Tag Archives: The Irish Press

U.S. press reactions to sledging of ‘The Freeman’s Journal’

Top portion of the one-page Freeman’s Journal handbill of March 30, 1922. More text below.

Shortly past midnight March 30, 1922, dozens of Irish republicans opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty burst into the Freeman’s Journal newspaper offices in Dublin. They threatened the staff at gunpoint, smashed the presses with sledgehammers, and set fire to the building. Their attack was driven by the Freeman’s “accurate, but uncomplimentary information” about the inner workings of the republican movement, including a supposedly secret convention a few days earlier.[1]Horgan, John, Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922. Rutledge, London 2001, p. 9.

Producing the usual broadsheet later that day became impossible. But the Freeman’s staff published a one-page handbill, which was pasted to poles and walls across the city. It declared:

The Freeman’s Journal does not appear in its usual form this morning. BUT IT APPEARS. … And it will continue to say what it chooses. It will expose tyranny in whatever garb it shows itself. Whether the khaki of the British or the homespun on the mutineers (anti-treaty Irish republicans). … The paper that has fought for Irish liberty so long will not be silenced.[2]”Suppressed Again”, The Freeman’s Journal, March 30, 1922, as reproduced in facsimile on a photo page of The Standard Union, Brooklyn, New York, April 11, 1922, and in the … Continue reading

The Freeman’s support of the treaty, ratified in January, was generally regarded as “unduly partisan,” notes Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin, who has written extensively about the newspaper. “It included intemperate editorials, the suppression of anti-treaty manifestos and speeches, and a notably malevolent treatment of Erskine Childers,” an ally of republican leader Éamon de Valera.[3]Larkin, Felix M., ” ‘A Great Daily Organ’: The Freeman’s Journal” in Living With History: Occasional Writings, Kingdom Books, Ireland, 2021, p. 12. Original article … Continue reading Childers would be executed by Irish Free State authorities later in 1922.

Simultaneously, “de Valera’s tone became if anything more bellicose,” with numerous “inflammatory utterances,” during the interregnum between the treaty vote and republican occupation of the Four Courts in April 1922, biographer David McCullagh has written. A few weeks before the attack on the Freeman’s Journal, de Valera told republican supporters at Killarney they would have “to march over the dead bodies of their own brothers” and “wade through Irish blood.”[4]McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise, 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, p. 276 (“bellicose”) and p. 273 (“blood”).

The Freeman’s Journal was suppressed by the British military during the 1919-1921 war, and its editor and proprietors were imprisoned. It was among many Irish papers stopped from publishing–usually only for a few days–under the Defense of the Realm Act, which Irish republicans skillfully exploited in their domestic and international propaganda against British rule.

“Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job,” the New York Globe’s Harry F. Guest told American readers in his early 1920 reporting from the country. “If you publish something which offends Dublin Castle, the police or military raids your offices and carry away vital parts of the presses. If you criticize Sinn Féin too severely, your office is likely to be stormed and the presses smashed.”[5]”British suppression of Irish newspaper raised big storm of protest” , The New York Globe, March 24, 1920, and syndicated to other U.S. newspapers.

The Freeman’s Journal produced another one-page handbill on March 31, then published a seven-page booklet on Gestetner machines from April 1-21. Republicans terrorized newsagents in counties Sligo and Mayo into refusing to sell the paper. They also intercepted mail trains and burned copies of the newspaper destined for other parts of the country.[6]Horgan, Irish Media, p. 9-10.

U.S. press reactions

From front page of the New York Times, March 30, 1922.

Like most events in revolutionary Ireland, the attack on the Freeman’s Journal received considerable attention in the American press. U.S. big city dailies featured same-day news coverage, often starting from the front page, including the example at right in The New York Times.

Several papers also weighed in on their editorial pages, such as the Joseph Pulitzer-established Evening World in New York City:

Some American advocates of freedom for Ireland may not be convinced that the Free State Government under Collins and Griffith is the best possible. But after the disgraceful wrecking of the plant of the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin, can anyone doubt that the Irish Republican Army movement is wrong, dead wrong, unqualifiedly and absolutely wrong? … Raiding and smashing the Freeman’s Journal is a confession of moral bankruptcy by the de Valera forces. It is a confession that their case can not stand the light of day. It is a denial of the cause of freedom to which a free press is essential.[7]”They Condemn Their Cause”, The Evening World (New York City), March 31, 1922.

And this wasn’t the Evening World’s last word on the matter. After a letter to the editor writer suggested the Freeman’s “was always a British paper,” the New York daily snapped back in a second editorial that such a view “shows how a minority of the Irish have become so poisoned by hate that they no longer reason … they are not moved by desire for freedom for Ireland. Hate of England is the motive in their conduct. They are insane, driven mad by a mania.”[8]”What Helps Keep Ireland In Turmoil”, The Evening World (New York City), April 5, 1922.

Irish American press reactions to the attack on the Freeman’s reflected the division in Ireland.

The anti-treaty Irish Press of Philadelphia published a front page news story and inside editorial about the attack. Like the Evening World’s letter writer, the opinion piece described the Freeman’s Dublin offices as “the nursery ground of the shoneen (an Irish person who imitates or aspires to the English upper class) and the place hunter.” The vandalism, the editorial said, “for a time at least removes one of the bulwarks of British rule in Ireland.”[9]The Freeman’s Journal“, The Irish Press, April 8, 1922.

The pro-treaty Gaelic American of New York used the Freeman’s misfortunes for another round of recriminations in the feud between its publisher, longtime Irish nationalist John Devoy, and de Valera, whom it described as “would-be dictator” and “Infallible Political Pope, whose every utterance (not simply those issued ex-Cathedra) must be above criticism.” The piece re-litigated a series of grievances against de Valera from his June 1919-December 1920 tour of America, including a break in at the Gaelic American’s offices.[10]Mimeographed ‘Freeman’s Journal’ Appears in Dublin“, The Gaelic American, April 22, 1922.

Publishing again … briefly

The regular Freeman’s reappeared on April 22. The front page featured an advertisement for newspaper composing machines such as those “the sledgers” had smashed three weeks earlier. “This Journal is now Equipped with A Battery of 10 Intertypes,” it declared. Among the stories about how the paper had recovered from the attack was a roundup headlined, “What Americans Think.” It included the editorial from the Evening World as well as the Chicago Tribune.

“With hindsight, many anti-treatyites came to recognize that it had been a bad mistake to attempt to suppress the Freeman,” Larkin has written. “The effect of that and other similar occurrences was to associate the anti-treaty side with military dictatorship and censorship – to give the impression that, as the prominent republican Todd Andrews later wrote, people ‘were liable to be pushed around at the whim of young IRA commanders’.”[11]”The Press In Time Of Strife”, Larkin’s letter to the editor, The Irish Times, Nov. 24, 2014.

