“The disparity in years between you”: A random letter about marriage from nineteenth century Philadelphia

The Dustbin of History

In 15 years, she will be in the prime of life – and you will, most probably, be a feeble old man.

While combing through collections in archives I often come across random letters and documents that may be interesting independent of their relevance to the project at hand. One such letter was in the Malcolm Hay Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I came across it during a fellowship with the Library Company and decided to transcribe the letter and present it here in its entirety for those who might be interested in questions related to marriage, reputation and social etiquette in nineteenth century Pennsylvania.

The letter in question was sent by Peter Hay in July 1858 to his son Henry Hay. The collection is named after Henry’s brother, Malcolm. A prominent family of lawyers, the Hays were influential Democratic Party members at both a local and state level. Elegantly written…

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Iowa’s first execution: The shameful story of Peg-leg O’Conner

The Dustbin of History

When the state of Iowa is mentioned most people think of rolling prairies, but the history of this part of the ‘American Heartland’ also has an Irish hue to it. In the nineteenth century many Irish worked the coal mines scattered throughout the region which acted as fuel stations for the rapidly spreading railroad network. Even before the railroads stretched across the continent there were important lead mines being worked near the frontier town of Dubuque. Linked to the early history of Dubuque was the story of a Cork-born amputee named Patrick O’Conner who worked in the mines and who happens to be recorded as the first execution in the history of the state of Iowa in 1834.[1] Of course at the time Iowa was neither a state nor did it have the judicial authority to sentence a man to death. So, why exactly was a one-legged Cork miner killed in 1834…

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New post on the Dustbin of History – The Tramping Worker: questions on transience and organisation in America, 1880-1920

I was invited to write for the excellent history blog the Dustbin of History many months ago and have recently decided to take the plunge and throw up some more detailed articles than I would usually pack onto my own blog. My first post titled “The Tramping Worker: questions on transience and organisation in America, 1880-1920,” apart from being a mouthful, is something of a meditation on transnational history. As the blog post itself states the title harks back to one of Eric Hobsbawm shorter but important pieces “The Tramping Artisan” and outlines some important questions that need to be answered by this growing sub-field of history.

I look forward to writing up other pieces in the future for the Dustbin of History, especially a few posts that will be slightly less historiographically orientated, and I encourage anyone who might be interested in some of the more overlooked episodes in history to check out some of the other great pieces on the blog by emerging historians.

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British spies report on Jim Larkin’s speeches in New York, 1914.

By the nineteenth century the British government was well aware of the importance of intelligence gathering in the effective administration of its territories. As part of its security apparatus Britain maintained a vast spy network which regularly reported on the activities of dissidents throughout the Empire and the rest of the world. Intelligence gathering was especially effective in Ireland, where Dublin Castle acted as a central hub for a network that reached into every urban and rural corner of Ireland through networks of local police and their informers. This enabled the British to smother any rebellious embers before they caught fire, however at the opening of the twentieth century Ireland remained a restive section of the union. Of particular concern to the Dublin Metropolitan Police was a certain Jim Larkin, a labour leader and one of the primary actors in the 1913 Lockout.

The extent of this unrest and Larkin’s oratorical skills made him a dangerous man in the eyes of the police and one who should be watched closely. In the wake of the violent suppression of the striking workers in 1913 the major trade union in Ireland decided to follow the lead of the Ulster Unionists and create an armed wing, the Irish Citizen Army [ICA]. Under Larkin’s leadership the ICA increased in numbers into the hundreds. On 24 October 1914 Larkin left James Connolly in charge of the ICA and travelled to the United States to collect funds and to ship arms back to the growing organisation in preparation for the next round of confrontation between workers and big business in Ireland. The following is a spy report sent to Dublin Castle on Larkin’s activities after he arrived to New York.

33B Reports:- New York, Monday, November 16th 1914.

Having learned through an informant that James Larkin, the Irish labor leader, had arrived in this country on November 3rd, Lexington Avenue, and 85th Street, New York, Sunday night, November 15th, at 8:00 P.M. I sent two operatives to this meeting who report that Larkin began his address with an [sic] eulogy of the Manchester Martyrs and a short description of his career in the City of Manchester, England.

He speaks with the accent of a South Lancastrian and tries to give the impression that he was a native of Dublin as he speaks in the highest terms of the Dublin Irishmen, and contemptuously of John Redmond, Sir Edward Carson and their followers. Lord Aberdeen was ridiculed and referred to as a leprous representative of the British Premier, Mr. Asquith, and considered him the real power behind Sir Edward Carson. Also accused Asquith of keeping the Ulsterites fully informed of the intentions of the British Government and allowing the Ulster Volunteers to arm, while using the British Army to prevent the Nationalists from arming. He accused Asquith, Carson and Redmond of secretly working together to prevent the Nationalists getting justice while passing a Home Rule Bill that was lacking in every essential condition in order to placate the Nationalist. That the Nationalists would fight the British Government before submitting to conscription, and expressed the hope that the Germans would defeat the British in the present war. This statement was loudly applauded but no [sic] unanimously.

Larkin appealed for funds for the use of the Society in Ireland and left the Hall. There were about 400 people in the Hall who heard this address. The audience was one of respectibility. The meeting was under the auspices of the Clan-na-gael.

If sending two ‘operatives’ to attend a Larkin speech seems excessive it indicates the strong British presence in New York. Given the tense situation in Ireland, the strength of Clan na Gael in the United States and of course, that it was wartime, this overreaction makes more sense. It is somewhat surprising that the agent reported ‘the audience was one of respectibility’. Whatever prejudices the British operatives might have had against the crowd does no come through in their reports. This contrasts with private detective reports from agencies such as the Pinkertons, where some agents sneered at their subjects in the reports to their employers, possibly trying to endear themselves to their employer, possibly demonstrating primitive hate, but certainly revealing an innate lack of empathy with the people they spied on.

Also interesting to note was that the crowd did not unanimously applaud the possibility of a German victory. The average attendee at these rallies have often been perceived as a singular voice in support, however here is a good example that the audience at such talks held a diverse set of opinions and did not blindly agree with every pronouncement from the speaker. There is also the possibility that some in the crowd remained cautious about endorsing someone like Larkin and his message. While they would attend and listen to what he had to say (after all, Larkin was a celebrity after the widely reported Lockout) they may have worried that the meetings was being closely watched by the authorities, and if so, they would have been right.

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Larkin prohibited by British authorities from returning to Ireland and Britain

Inter arma enim silent leges

– Cicero

As Jim Larkin began his speaking tour in the United States the war raged on in Europe. Larkin like other Irish radicals and revolutionaries saw the crisis as an opportunity to advance his own platform. The governments of the day also seized on the crisis and in an effort to combat saboteurs and various subversives within their territories the empires of Europe vastly expanded state powers over their citizens. In Britain this expansion, enacted under the title the Defence of the Realm, was quickly adapted and widely used, and one of the ways that it was used was  to block the return of Larkin to Ireland or Britain. While Dublin Castle’s plan had been to simply observe and report on Larkin’s activities, then arrest him on his return to Ireland, now they decided to dispatch circulars to the British embassy and consulates in America to ensure that Larkin could not travel to any part of the commonwealth and they were ordered not to issue him any travel documents of any sort. The full Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act report on Larkin is detailed below, as well as the report from Dublin Castle on the change of plans.

Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914, and Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations, 1914.

it is provided that: Where a person is suspected of acting, or of having acted, or of being about to act in a manner prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Realm and it appears to the competent naval or military authority that it is desirable that such person should be prohibited from residing in or entering any locality, the competent naval or military authority may by order prohibit him from residing in or entering any area or areas which may be specified in the order and upon the making of such an order the person to whom the order relates shall, if he resides in any specified area, leave that area within such time as may be specified by the order, and shall not subsequently reside in or enter any area specified in the order, and if he does so, he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations AND WHEREAS I, am the Competent Military Authority for the following area, viz: [blank] AND WHEREAS James Larkin, lately residing at Croydon Park, Fairview, in the County of the City of Dublin, has acted and is suspected of being about to act in a manner prejudicial to the public safety and the defence of the Realm: AND WHEREAS it appears to me that it is desirable that the said Hames Larkin should be prohibited from entering into or residing in any part of the aforesaid area: NOW I, the Competant Military Authority for the aforementioned area, DO HEREBY PROHIBIT the said James Larkin from entering into or residing in any part of the aforementioned area; [written] and further I hereby order and decide that in the arrest of the said James Larkin entering into or being found residing in any part of the area aforesaid he be forthwith arrested and brought before me to be dealt with by one or by any person duly authorised by me in that behalf.

Intelligence letter detailing plans stop Larkin from returning to Ireland or Britain

Intelligence letter detailing plans stop Larkin from returning to Ireland or Britain

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One hundred years ago today Jim Larkin left for the USA

While I am inadvertently using a title that sounds like the opening lines to a song (following on my last blog post perhaps a song isn’t such a bad idea!), this blog post is the first in a series I will be doing on Jim Larkin’s time in the United States. These are based on research I conducted for my chapter titled “‘Real Irish Patriots would Scorn to Recognise the Likes of You’: Larkin and Irish-America” in David Convery (ed.), Locked Out: A Century of Working Class Life (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2013). Unlike other accounts of Larkin’s time in the states, my chapter attempts to detail the marginalised voices of Irish-American workers in places such as New York, San Francisco and even Butte, Montana. It looks at how the Catholic Church, the Socialist Party and Irish heroes like Larkin interacted, especially the language deployed by each group to sway or dissuade the Irish-American community from supporting one or more association. Over the course of the next few weeks the forthcoming posts will take a look at some of these primary sources in detail and assess the historiographical interpretations of Larkin’s eight and a half years in America.

Larkin left Dún Laoghaire on the 23 October 1914 for Liverpool before departing for the United States on 24 October 1914 aboard the s.s. St. Louis. On foot of the Lockout in 1913 and the beginning of the World War British intelligence agencies closely watched Larkin’s movements fearing industrial unrest because of his strong anti-conscription convictions. Below is one of the Dublin Metropolitan Police reports dated the 26 October 1914.

DMP Report Larkin departing

Dublin Metropolitan Police detectives report Larkin’s departure for America.

These details speak to how closely they scrutinised him and points to the establishment’s fear of the man, “Larkin is about 40 years old, 6 feet 1 inch high, clean shaven, shallow complexion, long nose, black hair turning grey, usually wears black serge suit and soft black hat. His luggage consists of two portmanteaux, and a black trunk.” These details were dispatched to British agents in the states who were directed that “he must be watched and shadowed and his speeches taken down while in the States.” The British deployed their international spy apparatus in the hopes of obtaining evidence of Larkin’s collaboration with “the Enemy” so that he could “be arrested on his return”. However, on foot of developments in Britain these plans changed and would result in Jim Larkin unexpectedly staying in the United States for eight and a half years.

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Not all that traditional – Satire and song in Irish historical debates

The recent publication of Niall Meehan’s article “Examining Peter Hart” in the 2014 issue of Field Day Review looks like one of the first volleys in the decade of centenaries on the long running historiographical debate about Hart’s work and the War of Independence. Because of Hart’s unfortunate passing in 2010 the fundamental flaws Meehan highlights will have to be answered by his supporters rather than the man himself. Meehan puts forward a strong argument, particularly regarding the Kilmichael Ambush, and on that topic it is possible that this first volley may also be the last. Time will tell. In this post we’ll concentrate on the last paragraph of Meehan’s article which contains a song titled A New Revenge for Skibbereen sung to the air of The Galtee Mountain Boy, a popular nationalist/republican song:

‘Twas in the month of April, in the year of ‘22
We took it out on the Protestants; we could only catch a few
In Bandon and Dunmanway, Kinsale and Skibbereen
Their colour it was Orange and they trampled on the Green

