The postcard above was printed during the third Home Rule Crisis ca. 1912-1914. It features the Albert Memorial Tower being pulled down and replaced by a statue of John Redmond (leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party) with crown and scepter, labeled ‘Redmond Rex Hibernia.” The gigantic Poor House Annex is “Full Up” and droves of people are crowded at the Protestant Emigration Office where they can buy “Tickets for New York or Anywhere” (sponsored by the Irish state, with the green harp flag flying above). One wing of the building is dedicated space for the “Office of the Molly Maguires.” The American influence over the new Irish government and “King Redmond” is further symbolized by the American flag and ship parked at the Customs Office. Meanwhile the formerly industrial Belfast is being overtaken by pigs, chickens, and goats. Continue reading
I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time, and anyone with an interest in Irish history or architecture cannot help but be struck by the massive, Greek-columned Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street.
Hibernian Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1840 for the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent association founded in 1801. The Hibernian Society celebrates its non-sectarian identity, alternating between Catholic and Protestant presidents. Continue reading
Last week, I looked at how Ulster unionists and the Scotch-Irish memorialized and celebrated their ties to American presidents. Find the post here.
Now let’s turn to visits by three US presidents to Ireland, Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.
ULYSSES S. GRANT
The first American president to visit Ireland was Grant, hero of the American Civil War, after his two rather tumultuous terms as president were over. While he wished to make a tour of the world as a private citizen, then-President Rutherford B. Hayes encouraged him to take a diplomatic role and attempt to strengthen American interests abroad.
Grant departed Philadelphia on his world tour in May 1877 and arrived in Dublin on 3 January 1879. He met with Lord Mayor, Sir Jonah Barrington, and was made an honorary citizen. He toured the Mansion House, Royal Irish Academy, Bank of Ireland, Chamber of Commerce, stock exchange, Trinity College, and City Hall, spending two days touring the city in total.
Grant left Dublin by train on 6 January, stopping in Dundalk, Omagh, and Strabane on the way to Derry. He did not visit his ancestral homestead at Ballygawley in County Tyrone. The next day he arrived in Belfast.
From the train-window, Grant saw a perfect sea of heads, which showed the eagerness of the people to honor the distinguished traveller. The platform of the station was covered with scarlet carpet. The Mayor and members of the City Council welcomed the General, who descended from the car amid tremendous cheers. Crowds ran after the carriages containing the city authorities and their illustrious guest, and afterwards surrounded the hotel where the General was entertained.
Belfast might be said to have been en fête, the public buildings were draped with American and English colors, and in a few instances with Orange flags.
– J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour Around the World (1880)
Grant viewed City Hall, linen warehouses and factories, and the Harland & Wolff shipyard. Grant then returned to Dublin and departed for Asia, finally returning to Philadelphia in December 1879.
Grant received a huge welcome in the north compared to his more subdued reception in the south. As Bernadette Whelan explains, this can be attributed both to his Ulster roots and to the policies of Grant’s Republican Party, which was associated with being pro-British, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.
Kennedy’s visit to Ireland is clearly the most famous of any US president. As Tom Deignan writes, the trip “is now the stuff of legend. He met with de Valera and was greeted like a rock star.”
Kennedy came to Ireland as part of a wider European tour, including his infamous trip to Berlin. He arrived in Dublin from Germany on the evening of 26 June 1963 and was formally welcomed by Éamon de Valera. He then traveled by motorcade through the city to Phoenix Park.
The next day, he toured County Wexford, including visiting New Ross and his ancestral homestead at Dunganstown before returning to Dublin. On 28 June, he addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas, where he declared, “My friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world–and that is a future of peace with freedom.” He also memorialized the Easter Rising and Irish participation in the American Civil War, received the freedom of the city, and visited Cork. On his final day in Ireland, Kennedy traveled to Galway and Limerick before leaving from Shannon.
Nixon arrived at Shannon on the evening of 3 October 1970 and stayed for two nights in Limerick. He and his wife, Pat, visited her ancestral hometown in Mayo, then went to the home of his Quaker ancestors in County Kildare at Timahoe where he enjoyed a positive reception.
I do proudly claim, as do almost all successful American politicians, an Irish background.
He toured County Kildare before heading to Dublin. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Nixon faced protests and even attempted eggings of his motorcade as he was driven through the city. He met with Jack Lynch at Dublin Castle before leaving Dublin on 5 October.
In the nineteenth century, the Irish were the second largest foreign-born ethnic group in Colorado, with the major sites of Irish settlement at Denver, Leadville, and Cripple Creek. The earliest Irish migrants in Colorado were miners, railroad workers, soldiers, and domestic servants. In Denver, many Irish worked as common laborers.
In 1877, miners in Lake County realized that the black sand they had been tossing off to the side when looking for gold was actually silver. This led to a silver boom, causing the city of Leadville to spring up overnight. By far the largest ethnic group in Leadville was the Irish, and Leadville became the most Irish city in the Rocky Mountain region by 1880. About 9% of the population had been born in Ireland and another 7% were second generation Irish Americans. The majority of Irish were miners, and like most groups in Colorado at this time, were mostly men.
