Tag Archives: Sinn Féin

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

 

 

Ongoing analysis of Ireland’s 2020 elections

An overgrown canal bridge along the Boyne River, County Meath, July 2019

The ballots in Ireland’s Feb. 8 national election have been cast and counted. We’ve learned of Sinn Féin’s historic showing. Now, “tortuous coalition negotiations in the coming weeks will determine who, if anyone, can command enough support to lead the next government,” The New York Times reports. A new election might be needed. … The analysis below is mostly from outside of Ireland. I’ll refresh with newer articles at top until developments date these pieces. Email subscribers should visit the website to see the updates. MH

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What Happens Next in Ireland, Time, Feb. 14

For nearly a century, the center-right parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have had their way when it comes to forming governments, and both have refused to work with Sinn Féin in the past given their historic links to violence. That made sense when Sinn Féin was polling in the single digits and politically toxic, but a lot harder when they are the single-most popular party in the country.

Like many other advanced democracies of late, Ireland is now forced to confront the reality that its old political system—dominated by two main parties—is finished. That has serious implications for Ireland going forward, while at the same time adding yet another data point for the continued momentum of anti-establishment politics across Western democracies. Another reason Irish elections matter is that compared to other European countries seeing an upsurge of anti-establishment sentiment, Ireland’s economy was actually doing quite well.

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What do Ireland’s election results mean for the North?, Esquire, Feb. 14

The looming question, of course, is what will happen to the status of Northern Ireland, which has been in flux since the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. … I remain convinced that it would be god’s own craic if the British government manages to bungle its way into creating a 32-county Irish Republic.

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Did Ireland Go Populist-Nationalist? (In its own way, yes.), National Review, Feb. 14

Some Irish commentators … have been overanxious to deny the “populist” label that outsiders have attached to Sinn Féin. For many in Ireland, populist is not a synonym for a “bad guy” who is against the EU, doesn’t like immigration, or is generally right-wing.

Ireland has often flattered itself as immune to continental populism because it has, in the living memory of older voters, experienced the reign of a conservative, nationalist, and deeply Catholic government that sought to protect rural ways of life and make the economy a tool of foreign policy and statecraft.

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Irish Voters Cast Off Relic of Entrenched 2-Party System, The New York Times, Feb. 12

In recent years, successive public votes in Ireland to legalize same-sex marriage and repeal an abortion ban have pulled many young and dissatisfied people into politics, giving voters a chance to shake up traditions that were once rigidly enforced by the Roman Catholic Church. Their next target was Ireland’s ossified political hierarchy.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum conceded that the vote for Sinn Féin reflected the desire of a huge cohort of voters — young and old, urban and rural, working-class and middle-class — for new alternatives in a system that had long stamped them out.

The U.S. press on Sinn Féin election wins, 1918 and 2020

Ireland’s Feb. 8 national election has produced the unexpected result of Sinn Féin out-polling two mainstream center-right parties. As CNN reports:

The votes are still being counted but this left-wing, Irish nationalist party has pulled off a major political upset, breaking a century of dominance by establishment heavyweight parties (Fine Gael and Fianna Fail) and changing the political landscape of Ireland likely forever.

Dublin historian John Dorney, chief editor of The Irish Story, wrote on Twitter that some people (including Gerry Adams) are drawing comparisons to Sinn Féin‘s historic 1918 election shocker, when it swept aside the previously dominant Irish Parliamentary Party. By coincidence, both votes were held on Saturdays. Dorney cautioned, “It’s not really a good comparison.”

For perspective, Dorney reposted his centenary story about the 1918 election. “From this election comes the roots of the modern Irish state, but also of modern Irish Republicanism and its claim for a mandate for the full independence of all Ireland.”

Here are my own 100th anniversary posts about:

Here is more 2020 American press coverage of the latest Sinn Féin win:

From The New York Times:

Sinn Féin, a leftist party long ostracized from Irish politics over its ties to sectarian violence, won the popular vote and seized its largest-ever share of parliamentary seats in the country’s national elections … . The vote loosened a 90-year stranglehold on power by two center-right parties in Ireland and put Sinn Féin on the doorstep of joining a coalition government, a remarkable rebuke to a political establishment that tried to paint it as aberrant and unelectable throughout the campaign.

