Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

Votes for women, support for Ireland

National Museum of American History

In 10 weeks American women are expected to have a large impact in deciding the U.S. presidential election, which arrives at the centenary of their enfranchisement. The August 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution also was followed by a presidential vote in America as the war of independence unfolded in Ireland.

“Women of Irish blood in the United States should lose no time in qualifying as voters, so that their wonderful influence may be used to make better laws in the United States, as well as assisting to secure recognition of the Irish Republic,” The Irish Press of Philadelphia editorialized. “Those who fail to do so are neglecting their duty and will be held responsible for their negligence by those of the race who make use of this new and powerful weapon, which the vote places in the hands of every woman who can qualify as a citizen of this Republic.1

Irish women had received restricted voting rights in February 1918. Ten months later they helped sweep republican Sinn Féin candidates to office, including Constance Georgine Markievicz, the first women elected to Parliament. “Countess” Markievicz and the other separatists refused their seats in London and instead formed a breakaway government in Dublin.

By August 1920, the war in Ireland was turning more brutal. Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and others were dying in prison hunger strikes. “Will the newly-enfranchised American Women show their love for freedom and justice by asking their Government to prove its good faith to the democracies of the world by stopping the murder of Mayor MacSwiney and his companions?” Irish activist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington asked in a public cable.2

A small but determined group of American women activists continued their months-long protest against imperial rule in Ireland through demonstrations outside the British embassy and other locations in Washington, D.C. Some suffragists and supporters of Irish independence criticized their tactics as counterproductive.

In a pair of early September 1920 editorials, The Irish Press addressed both the “women pickets” and MacSwiney’s pending martyrdom:3

American women will appreciate the suffering of the wives and mothers of Irishmen who are forced to sacrifice all for their motherland. American women are now fully enfranchised citizens; will they by their votes permit the continued recognition by the United States of the Government in Ireland [Britain] that is responsible for conditions such as this? …

The people of Ireland … may expect the utmost assistance of all American women. … Picketing … is not easy work [and] many men would not care to undertake it. … If all the women in the United States would take action, not necessarily in the same manner, but with the same earnestness, the mothers of Ireland would never again need to sacrifice their sons.

Ireland was not a major issue in the November 1920 election. Republican Sen. Warren G. Harding of Ohio overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox in a rebuke to Woodrow Wilson’s eight years in the White House. Women swelled the voting turnout to nearly 27 million from 18.5 million four years earlier. Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief early in 1921, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as Americans focused on domestic affairs.4

American women pickets on behalf of Ireland, April 1920.

Further reading:

Tara M. McCarthy’s Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920 is “an important and understudied perspective on the evolution of women’s activism in the United States … emphasizing the particular role of Irish American women in the politics of reform through the interlinked lenses of Irish nationalism, labor, and suffrage,” the Women’s History Association of Ireland said in a review. “These are explored using local, national, and transnational contexts and therefore provide a useful addition to the study of American politics in addition to the Irish diaspora’s experiences abroad.”

The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial website offers several profiles of native Irish and Irish-American women who helped win the vote a century ago. They including:

Burns and other women are also in the “Fearless: A Tribute to Irish American Women” feature from the Library of Congress.

My “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series includes an interview with American historian Catherine M. Burns about the 1920 women’s pickets. A separate post about Mary Galvin of Philadelphia explores the activity of one of the women.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City, October 1917.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Newspapers

Harry F. Guest

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. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. For this post only, I’ve linked the headline to a .pdf copy of the story for newspaper historians.  MH

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British Suspension of Irish Newspapers Raised Great Storm of Protest1

Guest, a veteran New York City reporter and editor, devoted this story to the antagonism between foreign and domestic newspapers and the British administration in Ireland at Dublin Castle. He wrote:

Being a newspaper editor in Ireland is a ticklish job. 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.

As a newspaper man, I have great respect for the Irish newspapers. When one which has been suppressed receives permission to resume publication, it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1920

Guest again referenced the Defense of the Realm Act, or “Dora,” which he noted was used to exert “strict censorship not only over dispatches sent from Ireland, but foreign news sent to Ireland as well.” This may be why Guest waited until he returned to America before writing his series about Ireland, just as United Press correspondent Ralph F. Couch had done in early 1919 after his scoop interview with prison escapee Éamon de Valera.

Guest reported the mid-January 1920, Dublin post office seizures of the New York American, Irish World, and Gaelic American,2 with “thousands of copies … carried off to Dublin Castle” because they contained articles about the Irish bond drive in America. “This was not the first seizure of its kind in Ireland and it probably will not be the last,” he wrote.

It should be remembered that Britain was not the first or only democracy to censor or suppress the press. In America, the Committee of Public Information (CPI), created in April 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, “became the U.S. ministry for propaganda,” and an “unofficial censor” of the domestic and foreign press. Journalist George Creel and the secretaries of State, Navy, and War ran the CPI, which worked with the U.S. Postal Service to block distribution of the New York-based Gaelic American and Irish World, and the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal.3

Historian Ian Kenneally has explained the main political motivation for press censorship in Ireland was to keep the views and activities of the separatist Sinn Féin from Irish newspaper readers. He continued:

The situation worsened in September 1919 when the authorities in Dublin Castle abolished the post of censor. The decision was greeted by cynicism from the Irish press with newspaper editors deriding the fact that the censor may have gone but the restrictive regulations remained in place. A wave of newspaper suppressions swept the country. This was because the Irish press now had no censor to guide them as to what would be deemed unacceptable by Dublin Castle.4

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland. Late 19th or early 20th century image. National Library of Ireland image.

By the time Guest arrived in Ireland in early 1920, more than two dozen Irish newspapers had been suppressed or had their foreign circulation banned for “a few days [or] longer periods,” he reported. The digital Irish Newspaper Archives contains 50 titles that published during 1920. An estimated 332 newspapers circulated in Ireland during the period 1900 to 1922, excluding British or American titles.5

Guest listed these papers as being suppressed:

Mayo News * Clare Champion * Newcastle-West Weekly Observer * Kings County Independent * Belfast Evening Telegraph * Dublin Evening Herald * Meath Chronicle * Galway Express * Ballina Herald * Killkenny People * Irish Republic * Southern Star (County Cork)

Freeman’s Journal nameplate

Most of Guest’s story detailed the December 1919 suppression of the Freeman’s Journal, which extended into January 1920. The action “aroused a storm of protest against the methods of Dublin Castle, in which even the press of England joined … The circumstances attending the suppression of the newspaper and the subsequent negotiations over its resumption of publication constitute a chapter of English history in Ireland that reflects little credit on the present administration.”

As mentioned at the top, Guest’s full story can seen by clicking the linked headline. The Freeman’s Jan. 28, 1920, editorial cartoon about the suppression, referenced by Guest, can be viewed here via the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Shemus Cartoon Collection. More on the history of the Freeman’s Journal is available in this October 2019 guest post by Irish historian Felix Larkin, who also wrote the linked NLI collection description.

NEXT: English Interests Hamper Industrial Development in Ireland, U.S. Writer Finds

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: ‘Dora’

Harry F. Guest

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. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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‘Dora’ Gives Sweeping Powers To British Rulers in Ireland1

In the seventh story of his Irish series, Guest turned from Sinn Féin outrages to the power of the British state. He detailed the Defense of the Realm Act, known as “Dora”, which gave the military “virtually no limit to the restrictions” it could place on civilians throughout the British Empire. “With the exception of India, it is in Ireland that the most severe regulations of the measure are at present in effect,” Guest told his U.S. and Canadian readers.

Under Dora, the military could and did forcibly enter private homes, “day or night, under the flimsiest kind of pretext,” Guest wrote. “No one is exempt.” As an example, he reported the Feb. 10, 1920, raid on the home of John J. Farrell, former Lord Mayor of Dublin (1911-12), who lived at 9 Iona Drive, Drumcondra, on the city’s North Side. As managing director of the Irish Kinematography Co. Ltd., Farrell helped develop Dublin’s early 20th century movie business.2

“His sympathies are with the Sinn Féin movement, but he has not taken a conspicuous part in their activities,” Guest wrote of Farrell, who is the first source named and quoted in the reporter’s series.3 Farrell said:

I do not mind this sort of business so much myself, but I sympathize with people whose delicate health might suffer from the shock. As a citizen, and one who pays a very large amount in taxes, I must voice my protest against the cruelty, the idiocy of the caricature of government. Is Ireland governed by a madman or a fool?

In addition to raiding private homes, Guest reported the military also boarded American commercial vessels in Irish ports to remove weapons from the crews. These arms were returned at departure. Guest also wrote:

To criticize the English government or talk of the ‘Irish republic,’ ‘Dáil Éireann,’ ‘Sinn Féin,’ the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann ma mBan is forbidden as seditious. If some of the radicals who now make street orations in New York, or Chicago, or St. Louis, or any of our other American cities would go to Ireland and attempt to attack the English government as they attack our government here [in America], they would be arrested immediately.”

He cited these statistics–unsourced, but presumably from the government–from Nov. 10 to Dec. 20, 1919:

  • Private houses raided, 752
  • Arrests for political offenses, 162
  • Meetings disbursed, 27
  • Deported without trial, 4

Five months after Guest’s story was published, in August 1920, the British state passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act to extend and bolster Dora. By year’s end, martial law was declared in several of Ireland’s more troubled counties.

Irish Industrial Commission Handicapped By British Orders4

Guest described the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland, established a year earlier by Sinn Féin to conduct hearings and collect data about the Irish economy. It was part of the first Dáil Éireann.

Figgis, 1924

Guest visited the commission’s office on Lower Sackville Street, “two floors above the suite of the American Counsel.” He mentioned Darrell Figgis was the commission secretary, but did not quote the Sinn Féin activist and writer. The commission held public hearings in Dublin for three week, Guest noted, but was suppressed by the military from meeting in Cork city. He wrote:

This commission is one of the hardest nuts which Sinn Féin has given Dublin Castle to crack. It is a nonpartisan body and any discussion of or reference to Irish politics is positively forbidden at its meetings. Its members–not all of whom have accepted appointments, however–included Sinn Féinners, Unionists, Nationalist, Constitutionalists, and Independents.

Elaborate System of Spies Keeps Sinn Féin Informed of Dublin Castle’s Plans5

In this installment, Guest’s described how Sinn Féin leveraged the words of world leaders to their make their case for an Irish republic. He wrote:

The more I talked with thinking people in Ireland the more I was impressed with the fact that Sinn Féin is to a large degree an opportunistic party, and that it was the world war which had furnished the opportunity which enabled it to implant its doctrines so firmly in the fertile minds of the Irish people. … I do not recall one of them who did not attribute some part of the hold that Sinn Féin has upon the popular imagination to the utterances of American and British statesmen during and following the war. The words of President Wilson, Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill, Lord Gray and others regarding the rights of small nations and nationalities to self-determination were eagerly grasped by the Sinn Féin propagandists as applying to Ireland and given wide publicity in the party’s literature.

NEXT: Organized Labor Playing Big Part in Ireland’s Life

More opinions on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. This is my second post of excerpts from by-lined columns that were published in October 1919. The first post featured three Irish writers.

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Howard

Wesley O. Howard (1863-1933) was an American lawyer and justice of the Third New York Judicial District Court when he wrote the piece below. As a member of the U.S. Republican Party, he was a political opponent of President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. In the post-war Treaty of Versailles, Article Ten was a provision that required members of the League of Nations to help each other if any came under attack. The U.S. Senate, which Wilson needed to ratify the treaty, worried the provision would draw America into more overseas wars similar to the one just ended. The Senate rejected the treaty a month after this article was published. 

The Shackles of Ireland–Erin and Article Ten, from The Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 12, 1919

…the great Powers of the earth are solemnly pledged under Article X of the League of Nations to send their armies, their navies and their resources to the shores of Erin to crush the hopes of the Irish people. And the American republic, with its millions of Irish blooded citizens, is to be urged to enter this compact for the obliteration of Ireland. The League of Nations should be known as the Magna Carta of Coercion.

The Irish people had hoped that President Wilson would stand as their champion at the peace table. His noble words gave the sons of Erin hope. … The Irish people thought that [Wilson’s words about] “the privileges of men everywhere to choose their way of life” included Ireland, but they were wrong. There is no privilege in Ireland under the League of Nations to choose anything. Their only privilege is the privilege of living “within the empire” and being the subject of a foreign prince.

***

Whyte

Alexander Frederick Whyte (1883-1970) was a British civil servant, politician, and journalist. He was a founding editor of The New Europe: A Weekly Review of Foreign Politics. Use the linked title to read “How France Views the Irish Question” , November 1919, page 207; and “What Will Ulster Do?” , December 1919, page 302.) Whyte later headed the American division of the British Ministry of Information in the Second World War.

On the Road to Peace For Ireland, from the Christian Science Monitor1

Ireland is once more becoming the storm center of British politics. Even the turmoil of industrial disputes cannot drown the insistent, clamorous demand for a settlement of the Irish problem … The Irish question is the Achilles’ heel of the British commonwealth. It disturbs the normal development of politics in the United Kingdom; it distracts the energy of Irishmen from their proper task of exploiting the resources of their own rich island; it poisons the relations of Britain and America; and if it is not settled quickly it may result in yet worse consequences.

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Sir John Foster Fraser (1868-1936) was a Scottish journalist, travel writer and publicist. He is best known for an 1896 three-continent, 17-country, 19,237-mile bicycle trip around the world with two friends, documented in the book Round the World on a Wheel. He was knighted two years before writing this piece for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, which is considered the first U.S.-based distribution network for American and British writers. 

Ireland From an Englishman’s Point of View, from the McClure Newspaper Syndicate2

No Briton can travel throughout the United States without being conscious that in the mind of a vast section of the American people there is much more than an impression England stifles the aspirations of the Irish race. Those Americans, loving freedom, do not hesitate to declare there is something radically wrong. At the same time it must seem strange, almost contradictory, that England, which has been the most successful colonizer in the world, should be so unsuccessful in regard to governing Ireland. …

The majority of the people of Ireland, 70 percent, demand self-determination. When self-determination is being given to a number of small peoples in central Europe, why should it not be given to Ireland? The people of the British Isles are not averse from Ireland managing its own domestic affairs. The Home Rule Act was passed by the late Parliament. Then why is it not in operation?

[This article is] a polite hint that the fault is not at the doors of the English and that there would be no Irish question if Irishmen themselves were of one mind and did not threaten rebellion whether Ireland has self-determination or whether it has not. It is not true that Ireland of today is badly treated. Ireland is better treated than either England or Scotland. … The great thing is to try to understand the other point of view, not exaggerate, not to misrepresent and to remember that if England is sometimes stern and thinks of her own interests it is because she recalls the friendliness of so many Irish patriots toward the German cause during recent years.

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.

Across the sea and to the moon in 50 years

The long arc of Éamon de Valera’s political career comes into special focus this week through the convergence of two anniversaries, 50 years apart.

One hundred years ago, de Valera sailed to America as a stowaway aboard the SS Lapland. For 18 months he packed stadiums and convention halls to rally Irish America to the cause of independence in the homeland. Fifty years later, as president of the 26-county Republic of Ireland, de Valera delivered a different message to the cosmos with the help of two U.S. astronauts who landed the spaceship Eagle on the moon.

Lunar message disc included greeting in Irish from Éamon de Valera.

Greetings from 71 other heads of state were also etched onto the silicon disc, about the size of a U.S. 50 cent coin, left on the lunar surface. The text of de Valera’s salutation, written in Irish, is translated:

May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him also to secure peace and happiness upon the earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.

A few days later, de Valera sent a conventional cable to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the tenth American leader to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Ireland, I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful teamwork of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the ear which has been opened.

The astronauts did return safely, but peace has not been secured and we have not avoided the danger of self-destruction. As for de Valera’s legacy, it remains under historical review.

Earth seen from the moon, July 1969. NASA photo.

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

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

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

Walsh

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

Dunne

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

 

Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

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

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

Cohalan

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

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

Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s more background on the two events:

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

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

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

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

The Irish Press reported:

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

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

Shahan

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

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

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

Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCartan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Irish-American press on Sinn Fein election

The new year–1919–began with new hope for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the old nationalist home rule party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring aggressively lobbied President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support Ireland’s cause at the upcoming Paris peace conference.

Unofficial results of the Dec. 14, 1918, election reached large American daily newspapers before Christmas. The official election count was delayed until Dec. 28, however, so the outstanding votes of soldiers still serving overseas could be included in the final tally. Substantial election coverage in the Irish-American weekly press did not begin until the first week of January 1919. Here are two examples.

The Irish Press, published in Philadelphia, offered these banner headlines across the top front page of its Jan. 4, 1919 issue:

IRELAND SEVERS CONNECTION WITH BRITAIN

People of Ireland, by Exercise of Inherent Right of Self-Determination, Proclaim Their Independence

McCartan

A “Proclamation” boxed at the center of the page was addressed to “citizens of the Irish Republic who are at present resident in the United States and Canada” and signed by Patrick McCartan, the Irish provisional government’s envoy to America (and editor of the newspaper). He declared: 

Dec. 28, 1918, will forever rank in the history of Ireland as July 4, 1776, ranks in the history of America; as July 14, 1789, ranks in the history of France, as the day of the birth of Liberty ranks in the history of every free people.

The proclamation was flanked by these headlines, Complete Victory for Sinn Féin and The Irish Republic Endorsed, which filled the front page. Inside, the page 4 editorial proclaimed: Long Live the Irish Republic!

The election just completed in Ireland is one of the most momentous that has ever been held in any country. It is the first practical demonstration of President Wilson’s great principal of Self-Determination, and the results show that the Irish people were thoroughly cognizant of the great issues at stake. The question they were called upon to decide was: “Shall Britain continue to exercise sovereignty over Ireland?” And they answered with an emphatic, “No!” thus giving the lie direct to Britain’s paid horde of propagandists who had been telling the world for generations past that the Irish can never agree among themselves.

About 700 miles southwest of Philadelphia, in Lexington, Kentucky,  the Kentucky Irish American, offered more subdued coverage in its Jan. 4, 1919 issue. Stories about Ireland filled the left and right rails of the seven-column front page, sandwiching other news about domestic politics and religion.

At right, a roundup of Associated Press dispatches “to the American Sunday papers” appeared under the headline stack:

SINN FEIN

Scores a Sweeping Victory in the Election for Members of Parliament

Will Proclaim an Irish Republic and Establish Central Council in Dublin

Release of Sinn Feiners Interred In England Expected at Once

COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ WINS

Kelly

At left was a column by Rev. Francis C. Kelly, editor of the Chicago-based Catholic Church Extension Magazine. He wrote:

I am a sincere and and fully convinced advocate of self-determination for Ireland for her own sake, for the sake of democracy, but for England’s sake as well. I do not desire the downfall of Great Britain, but her tardy repentance. Ireland unfreed is England’s death warrant. She may succeed in keeping the Irish question out of the peace conference. I think she will. But she can not keep it out of the mind of a world from which the chains have been struck. It will live to accuse, to condemn and to execute. A victory of Great Britain over Ireland at Versailles will be no victory, but a defeat. It will be the signal for a new battle, the tactics of which have been taught the Irish race by England herself in her propaganda.

The Irish American‘s page 2 editorial was headlined, What Ireland Wants. 

We said some weeks ago that the demand for self-determination—and this accurately defined—should come from Ireland. Those of Irish blood America and all lovers of liberty can then support that demand. That is the method of procedure which we should naturally expect. Instead we have the demand coming from the Irish In America—and this demand is couched in varying and ambiguous terms. In some cases it means home rule—some cases it means total separation and complete independence. What we need first of all is to find out what Ireland itself wants. … With that programme in hand we shall be able to give an intelligent expression of our support of It. As it is we are beating the air and accomplishing very little. The Irish people themselves must map out their own programme of self-government. We in America can have our own ideas regarding the matter—but we must not presume to dictate to the people of Ireland what they should do.

In the following weeks and months of 1919, these two newspapers (and others in the Irish-American press) continued to be filled with stories about major events in Ireland’s struggle for independence, including key figures and developments in America. For this 2019 centennial, I will explore these people and events through the coverage in these two papers, in addition to other sources.

NEXT: About the papers and their publishers.

See American Reporting of Irish Independence for earlier work in this series.

December 1918: The bishop & the president

This is the first in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH

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Ireland and other small nations seeking independence from imperial rulers seized on the January 1918 words of President Woodrow Wilson: “National aspirations must be respected. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”

Supporters of Irish independence in Ireland and in America, whether immigrants or their offspring, embraced “self-determination” more than any other ethnic group. And they weren’t shy about demanding it.

Shahan

Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote a Nov. 30 letter to Wilson.1

In keeping these words of truth, we hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate. Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.

A similar appeal by “the principal Irish societies of Washington” also was delivered to the Wilson White House, The Washington Post reported.2 “It voices the opinion of a public meeting, held by representatives of the Irish societies, that the American nation, through its president, has a unique opportunity to enforce this fundamental principal for the freedom of Ireland at the upcoming peace table, and the president is petitioned to use his good office to that end.” 

The signatory groups included the Friends of Irish Freedom; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH; Irish-American Union; Gaelic Society; Irish History Society; Irish History Study Club; and Shamrock Club.

At the time, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. capital, representing about one fifth of all foreigners.3 Nationwide, Irish immigrants were about 10 percent of the foreign-born population, down from the one third post-Famine peak of 50 years earlier. First-generation Irish Americans far outnumbered their immigrant parents.

Bishop Shahan was the New Hampshire-born son of Irish immigrants. His letter to Wilson (grandson of an Ulster-Scot) was read at the Dec. 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Irish Question” by  Professor Joseph Dunn of the Catholic University of America faculty. Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.”4

Wilson

This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, note to Shahan; barely 100 typed words on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name, only generalities:5

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

Once Wilson got to Paris, the self-determination of countries formerly ruled by vanquished Germany was easier to support than pressing ally Britain to loosen its grip on Ireland. By summer 1919, Wilson’s reluctance to support Ireland disappointed the Irish, by then at war with Britain. 

Shahan remained an “ardent supporter of Irish independence,” according to the Catholic University of America archives of his papers. His concerns were “not only as a source of personal interest, but also because religious matters were inextricably bound into the struggle for freedom and recognition for Ireland.”

NEXT: House hearing on the ‘Irish Question’