Tag Archives: Sinn Féin

New British PM makes connections with Ireland


New British Prime Minister Keir Starmer has spoken by phone with Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris. They are scheduled to meet in London on July 17. Starmer also spoken with Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly. He is expected to visit the province within days. … Hilary Benn has been named Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Funding, and either repeal or modification of the Legacy Act, are top issues for the new Labour government in the North.

Leaders from London, Dublin, and Belfast met 100 years ago …

Leaders Ramsay MacDonald of Britain, William Cosgrave of the Irish Free State, and Sir James Craig of Northern Ireland discussed the Irish boundary commission and related matters four years after partition. Ransey was the Labour Party’s first prime minister. Image from the Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier, July 13, 1924. 


Nationalist Sinn Féin has emerged as the largest U.K. parliamentary party in Northern Ireland by holding its seven seats from the 2019 election while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost three seats in a split among unionists. Sinn Féin now has the most seats in local council offices, the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, and at Westminster, though the party does not take its seats in the London parliament.

The unionist debacle included the “political earthquake” of the DUP loosing the North Antrim seat held by the late firebrand Ian Paisley, then his namesake son, since 1970. The seat tipped to Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister. The Alliance Party captured the Lagan Valley seat held by Sir Jeffery Donaldson, the former DUP leader now criminal charged with sexual offences. Sorcha Eastwood, 38, is the first non-unionist and first woman to win the seat.

Political observers suggest the massive majority won by Labour at Westminster will foster a “reset” between London and Dublin, with implications not only for British-Irish relations but also between Northern Ireland and the Republic. More in the next update.


Labour has won a landslide victory in the U.K. general election, according to BBC exit polling. Party leader Keir Starmer will becomes the new prime minister. … Results from Northern Ireland are likely to remain outstanding until early July 5, U.S. Eastern time.


Voting is underway in the U.K. until 10 p.m. local time, or 5 p.m. U.S. Eastern time. The U.K. does not permit exit polling to be reported while the voting is ongoing. (Original post below the photo.)

Former U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, standing at right center, addresses the House of Commons on May 15. He was ousted by the Labour landslide. ©House of Commons


Voters in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom head to the polls Thursday, July 4. Many observers believe the election will boot the Conservatives from power after 14 years, five prime ministers, and one Brexit.

Northern Ireland, bright yellow, and the rest of the U.K.

Only 18 of the 650 seats at Westminster represent constituencies in the six partitioned counties of Ireland. Sinn Féin nationalists don’t bother making the trip to London. But the election results will matter as the North continues to find its post-Brexit footing as the only part of the U.K. with a European Union land border–the Republic of Ireland. The make up of the Northern Ireland delegation, and the full Parliament and new prime minister, will also impact ongoing speculation about holding a referendum on whether to re-unify Ireland.

Of course, both of these matters will be influenced by the still unscheduled national election in the Republic, which must take place by spring. And, too a lesser degree, the U.S. election in November.

In the 2019 U.K. election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won the most seats in Northern Ireland with eight. The resignation of party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has reduced that to seven. Sinn Féin also has seven seats. Michelle O’Neill, the party vice-president, is first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the power-sharing local government established by the Good Friday Agreement. At Westminster, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) hold two seats and the non-aligned Alliance Party one.

Sinn Féin, which took a beating in last month’s local and E.U. elections in the Republic, may not make gains in the North, but still could emerge with the most seats. On the unionist side, the vote could be split between the DUP, the Ulster Unionists, and Traditional Unionist Voice. This may help the Alliance.

The BBC offers this roundup of key races in the North.

Irish local and E.U. election outcomes offer surprises

Pressure continues building from within the coalition government to hold a national general election in the Republic of Ireland before the end of the year, perhaps Oct. 18 or Oct. 25. That brings this coverage of the local and E.U. election full circle (see original post at bottom). Remember, U.K. (Northern Ireland) elections are July 5. Happy Bloomsday and Father’s Day. MH

UPDATE 5: Counting completed

After a week of counting under Ireland’s proportional representation system, June 7 election totals are now complete. Among 14 European Union seats, Fianna Fáil doubled its previous total to four; Fianna Gael also has four seats, one fewer than before the election; Sinn Féin doubled from one to two seats; Labor took one seat and independent candidates claimed three. 

UPDATE 4: Local seat totals & turnout

With a 49 percent election turnout, the tally of 949 county and urban district seats shows:

  • Fianna Fáil, 248
  • Fianna Gael, 245
  • Independents, 227
  • Four small party total, 127
  • Sinn Féin, 102

Only 6 of 14 European Union seats had been resolved as of June 13.

UPDATE 3: Call him Mayor Moran

Independent candidate John Moran has emerged as Ireland’s first directly-elected mayor in his native city of Limerick. Mayors are normally elected by local councilors and for one-year terms. “If the new position proves a success, if Moran makes it a success over the next five years, it could well trigger similar elections in other local authority areas and potentially the biggest shake-up in local government in decades, the Irish Times reports. The story details Moran’s high-profile background, including work as a lawyer and investment banker in the U.S.

UPDATE 2: Time to undo Mary Lou?

Media speculation over whether Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald can survive her party’s poor election result is gathering pace, even as local and E.U. counting continues Tuesday morning (U.S. time):

“If Sinn Féin strategists were hoping to conduct their 2024 election postmortem in private, they might be seriously disappointed. The party is struggling to contain the fallout from the local and European elections and, for the first time, McDonald’s leadership is on the table as an item for discussion.” — Irish Times

“(McDonald) adopted an open borders policy which would allow mass immigration into Ireland. (Her) attempts to become respectable with the overwhelmingly liberal and middle-class Dublin mediocracy quite simply blew up in her face, as rising non-EU immigration has come to dominate the political agenda.” The Spectator

The unexpected level of lost support has cast doubt on the leadership of McDonald and her longtime status as a prime minister-in-waiting. Their fall from public favor has left Sinn Féin activists stunned, demoralized and speculating over whether the party needs a new leader in time for a general election that must happen by March.” Politico.eu

UPDATE 1: Uncoupled doubleness

” … The modern Sinn Féin on the one hand drew on the same kind of ethnonationalist identity politics that now fuel the far right across Europe, the United States and elsewhere. Yet on the other, it thought of itself as a progressive socialist party, committed to equality and inclusion. … This doubleness created a kind of ambivalence that was very useful in a society experiencing a very rapid transition from monoculture to multiculture. … And for about a quarter of a century, this accidental mechanism was extremely effective. … What we’ve now seen in the election numbers are the first effects of (an) uncoupling: a shrinking of Sinn Féin’s vote and the emergence of the far right as a potentially viable political force.” — Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times.


