Irish republicans in interwar New York

Brian Hanley

The period from the 1916 Easter Rising until the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 marked the high point of Irish American involvement in Irish republican politics. During that period up to a million people were involved in various organisations supporting the independence movement in Ireland. [1] The years after the War of Independence saw a rapid decline in both membership and interest in republican organizations. The widespread Irish American support for the Treaty was reflected even in nominally Anti-Treaty organizations and the bitterness engendered by the Civil War further disillusioned many Irish Americans. Nevertheless Irish republican organizations remained active and continued to be a factor in both Irish and American politics. A number of political themes and concerns were common to almost all Irish activists; in other matters their opinions diverged considerably. Irish republican organizations also fulfilled an important social and cultural role for Irish immigrants in this era helping many acclimatize to life in New York.

In December 1921 Irish delegates in London, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which granted 26 counties limited independence in a new Irish Free State, located within the British imperial framework. The agreement brought the Irish War of Independence to an official end but split the Irish revolutionary movement, with Sinn Fein president Éamon de Valera emerging as the most prominent critic of the deal. From 1922-1923 the new Free State was wracked by a Civil War in which the Pro-Treaty side emerged victorious over the Anti-Treaty IRA. [2] In the United States Irish republicans divided almost immediately. The most vocal proponents of the Treaty in New York were the section of the Clan na Gael led by the veteran Fenian John Devoy. [3] Clan na Gael had been the main Irish republican support organization in the U.S. since the 1860s. Prior to the Treaty, during 1920 the Clan had already split into pro and anti-de Valera factions, partly for political reasons and partly because of bitter rivalry between de Valera and the old Clan leader John Devoy. Devoy’s supporters claimed majority support outside of Philadelphia, Rhode Island and San Francisco. [4] This divide was then replicated in the division over the Treaty with Devoy’s Gaelic American newspaper, his section of the Clan, and the Friends of Irish Freedom organisation (FOIF) supporting the position taken by Collins and Griffith. [5] De Valera’s American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR) and the section of the Clan na Gael loyal to Joseph McGarrity opposed the Treaty. The AARIR continued to support de Valera as president of Sinn Féin until 1926 and the ‘overwhelming majority’ of its membership supported his new party Fianna Fáil after its formation. [6] McGarrity’s ‘reorganized’ Clan became the Anti-Treaty IRA’s main American support organization, expected to send both financial and military aid to Ireland. Both these organizations received support from the Irish World the main New York Irish newspaper that took an anti-Treaty position. A number of smaller more left wing anti-Treaty organizations were also active in the U.S. such as the Irish American Labor League and the Irish Republican Workers Alliance, which had some crossover in membership with the AARIR and the reorganized Clan.

But the anti-Treaty position taken by the AARIR masked the fact that a large percentage of its membership actually supported the new Free State. Dozens of AARIR branches wrote to Michael Collins in early 1922 congratulating him on securing the Treaty and assuring him that the rank and file of the organization supported his position. ‘History will record you as the George Washington of Ireland’ wrote one AARIR officer from the Bronx, who stressed that 85% of his organization’s membership backed the Treaty. [7] Many who supported the Free State did so because they felt that if the Treaty satisfied Collins than ‘it ought to satisfy those in America, who were 3,000 miles away when the real fighting was being done.’ [8] There was widespread acceptance of the idea that the Treaty represented a step towards eventual full independence. Mary MacSwiney, a prominent anti-Treatyite, bemoaned the fact that many American supporters ‘went to Ireland republicans and came back Free Staters.’ [9] She claimed that there were also numerous individuals who had been ‘staunch friends’ of the republic who became ‘hostile’ or ‘indifferent’ after the Civil War. [10] Some of the anti-Treatyite protests in New York, such as boycotts of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, also alienated previous supporters. [11] Major Irish American organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), endorsed the Treaty and adopted a position of ‘bitter hostility’ to republicans. [12]From an estimated 700,000 members in 1921 the AARIR had declined to just 13,870 nationwide by 1925, of which 3,336 were New York based. [13] The ‘reorganized’ Clan, which had always been a smaller, more secretive organization, had just 5,000 members in the U.S. by 1927. [14] By 1929, renamed the ‘Clan and IRA Clubs’ it had only 620 fee paying members in New York City. [15] At least part of the reason for the decline in membership was related to the intense bitterness of the Treaty divide in New York that bewildered many former republican supporters. Much of this debate was played out in the pages of the Gaelic American and Irish World with both newspapers accusing their opponents of treachery, of aiding Britain and being latecomers to the struggle for freedom.

The Irish World denounced the Irish ‘Freak State’ as a puppet of England and accused its founders, including Michael Collins of ‘treason.’ [16] The paper supported boycotts of several St. Patrick’s Day parades, denouncing them as endorsements of the ‘monstrous’ Free State. [17] It promoted pickets on visiting Free State dignitaries, such Richard Mulcahy, describing him as Ireland’s ‘Benedict Arnold’ and on Sean MacEoin, who it called a ‘notorious’ and ‘despicable renegade.’ This was despite the fact that both men had enviable records as IRA leaders. [18] John Devoy was accused of being a British spy, of ‘felon setting’ and being in part responsible for the executions of Anti-Treatyites Liam Mellows and Erskine Childers. [19] The paper called for electors to ‘smash’ the re-election efforts of Devoy’s close ally Judge Daniel Cohalan and ‘drive’ him from office during 1923. [20] Anti-Treatyites denounced the Friends of Irish Freedom as having ‘no principles, no morals, no standards’ and being ‘willing tools’ of the most corrupt Irish American politicians. [21] When W.T. Cosgrave visited New York during 1927 the Irish World noted the number of well-attired, prosperous ‘silk-hatted’ Irish Americans who turned out to greet him. The paper suggested that the ‘silk hat’ was not associated with either Irish freedom or indeed ‘any revolutionary movement.’ It claimed that when ‘Ireland was battling’ and in dire need of support, ‘very few’ of those who greeted Cosgrave ‘thought of demonstrating their love for Irish liberty.’ [22] Its denunciations of the Irish government led to it’s banning in the Free State in November 1931, while the paper had been illegal in Northern Ireland since the 1920s. [23] Indeed following the election of a Fianna Fáil government in 1932 both de Valera and the IRA leadership publicly thanked the Irish World for its support since 1922. [24]

