History Archives – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Striking Gold – Transcontinental Railroad Turns 150 https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/striking-gold-transcontinental-railroad-turns-150/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/striking-gold-transcontinental-railroad-turns-150/#respond Fri, 10 May 2019 22:43:00 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41837 Read more..]]> Irish contributions to American history received a special recognition this week. The 150th anniversary of connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad was commemorated in a two-day celebration in Utah May 9 and 10 at Promontory Point, the state landmark where the Golden Spike connecting the track’s east and west branches was struck on May 10, 1869. The railroad was six years in the making, with the physical labor conducted largely by immigrants – Irishmen making up a hefty portion.

The Last Spike, Thomas Hill, 1881.

Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall was a special guest at the commemoration, which honored specifically the manual workers that constructed the railway, with the Irish contribution numbering approximately 10,000 men. These laborers often risked life and limb in this back-breaking endeavor to advance American transportation, symbolically binding the nation even closer than before the horrific devastation of the Civil War, in which many of the Irish men had fought for the Union.

“Theirs was a magnificent contribution to the making of modern America,” said Ambassador Mulhall. “Those railroad workers were drawn from the six million Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1840 and 1900, escaping from famine and seeking better lives for themselves and their families. They and their descendants became part of the fabric of modern America, but they never forgot their ancestral Irish homeland. Their achievements in America have been a perennial source of inspiration to the Ireland they left behind,” he said.

The Hibernian Society of Utah hosted a dinner for the occasion on Thursday evening, at which Ambassador Mulhall offered his remarks and honored the contributions and sacrifices made by the Irish and other workers, including Chinese immigrants, Native Americans, Mormons who had settled in the west, and African Americans in their first years of emancipation.

The ambassador toasted the laborers, whose efforts were a significant step in making a fiercely intimidating and dangerous land mass traversable, and brought the country closer together in both travel and communication, investing their personal ambitions in the foreign land where they had come to make them a reality.

Golden Spike, preserved at the California State Railroad Museum. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The iconic railway’s first spikes were driven in 1863 during the Civil War, and over the following six-year period, more than 2,000 miles of track was laid entirely by hand over rugged terrain, including the Sierra Nevada mountains. The iconic railway was constructed by two separate companies: the Union Pacific company moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific company moving east from Sacramento to meet in the middle. The arduous labor earned an average of $3.00 / day for a single worker – an unfathomably low rate by today’s standards. But that certainly did not undercut the enthusiasm of each side – both groups worked tirelessly to beat each other’s record for track-laying.

The Central Pacific concocted a plan to lay 10 miles in a day. Eight Irish tracklayers put down 3,520 rails, while other workers laid 25,800 ties and drove 28,160 spikes in a single day: April 28, 1869. Less than two weeks later, at Promontory Summit, Utah, the golden spike was hammered into the final tie.  ♦

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The Lusitania Gifted to Cork Museum https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/the-lusitania-gifted-to-cork-museum/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/the-lusitania-gifted-to-cork-museum/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:48:33 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41982 Read more..]]> The shipwreck of the RMS Lusitania has been gifted to a museum in Kinsale, County Cork, exactly 104 years after it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 during the first world war.

The Lusitania, a Cunard liner, was the largest ship in the world when it was sunk by the German submarine. It went down in 18 minutes, 11 nautical miles off the Kinsale coast, killing 1,198 passenger and leaving 761 survivors.

Gregg Bemis, the American businessman who has owned the salvage rights to the wreck since 1982, signed the donation agreement with the Old Head of Kinsale Museum on May 7, the anniversary of the tragedy

Gifting the Lusitania: Pictured (left to right) Old Head of Kinsale Museum chairman J.J. Hayes; secretary Con Hayes; Gregg Bemis, owner of the Lusitania; and Richard Martin, solicitor, at the signing ceremony.

Bemis, who initially hoped to make money from the scrap metal of the ship, became obsessed with finding proof that the Lusitania was secretly carrying war supplies from then-neutral America to Great Britain when it was sunk, told RTÉ’s News: “Today we are finally coming to a close of my relationship with the Lusitania. I’m getting too old to continue with this thing forever and I’m going to be 91 at the end of this month, and it is about time I have some new people responsible for carrying on the research and the exploration and the recovery of artifacts for the museum.”

In 2017, the museum opened a Lusitania memorial garden complete with a 20-meter-long bronze sculpture in honor of the victims.

