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


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Founding of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland

american-committee-for-relief-in-irelandThe American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) is founded through the initiative of Dr. William J. Maloney and others on December 16, 1920, with the intention of giving financial assistance to civilians in Ireland who have been injured or suffer severe financial hardship due to the ongoing Irish War of Independence.

The Committee is only one of several U.S. based philanthropic organisations that emerge following World War I with a view to influencing the post-war settlement from their perspective of social justice, economic development and long term stability in Europe. Some of them concentrate their efforts on events in Ireland, and while activists of Irish ethnicity are well represented, membership is far from confined to Americans of Irish heritage. Apart from the ACRI, bodies such as the American Commission on Irish Independence and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland raise money and attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy in a manner sympathetic to the goal of Irish secession from the United Kingdom.

This period of Irish political radicalism coincides with a Red Scare in the United States. Jim Larkin, an Irish trade unionist, who has been closely associated with James Connolly in Ireland and with the Wobblies in the U.S., is serving a five-year sentence in Sing Sing prison for promoting his socialist agenda. While his political views differ fundamentally from most of the Sinn Féin leadership, Irish republicanism is seen by many of the American establishment as based on a questionable ideology. During the Irish War of Independence, the activities of Irish-American fund-raising organisations are viewed with suspicion and kept under close scrutiny by the intelligence services including J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. policy towards Irish concerns, initially hostile or at best indifferent, become somewhat less so following the 1920 U.S. presidential election and the landslide victory of Warren G. Harding over James M. Cox.

Following the burning of parts of Cork on December 11, 1920 by elements of the British security forces known as the Black and Tans, approaches are made by the city’s Lord Mayor, Donal O’Callaghan, to the American Red Cross for humanitarian assistance. The society, having taken advice from President Woodrow Wilson, the British embassy, the Foreign Office and the British Red Cross, decline at this time to act on his appeal. Numerous organisations and committees across the United States, operating independently in raising humanitarian aid money for Ireland realise that their funds will not be channelled through the U.S. Committee of the Red Cross and so another distribution channel is needed.

Five days after the inferno at Cork, a widely publicised meeting takes place at the Banker’s Club in New York City. It is organised by William Maloney with the intention of establishing a single nationwide organisation. It will have as its goal, explicitly and solely for the purpose of humanitarian relief, the raising and distribution in Ireland of $10 million. The body which soon emerges styles itself “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” One of its founding members, Levi Hollingsworth Wood, approaches a Dublin-based businessman and fellow Quaker, James Douglas, requesting his assistance in the local distribution of the funds on a non-partisan basis. In Ireland, Douglas speaks with Laurence O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who in turn contacts senior members of Sinn Féin to inform them of the wishes of the American Committee. These meetings culminate in the establishment of the Irish White Cross, for the purpose of local distribution of the Committee’s funds.


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Death of William Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan

william-joseph-donovanWilliam Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan, a United States soldier, lawyer, intelligence officer, and diplomat, dies on February 8, 1959. Donovan is best remembered as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II. He is also known as the “Father of American Intelligence” and the “Father of Central Intelligence.”

Of Irish descent, Donovan is born in Buffalo, New York, to first generation immigrants Anna Letitia “Tish” Donovan (née Lennon) of Ulster and Timothy P. Donovan of County Cork. His grandfather, Timothy O’Donovan, Sr., is from the town of Skibbereen, and marries Mary Mahoney, who belongs to a propertied family of substantial means who disapprove of him. They move first to Canada and then to New York, where their son Timothy, Jr., Donovan’s father, attempts to engage in a political career but with little success.

William attend St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University, where he earns the nickname “Wild Bill”, which remains with him for the rest of his life. He graduates from Columbia in 1905. He then attends and graduates from Columbia Law School, after which he becomes an influential Wall Street lawyer.

In 1912, Donovan forms and leads a troop of cavalry of the New York National Guard, which is mobilized in 1916 and serves on the U.S.-Mexico border during the American government’s campaign against Pancho Villa.

During World War I, Major Donovan organizes and leads the 1st battalion of the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division. For his service near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on October 14-15, 1918, he receives the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he receives a promotion to colonel, as well as the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.

Donovan serves as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York from 1922 to 1924. Due to his energetic enforcement of Prohibition in the United States, there are a number of threats to assassinate him and to dynamite his home but he is not deterred. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge names Donovan to the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as a deputy assistant to Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty. Donovan runs unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York (1922) and for Governor of New York (1932) as a Republican.

During the years between the world wars, Donovan earns the attention and friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although the two men were from opposing political parties, they were very similar in personality. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan traveled as an informal emissary to Britain, where he is urged by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Roosevelt to gauge Britain’s ability to withstand Germany’s aggression. During these trips Donovan meets with key officials in the British war effort, including Winston Churchill and the directors of Britain’s intelligence services. Donovan returns to the U.S. confident of Britain’s chances and enamored of the possibility of founding an American intelligence service modeled on that of the British.

On July 11, 1941, Donovan is named Coordinator of Information (COI) where he is to oversee America’s foreign intelligence organizations which, at the time are fragmented and isolated from each other. He is plagued over the course of the next year with jurisdictional battles as few of the leaders in the intelligence community are willing to part with any of their power. Nevertheless, Donovan begins to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program.

In 1942, the COI becomes the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan is returned to active duty in the U.S. Army. He is promoted to brigadier general in March 1943 and to major general in November 1944. Under his leadership the OSS eventually conducts successful espionage and sabotage operations in Europe and parts of Asia. By 1943, relations with the British are becoming increasingly strained, partly due to British concerns that OSS operations are sometimes regarded as ill-disciplined and irresponsibly managed. MI6 chief Stewart Menzies is extremely hostile towards the idea of OSS operations anywhere in the British Empire and categorically forbids them to operate within the U.K.

After the end of World War II and the death of President Roosevelt in early April 1945, Donovan’s political position is substantially weakened as he finds himself opposed by President Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, and others. Truman disbands the OSS in September 1945 and Donovan returns to civilian life. Several departments of the OSS survive the dissolution and, less than two years later, the Central Intelligence Agency is founded.

Donovan does not have an official role in the newly formed CIA but he is instrumental in its formation. His opinions meet strong opposition from the State, War, and Navy Departments, as well as J. Edgar Hoover. President Truman is also unenthusiastic about some of Donovan’s arguments but he prevails and they are reflected in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949.

After the end of the war ended, Donovan returns to his lifelong role as a lawyer and serves as special assistant to chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in Germany. On August 3, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower appoints Donovan Ambassador to Thailand and he serves in that capacity from September 4, 1953 until his resignation on August 21, 1954.

Donovan dies from complications of vascular dementia on February 8, 1959 at the age of 76, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower remarks, “What a man! We have lost the last hero.”