June 7 local and European Union election results in the Republic of Ireland have prompted fresh calls for a national government contest before the March 2025 deadline. Taoiseach Simon Harris has doubled down on his earlier commitment to have the existing coalition government run its full five-year course until spring. Harris, of Fine Gael, became the Irish leader in early April after the unexpected resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the main coalition partners, have done better than expected in the local elections, each polling about 23 percent. Independent and small party candidate surged to just over 28 percent of the vote at the expense of Sinn Féin, which fell shy of 12 percent. As of early June 10, U.S. East Coast time, 829 of 849 city and county council seats had been decided.

The outcome in Ireland’s 14 European Parliament races is still developing. Far-right candidates in other E.U. member nations have made gains, but the centrist governing coalition in Brussels is expected to hold.

Regardless of what Harris says, Irish political observers expect snap election will take place before the year-end holidays. Why should Ireland miss the “year of elections,” as at least 64 countries (plus the E.U. assembly) decide the representation of about half the world’s population. French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday was forced to call an election for later this month after his centrist alliance was roughed up by the right in his country’s E.U. ballot.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to an online poll at TheJournal.ie website favored holding the Irish national election before the end of this year. Disclosure: I participated in the poll on June 9 in order to see the result and take the screen grab shown here.

Regardless of when the election is scheduled in the next nine months, voters in the Republic will follow the electorate in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The national election there is set for July 4, with the Tory government predicted to fall to the British Labor Party.

A total of 136 candidates are running in Northern Ireland, nearly three dozen more than the last election five years ago. The more moderate Alliance and the Social Democrat and Labor Party (SDLP) are contesting all 18 constituencies, while the pro-reunification Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are each skipping a few races, according to the BBC.

The DUP were knocked off stride in March, when leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigned after being charged with sex crimes. He is not seeking re-election in his Lagan Valley constituency. The DUP had already lost top billing to Sinn Féin in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly.

United Ireland in 2024? Fiction and fact

Happy New Year! The arrival of 2024 means it is time for the reunification of Ireland, at least according to a 1990 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Declan McVeigh described the television fiction and its historical context in The National UAE:

During the brief discussion, Data gives Cpt Picard a list of successful armed rebellions in ages past, including “the Irish unification of 2024”. This prospect – debated between an entirely fictitious robot and a spaceship captain – was deemed by the BBC to be so objectionable that the episode was not broadcast unedited on U.K. television until September 2007, nearly a decade after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended the 30-year conflict known as the Northern Ireland Troubles.

This 1937 map shows the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland 16 years after partition.

The 34-year-old episode has been reported before but seems to be getting fresh attention now that the designated year has arrived. In fact, future documentaries about Irish politics are unlikely to cite 2024 as the year of the island’s reunification. Just over half – 51 percent – of northern voters would reject a unity referendum, according to an Irish Times/ARINS poll published in early December, while 64 percent of the Republic of Ireland electorate favors eliminating the 103-year-old partition.

Nevertheless, talk of a (re)united Ireland has grown since the 2016 Brexit vote removed Northern Ireland from the European Union. The Republic remains part of the E.U. The economic advantages of that membership have become as much of a driving force toward Irish reunification as the north’s shift to a Catholic majority, or the island’s geographic and historical integrity. Such economic factors were foreseen in a 1923 U.S. press dispatch from Belfast:

The war will continue until Ulster (Northern Ireland) joins the Irish Free State (now the Republic), or until the Free State relinquishes its insistence on a united Ireland. … Ulstermen declare they are not ready to give up their connection to England and never will be, unless it is shown that a united Ireland would be of benefit to them. … There is much speculation but little information in Ireland as to whether and when there will be a united Ireland. … Continued peace in the south, combined with loss of business or reduction of profits to Ulster industry, might shorten the separation.[1]United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

Talk of a united Ireland continued in 1924 as the Irish Boundary Commission began its deliberations through 1925. Ultimately, the 1921 partition lines remained unchanged. Newly released Irish state papers show officials discussed the possibility of redrawing the border in 1975 as a way of reducing Troubles-related violence. It didn’t happen.

The reunification issue has ebbed from time to time, but it has never ceased.

Below the Sinn Féin t-shirt logo are two quotes from Irish politicians that caught my attention late last year. They are followed by a passage from a New York Times op-ed about partition. We’ll have to see what really happens with Irish reunification in 2024 … and beyond.

Logo on the front of t-shirts being sold in Sinn Féin’s online gift shop. The marketing chatter says, “In every phase of struggle Irish America has stood with the cause of Irish Independence and Unity. Lets celebrate the link between Ireland and ‘our exiled children’,” a reference to language in the 1916 proclamation.  .

“Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future. In the words of Rita O’Hare, ‘We must keep going. A United Ireland lies ahead.’ ”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Nov. 11, 2023. O’Hare died in March 2023. She was the party’s general secretary and representative to the United States.

“They (Sinn Féin) think in their minds that they would get the United States behind a united Ireland. They wouldn’t. They would actually turn our friends into enemies.”

–Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Nov. 18, 2023. In September, Varadkar said, “I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.”

“It’s the unionists — the largely Protestant faction clinging fiercely to British citizenship and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom — who question the terms of the peace they live under and struggle to articulate their future. And it’s the Irish nationalists — those, largely Catholic, who regard the partition of Ireland as an untenable injustice — who are brimming with confidence.”

–Contributing writer Megan K. Stack, “A United Ireland May Be More Than a Dream“, in The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2023.


1 United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

The Anglo-American journalist who agitated the Irish

This post continues my exploration of American Reporting of Irish IndependenceMH ©2024

English-born journalist Cyril Herbert Bretherton wrote some of the most anti-Irish stories in the American press during 1920-1921. That he was a naturalized U.S. citizen hardly mattered to Irish nationalists on either side of the Atlantic. They accused him of being a liar, a spy, and a propagandist. Bretherton’s reporting probably reduced American fundraising for humanitarian relief in Ireland. His work at least partially offset pro-independence Irish writers such as Francis Hackett, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, who supported their homeland through books and mass circulation newspaper and magazine articles in America.