From National Public Radio:

Despite the peace [in the North], bad memories linger on both sides of the border, and Sinn Féin continues to carry the baggage of its historical association with the IRA. … Hence the reluctance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail leaders to even work with the party … But among voters, it appears that baggage has become lighter with time.

From The Washington Post:

Sinn Féin is rooted in the cause of Irish unity. … With the armed conflict in Northern Ireland largely over, it’s grown into a broadly center left party, contesting elections north and south of the border on a platform of tackling austerity and taxing the wealthy.

From NBC News:

Those who lived through “the Troubles” … will never forgive Sinn Féin for their historic link with the IRA, while the younger generation simply don’t have the same associations. The question now is whether Sinn Féin will turn out to be the party the older generation is so afraid of, or the party into which young people have put all their hopes.

From Bloomberg:

Irish stocks dropped as investors digested Sinn Féin’s potential influence on policy. … Betting odds suggest a coalition between Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin and the Green Party remains the most likely outcome.

3-way tie predicted in Irish elections as counting continues

UPDATE:

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

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

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

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Ruth Russell Talk is March 7 in Baltimore

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

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

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

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

Election week countdown in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland holds a general election Saturday, Feb. 8. Voters will decide 159 seats in the Dáil Éireann, or parliament, including a leader of the government, the taoiseach, or prime minister. Leo Varadkar, the leader since 2017, is seeking reelection. Members are elected by single transferable vote (STV) system from 39 constituencies, each returning from three to five members. … Major issues include how to handle the post-Brexit border with Northern Ireland and trade relations with Britain. Domestic issues include health care and housing shortages. … Below, I’m posting a selection of coverage up to election day, with the most recent stories at the top. I’ll publish a new post once the outcome is clear.

The weekly countdown is now closed. MH

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Saturday, Feb. 8:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time. About 3.5 million people are eligible to vote at 6,500 polling stations in 39 constituencies. Heavy rain and gusting winds are expected across the island, especially in the west.

Friday, Feb. 7:

Thursday, Feb. 6:

Wednesday, Feb. 5:

Tuesday, Feb. 4:

Monday, Feb. 3:

Sunday, Feb. 2:

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The new year got off to a fast start with the restoration of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, successful U.K. and E.U. Brexit votes, and announced Feb. 8 elections in the Republic of Ireland.

In the North, the Assembly’s three-year dormancy has laid bare “a state of deep crisis across the territory’s neglected public and political institutions,” The New York Times reported Jan. 22. Residents “wonder whether and how the regional government will be able to overhaul public services like health and education that have declined to the point of near collapse.”

Brexit Day is Jan. 31. Britain and the E.U. approved the separation and now begin negotiating a trade deal. Prospect, a U.K. publication, speculates on How Northern Ireland could use Brexit to its advantage.

With less than 10 days before elections in the Republic, polls show that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has fallen 7 percentage points to 23 percent since November, while rival Fianna Fail is up 2 points to 26 percent, according to a Jan. 26 roundup by Reuters. Sinn Fein was up 8 points to 19 percent and may play a role in deciding the eventual coalition government. Visit The Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast.

I’ll have more election posts in February. Now, other January news:

  • In America, the Jesuit Review, Ciara Murphy writes Ireland is fine with fracking—as long as it happens in Pennsylvania. Her piece hits close to home for me: the project site on the River Shannon estuary in North Kerry is near where my maternal grandparents lived before they emigrated to … Western Pennsylvania, center of the U.S. fracking industry and my birthplace. “For the Irish government to continue with the L.N.G. terminal on the basis of energy security for Irish people is to disregard the harm caused to people in Pennsylvania,” Murphy writes.

North Kerry LNG site.

