

Father O’Reilly and Father Hayes were each soon relocated from the Feakle parish.24

PJ Guilfoil:

The Guilfoil family traveled from the Clare countryside to Cork city, about 100 miles south, where they waited a week for the ship back to America. PJ and his young sons witnessed another scene of revolutionary Ireland, which concluded his commission testimony at the Lafayette Hotel, a few blocks from the U.S. capitol.  

Guilfoil testified at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington D.C. shown here between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress.

The father and his two boys, ages eight and six, watched the funeral procession of Irish Republican Army volunteer Michael Fitzgerald, who died a few days earlier on hunger strike in jail. As the line of mourners passed the Windsor Hotel, troops plucked the mourning wreaths and Irish tricolor flags from the hearse with their bayonet tips and flicked them to the curb, Guilfoil testified.

“Anything more horrible I never want to see than an armored military body following a coffin,” Guilfoil said. “They followed that coffin with rifles and machine guns all the way out to the cemetery. … I took the boys and got away from there, for I thought there might be trouble.”

Guilfoil’s testimony was exactly what the pro-Ireland commission had sought to publicize in its effort to turn U.S. opinion against Britain. The blue-ribbon panel of two U.S. senators and six other military, religious, and civic leaders held six public hearings from November 1920 through January 1921. It was not an official U.S. government enterprise. Years later, Irish politician Patrick McCartan wrote of the hearings that “only the rustle of the reporters writing broke the silence in which America strained to hear the story of British savagery withstood and defeated by the indomitable courage of the citizens of the Irish Republic.”25

Guilfoil, 1920

Guilfoil—5-foot, 8-inches, with a ruddy complexion and blue eyes under receding brown hair—seemed like an enthusiastic witness.26 “Yes, O, yes,” he answered when asked whether most Irish civilians supported the IRA. He displayed a bullet he said had pierced the cottage before his family fled from the fire. He shuffled a sheaf of “literature” and newspaper clippings about events in Ireland.

These papers may have included Father O’Reilly’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal, published in the nationally-circulated paper five days before Guilfoil sailed back to America, or the Gaelic American’s two-part reporting of it a few weeks after he returned to Pittsburgh. Father O’Reilly’s letter said he “remained alone practically all the time” outside the post office with the bodies of the two policemen. Guilfoil testified he spent over two hours with the priest at the scene. Father O’Reilly might have wanted to protect the American visitor, emphasize his own ordeal, or both. Guilfoil might have inflated his experience based on such published accounts, but it is also possible that he offered the truest version of the events. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 11, 1920.

How Guilfoil came to be called before the hearing was not explained during his testimony, in the commission’s report, or newspaper coverage. Alexander P. Moore, editor of the Pittsburgh Leader, was a member of the nationwide steering committee that organized and funded the commission, but his paper did not report on Guilfoil’s testimony. The city’s other dailies headlined the appearance: “Pittsburgh Witness In Irish Probe P.J. Guilfoil Tells of Raid by Military on County Clare Town’ and “Local Man Tells of Burning of Town in County Clare.”27 Guilfoil’s testimony was noted in other U.S. newspaper coverage, but it was overshadowed by the same-day appearances of three former RIC men who quit the force in protest of British “misrule” in Ireland, and the sister of an Irish republican politician who had died on hunger strike.

Guilfoil died in 1946 at age 66.28 The obituaries do not mention his 1920 commission testimony, or suggest that he ever returned to Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

The main news from Ireland in June was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and approval of a new coalition government. From the Associated Press and other media reports:

Centrist politician Micheál Martin became Ireland’s new prime minister on June 27, fusing two longtime rival parties into a coalition four months after an election that upended the status quo.

The deal will see Martin’s Fianna Fail govern with Fine Gael — the party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar —and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the 1920s civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never before formed a government together.

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

Under the plan approved by the three parties’ memberships, Martin is taoiseach, or prime minister until the end of 2022. He then hands the job back to his predecessor, Varadkar, who has won high praise for steering the country through the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Varadkar will serve as deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

The historic coalition pushed aside leftist Sinn Fein, which did better than expected in the February election, but failed to run candidates in all constituencies and could not attract coalition partners. It becomes Ireland’s main opposition party.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the principal chamber of the Irish legislature. Sinn Fein has 37 seats; Fine Gael has 35, and Greens have 12 seats. The balance are other small parties and independents.