Bretherton remained unreconstructed after the creation of the 26-county Irish Free State, predecessor of today’s Republic of Ireland. “I am convinced, after studying the Irish carefully, both in their native land and in America, for a number of years, that they are quite incapable of governing themselves now, and I conclude from that that they never were capable of doing so,” he wrote in a 1925 memoir.[1]Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Real Ireland (London: A. & C. Black, LTD, 1925), p. 4.

C. H. Bretherton in 1921 U.S. passport photo.

Bretherton emigrated to America in 1906 at the age of twenty-eight after earning a law degree. In California, he joined the bar, worked as a journalist, and secured his new citizenship. But Bretherton returned to his native country at the start of the First World War. He enlisted in the military and was stationed in Dublin.[2]Pauric J. Dempsey, “Bretherton, Cyril Herbert Emmanuel”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009; and The National Archives in Washington, DC; Washington, Dc; (Roll 20) Petitions … Continue reading

Bretherton contributed to U.S. newspapers during the Great War. “One seems to step from the pier at New York directly into the war zone,” he wrote of German submarine danger in March 1916, a year before America entered the war.[3]”Story Of England’s Dummy Fleet Told To Herald Correspondent By Participant”, The Washington (D.C.) Herald, March 19, 1916. He became a correspondent for the unionist-leaning Irish Times in Dublin and the conservative Morning Post in London. In early 1920 he joined the upstart foreign news service of the Philadelphia Public Ledger at a salary of about $75 a month.[4]Bretherton was paid £20 per month, according to “Present Salary Schedule” in Carl Ackerman Papers, Library of Congress. The document is undated. Conversion uses 1920 rate of $3.66 per £1, … Continue reading

It was in this role that his coverage of the Irish war attracted attention.

Sinn Fein ‘schism’

In a September 1920 story for the Public Ledger and its affiliated papers, Bretherton suggested a “schism in Sinn Fein” was “becoming more evident.”[5]“Republican Army In Ireland Sole Barrier To Peace”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 3, 1920, and other papers. On the one side were “moderates … convinced that Ireland can get the substance of freedom within the empire for the asking and should not throw it away for a shadow of republican independence to which Great Britain will never agree.” Leaders of this view, according to his story, included Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith and Éamon de Valera, then in America to raise money and lobby for U.S. political support for the Irish republic.

On the other side were the “extremists,” Bretherton reported. They included the “strong man” Michael Collins, who believed “an independent republic can and will in the near future be realized.” Anyone who accepted to anything less, Bretherton wrote, was considered “a traitor to the cause.”

Bretherton did not attribute these views to named sources within Sinn Féin, the British government, or elsewhere. His reporting certainly was influenced by his boss, Carl Ackerman, London bureau chief of the Public Ledger’s foreign news service. Ackerman suggested the split within Sinn Féin at least two months earlier.

During their July 1920 interview, Griffith told Ackerman more than once that he would refuse to accept any peace deal that did not result in an Irish republic. Yet Ackerman insisted in the same story, “I believe Sinn Fein would give up this demand and accept a liberal form of home rule.”[6]From the second story of Ackerman’s four-part series: Part 1, “Hour for Mediation in Ireland at Hand; Ackerman Thinks America Could Act”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1920; … Continue reading In another story a few days later Ackerman reported on the “general belief in England that moderate Sinn Feiners do not have the power to control the Sinn Fein organization.”[7]“Both Sides In British-Irish War Await Move For Mediation”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 10, 1920, and other papers. This is the fourth story of Ackerman’s four-part series.

Carl Ackerman in 1920.

British spy chief Sir Basil Thompson, who had become a key source to Ackerman, encouraged this view. At the time the two men were privately discussing whether former Wilson administration advisor Edward House could mediate a peace deal between Sinn Féin and the British government. House had recently joined the Public Ledger payroll as a foreign affairs expert. Ackerman dangled the possibility of an American mediator–left unnamed–in his July 1920 reporting from Ireland. He quoted Griffith as saying Sinn Féin would “very seriously consider” such an intermediary.

Ackerman privately told Sinn Féin propaganda chief Desmond FitzGerld that British authorities were concerned the moderate wing didn’t have full control of the Irish republican party. And that could jeopardize the proposed mediation by House.

FitzGerald asked Ackerman what it would take to prove there was no division.

“If you, Griffiths, and other moderates remain alive two weeks after talking peace everyone will be convinced you control Sinn Fein. If you are all dead by that time it won’t matter,” Ackerman replied, according to his diary.[8]“London Notes”, Ackerman’s dairy, July 15, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

A month later, FitzGerald helped Ackerman obtain an interview with Collins. The Public Ledger promoted it as the first interview with the man who had eluded British authorities for two years. Ackerman’s story made a splash in the American press. But Collins’ comments underlined Sinn Féin’s hardline stance and effectively scuttled the proposal for House to mediate.

Sinn Fein will not compromise, will not negotiate, excepting as a republican government. Moreover, there will be no secret negotiation, no dealing with semi-official individuals. … Talk of dominion home rule is not promoted by England with a view to granting it to us, but merely with the view to getting rid of the republican movement.[9]“Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.

When Bretherton’s story about a split within Sinn Féin appeared a week after the Collins interview, it raised questions of whether Griffith and others had softened or compromised their republican views. This would have been a significant development.

The pro-Irish Gaelic American republished Bretherton’s story, just as it had done a week earlier with Ackerman’s interview of Collins. “Unconfirmed Report Of Differences” the New York City weekly headlined at the top of its front page. An editor’s introduction described Bretherton as “unknown in Irish circles” and noted that he did not provide direct quotes from either Collins or Griffith. The paper cautioned readers that it reproduced his story “with reserve.”[10]“Unconfirmed Report Of Difference” The Gaelic American, Sept. 11, 1920.

Negative reactions followed swiftly. One “indignant reader” wrote a letter to the Gaelic American that not only pointed out Bretherton’s English birth, but also accused him of being “a known liar and British spy.” The letter writer insisted: “His article is entirely manufactured. There is no Sinn Fein split.”[11]“Bretherton Is English”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 18, 1920.

Sinn Féin also reacted to the story. Griffith denounced it as “obvious English propaganda.” In two letters to the Gaelic American, Collins wrote that “talk of differences is an old policy with England. It is only to be expect at this time, when the situation becomes more and more difficult for her, shames her more and more before decent people, that she will leave nothing undone to break up the splendid solidarity of the Irish nation.”[12]“Letter Of Complaint From Michael Collins”, The Gaelic American, Nov. 6, 1920; and copy of letter on Dail Eireann stationary, Sept. 30, 1920, in Ackerman papers.