  • Maps comparing Ireland’s island-wide rail networks in 1920 to 2020–the former being more robust–went viral on social media. The images came from a report by Irish and U.K. business interests to highlight the value of a shared all-island economy between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
  • There were 67 victims of paramilitary-style assaults in Northern Ireland in 2019, up from 51 in 2018, Foreign Policy reported, citing Police Service of Northern Ireland data, in a story speculating about a post-Brexit return to sectarian violence.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have revving her 2020 reelection campaign, has been appointed chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, a largely ceremonial role. She is expected to hold the post through early 2025.
  • Marian Finucane, a longtime RTÉ radio journalist, died Jan. 2, age 69. She was “one of a small number of people instantly recognized in Ireland by their first name only … [a] testament to the intimacy of her relationship with listeners,” The Irish Times obituary said.
  • Former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, died Jan. 24, age 83.

Historian Catherine M. Burns on 1920 Women’s Pickets

I connected last month with America historian Catherine M. Burns via Twitter (@cmburns21) as I published my Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland series. Burns has written about the April 1920 women pickets joined by Russell, both in her dissertation, “American Identity and the Transatlantic Irish Nationalist Movement, 1912-1925” (cited in my series), and in her chapter on Kathleen O’Brennan in The Irish in the Atlantic World

Burns holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The New York Irish History Roundtable recognized her dissertation research with its award for distinguished graduate work on the history of the Irish in New York City. Her articles on Irish-American courtship and the Irish Home Rule movement in New York City have appeared in the journal New Hibernia Review. She has also written about Irish-American theater and the 1922 fight for control of the Irish consulate for Gotham, for the scholarly blog of the Gotham Center for New York City History. We conducted this question-and-answer via email.

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What is the background of the 1920 women’s pickets on behalf of Irish independence?

BURNS: Dr. William J. Maloney, an advocate for U.S. recognition of the Irish Republic, orchestrated the picketing in Washington, D.C. that began on April 2, 1920. The women he organized are often called the American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, but that’s not right. I found that women with more radical outlooks later formed that group in New York City.

Maloney envisioned the picketing as a short-term publicity opportunity and deliberately selected young, pretty women who could easily get their photographs in newspapers. He thought the pickets would spend a few days in Washington protesting outside the British Embassy before the Easter holiday. They would call on the British government to pay back war loans owed to the United States rather than funding warfare in Ireland. All the while, the women would pose for newspaper photographers who would, in turn, spread their images and the Irish republican message across the country.

Maloney was surprised when 10 pickets were arrested on the Monday after Easter and faced a federal grand jury. The arrests effectively ended his involvement. Women bolder than Maloney took over the picketing, extended it, and turned it into something more in line with the media stunts of militant women suffragists. Two days after the arrests, Mollie Carroll, a young actress previously paid to picket by Maloney, generated newspaper copy all over the United States by flying an airplane over Washington and dropping pro-republican handbills over the city.

How was the media coverage? What was the reaction from the Irish and Irish America?

BURNS: Prior to the arrests newspaper coverage was relatively even-handed although suspicious of the women because picketing was associated with militant women suffragists. [The 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was passed Aug. 19, 1920.] Several newspapers throughout the country published photographs of a regal and somberlooking Mary Manning Walsh, co-leader of the picketing, carrying a sign reading: “England: American women condemn your reign of terror in the Irish Republic.” Maloney had hoped the picketing would brand Walsh as the face of women’s support for the Irish Republic in the United States. This did not come to pass, but Walsh did succeed in drawing the kind of attention Maloney envisioned. After police took pickets into custody, newspapers tended to portray the women as somewhat dangerous. Headlines describing Mollie Carroll’s airplane leafleting as a “bombingof the British Embassy served to imply that the violence of the Irish War for Independence had come to the United States.

Capt. Robert Emmet Doyle and Mary Manning Walsh, 1920.

