Tag Archives: The Irish Press

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

“It is an anxious time for Northern Ireland’s unionists. Catholics will soon outnumber Protestants … and Brexit is wobbling the UK’s constitutional edifice. Conceivably, within a decade, a majority could vote in a border poll to join a united Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday agreement,” the Guardian reported about this year’s Twelfth celebrations.

ORIGINAL POST:

In a fiery July 12, 1919, speech near Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Edward Carson warned that changing Ireland’s government to a republic or home rule status would result in him calling out the Ulster Volunteers, an implicit threat of arms against the British authorities.

“Don’t let us talk. Let us be prepared for all and every emergency,” Carson bellowed before a large crowd of Orangemen.1

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

I today seriously say to America: You attend to your own affairs and we will attend to ours. You look after your own questions at home and we  will look after ours. We will not brook interference in our own affairs by any country, however powerful.

He took aim at the American Commission on Irish Independence (ACII), the three-member, non-government, delegation that visited Ireland in May on a side trip from its advocacy at the Paris peace conference. Carson said:

What right had the American mission to come to this country? To come here in a breach of hospitality on one nation toward another–to attempt to stir up strife in matters in which they were not connected? … The encouragement that those men gave to the Sinn Féin Party has created for His Majesty’s Government far more difficulty than they ever had before. I believe that the visit of these men and the encouragement they gave to lawlessness, which was being preached throughout the land, has added greatly to the campaign of assassination of innocent policemen …

Edward Carson, in 1919.

Carson also mocked Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, “who is now working against you in America with the help of the Catholic Hierarchy … and who imagines in his vanity that one day or the other he is going to march through Belfast and Ulster and you will all willingly take off your hats and bow the knee to the head of the organization, which in the darkest hour of the war for the world’s freedom shot his Majesty’s soldiers in the streets of Dublin.” De Valera was then one month into his tour of America to raise money and U.S. political support for an Irish republic.

An Associated Press report of Carson’s speech was widely published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers, which focused on the charge of American meddling and the ACII, not de Valera. The Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service cabled from London, “Sir Edward Carson’s simultaneous declaration against the British government, the  Sinn Féin, and the United States over the question of changing the present form of government in Ireland has met with general condemnation from the London press.”2

The Brooklyn Times Union was not fooled by the Carson’s hypocrisy, and noted on its editorial page:

Sir Edward Carson’s record for loyalty to his own country is not so immaculate that the citizens of the United States need feel greatly pained by his reckless and absurd animadversions … The politician who threatened to fight the British Government with arms rather than submit to the laws of the British Parliament manifestly does not speak for the majority of the people of Ireland and presumably speaks only for a small and bigoted moiety of any British constituency.3

The Kentucky Irish American published a rebuttal to Carson by ACII member Michael J. Ryan,  who noted that “Carson now asks that America should attend to its own affairs. This, however, is a change from the plea when the cry for help came across the ocean when England’s army faced certain defeat.” The piece also said the Ulster leader “represents intolerance and organized ignorance in Ireland.”4

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, dismissed Carson’s “Belfast outbreak” with an uncharacteristically restrained shrug.

We have in America–even if the breed be unknown in Britain–some politicians who ‘play politics’ and who recognize the elemental fact that there are men in this country who give or withhold their votes from an American candidate in an American contest because of his policy toward Ireland. So they act accordingly. But there was no need for Sir Edward Carson to warn the mass of the American people off the grass.  They were not on it.5

The centenary of Carson’s 1919 Twelfth speech comes as the Oct. 31 deadline for Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain to withdrawal from the European Union–Brexit–draws closer and talk of a united Ireland grows stronger.

“No flag will fly in Ulster but the Union Jack,” Carson was reported saying at the 229th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.6  Whether that remains true in five or 10 years remains to be seen.

The Union Jack flutters at a housing estate in the unionist Shankill Road section of Belfast in July 2016.