Collins demanded that John Devoy, the paper’s editor and longtime proponent of Irish independence, apologize to de Valera. Devoy and de Valera had publicly argued all summer about the best way to secure U.S. government support for Ireland. The Irish Press, which staunchly supported the visiting de Valera, also published the two Collins letters to embarrass Devoy.[13]“Gaelic American Editor Rebuked; Told To Apologize To President”, The Irish Press, Nov. 6, 1920. The Philadelphia-based weekly, which had feuded with Devoy since its launch 1918, accused him of “veiled approval” of the “purely English propaganda.”

The episode stoked division among the Irish in America, and between them and the Irish in Ireland. This would only grow worse.

Bretherton and the Public Ledger published a non-retraction retraction to Sinn Féin’s repudiation of a split. “These denials may well be accepted at their face value and as the last word on the subject, for in a case of this kind direct testimony of the parties concerned must always outweigh evidence that, however convincing, is merely circumstantial,” Bretherton wrote.[14]“Sinn Feiners Use Old Punishments”, The Norfolk (Va.) Ledger-Dispatch, Oct. 14, 1920.

But Bretherton’s story of a Sinn Féin split was proved prescient a little over a year later as the party and the British government agreed to a peace treaty. Collins, who emerged from hiding to help negotiate the accord, took the moderate position of supporting the treaty. De Valera became the “extremist” who refused to accept the treaty because it fell short of a republic, setting the stage for the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.

Collins “should have kept up the role of Unknown Assassin,” Bretherton wrote in his 1925 memoir, three years after the IRA leader was killed in an ambush. “Instead of doing that he allowed himself to be inveigled into writing to an American paper, denouncing a highly plausible story—concocted, perhaps, with the express purpose of ‘drawing’ him—of how he and Arthur Griffith were at loggerheads. A man who writes letters to the papers can never be mysterious or terrible.”[15]Bretherton, The Real Ireland, p. 23.

American delegation for Irish relief

The mid-December 1920 burning of Cork city by British troops prompted Irish activists in the United States to launch the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. Its goal was to raise $10 million in aid for victims of the war, regardless of whether they were nationalists or unionists, Catholic or Protestant. The committee also intended to use the effort to keep public attention on Ireland as U.S. president-elect Warren G. Harding succeeded Woodrow Wilson, who refused to recognize the Irish republic. The relief committee planned to launch of its nationwide fundraising appeal on St. Patrick’s Day 1921.

An eight-member committee delegation steamed to Ireland in advance to assess conditions and needs. Clemens J. France, a Seattle labor lawyer who had just lost a campaign for U.S. Senate in Washington state, headed the group. Author and journalist Samuel Duff McCoy of New York City served as the delegation’s secretary and chief writer. The other six members were agricultural and economic experts who belonged to the American Friends Services Committee; a Quaker humanitarian organization. Their affiliation was said to give the delegation a neutral perspective.

The delegation was only in Dublin for a few days when Bretherton produced a four-part series for the Irish Times titled, “Irish Distress and its Relief.”[16]Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times: Part 1, “The American Committee, Its Works And Aims”, Feb. 17, 1921; Part 2, “Nature Of The Problem, Suggestions To American Committee”, Feb. 18, … Continue reading The articles not only sought to minimize the need for American charity, but also criticized those involved in the effort. While the visiting delegation claimed to be non-political and non-partisan, Bretherton noted, “neutrality is a narrow plank on which to walk through the morass of Irish political strife.”[17]Ibid, from Part 1.

The Public Ledger distributed edited versions of Bretherton’s series to its more than two dozen member newspapers.[18]Public Ledger “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, Jan. 1, 1921” in Spurgeon, John J., 1921, in Ackerman papers. In addition to the flagship paper in Philadelphia, other titles included … Continue reading “Isolated cases of hardship, due to reprisals and burnings, certainly exist,” Bretherton wrote. “Probably there are not 20 such cases all told and the Irish themselves, if they choose, can take care of 20,000 such cases and still have money to spare.”[19]“No Pre-War Poverty In Ireland Today; Has Six Fat Years”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Feb. 23, 1921.

Bretherton was not the first journalist to minimize poverty in Ireland. For several years American correspondents had described the country as untouched by the ravages of the First World War, as compared to England and the continent. But Bretherton’s descriptions now threatened to undermine the relief committee’s fundraising campaign.

He accused the delegation of sending “lurid tales of Irish distress” to America. He disputed its report that 200,000 civilians were “in dire need” and insisted that “there are not in all Ireland 500 people in that condition.” Likewise, he said property damage in Ireland, estimated at $300 million by the committee delegation, “does not amount to one-tenth that sum.”[20]“Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

France, the delegation leader, quickly cabled the relief committee’s New York City headquarters with a statement for release to U.S. newspapers. France charged that Bretherton “has deliberately ignored facts which any unbiased journalist can obtain and which are known to Crown authorities.” France also said that Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times “obviously sought to persuade our unit that no relief need exists in Ireland, and since he failed in this absurd attempt he is apparently attempting to influence opinion in America.”[21]“Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.

Unsurprisingly, the hyper-partisan News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom agreed. The Washington, D.C.-based weekly blasted Bretherton for “industriously cabling” British propaganda to U.S. newspapers. It continued:

It is obviously to the advantage of the English government to make it appear to Americans that the need for relief in Ireland is small or non-existent. … Fortunately these isolated bits of fiction which have appeared in the American press are easily identified and refuted.”[22]News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom National Bureau of Information, no headline, p. 7, March 19, 1921.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

Bretherton also reported that the eight-member delegation risked being booted out of Ireland by the British government because it “placed itself unreservedly in the hands of Sinn Fein.” The relief funds, he alleged, “will go to the support of families of fighting Sinn Feiners interned or in jail or to rebuild houses burned by the Crown forces because their owners participated actively or passively in attacks on them.”[23]“Britain May Order”, Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.

Two weeks later Ackerman reported the American delegation would be allowed to stay in Ireland. He backstopped Bretherton by name in the story, revealing British authorities had not reached their decision until after his colleague’s story was sent to America. In other words, Bretherton’s story was accurate when it was published.[24]“Americans Asked To Avoid White Cross”, Norfolk (Virginia) Ledger-Dispatch, March 16, 1921. Ackerman also reported the American delegation was told to avoid contact with the Bretherton suggested Sinn Féin-affiliated Irish White Cross.