Daniel Cohalan, the leader of the Friends of Irish Freedom, was also suspicious of Maloney and the pickets. He and his associates gathered intelligence on them, eager to see if they were being directed by Sinn Féin. The Friends advocated for Irish self-determination but stopped short of demanding that the United States risk its relationship with London by recognizing the Irish Republic. Maloney and the pickets rejected this view. Some newspapers, including the Washington Post, stated that the Friends were behind the pickets. Such reporting dismayed Cohalan.

In addition to Ruth Russell, who were the other journalists in the crowd?

BURNS: The Easter 1920 picketing venture was designed to appear in newspapers and female journalists and recognizable women with media connections helped to generate the publicity that Maloney and the pickets desired.

Hammon Lake County Times, April 13, 1920.

Picket Honor Walsh of Philadelphia made her living as a journalist and editor with the Catholic Standard and Times. Constance Todd, a magazine writer married to a Washington newspaper correspondent, was on picket duty. So too was Rosa Hanna, wife of the socialist journalist Paul Hanna. He penned sympathetic reports on the protest for the New York Call. Pickets Theresa Russell and Matilda Gardner were both prominent woman suffragists, but they, too, had close family ties to journalists and newspapers. Gardner’s father was the editor of the Chicago Tribune.

I think journalism is key to understanding the involvement of Kathleen O’Brennan and Gertrude Corless in the picketing. O’Brennan was an Irish journalist and her family played an important role in the revolutionary movement in Ireland. She relayed select information about the pickets to reporters, emphasizing their Protestant faiths and long family lineages in the United States in order to claim that people outside of Irish circles supported the Irish Republic. Gertrude Corless—who shared a Washington hotel room with Ruth Russellserved as the pickets’ co-leader and public spokesperson. Notably, she had ties to the Hearst newspapers. In 1920, the Hearst newspapers backed Irish envoy Harry Boland’s scheme to generate anti-British sentiments in the United States. Corless was the private secretary of an editorial writer who penned pro-republican editorials for Hearst newspapers. As picket co-leader, Corless directed the production of such propaganda.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the full ad:

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

COMMISSION TESTIMONY

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

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

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

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

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

And her views about the Irish republican leaders she met?

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

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

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

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

Manly did not ask her for details.

PRESS COVERAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest post: The slow death of the Freeman’s Journal

Historian Felix M. Larkin specializes in the study of Irish newspapers, especially the Freeman’s Journal, the prominent Dublin daily published from 1763 to 1924. (See his website and our 2017 Q&A.) In October 1919, Irish writer Seumas MacManus noted the Freeman’s troubles in a U.S. newspaper column, excerpted in my Oct. 13 post. I asked Felix to write this guest post after he rightly corrected one of my notes at this centenary of a key moment in the Freeman’s history. MH

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On Oct. 27, 1919, Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal newspaper was sold to a prominent local businessman, Martin Fitzgerald, and a former English journalist now living in Ireland, Robert Hamilton Edwards. The Freeman had been associated with the Irish home rule movement for the previous four decades– back to Charles Stewart Parnell’s time – and its sale represented the final step in the fall of that movement, which began with the 1916 Rising and culminated in the victory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election.1

Founded in 1763, the Freeman had become an important newspaper under the ownership of the Gray family from 1841 to 1892. Though more moderately nationalist in editorial policy than Parnell, it had eventually accepted his leadership and had remained loyal to him at the outset of the Parnell ‘split’ in 1890.2 However, when the anti-Parnellites launched their own daily newspaper, the National Press, in March 1891 and the Freeman began to lose circulation and revenue as a result, it switched sides. The Freeman and the National Press later merged in March 1892. There followed a long and bitter struggle for control of the paper between rival anti-Parnell factions led by Tim Healy and John Dillon, both MPs; this struggle was ultimately resolved in the latter’s favor in 1896.

Thomas Sexton, another prominent anti-Parnell MP, became chairman of the Freeman company in 1893. He remained chairman until 1912. The period of Sexton’s chairmanship was one of relentless decline in the Freeman’s fortunes. The National Press had inflicted grave damage on it, and it continued to face strong competition from the Irish Daily Independent – established as a pro-Parnell organ when the Freeman changed sides in the ‘split’, but purchased by William Martin Murphy in 1900 after the ‘split’ was healed. The Freeman thus lacked funds for investment and was unable to respond to the greatly increased demand for newspapers nationally at this time.