With the help of Bemis’ incredible donation, it is now hoped that a full-scale “living museum” can be built to allow the Lusitania’s story and history to be shared.  ♦

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Railroad with Irish Roots Turns 150 https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/railroad-with-irish-roots-turns-150/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/railroad-with-irish-roots-turns-150/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:45:33 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42323 Read more..]]> The 150th anniversary of connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad was commemorated in a two-day celebration in a remote spot in the Utah desert called Promontory Point, where the final spikes connecting the track’s east and west branches were hammered into place on May 10, 1869. The railroad was six years in the making, with the physical labor conducted largely by Irish and Chinese immigrants.

Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall was a special guest at the commemoration, which honored specifically the manual workers that constructed the railway, with the Irish contribution numbering approximately 10,000 men.

Ambassador Dan Mulhall toasting the Irish laborers who helped build the railroad.

“Theirs was a magnificent contribution to the making of modern America,” said Ambassador Mulhall, speaking at a dinner that the Hibernian Society of Utah hosted to mark the occasion. “Those railroad workers were drawn from the six million Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1840 and 1900, escaping from famine and seeking better lives for themselves and their families. They and their descendants became part of the fabric of modern America,” he said.

The ambassador toasted all the laborers whose efforts were a significant step in making a fiercely intimidating and dangerous land mass traversable, which brought the country closer together in both travel and communication.

The Last Spike, painting by Thomas Hill (1881).

The iconic railway was constructed by two separate companies: the Union Pacific company moving inland from the east, and Central Pacific from the west. The arduous labor earned an average monthly wage for the Irish of about $45, while the monthly wage for a Chinese worker averaged about $30, an unfathomably low rate by today’s standards, especially considering the tremendous effort that led to productivity as high as laying 10 miles of track in a single day.  ♦

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Wild Irish Women: A Most Sorrowful Mystery https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/wild-irish-women-a-most-sorrowful-mystery/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/wild-irish-women-a-most-sorrowful-mystery/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:38:59 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42004 Read more..]]> Oh! star of Erin, queen of tears,
Black clouds have beset thy birth,
And your people die like morning stars,
That your light may grace the earth.

– “Stars of Freedom,” 1981
By IRA volunteer Bobby Sands, M.P.
H-Block, Long Kesh Prison Camp


Watching Bobby Sands die in 1981, much of the world realized, finally, that the young IRA soldier and hunger striker was a freedom fighter, and the view of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland forever changed. It was no longer seen as two Irish factions fighting over who had the better Jesus, but rather a struggle for human rights. Sands’ death was another chapter in Ireland’s long history of martyrs and “blood sacrifices.” Two weeks later another IRA hunger striker, one who was not allowed to die, was released from prison – Dolours Price.

Dolours Price grew up with a living blood sacrifice, Auntie Bridie, who in her IRA days dropped gelignite in an explosives dump and lost both her hands and eyes. To Dolours and her sister Marion, Auntie Bridie was a hero, they dutifully lit her many cigarettes and inserted them between her lips. Rebellion was the Price family business: the father was a longtime IRA chief, the mother in the Cumann na mBan, the female wing of the IRA, and at varying times each of the Prices, including old Granny, did a stretch in prison. Dolours recalled, “Our family motto wasn’t ‘For God and Ireland,’ Ireland came before God.”

Northern Ireland was created after Ireland’s War of Independence when, in 1921, the British Government passed an act that employed the Empire’s fallback “solution” – partition. Whether it’s  India or Ireland, partition always leads to tribalism and religious conflict. Britain kept the northern six counties with a Protestant majority, known as the “Loyalists”; the other, mostly Catholic, 26 counties became the Irish Republic. In Northern Ireland the Catholics, the “Republicans,” were a minority and subjected to discrimination in housing, jobs, and voting. It was Jim Crow, Irish style.

In the late 1960s, rebellion broke out all over the world as the younger generation found its voice, and the dissent found its way to Northern Ireland. There, the lines of sectarian hate had already been drawn, and the increasing tension was turning violent: The Troubles had arrived. In January 1969, Catholics (and some Protestants), embracing the non-violence of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the People’s Democracy March, modeled after his Selma march.

Dolours and Marion, now college students, were among the activists marching from Belfast to Derry singing “We Shall Overcome” when they were ambushed by Loyalists and pelted with bricks, pipes, and boards with nails. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) did nothing to stop the assault, instead aligning themselves with vigilante Protestants.