Alas, The Freeman’s Journal  folded on Dec. 19, 1924, due to internal business troubles, ending a 161-year run. The assets and title were eventually bought by the Irish Independent. The pro-de Valera Irish Press of Philadelphia folded on May 6, 1922, after 50 months of weekly publication. De Valera started his own Dublin daily of the same title in 1931. The Gaelic American survived Devoy’s death in 1929. The New York weekly ceased publication in 1951.

***

See more stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

References

References
1 Horgan, John, Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922. Rutledge, London 2001, p. 9.
2 ”Suppressed Again”, The Freeman’s Journal, March 30, 1922, as reproduced in facsimile on a photo page of The Standard Union, Brooklyn, New York, April 11, 1922, and in the Freemans’s Journal, April 22, 1922.
3 Larkin, Felix M., ” ‘A Great Daily Organ’: The Freeman’s Journal” in Living With History: Occasional Writings, Kingdom Books, Ireland, 2021, p. 12. Original article published in History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2, May/June 2006. See also his Oct. 26, 2019, guest post on this site, “The Slow Death of the Freeman’s Journal.”
4 McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise, 1882-1932, Gill Books, New York, 2017, p. 276 (“bellicose”) and p. 273 (“blood”).
5 ”British suppression of Irish newspaper raised big storm of protest” , The New York Globe, March 24, 1920, and syndicated to other U.S. newspapers.
6 Horgan, Irish Media, p. 9-10.
7 ”They Condemn Their Cause”, The Evening World (New York City), March 31, 1922.
8 ”What Helps Keep Ireland In Turmoil”, The Evening World (New York City), April 5, 1922.
9 The Freeman’s Journal“, The Irish Press, April 8, 1922.
10 Mimeographed ‘Freeman’s Journal’ Appears in Dublin“, The Gaelic American, April 22, 1922.
11 ”The Press In Time Of Strife”, Larkin’s letter to the editor, The Irish Times, Nov. 24, 2014.

Dual delegations at St. Patrick’s Day, 1922

St. Patrick’s Day of 1922 was the first since 1915 without war on the European continent or the island of Ireland. The saint’s feast arrived two months after Dáil Éireann narrowly approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a month before anti-treaty republicans seized the Four Courts in Dublin, and three months before their pro-treaty colleagues topped the 26-county Dáil election and bombarded the building holding outs, thus beginning the Irish Civil War.

Francis M. Carroll has written, “the growing disunity among the nationalist leaders in Ireland was dramatically revealed to the Irish in America in the form of two rival delegations sent to the United States on behalf of their respective factions. … Both groups began touring the country, denouncing their opponents in Ireland with all the malice and vituperation previously reserved for the British government. … This spectacle … severely demoralized the Irish American community.”[1]Carroll, Francis M., America And The Making of An Independent Ireland, A History, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 148.

The rival delegations arrived in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day 1922 aboard the Aquitania. The pro-treaty representatives included James O’Mara, Piaras Beaslai, and Sean MacCaoilte. Austin Stack and J.J. O’Kelly stood for the anti-treaty faction. The New York Evening World reported, “one hotel was not large enough to harbor both parties.” When Stack and O’Kelly checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, described by the paper as the original destination for all five men, the other three “traveled up Fifth Avenue until they reached the St. Regis, where they engaged quarters.”[2]”Two Rival Groups Come To Campaign For Ireland Here”, New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.

New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.

Both sides issued statements to the press. The pro-treaty group said:

We wish to make it perfectly clear that we have not come to America to make Irish internal political differences subjects of agitation in the United States. … We are not here to assert the exact political formula of the treaty is the ideal one which we would choose. It represents a compromise between two countries at war with each other, but we think the treaty gives us the substance of the liberty for which we fought–freedom from foreign occupation and foreign control–and the entire mastery of our own affairs without involving the abandonment of our right to future readjustment with England that might be considered necessary.[3]”Statement of the Free State Envoys”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.

The anti-treaty delegation said it came to “explain the actual situation in Ireland” to national and state conventions of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, the group created by Éamon de Valera at the end of 1920, a year before the treaty, in a split with the U.S.-based Friends of Irish Freedom. The delegation statement continued:

Multitudes are being misled as to the real character of the proposed Irish Free State by a press propaganda that is ill-informed, biased and in many cases, partisan. We wish to explain to the people of America the actual nature of the so-called Treaty and to tell them what the Irish people think of it. The people of America have heard one side of the story.[4]”Rival Envoys Here From Ireland”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.

The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922, page 1.

The pro-treaty (and anti-de Valera) Gaelic American of New York City and anti-treaty Irish Press of Philadelphia (with direct ties to de Valera) each published statements from both groups in their March 25 editions. The Free State comments published in the Gaelic American (above) were attributed to the New York Herald. The Irish Press published different, though similar, remarks from the Free Staters, but the same anti-treaty comments.

Visitors from Ireland reinforced both sides in the coming weeks: Denis McCullough on behalf of the Free Staters and Countess Markievicz and sister of Kevin Barry for the anti-treatyites. The division worsened as the Gaelic American accused de Valera of encouraging civil war, and the anti-treaty Irish World of New York described “Freak State” leaders as “traitors.”

As Carroll has noted, “Very soon after, events in Ireland surpassed even this. … The shelling of the Four Courts and the outbreak of the Civil War in Ireland were calamitous for Irish American morale. Observers were shocked and bewildered …”[5]Carroll, America … , p. 149.

More at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

References

References
1 Carroll, Francis M., America And The Making of An Independent Ireland, A History, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 148.
2 ”Two Rival Groups Come To Campaign For Ireland Here”, New York Evening World, March 18, 1922.
3 ”Statement of the Free State Envoys”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.
4 ”Rival Envoys Here From Ireland”, The Gaelic American, March 25, 1922.
5 Carroll, America … , p. 149.

‘The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live … ‘

John Steele’s Jan. 8, 1922, Chicago Tribune story. Front page banner below.

“The Republic of Ireland is dead; long live the Irish Free State,” declared Chicago Tribune correspondent John Steele in the opening sentence of his story about Dáil Éireann‘s narrow and bitter vote to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty.[1]”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers. The Irish-American journalist also promoted his role in reaching the Jan. 7, 1922, vote and later claimed that pro-treaty leader Arthur Griffith described the outcome as “better to be an equal partner in a big concern than to keep a little sweet shop in a back street.”[2]”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.

