Tag Archives: The Irish Press

Protestant preacher helped promote Irish independence

Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of Killead Church, County Antrim, arrived in America in March 1920 to help promote Irish independence. His particular mission: counter the prevailing notion that Irish nationalism was strictly a Catholic desire. The Protestant preacher toured with republican leader Éamon de Valera, who had reached U.S. shores in June 1919.

Rev. J.A.H.Irwin, a Presbyterian minister from near Belfast, arrived in America in March 1920 to present the case of Irish Protestants in favor of self-determination for Ireland. Library of Congress photo.

In one of his earliest U.S. newspaper interviews1, Rev. Irwin, then 44, said:

I have come to the United States mainly because I feel that the Irish issue is likely to be misconstrued to the American public. I knew that a deputation was sent to represent the extreme Unionist, and I knew that the southern aspect was capably presented by Mr. de Valera and his friends, but I felt that there was an entirely different aspect and point of view that neither of these parties could or would put before the American people.

It is absolutely and entirely false to say the issue [of Irish independence] is a religious one. … The question is purely political and economic. [Unionist leader] Sir Edward Carson … has allowed himself and his followers to use [sectarianism] as the last refuge of a defeated politician. He knows that it is the only weapon he can use with effect on the American people, who are lovers of freedom and justice, and who, he knows, would resent any form of Catholic aggression.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, a pro-nationalist weekly with ties to the provisional republican government in Dublin, reported on Rev. Irwin’s April 5, 1920, address to the Protestant Friends of Ireland2 in New York. “A sea of Irish faces, 5,000 strong, all eagerly wait[ed] to hear the speaker of the evening,” began the story3 by Agnes Newman, sister of 1916 Easter Rising martyr Sir Roger Casement.

Dr. Irwin emphasized the fact that if Britain would withdraw her present army of occupation from Ireland not one hair upon the head of a man, woman or child would be injured in any part of Ireland. He strongly denounced the oppression and cruelty of the present ‘Reign of Terror’ and said he had traveled these thousands of miles not in the cause of humanity alone, but in the cause of Christianity.

Within weeks of his U.S. arrival, Unionist forces began a smear campaign against Rev. Irwin. “His views [are] absolutely opposed to the whole mass of Irish Presbyterian opinion … his statement … a mass of falsehoods and misrepresentations. He has no credentials to speak for either Presbyterians or Protestants,” stated a widely-circulated April 10, 1920, letter from Belfast, attributed only to “responsible representatives.”4

Nevertheless, Rev. Irwin became a regular platform guest with de Valera as the Irish bond drive toured through the Southern states of America, including a controversial stop in Birmingham, Alabama. (I’ll explore that in a future post.) Rev. Irwin also visited several Canadian cities.

Upon his January 1921 return to Ulster, the preacher was arrested by British authorities on weapons charges. As colorfully described by the Fermanagh Herald, “a farmer’s gun for which there was no ammunition, and a revolver which would not revolve, with ammunition that would not fit it.”5

News coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested Rev. Irwin was the first Presbyterian minister arrested by the British state since the rebellion of 1798. These contemporary sources reported he was held at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, and/or the Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down; either for a few days or several weeks of a two-year sentence.

That summer, a special commission impaneled at Killead church considered complaints about  the preacher’s activities in America. The majority opinion was that “if outsiders had left the congregation alone there would have been no occasion for the commission. It was due, they said, to outside influence for political purposes.”6 Rev. Irwin remained at Killead for another five years, moved to Scotland until 1935, then settled in Dublin.7

In 1937, de Valera consulted with Rev. Irwin about the composition of the new Constitution of Ireland. The preacher later joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil political party, where he served on the national executive from 1945 until his death in 1954.8

Rev. J.A.H. Irwin in March 1921. Library of Congress photo.

1919 Revisited: American reporting of Irish independence

This year I explored 1919 U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of events in the struggled for Irish freedom. I produced 32 stand-alone posts for my American Reporting of Irish Independence series about developments on both sides of the Atlantic, including:

  • Dáil Éireann, revolutionary parliament of the Irish Republic
  • Irish Race Convention
  • American Commission on Irish Independence
  • Éamon de Valera’s tour of America
  • News reporting and opinion pieces for and against the Irish cause

Many of my posts are focused on three Irish-American weeklies: The Irish Press, a short-lived (1918-1922) Philadelphia paper with direct political and financial ties to revolutionary Ireland; the Kentucky Irish American, published from 1898 to 1968 in Louisville; and The Irish Standard, circulated from 1886 to 1920 in Minneapolis, Minn. Since all three papers are digitized, my posts are laced with links to the original pages. The Irish American and Standard offered more moderate coverage of Ireland’s cause than the Press, reflecting a more conservative Irish America in the heartland, rather than the more activist immigrant pockets of the East Coast.