“You have cleared up the Irish relief dispute quite satisfactorily,” John J. Spurgeon, the Public Ledger’s Philadelphia-based editor, wrote to Ackerman. Spurgeon warned, however, that Bretherton “must not give even a suspicion of leaning to one side. There is a pretty general feeling over here (in America) among the Irish that he is exceedingly pro-British and anti-Irish and I don’t want them to have anything to point to.”[25]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 18, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

But Bretherton’s reporting had already cast doubt on the Irish relief effort. An Indiana newspaper editorial suggested:

Americans are entitled to the exact truth, as far as it can be obtained, in order that they may base their gifts on facts rather than rhetoric. It is known that throughout the war Ireland was one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The conditions (now) may be worse than Mr. Bretherton reports, and yet much less bad than we have been asked to believe. The disparity between the two estimates is such as to suggest the great need for a careful, nonpartisan and unbiased inquiry. The American people will insist, also, that what they give be used for the relief of all sufferers and not simply those of the Sinn Fein persuasion.[26]“News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis (Indiana) News, March 7, 1921, and other papers.

Others also questioned the need for American relief in Ireland. Protestant preachers in Pittsburgh passed resolutions and paid for newspaper advertising that disclaimed the relief campaign.[27]See my post “The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland“, Aug. 18, 2021. The Relief Committee collected $5 million—half its original goal—by the time fundraising ended later that summer. France, the delegation head, remained in Ireland after the other members returned home and the American committee continued to distribute money through the Irish White Cross.

Criticized, threatened & sacked

Bretherton’s reporting about the American relief delegation came as Spurgeon complained about the year-old foreign news service. The editor sent several early 1921 letters to Ackerman that detailed his criticisms, including too much document-based political and economic coverage and not enough human-interest features. Like other U.S. newspaper editors, Spurgeon also worried that his overseas staff failed to discriminate between “what to mail and what the cable,” the latter a steep expense to the business.[28]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, Feb. 3, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

Of Bretherton, Spurgeon wrote:

Almost daily he has cabled brief articles about ambushes, murders, fires, uprisings, and the actual daily happenings in every part of Ireland. Almost without exception these have been covered by the Associated Press. Result—duplication of effort and unnecessary expense.[29]Ibid.

Ackerman replied that Bretherton had no way of knowing what stories the Associated Press was sending to America. But he assured Spurgeon that the correspondent would “stop sending what you describe as small crime stories and devote himself more to the larger aspects of the Irish situation.”[30]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, Feb. 28, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

Spurgeon’s complaints might have prompted Bretherton’s work on the American relief delegation. Yet the correspondent continued to file stories about some of the same daily developments as the wire service. Bretherton’s story about the sensational Kilmainham jail escape of Frank Teeling, one of the IRA’s “Bloody Sunday” assassins, caught the attention of the Gaelic American. Still smarting from the “split” story five months earlier, the paper attacked Bretherton as “a notorious enemy of Sinn Fein who has previously sent fakes to America.”[31]“Was Teeling Rescued Or Murdered By Black And Tans”, The Gaelic American, Feb. 26, 1921.

Physical threats to Bretherton also emerged. In April 1921 Ackerman obtained a second secret interview with Collins, mysteriously datelined from “somewhere in Ireland.”[32]“Chief Of Irish Army Declares Fight To Go On”, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, April 3, 1921. Ackerman reported that Collins told him American correspondents “could have their own opinions and express themselves freely.” But the IRA commander objected to Bretherton’s story that accused Sinn Féin of murdering three Irish lord mayors: Thomas McCurtain of Cork city in March 1920, and George Clancy and Michael O’Callaghan of Limerick city in March 1921. Collins blamed the slayings on the British military.

Privately, Ackerman told Spurgeon: “Collins said that we need have no fear that as far as he and the leaders were concerned nothing would ever happen to Bretherton. He added, however, that the feeling against Bretherton was high in Cork and Limerick and that he never knew when someone who had a grievance might take it upon himself to harm Bretherton.” Ackerman also wrote that that he told Collins “there would be ‘hell to pay'” if any harm came to an American correspondent and the Public Ledger would not withdraw Bretherton from Ireland “because some members of Sinn Fein did not like what he wrote.”[33]Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, April 4, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

But Ackerman was lying to Collins and probably boasting to Spurgeon. A few weeks before his interview with Collins, Ackerman accompanied Bretherton to the U.S. consulate office in Dublin to help renew the correspondent’s American passport.[34]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – … Continue reading Then Ackerman sent Bretherton to the Baltics on assignment. He informed Spurgeon of his decision.

Ackerman’s April 4, 1921, letter about Sinn Fein threats to Bretherton. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress.

“I think it was wise to take Bretherton away from Ireland, as despite the fact that I think he was quite warranted in what he said about the American relief crowd, nevertheless, he was a constant thorn in the flesh to the Sinn Feiners in this country,” Spurgeon replied to Ackerman.[35]John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 29, 1921, in Ackerman papers.

U.S Consul Frederick T. F. Dumont, who signed Bretherton’s passport, also reported the episode to his State Department superiors in Washington. The correspondent “was compelled to leave Ireland … because he had aroused the enmity of Michael Collins and of the Sinn Fein press in Ireland by daring to take any other than the Sinn Fein view in his letters and telegrams to his newspaper,” Dumont wrote. He also suggested the Public Ledger was being threatened in America with reader and advertising boycotts unless it eliminated such coverage.[36]Frederick T. F. Dumont to U.S. State Department, April 23, 1921, in “Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, … Continue reading

Ackerman and Spurgeon continued to argue about the foreign news service into the summer. By August, Ackerman returned to America for a face-to-face meetings, which resulted in his resignation. Bretherton was sacked soon after.

Ackerman and Bretherton corresponded across the Atlantic at least until the end of 1921, according to Ackerman’s papers at the Library of Congress. Bretherton asked his former boss to recommend an American publisher who might be interested “in a small book about Ireland.”[37]C.H. Bretherton to Carl Ackerman, Nov. 14, 1921, in Ackerman papers. It is unclear whether Ackerman ever replied or helped. Bretherton’s memoir, The Real Ireland, didn’t appear until four years later from a London publisher. He never mentions Ackerman or the Public Ledger in the book, which was soon suppressed in a libel suit unrelated to his American correspondence.