Steele’s news lead echoed the treaty debate speech of Dáil member Patrick McCartan three weeks earlier. He uttered the “is dead” formulation seven times within a few minutes:

The Republic of which President (Éamon) de Valera was president is dead. … I submit it is dead, and that the men who signed the (treaty) document opposite Englishmen wrote its epitaph in London. It is dead naturally because it depended on the unity of the Irish people … the Cabinet … (and) this Dáil. … Internationally the Republic is dead. We were looking for recognition of the republic in foreign countries. Michael Collins said we were not recognized in the United States. That is true. … You cannot go to the secretary of state of any foreign government and ask him to recognize the Republic of Ireland, because I submit it is dead …  as a political factor the Republic is dead. … We were an inspiration to the patriots of India and the patriots of Egypt. Today we give heart to the compromisers in India and Egypt as well as the compromisers in Ireland. I say, therefore, the Republic of Ireland is dead.[3]Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.

As a separatist promoting the Irish cause in America, McCartan edited The Irish Press in Philadelphia from its first issue in March 1918 through September 1920. The pro-de Valera weekly battled John Devoy’s New York City-based Gaelic American over control of American grassroots financial support for the Dáil and the U.S. government’s Ireland policies. Four days after McCartan’s debate speech in Dublin, and without naming its former editor, the Irish Press editorialized that the Irish Republic “is neither dead nor dying.” The paper continued:

The spirit that created it, like itself, is immortal. The temporary subversion of its name, or of its ideals, resembles a swiftly moving cloud that for an instant dims the penetrating waves of the sun or the light of the moon. Let no one say the Republic of Ireland is dead. It lives and will live on, in glory and splendor, when its enemies are dead and forgotten. … The Republic of Ireland is in God’s keeping.[4]Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.

Whether plagiarism or paraphrase of the popular proclamation, Steele’s January 1922 ratification story did not identify McCartan’s words or his vote for the treaty. The reporter had quoted McCartan in late December 1921 coverage of the debates. Steele described the sessions as “a battle between the living and the dead.” He continued:

The dead were represented by old men and widows and the living by young men who have fought in the battle for Ireland’s independence and survived. The living are all in favor of ratification and the dead against it. So far I have seen nothing to induce me to change my opinion that the living will win.[5]”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.

The epanalepsis, “The king is dead, long live the king,” is said to have originated from the French, Le roi est mort, vive le roi!, upon the accession of Charles VII after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.[6]From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021. A king was never proposed for the Irish republic; the Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy.

“Long live the Irish Free State, and three cheers for a speedy establishment of an independent Irish Republic,” a New York City union organ declared shortly after the Dec. 6, 1921, treaty announcement.[7]”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23. The Baltimore Sun repeated “Long live the Irish Republic” in an editorial that applauded the Dáil vote. The daily also noted that the Irish faced the challenge of disproving enemies and detractors who charged, prophetically: “The minute they stop fighting outsiders they will begin fighting among themselves.”[8]”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.

Promoting Steele

John Steele in Dec. 7, 1921, Chicago Tribune photo.

For the Chicago Tribune and other papers that subscribed to its foreign news service, the treaty ratification was another opportunity to promote Steele’s role in brokering 1920 secret talks between Sinn Féin leaders and British government officials. The Tribune boasted: “Mr. Steele in his dispatches always insisted that actual peace was coming. … his accomplishments in aiding the contracting parties to common ground ranks high in the newspaper’s achievement.[9]”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922. This work was done through Patrick Moylett, a Galway businessman and associate of Griffith, according to accounts by Steele and Moyett.[10]”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in … Continue reading

In a chapter of an unfinished memoir published in 1949, Steele quoted Griffith, who died in August 1922, as saying:

You always replied to my demands for a separate republic that we would never get it but that we could and would get dominion status within the British empire. Every other correspondent from abroad whom I talked to pretended to sympathize with me and assure me we would win full freedom and separation. I knew that contact had to be made with the British thru a neutral, and that the most available neutral would be a newspaper correspondent of international standing who was on good terms with both sides. You were obviously the man I wanted.

The Belfast-born Steele emigrated to America in 1887, age 17. According to information Steele provided for biographical publication, he was “educated privately and in newspaper offices.” He joined the New York Herald staff in 1890, followed by turns as a reporter and editor at three other papers in the city. He became managing editor of a London-based syndicate during World War I, then took charge of the Chicago Tribune‘s London bureau in 1919, where he remained until 1935.[11]”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH … Continue reading

Steele wasn’t the only American correspondent in Ireland to mix public journalism and private diplomacy. Carl Ackerman of the Philadelphia Public Ledger also shuttled messages and documents between the two sides. Other journalists stepped beyond their newspaper roles. Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News and Kilkenny native Francis Hackett of the New York World gave pro-Ireland testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Author Samuel Duff McCoy parlayed his work with the American Committee for Relief in Ireland into a 1922 newspaper series.

Newspaper journalism was highly competitive in the 1920s, with exaggerations and claims of “scoops” a regular part of the business, just like on today’s faster-moving digital platforms. Historians have suggested that Steele and Moylett amplified their roles; that Michael Collins and other Irish republicans described the backchannel arrangement as a “fiasco” and viewed Steele as being out for a story and a tool of Lloyd George; and that Griffith was concerned about the appearance of settling for less than a republic, while the January 1922 post-ratification quote Steele attributed to him (second sentence of this post) cannot be independently verified.[12]See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University … Continue reading

In the memoir chapter published two years after his death, Steele recalled:

To every reporter at some time of his career there comes the high spot. … My high spot was … the opportunity and great good fortune to play a part in the settlement of the age old quarrel between Ireland and England which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State. … I never lost affection for the land of my birth. Moreover, wherever the English language is spoken, Ireland is news and Ireland’s struggle for freedom was big news.

This Aug. 3, 1922, advertisement in the Washington Herald promoted Steele’s work in Ireland. Steele’s Ireland work also appeared in the (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) Sun, and other papers. (Apologies for the poor quality of the photos in digital scan.)

After ratification

Three years after the treaty ratification, in June 1925, de Valera addressed the Wolfe Tone commemoration at the Irish patriot’s grave in Bodenstown, County Kildare, a regular rally for Irish republicans. De Valera said:

By your presence you proclaim your undiminished attachment to the ideals of Tone, and your unaltered devotion to the cause for which he gave his life. It is your answer to those who would have it believed that the Republic of Ireland is dead and its cause abandoned.[13]Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.

Less than a year later De Valera established the Fianna Fáil party, which abandoned Sinn Féin abstentionism and in 1932 won elected power in the Dáil. Republican aspirations were finally realized on April 18, 1949, with the full establishment of the 26-county representative state. That day, the Chicago Tribune published the “never been told full story” of Steel’s memoir, including the quotes attributed to Griffith, by then 27 years dead.