Ruth Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

I also produced a five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, about a young Chicago Daily News correspondent who reported from the early months of the revolution. Upon her return to America, Russell wrote a book about her experience, protested against British rule in Ireland; and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell said of the Sinn Féin leaders. “[They were] the most brilliant crowd of people that I have met in my life, and as a newspaper person I have mixed in at a good many gatherings.”1

Here’s the full series:

Thanks to the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland for the opportunity to present my research at conferences in Dallas and Belfast, respectively.

Presenting at the NPHFI conference, Queens University Belfast, November 2019.

De Valera’s bad headline day in L.A.

On Nov. 19, 1919, a year and a week after the armistice ending World War I, the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations. The same day, 2,670 miles west of Washington, D.C., Éamon de Valera was hammered by negative headlines in the Los Angeles Times as he arrived in the California city.

These seven headlines appeared below that day’s nameplate, taking half the available front page space:

Sims Denounces De Valera and Sinn Fein Plotters
Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, commander of the U.S. overseas fleet, said “this brotherhood is attempting to stir up hatred against our allies in the war.”

Irishman Near Collapse
“According to physicians, the Irish leader suffered a near-collapse that may necessitate his cancelling” other stops in California. Doctors in San Francisco had ordered de Valera to rest, but he pressed on to L.A.1

De Valera Unwelcome: Protest Against the Sinn Fein Leader by Societies Shows City’s Stand
“American Legion posts, church bodies and British societies have been particularly active in denouncing the Sinn Fein leader and have adopted resolutions declaring him a traitor to the cause of the Allies in the war and charging him with attempting to stir up enmity between the United States and England.”

San Diego Blow for De Valera
The city’s mayor said he would not greet the visitor on his next stop. “I am part Irish myself and he does not represent that part of me at all.”

Shriners Protest Use of Hall by De Valera
The philanthropic arm of the Masons cashed a rental deposit check from Irish supporters, then claimed they were unaware the event featured de Valera. Their change of mind appeared to be prompted by the Times’ amplified harangue against him.

Great Citrus Belt Hits Hard at Sinn Feiner
The Associated Chambers of Commerce of the San Gabriel Valley, representing 17 smaller towns, passed a resolution denouncing de Valera as a traitor.

No Music for Paraders: Pasadena and Long Beach Bands Refuse to Play for De Valera Today
The decision was driven in part by protests from a group of U.S. Civil War veterans, who compared de Valera and Sinn Fein to the Copperheads of the 1860s.

As Dave Hannigan explains:

The degree of vitriol directed toward de Valera can be traced to the publisher Harry Chandler, who a couple of months earlier had described his interest in the Versailles Treaty thus: “as far as the Los Angeles Times is concerned, the League [of Nations] is not our politics now but our religion.” Chandler obviously believed this Irishman was preaching a blasphemous doctrine against the League and had to be dealt with accordingly; not to mention that his visit was being sponsored, at least in part, by a rival paper, the Los Angeles Examiner.2

That night, the crowd gathered outside the Shrine Auditorium to see de Valera was prohibited from entering the building. The Irish leader, who gave a speech earlier in day at his hotel, avoided the scene and departed the next morning for San Diego, despite the expected snub by the city’s mayor.

De Valera before a Los Angeles crowd, a few days later than planned in November 1919.

Four days later, de Valera returned to Los Angeles for a rescheduled appearance at a minor league baseball stadium. The outdoor event drew a larger crowd than would have seen him at the indoor venue. The Times’ page 13 story described de Valera as “the mythical ‘president’ of a mythical Irish ‘republic.’ “3 The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, months earlier complained about the demeaning device of using quotes around the words such as president and republic.

The same day’s Times front page declared: “Sinn Fein Terrorist Rule Ireland With Hate“. The story by American correspondent George Seldes opened with this quote from a British military officer:

“Ireland is terrorized. It is seething with crime. Let me tell you one thing, it is no longer safe to go about in the King’s uniform.”

The generally negative portrait of Irish republican efforts nevertheless recognized the arrests and imprisonment without trial of members of Dáil Éireann. Seldes concluded: “Despite all this crime, a stranger in Ireland goes about freely and safely.”

