The 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.