The pro-Treaty Clan were not silent in the face of this hostility, refusing to concede that the ‘seceders and deserters’ of the ‘new Clan’ were authentic republicans. [25] The FOIF and ‘Old’ Clan remained committed to republicanism arguing that they supported the Free State ‘only in so far as’ it was moving towards full independence. [26] In fact the Gaelic American often surpassed the Irish World in its invective. It denounced anti-Treatyite activists as ‘slackers’ cowardly ‘runaways from the fight in Ireland’ or as ‘foolish and deluded’ young men. Female anti-Treatyites were depicted as ‘viragos’ and ‘unbalanced women.’ [27] The AARIR was ridiculed as the ‘council of the little alphabet’ with more initials in its name than actual members. [28] Irish feminist Hannah Sheehy Skefffington, a contributor to the Irish World, was denounced as an ardent ‘agnostic’ and ‘west Briton’ who traded on the fact that her ‘loyalist’ husband had been ‘mistakenly’ killed in 1916. [29] The Irish World’s editor Austin Ford was accused of being an opium addict and of having overdosed with a ‘Chink’ in New York’s Mott Street. [30] The Gaelic American compared its own record as an uncompromising voice of republicanism since 1905 with the Irish World’s support of Home Rule (limited self-government) until 1914. [31] When rowdy republican pickets at Hoboken confronted Richard Mulcahy in 1925 the paper described the protesters as being ‘cornerboys, loafers, Peeler’s and bailiff’s sons, Tinkers and other worthless fellows.’ The make up of the protest, Irish republicans and some alleged communists, was said to prove that the ‘mean Irish and the low type of Jew make a very bad combination.’ [32] The use of anti-Semitic rhetoric was not uncommon in the Gaelic American’s discourse, especially with regard to de Valera. His alternative proposal to the Treaty, the so-called Document No. 2, was referred to as the plan for a ‘Jew’s Crown Republic’ and he himself was called a ‘dead Jew.’ [33] Devoy suggested that de Valera was not only a ‘half breed Jew’ but also part Palatine (an eighteenth-century Protestant sect) and therefore not really ‘Irish.’ [34] It is not surprising that one anti-Treatyite, Peter Golden, described Devoy as the ‘most foul and sinister’ character in Irish nationalism for over a century. [35] In response to Anti-Treatyite activities the Gaelic American warned that the ‘Old Clan na Gael is still able to take care of itself and its enemies’ stressing the street fighting ability of its members and the availability of guns in New York as matters for its opponents to ponder. [36] The paper promoted an uncompromising nationalist line on cultural questions, supporting the GAA ‘ban’ on foreign games and denouncing those who did not speak the Irish language as being ‘too lazy’ to learn it. [37]

The Devoy Clan and its allied organizations such as the FOIF, the IRB Veterans Association and the Cumann na mBan Inc continued to be active in New York until the 1940s. They organized annual Easter Rising, Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and Manchester Martyrs commemorations. [38] They also continued to raise funds, collecting over $1,000 after a ‘largely attended’ lecture by Madge Daly of Limerick (the sister-in-law of 1916 martyr Tom Clarke) in 1928. [39] They formed large contingents in St. Patrick’s Day parades in defiance of anti-Treaty boycotts. [40] The ‘old’ Clan mobilized to welcome Treatyite military heroes like Mulcahy, ‘the conqueror of the Black and Tans’, Eoin O’Duffy and Sean MacEoin to New York. [41] Yet they could not but notice that the progress towards the Irish republic seemed to be very slow and for a period threw their weight behind groupings such as Clann na h-Eireann that emerged in the aftermath of the failed Free State Army mutiny of 1924. [42] The Gaelic American hailed mutineers Liam Tobin and Joe McGrath as the ‘saviors of Ireland.’ [43] The FOIF donated funds to both the mutineers and a new political party linked to them, Clann na h-Eireann. [44] Indeed the IRA speculated that the Army mutineers hoped to make Devoy president of an Irish republic in the event of their being successful. [45] But Devoy’s ‘Old Clan’ was an increasingly aging organization during the late 1920s and republican activists ceased to see it as a threat to them.They believed its membership was more concerned with politicking among Tammany Hall circles for patronage than with the struggle in Ireland. [46] While the majority of New York’s Irish were not affiliated to any republican organization the anti-Treaty position began to gain hegemony in the ethnic press and social scene. A major factor in this was the level of post Civil War emigration to the city and the way in which Irish emigrants revitalized the anti-Treaty Clan na Gael and to a lesser extent the AARIR.