Irish women in Leadville were housewives, domestic servants, laundresses, about six were prostitutes, and there were also several nuns who worked as nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital.
In Leadville, the Irish mainly settled on the east side of town, with 6th street as the main thoroughfare. Because they were the largest ethnic group, they had a large impact on the town as it grew. They had their own Catholic church, the Church of the Annunciation, which was founded in 1879. There was also St Vincent’s Hospital and St Mary’s Catholic School. The names of the mines also reflect the Irish presence. Many of them are name after people or groups from Irish nationalism: Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian Queen, and Charles Stewart Parnell. Others have more general Irish cultural links: O’Sullivan, Murphy, Fitzjames, Letterkenny, Mary Murphy, Red-Headed Mary, Seamus O’Brien, Fitzhugh, Donovan, O’Brien, and Maid of Erin.
The most well-known people of Leadville were also Irish. Molly Brown and her husband J.J. were the children of Irish immigrants. Baby Doe Tabor, whose birth name was Elizabeth McCourt, was also the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her husband, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Horace Tabor, was known to support the Irish nationalist movement.
Irish nationalism was a huge cause for the Irish immigrants in Leadville. Nationally, Leadville ranked third in money donated to the Irish Land League, behind only Philadelphia and Chicago. Leadville formed its own branches of the Land League and the Ladies’ Land League, and also had other Irish societies, the Knights of Robert Emmet, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Daughters of Erin. The Irish also had their own local militai, the Wolfe Tone Guards.
Both Leadville and Denver’s Irish populations were well-organized and supportive of nationalist causes, and this led several Irish nationalists to include both cities in their fundraising tours of the United States. This included two visits by the founder of the Land League, Michael Davitt, as well as the treasurer and secretary of the Land League and several members of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Oscar Wilde also came to Denver and Leadville in 1882. He gave a talk on art and aesthetics to the miners at the Tabor Opera House and became legendary in the area for the amount of whiskey he consumed.
Along with their nationalist activism, the Irish in Leadville were known for their participation in local labor movements. They were associated with the leadership of two major strikes in Leadville, the first a 23-day strike in 1880 and the second a much longer strike from 19 June 1896 to 9 March 1897. Labor activism fit well with Irish land agitation and calls for self-government. In fact all three of these movements had been tied together through the most prominent Irish American newspaper, the Irish World. The newspaper’s founder and editor, Patrick Ford, promoted Irish nationalism and American labor activism, and his paper was circulated around the country, even to places as distant as Leadville before it had railroad access.
In both of the Leadville strikes, the miners’ unions were led by Irish miners, demanding higher pay and shorter working days. In both cases, the strikes were put down by the Colorado National Guard. While the 1880 strike was peaceful, the 1896 strike became violent, with armed strikers attacking the mines. At least eight miners were killed.
In 1896, Leadville’s branch of the Loyal Orange Institution was founded. In North America, the Orange Order had a by far larger presence in Canada, with a weaker organization in the United States. In Colorado, the oldest and largest Orange presence was in Denver. The timing of the foundation of the Orange lodge in Leadville is interesting, as the population of Leadville had been drastically declining since the 1893 silver crash. So why would smaller numbers of people want to form a new organization at this time? It’s possible that the Irish and Scotch-Irish Protestants were attempting to dissociate themselves from the Irish Americans who were leading the miners’ strike, who they would have considered radical, extreme, and at the bottom of the social ladder.
The Orange lodge in Cripple Creek was also founded soon after the Cripple Creek miners’ strike, which was also heavily associated with Irish American-led labor agitation.
It’s difficult to track just low large of a presence the Orange Order and other Scotch-Irish migrants would have had in Colorado, because the peak of emigration from Ireland was farther in the past. They might be lumped in with second-generation Irish Americans from Canada, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan, where the Orange Order was strongest.
After the silver crash of 1893 and the strike of 1896, the productivity and population of Leadville declined drastically. In 1900, 8,900 people lived there, and by 1910, it was down to 4,400. Many of the Irish miners moved on to different mines in the west, while others moved to Denver. By 1910, 44% of the Irish in Colorado lived in Denver, part of the total of 63% of the Irish population living on the Front Range. Those who remained in Colorado were more urban and middle class than the working class miners.
The Irish in Colorado continued to be active in the labor movement, including the leaders of the Cripple Creek miners’ strike in 1903-4 and Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother Jones,” who was born in County Cork and was active in supporting miners during the Ludlow Massacre. The Irish worked in the coal mines along the Front Range, became police officers and firefighters in Denver, supported the expanding Catholic church in the region, and continued to participate in fraternal societies such as the Knights of Columbus. Éamon de Valera, the president of the Irish parliament, visited Denver as part of his fundraising tour of the United States in 1919, highlighting continued support for Irish nationalism.