Bretherton continued to work for Irish and British papers and wrote several other books. He married an Irish woman and is said to have been a devout Roman Catholic. He died in 1939, aged 60, in his native England.[38]Dempsey, “Bretherton, C. H. (Cyril Herbert)”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography.


1 Cyril Herbert Bretherton, The Real Ireland (London: A. & C. Black, LTD, 1925), p. 4.
2 Pauric J. Dempsey, “Bretherton, Cyril Herbert Emmanuel”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009; and The National Archives in Washington, DC; Washington, Dc; (Roll 20) Petitions For Naturalization 1815-2233; Record Group Title: National Archives Gift Collection; Record Group Number: 200; and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – Certificates: 20250-20625, 16 Apr 1921-16 Apr 1921.
3 ”Story Of England’s Dummy Fleet Told To Herald Correspondent By Participant”, The Washington (D.C.) Herald, March 19, 1916.
4 Bretherton was paid £20 per month, according to “Present Salary Schedule” in Carl Ackerman Papers, Library of Congress. The document is undated. Conversion uses 1920 rate of $3.66 per £1, according to Lawrence H. Officer, “Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791,” MeasuringWorth.com, 2023.
5 “Republican Army In Ireland Sole Barrier To Peace”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 3, 1920, and other papers.
6 From the second story of Ackerman’s four-part series: Part 1, “Hour for Mediation in Ireland at Hand; Ackerman Thinks America Could Act”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1920; Part 2, “Sinn Fein Leaders Willing To Let United States Be Jury”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 8, 1920; Part 3, “Plunkett Blames British Blunders for Irish Strife”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 9, 1920; and Part 4, “Irish Mediation Lacks Leader Only, Says Ackerman, Pointing To Factors For and Against it”, The Washington Herald, July 10, 1920. Each part numbered in different papers, but some editing might have varied.
7 “Both Sides In British-Irish War Await Move For Mediation”, The (Minneapolis, Minn.) Star Tribune, July 10, 1920, and other papers. This is the fourth story of Ackerman’s four-part series.
8 “London Notes”, Ackerman’s dairy, July 15, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
9 “Irish Never Will Accept Premier’s Terms—Collins”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 26, 1920.
10 “Unconfirmed Report Of Difference” The Gaelic American, Sept. 11, 1920.
11 “Bretherton Is English”, The Gaelic American, Sept. 18, 1920.
12 “Letter Of Complaint From Michael Collins”, The Gaelic American, Nov. 6, 1920; and copy of letter on Dail Eireann stationary, Sept. 30, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
13 “Gaelic American Editor Rebuked; Told To Apologize To President”, The Irish Press, Nov. 6, 1920.
14 “Sinn Feiners Use Old Punishments”, The Norfolk (Va.) Ledger-Dispatch, Oct. 14, 1920.
15 Bretherton, The Real Ireland, p. 23.
16 Bretherton’s series in the Irish Times: Part 1, “The American Committee, Its Works And Aims”, Feb. 17, 1921; Part 2, “Nature Of The Problem, Suggestions To American Committee”, Feb. 18, 1921; Part 3, “Causes of Unemployment, The Ex-Servicemen”, Feb. 21, 1921; and Part 4, “Promiscuous Charity, Reconstruction Schemes”, Feb. 25, 1921.
17 Ibid, from Part 1.
18 Public Ledger “Foreign Service Subscribers to Date, Jan. 1, 1921” in Spurgeon, John J., 1921, in Ackerman papers. In addition to the flagship paper in Philadelphia, other titles included the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Washington (D.C.) HeraldDes Moines (Iowa) RegisterMinneapolis (Minnesota) Tribune, and St. Louis Star.
19 “No Pre-War Poverty In Ireland Today; Has Six Fat Years”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, Feb. 23, 1921.
20 “Britain May Order U.S. Commission To Leave Ireland”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.
21 “Says Bretherton Misstated Facts”, The Boston Globe, March 10, 1921.
22 News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom National Bureau of Information, no headline, p. 7, March 19, 1921.
23 “Britain May Order”, Daily Eagle, March 2, 1921.
24 “Americans Asked To Avoid White Cross”, Norfolk (Virginia) Ledger-Dispatch, March 16, 1921.
25 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 18, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
26 “News From Ireland”, The Indianapolis (Indiana) News, March 7, 1921, and other papers.
27 See my post “The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland“, Aug. 18, 2021.
28 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, Feb. 3, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
29 Ibid.
30 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, Feb. 28, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
31 “Was Teeling Rescued Or Murdered By Black And Tans”, The Gaelic American, Feb. 26, 1921.
32 “Chief Of Irish Army Declares Fight To Go On”, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, April 3, 1921.
33 Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, April 4, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
34 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 1570; Volume #: Roll 1570 – Certificates: 20250-20625, 16 Apr 1921-16 Apr 1921.
35 John J. Spurgeon to Carl Ackerman, March 29, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
36 Frederick T. F. Dumont to U.S. State Department, April 23, 1921, in “Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, general 841d.00, Roll 218.” Microfilm reviewed at Harvard University, 2022.
37 C.H. Bretherton to Carl Ackerman, Nov. 14, 1921, in Ackerman papers.
38 Dempsey, “Bretherton, C. H. (Cyril Herbert)”, in online Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Why latest Dublin riot rattles Irish republic

The Republic of Ireland faces a reckoning in the wake of Nov. 24 violence in Dublin.

The episode began with the stabbing of three children and one adult outside a local school, reportedly at the hand of an immigrant, quickly followed by a spasm of right-wing looting, arson, and attacks on police. Now, the Irish government and people must take a hard look at tension between the country’s growing non-native population and rising anti-immigrant ideology, and the even tougher challenges of economic equality in a world transformed by globalism and technology.

“The Dublin riots have changed everything,” The Irish Times proclaimed in a next-day headline.

Changed utterly? Perhaps.

Screen grab of images from the Nov. 24 riot in Dublin.

This was not the first time street violence and looting have flared in the Irish capital. It’s worth remembering that the April 1916 Easter Rising began with high-minded nationalist ideals. But it also included opportunistic looting and indiscriminate arson that had nothing to do with republican aspirations.

Most recently, the February 2006 “Love Ulster” riot is the more precise precursor of the latest unrest. It resulted when a group of Northern Ireland unionists came to Dublin to protest alleged government collusion with the IRA. They were met by dissident republican counter protestors. The two groups clashed with each other and the police. Historian John Dorney detailed the event, based on personal observations, on The Irish Story website he edits.