Other headlines from June:

    • Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy clan sister who as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s helped pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement, died at 92. “The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy,” she said in 1998.
    • Statues are being toppled around the world as protesters rise up against racism and other forms of oppression. TheJournal.ie offered a round up of statues and monuments already removed from Irish streetscapes (Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin), and those that could soon disappear (Columbus in Galway).
    • In a Washington Post op-ed, former Seattle police chief and Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, and Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant and former diplomat, wrote about their efforts to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • A post-Brexit opinion poll found the U.K. departure from the E.U. has squeezed the political middle in Northern Ireland and pushed more people into unionist and nationalist trenches, The Guardian reported.
    • Bloomberg profiled notorious businessman Sean Quinn.
    • Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council. Mexico, India, and Norway also were selected for the same two-year terms on the 15-member panel.
    • The false widow spider, an invasive species first spotted in Ireland in 1998, has been multiplying quickly and is more venomous than first assumed, researchers at NUI Galway have found.
    • All in the family: New analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, the Stone Age tomb mounds in the Boyne River valley, reveals a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child, or brother and sister. The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built the mounds 5,000 years ago lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite.

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.

Three stories published beyond the blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election: Part 1

“The Irish republic leaders were so surprised, or angry, or both, that they refused to talk last night.”1

***

By early June 1920, Éamon de Valera had spent nearly a year traveling across America to raise money and political support for the fledgling Irish republic. The Sinn Féin leader had escaped from a British prison and crossed the Atlantic as a stowaway aboard the steamship Lapland. Left untouched by U.S. officials, he was mostly cheered by the Irish diaspora, first-generation Irish Americans, and other anti-British or pro-freedom supporters. Thousands donated to the bond drive he helped launch in January 1920 to fund Dáil Éireann, the separatist parliament in Dublin.

There were problems, too. Congressman William E. Mason, an Illinois Republican, failed to gain traction for a bill to provide U.S. government recognition of the Dáil. Worse, divisions widened between de Valera and his supporters, and the Friends of Irish Freedom, the U.S.-based activists who believed they should steer Ireland’s bid for American political support.

Now, both sides headed to the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention, held June 8 to 12 in Chicago. Their goal was to fasten a plank of support for Ireland in the party’s official political platform. For de Valera, the effort began with a torchlight procession down Michigan Avenue, which concluded with a rousing speech to 5,000 inside the Chicago Auditorium, and the large crowd outside.2

Photo and original caption from the Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1920. The sign says, “Our Dead in France Demand Ireland’s Freedom. Don’t Break Faith with Our Dead.” The marchers waved U.S. flags to generate enthusiasm and avoid protest.

“I cannot believe the committee framing the platform for the Republican Party will be content unless they include such a plank,” he said. “I know all of Chicago wants this–I know the entire country wants this–I have been all over the country and I know. The Republicans must promise to recognize the Irish republic.”

His public confidence was misplaced. Despite efforts behind the scenes to broker a compromise between the Irish factions, both sides submitted plank proposals. De Valera asked the Republicans to call on the U.S. government to provide the Irish republic with “full, formal and official recognition.” New York State Justice Daniel F. Cohalan, a Friends of Irish Freedom leader, asked the G.O.P. to “recognize the principle that the people of Ireland have the right to determine freely, without dictation from outside, their own governmental institutions.”

A convention subcommittee rejected de Valera’s measure by 12-1. It passed Cohalan’s proposal 7-6, but a committee member later changed his vote, reportedly after hearing de Valera’s public grumbling. The Republican Party “gladly dropped” any reference to Ireland from its platform, David McCullagh has written.3 Consternation prevailed on both sides of the Irish split.

Whether the plank failed “because of dissension among its proponents or because of some consideration on the part of the committee of American interests we do not know,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized.4 “It got far enough to give Americans serious occasion for meditation on the subject of the Irish cause as a factor in our most important foreign relations.”

Less then two years after the armistice ending the Great War, however, the editorial concluded:

[We must not] produce a condition from which war [with ally Britain] is likely, if not certain … Sympathy for those [Irish] we think victims of injustice is a worthy emotion, but it is our duty to consider the welfare of our own people. …  In this case the American people would not make the sacrifice, and in our opinion ought not to make it, whether from the viewpoint of national expediency, or on the perhaps higher ground of world welfare. Irish independence is not worth the embroilment of America and Great Britain. The quicker we realize that the better for all concerned, not excepting the Irish people themselves.

Opposing Viewpoints

Each side of the Irish split offered it own post-convention analysis of the failure in Chicago. The Washington, D.C.-based News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom never mentioned de Valera by name as it scolded the “brass band dictatorial and unwarranted methods” of putting forward a plank “that never had even a remote chance of adoption.”5 The Friends, founded shortly before the 1916 Easter Rising to “encourage and assist any movement that will tend to bring about the national independence of Ireland,” by 1920 numbered 100,000 regular members, with an additional 175,000 associate members, and claimed to represent 20 million “Americans of Irish blood.”6

The News Letter continued:

American activities on behalf of Ireland must be directed by American brains … The Americans who founded the Friends of Irish Freedom and gave it life and a powerful voice in American affairs are first, last and always, Americans. American leadership only will they follow in shaping American activities in behalf of the people of Ireland.