Dolours and her sister Marion on the peace march to Derry, where they were ambushed by Loyalists. (Photo: AP)

By August of the same year, Great Britain sent its army into Northern Ireland on a “limited operation.” It stayed for the next eight years, the longest continuous deployment in the history of the British military. In 1972, British paratroopers fired on a peace march, killing 13 unarmed civilians, a day forever known as Bloody Sunday. It was a turning point in the conflict. Both sides had become radicalized and now, it was war. The new generation of Republicans formed the Provisional IRA, committed to armed struggle; the Loyalist side spawned more virulent paramilitary groups – the Ulster Defense Association, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, and the most violent, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, it  did. The British introduced “internment,” a policy where anyone with a whiff of Republicanism was imprisoned indefinitely, without trial. The army colluded with the RUC and the Ulster paramilitaries, and together they recruited a network of informers, or “touts,” from the Catholic population. Throughout Irish history, informers were reviled, never to be forgiven, and if found out, executed.

Dolours no longer saw anti-violence protest as an option. She left her classes with a rifle hidden under her raincoat, traveled to Maoist headquarters in Milan to give a speech on “British  Repression,” and eventually approached the IRA demanding to be a member. She wanted to be a soldier on the front lines; the leadership met and, in 1971, Dolours became the first woman admitted to the IRA. She was 20 years old.

Now named the Crazy Prices (after a Belfast department tore), Dolours and Marion robbed banks dressed as nuns and hijacked cars and postal trucks. Both were glamourous and leggy in the era of miniskirts, and not above flirting with British soldiers – it helped them get past checkpoints to plant bombs. Dolours, in particular, had an ample supply of swagger and, like Che Guevara, became a symbol of radical chic. She volunteered for the Unknowns, a secret society within the secret society that was the IRA. The Unknowns were charged with transporting arms across the border, an  operation that expanded to transporting touts across the border to be executed. Those 17 touts later became known as the Disappeared.

In 1973 Dolours spearheaded a plan as audacious as it was doomed: the Unknowns would take the battle from Northern Ireland to England and plant car bombs outside London landmarks,  including the Old Bailey. Her team highjacked cars in Belfast and ferried them to London where they were wired with explosives. The bombs were set to go off at 2:50 and the police would get a one-hour notice before they detonated.

The night before the mission, an oddly relaxed Dolours decided to take in some London theater; it was an evening where her past, present, and future intersected. The play, Freedom of the City, was by Brian Friel, a Catholic from the North, and about Bloody Sunday (Friel was a participant). The director was Britain’s “angry young man” and Republican supporter Albert Finney; the star was a young actor, Stephen Rea, a Protestant from the North and Dolours’ fellow activist in the Belfast civil rights movement. Ten years later he became her husband.

The next day police were waiting for Dolours & Co. – they had been set up by an informer. But two bombs did go off, 200 people were injured, and the Belfast Bombers were arrested at the London Airport. The Crazy Prices were now the notorious celebrities, the Sisters of Terror; Vanessa Redgrave offered to pay their bail. During her trial, Dolours mugged, wisecracked and otherwise behaved badly; she and Marion received life sentences in Her Majesty’s prison at Brixton. Once outside the courtroom, Dolours announced she was going on a hunger strike unless she received political prisoner status and transferred to a Northern Ireland prison.

(December 7, 1971) Children jeer at British soldiers while a fire smolders in the street behind them. (Photo: Getty Images)

The parents visited Dolours and Marion, now the third generation of their family’s women to be imprisoned for the Republic. Their mother warned the girls, “no tears, not in front of these people.” The somewhat arrogant Albert Price reminded his daughters of his earlier IRA mission to London (with, of all people, Brendan Behan), “I blew them up before you did. The only thing was I didn’t get caught.”

Once inside, the Prices refused food for 33 days. Then authorities, worried about the backlash if the celebrity sisters died, ordered them to be force-fed, a procedure the international community now recognizes as torture. For 167 days, four guards bound their arms and legs to a chair, climbed on top of them, and stuck rubber tubing crammed with slop down their throat. They didn’t break, their resistance worked, and they were transferred to Armagh prison in Northern Ireland. But they had lost hair and teeth and developed anorexia and were now repulsed by food, “to have food was bad, to eat food was failure and defeat.”

The anorexia had put her life in peril, and despite continued opposition from Margaret Thatcher, Dolours, weighing 76 pounds, was released from prison in 1981. This was around the same time Bobby Sands and the other H-Block prisoners were on their hunger strike, a strike that would not have been possible without the Price sisters – because of their ordeal, force-feeding was no longer an option. The British government had stated, “henceforth any prisoner on hunger strike would be allowed to die.”

A screenshot from the Netflix documentary I, Dolours. (Courtesy: Netflix)

Out of prison, Dolours, suffering from severe PTSD, effectively ended her fight against the British Empire. She built a new life in Dublin and a new career, writing. She began dating her former friend from the civil rights movement, Stephen Rea. They married in 1983 had two sons and later, art imitating life, Rea was nominated for Academy Award playing a soulful IRA gunman in The Crying Game

Republican leader Gerry Adams left the fighting too. He moved on to politics, becoming the leader of Sinn Féin, and in 1983 began building a coalition, which included President Bill Clinton, that would lead to a treaty. In 1994, the IRA laid down their arms, a gesture that gave hope to both sides and inspired President Clinton’s speech in Derry. He quoted Seamus Heaney: “History says, don’t hope / On this side of the grave. / But then, once in a lifetime / The longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme.”

Young lovers: Dolours and the actor Stephen Rea, who became her husband. (Courtesy: The National Library of Ireland.)

In the 40 years from 1968 to 1998, over 3,600 people had been killed, and many others maimed, in the Troubles. On Good Friday 1998, both sides in the long battle reached a peace agreement – hope and history finally rhymed. The government would now consist of Catholics and Protestants, paramilitary groups put down their arms, and the police force integrated.

The treaty was a historic day for Ireland, but an unholy one for Dolours Price. The six counties of Ulster would remain part of the United Kingdom, prompting Dolours to announce that she had notendured torture and “the pangs of hunger strike just for a reformed English rule in Ireland.” The Good Friday Agreement led her to question her wartime activity: were her crimes in the name of Ireland now even justified? Was her cause still righteous? Was she a murderer?

Dolours was further incensed as Adams, with a straight face, denied he was ever in the IRA. She refused to accept the obvious – that his political expediency was the cost of peace. Adams had to talk out of both sides of his mouth since the Brits couldn’t be seen negotiating with a “terrorist” and, just as importantly, he was the only person who could persuade the IRA to put down their arms.

In 2001, the Belfast Project, an oral history of the Troubles sponsored by Boston College, began recording secret interviews with participants on both sides of the conflict. Former combatants conducted the interviews and participants were promised confidentiality: their stories would be sealed until after their death. As the Belfast Project proceeded, attention shifted to the Disappeared who were taken over the border to be executed and buried. Their families demanded the remains, and a commission was set up to locate the bodies. Of the 17 Disappeared, there was only one woman, Jean McConville, a single mother of 10 who was abducted in 1972 and never seen again. Dolours was the driver who drove her over the border to County Monaghan.

For years Dolours had been haunted by her IRA past. By 2003, she was divorced and struggling with depression, PTSD, alcoholism, and an addiction to prescription drugs. She was arrested for forging prescriptions and shoplifting vodka. Trying to exorcise her demons, she started talking. First to the media in Ireland and the U.S., then to the Belfast Project, and finally spilling everything in a 2010 documentary, I, Dolours.

In I, Dolours, she admitted to taking Jean McConville over the border, bringing her to an empty grave, and witnessing her execution. Her orders, she said, came directly from Gerry Adams. After the British government subpoenaed her interview from Boston College (so much for the college’s promise of confidentiality), Adams was arrested for Jean’s murder, but released after four days of questioning. During those four days, tremors ran through the region; it was only held together by a fragile peace.

In 2013, Dolours Price was found dead in her home from an overdose of sedatives and antidepressants – a desultory end to a woman of such passion. It wasn’t a suicide, according to the coroner, but rather “death by misadventure,” fitting for a woman who led a life of adventure and whose name means “sorrow.” At her funeral, Bernadette Devlin gave a eulogy that spoke to Dolours’ torment, “…forty years of cruel war, of sacrifice, of prison, of inhumanity… broke our hearts, and it broke our bodies and it makes every day hard.”

Dolours Price’s coffin is carried by her son Oscar and ex-husband, Stephen Rea. (Photo: Photocall)

Now, a popular tourist activity in Northern Ireland is gawking at trouble spots of the Troubles where the blood hasn’t dried and the bitterness on both sides is palpable. Other former war zones – Rwanda, Bosnia, South Africa – have worked at reconciliation, but not so with the notoriously grudge-holding Irish.