In contrast, Murphy transformed the Independent into a modern, mass-circulation organ. It soaked up the increased demand for newspapers and became the market leader. The Freeman began as a result to incur trading losses, and no dividends were paid by the company after 1908. The home rule leaders eventually acted to save it and forced Sexton’s resignation in 1912. It was subsequently run by a group of party stalwarts and subsidized from party sources, and its parlous condition was exacerbated by the destruction of its premises during the 1916 Rising. After the Rising, money was raised from home rule supporters in Britain and in the United States, as well as in Ireland, in a desperate effort to keep it afloat.3

Following the 1918 general election, the company – without the financial support of the now defunct home rule party –collapsed and went into liquidation.4 It was then purchased by Fitzgerald and Edwards as a commercial venture. Fitzgerald – a wholesale wine and spirit merchant – had been a home ruler and the Freeman’s new management soon committed itself to a policy of advocating dominion status for Ireland.

Martin FItzgerald

It was an inauspicious time to attempt to revive an ailing Irish newspaper of moderate nationalist sympathies. The difficulties that the new owners encountered were extraordinary. The Freeman was suppressed by the British military authorities for seven weeks from December 1919 to January 1920; Fitzgerald, Edwards and the editor, Patrick Hooper, were imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail for a month at Christmas 1920 following publication by the Freeman of a story about army brutality; and after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which was strongly supported by the Freeman, its printing presses were smashed in March 1922 by a raiding party of 200 anti-Treatyites.

Fitzgerald played a role in the process leading up to the 1921 Treaty. Once the Government decided to explore settlement possibilities, he was able to use his standing as a newspaper proprietor to act as an intermediary between Sinn Féin and Dublin Castle.5 He was in regular contact both with Michael Collins and with Alfred Cope, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Castle. Cope, adopting the nom de guerre ‘Mr. Clements’, frequently visited Fitzgerald’s home. Their relationship took on a further dimension when, during the Treaty negotiations, Cope sought to influence the shapers of public opinion in Ireland to support the emerging settlement. Through Fitzgerald, Cope gained a measure of control over the contents of the Freeman’s Journal at that time.

The Freeman’s campaign in favor of the Treaty was generally regarded, even by many on the pro-Treaty side, as unduly partisan. However, the new administration in Dublin came increasingly to rely upon it for propaganda. In recognition of this, Fitzgerald was nominated to the first Senate of the Irish Free State in 1922. He served in that forum until his death in 1927. By then, the Freeman had succumbed to its many tribulations. The main factor in its eventual demise was that the partnership of Fitzgerald and Edwards had ended in grief when the latter tried unsuccessfully to corner the market in newsprint and then absconded, leaving debts which the enfeebled Freeman could not meet. The last issue appeared on Dec. 19, 1924.6 The Freeman’s assets, including the title, were later bought by the Independent. It was a sad end for a distinguished newspaper.

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For more on the Freeman’s Journal, see Larkin’s Aug. 21, 2012 guest blog for the National Library of Ireland, and May/June 2006 piece in History Ireland.

Three Irish writers on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. Below are short biographies of three native Irish writers and excerpts from columns they had published in October 1919.

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Harris

Frank Harris (1855-1931) was born in Galway and emigrated to America in 1869, age 13. He worked odd jobs and eventually moved west and earned a law degree. Harris returned to Europe and began his journalism career as a correspondent for U.S. newspapers before settling in London, where he worked at several publications. He began to write novels in the early 20th century; returned to America at the outbreak of the Great War; and became the editor at Pearson’s, a left-leaning monthly featuring fiction and arts and political coverage. In 1917, he wrote an essay “An Englishman on Ireland”. The column below was originally published in Pearson’s (linked) and syndicated to U.S. newspapers in October 1919. Two years later, Harris wrote another essay, “The Reign of Terror in Ireland”, and also became an American citizen.

