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


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Birth of Joseph McGarrity, Irish American Political Activist

Joseph McGarrity, Irish American political activist best known for his leadership in Clan na Gael in the United States and his support of Irish republicanism back in Ireland, is born on March 28, 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone.

McGarrity’s family grows up in poverty, motivating his need to immigrate later in life. He grows up hearing his father discussing Irish politics, including topics such as the Fenians, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and Irish Home Rule. By the time he is an adult, he has developed a keen interest in politics himself.

McGarrity immigrates to the United States in 1892 at the age of 18. He is reputed to have walked to Dublin before boarding a cattle boat to Liverpool disguised as a drover, and then sailing to the United States using a ticket belonging to someone else. He settles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and becomes successful in the liquor business. His business fails, however, on three occasions, twice due to embezzlement by his business partner.

In 1893 McGarrity joins Clan na Gael, an Irish organisation based in the United States committed to aiding the establishment of an independent Irish state. Clan na Gael had been heavily involved with the Fenian Brotherhood that McGarrity had grown up hearing about, and by the latter half of the 19th century had become a sister organisation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In the decade just before McGarrity joins, Clan na Gael and the Fenian movement had waged the Fenian dynamite campaign, where they attempted to force the British state to make concessions on Ireland by bombing British Infrastructure. However, this had caused a split within Clan na Gael that is not mended until seven years after McGarrity joins when, in 1900, the factions reunite and plead to support “the complete independence of the Irish people, and the establishment of an Irish republic.” In the years that follow the 1880s and 1890s, he is, amongst others, credited with helping to stitch the organisation back together and bring it renewed strength.

McGarrity helps sponsor several Irish Race Conventions and founds and runs a newspaper called The Irish Press from 1918-22 that supports the Irish War of Independence. He is the founder of the Philadelphia chapter of Clan Na Gael.

During World War I, while the United States is still neutral, McGarrity is involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy. He arranges the Annie Larsen arms purchase and shipment from New York to San Diego for India.

When Éamon de Valera arrives in the United States in 1919 they strike up an immediate rapport and McGarrity manages de Valera’s tour of the country. He persuades de Valera of the benefits of supporting him and the Philadelphia branch against the New York branch of the Friends of Irish Freedom organisation led by John Devoy and Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. He becomes president of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. He christens his newborn son Éamon de Valera McGarrity, although their relationship becomes strained upon de Valera’s entry back into Dáil Éireann in the Irish Free State.

McGarrity opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty and travels to Dublin in 1922 and assists the development of the short-lived Collins/De Valera Pact by bringing de Valera and Michael Collins together before the 1922 Irish general election.

The Irish Civil War sees a split in Clan na Gael just as it had split Sinn Féin back in Ireland. McGarrity and a minority of Clan na Gael members support the anti-treaty side but a majority support the pro-treaty side, including John Devoy and Daniel Cohalan. Furthermore, in October 1920 Harry Boland informs the Clan na Gael leadership that the IRB will be cutting their ties to the Clan unless the IRB is given more influence over their affairs. Devoy and Cohalan resist this but McGarrity sees the Clan’s connection with the IRB as vital. While McGarrity’s faction is initially labelled “Reorganised Clan na Gael,” they are able to inherit total control of the Clan na Gael name as Devoy is not able to keep effective organisation of the group. In general, however, the in-fighting amongst the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic is quite disheartening for Irish Americans and in the years to come neither pro or anti-treaty sides of Clan na Gael see much in the way of donations.

With the scope of Clan na Gael now narrowed, and Devoy and Cohalan removed from the picture, McGarrity becomes chairman of the organisation. He does not support the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and opposes the party’s entry into the Dáil in 1927. Even after the Irish Civil War, he still supports the idea that a 32-county Irish Republic can be achieved through force. in the spring of 1926, he receives Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Andrew Cooney to the United States. Cooney and Clan na Gael formally agree that each organisation will support the other and that Clan na Gael will raise funds, purchase weapons and build support for the IRA in the United States.

Going into the late 1920s though Clan na Gael, as are most Irish American organisations, is struggling. Having limped past the split caused by the Irish Civil War, the rejection of Fianna Fáil has caused a second split in the membership. Many Irish Americans see the IRA and Fianna Fáil as one and the same at that point and Clan na Gael and McGarrity’s hostility to them causes much friction.

By July 1929, the Clan’s membership in one of its strongholds, New York City, is down to just 620 paid members. Then in October of that same year Wall Street crashes and the Great Depression hits. In 1933 McGarrity is left almost bankrupt after he is found guilty of “false bookkeeping entries.” His livelihood is saved when he becomes one of the main ticket agents in the United States for the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. He is a personal friend of Joseph McGrath, one of the founders of the Sweepstake. The sweepstakes allow him to turn his fortunes around.

Despite the trying times of both Clan na Gael and his personal life, McGarrity holds fast in his belief in physical force Irish Republicanism. In 1939 he supports the demand from Seán Russell for the “S-Plan” bombing campaign in Britain, which proves disastrous. He allegedly meets Hermann Göring in Berlin in 1939 to ask for aid for the IRA, which leads indirectly to “Plan Kathleen.”

McGarrity is a lifelong friend of fellow Carrickmore native and avid Republican, Patrick McCartan. When he dies on September 4, 1940 a mass is held in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He remains an unrepentant physical force republican all his life. A number of McGarrity’s papers are in the National Library of Ireland. He donates his personal Library to Villanova University.

The IRA signs all its statements ‘J.J. McGarrity’ until 1969 when the organisation splits into the ‘Official‘ and ‘Provisional‘ movements. Thereafter the term continues to be used by the Officials while the Provisionals adopt the moniker ‘P.O’Neill.’


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Founding of Clan na Gael in New York City

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90The Clan na Gael, an Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries, is founded by John Devoy, Daniel Cohalan, and Joseph McGarrity in New York City on June 20, 1867. It is the successor to the Fenian Brotherhood and a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). It has shrunk to a small fraction of its former size in the 21st century.

As Irish immigration to the United States begins to increase in the 18th century many Irish organizations are formed. In the later part of the 1780s, a strong Irish patriot character begins to grow in these organizations and amongst recently arrived Irish immigrants.

In 1858, the IRB is founded in Dublin by James Stephens. In response to the establishment of the IRB in Dublin, a sister organization is founded in New York City, the Fenian Brotherhood, led by John O’Mahony. This arm of Fenian activity in America produces a surge in radicalism among groups of Irish immigrants, many of whom had recently emigrated from Ireland during and after the Great Famine.

In October 1865, the Fenian Philadelphia Congress meets and appoints the Irish Republican Government in the United States. Meanwhile in Ireland, the IRB newspaper The Irish People is raided by the police and the IRB leadership is imprisoned. Another abortive uprising occurs in 1867, but the British remain in control.

After the 1865 crackdown in Ireland, the American organization begins to fracture over what to do next. Made up of veterans of the American Civil War, a Fenian army is formed. While O’Mahony and his supporters want to remain focused on supporting rebellions in Ireland, a competing faction, called the Roberts, or senate wing, wants this Fenian Army to attack British bases in Canada. The resulting Fenian raids strain U.S.–British relations. The level of American support for the Fenian cause begins to diminish as the Fenians are seen as a threat to stability in the region.

After 1867, the Irish Republican Brotherhood headquarters in Manchester chooses to support neither of the existing feuding factions, but instead promotes a renewed Irish republican organization in America, to be named Clan na Gael.

According to John Devoy in 1924, Jerome James Collins founds what is then called the Napper Tandy Club in New York on June 20, 1867, Wolfe Tone‘s birthday. This club expands into others and at one point at a picnic in 1870 is named the Clan na Gael by Sam Cavanagh. This is the same Cavanagh who killed the informer George Clark, who had exposed a Fenian pike-making operation in Dublin to the police.

Collins, who dies in 1881 on the disastrous Jeannette Expedition to the North Pole, is a science editor on the New York Herald, who had left England in 1866 when a plot he was involved in to free the Fenian prisoners at Pentonville Prison was uncovered by the police. Collins believes at the time of the founding in 1867 that the two feuding Fenians branches should patch things up.

The objective of Clan na Gael is to secure an independent Ireland and to assist the Irish Republican Brotherhood in achieving this aim. It becomes the largest single financier of both the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence.

Clan na Gael continues to provide support and aid to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after it is outlawed in Ireland by Éamon de Valera in 1936 but becomes less active in the 1940s and 1950s. However the organization grows in the 1970s. The organization plays a key part in NORAID and is a prominent source of finance and weapons for the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969–1998.

The Clan na Gael still exists today, much changed from the days of the Catalpa rescue. In 1987 the policy of abstentionism is abandoned. As recently as 1997 another internal split occurs as a result of the IRA shift away from the use of physical force as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The two factions are known to insiders as Provisional Clan na Gael (allied to Provisional Sinn Féin/IRA) and Republican Clan na Gael (associated with both Republican Sinn Féin/Continuity IRA and 32 County Sovereignty Movement/Real IRA, though primarily the former). These have been listed as terrorist organizations at various times by the UK Government.

(Pictured: Clan na Gael marching in the 1970 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia, photograph by John Hamilton)


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The Irish Republican Army S-Plan

s-plan-coventry-attackThe S-Plan or Sabotage Campaign or England Campaign, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of bombing and sabotage against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom, begins on January 16, 1939 and lasts until March 1940. The campaign is conceived by Seamus O’Donovan in 1938 at the request of then IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. It is believed that Russell and Joseph McGarrity devised the strategy in 1936.

The S-Plan contains many precise instructions for acts of destruction which have as their object the paralysis of all official activity in England and the greatest possible destruction of British defence installations. It divides the IRA campaign into two main lines: propaganda and offensive (military) action.

Operations are strictly concentrated on the island of Britain, in and around centres of population where IRA volunteers can operate freely without drawing attention. No attacks on targets in Northern Ireland or other areas under British control are planned as part of the S-Plan.

Sources of funding for the campaign are not known, but once the campaign is operational, the weekly expenses for operations in the field amount to approximately £700. Operational units are expected to raise any money needed themselves, and the men who act within IRA teams are unpaid and expected to support themselves while on missions.

On January 12, 1939, the IRA Army Council sends an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informs the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war.”

On Sunday, January 15, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation is posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation is written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and is signed by six members of the Army Council – Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell.

The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on August 25, 1939 effectively ends the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in Ireland, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain lead to many IRA members interned in Ireland, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 leads to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone.

The final figures resulting from the S-Plan are cited as 300 explosions, ten deaths and 96 injuries.

(Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)