Replying to my outreach on the latest event, Dorney wrote that the 2006 riot started as “a small demonstration of political extremists that attracted a wider crowd of people basically looking for trouble. The looting was the same. The geography of these disturbances was almost exactly the same as those, also.”

What’s different this time around, Dorney continued, is the level of destruction and the driving ideology.

“You have a segment of young people, mostly males, a lot of whom are involved in petty crime or anti-social behavior who have been recruited by anti-immigrant agitators in Dublin over the past year or so. … Thanks to the internet a lot of them believe in conspiracy theories like ‘the great replacement’. We have social media to thank for this.”

Simmering trouble, uncertain future

Kindling for the recent riot has gathered at least since the start of the COVID pandemic. It was apparent in September as 200 right-wing protestors harassed and threatened politicians, government staff, and journalists outside Leinster House, the republic’s legislative home. In addition to anti-immigrant messages, the crowd appeared driven by COVID conspiracy theories, attacks on transgender rights, and other grievances, such as Ireland’s (especially Dublin’s) affordable housing crisis.

Central Statistics Office, Ireland

Unconfirmed social media messages that a native Algerian was the perpetrator of the school stabbings fueled the latest riot. Details of the man’s nationality and status in Ireland have not been released by officials. But Irish census data reveals 20 percent of the population in the 26 counties was born abroad. The growth has been driven by enlargement of the E.U.; the arrival of more than 90,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion; and arrivals from India, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, and other places for a variety of reasons, Shane Harrison noted at BBC.com. Ironically, a Brazilian food delivery driver stopped the knife wielder.

“My Dublin-based friends are mostly internationals; many of them are people of color,” wrote Daniel Carey, a teaching assistant at the Dublin City University School of Communications and another of my transatlantic Irish history connections. “More than one colleague whose experience of Ireland has been overwhelmingly positive has reported being racially abused in the days since. At least some are considering their futures here. How did we – a nation of economic migrants – get here?”

Dublin historian Felix Larkin begins to answer that question by pointing to a broader “root cause of the malady which troubles our liberal democratic societies,” not just Ireland. He noted the American political philosopher Michael Sandel has identified the “competitive market meritocracy that deepens divides and corrodes solidarity.” With meritocracy in practice less based on ability and talent than generally acknowledged, the system leaves those who fall short with a sense of personal failure, hopelessness, humiliation, and resentment.

“That, in my view, is the most convincing analysis of the reason for the rise of populist movements today:  Trump and MAGA in the U.S., Johnson and Brexit in the U.K., and now Geert Wilders in The Netherlands,” Larkin said in reply to my outreach. He continued:

Ireland is not immune to this phenomenon: it has been bubbling below the surface of our society for some years, and it is a factor in the phenomenal rise of Sinn Féin. What we saw on (Nov. 24) in Dublin was an ugly manifestation of it, one not without precedent in other great cities of Western Europe and North America. All it takes is a spark to light the fire, like in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Those of us who value liberal democracy need to take heed.

Keep in mind that while Sinn Féin might have populist underpinnings, the party leans left rather than right. As Harrison observed, Ireland’s right-wing extremists so far have not yet rallied around a single personality or party. But in the early aftermath  of the riot, it appeared former UFC champion Conor McGregor was positioning himself for the role in a series of–what else?–incendiary social media postings. “Ireland-we are at war,” he wrote days before the riot in support of the boyfriend of 23-year-old Ashling Murphy, murdered last year by an immigrant.

American friends of Ireland should keep things in perspective. The U.S. State Department has not issued any travel advisories for the Republic; the usual Level 1: “Exercise Normal Precautions” status remains in place. The September protest outside Leinster House was hardly the same stuff as the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Ireland, thankfully, has avoided the mass shootings that plague American communities.

But as is true for the United States, the Irish will have to move beyond the knee-jerk cliches of political leaders claiming, “This is not who we are.” (Joe Biden, Leo Varadkar) and columnists such as Fintan O’Toole outdoing themselves to denounce the rioters as “scumbags” and “pitiful thugs.” That hasn’t worked on the MAGA crowd, and it won’t work in Ireland. As Irish artist Adam Doyle wrote in guest column for The Irish Times: “Demonizing and dehumanizing these communities pretty much ensures this will happen again. Calling people names and questioning their right to exist in the city means they’ll never trust you. You’ll never see eye-to-eye with someone who thinks you’re an animal.”

Catching up with modern Ireland

Here’s another of my occasional posts with headlines and curated content about contemporary Ireland and Northern Ireland. Enjoy:

Ireland’s Central Statistics Office released the country’s latest census figures, a snapshot of the Republic from April 3, 2022. Highlights include:

  • The population exceeded 5 million (5,149,139) for the first time in 171 years. This is an 8 percent increase from 2016. All counties showed at least 5 percent growth.
  • The proportion of the population who identified Roman Catholic fell to 69 percent from 79 percent in 2016. The “No Religion” category increased to 736,210 people from 451,941.
  • Almost 80 percent of Irish households have a broadband internet connection, up from 71 percent in 2016 and 64 percent in 2011. Nearly a third of workers indicated they did their jobs from home for at least part of the week.

The CSO’s Summary Report is the first of nine 2022 census releases. More detailed reports on topics such as housing, homelessness, and religion will follow throughout the year.

CSO graphic.

Other stories:

  • The Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party, which supports reunification of Ireland, followed last year’s historic Northern Ireland Assembly victory by defeating their pro-Britain unionist rivals in May council elections by a wide margin. Sinn Féin for the first time is the largest party at the local and provincial levels. The Assembly remains in limbo, however, due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s refusal to participate in the power-sharing government.
  • Ireland’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent in May, a record that surpasses the “Celtic Tiger” period of two decades ago. Unemployment in the North fell to 2.4 percent, slightly below pre-pandemic levels and just 0.1 percentage point shy of the record low.
  • Almost all sectors of the Irish economy will fail to meet 2030 carbon reduction targets, The Irish Times reported; while warming weather and rising seas continue to demonstrate the impact of climate change. A proposal to slaughter 200,000 cows to reduce methane emissions generated blowback from the agricultural sector, as expected, and from outside actors ranging from PETA to Elon Musk.
  • The Republic’s Department of Rural and Community Development has launched a 10-year “Our Living Islands” initiative to repopulate nearly two dozen islands from Donegal to Cork.
  • The New York Times detailed Ireland’s vanishing fishing fleet, following a similar story from Euronews.com in January.
  • Former President Donald Trump, now under state and federal indictments, earned nearly $25 million from his golf property in Doonbeg, County Clare, during his four years in office, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington has reported. The revenue was part of a $160 million haul from overseas businesses with interests in U.S. foreign policy. Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence each stayed at Doonbeg at taxpayers expense while in office.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