The anti-treaty Clan na Gael was not in a healthy state flowing the Civil War, despite efforts by the IRA to reorganize it. The defeat of the IRA had a demoralizing effect on the Clan and contributions and membership fell. At the close of the Civil War the New York Clan was thought ‘so badly organized [...] so badly split’ that it was almost ‘futile’ to hope for it to provide backing for the IRA. [47] Even the influx of anti-Treaty IRA veterans to the U.S. in the years after the Civil War did not initially contribute to a revival in the Clan’s fortunes. Firstly hundreds of IRA members left Ireland without even informing the organisation that they intended to emigrate. By mid 1924 over 600 IRA volunteers had left the country without ‘permission.’ [48] Most of these men were determined to leave politics behind them and had no intention of joining another organization on arrival in the U.S. Even many who continued to regard themselves as activists refused to become involved with the Clan. Some ‘looked down with contempt’ on their American supporters or regarded them with suspicion. [49] Irish American organizations like as the Hibernians and the Knights of Columbus were often distrusted by Irish republicans. One IRA veteran ‘nearly had (his) head taken off’ for suggesting that the Knights were ‘anti-Irish.’ [50] Other veterans openly claimed it was ‘no use’ to send money or arms to Ireland as the fight was futile. Not surprisingly these attitudes caused demoralisation as Clan members reasonably asked why they should continue to support a struggle in Ireland which the ‘very soldiers who fought’ in the Civil War regarded as a waste of energy. [51] There were also claims that American money and arms had never reached the men fighting in Ireland, accusations that inevitably demoralized U.S. supporters. [52] There was a sense that Clan members had chosen an easy option by supporting the struggle from afar and only knew as ‘much about Ireland as Ireland knows about them.’ [53] Many IRA emigrants preferred to form their own clubs rather than join already existing Clan groups. Often these clubs were organized on a regional basis and money and even arms sent back to the men’s local unit in Ireland without reference to the IRA leadership. [54] Regional tensions from the IRA in Ireland were carried across the Atlantic with some northern veterans refusing to accept leadership from southerners. [55] The ‘non spectacular nature’ of the struggle in Ireland after 1923 also contributed to a feeling of ‘apathy and disgust’ among Clan activists who despaired of any changes in the Free State. [56] Hence the IRA leadership worried a great deal about its American organization, sending leading members to try to reorganize it on a regular basis and often expressing frustration at the Clan’s inability to function properly. [57]

Despite these problems the post-Civil War generation of emigrants did revitalize the Clan. In an exchange with the ‘Old Clan’ during 1931 an IRA supporter admitted that while it might have been true that anti-Treatyites were a minority of the Clan in 1921, ‘new blood’ from Ireland had given them the numerical advantage a decade later. [58] While republican publicist Frank Gallagher was exaggerating when he claimed that ‘70%’of the pre-1921 IRA had emigrated after 1923, substantial numbers of veterans did leave Ireland and settle in the U.S. [59] Among those who gravitated to the Clan in New York were Paddy Ryan Lacken, Michael Flannery, John and Michael Quill, Gerald O’Reilly, Charles McGennity and Pete Kearney. Of major importance too were the young men and women who had played no active role in the republican movement in Ireland but who joined Clan clubs in the U.S. In this respect the Clan performed an important social role. Most of the 220,591 people who left Ireland for the U.S. between 1921 and 1930 came from rural backgrounds. [60] The IRA faced heavy emigration from its members in west Clare, Kerry, west Cork, Mayo and Leitrim in particular. [61] There were many reasons for the emigration of IRA members just as there was for ‘non-political’ emigrants. Some certainly left the Free State because of political persecution. During 1926 the IRA sought employment in the U.S. for nine teachers and civil servants denied work in Ireland because of their anti-Treaty stance. [62] Others left for the same reasons their neighbours did, primarily to find work. IRA reports stress economic factors as being of importance in many cases, though of course neither factor was mutually exclusive. [63] Similarly there was no reason why young republicans would not also have as been attracted to the idea of emigration as much as their contemporaries. The view of one observer of south Kerry, that the ‘great ambition’ of the region’s young people was always to go to the United States, was far from unique. [64]

Once in the United States the Irish, rural or not, invariably settled in cities. In the case of the Quill brothers from Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry they left their local area, Gortloughrea with a population of 46, and a wider Kilgarvan district of just 2,987 people. [65] Most Irish emigrants came from areas where the vast majority shared the same religious beliefs and spoke the same language. In Kilgarvan there were just 88 Protestants and a handful of mainly elderly Irish speakers. The Quills then settled in a city of over five million people, where thirty seven languages were spoken and where over half the population, nearly three million people, were foreign born. Another two million New Yorkers were the children of foreigners. [66] The city was divided by ethnic and multi ethnic neighbourhoods. Not enough attention has been given to what must have been the enormous sense of change felt by the immigrants. Indeed the only similarity with rural Ireland was that Protestants were also a minority in New York. Almost 80% of New Yorkers were Catholic or Jewish, a factor that contributed to the city’s ‘exceptionality’ in that its population were ‘outsiders in a country and a city in which white Protestants controlled the most important levers of power and wealth.’ [67] In 1931 the city’s largest ethnic group was Italian, followed by Eastern European Jews, Germans and the Irish, with a rapidly growing black population. [68] Neither had very many Irish immigrants ever experienced electricity, telephones or mass transportation before their arrival in America. For a newly arrived Irish emigrant this setting could be both confusing and terrifying and most quickly sought security amongst their own nationality. The city’s Irish population in 1931 was estimated at 613,006, with 220,631 of these actually born in Ireland. [69] Many immigrants already had a family member living in the city usually in neighbourhoods like Washington Heights and Inwood in upper Manhattan, Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea on Manhattan’s west side, Fordham and Kingsbridge in the Bronx, and Park Slope and Flatbush in Brooklyn. While some neighbourhoods may have been predominantly Irish, they were often shared with other ethnic groups, such as Italians in Greenwich Village, Germans in Yorkville or Jews in Washington Heights or the South Bronx. [70] Most of the Irish immigrants were unskilled and gravitated towards work in construction, dock work (longshoring), factory work, teamstering, and in public transit. [71] While only a tiny fraction of these Irish were ever involved in republican politics, the Clan did have a social impact beyond its numerical strength among a section of the Irish born, especially the 1920s emigrants.