David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).
Dennis Gallagher, Thomas J. Noel, and James Patrick Walsh, Irish Denver (Charleston: Arcadia, 2012).
James Patrick Walsh, Michael Mooney and the Leadville Irish: Respectability and Resistance at 10,200 Feet, 1875-1900 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Colorado Boulder, 2010).
The American Civil War was one of the key historical points of comparison for Irish unionists as they fought against Home Rule in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Civil War itself was easily within living memory during the Home Rule period, ending only twenty years before the first Home Rule crisis. Joseph Hernon’s short article on the “Use of the American Civil War in the Debate over Irish Home Rule” shows how British politicians and intellectuals who had supported the Northern States later as Liberal Unionists used the Civil War example to oppose Irish Home Rule. Hernon writes that the principles of states’ rights in the Civil War, which helped to validate the Confederate standpoint, were used as examples by the Liberal Unionists. They feared that if Ireland was granted Home Rule the Irish nationalists would use states’ rights principles to demand complete separation.
Hernon rightly points out that there are limits to the logic of this parallel, because slavery as a moral issue played such a large role in the American situation. However, fear of states’ rights leading to Irish separation was not the only way that the Civil War example was employed in unionist rhetoric. The Civil War, considered the greatest war in living memory at the time, was frequently used to develop themes of legitimacy of the Ulster cause, the sense of betrayal by Britain because they would not fight to hold the Union together, and unity as part of the spirit of the age.
During the first Home Rule crisis, unionists used the Civil War to develop several themes in their rhetoric. With Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule, many Ulster Liberals turned to an alliance with the Conservatives. As the Liberal Party was faced with schism during the first Home Rule Bill, T.W. Russell, MP for South Tyrone, defended the stance of Liberal Unionists. He stated in an 1886 Stirlingshire speech:
My alternative is – ‘Maintain the Union, be scrupulous to redress every Irish wrong, be even generous in view of the past, but govern the Country.’ I am told that Democracy will not consent to do this. Let us not be too sure of that…. The great Democracy of the United States answered to Abraham Lincoln, not to Jefferson Davis. And to maintain the Union there the cannon thundered in the valley of the Shenandoah, the musketry rattled on the heights of Fredericksburg, and Grant fought and conquered at Richmond. And the Union was maintained there, just as I firmly believe it will be maintained here.
Russell defended the Liberal Unionists’ choice to break from Gladstone, committing them to maintain Liberal social policies in Ireland while supporting the Union. When faced with the question of whether Home Rule was inevitable, the Civil War provided an example of a people willing to commit everything to maintaining unity rather than separation. Many Liberal Unionists maintained that they were willing to give every consideration to bettering the condition of Ireland other than destruction of the Union.
Ulster’s Liberal Unionists used the American Civil War example to condemn Gladstone’s Home Rule stance. Belfast Reverend R.J. Lynd wrote,
Mr. Gladstone is not infallible. Had he his will, the United States of America would now be cut into two kingdoms, and slavery would still retain its grim hold on the kingdom of the South without any control from the North. To us Irish Liberals, who loved him and followed him with a devotion and personal veneration seldom equalled, but never surpassed, there could not be a more melancholy spectacle under the sun than Mr. Gladstone as a Liberal leader presents now.
The former supporters of Gladstone identified a pattern in his support of the Confederacy and his promotion of Irish Home Rule. As implied by Lynd, an immoral cause would have a hold over a helpless minority in each case.
Ulster unionists used the American Civil War as an historical example in many other cases. They cited the partition of West Virginia from Virginia as precedent for the protection of a significant loyal minority from a disloyal majority. They used the Civil War to deny Irish nationalists the right to compel the Westminster Parliament to change the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain within the Union. For example, they claimed that even if, like the South during the Civil War, Irish nationalists might technically be acting within constitutional bounds by demanding Home Rule, Parliament should not grant Home Rule if it would lead to greater dangers. In the United States, Civil War was preferable to the North than allowing the South to legally secede from the Union. The threat of an independent Confederacy to the North was similar to that of a Home Rule Ireland to Britain, because of the dangers of total separation.
Unionists used the Civil War example to show that attempting to use Home Rule to pacify Irish nationalists would be futile. They claimed that the North had refused to pacify the South during the Civil War; therefore the British government should refuse to pacify Irish nationalists with Home Rule. If Home Rule was granted to the disloyal Parnellites, total separation from the Union would be an even greater threat. This threat was also used to justify Ulster unionist militancy against the British government in an attempt to prevent the implementation of Home Rule – even if this militancy led to the outbreak of Civil War in Ireland.