Ten Irish stories to watch in 2023

Happy New Year. Here are 10 stories to watch in 2023 in Ireland and Irish America:

  1. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is in April. Queens University Belfast plans to recognize the milestone, which certainly will draw American participation.
  2. Ongoing negotiations over the Brexit trade “protocol” between Northern Ireland, other parts of Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland, remains a contentious issue that threatens peace in the province. Yea, it’s confusing. Here’s an explainer from the BBC.
  3. Resolving the protocol also is key to restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly, which the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has blocked from operating since losing the majority to Sinn Féin in the May 2022 election. A new election is expected this spring.
  4. In addition to fixing the protocol and holding the election, the May coronation of King Charles III could have some impact on relations between unionists and nationalists in the North, if only symbolically. For perspective, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation occurred 15 years before the start of the Troubles. Charles has already signaled his impatience with the DUP’s tactics.
  5. May also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War in what was then called the Irish Free State. This will be the conclusion of the 12-year-long “Decade of Centenaries,” which began in 2012 with remembrances of the introduction of the third home rule bill and signing of the Ulster Covenant. It has included the centenary of World War I, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish War of Independence.
  6. U.S. President Joe Biden appears likely to travel to Ireland this year. His last visit was 2016 as vice president. In December, Biden named former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, as special envoy to Northern Ireland to focus on economic development and investment opportunities.
  7. Irish tourism reached 73 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, but industry officials are bracing for only single-digit growth or a potential decline in 2023. Full recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2026, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said.
  8. Met Éireann, the Irish weather service, says 2022 was the warmest year in Ireland’s history and the 12th consecutive year of above-normal temperatures. Climate change will continue to impact daily life, the economy, and politics on both sides of the border.
  9. Interim measures were announced last fall to sort out financial troubles at the American Irish Historical Society and Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, in New York City and Connecticut, respectively. It’s worth keeping an eye on these important organizations to be sure both are fully restored.
  10. Finally, here’s something that will not happen on the island of Ireland in 2023: a reunification referendum. See the “North and South” package of polling and stories from The Irish Times.

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

American editorials on June 1922 Irish elections

From The New York Times, front page, June 19, 1922

Five months after the separatist Sinn Féin party narrowly approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty to end the war with Britain, rank and file voters in the partitioned 26 counties of southern Ireland went to the polls on June 16, 1922.  The Irish Free State’s first general election was complicated by a pact between the pro-treaty faction of Michael Collins and the anti-treaty side of Éamon de Valera. The deal provided incumbent Sinn Féin members would not oppose each other. The publication of a draft constitution a day before the vote caused additional confusion.

It took days to finalize the results under the single transferrable vote system. There were allegations of voter intimidation and ballot irregularities. (Sound familiar?) At last it became clear that the pro-treaty Sinn Féin and candidates from like-minded independents and smaller parties prevailed with the support of three quarters of the electorate.

Below are six editorial views on the election from the U.S. mainstream, Irish American, and Catholic press. The opinions range from seeing the results as a clear mandate for the pro-treaty faction to just another sign of uncertainty and division in the fledgling nation. The editorials were overly optimistic, considering the Irish Civil War erupted before the end of June 1922.

“…the best indication of the defeat of the de Valera forces comes in the vigorous complaints uttered by their representative newspapers. … It would appear that the Irish settlement moves on from crisis to crisis, but those who are closely watching events are convinced that each crisis brings a satisfactory close to the rebellion nearer.”–“The Irish Elections”, Brooklyn (New York) Daily Times, June 19, 1922

“The election has served to strengthen the group which favors acceptance of the treaty. Moderates are usually in the majority everywhere. It becomes clearer that Ireland is no exception to the general rule which makes people prefer a peaceable settlement.”–“The Treaty Stronger”, The Boston Globe, June 21, 1922

“Not more clearly or emphatically could the Irish people have manifested their disapproval of lawless violence, or have voiced their desire for peace than they have now done. They have declared for the treaty and for the Free State in a manner which admits of no misunderstanding, and the malcontents will have no excuse for refusing to abide by the verdict they have rendered.”–“Irish Vote A Pro-Treaty Landslide”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1922

“The elections in Ireland have given the Free State a large majority, but the result is by no means conclusive. … the best that can be said of the election is that it gives an opportunity to create a temporary working Government in Ireland that, if sanity prevails, may tide over the present internal crisis and enable Southern Ireland to present a united front to England and to Northeast Ulster. … Ireland, as the result of the elections, has been given a respite, and a respite only.”–“Irish Elections Not Decisive”, The Gaelic American (New York), July 1, 1922

“With patience and skill Griffith, Collins and their colleagues brought about working arrangements with the Republicans and with the British. Their tactics have shown a complete realization of the problems of compromise, and a supreme confidence in the ability of Ireland to work out those problems to the ultimate ends of unity and self-determination. They have been justified to the extent that at the election just held a decisive majority of their fellow countrymen of Southern Ireland have voted with them to accept the treaty. The opportunity to test the treaty as a practical working arrangement has been achieved; the final test of the faith of those who have steadily believed in Ireland is at hand. … Will mutual forbearance, understanding and cooperation … go down before a storm of popular fury? We cannot think it.”–“Ireland: A Faith On Trial“, The New Republic, July 5, 1922 

“While the various factions of American citizens of Irish lineage were presuming to dictate to the people of Ireland what kind of a government should be established in the Emerald Isle, The Catholic Telegraph held consistently to the opinion that this vitally important matter should be left to the decision of those personally and immediately concerned, namely, the inhabitants of Ireland. We were convinced that this was the only proper way to conform to the principle of the self-determination of peoples. We felt that, if there were family differences “at home,” there was enough intelligence, patriotism, justice and charity among the sons and daughters of Mother Erin’s household to compose them satisfactorily. The political sea has not been without its storms, but brave and keen Irish statesmen have been steering their vessel to the secure harbor of national freedom. The Anglo-Irish Treaty has been approved by an overwhelming majority of the people: and the charter of the Irish Free State is now being drawn.”–“Voice Of Irish People”, The Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio), July 13, 1922

See my full American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

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


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.