American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is the last of 10 posts in this series. Earlier posts and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence are found at the linked project landing page. MH
Near the end of his series on Ireland, Guest wrote that “extremists of both sides have been busy writing letters to the editor” of the New York Globe.1 He continued:
First, the articles were damned by one group as ‘British propaganda,’ and later denounced by the other camp as briefs for the Sinn Féin cause. At the same time there were letters from Englishmen and Irishmen, and from Americans who were free enough from prejudice and sufficiently fairminded to appreciate that blame probably attached to both sides, and that an unbiased presentation of the facts would perhaps contribute to better understanding all around. As the Globe has pointed out editorially, it is to these middle-grounders that both Ireland and England must look for a solution of the Irish question.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been unable to access the original 1920 New York Globe series on microfilm at the Library of Congress.2 Instead, I have reviewed Guest’s stories as published in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, both available online. Such digital sources also reveal some of the reactions to his stories. Here are three examples; the first two critical, the third more nuanced :
- In The Irish Press, a Philadelphia weekly with direct links to the separatist Sinn Féin government in Ireland, Associate Editor Joseph A. Sexton accused the Globe of publishing the series “for the evident purpose of influencing American opinion in favor of English domination in Ireland. We make mention of these articles, not because such of them that have come to our attention are essentially different from the usual anti-Irish article, but rather because on the contrary they are of just the type that has become so common … [filled with] the stock tale of outrages, of secret societies and so forth.”3 Sexton published these comments two weeks before the Guest series was concluded.
- In The Baltimore Sun, which published some but not all of Guest’s stories, “Two Youthful Sinn Féiners” wrote a letter to the editor that suggested the reporter “compiled his series from stories he heard during his stay in London.” The writers described Irish bond buyers in America as “men and women of stout Irish lineage and we are sure that reports of ‘such shocking outrages’ will not cause them to withdraw their subscriptions.”4
- More significantly, Irish-born writer Ernest A. Boyd referenced Guest’s “excellent articles” in an April 30, 1920, dispatch from Dublin, also published in the Sun. “That there are crimes and outrages nobody can deny,” Boyd wrote. “If the government department concerned produces statistics, what can one do but reprint them? Mr. Guest did so, and was accordingly denounced as a sinister agent of John Bull.”5
To understand these statistics it is essential to have an idea of the peculiar position of the English administration in Ireland … [which is] to prove that Sinn Féin is a criminal conspiracy. … In official circles all Irish crimes are now Sinn Féin crimes, just as they were all Nationalist crimes in the days of Parnell. … It is easy to conceive the impossible position of a special correspondent who has to rely for information upon informants of this type.
To partisans and propagandists, Boyd noted, “the journalist who accepts their own dope is an unbiased champion of truth and justice; the journalist who accepts the other fellow’s is a scoundrel. The illusion is inevitable and human. … For many obvious reasons the American press has given the best outside accounts of current affairs in Ireland.”
It should also be remembered that Guest’s series debuted a month after the New York Globe published a controversial story about Éamon de Valera’s views on foreign policy. The Sinn Féin leader, then touring America to raise money and political support for Ireland, made an awkward comparison of U.S. government relations with Cuba under the Monroe Doctrine to potential British recognition of Ireland, provided Ireland agreed to avoid international alliances hostile to Britain.
De Valera had given a draft of his views to the American correspondent for The Westminster Gazette, presumably hoping to influence prominent politicians back in London. He didn’t realize the Gazette had a cooperative arrangement with the Globe, which Feb. 6, 1920, published a story under the headline “De Valera Opens the Door”. De Valera’s enemies in America seized on the Globe’s (mis)interpretation, which widened hostilities among pro-Irish independence factions.6 The episode also might have biased reactions to Guest’s series, at least among Sinn Féin supporters.
The outcome of Guest’s Ireland trip and reporting differed from the simultaneous 1920 experiences of Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News. He did not turn his Ireland reporting into a book, as she did. He was not invited to testify before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, which in November 1920 opened public hearings in Washington, D.C., as she was.
Guest became the Globe’s “special stock investigator.”7 He wrote a series of stories about securities fraud and other schemes “in which the promoters appeal to the cupidity of the public through the lure of large possible profits on small investment.”8
In June 1923, the Globe was merged into the New York Sun. Guest eventually left journalism. The 1930 U.S. Census shows he held a “council” position in the “public retail construction” industry.9 By the mid-1930s he became executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, where he shaped industrial development reports, similar to those he had focused on in several of his Ireland stories.10
It appears that Guest died in late September 1960, age 81, though I haven’t located an online obituary to confirm he is the person whose cremated remains were placed in the urn garden at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.11 If this Harry F. Guest is the former Globe reporter, he joined journalists Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, and Henry Chadwick, the British-born sportswriter who became the “father of baseball,” as Green-Wood denizens in eternal rest.
Harry F. Guest traveled to Ireland and wrote his series for the New York Globe as the two-year-old influenza pandemic began to ease. More than 20,000 people died in Ireland, though Guest didn’t mention the outbreak in the reporting available for review.12 It is ironic, to be sure, that I have revisited his series while quarantined in my Washington, D.C. apartment due to another pandemic.
Having survived the Spanish flu era, Guest probably considered the possibility of a similar outbreak during his lifetime. It is unlikely, however, that he imagined the technology that has allowed me to read his work 100 years later. Newspaper preservation on microfilm didn’t begin until some 15 years after the publication of his Ireland series,13 let alone digital access to those images via computer and internet. Eventually, I hope to review the 1920 issues of the Globe on microfilm at the Library of Congress. I want to see the paper’s promotion and placement of Guest’s stories, its other news coverage and editorials about Ireland, including de Valera and related activity in the U.S., and the letters to the editor.
Ruth Russell lived among the poor in Dublin’s slums, stood outside factories with striking and unemployed workers; and listened to the animated conversations of Irish revolutionaries in their homes and meeting places. Guest was less of a participant and more journalist-as-observer, his reporting almost technocratic. Unlike Russell, his work leaves the impression of someone who was around the Irish people and the British authorities, but not fully among them. His coverage of the Glengarriff mummers performance and the Ballynahinch market confrontation are notable exceptions.
Russell picked a side. She stated her case for Irish independence and against British imperialism in print and in public. It probably cost not only her job at the Daily News, but also her career as a journalist. She became a school teacher. Guest presented his “aspects of the Irish situation,” nine points each for the Irish and English sides, then left “the weighting of the evidence to the reader.” He became an industrial development lobbyist.
Charges that Guest was pro-British or pro-Sinn Féin missed the mark. He was objective to a fault. His arms-length engagement with 1920 Ireland resulted in a series that, 100 years on, is an interesting and informative snapshot of the period, but ultimately unsatisfying. In times of revolution and pandemic, readers generally prefer more passion in the prose.
With many thanks to those who have read my series about Guest’s 1920 Ireland reporting during these difficult weeks of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As always, comments, corrections, and other feedback are welcome. Stay safe. MH