Select newspaper editorials on de Valera’s U.S. arrival

This is part of my year-long series of posts about American reporting of Irish independence, 1919, including the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s arrival in America. Below are select U.S. newspaper editorials from the start of his 18-month tour. The three Irish-American newspaper are hyperlinked to the corresponding page of the digitized issue. MH

The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, June 26, 1919

Crazy as the de Valera ideas may have seemed a few months ago, Premier Lloyd George has himself to thank for making them a serious element in the international situation … Delay in enforcing home rule was not inexplicable before the armistice. Since then the pernicious influence of Sir Edward Carson and the new dependence of the Premier on Tory support established by the [December 1918] parliamentary election are conditions, not explanations or justifications, for procrastination.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, June 28, 1919
Ireland’s President Visits America

The common people, who after all are what really count, do not feel themselves constrained to draw distinctions in the same way as Government officials. They do not believe that a Republic which has the support of the people living under it is a pretense–something to be named inside quotation marks–just because a foreign army is on its territory. … Few of the chief executives of republics represent so large a proportion of their people as does President de Valera. To emphasize these we need go no further than President Wilson (who in 1912 and 1916 received less than 50 percent of the popular vote, but put into office by the Electoral College.) … That ordinary people are indifferent to diplomatic formalities, and recognize Mr. de Valera as President of Ireland, is proved by the acclaim with which he has been greeted since his appearance in this country. … The friends of Ireland, who include all true Americans, will welcome the President, and will assist him in his efforts to make the heads of the American Government recognize the true status of Ireland.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 28, 1919
Welcome President De Valera

Of American birth himself and imbued with the American ideals of truth, justice and humanity, [de Valera] is particularly fitted to present the cause of Ireland to the America people. Of pure life, stainless character, and noble spirit and engaging personality his appeal cannot fail to engage the consideration of all Americans who cherish the traditions and policies of this great Republic of the West, and who are free from the obsession of British propaganda. A new Parnell has come to plead the cause of Ireland, but under circumstances that are far more promising and inspiring than those existing in the decade [1880s] of the visit of the great Home Rule leader; and he is asking not merely for colonial or dominion government of Ireland, but for absolute and complete independence, and in this stand he is sustained by more than three-fourths of his fellow countrymen. He seeks recognition of a government that is unquestionably of right as subjected to the tests of democracy and Americanism.

The Decatur (Illinois, 200 miles south of Chicago) Herald, June 29, 1919

These schoolmasters! One of them [U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a former college professor] brought his country into a successful war, defined the conditions of peace which brought the war to an end, and was the leading spirit a world court of peace enforcement. Another [de Valera] was a professor of mathematics in Dublin … [Though] there is nothing about Prof. De Valera suggesting the fiery Irish patriot of history … Ireland probably made no mistake in the gravely professorial Mr. De Valera. Schoolmasters have been known to turn out fairly successful politicians.

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Kentucky, July 5, 1919
Leader De Valera

…Irish skill and daring, in the hour of Ireland’s need, outmatched the might of the empire–outreached the lion’s claws! Like an eagle from the clouds, sudden [de Valera] is among us. … We are asked only to fill the war chest; to give a little work and a little money; to provide an Irish Victory Fund with which the last grim struggle on the field of world-wide public opinion may be waged and won. The Irish republic is a reality; but so is the British army of occupation in Ireland–and so is the British propaganda in America.

‘The Irish Press’ withheld news of de Valera’s U.S. arrival

In June 1919, The Irish Press of Philadelphia obtained one of the biggest international news scoops since the end of the Great War. It sat on the story.

Irish leader Éamon de Valera, who evaded British authorities to sneak aboard the S.S. Lapland at Liverpool, arrived June 11 in New York City. Reports that he was missing from Ireland and possibly heading to America were just beginning to appear in U.S. newspapers.

Éamon de Valera

For a dozen days, de Valera’s whereabouts remained a secret kept by a small circle of supporters, including  Joseph McGarrity and Dr. Patrick McCartan, publisher and editor of the Press, respectively. McGarrity met de Valera on his first night in New York. A few days later he welcomed de Valera to his home in Philadelphia, where McCartan briefed the visitor on American efforts to help Ireland.1

Joseph McGarrity

McGarrity and McCartan were both natives of Ireland: the publisher used his business fortune to bankroll the newspaper and other nationalist efforts, the editor was an elected member of the first Dáil Éireann. The “primary concern in the Irish Press remained the cause of recognition of the Irish Republic in the United States,” McCartan wrote of this period.2 A look at the paper’s June 14 and June 21 issues reveals just how deeply they deceived their readers to serve that cause, rather than transparent journalism.