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the Dáil, exaggerated the size of his Michigan Avenue procession by a factor of at least 10: “100,000 Hail De Valera in Chicago,” proclaimed the June 19 front page headline. Unsurprisingly, its coverage downplayed the failure to pass the plank. “Though the immediate objective of President De Valera was not obtained, the way has been cleared and attention forcibly focused upon the clear issue of the recognition of the Irish Republic.”

This cartoon appeared June 11, 1920, in the Chicago Tribune as the U.S. Republican Party held its presidential nominating convention in the city.

In two editorials, the paper blamed Cohalan and the “Irish Americans” for the plank failure, and dismissed suggestions that de Valera made trouble for himself and the Irish republican cause in Chicago by meddling in American politics:

“He did not go there to sell Irish votes or speak for the Irish race in America,” the paper said. “[He] made no attempt at any time to interfere in purely American concerns, nor did he at any time attempt to interfere in American votes. His aim was and is to win the friendship of all the American people irrespective of their political affiliation.”7

At the end of June 1920, de Valera traveled west to San Francisco, where he attempted to insert a similar Irish plank into the Democratic Party platform. That will be the subject of Part 2 in early July.8

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ll be reducing the number of new posts and republishing some of my earlier work over the summer as I work on larger projects for the fall and beyond. Stay safe. Here’s the May roundup:  

  • At least 1,652 people have died of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland, with another 522 in Northern Ireland. Both sides of the border are beginning to ease some lock-down restrictions in place since mid-March.
  • “The Irish Blessing” – an initiative of 300 religious congregations from different denominations on the island  – is intended as a blessing of protection on frontline workers battling the pandemic. Watch and listen to the recorded version of “Be Thou My Vision” below:

  • U.S media outlets widely reported the COVID-19 relief generously supplied by the Irish people to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation as repayment of a donation the Choctaw Nation sent to starving Irish families during the Great Famine.
  • Nearly four months after the general election in the Republic failed to produce a governing majority, coalition talks continue to grind forward. “Slowly, at times almost imperceptibly, Fianna FáilFine Gael and Green Party negotiators are crawling towards a government, conscious that public and political patience is running out,” The Irish Times reported. Party leaders had hoped for a deal by June. Now they wonder if one can be achieved by the middle, or even the end, of the month. “As always, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
  • The U.K.’s highest court ruled that the former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams should not have been found guilty of unlawfully attempting to escape from Long Kesh prison in the 1970s because his internment was not legal to begin with. The ruling is expected to prompt more than 200 additional challenges from other former internees, including loyalists, the Belfast News Letter reported.
  • Ireland is vying against Canada and Norway for a two-year rotating seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. The vote is set for June 17. Ireland last held the seat in 2001; and earlier in 1981 and 1962.
  • The Ireland Funds America named Caitriona Fottrell is its new president and CEO, effective June 30. She has been with the global philanthropic network since 1993, currently as vice president. The Fund has chapters in 12 countries.
  • Ireland’s first direct container shipping service to the United States is set to begin in June, with weekly crossings between the Port of Cork and Wilmington, N.C., and Philadelphia, according to Maritime Executive. Readers of my series about New York Globe journalist Harry Guest‘s 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland will recall the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines operated a commercial shipping service between Philadelphia and Dublin-Cork-Belfast, from September 1919 until 1925.
  • Actor Matt Damon flew out of Ireland in late May after three months of unscheduled lock down at a €1,000 per night Dalkey mansion. … Irish-American actress Kate Mulgrew announced she might move to Ireland if Donald Trump wins reelection in November.

Greens join government coalition talks in Ireland

Three months after the Republic of Ireland’s Feb. 8 general election, three-party negotiations could lead to a new coalition government … or not.

First, center-right Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties agreed to govern together for the first time in order to block left-wing Sinn Féin, which topped the polling, from power. Now, the two historic rivals have invited the Green Party to join a coalition to control Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament.

The Dail chamber. Photo: Irish Times

The Greens’ insistence on tackling climate change and Fianna Fáil‘s concerns about the impact of that on farming and rural communities is a potential deal breaker. There also is reported tensions within the Greens about whether to enter such a coalition.

Even if elected lawmakers reach an agreement, the deal must be approved by two thirds of the Green’s grassroots members. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need majority approval from their members.

Pat Leahy, political editor at The Irish Times, writes:

They may or may not come out with a government, though history suggests so. Normally if a party goes into negotiations on a program for government, it comes out with a program for government. And normally if a party produces a program for government, its members approve its adoption. Though these are not, of course, normal times. (My emphasis.)

The three-way talks are expected to last until the end of the month. Sinn Féin says it remains open to forming a left coalition government with the Greens, independents, and other minor party progressives. Don’t bet on it. Given the massive disruptions and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be easier to sit in opposition for several years and build toward a majority in the next election, when life hopefully will have returned closer to normal.

Ireland has been in political deadlock since the inconclusive election in February. The caretaker government of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael has been forced to implement costly and extensive fiscal and political policies in response to the health crisis. The country is taking its first small steps toward reopening from quarantine.