How England Robs Ireland, from Pearson’s magazine

If I have fought for the ‘underdog’ all my life, and have championed lost causes continually without hope of success; if, as Bernard Shaw says, I have been wise by dint of pity, it is partly because in Ireland pity is a religion and the general atmosphere is softer and more affectionate than in any country I know, with the possible exception of Russia. … I can live in England with pleasure; I couldn’t live in Ireland or face Irish life for a year; it is too poor and drab. … Yet I am a Sinn Feiner and want to see an Irish republic, though twenty years ago I should have been satisfied with Home Rule; for I know that England is incapable of justice to Ireland … When (Ireland) appeals to kith and in in America she is insulted … America deserts you! or rather Mr. Wilson!”

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Desmond

Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) was born in County Waterford. An early (possibly first) novel, “Democracy”, was published in 1919. In a review, American author Upton Sinclair wrote “the work is deeply felt and intensely sincere.”1 Desmond went on to write more than 60 books, many of them about psychic phenomena, the occult, and spiritualism.

U.S. Converting Englishmen to Irish Freedom, from the New York Herald, Oct. 12, 1919

This is Ireland’s hour. There is not an Irishman throughout the world who does not feel it. England herself is feeling it. … In the twilight of the gods that to-day broods over Ireland the Irishman, whether Ulsterman or Southerner feels it. It is a feeling that rises above economic contentions, above policy, above reason itself. …

[Conservatives in Parliament] are astonished to find that Americans without distinction are ardent “Irishmen” whether they have Irish blood or not. When they hear of the Sinn Fein colors being carried down Fifth Avenue by New York regiments who are as anti-German as any Conservative among them they think it a horrible dream. To them it is as insoluble as so many other things American.

Ireland has put out the Sinn Fein constructive programme, which a prominent American lawyer told me the other day could be taken to any bank in Wall Street and money raised on it. Behind that programme is the brain of the movement–Arthur Griffith–for de Valera is only the inspirer. … I believe that Griffith and de Valera … feeling that the hour, which, if allowed to pass, may not return, has come, the psychological moment when Ireland has the ear of the world, are determined to put all on a throw of the dice. … We believe that English democracy has been educated to the point which has rendered Ireland’s self-government assured; that a way can be found out of the Ulster impasse; and that a little more patience will see the full fruition of Ireland’s hopes.

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MacManus

Seumas MacManus (1867-1960) was born in Mountcharles, County Donegal. The author, dramatist, and poet began writing for U.S. publications in the 1890s, including a 1907 piece for the North American Review, “Sinn Fein“: “Very quietly and silently, during the past decade, a change has been coming over the face of things political in Ireland … one of the greatest, most revolutionizing, that Ireland has known for a century…”  In 1917, he published Ireland’s Cause. His book Lo, And Behold Ye!, “of kings and peasants, of saints and sinners, of fairies and others of the tribes of little folk in a maze of bewitching Irishry”2 was making its U.S. debut at the time this column was published.

Forces Opposed to Sinn Fein in Ireland Are in State of Collapse, from The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), Oct. 25, 1919

Ireland is the land of pilgrims. And the season just ended together with the year 1918 have been far and away the most wonderful pilgrimage seasons Ireland has known since the Middle Ages. The 1918 threatened conscription–Irishmen fighting under England’s flag–made wonderful impetus for the pilgrimage movement, and hundreds of thousands journeyed in prayer and penance to their favorite holy places. …

The most significant sign of the times in Ireland is the fact that the Freeman’s Journal, the oldest newspaper in Ireland and a newspaper that for long years had carried by far the greatest sway in Ireland, has just gone under and disappeared.3 While Sinn Fein was growing the Freeman’s Journal was prone to libel the character of the movement and the men. This was done only to prevent the virile new movement from indecently hurrying the demise of the played out [Irish Parliamentary Party, which supported late 19th century home rule.]

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.