The young emigrant from Ireland’s first introduction to their new community was often through the dancehall. There were dozens of Irish dancehalls in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, with eleven in the Harlem area alone. Among the most popular were the Innisfail, Audubon, Tuxedo and Banba halls in Manhattan. [72] Others were associated with particular counties or regions such as the Mayo Halls, the Sligo House or the New Munster Ballrooms. All featured ‘Irish and American dancing’ performed by a range of popular dance orchestras, combining Irish and contemporary American music. It was there that emigrants were introduced by relatives to fellow migrants from the same county or potential employers. [73] The dancehalls greatly helped ease an emigrant’s transition to their new life. Also important were the sporting events organized by the GAA at Celtic Park in Queens and Innisfail Park in the Bronx, where by the 1920s increasingly popular matches by visiting hurling and football teams from Ireland were staged. [74] A smaller number of Irish emigrants also played in or followed the ethnic soccer leagues. [75] The other major meeting place for Irish emigrants was of course at Mass, with the Catholic Church a central feature of life in Irish neighbourhoods. Even two decades later ‘attendance at Sunday Mass was as ‘obligatory’ in New York as it was at home.’ [76] Emigrants were kept informed of news from home and social developments among the Irish by the New York Irish press. There were four Irish newspapers, the Irish Echo and the Irish Advocate, as well as the Irish World and Gaelic American. All catered, to varying degrees, to an emigrant audience, with county by county round ups of domestic Irish news, reprinted articles from Irish newspapers and extensive sporting and social coverage of the New York Irish scene. [77]

The Clan na Gael and IRA Club’s headquarters, Tara Halls at 147 Columbus Avenue, functioned as a dancehall on weekend nights, featuring ‘Irish and American dancing’ with card games and other activities on weeknights. [78] A popular attraction was Sean Hayes and his IRA Radio Orchestra, who also performed at other Irish dancehalls. Eventually the hall also held a ‘republican library’ with popular fiction as well as political and historical titles available to borrow. [79] In Brooklyn the Clan ran its own ‘IRA Hall’ on Vanderbilt Avenue but used the popular Pride of Erin Ballroom for its dances. [80] The Clan’s structure was based around clubs that were identified with particular counties or regions in Ireland. Among these were the Major MacBride Club for Mayo, the Con Colbert Club for Limerick, the Austin Stack Club for Kerry and the Sean Treacy Club for Tipperary. [81] These clubs were made up of men only. There were separate auxiliary clubs for women, although political meetings, Clan conventions and social occasions were not segregated. These clubs aimed to draw fellow county men and women to their events and all held regular dances. Clan members were acutely aware than many immigrants found it extremely difficult to acclimatize to Irish American social life because the ‘atmosphere is so very different here even at so called Irish events.’ [82] They often found the ‘alleged Irish music’ played around the St. Patrick’s Day period irritating and even the parade itself somewhat alien. Indeed Clan members themselves paid ‘very little attention to it.’ [83] Therefore an evening in the company of fellow immigrants from the same county and sharing somewhat the same political views was attractive for some. While a few Clan members expressed disdain for the ‘dancehall element’ the organization was able to attract greater numbers to its social events by the late 1920s. [84] One of its unique activities were twice-yearly cruises on the Hudson, to Bear Mountain and to Roton Point, Connecticut. Both excursions took about twelve hours, one during day-time and the other a ‘midnight cruise’. The IRA orchestra entertained the travelers on board. [85] This ‘pastime peculiar to the Irish in America’ began in 1924, with just 350 participants. By 1930 3,000 people were taking part. [86] The Clan’s publicity for the event illustrates its attraction to emigrants of rural backgrounds, with the promise of ‘a few hours of teeming mirth and pleasure [...] a happy release and relaxation from the cramp and care of dull domesticity and the dreary drag of city life.’ The Clan was also aware that many young ‘personable Irish buccailini’ and ‘sweet, smiling [...] bright eyed Irish cailini’ might be attracted to the cruise partly at least in the hope of meeting one another. [87] A further attraction may have been the availability of alcohol. Alcoholic drink was served in a Speakeasy in the basement of Tara Halls, illegally of course, due to Prohibition. [88] The ‘damnable, lying deception’ of Prohibition was never socially or politically accepted by the New York Irish. [89] The Brooklyn and Queen’s Clan Clubs also organized an annual bus ride to Rockaway Beach, a popular Irish summer resort, for a ‘monster festival and dance’ as well as a beauty contest. [90] More mundane were the regular card games, picnics and sports days used to raise funds but also to attract publicity and support. The Clan made full use of the Irish World’s willingness to publicize it, sending it weekly press releases detailing its activities. [91] It also utilized the Advocate and Echo on occasion, although taking them less seriously as forums for politics than the Irish World and dismissing them as ‘dancehall sheets.’ [92] The appointment of Michael O’Kiersey as publicity officer for the Clan was an attempt to make the organization more professional and attractive to potential recruits after strong criticism by the IRA of its insular nature.

The AARIR also benefited to a lesser degree from the arrival of the post Civil War emigrants. The organization also held social events and raised funds for Fianna Fail but was not activist in the way in which the Clan was. [93] There was also a rival Fianna Fail party organization in the city that held its own social events. The AARIR tended to be more middle class and respectable than the Clan and was able to attract support from personalities like the labour lawyer Frank P. Walsh and Congressman and later Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia. [94] The AARIR also discussed American political issues, such as opposition to membership of the World Court and the League of Nations to a greater degree than the Clan, perhaps reflecting an larger Irish American membership. The Clan’s active support of an armed organization also gave it a dynamism lacking in the more staid AARIR.

