Tag Archives: Twelfth of July

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.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

The rough road to Dublin, 1932

The Irish Story has published an excellent piece by Barry Sheppard exploring how the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin “inflamed sectarian passions” in Northern Ireland.

Held once every four years, an International Eucharistic Congress is a gathering of Roman Catholic clergy, religious and laity for the purpose of bearing witness to the “Real Presence of Jesus” in the Eucharist, one of the church’s core beliefs. The 31st such Congress, 22–26 June 1932, arrived 10 years after the partition of Ireland and three years after the 1929 centennial of Catholic Emancipation. Sheppard quotes another author who described the later event as “the public identification of the new state with an apparently unified and triumphant Catholicism.”

Sheppard continues that contemporary newspaper representations of the Congress portrayed it as the apex of Irish history, or the high point of Irish religious history. Such “triumphalist reporting no doubt had negative connotations among the Protestant unionist population in Northern Ireland.”

The result were a series of bloody clashes in the north, and a hardening of the island’s already bitter sectarian divide. As I read the story, several questions immediately came to my mind:

  • What did English Catholic author C. K. Chesterton have to say about this?

I pulled my copy of “Christendom in Dublin” from the shelf. Chesterton doesn’t mention the violence in the north in his 1933 book about the Congress. He does open with a chapter titled “The Flutter of the Flags,” a breezy discourse on the Union Jack, the tricolour of the then Irish Free State and the Papal flag. “It must be remembered that, to the Dublin populace, the Union Jack is not so much the popular flag of the English people; it is the party flag of one Irish party; the old Orange party of Ascendancy.”

Later, Chesterton writes that seeing so much of Christendom in Dublin was like being taken to the top of a mountain and seeing all the kingdoms of the earth. He adds: “If any bright wit from Portadown or Belfast retorts that the Devil, in the person of the Papal Legate, would naturally take me there, I am content to bow and smile.”

  • What did the American press have to say about this?

This four-deck headline on page 2 of  the 27 June edition of The New York Times reflects the international coverage:

Catholics Mobbed in Belfast Region

Crowds Stone Pilgrims Boarding Trains for Eucharistic Congress in Dublin
Rioters Knock Girls Down
Tear Hats, Lunch Baskets and Umbrellas From Women–Buses and Steamers Attacked
  • What does history have to say about this?

In his 2009 book, “The Eucharistic Congress, Dublin 1932”, author Rory O’Dwyer observes that charges the event only served to further consolidate the partition of Ireland are undeniable. Still, Ireland’s religious and political divisions were already “firmly entrenched” by this time. Then, he slyly notes:

Two weeks (after the Congress), main streets in most Northern towns were profusely decorated with loyalist symbols of the Twelfth of July celebrations. There was no record of any damage to these decorations.

Midsummer “marching season” violence between Catholics and Protestants did occur long before the 1932 Congress, and some of the worst such rioting happened just three years later. That’s detailed in another piece in The Irish Story by John Dorney.