Irish-American newspapers, though slowed by their weekly publication schedules and commitments to other news content, responded vehemently to the Times‘ L.A. coverage.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, with its direct links de Valera and the separatist government in Dublin, described the daily as “the best-known labor-hating and pro-British sheet in the west.” The Press continued:

The Times engaged for four weeks in the bitterest and most malignant campaign of misrepresentation and hatred that has been witnessed in this country in years. Lies–on several occasions six columns of them in one edition–were hurled at de Valera and the Irish people. Editorially and in news columns deliberately incited to mob violence.4

The Kentucky Irish American headlined “Notorious Sheet Exposed” (the Times) and noted the Hearst-owned Examiner “made a special fight in favor of a fair hearing and the other papers of that district were friendly to the lecture.”5

The Irish Standard barely mentioned the Times, except that “de Valera made only one reference to the newspaper which boasted of having prevented his appearance at the Shrine Auditorium, when he said, speaking of the Irish movement:

It is not racial, it is not religious. You are told it is religious. Now, it is very easy to see that it is not, and so difficult would it be to prove it religious that even the Los Angeles Times admits it is not a religious issue.6

De Valera and his supporters returned to New York from California, taking a short break from the coast-to-coast tour that began in June before tackling other problems. Hannigan writes:

By any standard of measurement, this extended cross-country jaunt was the most successful aspect of de Valera’s stay in America. In terms of raising awareness and drawing the attention of newspapers and the public alike, it was a fantastic achievement. For the duration of the tour and a good while after, coverage of all things Irish, especially in regional press, exploded.7

Éamon de Valera’s October 1919 visit to Pittsburgh

This post fits two ongoing series: “American Reporting of Irish Independence” and “Pittsburgh Irish.” Check out my earlier stories from each link. MH

***

De Valera in 1919

Éamon de Valera had been touring America for three months when reports of his upcoming stop in Pittsburgh appeared in the city’s newspapers. The Sept. 18 Post-Gazette announced a Sept. 26 visit, but the next day told readers “no date has been set.” On Sept. 28, the newspaper reported the Irish leader would arrive in the city on Oct. 3. 

The Daily Post announced the itinerary:

Upon his arrival Friday evening he will be escorted to the William Penn Hotel by prominent friends of Irish freedom. After dinner he will attend a meeting of representatives of the Irish American societies of Western Pennsylvania in the ballroom … Admission to this meeting will be by card. On Saturday he will attend exercises at Duquesne University, where he will have conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. On Saturday evening he will address two meetings, on at the Syria Mosque and the other at Memorial hall. … While de Valera is speaking in one hall the meeting in the other will be addressed by either Frank P. Walsh, former chairman of the war labor board and now chairman of the American commission on Irish independence, or by Harry J. Boland, secretary of the Sinn Fein organization in Ireland.1

This event would cap more than a year of large, passionate public meetings in the city focused on Irish independence. In May 1918, Pittsburgh’s Irish community protested British military conscription in Ireland, six months before the end of the Great War. In December 1918, they rallied again to support Ireland’s cause at the post-war Paris peace conference. In June 1919, a “record-breaking crowd” of 5,000 gathered for a “non-denominational self-determination mass meeting where speakers discussed the claims of Ireland to conduct its own affairs without interference.”2

Domestic Opposition 

The same edition of the Daily Post that published de Valera’s Pittsburgh itinerary also reported on “Ulster Day” in the city, a seventh anniversary commemoration of the Ulster Covenant against home rule in Ireland. North of Ireland Protestants opposed this milder form of political autonomy before the war; now they disparaged the independent government sought by de Valera and the republican Sinn Féin party.

The Ulster Society of Pittsburgh gathered at the Smithfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church, where Rev. E. M. McFadden preached on the history of “Ulsterites in Ireland.” It is unclear from newspaper accounts whether McFadden mentioned de Valera’s upcoming visit, only that he orated about how the spirit of prior generations of Ulstermen “finds a parallel in the accentuating motives that dominate the minds of their descendants in their continuation of the fight today.”3 

Two month earlier, McFadden organized a resolution inviting unionist leader Sir Edward Carson to the United States to “offset the propaganda for Irish independence.”4 In December, McFadden traveled to New York City to meet the visiting delegation of Protestant clergy, sans Carson, from Ulster.5

Secular opposition to de Valera also mounted the week of his Pittsburgh visit. In Harrisburg, 200 miles to the east, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion passed a resolution that declared New York City-born de Valera “was an American and should have served in the army of navy and that he should not be accepted or recognized by any city of the United States.” The patriotic veterans organization, chartered by Congress a month earlier, adopted the motion to considerable cheering, despite attempts to speak against it.6

His Arrival

De Valera reached Pittsburgh’s Union Station about 8 p.m. Oct. 3, more than an hour late. Such evening arrivals were by design, “so as to facilitate demonstrations” that working people could not attend during the day.7 Boland and Walsh accompanied de Valera, as advanced, and they were cheered by a crowd of about 5,000. Two columns of uniformed veterans and cadets flanked the path to 100 waiting automobiles, but “it was almost impossible for police to clear a passageway” for the motorcade to make the half-mile trip to the William Penn Hotel.8

In two speeches the following evening, de Valera compared Ireland to the 13 American colonies.

