seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Éamon de Valera Visits Butte, Montana During His American Tour

President Éamon de Valera visits Butte, Montana, on July 25, 1919, during his American Tour of 1919-20. Montana Lieutenant Governor W. W. McDowell meets his train and rides with de Valera through the streets to where de Valera then addresses over 10,000 people who have come out to hear him. The next day, de Valera addresses a joint session of the Montana State Legislature.

De Valera’s eventful 1919 begins in Lincoln Jail and ends in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, the largest and most luxurious hotel in the world. Smuggled aboard the SS Lapland in Liverpool in June, he sails for the United States during the closing stages of the Paris Peace Conference. As London’s Sunday Express complains in August 1919, “there is more Irish blood in America than in Ireland,” making the United States the obvious destination for a sustained propaganda and fundraising mission.

After his highly-publicised American debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the self-styled “President of the Irish Republic” embarks on the first leg of what is to be an eighteen month tour of the United States. The purpose of his mission is twofold: to gain formal recognition of the Irish Republic and to raise funds via a bond issue to support the independence movement and the newly established Dáil Éireann.

Between July and August 1919, de Valera and his entourage travel over 6,000 miles from New York to San Francisco, addressing enormous crowds at dozens of venues. He fills Madison Square Garden to capacity and receives a thirty-minute standing ovation from 25,000 people in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Twice as many people fill Boston’s Fenway Park on June 29, cheering the arrival of the “Irish Lincoln.” The Sinn Féin envoys also visit less obvious Irish communities of the period, such as Scranton, Savannah, New Orleans and Kansas City. For de Valera’s personal secretary, Seán Nunan, the public meeting in Butte, Montana is like “an election meeting at home – there were so many first-generation Irishmen working on the mines – mainly from around Allihies in West Cork.” In San Francisco de Valera dedicates a statue of Robert Emmet by Irish-born sculptor Jerome Connor in Golden Gate Park, a replica of which stands sentinel in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. This is one of many symbolic gestures linking the American and Irish struggles for independence played out before the flashing bulbs of the ubiquitous press photographers. On August 15 The Cork Examiner notes that the enthusiastic American exchanges “indicate that few public missionaries from other lands – possibly only Mr. Parnell – have ever had such receptions as were accorded to the Sinn Féin leader.”

De Valera’s team deserves credit for the incredible logistical triumph that is the U.S. tour. As chief organiser, Liam Mellows travels ahead to each city, ensuring a suitable reception is prepared and a venue secured for a mass meeting. Seán Nunan is de Valera’s fastidious personal secretary and Harry Boland, Sinn Féin TD for South Roscommon and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) envoy, is at his side troubleshooting, speechmaking and shaking hands. As the tour progresses, de Valera’s supporting cast expands to include, Kerry-born Kathleen O’Connell who becomes de Valera’s full-time personal secretary from 1919.

The next stage of de Valera’s American odyssey begins on October 1, 1919 in Philadelphia, a city with a rich Irish heritage and rife with symbolism of America’s struggle for independence. Over the next three weeks, de Valera and his team travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard and back again, delivering seventeen major public speeches and a host of smaller ones to aggregate crowds of over half a million.

The pace is relentless as the Irish team makes its way through middle America. De Valera is received as a visiting dignitary at multiple state legislatures and presented with honorary degrees from six American universities. In line with his secondary objective to foster the interest of “wealthy men of the race in the industrial development of Ireland,” he addresses the Chambers of Commerce in a number of cities and arranges a personal meeting with Henry Ford, the son of an Irish emigrant, during his visit to Detroit in October. In the same month in Wisconsin, he is made a Chief of the Chippewa Nation, an honour he later says meant more to him than all the freedoms of all the cites he was ever given. It is not surprising that by the time they reach Denver on October 30, The Irish World reports that “the President looked tired.” Still, he musters the energy to make high profile visits to Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego before beginning the return journey to New York at the end of November.

After a short break for Christmas, the Irish team prepares for the launch of the Bond Certificate Drive. A week-long frenzy of publicity kicks off on January 17 at New York City Hall where Mayor John F. Hylan presents de Valera with the Freedom of the City. During the spring of 1920, de Valera addresses the Maryland General Assembly at Annapolis before making the swing through the southern states of America.