Harry Boland

The front page of the June 14 issue reported that Harry Boland, another member of the Dáil, “recently arrived” in the U.S. as “special envoy” to America. In fact, Boland had been in the country for over a month. Shortly after his arrival he met with McGarrity and McCartan in Philadelphia.3 Boland also joined McGarrity to welcome de Valera the night of June 11 in New York .

Even more audacious, however, was the page 3 guest column by the Irish leader: Application of Our Principals Means Free Erin, Says De Valera.  The sub-headline, “President of the Irish Republic Forwards Statement to People of the United States,” implied that de Valera had mailed the commentary from Ireland. It is unclear when, from where, or even if he penned the piece:

All liberty-loving nations of the world owe to the Irish the recognition of the independence of Ireland, not only because of the indisputable right of the people of Ireland to govern their own national destinies, but also because that right is deprived by England on grounds which are a negation of national liberty everywhere, and subversive to international peace and order.

The deceit continued in the June 21 issue of the Press. Tucked in the bottom right corner of the front page were two small briefs that speculated about de Valera’s whereabouts:

  • The first, dated June 17, suggested “well-informed circles” in Paris reported he was in Switzerland, but “the nature of the mission could not be learned.”
  • A June 11 Universal Services dispatch from Dublin suggested de Valera left Ireland June 1 “on an unknown mission” to England. “The news comes as a surprise to all Ireland. Speculation as to the purpose of his trip and his present whereabouts is intense.”

Dr. Patrick McCartan

This was pure nonsense and misdirection, truly “fake news,” from McGarrity and McCartan, who knew de Valera had been in America for 10 days. Their newspaper was just playing along with similar stories in the mainstream U.S. press. McCartan wrote:

We kept secret the manner of his coming. His arrival when announced, created a great sensation, and the mysterious ease with which he had eluded the British added to the popular interest in him. … Nothing was lacking to make him a popular hero. And America was eager to see him and to do him homage.4

Finally, in its June 28 issue, the Press headlined:

Irish President Reaches America

Eamon de Valera, Head of Republic, Arrives in New York.

To Work for Recognition.

The story was dated June 25, two days after de Valera’s public debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. McGarrity and McCartan were among the hundreds of supporters packed into the ballroom reception.5 The Press story was silent as to when de Valera arrived in America, but noted that speculation about him “had been reported for some days … [and] concoctions of all sorts had been published in the newspapers.”

The Irish Press had perpetrated the biggest concoction of all.

Hiding Disney’s Florida land deals

Other newspapers have withheld information from their readers for what publishers believed to be a greater good. In the early 1960s, for example, Orlando, Florida, newspaper publisher Martin Andersen tamped down news that entertainment entrepreneur Walt Disney was buying huge tracts of acreage in the central part of the state for a second Disneyland theme park. The Orlando Sentinel recalls the story.

June 1919: U.S. editorials on Senate support for Ireland

On June 6, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution requesting the Paris peace conference to give a hearing to the delegation appointed by Dáil Éireann, and expressing sympathy with the “aspirations of the Irish people for a government of their own choice.” The U.S. House of Representatives had voted in favor of self-determination for Ireland in early March, on the last day of the previous legislative session, but a parliamentary maneuver by opponents delayed consideration in the Senate.

The combined legislative action “prove that there is in this country a general feeling in favor of having the case of Ireland presented at the peace conference,” The Washington Post editorialized a day after the Senate vote.1 The capital daily continued:

The present condition of Ireland—with a dwindling population, industries destroyed, law flouted, and her people on the ragged edge of rebellion kept down only by a large army of occupation—is altogether anomalous and … alarming.  It surely is not expecting too much of the peace conference to ask it to clean off the slate in this matter before it brings its labors to a close. … It is inconceivable that President Wilson and the other members of the American delegation at Paris will not heed the combined appeal of the Senate and the House.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1919.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to Ireland’s revolutionary government, correctly noted that such resolutions did not have the full force of legislation sent to Wilson to sign into law. It said such passage was critical, and continued:

If some step is not now taken by the United States to aid Ireland, there is little reason to hope that a situation will again soon present itself where anything can be done by the American government. … We have come to the end of a war in which the victory has rested with the powers which declared that they fought for world freedom and especially the rights of small nations. The spokesman of the United States [Wilson] has made very clear and specific declarations on this point. The people of Ireland have voted for separation from Great Britain, and have set up a government of their own. If under these conditions the government of this county does not take some action, it is hardly to be expected that it will do anything when the conditions are less favorable, as they undoubtedly will be later.2

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Irish Standard wondered if Ireland would have received her freedom at the peace conference if she had been among the oppressed nations of the German and Austrian empires.

But because the despotism under which she is groaning is the British brand, it is not to be interfered with. Was it then to curb the tyranny and autocracy of certain particular nations only that the world war was fought, or was it against all such anachronisms of government wherever found? … The world’s wounds are about to be sewed up while at least one dangerous source of infection is left within—that of the rankling Irish discontent at British domination.3

In Louisville, the Kentucky Irish American suggested that Britain’s “domineering and bulldog tactics” regarding Ireland and other matters “has aroused much indignation in this country. … Despite the efforts of the pro-English press on this side, the American public as a whole is fast discovering the hypocrisy and hoggishness of the English nation.”4

On June 17 in Dublin, Dáil Éireann passed a motion of thanks to the Senate to “assure the people of America that the ties of blood and friendship which subsisted between both nations in the days of their subjection to one common oppressor have endured and are indissoluble.”

U.S. press coverage of April 1919 ‘Limerick soviet’

“The story of the Limerick soviet has always had a special place in the narrative of the Irish left,” Patrick Smyth wrote earlier this year in The Irish Times. “For two weeks in [April] 1919 the ordinary people of the city took over, creating, albeit briefly, the embryonic elements of workers’ control – or, some would say, a new society – that mirrored developments throughout a revolutionary Europe convulsed and worn down by war.”

Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.

The Limerick soviet occurred three months after the establishment of the first Dáil Éireann and the earliest skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence. In Paris, an Irish-American delegation had just arrived at the post-war peace conference to press world leaders to recognize Irish self-determination. The trio would soon visit Ireland; just before Irish leader Eamon de Valera’s June 1919 arrival in America.

The front page of the April 26, 1919, issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, declared:

LIMERICK IN STATE OF SIEGE

Remember, the newspaper had direct ties to the provisional government in Dublin through its editor, Patrick McCartan. The Pressun-bylined story, datelined four days earlier, vividly set the scene:

This city is an armed camp with large forces of troops supported with tanks and machine guns in control. Numerous shots were fired Monday morning (April 21) but there were no casualties. The troops are in full war panoply, even to their tin hats. All the roads leading into the city are guarded and at some points barbed wire entanglements are set up. The principal bridge over the Shannon is being patrolled. Tanks are drawn up in the principal streets with the guns trained to sweep the thoroughfares. The muzzles of Lewis machine guns peer menacingly from windows of buildings. Armoured cars lumber through the streets and at night the city is patrolled by soldiers with fixed bayonets.

The event also caught the attention of the American mainstream press. Several U.S. newspaper headlines are shown in the video below. Ruth Russell, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, brought readers even closer to the action. This is from her April 10, 1919, dispatch:

“Permit?” demanded the soldier with the bayonet.

Two by two a long dark line up the white road from Caherdavin a thousand workers marched permitless to the Sarsfield bridge over the Shannon at Limerick. Girls with primroses tucked in their waists, breathless boys with hurling sticks in their hands, stooped, mustached laborers.

“What permit? I want to go to my home,” said a workman.

The crowd come with its incessant demand to pass. Past the sentry the workers swung around a corner between the soldiers and Thomas Johnson, national executive of the Irish Trade and Labor council. They swung down the right of the bridge and up the left again–an unending circle picketing the military, whose presence in Limerick they are protesting against.

Russell expanded on her experiences in Limerick in her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? Jump to page 127.

Cian Prendiville, a contemporary Limerick activist and member of the Limerick Soviet Centenary Committee, has written a two-part remembrance for the Limerick Leader:

Below, a 7-minute video explaining the origins and more details of the event:

Easter 1919: Rising remembered & rally for Republic

The Irish in America commemorated the third anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising with renewed intensity. It was the first Easter of the post-war era and came just three months after Irish republicans established their own government in Dublin. Three Irish Americans had just arrived in Paris to press U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and other world leaders to recognize Irish self determination. As with St. Patrick’s Day a month earlier, Easter 1919 was an opportunity to rally support for the cause. Here is a select roundup of activity across the USA as reported in the mainstream and Irish-American press. MH

***

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government in Dublin through editor Patrick McCartan, published an April 19, 1919, editorial headlined Recognition Week:

Easter week this year is to be commemorated in a very fitting way: not alone by ceremonials aimed merely to honor the names of those who died during and after that glorious week, but by a determined effort to  bring about the completion of the work for which they gave their all. … It is fitting therefore that Easter Week should be celebrated by demonstrations all over the United States demanding recognition of the existing Republic of Ireland. It is only by this step that justice … can be done to Ireland … The success of the demonstrations is a foregone conclusion, for Americans, whether of Irish blood or not, recognize the Irish Republic, and wish to see its elected government allowed to perform its functions without foreign interference.

At the Lexington Theater in New York City, the Friends of Irish Freedom/Clan na Gael passed resolutions supporting the Irish republic and demanding that Ireland’s delegates be admitted to the Paris peace conference. A cablegram was sent to the three-member American Commission for Irish Freedom assuring them of the support.1

Elsewhere:

  • In Buffalo, N.Y., Irish supporters distributed over 30,000 green, white, and orange buttons outside Catholic churches after Easter services.2
  • In Pittsburgh, a Protestant minister “criticized the failure of the peace conference to provide self-determination for Ireland, and asserted that without proper recognition of Ireland the peace would be a failure and there would be no league of nations.” The stage of the city’s Lyceum Theater, scene of earlier pro-Ireland rallies, “was handsomely set to represent the Emerald Isle and the Irish flag was conspicuously displayed” along with a picture of Rising martyr Padraic Pearse.3
  • In Butte, Montana, an Easter Sunday parade featured several bands, drum corps, and recently discharged U.S. soldiers. Others carried banners demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland and the release of American political prisoners.4
  • The Unbroken Tradition, by Nora Connolly, was offered at a mail order discount price $1.25 per copy (normally $1.50) by New Appeal Book Department in Girard, Kansas.5 She was the daughter of martyred Rising leader James Connolly. “Her impressions were gathered at first hand and make thrilling reading,” the advert said. “In this book on gets the inside story of the sensational uprising for Irish freedom.” President Wilson banned the book when the United States entered the war in Europe. Today, it’s available online for $12.48.
  • Another “eyewitness” account of the Rising by Thomas F. Nolan dominated nearly the full April 19, 1919, front page of The Irish Standard in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Just three years ago the blood of Irishmen was put a tingling by the news of an Insurrection in Dublin,” Nolan began.
  • On Easter Monday, about 5,000 supporters gathered at the historic Boston Common passed a resolution “to commemorate the third anniversary of Ireland’s historic Easter Week, congratulate the Irish people upon the establishment of a republic form of Government in Ireland, and we pledge them our continued support and cooperation in their endeavor to secure recognition for that republic.”6

In June, Irish leader Éamon de Valera arrived in the United States, creating new opportunities for the Irish in America to stage massive rallies on behalf of the homeland.

***

See my 2016 posts on the Rising centenary and ongoing American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin.

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1919

UPDATE:

Against the backdrop of Brexit chaos, the classic “England Get Out of Ireland” banner in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day is damaging political discourse, Stephen Collins writes in The Irish Times. Plus, a 2018 New York Times piece about the sign. See bullet points below.

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. President Donald Trump will host Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar March 14 at the White House, continuing a St. Patrick’s week tradition that began in 1952. Things were much different in 1919: the revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann, had been established for two months; skirmishes and ambushes in the War of Independence flared across Ireland; more than 5,000 supporters of Irish independence gathered in late February in Philadelphia to bring attention to the cause; and the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of March passed a resolution in favor of Irish self-determination. All of this nationalist activity on both sides of the Atlantic influenced 1919’s annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Trump and Varadkar in 2018. White House photo

Below, a look at March 1919 coverage in the Irish-American and mainstream press. MH


“Irish freedom was demanded, and the league of nations, as proposed at present, was condemned at a mass meeting last night at Liberty Hut under the auspices of the United Irish Societies of the District that was the climax of the National Capital’s celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Ten thousand people were packed in the spacious auditorium, while more than 5,000 other clamored for admission to the most wildly enthusiastic meeting ever held in Washington in the cause of Irish independence. There was almost constant applause as the speakers extolled the virtues of Ireland and her sons.” The Washington Post, March 18, page 1

Of course, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City drew plenty of press attention:

“The existence of the Irish Republic, and the demand that it be recognized as one of the sovereign nations of the earth, were proclaimed by the great demonstration held [in New York City]. Probably the most notable feature of the parade, and one in which it differed considerably from the processions of earlier days, was display of thousands upon thousands of tri-colored flags, the emblem of the Republic of Ireland. The old green flag with the harp on it was entirely abandoned … ” The Irish Press, Philadelphia, March 22, page 1

The New York Times coverage of the massive parade, placed on page 4 of the March 18 issue, said “it was a perfect day” for the event, and “not a single unpleasant incident marred the celebration.” Rather than noting the change of flags, the report made an extensive inventory of political banners carried by the marchers. These included:

  • England–Damn your concessions. We want our country.
  • “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it has no desire to live.”–President Woodrow Wilson
  • There will be no peace while Ireland is ruled by a foreign force.
  • If there is right and justice in the world, then Ireland should have its share.
  • A true American is a true Sinn Feiner.

More mainstream celebrations occurred in the American heartland:

“Ireland and St. Patrick were by no means forgotten on Monday, the greatest of Irish holidays, in Minneapolis. Many store windows were dressed up in green in honor of the day. The shamrock, the harp, and many other emblems of the old sod were seen in generous abundance.” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., March 22, page 1

“In a room hung with the green flag of old Ireland, and the three-colored flag of the hopes for a new Ireland, intermingled with shamrocks and entwined around the Stars and Stripes of America, 450 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sand the songs of old Erin, and cheered and applauded each expression of faith in the hoped-for republic, when the annual St. Patrick’s day dinner of the order was held in the Fort Pitt Hotel last night.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, page 11

“Native born and American born Irish men and women of Louisville paid fitting and credible tribute to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. The religious observances began with the Ladies Auxiliary and the Ancient Order of Hibernians who filled St. Patrick’s Church early Sunday morning … Monday night there were numerous attractions … but it remained for the AOH to eclipse it all with their celebration at Bertrand Hall, which was profusely decorated with the national colors and the flag of the Irish republic and flags and banners of the Ancient Order.” Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Ky., March 22, page 1

Washington, D.C. in 1919.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events:

‘Intrigue of Deception’ at Catholic University of America, 1919

A Philadelphia newspaper in early 1919 alleged that “some prominent men” at Catholic University of America were conspiring with British Embassy officials.1 The aim of their Washington, D.C.-based “plot,” the story said, was to keep Ireland within the British Empire rather than establish an independent republic.

“So far the scheme has met with some success and is receiving consideration,” The Irish Press, a nationalist weekly, reported Jan. 4, 1919, in a page 4 story headlined “An Intrigue of Deception.”

Irish voters had just elected 73 separatist Sinn Féin candidates who had no intention of claiming their seats in the London parliament. Instead, within weeks of the Press story, they would form their own government in Dublin. A gorilla war of independence erupted at the same time. In America, Congress debated “the Irish question” as President Woodrow Wilson prepared to sail to Paris to join his British allies in helping to reshape the post-world war global order.

The Irish Press reported:

“It is understood that the scheme will be launched by the publication of a letter written by President Wilson on the eve of his departure for Europe to a prominent man at the Catholic University at Washington. The gentleman concerned is a sincere friend of Ireland and it is to be hoped that he will sever his connection with the British plot and persuade his colleagues to do likewise. Their action will not affect Ireland but we hope for the reputation of the one big and sincere man connected with the scheme that he will refuse at this critical juncture to play false to the cause so dear to his heart.”

The newspaper did not name anyone at Catholic University, but faculty member Joseph Dunn wrote a private letter to challenge the allegation. “To say that the article in question surprised and provoked me is putting it mildly,” he wrote to Dr. Patrick McCartan, the Press editor.2

Shahan

Dunn was a Celtic language and literature professor and a supporter of Irish independence. A few weeks earlier he had appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Ireland.3 Dunn entered into the record the Nov. 30, 1918, letter from the university’s rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, to President Wilson. It cited the president’s professed commitment to “self-determination” for small nations.

“We hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate,” Shahan wrote. “Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.”4

Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.” This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, reply; barely 100 typed words of generalities on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name.5 Wilson wrote:

Wilson

“It will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.”

Shahan was a national vice president of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a U.S.-based group of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and other supporters of the separatist cause. Dunn was a national trustee.6 As events accelerated in Ireland, the Friends were being torn apart by internal feuding over the best way to help the homeland.

The Irish Press was in the middle of this fight, as personified by the growing hostility between McCartan, Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and their supporters; and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist and publisher of the New York City-based Gaelic American, and his allies. Dunn acknowledged these crosscurrents in his letter.

Dunn told McCartan that he did not show the Press article to Shahan, “who, I suppose, is meant by the words ‘a prominent man at Catholic University’ ” … “to spare him the pain of reading it, it is so unfair to those of us who have kept the faith at this institution.” Like Dunn, the bishop would have been troubled by the allegation of conspiring with the British, especially as the Friends of Irish Freedom developed plans for an upcoming national strategy meeting in Philadelphia.

“The harm done is not irreparable, however, if you take occasion in the very next issue of ‘The Press’ to correct it and give prominence in a good strong article to the denial,” Dunn wrote in the typed body of his letter. After the “faithfully yours” closing and his signature, he hand wrote, “You realize, of course, how much the University might suffer if that your yarn is not corrected.”

McCartan’s reply to Dunn carried the same Jan. 11, 1919, date as the professor’s letter.7 

McCartan

“I was very glad to get your letter and your assurances that nobody connected with the University has anything to do with the British Embassy Plot,” McCartan wrote under his newspaper’s letterhead. “I realize that your letter is authoritative, and we here are glad to learn that instead of cooperating with the plotters you are taking steps to counteract them.”

McCartan, a native of Ireland, was among more than 30 Sinn Féin separatists elected the previous month while either living outside Ireland or held in prison. In addition to his role as editor, he also described himself as “envoy of the provisional government of Ireland.” This was news to the U.S. State Department, which claimed it “knew nothing of Patrick McCartan.”8

McCartan wrote to Dunn that he would be “delighted to correct the error we made last week as you request.” The editor acknowledged he was responsible for all of the newspaper’s stories, “even though I do not write them all, or even read them before publication.”

On Jan. 18, 1919, The Irish Press published this “correction” under another “Intrigue of Deception” headline, once again without naming any names.9

“We have now on the very best authority” that no one at Catholic University was cooperating with the British, the story said. “The existence of the plot is known there but those in that institution who are interested in the subject take the same view of the Irish question as The Irish Press.”

A few weeks later, the Press reported on Shahan’s speech at Gazanga Hall in Washington, D.C. “Ireland is a nation, not a province of the British Empire,” it quoted him under the headline “Bishop Upholds Irish Republic.”10

Dunn and Shahan remained active in Irish nationalist politics. The professor taught at Catholic University until 1931.11 The bishop died the following year and is interred in the crypt level of the neighboring Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Irish Press folded in 1922 as Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State, an interim status that later became today’s full republic, and Northern Ireland, which remains part of Britain. McCartan returned to Ireland.


EXTRA NOTES: Top image, “Proposed Plan,” is a 1914 photo gelatin view of the Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C. produced by the Albertype Company of Brooklyn, New York. I have been unable to locate an image of Joseph Dunn. Thanks to Shane MacDonald at CUA’s American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and to James Harte at the National Library of Ireland for their assistance.