We ask but one thing for ourselves–freedom. We have no fight with Great Britain on other subjects. Let us govern ourselves as we see fit, have some say in the making of laws which we must obey, and Ireland will rise among the great nations of the world, a credit to the land that gave us freedom.9

The Daily Post reported that de Valera was “warmly greeted by thousands of Irish sympathizers” who lined up for blocks an hour before the speech and filled the overflow hall. Their “wildly enthusiastic demonstrations testif[ied] to the popularity of the cause.”10 The newspaper reports do not mention any counter protests.

The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to the Sinn Féin government in Ireland, devoted its Oct. 9 issue to de Valera’s two-day visit to that city prior to his Pittsburgh stop. The Pittsburgh coverage appeared a week later and emphasized the two halls needed to accommodate “the great crowd … overwhelmed with joy, many standing on their seats and all cheering and applauding several minutes” upon his arrival.11

Undated photo of the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. The building opened in 1916, three years before de Valera’s visit. It was demolished in 1991.

The nationalist weekly also reported the comments of Alexander P. Moore, publisher of the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper and one of the event co-chairmen. Unsurprisingly, the city’s other dailies were silent about the comments of the rival publisher. Moore downplayed the religious divide in Ireland.

“I am a living denial of the statement that the Irish cause is a religious question,” he said. “I am the son of an Ulster Protestant whose father was driven out of Ireland because he fought for Irish freedom.”12 

Return Visits

Before his Pittsburgh speeches, De Valera made a brief visit to Duquesne University, but he was unable to attend the announced ceremony due to a schedule “misunderstanding.”13 He returned to Pittsburgh eight months later to give an address and accept the honorary degree from the Catholic college.14

This second visit came shortly after de Valera’s failure to convince the U.S. Republican Party to adopt a pro-Irish plank at its national convention in Chicago, and before a similar effort fell short at the Democratic convention in San Francisco. Animosity deepened between factions of Irish America. Some U.S. newspapers reported de Valera had “outstayed his welcome in the United States” and was about to leave America.15 In Pittsburgh, de Valera told reporters: “I will not leave this county until I am definitely recalled by the Irish parliament or deported.”16 He remained in America until December 1920.

De Valera’s reception at the Catholic university was warmed by a special connection to Ireland:

The University thus honours him not merely in consideration of this scholarship, which is widely acknowledged, not merely out of sympathy with the cause which he represents, but also as a tribute to one who has attained eminence and has been associated both as pupil and teacher with a sister college, namely, Blackrock College in Dublin.17

De Valera returned to Pittsburgh in March 1930, then an out-of-power leader of the opposition Fianna Fáil political party and chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He was in the United States to raise money for a newspaper venture, The Irish Press, which a year later would begin to publish in Dublin. The same-name Philadelphia paper that reported his 1919 U.S. visit ceased publication in 1922.

De Valera’s 1920 and 1930 trips to Pittsburgh didn’t generate nearly as much excitement or press coverage as in October 1919. The 1930 visit came within a decade of the war-ending treaty that created the 26-county Irish Free State, shy of the republic de Valera and his supporters had sought in 1919. Six counties in Ulster were partitioned as Northern Ireland and remained part of Great Britain. A bloody civil war divided the Irish in the south. 

“Irish Americans became utterly disillusioned” by the two-year civil war and “enthusiasm for the nationalist movement in Ireland dissipated.18 In America, as in Ireland, many would blame de Valera for the division that lingered for decades to come.

***

In addition to cited newspapers, these books also were consulted:

  • Dolan, James P., The Irish Americans: A History. Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2008.
  • Hannigan, Dave, De Valera in America: The Rebel President and the Making of Irish Independence. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010.
  • McCartan, Patrick, With De Valera In America. Brentano, New York, 1932.
  • McCullagh, David, De Valera, Rise 1882-1932. Gill Books, New York, 2017.
  • O’Doherty, Katherine, Assignment America: De Valera’s Mission to the United States. De Tanko Publishers, New York, 1957.
  • O’Neil, Gerard F., Pittsburgh Irish: Erin on the Three Rivers. The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2015.

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

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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.

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

Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin.