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The Green Flag In America
For more than a century, Irish-Americans were whipsawed between love for their tormented native land and loyalty to the United States. But no more .
June/July 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 4
Working closely with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and the Republican opposition, the Friends of Irish Freedom organized a massive assault on the League and the treaty. When Judge Daniel Cohalan testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the League, he submitted a list of supporting Irish groups that consumed one and a quarter pages of small type in the Congressional Record . The FOIF distributed well over a million pieces of anti-League propaganda. When Wilson made his last-ditch speaking tour to rescue the League, the Irish ran huge advertisements in each city he visited, attacking the President and refuting his arguments and they flooded the Senate with telegrams in the days before the final, fatal vote, on March 19, 1919.
In June of 1919, onto this turbulent stage strode Ireland’s new leader, Eamon de Valera. The tall, austere ex-professor of mathematics had been born in New York, but he had been taken back to Ireland as a child, and was utterly unacquainted with American politics. His Irish viewpoint soon collided with the Irish-American views of Devoy, Cohalan, and the other leaders of the Friends of Irish Freedom.
De Valera wanted money to support his parlous provisional government, which was fighting a guerrilla war against the English. Devoy and Cohalan wanted to use the FOIF treasury to continue the battle against the treaty and the League in the 1920 presidential elections. They hoped to bargain one or both politicial parties into promises of substantial aid to Ireland. But they were at least as passionately determined to defeat the League, because they saw it as a British imperialist plot to tempt the United States to abandon its hallowed isolationism.
Thinking and talking as a European, de Valera was inclined to favor the League, and as an heir of Daniel O’Connell’s geographic realism, he said he would be willing to temper Irish independence by permitting Britain to exercise a sort of Monroe Doctrine over Ireland’s foreign policy. Both positions outraged Devoy and Cohalan, who expected the Irish president to share their passion for absolute republican independence and their hatred of British influence everywhere in the world, especially in the United States. Devoy published an angry attack on de Valera in his newspaper, the Gaelic-American , and Cohalan accused him of interfering in purely American affairs. A bitter confrontation ensued at a meeting in the Park Avenue Hotel on March 19,1920. Only the presence of a bishop persuaded Cohalan and de Valera to shake hands and receive a blessing on a very shaky truce.
Early in June, de Valera, Cohalan, and Devoy went to the Republican Convention in Chicago. The Irish-Americans expected that their fight against the peace treaty would be repaid by a plank in the party platform supporting Irish independence. The Republicans were ready to take that stand in general terms. But de Valera, aware that the British were watching and listening, insisted on an explicit endorsement of an Irish Republic. De Valera feared that anything else would be read by the British as a willingness to accept the discredited home-rule solution. The Republicans demurred and the Irish got nothing.
To the mounting rage of Devoy and Cohalan, de Valera went to the Democratic Convention and repeated this performance, with the same result. In retrospect it is clear that the Irish president never should have gone near either convention, and should have let the Irish-Americans handle the business of obtaining endorsements. But by this time, acrimony had so poisoned relationships that de Valera was incapable of taking Irish-American advice on anything. Thus the nation—and the British—got the impression that both political parties had repudiated Ireland’s cause, at the moment when she most needed American help.
Breaking completely with Devoy, Cohalan, and their circle, de Valera set up a rival organization, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, to raise money for his provisional government. Within a year the AARIR had a half-million members and the Friends of Irish Freedom had collapsed. It was potent proof, previously demonstrated by Parnell and Redmond, that the man who spoke for Ireland was the voice to which Irish-Americans responded. With the legal advice of a young Democratic politician named Franklin D. Roosevelt, the sale of de Valera-promoted bonds raised $5,500,000. Another enterprise run by de Valera supporters, the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, raised an additional $5,000,000, and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes pressured the British into allowing the money to be given to the Irish White Cross, who turned over most of it to de Valera’s guerrilla army.
Even a guerrilla war devoured money at a fearful rate, however, and by mid-1921 the Irish were running low on cash and matériel. In the words of the U.S. consul in Dublin, “the movement is kept alive by reports of the great progress the cause of Irish freedom is making in the United States.” This was ironic. The gesture by the Secretary of State was the only evidence of any support from the Republican administration in Washington. De Valera knew the real situation in America; the Irish could expect nothing but mild sympathy from the government. When the British offered a cease-fire and negotiations in July of 1921, de Valera accepted.