Like the United States, Ulster unionists were faced with demands for Home Rule. They felt that the British government was not making any effort to combat these demands but simply accommodated them despite the threat of the destruction of the Union. Ulster unionists observed the extreme measures taken by the Northern States to prevent the implementation of Home Rule. They resented being painted as bigots and fools by British Liberals and Irish nationalists because they wanted to do the same thing in their country. Unionists developed themes of legitimacy of the unionist cause because of the perceived similarities with the Northern states, and betrayal by the British who were unwilling to stand up to the nationalists’ Home Rule demands. Moreover, the British government was going against the worldwide trend toward unity as exemplified by Italy, Germany, and the American Civil War. The American Civil War symbolized the power of the Union to endure threats of separation and disconnection if only there were people willing to fight for it.
“In the course of my several voyages,” wrote Captain James Cook on 20 January 1778, “I never before met with the natives of any place so much astonished, as these people were, upon entering a ship. Their eyes were continually flying from object to object; the wildness of their looks and gestures fully expressing their entire ignorance about everything they saw, and strongly marking to us, that, till now, they had never been visited by Europeans, nor been acquainted with any of our commodities except iron.”
Cook and the crews of the Resolution and Discovery had sighted O’ahu and Kaua’i two days earlier on 18 January. The people of Atooi (Kaua’i) swam up to the ships and came aboard; Cook reported that they dismissed beads and mirrors as useless but were very interested in the Europeans’ iron tools.
“Plates of earthenware, china cups, and other such things, were so new to them, that they asked if they were made of wood; but wished to have some, that they might carry them to be looked at on shore. They were in some respects naturally well bread, or, at least, fearful of giving offence, asking where they should sit down, whether they might spit upon the deck, and the like,” Cook reported in his journal. “Some of them repeated a long prayer before they came on board; and others, afterward, sang and made motions with their hands, such as we had been accustomed to see in the dances of the islands we had lately visited.”
In his journals, Cook carefully compared the people and customs of Hawaii to those of the other islands visited on his voyages. With this, his third voyage, he had embarked from Plymouth with the Resolution on 12 July 1776, sailing to the Cape of Good Hope. There the Discovery met them on 10 November. From there the two ships traveled to Tasmania, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti. The purpose of the voyage was based on a charge by the British Admiralty: to search for a Northwest Passage from the western coast of North America. In 1775, the British government offered £20,000 to be shared among the crew of the ship that successfully located the Northwest Passage, and Cook took it upon himself to pursue the prize.
Along with the journals of Cook and several of the crew members, the voyage was also recorded by John Webber, a London-born artist who drew and painted what he observed on the journey. His works highlight the people, places, and major events of the ships’ visits to Hawaii.
On their first stop at the islands, Cook and his crew spotted Kaua’i, Oah’u, Ni’ihau, and
two smaller islands, but they heard that there was more to the archipelago, which Cook named after the First Lord of the Admiralty. The Resolution and Discovery stayed for only two weeks, then sailed on for North America to continue their pursuit of the Northwest Passage. The two ships then returned to the Hawaiian Islands to winter, this time spotting Maui and dropping anchor at Karakakooa (Kealakekua) Bay on the island of Owhyhee (Hawaii).
Cook found the people of Hawaii to be “of a middling stature, firmly made, with some exceptions, neither remarkable for a beautiful shape, nor for striking features, which rather express and openness and good nature, than a keen, intelligent disposition.” He described them as exceedingly friendly to the newcomers, but had a tendency to try to steal everything they could lay their hands on. Cook reported that both men and women came aboard the ships and favored the crew with their company, but as he hoped to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections he “ordered all female visitors to be excluded from the ships.” He also did not allow his crew members to go on shore until they had cleared a medical check so as “to prevent the importation of a fatal disease into this island, which I knew some of our men laboured under.”
He described the people of Hawaii as “vigorous, active, and most active swimmers; leaving their canoes upon the most trifling occasion; diving under them, and swimming to others though at a great distance. It was very common to see women, with infants at the breast, when the surf was so high that they could not land in the canoes, leap overboard, and without endangering their little ones, swim to the shore, through a sea that looked dreadful.”
But Cook was most surprised by their language. “Whatever resemblance we might discover, in the general manners of the people of Atooi to those of Otaheite (Tahiti), these of course were less striking than the coincidence of their language. Indeed, the language of both places may be said to be almost word for word the same…. How shall we account for this nation’s having spread itself in so many detached islands, so widely disjoined from each other, in every quarter of the Pacific Ocean!”
Knowing the size and scope of European empires of his day, Cook marveled at the great distances inhabited by the Polynesians. “How much further in either direction its colonies reach is not known; but what we know already, in consequence of this and our former voyage, warrants our pronouncing it to be, though perhaps not the most numerous, certainly, by far, the most extensive nation upon earth.”
At Kealakekua Bay, Cook and his crew had been given a grand ceremonial welcome and were able to supply the ships with large amounts of vegetables and pigs. Cook had never seen so many people in one place throughout the course of his voyages. “Besides those who had come off to us in canoes,” he wrote, “all the shore of the bay was covered with spectators, and many hundreds were swimming around the ships like shoals of fish. We could not but be struck with the singularity of this scene; and perhaps there were few on board who now lamented our having failed in our endeavours to find a northern passage homeward, last summer. To this disappointment we owned our having it in our power to revisit the Sandwich Islands, and to enrich our voyage with a discovery which, though the last, seemed, in many respects, to be the most important that had hitherto been made by Europeans throughout the extent of the Pacific Ocean.”
The Resolution and Discovery departed Hawaii on 4 February 1779. A few days later, a storm damaged the Resolution and Cook reluctantly decided to return to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose, as the people of Hawaii had already given a sendoff to the two ships with large amounts of food and gifts. On 14 February, when Cook discovered that one of the islanders had stolen a large cutter, he decided to hold the main chief hostage until it was returned. Chaos and skirmishing ensued, leading to Cook’s death. After recovering their captain’s body, the remaining crew surveyed the rest of the Sandwich Islands, finally returning to England in October 1780.
- State Library of New South Wales – John Webber watercolors collection
- Eleanor C. Nordyke with James A. Mattison, Jr., Pacific Images: Views from Captain Cook’s Third Voyage (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008)
Find my previous post on Maud Gonne here.
In November 1900, Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith, the two main organizers of the Irish Transvaal Society, heard the surprising news that John MacBride had returned from the Transvaal. MacBride, famed for his leadership of the Irish Transvaal Brigade, had been in South Africa since 1896. “It was shortly after the Jameson Raid that my own attention was first turned seriously to the course of events developing in the South African Republics,” he wrote. He had been angered to learn that Irishmen in South Africa had supported the British during the Jameson Raid. “My own view as to the manner in which Irishmen should act in such a crisis ran, of course, on altogether different lines, and although the Jameson business fizzled out in so contemptible a fashion, I felt convinced that the English would not allow it to be their final attempt on the rich republics of the Vaal; and I was also very anxious that our countrymen in South Africa should not, on the next occasion, be found on the side of the would-be grabber and oppressor.”
Once in South Africa, MacBride worked to organize the local Irish community, including establishing an Irish society in Johannesburg with Griffith. Irish immigrants in Africa were soldiers, missionaries, civil servants, miners, and adventurers. By the 1890s, about 15,000-20,000 Irish were in southern Africa, many spurred to immigrate by the discovery of gold in 1886. When war broke out in 1899, an estimated 28,000 Irishmen served in the British army in South Africa. In response to Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland in 1900 to boost recruitment numbers for the British army, Gonne wrote an impassioned attack against her in the form of an article entitled “The Famine Queen.” The article was first published in a special edition of Gonne’s own journal, L’Irlande Libre, and reprinted in the United Irishman, which was suppressed by the authorities to prevent people from reading it. “Taking the Shamrock in her withered hand she dares ask Ireland for soldiers – for soldiers to protect the exterminators of their race!” Gonne criticized. “And the reply of Ireland comes sadly but proudly, not through the lips of miserable little politicians who are touched by the English canker but through the lips of the Irish people: ‘Queen, return to your own land; you will find no more Irishmen ready to wear the red shame of your livery.’” She avowed that any Irishmen who entered the British army would no longer be considered Irish.
Hundreds of Irishmen joined the war effort on the side of the Boers to fight against the British. Donal McCracken writes, “A basic idea uniting the movement was the belief that Boer aspirations to national identity mirrored Ireland’s own and that consequently to support the Boers was to advance Ireland’s cause.” The Irish Transvaal Brigade, founded and co-led by MacBride, operated from September 1899 to September 1900 and helped to galvanize the Irish nationalist movement. Gonne compared the Irish Brigade to the Wild Geese (embodying the historic tradition of Irish soldiers fighting for foreign armies), who “upheld Ireland’s honour by fighting for the enemies of England even as to-day John MacBride and the Irish Brigade organised by him saved Ireland’s honour in the Transvaal.” She declared that the Irish Brigade had done more for Ireland’s honour than any nationalist at home, “for it is action that counts.”
By September 1900, the war had entered a new phase of guerilla fighting. Most of the Irish left South Africa, the majority going to America and many settling in mining camps in the western United States (as they had been miners in South Africa). MacBride, who could not go back to Ireland, traveled to Paris, where he was met by Gonne, Griffith, and the Paris Young Ireland Society. This was the first time MacBride and Gonne met, though they had previously corresponded with each other concerning the Irish Brigade. Gonne wrote, “We sat up all night talking. MacBride said he had come back hoping there would be something doing in Ireland. The war in Africa is not over and England had still De Wet to deal with, but most of the foreign volunteers had been sent back and the Irish Brigade had been disbanded because the war was entering on another phase. There would be no more regular battles; and in guerilla warfare only those who knew the country and spoke the language would be of use.”
MacBride told her and Griffith that John Blake, the Irish-American co-leader of the Irish Brigade, was staying on, and indeed, a few dozen Irishmen continued to fight as part of the Boer war effort. MacBride himself hoped to return to Ireland to help lead a nationalist resurgence, writing, “Though at present the weapons have fallen from our hands, we hope to pick it up in our own island home, and never let it drop till, by union and strength, we blot out the last vestige of the ‘Empire of Hell.’” However, MacBride realized through talking to Gonne and Griffith that the only current hope for movement on revolutionary nationalism lay in America. They determined that MacBride would undertake a tour of America, hoping to spark Clan-na-Gael enthusiasm. Griffith himself wrote a lecture for MacBride to deliver on his tour, using MacBride’s memories of his experience in South Africa. Gonne recounted, “After a reception by the Paris Young Ireland Society and talks with a few friends from Dublin MacBride went to America. In a few weeks, he wrote to me, urging me to accept an invitation to come on another lecture tour arranged by the now united Clan-na-Gael. He added that he could not get things going unless I came.”
Gonne, who had toured America previously under the auspices of the O’Sullivan faction of the Clan-na-Gael, joined MacBride in the United States in February 1901. “He was with a crowd of friends belonging to both sections of the united Clan who met me when I came off the French Trans-Atlantic liner at the docks in New York; and there was a great meeting in the Academy of Music the night after my arrival,” Gonne wrote. “MacBride gave his lecture on the work of the Brigade and I spoke of Ireland. We had a splendid press.”
Still, the American tour did not go as they hoped. While Irish-Americans felt solidarity with the Boer people, the high point of Irish-American support had been the year before. MacBride turned out to be a rather poor public speaker, and Gonne herself managed to alienate several prominent Irish-American leaders. She was criticized for attacking the United Irish League and constitutional nationalists in her speeches.
The pair mourned the fact that lawyers and politicians, rather than revolutionaries, controlled the Irish-American nationalist movement. “They could be counted on to exert their influence against an Anglo-American alliance, which England was always trying for. That in itself was a great thing, for to make the holding of Ireland injurious to England is one of the means toward securing freedom,” Gonne recounted. “No doubt they would back up the fight in Ireland when it started, but they were happier supporting constitutional leaders like Parnell and were hard to convince that there was nothing to hope from men like [John] Redmond or John Dillon.” Despite lack of concrete support for revolutionary nationalism, she felt that the rank-and-file of Irish-American nationalist organizations were “ready for anything.”
Gonne returned to Europe at the urging of Griffith in May 1901, leaving MacBride in America. “I didn’t feel I had accomplished much,” she reflected, “but I still hoped MacBride might succeed in setting the match to the inflammable fighting forces of the Clan-na-Gael, in spite of the politicians.” As she returned to Paris, she managed to smuggle out a baby alligator from America as a present for her seven-year-old daughter. After completing his tour of the American west coast, MacBride decided to return to Europe as well, working as a journalist in Paris while still hoping to help spark a revival in revolutionary Irish nationalism. He wrote to a group of Limerick nationalists, “Depend not on aid from America or France. God helps those who help themselves. Let our motto be – ‘Ourselves! Ourselves alone! Sin fein! Sin fein!’ The brave doctrine of fight must not be allowed to be hushed in the land. It is not by frothy speeches from platforms in Ireland and America and by academic motions in Westminster that our country shall be made ready for the chance that will surely come again – the second chance that comes to those who prepare for it.”
While constitutional nationalism was on the rise in the early years of the twentieth century, Gonne, MacBride, and Griffith’s experiences show that the undercurrents of revolutionary nationalism remained, biding time and preparing for that chance.
Norman Jeffares and Anna MacBride White, eds., The Autobiography of Maud Gonne: A Servant of the Queen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Written 1938.
Anthony J. Jordan, ed., Boer War to Easter Rising: The Writings of John MacBride (Dublin: Westport, 2006).
Donal P. McCracken, Forgotten Protest: Ireland and the Anglo-Boer War. (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2003). Originally published as The Irish Pro-Boers, 1877-1902, in 1989.
Donal P. McCracken, MacBride’s Brigade: Irish Commandos in the Anglo-Boer War (Dublin: Four Courts, 1999).
Margaret Ward, ed. In Their Own Voice: Women and Irish Nationalism (Cork: Attic, 1995).
Margaret Ward, Maud Gonne: Ireland’s Joan of Arc (London: Pandora, 1990).
Samuel Wright had one of the more unusual motives for emigrating from Sheffield, England, with his family in 1836. He brought his wife, Annie Tone Wright (niece to Wolfe Tone!), and young son, Harry, to the United States so that he could play cricket professionally in New York. He joined up with the St. George’s Cricket Club of Harlem, an exclusively English team which barred American players. The club later moved to Hoboken, New Jersey.
The St. George Dragonslayers dominated local competition and helped to start a touring tradition amongst American sports teams, traveling as far as Canada for their matches. Teams from Toronto ventured to New York to face off against them. In 1859, George Parr’s All-England XI became the first touring team abroad as they faced the Dragonslayers and other teams in the United States and Canada.
Harry Wright himself played his first game for the Dragonslayers when he was fifteen years old, eventually earning $12 per week as a skilled cricketer. His brother, George, also joined the team. While practicing cricket at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, the brothers witnessed their first baseball game as they observed a neighboring field, where the New York Knickerbockers played. While still playing cricket professionally, both Harry and George joined the Knickerbockers and then the New York Gothams. In 1866, Harry moved to Cincinnati to play for the Union Cricket Club. While there he helped to form the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, encouraging players from the Union Cricket Club to abandon their cricket team for baseball. By the late 1860s, Harry was a stand-out pitcher/center fielder for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and George was one of the best players in the country as a shortstop for the Washington Nationals.
In 1869, as a player/manager, Harry assembled the first all-professional team of baseball players on the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His brother George was the team’s star and highest paid player, and was prodigiously productive with a .633 batting average on the season. The Red Stockings won all 57 games of their season as part of their cross-country tour, as well as the first 27 games of their 1870 season until finally defeated by the Brooklyn Athletics. Their success quickly led to the professionalization of the sport across the nation, with amateurs soon banned from professional leagues.
The Wrights (with another brother, Sam Jr., who also played baseball professionally) maintained their ties to cricket as well as to Britain. In 1874, Harry Wright led baseball out of America for the first time. He connected with the secretary of the Surrey County Cricket Club (and first secretary of the Football Association), Charles W. Alcock, who organized a baseball tour including matches in London and Liverpool. The tour saw the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics face off against each other in an exhibition game at Lord’s.
With the Wright family continuing to play key roles in both sports and transportation links greatly increasing the ability to tour around the country, by the mid-1870s baseball and cricket were each in the midst of a period of rapid growth in the United States. And players from Great Britain, and especially Ireland, were crucial factors in that popularity.
Happy opening week of the baseball season! Go Rockies! (Yeah… I know.)
It is possible that Captain James Cook was not the first European to land in Hawaii, but his voyage in 1778 was the first to spark sustained contact between Hawaii and Europeans. Cook set sail on his third voyage, leaving from Plymouth, on 12 July 1776 on the Resolution and the Discovery. He sailed around Africa, to Tasmania, the Cook Islands, and then to Tahiti. On 18 January 1778 he sighted O’ahu and Kaua’i. Cook named the islands after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, then the First Lord of the Admiralty.
His first stop was Waimea, Kaua’i, where the British traded nails and iron for pigs, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas and taro. From there, the ships sailed for nearby Ni’ihau, before continuing on to explore the northwest coast of North America. Late in the fall, Cook returned to Hawaii, charting the coasts of Maui and the big island of Hawaii. Resolution and Discovery anchored at Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, where Cook was eventually killed in a skirmish with the Hawaiians on 14 February 1779.
When Europeans first landed, around 300,000 Hawaiians lived under competing political units. From 1782 to 1810, Kamehameha I rose to power and consolidated his control over each of the islands. Kamehameha utilized western firearms and the presence of Europeans to help strengthen his position. Captain George Vancouver, who was a lieutenant under Cook during his third voyage, was sent back to the Pacific in 1791, visiting Hawaii three times between 1792 and 1794. He made a survey of the Hawaiian Islands and wintered in O’ahu, bringing cattle, sheep, goats, and geese as gifts. He fitted out Kamehameha’s canoes with sails and gifted him a Union Jack, and he spoke out against the trade in firearms that he observed. Trade had been quickly initiated, with British, French, and Spanish fur traders and adventurers increasingly adopting Hawaii as a place to winter. Gradually sandalwood became the primary trade commodity, the economy increasingly relied on trade, and disease killed large numbers of Hawaiians.
With the growing importance of trade, Britain, the United States, and Russia each established strong presence in Hawaii. The first missionaries arrived from Boston in 1819, which would eventually have an enormous impact on the course of future events. For the moment, Britain was looked upon as a favorable foreign influence, and Kamehameha II set off from Honolulu on a British whaler in November 1823 to visit London. He arrived in Britain in May 1824, was introduced to British high society, and was set to meet King George IV in June when he and most of the members of his party were struck with the measles. Kamehameha II died in London on 14 July 1824.
Due to the importance of trade with Hawaii and the booming business community, both the British and Americans established consulates. In 1842, the outgoing British consul, Richard Charlton, claimed that British subjects in Hawaii were being denied their legal rights. Lord George Paulet, captain of the Carysfort, was sent to Honolulu to investigate. An American, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, had been appointed as an emissary by Kamehameha III, which apparently enraged Paulet. After several days of deliberations, Kamehameha yielded to Paulet, the Hawaiian flag was lowered on 25 February 1843, and Paulet declared himself in charge of a new government of Hawaii. The Union Jack was raised over Honolulu.
Foreshadowing future dealings between Hawaii and the Americans, the British government did not support Paulet’s move. Rear Admiral Richard Thomas arrived on the Dublin five months later, and reassured Kamehameha III that independence would be restored. Britain and France formally recognized Hawaiian independence with a joint declaration on 28 November 1843, with the United States officially recognizing Hawaii as a nation later on.
The close relationship between Britain and Hawaii in this period is reflected in the Hawaiian flag, which features the Union Jack in the upper left corner along with red, white, and blue stripes symbolizing Hawaii’s eight main islands.
“Despite the role played by the diaspora in shaping Irish nationalism, historians of Irish nationalism – even those who warn against the evils of ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘geographical solipsism’ – generally adopt the nation-state as their primary unit of historical analysis,” writes Fearghal McGarry. “Similarly, studies of diasporic Irish nationalism usually overlook the impact of the phenomenon on Ireland.”
While there are many studies on the development of Irish-American nationalism, they do remain fairly separate from the general historical narrative of Ireland (with some notable exceptions). Enda Delaney describes the development of two separate fields of historiography, “one covering the ‘homeland,’ or domestic history, the other concerned with the ‘diaspora,’ or migrant communities, and only rarely do these historiographies collide.” The diaspora is generally subsumed into migration studies, examining the role of the migrant group in their host society, while there has been less work done on how the diaspora impacted Ireland beyond the sheer volume of emigrants.
How do we as historians examine the connections, exchanges, and circulations of Ireland, migrants, their host societies, and the wider world throughout history, along with the more traditional histories of Ireland? I’ve recently been thinking a lot more about the ideas behind transnational history. I do feel that looking at history through a transnational lens is a natural path to follow given the interconnections in our world today. Transnational history may be without a clear definition, but as Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier write in the introduction to The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, it is about addressing “the entangled condition of the modern world,” a condition that clearly is not wholly new or unique (though still we must guard against reading back present-minded views of globalization onto history).
While we can see links and flows of people, ideas, products, processes, and patterns across the world (as described by Iriye and Saunier) throughout history, we have to find a balance for how much these were important as compared to local, regional, national, or other processes. How do we get closest to discovering what was most important to people in the past and what their lives actually encompassed?
America has a significant place in the study of transnational history, earning its own entry in the Palgrave Dictionary (interesting in itself because one of the main tenets of transnational history is to undermine exceptionalism). Martin Klimke writes, “The extraordinary transnational appeal of America is one of its most outstanding historical characteristics. The attraction of the ideas of self-government, freedom of religion, and the embrace of universal democratic principles as the nation’s foundation transformed the United States of America into a global reference point, both negative and positive, for a plethora of desires, debates and developments.”
Klimke continues, “Since national or local cultures are generally constructed through binaries and created through imagined differences between oneself and the ‘other,’ disputes about American influence often reach to the core of identity debates in various parts of the world. In them, America often serves as a projection with which to identify or from which to separate and distance.” Thus the image/products/institutions of America have been used both negatively and positively throughout the world to compare the position of one’s own nation/political movement/culture etc.
And I’ve found that Irish unionists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did both – they depicted Irish nationalists as too closely controlled by their American financiers and as a foreign movement that was unwanted by the Irish people. But unionists also depicted an America with positive connotations – celebrating their Scotch-Irish heritage and the ideals of the American Revolution.
I would not want to overstate the American role in Ireland – but the unionists themselves clearly attached significance to the American influence. They certainly did not read the diaspora in America as separate from the Irish nationalists in Ireland.
One key contribution of a transnational approach is in emphasizing the idea of circulation. Isabel Hofmeyr writes, “The key claim of any transnational approach is its central concern with movements, flows, and circulation, not simply as a theme or motif but as an analytic set of methods which defines the endeavor itself.”
With this idea of circulation in mind, it is clear that it wasn’t just that America imposed its presence on the Irish question. It was that the unionists took the idea of America and shaped it to their own purposes. They overstated the American influence in the Irish nationalist movement because it helped them to further their movement.
The Irish diaspora in America was influenced by both Ireland and the host society; in turn the diaspora impacted both Ireland and the United States. Our challenge is figuring out how to accurately capture these transnational processes in a way that is comprehensible, does not create false generalizations, and keeps local contexts and individual experiences in view.
Bayly, C.A., Sven Beckert, Matthew Connelly, Isabel Hofmeyr, Wendy Kozol, and Patricia Seed. “Conversation: On Transnational History,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (2006).
Delaney, Enda. “Our Island Story? Towards a Transnational History of Late Modern Ireland,” Irish Historical Studies xxxvii, no. 148 (2011).
Iriye, Akira, and Pierre-Yves Saunier, eds. The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History: From the Mid-19th Century to the Present Day. Houndmills: Basingstoke, 2009.
McGarry, Fearghal. “‘A Land Beyond the Wave:’ Transnational Perspectives on Easter 1916.” In Transnational Perspectives on Modern Irish History, ed. Niall Whelehan. New York: Routledge, 2015.