In his 1952 Bureau of Military History statement, Moylett said that he had promised Steele exclusive U.S. rights to his own experience in revolutionary Ireland. “But, as I have been disillusioned over the way things have been conducted in this country during and since 1922, I have no wish to publish it.”

Nevertheless, the Irish Free State was dead. Long live the Republic of Ireland.

References

References
1 ”Ireland Votes Peace, De Valera Loses, 64 To 57, In Long Battle” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922, and syndicated to other U.S. papers.
2 ”Tribune Writer Go-Between In 1920 Pact Talks”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.
3 Dáil Éireann debate, Dec. 20, 1921, Vol. T No. 7.
4 Words That Saved Ireland After 1916“, The Irish Press (Philadelphia), Dec. 24, 1921.
5 ”Dead Arrayed Against Living On Irish Treaty”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 21, 1921.
6 From Wikipedia entry last updated Nov. 17, 2021.
7 ”The Irish Free State”, The Headgear Worker, Dec. 9, 1921, Vol. 6, No. 23.
8 ”A Right Decision”, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8, 1922.
9 ”Tribune Man Aided in Finding Way To Anglo-Irish Peace”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1922.
10 ”Humble Galway Grocer Brings Peace To Irish, Steele of Tribune Took Him to British Officials”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 1921, and Steele’s unfinished memoir, published in “Go-Between”, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949. Patrick Moylett, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 767, Dec. 16, 1952. Page 50.
11 ”John S. Steele, Retired Tribune Writer, Is Dead”, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1947, and 1900 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0543; FH microfilm: 1241105.
12 See: “Unsettled Island: Irish Nationalism, Unionism, and British Imperialism in the Shaping of Irish Independence, 1909-1922”. Thesis by Michael Christopher Ras, Concordia University Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 2017, Collins quote: NLI, Art Ó Briain Papers, Ms. 8426/7, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, 15 December 1920; NLI, Art Ó Briain, Ms. 8430/12, Michael Collins to Art Ó Briain, Jan. 4, 1921. Also: We Bled Together: Michael Collins, The Squad and The Dublin Brigade, Dominic Price, Collins Press, 2017.
13 Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoting de Valera at Oct. 16, 2005, Tone commemoration, via CAIN Web Service, Ulster University.

Irish-American press reactions to Anglo-Irish Treaty

Mainstream U.S. newspaper support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty remained generally consistent from the accord’s Dec. 6, 1921, announcement through its Jan. 7, 1922, ratification by Dáil Éireann in Dublin. Irish-American press reactions were more volatile over the same month, especially the flip-flops of the Gaelic American and the Irish Press.

Against, then for the treaty.

The Dec. 10 issue of the New York City-based Gaelic American contained only early wire service accounts about the agreement and no editorial statements. A week later, the paper published the full text of the treaty and offered a sampling of opinions for and against the deal. The weekly displayed its opinion in the headline “Irish-American Views on the Surrender” and description of “the misnamed Irish Free State.”[1]Irish-American Views on the Surrender“, The Gaelic American, Dec. 17, 1921.

John Devoy

Editor John Devoy based his paper’s editorial stance on the assumption that Irish leader Éamon de Valera supported the treaty. Their relationship had ruptured near the end of de Valera’s 1919-1920 American tour over the best way to leverage U.S. political muscle and grassroots fundraising to support Ireland. Davis notes, “… when it was clear de Valera in fact opposed the treaty … (the Devoy-affiliated Friends of Irish Freedom) began to change its tune. The Gaelic American began to support the Free State and the Dáil majority that voted in favor of the treaty.” Devoy wrote to Michael Collins that he was in favor of giving the new arrangement ‘a chance to do what it can for Ireland.'”[2]Davis, Troy D. “Irish Americans and the Treaty: The View from the Irish Free State.” New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, vol. 18, no. 2, University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish … Continue reading

Joseph McGarrity

In Philadelphia, the Irish Press criticized “fair weather friends” and “eleventh hour admirers” who had failed to support Ireland earlier in the war. The weekly ignored the divisions within republican ranks, which Publisher Joseph McGarrity helped widened through his paper’s support for de Valera. In the opinion roundup mentioned above, the Gaelic American said McGarrity “of course comes out in favor of the compromise. It was to make compromise certain that he helped to make the split.”

The first post-treaty editorial in the Irish Press said: “Regardless of the exact form that Irish Independence may finally assume, it can be accepted as an unquestioned fact that the battle is won, and that Irish energy can soon be diverted to other channels than those of war.”[3]The Ireland To Come“, The Irish Press, Dec. 10, 1921. A week later, the editorial page said, “The fact that President de Valera has refused his approval of the treaty … must be taken as sufficient evidence that the minimum demands of Ireland have not been secured. … (If he and others) feel that Ireland’s nationhood is in the slightest danger of being sacrificed they have a perfect right to give expression to their feelings before the final word is said.”[4]Peace Or A Sword–Which?“, The Irish Press, Dec. 17, 1921.

For, then against the treaty.

The Irish World of New York “rejected the treaty from the first; the paper bitterly denounced it, calling it the treaty of surrender,” Carroll has noted.[5]Carroll, Francis M., America and the Making of an Independent Ireland, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 147. Even after the Dáil‘s January ratification, the paper remained the organ “for the republican position in the United States and started a slanderous campaign against the supporters of the treaty and the Irish Free State.”[6]The Irish World archive is not available online.

Seven hundred miles southwest of these East Coast hotspots of Irish activism, the Kentucky Irish American reflected a simpler, perhaps naïve, rank-and-file view of the treaty. It’s first editorial reflected general relief:

Throughout the world there is rejoicing that a treaty has been signed by the Sinn Fein and the British cabinet which grants freedom to Ireland and raises her to the status of a Free State. … For over seven hundred years the Irish nation has struggled and waited for this day, which will bring peace and happiness to Ireland and England. For both this will bring a happy Christmas, and in their prayers of thanksgiving to the God of peace none will be more earnest or fervent than the sons and daughters and friends of Ireland in Louisville and Kentucky. For all it means a new and better era.[7]Freedom For Ireland“, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 10, 1921.

William M. Higgins

William M. Higgins, the paper’s publisher and a member of the delegation that welcomed de Valera to Louisville in October 1919, was among the state and local officials who signed a cable of support to Collins, Arthur Griffith, and other members of the Dáil. Other supporters included Kentucky Gov. Edwin P. Morrow and Louisville Mayor Huston Quin, both Republicans.[8]”Ireland”, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 17, 1921.

In a following editorial, the Irish American editorial page said:

…however much [the treaty] may fall short of what we would wish, we must still concede that the victory won has been a great victory, particularly when we consider the tremendous odds against which the Irish have had to contend. … It is those who have borne the heat and burden of the day of strife–those who risked all and dared all for their country–who only have the right to say what terms of peace will be acceptable. … We on this side of the Atlantic, who have experienced none of the savage warfare which England waged on Ireland, have no right to disprove of those terms, however much we may dislike them.[9]Victory For Ireland“, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 17, 1921.

“The sons and daughters and friends of Ireland in Louisville and Kentucky” generally supported the treaty.

Other Irish papers in circulation at the time but not available for immediate review include the Irish News and Chicago Citizen, Illinois; National Hibernian (monthly), Indianapolis, Ind.; and the Sinn Feiner in New York. Irish papers that ceased publishing since the 1919 start of the war included: the Leader (Irish Catholic), San Francisco, Calif.; Irish Voice, Chicago, Ill.; Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn.; Irish Vindicator, Cleveland, Ohio; and Irish Pennsylvanian, Pittsburgh, Pa.[10]Based on 1919 and 1922 editions of the N. W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual & Directory, “A Catalogue of American Newspapers”, Philadelphia, Pa.

Published its last issue June 19, 1920.

References

References
1 Irish-American Views on the Surrender“, The Gaelic American, Dec. 17, 1921.
2 Davis, Troy D. “Irish Americans and the Treaty: The View from the Irish Free State.” New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, vol. 18, no. 2, University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies), 2014, pp. 84–96.
3 The Ireland To Come“, The Irish Press, Dec. 10, 1921.
4 Peace Or A Sword–Which?“, The Irish Press, Dec. 17, 1921.
5 Carroll, Francis M., America and the Making of an Independent Ireland, New York University Press, New York, 2021, p. 147.
6 The Irish World archive is not available online.
7 Freedom For Ireland“, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 10, 1921.
8 ”Ireland”, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 17, 1921.
9 Victory For Ireland“, Kentucky (Louisville) Irish American, Dec. 17, 1921.
10 Based on 1919 and 1922 editions of the N. W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual & Directory, “A Catalogue of American Newspapers”, Philadelphia, Pa.

Irish-American & Catholic press on 1921 truce in Ireland

Earlier this month I posted some examples of U.S. daily newspaper reporting of the July 11, 1921, truce between Irish republicans and the British military. Below are five examples of coverage of the same event from Irish-American weekly papers and a Catholic news service. The first and last examples reference the daily press. Three of the examples are linked to digital scans of the original July 1921 publications. MH

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“Since the negotiation of a truce which comes at the end of a cycle of 750 years of resistance to English usurpation in Ireland, the daily press in the United States as well as in England has done its best to befog by rumors and ill-informed gossip the simple, fundamental issues which must be met if the conferences in London are to turn the truce into a peace. The first and most important fact which must be borne in mind is that there is at this moment a Republican government in Ireland, functioning by the consent of the Irish people. The historian, Alice Stopford Green, makes the keen observation that: ‘In most revolutionary countries disturbances are caused by attempts to enforce the will of the people. In Ireland they are caused by efforts to suppress it.’

“The war in Ireland in which a truce has now been called has failed to suppress the will of the Irish people, it has failed to force them to disestablish their elected government. The truce itself is an acknowledgement of the fact. Nothing could show more clearly the true and restrained temper of the people of Ireland than the scrupulous manner in which the truce is being observed by them, nothing could more clearly demonstrate the surpassing discipline of the Irish Republican Army. If the truce is fruitless, if warfare is resumed in Ireland it will be the result of further efforts to suppress the will of the Irish people by attempting to force them to dis-establish their elected government.” — The Truce editorial in News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1921.

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“Optimism reigns in officialdom that the [London] conference will be productive of peace. It was stated that negotiations will probably last over a period of several month and that the Irish delegation likely will be increased by financial and legal experts as intricate financial and delicate constitutional points have to be settled.” — Front page news story and illustration in the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, July 16, 1921.

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“Special constables are regarded as chiefly responsible for the outrages and mischief reported from Ulster during the past week in marked contrast to the manner in which the Irish-English truce is being observed in the rest of the country. … Orangemen have broken both the spirit and letter of the armistice by killing Catholics, burning their houses, firing into a convent and creating disorder at the funerals of Catholic victims by hooting party songs and hurling foul epithets at the corsage. … Meanwhile the Catholics have remained under control.” — Special Cable to the National Catholic Welfare Council News Service, Washington, D.C., July 18, 1921.

***

“Mr. Lloyd George invited the heads of the Irish Republic to come and discuss with him a basis for peace; the little Welsh trickster did not, by virtue of that invitation, become any the less treacherous and unscrupulous. There is every evidence that the Irish President and his associates are fully aware of the character of the man with whom they have to deal, and despite all the wiliness and diplomacy at his command, he is not getting the best of it in his contest with their honesty and statesmanship. It would be well for Americans … to remember that it is a mistake to regard the proffer to Ireland as being actuated by good faith. Not only does the British Premier’s individual character make it plain that this is not the case, but the entire history of English dealings with Ireland also goes to prove the contrary.” —  The Conferences Continue editorial in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, July 23, 1921.

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“Zeal for the right of the Irish people to decide their own political future without interference from America is commendable, but it would be much more commendable if applied to interference from England. It is noteworthy that now when Lloyd George is trying to coerce the Irish people into abandoning the Republic which they have deliberately established and have fought for gallantly for two years, the letters appearing in the English organs in New York protesting against interference from Irishmen in America are all, with one exception, written by men who never lifted a finger, gave a dollar or opened their mouths in support of Ireland’s fight for freedom. They sign Irish names, but nobody knows them, and it is doubtful if they are really Irishmen. But, whoever they may be, their protests are English Propaganda, pure and simple. Their zeal is for the British Empire, not for Ireland.” — J.I.C. Clarke On The Wrong Trail editorial in The Gaelic American, New York City, July 23, 1921.

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See my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series.

Irish-American press on partition parliament, June 1921

I’m researching a few projects this summer and posting less frequently. Please check back for updates. Visit my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series and other site content. MH

Partitioned Ireland

The Northern Ireland parliament sat for the first time on June 7, 1921. Two weeks earlier, the Ulster Unionist Party won a two-thirds majority of votes cast and 40 of the 52 seats in the new assembly. Two weeks later, King George V traveled to Belfast for the parliament’s ceremonial opening. 

The partition of six northeastern counties began with passage of Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. A  treaty creating the Irish Free State from the remaining 26 counties would be reached in December 1921.

The three editorials below are from June 1921 issues of the Irish-American press. All three publications were strongly pro-independence and against the island’s political division. David Lloyd George was the British prime minister from 1916-1922. Publication dates are linked to digital scans of the original editorial and the remaining pages of each issue.

Partition vs. Commonsense

The performances in connection with the attempted enforcement of Lloyd George’s farcical partition act in Northeast Ulster have served little other purpose than to expose, more clearly perhaps than ever before, the simple fact that partition is not an Irish but an English-made issue—a patent device to keep in existence an artificially engendered feud. But the logic of events and of the present situation is moving swiftly to convince the most sceptical that commonsense and common interests point clearly to the fact that independence of foreign rule and intrigue is the only solution of this so-called difficulty. 

The Belfast area is in reality the spearhead of English intrigue in Ireland. But the Belfast area cannot live and thrive cut off from the rest of the island. Its new partition parliament will be a parliament without an opposition party to serve as a mask for the true nature of the English intrigue at its heart. It will be a parliament staggering from the outset under an over burden of taxation for tribute. Thus it is clear that partition can no longer be mistaken for anything but the betrayal of Irish rights. It is clearly the Irish Republicans who are the defenders of the inalienable rights of the whole Irish people, in Antrim as well as in Cork, in Down as well as in Kerry.

–News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, June 4, 1921

Lloyd George’s Game In Ulster

What Lloyd George is aiming at is an artificial “Ulster” controlled by the British Government of the day. If he include the whole Northern Province there would be a majority, including Protestant Nationalists, against England, so he grouped the six Northeastern Counties together, called them “Ulster,” gerrymandered the electoral districts and placed the election machinery in the hands of the Carsonites so that a safe majority for England’s purposes might be secured. It was secured in the last election by gross fraud and intimidation. 

The next move in the game will be a “settlement” based on “an agreement between North and South,” in which the fraudulently created Ulster of six counties will have an equal vote with the other twenty-six counties of Ireland–which means a Veto on the decisions of the majority. 

–The Gaelic American, June 11, 1921

The “Six County” Parliament

The Loyalists elected to the “six-county” parliament held their first meeting last week. In the coming into existence under British law, of this body, some in the press on this side of the water pretends to see a factor tending to make what it calls a confusing situation still more confusing. “Southern” Ireland, the papers tell us, would have accepted “Home Rule” in 1914; today, the same part of Ireland will not accept it under any conditions. And, say those who seek to puzzle by their explanations, these same six counties seven years ago were ready to take up arms before they would allow “Home Rule” to be forced upon them, but today they are the only part of Ireland willing to have that same “Home Rule.” 

–The Irish Press, June 18, 1921

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

MacSwiney’s ‘Principles of Freedom’ makes U.S. debut

Terence MacSwiney

Nearly 150 Irish civilians were killed by military and police forces from the Oct. 25, 1920, voluntary hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney to the January 1921 U.S. publication of Principles of Freedom, a collection of his essays.1 Many of these deaths were reported in U.S. newspapers, most notably “Bloody Sunday” in November 1920, but few received as much ongoing attention as MacSwiney’s martyrdom. Three months after his death, the posthumous book prompted a new round of headlines. 

E.P. Dutton & Co. of New York published the 244-page book six months before the first Irish edition from Talbot Press Limited, Dublin.2 The book contained 19 chapters, what MacSwiney called “articles,” all but one of which was previously published in the Irish republican newspaper Irish Freedom during 1911-1912. In the preface, MacSwiney said:

It was my intention to publish these articles in book form as soon as possible. I had them typed for the purpose. I had no time for revision save to insert in the typed copy words or lines omitted from the original printed matter. I also made an occasional verbal alteration in the original. One article, however, that on “Intellectual Freedom,” though written in the series in the place in which it now stands, was not printed with them. It is now published for the first time.”

MacSwiney devoted three pages of the preface to explain his essay “Religion” to “avoid a possible misconception amongst people outside of Ireland.” He continued:

In Ireland there is no religious dissension, but there is religious insincerity. English politicians, to serve the end of dividing Ireland, have worked on the religious feelings of the North, suggesting the dangers of Catholic ascendancy. There is not now, and there never was, any such danger, but our enemies, by raising the cry, sowed discord in the North, with the aim of destroying Irish unity. 

Arrested Aug. 12, 1920, for possession of “seditious articles and documents,” MacSwiney was tried four days later and sentenced to two years at Brixton Prison in south London. He probably wrote the preface and finalized the book deal during his hunger strike.

E.P. Dutton & Co.’s correspondence related to the book is held by Syracuse University.3 My request for copies of this material is backlogged by COVID-19 slowdowns and lower priority due to being unaffiliated with the university. I’ll update in a future post.

U.S. Reviews

Reviews of MacSwiney’s book began to appear in U.S. newspapers the last week of January 1921, a month after his wife, Muriel, and sister, Mary, testified at American Commission on Conditions in Ireland hearings in Washington, D.C. The widow returned quickly to Ireland, but the sister remained in America to make the rounds of pro-Irish independence speaking engagements. 

MacSwiney’s “dying plea for Ireland” was “the peroration of a poet, an idealist, a dreamer, who possessed, nevertheless, a sense of humor, a leaning toward the practical, an insight into human nature which illuminate at frequent intervals the pages of the book,” The Evening World’s Martin Green wrote in one of the earliest reviews.4

“The martyr to the Irish cause was strong for the ‘dreamers, cranks and fools’. In his opinion those so designated are the backbone of a movement such as Ireland is undergoing.”

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, said the book was “a valuable contribution to philosophy … universal in its viewpoints; it happens to have Ireland as a particular and living illustration … though it can hardly be called a piece of Irish republican propaganda.”5

An editorial in the St. Louis Star said MacSwiney’s book “will not only prove a memorial to his life and his sacrifice, but it furnish the world a fresh insight into the spirit of the Irish people.”6

Period newspaper adverts show the book retailed for $2, or just under $30 with a century of inflation.7 Today, a California antiquarian and used book dealer advertises a 1921 first edition of the E.P. Dutton version in “Very Good Plus” condition for $150. (Digitized U.S. and Irish editions are linked in Note 2.)  

“Here is a document of extraordinary interest,” says the book’s original dust jacket. “It is the mind of an Irish irreconcilable turned inside out by himself for our inspection.”

From New York Herald, March 13, 1921.

Happy New Year 2021; remembering 1921

Happy New Year. Let’s hope that by the second half of it we are on our way to a post-pandemic world. I wish health and peace to all of my email subscribers, other regular readers, and new visitors in 2021.

Journalism & history

This will be the third year of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. Subjects will include Irish relations under new U.S. President Warren G. Harding, American relief efforts in Ireland, May 1921 partition of the island, July 1921 truce, and December 1921 treaty.

I will continue to explore coverage of these events in Irish-American newspapers such as The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, based in Washington, D.C. In addition to other mainstream press, this year I also will delve into 1921 reporting in the Marion Daily Star. President Harding owned and edited the Ohio daily (except Sundays). The north-central Ohio community was not a hub of Irish immigrants and their offspring, but rapidly unfolding developments from Ireland were front page news nearly every issue.

In the spirit of this centenary series, here is an excerpt from a Jan. 1, 1921, story in The Irish Press:

Recorder Of News Was Honored In Old Ireland

Ever since the ancient days men who gathered and recorded news faithfully have been accorded the highest honor, whilst those who spread false reports have been ruthlessly punished by their fellow countrymen. … The poet of the ancient days in Ireland was the substitute of the modern newspaper reporter. It was the poet who got out the ‘extra’ containing the latest war news, the poet who recorded the deeds of valor and athletic prowess, the poet who recounted the social events of his day. He was the voice of the people and, if as such, he abused his high privilege, then an outraged people poured vials of its wrath upon his head.

The evolution of the newspaper, from the days of the scribes to the present day, is a story full of strange romance. … The files of old newspapers are the most valuable history books that any nation could give to its children. The historian is, after all, only a dealer in second-hand news. … In the years to come, when the present war in Ireland shall have passed into history, when the Republic of Ireland shall have become free, strong and prosperous, students of Irish history in America will regard the back volumes of the Irish Press, published during Ireland’s dark days, as the most reliable and valuable history obtainable.

To be clear, with its direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, the Irish Press is a highly biased source. The story above was part of a campaign to boost the paper’s circulation and subscriptions. The effort failed. The weekly folded in the middle of 1922, ending a four-year publishing run.

December news roundup

Here are a few contemporary stories from December that you may have missed:

  • “There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, but… I believe the agreement reached today is the least bad version of Brexit possible, given current circumstances,” Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said after the Christmas Eve announcement of a deal between the U.K. and E.U.
  • Pope Francis appointed Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s successor in the archdiocese of Dublin, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. The formal installation is Feb. 2.
  • The United Nations ranked Ireland tied for second in the world in quality of life in its annual Human Development Report. It shares the honor with Switzerland. Norway topped the list of 189 countries. The top 20 includes Germany (6), Sweden (7), Australia (8), Denmark (10), the United Kingdom (13), and the United States (17).
  • The BBC’s “Future Planet” series featured a story on “How Ireland is abandoning its dirty fuel“, the island’s distinctively-smelling peat, or turf.
  • “I believe we can be the generation that achieves a United Ireland,” former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wrote Dec. 18 in Newsweek.I also believe that this generation of Irish Americans can be the first to return to a new and united Ireland, knowing that they helped achieve it.”

Record site traffic

This site had record traffic in 2020, whether driven by COVID-19 quarantine, quality Irish history content, or both factors. Full year traffic increased 118 percent over the previous three-year average. We’ve had 13 consecutive months of record monthly traffic since December 2019. Our daily visitor average more than doubled. Thank you. MH

On the Antrim coast, July 2019.

Coincidental crossings of the ‘Celtic’, December 1920

Muriel and Mary MacSwiney sailed from Ireland to America in late 1920 to testify about the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney, husband and brother, respectively, and the ongoing fight for freedom in their homeland. Their westbound journey aboard the liner Celtic was highly anticipated, and their arrival in New York City became front page news.

The Celtic.

Six days later, Irish leader Éamon de Valera was secreted aboard the same ship for its eastbound return to Europe, ending his 18-month mission to America. The stowaway risked arrest by British authorities if discovered once the Celtic berthed in Liverpool, England. Publicity was the last thing de Valera and other Irish supporters wanted.

These consecutive crossings of a ship named for the Irish race are coincidental. Yet they also symbolize the close relationship between Ireland and America, and highlight key events and participants of the Irish revolution at the end of its second year; what a Times of London correspondent described as “the transatlantic Irish pot boiling with a vengeance.”1 Muriel MacSwiney and de Valera each concluded their voyage aboard the Celtic with public statements about Irish hopes for American help, wishes that were mostly dashed in the new year, 1921.

‘Embarked Quietly’

Muriel MacSwiney, left, and Mary MacSwiney, right, at the Washington hearings.

News of Muriel MacSwiney’s trip aboard the Celtic began to appear in U.S. papers shortly after her husband’s Oct. 25 starvation death in a British prison. She accepted an invitation to appear before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, meeting in Washington, D.C. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, established the non-U.S. government commission on behalf of Irish sympathizers. British authorities, though dubious of the commission, privately assured U.S. officials that they would not refuse passports to Irish witnesses, including the MacSwineys.2 Nearly 40 Irish, British, and American witnesses testified at commission hearings from November 1920 through January 1921.

On Nov. 25, the MacSwineys  “embarked quietly” on the Celtic at  Queenstown, the Associated Press reported in U.S. papers. “Few people were aware that they were sailing.”3 Irish papers subsequently reported their departure with 400 others at the port, now called Cobh, a quick stop between Liverpool and New York City. The two women “were greeted on embarking the line with cheers from their fellow passengers.”4

The twin-funnel, 701-foot Celtic was launched in April 1901 from the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, part of the White Star fleet that later included Titanic. Converted to merchant and troop ship duty during the Great War, it struck a mine in 1917 off the Isle of Man, killing 17 people aboard. A year later it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea, causing six deaths. Once the war ended, the Celtic was restored to its original purpose, and people hurried to board and enjoy its accommodations on the nine-day crossings of safer seas. The Celtic called at New York about once a month, according to schedules published in 1920 newspapers.

MacSwineys Arrival

The Celtic arrived shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, at New York City’s Pier 60, a day behind schedule due to westerly gales. The next to last night at sea “was so violent that the tops of the angry waves were blown over the bridge and funnels, smothering the ship with icy spray,” The New York Times reported. Many passengers became seasick as “the big ship was tossed about.”5

This image appeared in the Boston Pilot on Dec. 5, 1920.

Muriel and Mary were the first passengers off the ship, their bags carried down the gangway by a special delegation of Irish longshoremen, ahead of American financier J. Peirpont Morgan and his wife. The two Irish women seemed unaware they had crossed the Atlantic with the famous couple, who had been in Europe since August, according to news accounts.6  

A crowd of up to 3,000 awaited them, less than half the estimated 10,000 that had gathered at the pier a day earlier. The scene turned chaotic as police confused which door the women would enter. Villard and Harry Boland, de Valera’s secretary, headed the reception. A parade of more than 70 automobiles followed, with crowds waving the Stars and Stripes and the tricolor of the Irish Republic.

Muriel MacSwiney was described as “a slender, gray eyed young woman dressed in deep mourning, with masses of black hair showing in ripples when she threw back her heavy widow’s veil.” At the end of the day, she issued a statement: 

I am deeply grateful for the wonderful reception given to me this morning, and especially to the women of America for their generous tribute to my husband’s memory. I have had many beautiful letters from America, even from American children, and I am happy to be in a country where so many are thinking about the cause of Ireland. … We feel in Ireland that America has a greater responsibility in the matter than any other land on account of her fine traditions and her war pledges, and because there are so many millions of our kin in this country.”