Old Buttimer came down quaking ‘What do you want’?, says he
‘Come out or we’ll make ye, we want your drapery’
The missus tried to argue ‘Go to bed old women’, says we
We sprayed his brains with bullets that Ireland might be free

We visited Tom Bradfield, we dressed up in Khaki
Says he, ‘You’re welcome officers,’ a fine snug farm had he
We gave him a grand court martial, and sentenced Tom for to die
We tried a note around his neck, it read ‘convicted spy’

Farewell to all ye Protestants, so prim and dry and tight
Ye thought ye owned old Ireland, yet ye fled without a fight
From Bandon and Dunmanway, Kinsale and Skibbereen
Ye scuttled out of the County Cork and never since was seen

‘Twas revenge for Skibbereen

Professor David Fitzpatrick sang this song at the annual Parnell Lecture in January 2013 at Cambridge. To a non-Irish audience the song might appear to be a genuine republican song, however anyone familiar with Irish songs would immediately recognise it as a strange sort of impersonation of popular ballads. Meehan described the piece as “sectarian doggerel,” and he is certainly correct musically, since there exists no republican song from the War of Independence that talks so specifically about those killed, so graphically about the dead, or frames the conflict as a sectarian struggle. After the performance Fitzpatrick was questioned by his audience and he admitted that he wrote the song the morning before the lecture.

While there have been many other historian balladeers, for example John A. Murphy, and while the retired UCC historian is widely known to hold a vast repertoire of songs that he happily employs at any occasion these are traditional songs, not songs he has written himself. This might mark the first time a historian waded into a historical topic utilizing the music of the historiographical camp he is opposed to in order to both ridicule it and put forward his own position. However for a professional historian to write such a unusual and biased account of a sensitive historical event, even in verse (and perhaps jokingly) is at least a little disconcerting; not least because the case that the War of Independence was a sectarian one remains unproven. As Meehan firmly concludes in his article, “Southern Protestants did not in general experience sectarian attacks because republicans did not generally engage in them.”

An interesting companion to the above song might be The Gentle Black and Tan by the late Breandan O hÉithir which refers to the aforementioned revisionist historian John A. Murphy in the final verse. As a “Come all ye” it fit into a long tradition of Irish sing-songs. A famous collection of such songs by Manus O’Conor is available for free at archives.org.

Come all you staunch revisionists
And listen to my song,
It’s short and it’s unusual
And it won’t detain you long.
It’s all about a soldier
Who has carried history’s can,
Who dodged Tom Barry and Dan Breen
The gentle Black and Tan.

‘Twas the curse of unemployment
That drove him to our shore.
His jacket black and trousers tan
Like a badge of shame he wore.
“Subdue the rebel Irish
And shoot them when you can!”
“May God forgive me if I do,”
Prayed the gentle Black and Tan.

The burning of Cork city
Was indeed a mighty blaze.
The jewellers’ shops were gutted
Not before the spoils were shared.
Gold and silver ornaments,
Rings and watches for each man,
“But I only struck the matches,”
Said the gentle Black and Tan.

Croke Park and Bloody Sunday
Was our hero’s greatest test.
The spectators on the terraces
Nigh impossible to miss.
With salt tears his eyes were blinded
And down his cheeks they ran,
So he only shot Mick Hogan
The gentle Black and Tan.

So take heed you blinkered Nationalists
Fair warning take from me.
If you want to live in safety
And keep this land at sea.
Take heed of our three heroes
Murphy, Edwards and Yer Man,
Who will sing the fame and clear the name
Of the gentle Black and Tan.

The parody portrays the First World War veterans who enlisted for service in Ireland as victims in a obvious feign of sincerity. The Auxiliaries are not mentioned, the ex-officers who were famously paid a pound a day for joining up, although this is not surprisingly as the psuedo-police forces were generally referred to as the Tans by the locals. Revisionist historians have tended to brush over British atrocities in Ireland in their efforts to demolish nationalist myths about the War of Independence and thus the song seeks to humorously place side by side the ‘minor’ actions of the Black and Tan in order to highlight the outrageous criminality involved in both the Burning of Cork City (actually begun by the Auxiliaries of K Company) and shooting dead of innocents at Croke Park during Bloody Sunday.

As to the other two figures mentioned in the song, the “Edwards” referred to is Ruth Dudley Edwards who writes the odd piece for the Telegraph. The “Yerman” might refer to several people, most believe it is Peter Hart but this is unlikely as O hÉithir passed away in 1990, slightly before Hart arrived on the scene. It might refer to Kevin Myers, but the most likely candidate is Eoghan Harris, a contrarian who writes for the Sunday Independent.

Leading on from Harris it is worth noting this interesting example of reinterpreting narratives though not in song this time, and in a fictional universe to boot (although I’m putting it on this blog as technically it was historical. “A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far Far Away…”) a certain wag on a sadly defunct satirical website called The Shankill Moaner, decided to critique Eoghan Harris’s venomous comments about The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) in the following way:

Last night I watched on DVD the recently released Star Wars film The Solar Wind That Shakes The Banthas which supposedly is an heroic account of life in the Star Wars galaxy during an utterly disgraceful ‘struggle‘ for independence from an ‘evil‘ empire, and I have to say that its disgusting and uncalled for one-dimensional portrayal of the Stormtroopers as villains and fiends to a man had me spluttering with moral indignation into my wine glass. Yes, I will admit that some members of the Stormtrooper regiment were no angels but the representation of them all in this piece of leftist propaganda as foul, murdering thugs is beneath contempt, as is the film’s cowardly refusal to show the so-called ’resistance fighters’ of the self-styled ’Rebel Alliance’ (in reality a terrorist plot led by pseudo-fascist extremists with no mandate from the people) with the sharpened, blood-stained fangs and gnarled, hideous claws common to all rebels. There were many good and decent Stormtroopers, as many a fair-minded wookie who lived through that period can attest to, and to show not one of them as the gentle, kind, conflicted souls that they really were is a staggering evil which has no parallel anywhere in the whole history of space and ti…(cont. every week for the next ten years).

Moving back to the traditional nationalist songs the singer Jimmy Crowley requested that Cork poet Patrick Galvin write an additional verse to The Boys of Kilmichael “to dispatch a broadside in the direction of the historical revisionists” because “songs from the War of Independence have become so frowned upon in post-modern Ireland that young people are being denied any recourse to national pride, landscape, legends or any form of heroism, all very necessary components of the Irish psyche.” Most people would likely argue that the Irish psyche has more often had too much national pride rather than too little and that perhaps young people refuse to believe in heroism thanks to the limited bravery demonstrated by our present-day leaders, rather than the actions of a few revisionist historians. The added verse is as follows:

There are some who will blush at the mention
Of Connolly, Pearse and McBride
And history’s new scribes in derision
The pages of valour deny
But sure here’s to the boys who cried, Freedom!
When Ireland was nailed to the mast
And they fought with Tom Barry’s bold column
To give us our freedom at last

It is very similar to the first verse, which itself is surprisingly self-aware that it is a part of a nationalist traditional of honouring “in song and in story” the heroes of the Irish independence movement. I can’t say I’m very fond of it, the subject it is supposed to rebuff, “history’s new scribes” who are dismissed with a blithe “But sure.” Does this dismissal actually prove them wrong in any way? It’s more like an attempt at ignoring them. Also the repetition of freedom appears forced, while “nailed to the mast” just feels like the wrong phrase to use in this context. Is it a reference to the British navy, or the Union Jack? Either way to refer to Ireland’s subjugation in the last verse of a song celebrating one of the greatest victories of the rebels against the crown forces is a little strange. Perhaps I expect too much from a few brief lines.

As the historical debates continue it seems certain that more new “songs” and verses will emerge during the decade of centenaries. I, for one, hope that Pat Shortt decides to turn his attention towards the debates. Now that would be a cracking tune whatever side of the debate it came down on.

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