How many people the Clan managed to attract into its ranks is more difficult to assess. Sales of the IRA’s An Phoblacht remained pitifully low, despite constant urging from Ireland and the Clan was admonished for failing to raise the necessary funds the IRA demanded. [95] Nevertheless there seems to have been a increase to a membership of 2,061 in New York during 1930. [96] 4,000 people attended the Clan’s 1931 Easter commemoration. [97] Politically the anti-Treatyite position was very much the dominant view, at least publicly among New York’s immigrant Irish by the early 1930s. The clampdown by the Cumann na nGaedheal government during the winter of 1931 provoked intense protests in New York with Clan speakers invited to address gatherings in dancehalls. In early 1932 over 40 county, sporting and fraternal clubs and associations joined in protesting the government’s ‘new Penal Laws.’ [98] Several thousand attended a protest rally at the Mecca Ballrooms. The Irish World, Advocate and Echo took anti government positions and all welcomed the electoral victory of Fianna Fáil. Just as for the IRA in Ireland however the triumph of Fianna Fáil also posed problems for republicans in New York. Many immigrants now assumed that the republican cause had triumphed and saw no need to contribute to further protests or collections. The Clan complained that many former supporters saw no difference between the IRA and Fianna Fáil and when questioned on the subject would ‘cheerfully tell you that they don’t know what you are talking about.’ [99] The AARIR remained in existence until the late 1940s, though its focus shifted even more to American politics as it was content to support de Valera’s efforts in Ireland, even when he moved against the IRA. [100] The Irish World effectively encouraged the view that Fianna Fáil had unquestioned support from all republicans in Ireland and its relations with the Clan became frosty. [101] Even some of the ‘Devoy Clan’ put aside past hostility to de Valera. [102] A deeper problem was that the Clan did not encourage its members to educate themselves politically. The organization rarely went beyond denunciations of the Free State and the need to overthrow it by force. This suited the IRA, whose leader Moss Twomey argued that the Clan should concentrate on raising money and procuring arms, instead of discussing political questions that were ‘none of their damn business.’ [103] In the context of New York Irish politics however, it meant that the Clan’s overall ideology was little different to that of its rivals in the AARIR and even those of the ‘Old Clan.’

Despite the bitterness over the Treaty and the other disputes between Irish organizations the dominant views among all groupings was remarkably similar. There was a pervasive belief that America was governed by a pro-British elite who conspired to undermine the influence of genuine patriotic Americans, especially the Irish, at every turn. The dominance of these ‘Anglomaniacs’ was thought responsible for dragging the U.S. into the Great War and for attempts to bring America into the League of Nations thereafter. [104] All the Irish republican organizations continued to campaign for resistance to the League and the World Court, and to demand payment of war debts to the U.S. by Britain. They also argued for the U.S. to eschew ‘entangling’ international alliances in favour of building up a strong domestic military itself. [105] Irish organizations warned of the threat that the Rhodes and Carnegie Scholarships posed to American education, taking talented young Americans to Britain and turning them into Anglophiles. [106] In essence it was suggested that Britain and its allies among the American elite were engaged in systematically attempting to bring about an ‘Anglo-American Union.’ [107] The AARIR considered that it was the British were ‘all powerful in big business’ in America. [108] This occasional hostility to capitalism was more than balanced by complete antipathy to communism. [109] There was also an extreme sensitivity among Irish organizations to what were seen as offensive portrayals of the Irish in the press and cinema. During the late 1920s pro and anti-Treaty organizations in New York had joined together on pickets of movies accused of demeaning the Irish such as The Callaghans and the Murphys. [110] This sensitivity was allied to a belief that the contribution of the Catholic Irish to the United States was deliberately downplayed and ignored in favour of a celebration of the Anglo-Saxon heritage of America. [111] This insecurity was not inexplicable. The period after the First World War saw a decade of nativist dominance in American society, reflected in the Red Scare, Prohibition, the growth of the Ku Klux Klan and the institution of restrictions on immigration. [112] Most devastatingly for the Irish, Al Smith’s bid for the Presidency had failed amidst a major revival of anti-Catholic hysteria. [113] The mistake of many Irish activists was to see a secretive clique of British conspirators as responsible for this rather than native American bigotry.

This conspiratorial worldview, expounded by the Irish ethnic press and accepted to greater or lesser degrees by all of the Irish republican organizations had serious consequences. To many Irish emigrants, already insecure and uneasy in a dramatically new setting, it was undoubtedly attractive, especially as just a few years after the War of Independence they were unlikely to need convincing of British perfidy. But it also made them susceptible to other conspiracy theories that became more important after the onset of the Great Depression. By 1939 this sense of being continually put upon was leading some to conclude that the Irish suffered more ‘unemployment and discrimination than any other race’ in New York. [114] These resentments, which arose due to a number of political, social and economic factors during the Depression, were most graphically displayed in Irish support for right wing populist Fr. Charles Coughlin and in widespread conflicts with Jewish New Yorkers. [115] Coughlin received very favorable coverage in New York’s Irish press and his National Union of Social Justice was initially at least, heavily Irish. [116] Most NUSJ meetings and social events took place in Irish neighbourhood dancehalls. [117] Support for Coughlin was expressed at AARIR conventions, as were the resentments that provided much of the impetus for his movement, such the belief that that ‘Jews and the Italians are walking away with everything in town and we are a forgotten race.’ [118] There is little evidence though of direct Irish republican involvement in the NUSJ and its later, more openly fascist successors such as the Christian Front. What is obvious however is that Coughlinism drew support from among at least some people who considered themselves Irish republicans and that many of the themes stressed by Irish nationalist propaganda made this possible. [119]

The Clan, as an organization composed of ‘mostly poor men’ saw its fund raising capacity effectively ended by the Depression. [120] It found it simply ‘impossible’ to raise money with so many of its members out of work. [121] During 1932 a visiting IRA officer concluded that the New York Clan was ‘broke.’ [122] As the ‘bread lines’ in the city grew longer, many Clan supporters were ‘merely existing’ and not capable of donating money. [123] One Clan member claimed that the Depression had ‘affected our people much more than the average inhabitant of this once prosperous land.’ [124] Indeed for many immigrants it now seemed as if they would have been better off in Ireland. By 1932 ‘things were just as rotten as they could be’ in New York and some Clan members were prepared to ‘give their shirts to be back home.’ [125] Despite lowering their admission fees many Irish dancehalls were forced to close down and the Clan found it a ‘struggle’ to keep their own dances open. [126] During 1930 the organization had set up an employment bureau in an effort to obtain work, even if only part time, for its members. [127] Even so over 60 unemployed Clan members, men without relatives in New York were forced to seek food and shelter by living in Tara Halls. There they were housed in bunk beds and guaranteed ‘one good meal’ a day. Those who found one or two days work paid their wages into a ‘kitty’ which was used to buy food for their unemployed comrades. [128] One emigrant remembered that people no longer went to Innisfail Park to watch Gaelic games but to find ‘someone who would give them 10 cents.’ [129] Emigration from Ireland almost ended completely cutting off the major source for recruits for the Clan. Indeed the Irish World warned potential emigrants not to leave Ireland during 1930 as ‘for every position vacant in New York [...] there are several hundred applicants’ making life in the city for emigrants a ‘hopeless struggle.’ [130] During 1931 only 801 emigrants for the Free State arrived in the U.S. compared to 23,445 in the previous year. There were undoubtedly diverse opinions within the Clan’s ranks on why this crisis had occurred and how it was to be solved. One leading figure hailed the ‘great strides’ made by Roosevelt and his administration but wondered if the President would ‘be allowed’ continue his reforms. [131] This echoed the early enthusiastic support given to Roosevelt’s New Deal by the Irish World. [132] Other sections of the Clan, including its titular head, McGarrity, despite suffering personally from the Depression offered no opinions on its causes or likely remedies. Support for the IRA remained their sole prerogative. By the late 1930s this would lead them into alliances with a variety of American isolationists and reactionaries.

Some within the Clan looked to the socialist republican tradition for answers. Gerald O’Reilly and Charles McGennity were members of the Clan’s James Connolly Club, one of the few that openly endorsed the leftwing orientation of the IRA in Ireland. This built on earlier activities by the Irish Republican Worker’s Alliance, the Irish American Labor League and the Leitrim Worker’s Club. The IRWA had been active during the late 1920s among Irish republicans and trade unionists, holding meetings and raising funds in support of land agitation in Ireland. [133] The Clan’s Connolly Club contributed funds not only to the IRA but also to striking workers in Ireland and it urged Clan members to support those ‘fighting to overthrow the Capitalistic system.’ [134] MacGennity organised the Clan library and made sure that James Connolly’s writings were available there. [135] O’Reilly and MacGennitty had hoped that the IRA’s move to the left would help overcome the ‘open hostility’ of some of the Clan to socialist politics. [136] They argued that the IRA was much more ‘advanced’ in its understanding of ‘economic freedom’ than the Clan, as it had shown by its ‘splendid’ Saor Eire iniative in 1931. [137] They hoped that the IRA leadership would use its influence to pressure the Clan into relating to social issues but instead the IRA leadership expressed suspicion about their men’s motives. [138] Some of the Connolly Club would subsequently leave the Clan to form a branch of the Republican Congress in New York and their activities had other longer-term implications. [139] O’Reilly and MacGennitty were also active in the Irish Workers Clubs, a grouping formed by the American Communist Party to gain influence among Irish workers. [140] Former IRWA and Leitrim Worker’s Club members were also active in the IWC. Through Clan members who happened to be transit workers such as O’Reilly, Tom O’Shea and Mike Quill they helped found one of the most dynamic of the industrial unions of the 1930s, the New York Transport Workers Union. [141] The TWU would maintain a ‘community of interest’ with the Clan until the 1940s. [142] In contrast to what many within the Irish community, including republicans, had concluded by 1938, Quill would argue that his New York experiences had taught him that if ‘black and white, Catholic and non Catholic, Jew and Gentile are good enough to slave together [...] than we are good enough to unite and fight together.’ [143] A legacy of the TWU’s republican roots was its annual James Connolly commemoration. At the 1939 commemoration Peadar O’Donnell warned of the influence of anti-Semitism among Irish workers in New York. [144] Through a network of former Clan and IRA members in the TWU, Quill and O’Reilly established an American Labor Party (ALP) presence in the South Bronx, providing somewhat of a counter weight to Coughlinite support among the Irish. [145] The South Bronx ALP too utilized the Irish dancehall circuit and its popular musicians for its social events. [146] Former Clan members were central to enlisting Irish support for left wing candidates such as East Harlem’s Congressman Vito Marcantonio during the 1940s. [147]

But most Clan members and supporters did not endorse left wing politics. Many simply dropped out of active politics and by 1939 the Clan was again in decline. By then its preoccupation, like that of most of New York Irish ethnic organizations, was mobilizing against attempts to enlist American support for Britain and France. American isolationist politicians, like the anti-immigrant campaigner Senator Robert R. Reynolds of North Carolina, often with no record of previous interest in Ireland, addressed Clan rallies and commemorations. [148] The Clan was also rapidly declining. It could mobilize just 300 in New York to protest the execution of Belfast IRA member Tom Williams in 1942. There were only an estimated 750 members in the entire United States by that year. [149] By the 1940s many former IRA members preferred to join veteran’s organization such as the Sean Oglaigh na h-Eireann rather than the Clan. [150] However a small core Clan group remained and along with the broader Irish republican movement in New York was again revitalized by new Irish emigration during the 1950s.

Post Treaty republicanism was very much a minority interest in Irish America. Immigrants provided its mainstay of support and its politics very influenced by that milieu. However as with the War of Independence period domestic U.S. politics and concerns also impacted on Irish republicans and influenced the positions they took on many issues. [151]


1. FM Carroll, American Opinion and the Irish Question, 1910-23: a Study in Opinion and Policy (Dublin, 1978).
2. M. Hopkinson, Green Against Green: the Irish Civil War (Dublin, 1988).
3. T. Dooley, The Greatest of the Fenians: John Devoy and Ireland (Dublin, 2003).
4. Gaelic American, 9 May 1931.
5. For a comprehensive study of the FOIF see M. Doorley, Irish American Diaspora Nationalism: the Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-1935 (Dublin, 2005).
6. Report, 27 July 1926 Frank Aiken Papers, University College Dublin Archives, (UCDA), P104/2574 (1).
7. B.D. McKernon to M. Collins, 13 February 1922, Piaras Beaslai Papers, National Library of Ireland, Ms. 33,916 (9)
8. Bronx Home News, 15 December 1921
9. M. MacSwiney to An Uachtaran, Sinn Fein, 30 March 1925, Mary MacSwiney Papers, UCDA, P48a/119 (47)
10.M. MacSwiney to M. Villiard, 28 January 1925, MacSwiney Papers, UCDA, P48a/119.
11. John T. Ridge, The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, (New York, 1988), p.117-119.
12. Report by S.T. O’Kelly, 28 August 1925, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2520 (5).
13. AARIR Membership figures, July 1925, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2520 (55).
14. An Timithire, (AT), Clan na Gael, 20 May 1927, Moss Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/183 (47).
15. Figures, July 1929, Joseph McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,534.
16. Irish World, 13 January 1923 & 5 January 1924.
17. Ibid, 17 March 1923.
18. Ibid, 26 September 1925 & 20 December 1930.
19. Ibid, 1 September 1923 & 6 October 1923.
20. Ibid, 20 October 1923.
21. The Strong Hand, (N/D, 1924?), McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,466 (3).
22. Irish World, 11 November 1928.
23. Ibid, 14 November 1931.
24. Ibid, 16 January & 5 March 1932 .
25. Gaelic American, 9 May 1931.
26. Ibid, 13 January 1923.
27. Ibid, 17 March & 18 August 1923.
28. Ibid, 3 February 1923.
29. Ibid, 22 December 1923. Francis Sheehy Skeffington, a prominent pacifist, was murdered by a British officer in 1916.
30. Ibid, 17 June 1922.
31. Ibid, 21 April 1923.
32. Ibid, 26 September 1925.
33. Ibid, 17 March 1923 & 18 August 1923.
34. J. Devoy to J.J. Lynch, 20 January 1921, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2592 (1-9)
35. Peter Golden, diary entry, October 1925, Peter Golden Papers, Folder (1-C), NLI, Ms. 13,141.
36. Gaelic American, 17 March 1923 & 26 September 1925.
37. Ibid, 15 March 1924 & 27 April 1929.
38. See Gaelic American 1923-1935
39. Report, 1 February 1927,Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/183 (126).
40. Gaelic American, 17 March 1923.
41. Ibid, 19 May 1923, 26 September 1925 & 21 December 1929.
42. John M. Regan, The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-1936 (Dublin, 1999) p. 183-192.
43. Ibid, 10 May 1924.
44. Diarmaid Lynch, Transcript History of the FOIF, NLI, Ms. 32,597 (1-2), p.539-540. The FOIF donated $10,000 to the mutineers.
45. IRA report, 9 August 1924, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/179 (122).
46. Secretary Clan to Army Council (AC), IRA, 3 October 1932, Twomey Papers, P69/185 (159-161)
47. IRA report, 20 March 1923, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,466 (1).
48. IRA AC report, 10 August 1924, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/179 (110).
49. Military Attache to Adjutant General IRA, 16 February 1925, Ernie O’Malley Papers, UCDA, P17a/53.
50. M. O’Kiersey to A. Farrelly, 18 March 1931, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (43-44).
51. M. MacSwiney to E. de Valera, 27 June 1925, MacSwiney Papers, UCDA, P48a/120 (42).
52. Report, 18 May 1927, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/183 (35-36).
53. L.Doyle to M. Twomey, January 1927, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/183 (137-140).
54. M. MacSwiney, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2541 (2) & Military Attache to A/G, 20 November 1924, O’Malley Papers, UCDA, P17a/53.
55. Report, 21 October 1926, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/183 (182).
56. National Secretary, AARIR, 18-19 July 1925, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2520 (32-43).
57. B. Hanley, The IRA, 1926-1936 (Dublin, 2002) p. 162-167.
58. H. McHugh, 14 May 1931, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,536.
59. Irish World, 14 June 1930.
60. Government Publication Office, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1937 (Washington, 1938).
61. IRA Executive report, 10 August 1924, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/179 (110).
62. S.T. O’Kelly, 19 June 1926, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2587 (1-4).
63. Connemara IRA report, 28 April 1925, Twomey Papers, P69/207 (97).
64. Reports, Commissioners, Congestion, (Ireland), Commission, 1908, Vol. 43, p. 139.
65. Census of Ireland, 1911, Province of Munster, County of Kerry.
66. Ira Rosenweike, Population History of New York (Syracuse, 1972) p.204.
67. J.B. Freeman, Working Class New York-Life and Labor since 1945 (New York, 2000) p.335.
68. Rosenweike, p. 130 & 141.
69. Ibid, p.204.
70. R. Bayor, Neighbors in Conflict: the Irish, Germans, Jews and Italians of New York, 1929-1941 (Baltimore, 1978) p. 150-163.
71. J.B. Freeman, In Transit: the Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933-1966 (Oxford, 1989) 30-31.
72. D. Hayden in D. O’Donovan (Ed) Dreamers of dreams-portraits of the Irish in America (Bray, 1984) p. 57-62.
73. M. Casey, ‘Twentieth Century Irish Immigration to New York-the Historical Perspective’ in New York Irish History Vol.3, 1988 p. 25-29.
74. J. Milkovits ‘The New York GAA-Origins to Golden Jubilee’ in New York Irish History Vol.3 1988 p. 4-7.
75. Playing for among others, Shamrock Rovers, Derry Celtic, Cork Celtic and Belfast United. Irish Echo, 19 January 1935.
76. Charles Laverty, Tyrone, who emigrated to New York in 1948, to author, 22 September 2003.
77. The Irish World was launched in 1870, the Advocate in 1893, the Gaelic American in 1905 and the Irish Echo in 1928.
78. Irish World, 19 July 1930.
79. As well as John Mitchel’s Jail Journal and Peadar O’Donnell’s The Knife, the library offered Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, the journal of the American Irish History Society and works by Edgar Allan Poe. List in Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (78-84).
80. Irish World, 24 October 1931 & leaflet in Twomey Papers, P69/233 (118).
81. An Phoblacht, 12 March 1932.
82. M.O’Kiersey to A. Farrelly, 9 February 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (10).
83. Ibid, 18 March 1931, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (43-44).
84. C. McGennity, 6 May 1931, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (174).
85. Irish World, 29 August 1931.
86. Ibid, 14 June 1930 & 30 May 1936.
87. Ibid, 29 August 1931.
88. Michael Flannery interview, Jane Coulon Muller Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, (AIA), Tamiment Library, New York University (NYU).
89. Irish World, 15 November 1930.
90. Ibid, 4 July 1931.
91. M. O’Kiersey, 9 February 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (10).
92. C. McGennity, 13 February 1934, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (5).
93. Sec. Clan to IRA Army Council (AC), 3 February 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (68).
94. See Irish World, 12 March 1932 for Walsh & 13 June 1931 for La Guardia.
95. Hanley, p.164-167.
96. 1,784 men and 277 women. 20 May 1930, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,535.
97. Irish World, 11 April 1931.
98. Irish World, 14 November 1931 and An Phoblacht, 12 March 1932.
99. Sec. Clan to IRA AC, 7 March 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (60).
100.Gaelic American, 2 November 1946.
101. Sec Clan to AC, 9 September 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (180).
102. Sec Clan to AC, 3 February 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (69).
103. M. Twomey to C. Neenan, 28 March 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (21-25).
104.For example see Irish World, 7 April 1923, FOIF Newsletter, 22 April 1922 & statement by IRB Veteran’s Association in Gaelic American, 10 March 1928.
105. See statement from Clan na Gael national Executive to Republican National Convention, 1936, calling for opposition to the League and World Court, demanding payment of war debts and supporting a strong US army and navy. McGarrity Papers, NLI, MS. 17,542 (2).
106. Some noted the ‘danger’ that one of these English educated ‘Janizaries’ might eventually become President of the USA. Gaelic American, 11 May 1929.
107. Irish World, 20 January 1923.
108. AARIR Convention report, 1925, Aiken Papers, UCDA, P104/2520 (114).
109. Although with varying degrees of intensity.
110. Irish World, 5 November 1927 & Gaelic American, 3 September 1927.
111. Irish World, 25 October 1930.
112. Immigration restrictions were aimed primarily at eastern and southern European immigrants, not the Irish, but they contributed to the atmosphere of xenophobia. Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Nation and Race in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2001) p.103-109.
113. E.A. Moore, A Catholic Runs for President: the campaign of 1928 (New York, 1956).
114. Irish Echo, 12 August 1939.
115. Bayor, Neighbors in Conflict, p. 87-108.
116. See lists of organisers published weekly in Irish World during 1936. Coughlin also emphasised themes such as isolationism and opposition to the World Court that appealed to the Irish. A. Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression (New York, 1983) p. 134-137.
117. Such as the Mayo Halls, the Munster Ballroom and the New Shannon Ballroom. Irish World, 29 February & 25 April 1936.
118. AARIR convention reports, 1937 & 1938, Eamon de Valera Papers, UCDA, P150/1236-1237.
119. See report by Peadar O’Donnell on Coughlin supporters in Irish Workers Weekly, 12 August 1939. The son of a former pro-Treaty Army General, John T. Prout did become involved in a right wing plot to carry out anti-Semitic terrorism during 1940. Bayor, p. 102-104 and Irish Workers Weekly, 17 February 1940.
120. J.McGarrity, 13 September 1930, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/61 (2-4).
121. Sec Clan to AC, 3 October 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (159-161).
122. Hanley, p. 168
123. M. O’Kiersey to A.Farrelly, 3 December 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (46).
124. P. Kearney, 26 June 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (279-281).
125. M. O’Kiersey to A.Farrelly, 1 January 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/235 (17-18).
126. C. Neenan to M.Twomey, 21 March 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (50).
127. Report, 1930, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,535 (3).
128. Flannery interview, AIA, NYU op.cit.
129. John ‘Kerry’ O’Donnell in O’Donovan, Dreamers p.143-149.
130. Irish World, 12 July 1930.
131. C. Neenan, 21 March 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (50).
132. Irish World, 10 March 1934.
133. Irish World, 13 December 1930.
134. Report, James Connolly Club, 31 October 1932, P69/223 (4).
135. Two dozen copies each of Labour in Irish History, Labour, Nationality and Religion and The Reconquest of Ireland were received by the library in 1932. 6 June 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (48).
136. C. McGennity, 6 June 1932, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (48).
137. C. McGennity, 26 September 1931, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/233 (194).
138. Twomey to Neenan, 24 April 1933, Twomey Papers, UCDA, P69/185 (13).
139. Republican Congress, 13 July 1935.
140. J. Doyle, ‘The Controversial History of the TWU’ in New York Irish History, No.1, 1986, p. 8-10.
141. G. O’Reilly, The Birth and Growth of the TWU (New York, 1988). The most authorative account is in Freeman, In Transit, op. cit.
142. Transport Workers Union Express, January 1938.
143. Labour News, 1 January 1938.
144. O’Donnell speech, text in G. O’Reilly Papers, Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University (NYU) Folder 5.
145. O’Reilly to S. O’Sheal, 7 June 1945, O’Reilly Papers, Folder 1, NYU.
146. See ALP events at the Emerald Ballroom and the Star of Munster Hall during 1940, featuring ‘Irish and American dancing’ and the Cork Volunteers Pipers Band. Transport Workers Union Papers, Box 7, Folder 33, NYU.
147. See ‘The Irish for Marcantonio’ Advocate, 28 June 1944. The Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that former IRA members were involved in this campaign. Report, 11 August 1944, Sean Prendiville Collection, AIA, NYU.
148. J. McGarrity to Senator R.R. Reynolds, 25 February 1939, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,546 (5). Report of Reynolds’ speech at Clan commemoration, 19 February 1939, McGarrity Papers, NLI, Ms. 17,546 (8).
149. FBI reports, 28 December 1942, Prendiville Papers, AIA, NYU.
150. The Sean Oglaigh na h-Eireann remained an active organisation until the 1990s.
151. See also M. Doorley, Irish American Diaspora Nationalism, op cit.