It is not all plain sailing for the Sinn Féin representatives in America. The tour of the west coast in late 1919 sees increasing tensions with American patriotic bodies who are critical of de Valera’s perceived pro-German stance during World War I. He is heckled during a speech in Seattle and a tricolour is ripped from his car in Portland by members of the American Legion. The trip through the southern states in the spring of 1920 coincides with rising American anti-immigration and anti-Catholic nativism. A small number of counter demonstrations are organised by right-wing Americans. Most notably, members of the Ku Klux Klan make unwelcome appearances at several rallies in the American south, making clear their opposition to de Valera’s presence.

The Irish envoys also contend with antagonism from the leaders of Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), the broad-based popular front of Clan na Gael headed by veteran Fenian John Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan. The FOIF uses its significant resources to finance de Valera’s tour and facilitate the Bond Certificate Drive, but behind the scenes there are significant personality clashes and tensions over tactics.

The increasingly public dispute comes to a head in a row over strategies at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1920. Drawing on his influential political contacts, Cohalan persuades the Republican Party to include Irish self-determination in their election platform. However, much to Cohalan’s fury, de Valera leads a separate delegation to the Convention and insists on a resolution calling for recognition of the Irish Republic. The result is that two resolutions are submitted to the Platform Committee, which indicates dissension in the Irish ranks and gives the Committee the excuse to include neither in the final platform. After de Valera also fails to secure the endorsement of the Democratic convention in San Francisco in June, it is clear that the Irish question will not be a significant factor in the ensuing presidential election. Relations between the FOIF and de Valera reach a new low. In November 1920, de Valera makes the final break with the FOIF and sets up a new organisation, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.

De Valera is in Washington, D.C. on October 25 when Terence MacSwiney dies after 74 days on hunger strike. Six days later, at the last great meeting of the American tour, 40,000 people fill New York’s Polo Grounds to commemorate MacSwiney’s death. By late November, de Valera knows that it is time to return to Ireland. Smuggled aboard SS Celtic in New York harbour on December 10, he prepares for the nine-day journey home. He had failed to obtain the recognition of the United States Government for the Republic, but his cross-continental tour and associated press coverage raised international awareness and over $5 million for the Irish cause.

(From: An article by Helene O’Keeffe that was first published in the Irish Examiner on March 24, 2020 | Photo: Eamon de Valera, center, president of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, in Butte, Montana, in 1919 to encourage support for Ireland’s fight for independence. Courtesy of Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives)


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Belfast Nationalists Vote Against Orange Parades

Nationalist residents of Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road vote overwhelmingly on August 4, 2000 against allowing Orange Order parades through the flashpoint district. Results indicate that over 90% of those polled in a secret vote on the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau area of south Belfast want such parades rerouted.

The nationalist residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC), which organised the ballot, says the majority of the 600 people who voted want the parades rerouted. In a statement it says it welcomes the result as “an overwhelming and democratic expression of our community’s desire to live free from sectarian harassment”.

LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice says, “We do not claim to speak for loyalist residents.” He adds that the loyal orders will now have to listen to the people of the area. “The whole point in this exercise was not to vindicate our position, but to set out clearly an informed position as to what exactly the opinion in our community is and has been for many years,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster.

“The Orange Order and other loyal institutions have said for many, many years that really people living on the Ormeau Road want parades. That they are actually a colourful event that people can enjoy. We have said that many people within our community would say parades by the loyal institutions were seen as sectarian, coat trailing exercises, the institutions were seen as anti-Catholic and sectarian organisations. Now we can actually say that 95.9% of our community believe that to be true.”

However, the Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order rejects the results of the poll. Dawson Baillie says the vote was unrepresentative because it did not include the staunchly loyalist Donegall Pass area and the Ballynafeigh district above the Ormeau Bridge. “We believe that it’s our right and everyone’s right to walk down a main thoroughfare. We’re not going into side streets on the right hand side of that part of the Ormeau Road or the left hand side. We go straight down the main thoroughfare. Our parade at any given point would take no more than three to four minutes to pass.”

Unionists question the validity of the poll as it excludes nearby loyalist areas. Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party says the poll would not help to resolve the situation. “You don’t get people to enter into talks on the basis of no parade. You get people to enter into talks on the basis of an accommodation,” she says. “If that poll had been held to show what concerns the people of Lower Ormeau have over loyal order parades, that would have been better, that would have been a way forward, trying to address the concerns of the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road. LOCC have not been forthcoming with those concerns so the talks haven’t moved forward.”

Reverend Martin Smyth, the Belfast South MP, says it had been “a stage managed exercise” to show how well the group could conduct their business in that area and “to gather support from those who don’t want a procession down that road.”

However, Rice rejects the suggestions that it is unrepresentative because loyalist areas had been left out. Another LOCC representative, John Gormley, says they would welcome equivalent ballots from the loyalist part of the Ormeau area.

Local parish priest Father Anthony Curran says he is satisfied with the conduct of the vote. “A large number of people seem to have come out, a very broad section of the community, elderly young middle-aged, sick. They came free from fear and intimidation.”

A similar poll was last conducted in the Lower Ormeau area in 1995 by management consultants Coopers & Lybrand, when a large majority voted against allowing loyalist marches in the area.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has barred the Orange Order from marching through the Lower Ormeau area during its Twelfth of July demonstrations for the previous two years.

(From: “Poll ‘rejects’ loyal order parades” by BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), August 4, 2000)


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The Broad Street Riot

The Broad Street Riot, a massive brawl between Irish Americans and Yankee firefighters, occurs in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1837. At the time of this particular riot, nearly all of Boston’s firefighters are volunteers.

Boston is a major center for immigration in the 19th century due to its large seaport. Nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment is strong, especially among working-class men whose jobs and wages are threatened by an influx of poor Irish immigrants. On Broad Street, it is common for groups of nativist Yankees to vandalize Irish homes and attack lone Irishmen.

At about 3:00 PM on Sunday, June 11, 1837, Fire Engine Company 20 returns to their station on East Street from a fire at the Boston Neck. Some of the men go straight home from there, however most stop at a nearby pub for drinks. The pub is apparently operating illegally as it is a Sunday and, in Massachusetts, blue laws are then in effect.

The men have just emerged from the pub “in a more or less bellicose mood,” when they collide with a crowd of about a hundred Irishmen who are on their way to join a large funeral procession on Sea Street. Nearly all of the firefighters pass through the crowd without incident, however, when 19-year-old George Fay, who has reportedly had too much to drink, insults or shoves several of the Irishmen, and a fight breaks out. Fay’s friends rush to his aid, but the firemen are outnumbered and are badly beaten. Their foreman, W.W. Miller, orders them back into the firehouse.

By some accounts, the Irishmen then take over the firehouse. According to others, the crowd had begun to disperse, and the matter might have ended there had the foreman not “lost his head completely.” In any case, Miller orders his men to sound the emergency alarm. First they roll their wagon into the street, ringing the fire alarm bell. Then Miller sends men to ring the church bells, summoning all the fire engines in Boston. According to the Boston Transcript, Miller then runs to another firehouse, shouting, “The Irish have risen upon us, and are going to kill us!”

Company 9, responding to what they think is a legitimate fire alarm, arrives just as the funeral procession is turning onto New Broad Street. Their horse-drawn wagon veers into the crowd, scattering and knocking down the mourners. The Irish assume the assault is deliberate, and another brawl erupts. As more fire companies arrive, and Irishmen pour out of nearby houses into the street to help their friends and relatives, the fight escalates into a full-blown riot. Before long, an estimated 800 men are doing battle with sticks, stones, bricks, and cudgels while at least 10,000 more urged them on. Protestant workmen come running to the aid of the firefighters, while underfoot, injured and unconscious men lay sprawled on the pavement.

Outnumbered, the Irish are defeated and driven back to their homes. That is when the home invasions begin. A “gang of stout boys and loafers” raid nearby houses, breaking doors and windows, and in some cases beating the occupants. Furniture and other possessions are destroyed and thrown into the street. Some Irish families lose their homes altogether.

After raging for about three hours, the riot is quelled when Mayor Samuel Atkins Eliot calls in the National Lancers, a newly formed cavalry company, and some 800 other members of the state militia with fixed bayonets. Among them are the Montgomery Guards, a short-lived Irish American infantry company which is forced to disband the following year due to the extreme nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment in Boston.

No immediate deaths result from the violence. Many people suffer serious wounds, however, and there is no nearby hospital to care for them. Given the lack of hospital and police records, the number of people who eventually die of their injuries cannot be determined. Thousands of dollars in damage is done to property belonging to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants.

The militia, being composed nearly entirely of Yankees, arrest 34 Irishmen and 4 Yankees. A grand jury indicts 14 of the Irishmen and all four of the Yankees. At the municipal court trial, a Yankee jury acquits the four Yankees and convicts four Irishmen, three of whom are sentenced to several months of hard labor.

Three months later, in September, Mayor Eliot establishes a professional, paid fire department, with all new hires requiring the approval of the mayor and aldermen. The Boston Police Department is established the following year.