The women soon traveled to Washington and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland over three days, Dec. 8-10. Front page coverage of the MacSwineys appeared in the leading Irish-American weeklies, The Gaelic American, New York, and The Irish Press, Philadelphia, on Dec. 11. That same day, the Celtic began its eastward voyage back to Europe.

Eastward Crossing

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera’s return to Ireland was cloaked in as much mystery as his June 1919 arrival in America, when he’d been hidden aboard the White Star’s Lapland. Now, two weeks before Christmas, he was spirited aboard the Celtic shortly before it sailed for Liverpool. In both instances, White Star bosun Barney Downes and other Irish sailors provided key help in smuggling the leader aboard ship.7

Smuggling people, guns, and information aboard transatlantic ships was a regular operation of the war, according to an Irish Volunteer based in Liverpool from 1918-1922:

The liners plying between Liverpool and New York, especially the White Star and Cunard Boats, had Irishmen aboard who were employed to take dispatches from Liverpool for New York and vice versa. These sailors also engaged in the stowing away of leaders who wished to avoid arrest. The mode of procedure was for such a person or persons to go aboard several hours before the Liner was due to leave the dock for a landing stage and to be hidden away in the bowels of the ship. … The Atlantic route was our most important route both on account of the source of [weapons] supply at New York and because of the fact that sailings were very regular and frequent. Our best boats on that line were the Celtic and the Baltic [both of the White Star fleet].8

A few weeks before his clandestine voyage, de Valera publicly organized the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in a split from the establishment Friends of Irish Freedom. The rancorous move ended 18 months of nearly non-stop, coast-to-coast travel to raise money and political support for the Irish republic. By early December, Boland told the America reporters that de Valera needed rest from all the activity and was keeping out of view.

The Dec. 11, 1920, issue of The Evening World, New York, reported European-bound Christmas mail and some prominent passengers on the Celtic, but not stowaway Éamon de Valera.

Rumors of de Valera’s return to Ireland, however, soon began to “exercise the talents” of journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.9 The London press said de Valera was traveling to the capital for what turned out to be an unauthorized Irish peace overture. American reporters checked the hotels de Valera usually frequented in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Close associates of the Irish leader remained coy about his whereabouts. A Dec. 15 statement attributed to de Valera huffed: “I did not ask Mr. Lloyd George’s permission to come to the United States, and I shall not ask for it when the time of my return to Ireland comes.”10 He was already four days at sea.

It is unclear whether this crossing of the Celtic encountered rough weather, but de Valera was known to easily get seasick, especially hidden away from fresh air. The ship arrived in Liverpool on Dec. 20 (See maps below.), just as British officials ordered that de Valera not be prevented from landing. He was back in Dublin two before Christmas, but remained in hiding.11

Finally, on Dec. 31, Boland announced de Valera had return to Ireland. The story topped the year-end front pages of many U.S. newspapers and quoted from de Valera’s farewell message to America:

May you ever remain as I have known you, the land of the generous hearted and the kindly. … I came to you on a holy mission; a mission of freedom; I return to my people who sent me, not indeed as I had dreamed it, with the mission accomplished, but withal with a message that will cheer in the dark days that have come upon them and will inspire the acceptance of such sacrifices as must yet be made. …. You will not need to be assured that Ireland will ‘not be ungrateful.’12

Afterward

Muriel MacSwiney sailed home to Ireland the next day, New Year’s Day, 1921, aboard the Panhandle State. Mary MacSwiney remained in America and continued to speak out for Irish independence. While many regular Americans supported the Irish cause, the U.S. government under new President Warren Harding considered it a British domestic issue, the same stance as predecessor Woodrow Wilson. In August, with a ceasefire agreed in the war, Mary MacSwiney and Boland returned to Ireland together aboard the White Star’s Olympic.13 Four months later a treaty ended the war and created the Irish Free State.

In December 1928 the Celtic ran aground in a storm on the approach to Queenstown (Cobh), near Roche’s Point Lighthouse. It was found unworthy of repair and scrapped.

Charting Dev’s Return to Ireland on the Celtic

The two maps below are from the “Shipping News” pages of The New York Herald. Note each map shows representations of more than two dozen passenger liners. Clicking the images will show a larger view in most browsers.

This map is from Dec. 12, 1920, a day after the Celtic left New York with stowaway Éamon De Valera. The Celtic is represented by the circled 1 in Row D, third block from bottom, in a cluster of ships off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

 This map is from Dec. 19, 1920. The Celtic is represented by the circled 3 in Row Q, second block from the top. It arrived the next day at Liverpool, England.

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See all the stories in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election outcome

Warren G. Harding, 1920.

In the November 1920 U.S. presidential election, Irish-American voters joined the overwhelming majority, including newly enfranchised women, who rejected the pro-British policies of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio, overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox by an Electoral College margin of 404 to 127.

The election occurred a week after the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney in a London prison and just a few weeks before “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin. In the United States, Éamon De Valera was laying the ground work for the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland would begin hearings in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month.

The U.S. election outcome was not front page news in The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, or the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Washington. John Devoy’s Gaelic American editorialized that Irish-American voters:

…did not care particularly for Harding, but they were cut to defeat the League of Nations, and they took the most practical way of accomplishing that object. The result is that the League of Nations is dead in America, and all the efforts of all the Anglomaniacs, International Financiers, peace cranks and the British agents will not be able to restore the corpose to life.1

In Ireland, the Irish Independent quoted from the president-elect’s March 1920 letter to Frank P. Walsh, member of American Commission on Irish Independence:

I have a very strong conviction myself of the very great part played by Americans of Irish ancestry in winning the independence and in the making of our great United States. More than that, I have very great and sympathetic feeling for the movement to bring about the independence of Ireland and the establishment of Irish nationality, which is the natural aspiration of any liberty-loving people.2

Few people on either side of the Atlantic were fooled by such platitudes. The Independent noted Harding’s earlier Senate votes against the Irish cause, as Devoy also had pointed out during the campain, when he backed another Republican senator. Again, the outcome was more a vote against Wilson and the Democrats than for Harding.

Democrats were bitter. George White, chairman of the Democaratic National Committee, said:

The fate of Irish freedom has been settled adversely. Men and women of Irish blood have voted for the candidate who has declared the Irish question to be a domestic problem of Great Britain, in which we can have no official concern. With their support the American people have returned the Irish problem to Downing Street.3

Once he took office in March 1921, Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as the nation focused on domestic affairs and Ireland deteriorated into civil war.4

Earlier posts on the 1920 U.S. presidential election: