Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Afterward

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. The post concludes a five-part series: 1) Beginnings 2) Correspondent 3) Activist 4) Witness © 2019

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Russell slipped from public attention soon after her December 1920 testimony before the American Commission on Condition in Ireland. She began working as a Chicago public high school English teacher and student newspaper adviser.1 She traveled back to Ireland and other parts of Europe a few times with her younger sister, Cecilia, also a teacher.2

Ruth Russell in 1932 Calumet High School, Chicago, yearbook photo, about age 43.

Eleven years after What’s the matter with Ireland?, Ruth published Lake Front, her novel of Chicago’s first 100 years told through three generations of the O’Mara family. The book nods to 19th century Irish nationalism through a character called “the Fenian,” an immigrant veteran of the 1848 Young Irelander Rebellion. “Irishmen must no longer be subject but free, and they must have the chance to be free in their own republic,” he says. “I will hold that every Irishman’s first duty is to Ireland.”3

In a review, the Chicago Tribune’s Fanny Butcher identified Russell as “a native Chicagoan, daughter of the late Martin J. Russell,” then dead for 31 years. The reviewer named three newspapers he was associated with in the 19th century, but nothing of his daughter’s work at the Daily News, or her earlier Ireland book.4

Robert Morss Lovett also praised Lake Front. An associate editor of The New Republic and an English professor at the University of Chicago, Russell’s alma mater, he also was a former member of the Committee of One Hundred for the Commission on Conditions in Ireland. Lovett wrote, “in Lake Front, an outstanding piece of writing, Miss Russell has made excellent use of her great opportunity and a stout bid toward its fulfillment.”5

In an interview with the hometown Hyde Park Herald, Russell described Lake Front as “the book I have always wanted to write.”6 She dedicated the novel to Cecilia, “whose faith and love created this book.”7 Ruth was a “guest of honor” at the Friends of American Writers meeting in the Wedgwood room of Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store.8 The 1932 yearbook at Calumet High School, where she taught, also noted her novel.9 

Russell continued teaching another 20 years. She took a few sabbaticals to continue her education at the University of Chicago, including an English course on narration. In January 1954, she “resigned” from the public school system shortly before her 65th birthday, though nothing in the file suggests this was other than a routine retirement.10 Soon after, she moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to join Cecilia, then a romance language teacher at the University of Arkansas.

The two unmarried sisters attended book groups and university functions together, according to newspaper social columns. Cecilia died in 1959 and was buried at the St. Joseph Catholic Church cemetery in Fayetteville. Two years later, Ruth filed her will at the Washington County, Arkansas, courthouse, which provided a $10,000 endowment upon her own death for a university scholarship in her sister’s name.11 The Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship to this day provides study abroad funding for students focused on French.

Ruth remained in Fayetteville until August 1963, when she entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her youth. She died there Nov. 28, 1963, age 74, of heart disease.12 Headlines about the assassination and burial of John F. Kennedy, America’s first Irish-American and Catholic president, dominated the last week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, then 81, returned to America for Kennedy’s funeral, 44 years after being interviewed by Russell in Ireland and providing the letter for What’s the matter with Ireland?

In a short news obituary, the Daily News described Russell as a “onetime reporter” for the paper and noted her teaching career. It mentioned Lake Front, her novel, and suggested she wrote “a number of books on Ireland.”13 I have not found other references or evidence that Russell published other titles about Ireland.

Russell’s body was returned to Fayetteville, and buried Dec. 2, 1963, next to her sister, according to the wishes of her will.14 On the headstone, below the centered Russell surname, the bottom left corner is engraved with Cecilia’s first name and dates. The bottom right corner remains smooth where Ruth’s name and dates should be similarly etched.15

The Russell grave in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2019.

The Russell headstone in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This monograph is the first attempt to detail Ruth Russell’s life. Her Irish reporting and activism have received limited attention from historians, though not in as much detail as this series.16 I believe more material about Russell’s life remains to be discovered. Since I began publishing this series, one historian has made me aware that the Kathleen O’Brennan papers in Ireland contain a hotel receipt showing that Russell and activist Helen Merriam Golden shared a Washington, D.C. hotel room during the April 1920 women’s protest. The 1919 American consulate in Ireland records are another source of potential material.

After a year of research, however, I wanted to post this series in the heart of the centenary of Russell’s 1919-1920 Irish activity. I hope the open, easily accessible format will prompt more research suggestions or sources. I will update the material as appropriate as I continue to work toward a print monograph. I invite readers to submit comments, including criticism.

Beyond What’s the matter with Ireland? and her December 1920 testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, I have not located any diaries, letters, or interviews with Russell that illuminate her private thoughts about the 1919 reporting trip to Ireland or journalism in general. “I was sent as a correspondent to Ireland and wrote a book about it,” she told the Hyde Park Herald in a 1931 interview about her novel. The story says Russell “gave up newspaper work” and began teaching in 1921.17

I wonder if her decision to leave newspapers was driven by the limited opportunities available to women at the time, or by harassment from male colleagues or reporting subjects? Was she professionally blacklisted for her short burst of pro-Irish activism, or privately steered away from revolutionary politics and social activism under the threat of scandal or the risk of losing a middle-class inheritance? Or was Russell simply needed at home to care for her widowed mother, whom she lived with for nearly 20 years after her Ireland trip, never marrying?

Describing Russell as a pioneering woman journalist is probably an overstatement. Her undercover reporting from Chicago’s factory floors and Dublin slums appeared more than 30 years after Elizabeth Cochran (Nellie Bly), Nora Marks, and other “stunt girl” reporters began writing first-person accounts about oppressive conditions in workplaces, hospitals, and public institutions. Margaret Sullivan’s book about Ireland’s social, economic, and political troubles under British rule was published in 1881, nearly 40 years before Russell’s trip. As Russell’s book published in 1920, Ireland’s revolutionary women voiced their views in nationalist newspapers and other publishing ventures on both sides of the Atlantic.

Women reporters like Russell “have been hiding in plain sight” for over a century, Alice Fahs has observed: “They achieved a measure of fame in their own day; enlivened the pages of metropolitan mass-circulation papers that sometimes reached hundreds of thousands of readers; innovated across a variety of new genres, developed styles of newspaper writing that in some cases remains startlingly fresh today; and created a rich set of public conversations within the public spaces of the newspaper.”18

Maurice Walsh has noted: “The evident reluctance in Irish historiography to take an interest in the work of journalists is puzzling …  When media scholars do get around to writing history they are curiously neglectful of individual journalists.”19

This is changing. Groups such as the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland encourage research and widen interest in journalists like Russell. I have benefited from and contributed to that work as a non-academic member of both groups.

Making my presentation about Russell at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s 2019 conference, Queens University Belfast.

Expanding digitization also increases access to the work of early journalists. Many of Russell’s 1919 dispatches are available through online newspaper databases, though not the Daily News. Digital editions of What’s the matter with Ireland?, now out of copyright, are easy to find online.

The Irish republican website An Sionnach Fionn posted the book in 2017. It described Russell’s work as “notable for its intimate and sympathetic style, with no sign of the phonetic ‘stage Irish’ accents and racist caricatures which were so beloved by the press in Britain.”20

Indeed, Russell’s reporting from the early months of the Irish revolution, especially her focus on women and workers, helped counter prevailing British and American press narratives of a contented Irish peasantry. Her vivid, 400- to 600-word dispatches would be at home on today’s digital news platforms. These vignettes about ordinary Irish lives caught in the crossfire of the revolution’s social and economic strife are valuable, underutilized snapshots of the period.

The lives of these forgotten people are worth weaving into the tapestry of historical consideration, as well as Russell’s encounters with Ireland’s mainstream political and social figures, especially at the centenary of the revolution. This mostly forgotten woman journalist is also worthy of rediscovery and reconsideration.

Ruth M. Russell’s enlarged signature from a 1961 document establishing a scholarship in her sister’s name.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Witness

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

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The Library of Congress received What’s the matter with Ireland?, Russell’s expansion of her 1919 Daily News reporting, on July 20, 1920, nearly a year after she returned from Ireland.1 The front page of that day’s Washington Post reported on a “night of terror” in Cork city, as civilians threw home-made bombs at two military lorries in reprisal for an earlier “boyonetting incident” and “indiscriminate firing” by British troops, the latest example of how violence had escalated since Russell’s departure.2

Publisher Devin-Adair Co. of New York does not appear to have aggressively marketed the 160-page book, which was not widely reviewed. Russell’s split from the Daily News and participation in the British Embassy protests3 are not mentioned in the reviews or advertising that I have located. The book’s title, which implies something is wrong with Ireland, may have soured ardent nationalists able to select other 1920 offerings with more uplifting names, such as The Invincible Irish and Why God Loves the Irish.

Original edition of Russell’s 1920 book at the Library of Congress. Digital versions of the book are widely available online.

The New York Tribune’s review suggested the title was “misleading since this little volume … offers not a solution but a statement of the problem.”4 It added: “Her volume is a forthright presentation of the situation as it offers itself to the inquiring sojourner, given in the journalist’s terms of first-hand observation and current statistics.”

The Tribune also found: “Not the least interesting actors in the Irish drama are the women leaders of the revolutionary party.” It pointed to Russell’s reporting of Countess Markievicz; Maud Gonne McBride; suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst; writer and activist Susan Langstaff Mitchell; and Countess Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett, president of the United Irishwomen.

The Catholic World was tougher on Russell: “She succeeds in rousing our sympathy for the poor working girls of Dublin, and other unfortunate people of the city and the bog-field. But when she takes up the political she seems unable to do justice to her subject. … There is no doubt Miss Russell’s intentions are good, but it is doubtful if such books as this will help Ireland’s cause.”5

The Chicago-based Illinois Catholic Historical Review supported the hometown author. It described Russell as a “brilliant young writer” whose “powerful book, in language simple and direct, and yet at times dramatic or poetic” was worthwhile for anyone “interested in knowing the truth about the Irish question.”6 By coincidence, the same issue of the Review featured a story on “The Irish of Chicago,” which mentioned Russell’s editor father and referred readers to the review of his daughter’s “most interesting book.”7

An advertisement for the book8 declared: “Only a determined woman can get at the bottom of the facts,” and Russell “saw Ireland, its people, and its problems as no one else has seen them.” It quoted Eamon de Valera’s January 1920 letter from the front matter, and a testimonial from Frank P. Walsh, a member of the American Commission on Irish Independence, whom Russell met in Ireland. He wrote:

“It is a most valuable contribution to the literature of Ireland. It is a breezy, well-told narrative of Irish life, is more human and charming than anything which I have read, while the economic background is presented in a way that should bring home with terrific force to the reader the real heart of the Irish controversy.”

Here’s the full ad:

On a personal level, Russell dedicated the book to her widowed mother, who she lived with in Chicago. As the year drew to a close, the reporter received one more opportunity to publicly address her experiences in Ireland and her views on its struggle for independence.

COMMISSION TESTIMONY

Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, in 1920 organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. He invited U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to establish a “Committee of One Hundred” to form and oversee the eight-member
commission of inquiry.

“The situation in Ireland was a proper subject of concern for all peoples claiming either humanity or civilization,” the commission summarized. “It seemed to us that we could best serve the cause of peace by placing before English, Irish and American public opinion the facts of the situation, free from both agonized exaggeration and merciless understatement; for a knowledge of the facts might reveal their cause, and recognition of that cause might permit its cure, by those whose purpose was not to slay but to heal.”9

The commission held six hearings from November 1920 through January 1921, with 18 witnesses from Ireland; two from England (others were invited, but declined); and 18 Americans. The opening session came three weeks after the hunger-strike death of Irish nationalist and Cork Mayor Terance MacSwiney generated international headlines. His widow and sister testified in early December; Russell appeared a week later, Dec. 15, 1920, at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late Cork mayor, testified Dec. 8, 1920, at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a week before Ruth Russell. Library of Congress.

Commission Chairman Frederic Howe called the session to order at 10:05 a.m.10 After stating her name for the record, Russell told the commission she “was employed” by the Daily News “when I went to Ireland … as foreign correspondent studying special economic, social, and political conditions.” She was not asked why she no longer worked at the paper. Questioned about her investigative methods, Russell answered she “used both interviews and personal experiences,” including living in the Dublin slums.

And her views about the Irish republican leaders she met?

“They were extremely cool-headed and intelligent,” Russell replied. “The crowd of Sinn Féin leaders … were, I think, 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.”11 In Russell’s opinion “it would have been impossible for these brilliant young leaders to rally the forces in Ireland behind them unless the people were driven to revolt by the economic conditions that are pressing into them.” She blamed Protestant politicians in the province of Ulster, today’s Northern Ireland, who “work on the religious prejudices of the people, so that the rich mill owners profit by the division of the people, especially the laboring people.”12

For more than two hours,13 Russell answered the commission’s questions about political, economic,  social, educational, and religious conditions. Jane Addams, the Chicago-based progressive social reformer referenced in one of Russell’s Daily News stories, was one of the eight commissioners. She asked Russell about Irish schools, labor laws, and housing conditions.

Near the end of session commission attorney Basil M. Manly asked Russell how conditions in Ireland compared to the streets of New York, Chicago, or other American cities.

“I felt perfectly safe,” Russell replied. “I walked from the telegraph office in Limerick at two o’clock in the morning through perfectly black streets to my hotel. I inquired the direction several times, and was finally assisted to my hotel by a member of the Black Watch (an ancient form of civilian night guard). But there was no interference with my progress at all. … I only had one unpleasant experience while I was in Ireland. It was about three o’clock in the morning in [the Galway] railroad station; but that was all.”14

Manly did not ask her for details.

PRESS COVERAGE

Associated Press coverage of Russell’s testimony identified her 1919 Irish reporting trip for the Daily News,15, and this detail was repeated by newspapers that used the wire service across the country. These reports did not identify Russell with the April 1920 demonstrations at the British Embassy, which also was absent in her testimony. The Daily News did not publish a story about that day’s commission hearing.

The AP highlighted Russell’s comment that religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster were “artificially worked up.”16 The Irish News and Chicago Citizen quoted her more localized remark that “in some of the southern towns of my own state there is more religious intolerance than there is in Ireland.”17 The Irish Press, Philadelphia, reported Russell’s testimony that blamed British authorities for economic distress in Ireland by turning small farms to gazing land and exporting cattle on the hoof, thus idling farm laborers and industries dependent on agriculture.18 

Coverage of that day’s commission testimony appeared two weeks later in Irish newspapers and focused more on the testimony of nationalist legislator Laurence Ginnell. The Evening Herald of Dublin reported that Russell “gave a terrible picture of poverty in Ireland, and on sweating in mills and factories in the North of Ireland.”19

In spring 1921 the commission released a 152-page interim report. It quoted Russell only once: “On the whole, testified Miss Ruth Russell of Chicago, ‘I think there is possibly the greatest unanimity there that has ever existed in any country of the world.’ “20 Her response had been to a question from U.S. Sen. David I. Walsh, a Massachusetts Democrat, who asked Russell if she had ever known “unanimity of opinion upon any great question anywhere in the world?”21

Iconic image of an IRA patrol on Grafton Street in Dublin during the Irish Civil War.

Russell was mentioned in some press coverage of the report, which British officials dismissed as biased toward the revolutionaries. Fast-moving developments in Ireland continued to eclipse Russell’s 1919 reporting, as violence escalated up until a July 1921 truce. Five months later, Irish and British authorities agreed to treaty that created the 26-county, majority Catholic, Irish Free State, while the 6-county, predominantly Protestant, Northern Ireland remained part of Britain. The dominion status of southern Ireland fell short of the full republic sought by Sinn Féin leaders.

Bitter disappointment about this outcome in 1922 erupted in a bloody civil war in the Free State that lasted for the next two years. By then, Russell had slipped from the spotlight of Irish politics and returned to a quieter life in Chicago.

NEXT:  The rest of Russell’s life, and my personal thoughts, in the series conclusion.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Activist

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

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After six months overseas, Russell returned to America in August 1919, back to her widowed mother and two sisters in Chicago.1 In January 1920, her story of being “broke” in England during a two-week wait for her ship appeared in The Ladies Home Journal.2 Determined to pass the time as inexpensively as possible, Russell reported that she walked more than 100 of the 234 miles from London to Liverpool. She detailed sights and adventures along the way and concluded: “There was one thing lacking to make the trip a complete success. But that was not a motor [car]; it was a friend.”3

Russell’s penny-pinching departure from England appears contrary to the January 1919 promise her Daily News editor made to the U.S. State Department, that she “would continue to be on a salary basis”4 while outside of America. The magazine story never mentions the Daily News or says why Russell was in England or Ireland. My research of the Daily News archives, including the 1919-1920 papers of Victor Lawson, the publisher; Charles Dennis, the editor; and Henry J. Smith, the news editor who wrote to the State Department; did not yield any documentation of her work or relationship with the paper.5

It is unclear whether her “special correspondent” relationship with the newspaper was so informal6 that it didn’t warrant any discussion, or because such records are lost or undiscovered. There are a few clues about what might have happened.

FOREIGN NEWS

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, the Daily News enhanced its reputation through the aggressive pursuit of foreign news. It excelled during the Great War and 1919 Paris peace conference. This coverage wasn’t cheap.

Chicago Daily News Publisher Victor F. Lawson, 1920. (Photo of a photo.) Chicago History Museum.

In March 1919, as Russell reported from Ireland, Lawson explained to outside newspaper executives that his paper’s foreign news service cost $260,585 in 19187, nearly double the $148,419 in 1915, the first full year of the war. Syndicate papers contributed $76,265 in 1918, Lawson revealed, leaving the Daily News to cover the $184,320 balance.8

By September 1919, less than a year after the war ended, the paper began to shift emphasis. Dennis wrote to Lawson: “I heartily agree with all you say about the enormous importance of making The Daily News a stronger local paper in every possible way. … I can see immense gain in circulation if we could be markedly stronger and more interesting locally.”9

In December 1919, Dennis outlined to Lawson 11 important issues facing the paper, including the return of its chief correspondent from the Paris peace conference; plans for an anthology book of its war coverage; discovery that a recently purchased 14-story feature package had previously appeared in the Saturday Evening Post; and the latest fundraising details for the “Chicago’s 100 Poorest Families” Christmas charity drive.10

After Christmas, Dennis advised the paper’s London bureau: “Now that the war is over war expenses must be lopped off. Some of our correspondents have spent money altogether too freely, having full regard of war conditions. They have wasted money on loosely constructed and overwritten dispatches, and dispatches telegraphed and cabled when they should have been mailed.”11

WOMEN PICKETS

As Russell’s Ladies Home Journal story circulated in January 1920, an “advance copy” of her book was provided to Éamon de Valera, according to his letter published as front matter in What’s the matter with Ireland?12 The Irish leader had slipped into America in June 1919 to raise money and build U.S. political support for the fledgling Irish republic. His 18-month tour of the country included several stops in Chicago.

Russell or her publisher likely provided the book to de Valera’s entourage, which must have believed it could be useful propaganda. They might have written the letter for de Valera, who was in Washington, D.C., on the date of the published facsimile. His diary and related papers from the U.S. tour do not mention his March 1919 Dublin interview with Russell, or any exchanges with her in America.13

At the start of April 1920, days before Easter, Russell joined a few dozen other women at a protest in front of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The demonstration was organized to increase support for the Irish republic as the war there grew more brutal. Irish and Irish-American activists disagreed on the strategy, however, with opponents worried it would undermine de Valera’s mission in America.14

Mainstream newspapers accounts identified many of the women demonstrators, including “Miss Ruth Russell of Chicago”. The coverage did not associate her 1919 reporting from Ireland for the Daily News. The Daily News published a front-page brief about the embassy protest, but it did not name any of the women.

Ruth Russell was in the crowd of women protesters, or “Irish pickets,” outside the British Embassy on April 1, 1920. Library of Congress.

The Irish News and Chicago Citizen, a pro-nationalist weekly, did connect Russell to the Daily News; her late father, a well-regarding editor; and an older brother who worked as a journalist.15 The front-page story described her as “one of the most indefatigable of these vigilante sentinels” outside the embassy. Moreover, it suggested the Daily News sent Russell to Ireland “with a pot of the blackest paint, with, perhaps, a big order to besmirch the character and objects of the Sinn Féiners.”

The overheated, but unsourced, report continued: “…on investigation, [Russell] discovered the odious and detestable nature of the services expected of her and in disgust renounced and repudiated them. She is now engaged, with her devoted associates, in shaking the tottering stronghold of British tyranny like a heroine in Joshua’s besieging army at the fall of Jericho.”

Russell was “among other women connected to journalism” at the protests.16 Perhaps she participated only in the role of undercover reporter. It does not appear Russell was among several women who were arrested, or who participated in subsequent demonstrations in the following months.

WIDE OUTLOOK

Longer and more detailed versions of her Ireland reporting soon appeared in The Freeman17, a monthly magazine edited by libertarian author and social critic Albert Jay Nock. Its editorial, “The Recognized Irish Republic,” was circulated by the women outside the British Embassy a week in advance of publication.18

Russell’s Freeman profiles of Dungloe community organizer Paddy Gallagher and Dublin political celebrity Countess Markievicz are similar in style and substance to her Daily News dispatches and passages in What’s the matter with Ireland? There is more narrative in the book and magazine pieces, but no new ground. This undercuts the Irish News’ suggestion of bias by
the Daily News, notwithstanding Russell’s comment about her former colleague’s “testy impatience with Ireland.”19

Russell’s 1919 passport photo was used on one of the pages of her Life and Labor magazine coverage about evictions in a West Virginia coal mining “hollar.”

In 1920, Russell also reported for Life and Labor magazine about women being evicted from their homes in the coal-mining “hollar” of Williamson, West Virginia. An editor’s note described her as having “the wide outlook on life which is the natural accompaniment of a journalistic career.”20

It is curious that none of the three magazines that published Russell’s work in 1920 referenced her former association with the Daily News; likewise that it was ignored in newspaper coverage of the British Embassy protest, the Irish News and Chicago Citizen excepted. Her writing and comments about Ireland would continue to gain attention through the end of the year.

NEXT: Russell’s book and public testimony about Ireland.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Correspondent

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

***

Russell arrived in Ireland the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 1919, a week before her 30th birthday. Over the next few months she reported from Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and rural Dungloe in County Donegal.1 At least two dozen of her dispatches appeared in the Chicago Daily News, and other U.S. and Canadian newspapers that subscribed to its foreign news service. 

She was not the only Daily News reporter in Ireland, which had attracted scores of American and other foreign correspondents after Dáil Éireann, the break away parliament of the Irish Republic, was established Jan. 21, 1919. As Maurice Walsh notes, “The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.”2

Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

Russell’s first story from Ireland appeared in the Daily News on March 18, 1919, a day after the newspaper recognized St. Patrick’s Day with a full page of “greetings from noted Irish writers to their compatriots in Chicago.”3 She covered the prison release and triumphal Dublin return of Constance Georgine Markievicz, known as “Countess” Markievicz, who in December 1918 became the first woman elected to the British Parliament. As a separatist Sinn Féin candidate, Markievicz won a Dublin constituency while incarcerated for her role in Ireland’s anti-conscription protests earlier that year, months before the armistice.

Markievicz’s election and the Sinn Féin route of old guard Irish parliamentary nationalists received considerable press coverage in America. Her release from prison and decision to join the revolutionary parliament in Dublin was largely ignored by U.S. newspapers, giving Russell a scoop. Her story4 did not contrast Markievicz’s historic election win to American women still struggling for the vote. Her home state of Illinois would not ratify the 19th amendment until June, and U.S. suffrage waited until August 1920. 

Instead, Russell offered a narrative, scene-setting approach to the homecoming that differed from most straight-news reporting of the day. She even placed herself in the action, close enough for Markievicz to whisper an aside. Listen to a lightly edited passage of the story, read by my wife, and reproduced below:

Down one curb of the Eden quay uniformed boys with coat buttons glittering in arc lights were ranged in soldier formations. Up the other curb squads of girls were blocked. All were members of the citizens’ army of the Transport Workers union. … Up in the bare front room of the Liberty hall headquarters, where dim yellow electric bulbs were threaded from the ceiling, the countess welcomed her friends of the days of the revolution of 1916. … With her eyes slight behind her metal rimmed glasses, the countess marched to the big central window and flung it wide open to the spring night. Before she addressed the crowd below, she said to me: “Our fate all depends on your president [Woodrow Wilson] now.” 

Russell interviewed other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolutionary movement, including: 

  • Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, describing his “white, ascetic, young–he is thirty-seven–face lined with determination”5;
  • “sharp-mustached, sardonic little”6 Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Féin founder;
  • Maud Gonne McBride, widow of an Irish revolutionary leader, “tall and slim in her deep mourning”7;
  •  “keen, boyish” Michael Collins8, the revolution’s guerrilla warfare strategist; and
  • George William Russell [no relation], “the famous AE, poet, painter and philosopher, the ‘north star of Ireland.’ ”9

Russell witnessed the Dublin arrival of the American Commission on Irish Independence, a non-U.S. government delegation of three prominent Irish Americans sent to the 1919 Paris peace conference to lobby for Ireland. She reported on a failed effort in the international race to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight. 

The three members of the Irish-American delegation, at right, receive an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

As in her Markievicz piece, Russell was self-referential in other reporting, in both first and third person, such as her March 1919 interview with de Valera, then hiding from British authorities: “In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows Mr. de Valera was talking to me as a representative of the Chicago Daily News,” she wrote. Later in the same story, Russell described being escorted from the secret meeting location: “In the darkness the correspondent was guided along a narrow garden walled to a waiting car.”10

IN THE SHADOWS

Russell’s reporting was at its best when she mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, those in the shadow of the revolution. She lived in the Dublin slums with families crammed into one-room tenements. She applied for hard-to-find jobs with other women, many caring for children and supporting unemployed husbands and brothers. “Their constant toil makes the women of Ireland something less than well-cared for slaves,” Russell wrote.11

Checkpoint in Limerick, April 1919.

She interviewed workers and labor leaders in the short-lived Limerick soviet, at Belfast textile mills, and outside a soon to open Ford-owned tractor plant:  “On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” she reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”12

Most of Russell’s stories were published on inside pages of the Daily News with dispatches of its other foreign correspondents. A few times the paper promoted her by name in secondary headlines, such as “Ruth Russell Describes Barring of Workers from Home Town” (Limerick), and “Ruth Russell Tells Pathetic Story of Why Women Go to England”.13 It is unclear if this was an attempt by the Daily News to market her as a “stunt girl” reporter, or leverage the reputation of her late father, Martin J. Russell, one of Chicago’s pioneering newspaper editors.

In this reading from “Why Women Go to England”, Russell describes looking for work in Dublin with recently unemployed female munitions workers, like those she had labored with two years earlier in a Chicago armament plant.14:

Down a puddly, straw-strewn lane we were blown by the wind to a candy factory. It was next in factory size to the biscuit plant. Dublin considers a 50 to 100 hand plant very large. At this place, it was possible to earn $4.50 a week, but the thumbed sign on the door read: No hands wanted. … Up the narrow wooden treaded stairs we mounted to a big room where girls sitting sideways on a long table nailed yellow wooden candy containers together. Through a crack between the planks of the floor we could see hard red candies swirling below. As the melting sleet was pooling off our hats, the ticking aproned manager came out to sputter: Can’t you read? … That night along Gloucester Street, past the Georgian mansions built before the union of Ireland and England, flat uprising structures from behind whose verdigrised brass trimmed doors came the mummers of many membered tenement families–I walked until I came to a shining brass plated door. “Why don’t you go to England?” was the first question the matron of the working girls home put to me when I told her I could get no work. “All the girls are.”  

Note how this story was published on June 3 but has a May 5 dateline.

IRISH CHILDREN, CHICAGO CONNECTIONS

Russell detailed malnourishment, mental illness, and other social problems in Ireland’s cities and rural western counties. She reported about children, teachers, and schools, likely drawing on her own earlier classroom training. Perhaps 175,000 of 500,000 enrolled children did not attend school; and only 3,820 of 13,538 teachers were efficient because their pay was low, $405 to $1,440 per year, she reported from government data.15

“Dead, mentally dead, teachers are frequent in Ireland,” Russell wrote.

Russell followed Daily News Publisher Victor F. Lawson’s advice about the paper’s correspondents to stay close to the native people. Here is an example from her stay in the Dublin slums16:

Then as a lodger I was given the only chair at the breakfast table. The mother and girl sat at a plank bench and supped their tea from their saucerless cups. As there was no place else to sit, the children took their bread and jam as they perched on the bed, and when they finished, surreptitiously wiped their fingers on the brown-covered hay mattress. Before we were through they had run to the streets to warm their cold legs inside the fender till the floor was tracked with mud from the street, ashes from the grate, and bits of crumbling bread.

Russell named other children in her reporting, detailing their young ages and harsh circumstances:

  • Six-year-old Mary Casey “has some difficulty curling her arm about the papers she carries” as the youngest member of the Dublin Newsgirls’ Club.
  • “Eight-year-old Michael Mallin drags kelp out of a rush basket and packs it down for fertilizer between the brown ridges of the little hand-spaded field in Donegal.”
  • “Nine-year-old Patrick Gallagher may go to the Letterkenny Hiring Fair to sell his baby services to a farmer.”
  • “Ten-year-old Margaret Duncan can be found sitting hunched up on a doorstep in a back street in Belfast.”17 

And like any good reporter, Russell found Chicago connections in Ireland to relay back to her hometown readers: 

  • Fr. J. P. Flannigan at St. Mary’s procathedral in Dublin, who led a committee of Catholic priests trying to quell Irish labor unrest, had studied in Rome with Archbishop George William Mundelein of Chicago.18
  • Progressive social reformer Jane Addams of Chicago helped send rubber boots to war-torn Germany through the Women’s International League.19
  • “Chicago girl” Stella M. Franklin, former secretary-treasurer of the city’s Woman’s Trade Union League, worked to improve housing conditions throughout the British Isles.20
  • Russell’s story on the Irish economy questioned whether England prevented Ireland from developing “all the Chicago side industries that can be established in connection with the cattle trade.” Money was lost shipping the animals across the Irish Sea for slaughter and processing. Russell reported that a London firm “has just issued a prospectus for a plant designed for slaughtering, tanning, chandlery, glue making, and which is intended to transform Drogheda in Ireland into a Chicago.”21 

Some of Russell’s stories published up to two months after their dateline. Her byline from Ireland appeared in American newspapers at least through October 1919, though she returned home in August.22

In 1920, Russell would expand her reporting into magazine articles and her book, What’s the matter with Ireland? She also would take on a new role of publicly speaking out for Irish independence beyond the printed page.

NEXT: Russell’s Irish activism in America.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland: Beginnings

Chicago journalist Ruth Russell reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, followed by a year of activism for its independence. This five-part monograph is part of my American Reporting of Irish Independence series. © 2019

***

On Jan. 27, 1919, a Chicago Daily News editor urged the federal government to expedite a passport for one of his reporters, Ruth Russell. “Because of the news conditions in Ireland at the present time, it is hoped that she may leave as soon as possible,” News Editor Henry J. Smith wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing.1 

Six days earlier, the separatist Sinn Féin party declared independence from Britain and established a breakaway government in Dublin, a move based on its near sweep of Irish parliamentary seats in the United Kingdom’s first election after the Great War. In County Tipperary, 125 miles southwest of the Irish capital, two policemen were killed in an ambush, the first shots of Ireland’s latest uprising against centuries of British rule. 

Russell’s 1919 passport photo.

In Washington, D.C., Lansing approved Russell’s passport, and she was assigned to answer this question: “What’s the matter with Ireland?” Russell recalled later, “This was the last injunction a fellow journalist, propagandized into testy impatience with Ireland, gave me before I sailed for that bit of Europe which lies closest to America.”2 

Nearly a year to the day after Smith’s State Department outreach, another letter was written on Russell’s behalf. This time the author was Éamon de Valera, president of the provisional Irish republic. Russell interviewed him in March 1919, shortly after her arrival in Dublin. 

“I congratulate you on the rapidity with which you succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” de Valera wrote in the Jan. 29, 1920, letter published as front matter in Russell’s new book, What’s the matter with Ireland?, based on her 1919 reporting. “I hope we shall have more impartial investigators, such as you, who will take the trouble to see things for themselves first hand, and who will not be imposed upon by half-truths.”3 

Russell’s reporting from Ireland at times was insightful and compassionate, especially her sketches of women, children, and workers living in the shadows of the revolution. It is debatable whether she remained an impartial investigator. Her experiences in Ireland transformed her into a pro-Irish activist. She left the Daily News; joined at least one Washington, D.C., protest against British rule in Ireland; and testified before an American commission exploring conditions in Ireland. Russell’s activism was fleeting, however, and her 1919 reporting became dated by rapidly evolving events in Ireland. By 1921, she withdrew from journalism and public attention. 

BEGINNINGS 

Ruth Marie Russell was born March 24, 1889, in Chicago, the eighth child of Martin J. Russell, a 43-year-old Chicago Times editorial writer, and 39-year-old Cecilia [nee Walsh]. Both parents were the offspring of pre-Great Famine Irish immigrants. The couple lived in Hyde Park, just a few blocks from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, where their newborn was baptized April 21, 1889.4 A live-in cook and a household “servant” tended the family, which also included Russell’s paternal grandmother, 76-year-old Jane Lewis [nee Mulligan].5 

“Among my earliest recollections are long twilight hour discussions with my grandmother about early Chicago–she came here in 1835,” Russell recalled in a 1931 newspaper interview to promote her novel, Lake Front.6

In the book, about Chicago’s first 100 years, the 42-year-old Russell described her hometown in the 1890s of her youth: “It was an ugly city. Its lines were hard and sharp. Its color, smoke. Its air, gritty. Its noises, strident. Its smell, salt with the blood of slaughterhouses. Its people, pale and hurried.”7  

Postcard image of the Irish Village.

Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, developed near Russell’s Hyde Park neighborhood, included an Irish Village with a recreation of the Blarney Castle and white-washed, thatched-roof cottages. An organizer of the exhibit wrote that it would be a great mistake “if any who boast of Irish blood in their veins do not resort thither with their children in order to call to mind the stories told by parents of the scenes of their childhood, or muse over bygone days which they themselves can recall in the dear old home.”8 

During this period, Chicago’s 16 percent Irish-born population9 read newspaper stories about the murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin, a member of the city’s Irish nationalist underground, and the divorce case downfall of Charles Stewart Parnell, Ireland’s “uncrowned king.” Irish immigrant Margaret F. Sullivan, who worked with Russell’s father at the Chicago Herald, wrote a popular book about the agrarian agitation in her native country.10  

In June 1900, when Russell was 11, her popular father died of kidney disease at age 54. “All the newspaper reading public recognized Mr. Russell as an editorial writer of learning, caliber, force, and judgement,” the Chicago Tribune quoted one of his friends.11 At St. Thomas the Apostle Church, the Rev. Daniel Riordan described the deceased as “a conspicuous example of scrupulous integrity.”12 

Russell attended nearby St. Xavier Academy, a Catholic girls school. Upon graduation in 1906, she enrolled at Chicago Normal College and for the next two years prepared for a teaching career.13 In September 1909, Russell matriculated into the University of Chicago, and she graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree.14 In June 1914, she sailed to France to study in Grenoble, but hurried home with the outbreak of the Great War.15

It appears Russell helped manage the St. Mary’s Campfire Girls program on Chicago’s south side.16 By October 1917, she “decided to enter the family field” and followed her late father and an older brother, James Russell, into the newspaper business.17

She began working as a reporter at the Daily News

REPORTER 

Chicago Daily News Building, 15 North Wells St., circa 1903. Chicago History Museum.

At the time of Russell’s newspaper debut, fast-growing Chicago was the second-largest city in America and “home to some of the most influential and dynamic journalists, editors, and newspaper owners in the United States.”18 Investigative efforts and literary styles flourished in the city’s newsrooms. Carl Sandburg joined the Daily News staff the same year as Russell and would bolster his reputation through coverage of Chicago’s 1919 race riots and profiles of the city’s African-American population.19 Russell was hired as a “special writer”20, typically an ad hoc or freelance arrangement that was one of the best ways for women to enter the newsroom.21

For two weeks in 1918, the 5-foot, 9-inch reporter22 hauled heavy steel tools to shell turners inside a Chicago munitions factory for an undercover series about women in war work. She profiled the manual laborers, including “a big woman whose straggly blond hair was stuck to the side of her wide, flat face with perspiration” as she pushed a 200-pound load. The reporter strained and “blushed at my little loads.” Russell estimated that she “walked about four miles, trucked approximately 900 pounds of steel, shouldered less heavy tools and earned $2 in an eight-hour night.” At the end of the shift, “I threw myself on a restroom cot.”23

In addition to such domestic coverage, the Daily News aggressively pursued foreign news. Publisher Victor F. Lawson established bureaus in London, Paris, and Berlin “on the best sites in town, with big signs, to lure in Chicago tourists,” foreign correspondent Paul Scott Mowrer recalled.24 But Lawson was interested in more than good publicity. In the paper’s handbook for foreign correspondents, he wrote: 

The key words of the service are significance and interpretation. Generally speaking, we aim to chronicle only what is significant, and we aim to show the significance of everything we chronicle … how and why it happened, and what it means. We have therefore to be clearer, more analytical, more thorough, less superficial, more cautious and generally more accurate, and perhaps more conscientious than our competitors.25

Lawson advised his correspondents to stay close to the native people, report on their styles and customs, fads and fancies, including business, education, science, religion, art, sports, and social problems. As the United States entered the Great War, his reporters fanned across Europe, including poetess Eunice Tietjens, sent to cover the conflict “from a woman’s perspective.”26

More than three dozen female journalists filed dispatches from the war in Europe for U.S. newspapers and magazines; more than doubling the number of women foreign correspondents since the Mexican-American War of the mid-19th century.27 Russell joined this still-small and under-appreciated sorority soon after the armistice.

The revolution erupting in Ireland was a story of particular interest to Chicago readers.

NEXT: Russell’s reporting from Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

November began with more than 1,000 people from the academic, arts, business, community, education, health, labor, law, media, and sports sectors; on both sides of the Irish border, and the diaspora in America, Canada, and Australia; signing an open letter calling for a “new conversation” about the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. The “Ireland’s Future” group urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to establish a citizens’ assembly to pave the way for a united Ireland. By the month’s end, Varadkar and opposition party leader Micheál Martin had rebuffed the request.

“In recent decades Irish nationalism has moved beyond slogans like ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ into an appreciation that co-operation rather than conflict is a far better route to an agreed Ireland. Attempting to take advantage of the Brexit confusion to pursue a united Ireland is little more than a reworking of that tired old cliché,” Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins wrote.

Other News 

  • A new round of talks to reopen the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, dormant since January 2017, is scheduled for Dec. 16, four days after U.K. elections that will impact the fate of Brexit.
  • Results of four by-elections in the Republic of Ireland were still being determined as I publish. Turnout was low. A national election is expected before May.
  • The Republic launched a Rural Broadband Plan to address the lack of digital coverage in black spots that cover 80 percent of its land mass. Varadkar hailed the project as the “most important since rural electrification.”
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf course reported a $1.7 million loss for 2018, the fifth-straight year the County Clare club has failed to make a profit, The Washington Post reported, citing Irish government filings. In October, the Clare County Council approved the Trump Organization’s request to build 53 homes on the site; but a request to build a rock barrier to shield the seaside resort from erosion remains pending with Ireland’s national planning board. 
  • Irish and U.K. media outlets have reported more anti-immigrant, alt-right activity in the Republic, which previously prided (or fooled) itself that it avoided the racism and xenophobia that plagues Europe and America.

Book News

  • Laying it on the Line – The Border and Brexit, a collection of 26 essays by “informed voices” (Only one woman!) from the Republic, Northern Ireland, the U.K., and the USA was released late in the month.
  • Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, published, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics. My friend Felix M. Larkin’s review in The Irish Catholic.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland was selected for The Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2019,” and The New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2019.” It was not included in The Irish Times‘ “What Irish Writers are Reading” list.

NOTE: I’ll publish my seventh annual “Best of the Blog” near the end of December. The monthly roundup will resume in the new year. MH

From my morning walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens in early November.

Some unusual maps of Ireland

The anthropomorphic maps of Ireland shown below were drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939 … also known under her married name, Tennant) in the mid-19th century. They are part of the “Purpose and Portrayal: Early Irish Maps and Mapmaking” exhibit at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, which I viewed earlier this month. The exhibit continues through 26 January 2020. Lancaster produced similar treatments of other countries, including the United States.

Below, note the discrepancy in the two maps of the former Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland on the spine of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century, which I found next to each other on the shelf of a Barnes & Nobel store in Pittsburgh. The 2018 hardcover at left shows only Northern Ireland (under the “KI” of Kingdom), though the island’s political partition didn’t occur until 15 years after the 1800-1906 period assessed in the book. The 2019 softcover at right corrects the error. “Yes, it was an oversight, which was later put right!,” Cannadine replied to my email outreach.

Map images of the U.K. and/or the Republic of Ireland typically shade the north and south differently to make the distinction, keeping whole the island’s physical geography. Less-used maps showing only the 6-county North, or 26-county Republic, floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea must make cartographers crazy, and surely enrage # united Ireland supporters.

I can hardly wait to see the post-Brexit maps of Europe.

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

New book explores role of Catholic Church in The Troubles

Dr. Margaret M. Scull, (@MaggieMScull) the Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway, is the author of a new book, The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998.

The 256-page book evaluates the Irish and English churches role in mediating the conflict, including new perspectives on religious institutions as such mediators in the 20th century. In additional to church and state archival research, Scull interviewed bishops, priests, religious women, former paramilitaries, community organizers, and politicians.

Scull gave Nov. 18 talks in Washington, D.C., at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University, and the Global Irish Studies program at Georgetown University. Some office obligations and late-afternoon D.C. traffic made me late for the latter, so instead of my own reporting, I’m posting a Nov. 11 interview Scull did with Barry Sheppard (@barry_shep), presenter on NVTV’s “History Now” program, and a friend from the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland.

One quick note: Scull is expanding her work to explore the role of the American Catholic Church during the Troubles, specifically the dioceses of Boston and Chicago. A follow up journal article is expected in 2020.

History Now: The Catholic Church and the Troubles – Ep 48 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

Remembering Belfast’s war dead, before the war ended

On a wall of a side entry into the ornate St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast, a modest plaque speaks to a troubled time, and not the period most would associate with the city. The brass-on-wood message reads, in part:

“Pray for the repose of the souls of the sailors and soldiers who have fallen in this war.”

In this case, “this war” is the Great War, “the war to end all wars.” The plaque is dated August 1917 … 15 months before the November 1918 armistice.

Praying for the dead of any period or place is encouraged in Catholic belief, particularly during the month of November, and the priests of this parish have never removed this reminder of early 20th century sacrifice. They are still talking about it at Mass.

The plaque at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast. Yes, that’s me reflected in the brass after the Nov. 9, 2019, Vigil Mass.

Ireland’s Memorial Records, a digital archive of the Flanders Field Museum in Belgium, lists 2,268 fatalities who were born in Belfast among 49,000 Irish soldiers killed in the war. The archive does not record their faith affiliation, let alone their home church.

Some 4,000 Catholic men from Belfast enlisted in the nine Irish regiments of the British Army, many joining the 6th Connaught Rangers, “the regiment of choice for Belfast Catholics,” historian Eamon Phoenix of Strainmillis University College says in a 2014 BBC podcast about the plaque. Many of these men supported pro-Home Rule nationalist John Redmond’s Irish National Volunteers and probably worshiped at St. Malachy’s, Phoenix says.

Of nearly 63,000 war recruits from the then nine-county province of Ulster, about 27 percent (17,092) were Catholics, at the time 44 percent of the region’s population. Overall, however, more Catholics than Protestants joined the war from Ireland in the years just before the island’s 1921 partition. More on faith affiliation and “the numbers involved,” from the Queen’s University Belfast Irish History Live blog.  

At this time, British officer Major Charles Blakiston Houston, a Protestant, was married to Norah Emily Persse, a Catholic woman and benefactor of St. Malachy’s Church. (Such “mixed marriages” were less than 1 percent of all unions in early 20th century Ireland, even more rare in Ulster, according to a 2015 study.) Norah convinced her parish priest, Fr. Dan McCashen, to install the plaque while the outcome of the war remained unresolved, Phoenix says.

“This must be very unique across the British Isles, a plaque that went up before the end of the war to remember soldiers; usually they went up afterward about 1920 or 1922,” he adds.

Why the early memorial? Phoenix speculates Norah sensed the shift from Redmond’s Home Rule nationalism to the post-Easter Rising surge of separatist Irish republicanism. If she anticipated the Sinn Féin election triumph of December 1918, she wanted to be sure the Redmond nationalists were remembered and respected.

“Many veterans returning to nationalist areas met grudging acceptance, hostility, or even physical violence,” the Queen’s History blog says. “For all of them the high public honor and celebration with which they had departed contrasted sharply with the changed circumstances of their return.”

A July 1919 press report of a Belfast event to honor veterans, however, included “a notable demonstration of the part played by Belfast nationalists” in the war. But it took until the approaching centenary of the Great War for it to become more widely acceptable, even expected, to recognize the sacrifices of Irish soldiers, especially nationalist Catholics.  

At St. Malachy’s, they have never stopped remembering and praying for the war dead, including at the Vigil Mass I attended Nov. 9. The priest noted the plaque during his homily. Otherwise, I would have missed it, since this feature is not described in the history section or other parts of the church’s website.

I sent an email to the church after returning to America and finding the Phoenix account. I’ll update the post if I receive new information.

***

Related: An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918 Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910. Eight years later, he was shipped to France.

The Belfast Cenotaph commemorating World War I opened in 1929 at Belfast City Hall. July 2019 photo.