Then along came Brexit, a profoundly stupid and wrong-headed move driven by the dying gasp of British Imperialism. Oddly, the U.K., or the “Mainland,” as it’s known to Loyalists, managed to have forgotten one of its extant colonies, Ulster. Brexit has placed a new fear in Northern Ireland: fear of a hard border, a return to fighting, soldiers, and sandbags, or at the very least, a soft border subject to endless custom wars without the protection of the E.U.

But there’s another possibility. A new referendum could result in Northern Ireland joining with the Republic to create a United Ireland. This would mean that, after 800 years, there would be no British presence in Ireland, something else Bobby Sands wrote about in “Stars of Freedom,” shortly before he died.

But this Celtic star will be born,
And ne’er by mystic means,
But by a nation sired in freedom’s light,
And not in ancient dreams.  ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co-writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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“Wild Bill” Donovan: Irish-American War Hero and Superspy https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/wild-bill-donovan-irish-american-war-hero-and-superspy/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/wild-bill-donovan-irish-american-war-hero-and-superspy/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:37:35 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42324 Read more..]]> “Wild Bill“ Donovan had many fascinating friends, including Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond – the fictional, globe-trotting superspy. Donovan’s real-life feats, however, surpassed even Bond’s wildest exploits. Perhaps no other Irish American served his country more daringly, yet Donovan’s largely clandestine service to America is still greatly under-appreciated.

Born in 1883 into poverty, the son of a County Cork-born railroad superintendent in Buffalo, New York, William Joseph Donovan combined rakish good looks with a first-rate intelligence. Rare amongst Irish-Americans of his generation, Donovan inherited his father’s allegiance to the Republican party. Excelling in his local Catholic school, Donovan first went to a local Catholic college before transferring to Columbia University, where he starred as the football team’s quarterback. Admitted to its law school in 1905, Donovan was a classmate of his future boss, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the two were not friendly.

Returning to Buffalo, Donovan forsook the Irish-American First Ward, spending his time in posh Protestant circles and joining a prestigious Buffalo law firm. Soon admitted as the first-ever Catholic into the Saturn Club, Buffalo’s most prestigious club, Donovan courted and married Ruth Rumsey, the attractive Protestant daughter of Buffalo’s richest man.

Donovan, though, was too restless just to practice law. Eager for military service, he and his Saturn Club friends formed a National Guard cavalry troop, known as the Silk Stocking Boys, which was soon dispatched to Mexico, chasing Pancho Villa in vain across the hot and dusty Mexican landscape.

When America entered the Great War in 1917, Donovan was commissioned as a major in “the Fighting 69th,” a regiment of poor Irish toughs who, despite their heroism in the Civil War, were notorious for their fist-fighting and hard drinking. Donovan weeded out the troublemakers, putting his imprint on the unit by hand-picking 2,000 smart, athletic, and agile men. Becoming infamous for his demanding physical training of the recruits, in which he also took part, Donovan once asked his exhausted men what the hell was wrong with them. One of them replied, “We are not as wild as you are, Major Donovan,” and the name stuck.

Donovan befriended the 69th’s famous Canadian-born chaplain Father Duffy, whose statue still graces New York’s Times Square. Duffy admired Donovan’s fearlessness in battle. Donovan wore his medals in battle to encourage his men, even though they made him a target for snipers. On July 27, 1918, Donovan proved his valor while leading his men across the Ourcq River. Hemmed in by machine guns on three sides, Donovan refused to cower, even though the 69th lost 600 of 1,000 men, including three-quarters of the officers. For his bravery, Donovan won the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award. Soon, Donovan again displayed his courage, fighting in the thick of battle on October 14 and famously shouting, “They can’t hit me and they won’t hit you!” Wounded the next morning, Donovan refused to be evacuated and continued commanding his men, even after American tanks retreated from the withering German fire. Awarded the Medal of Honor, Donovan’s letters about the engagement, published by newspapers, made him a national hero.

Upon being awarded the Medal of Honor, Donovan became the most decorated soldier in U.S. history, winning, amongst other orders, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and several foreign awards. The Fighting 69th, or what was left of it, returned to a hero’s welcome and a ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue. Using his newly found fame, Donovan, along with Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., started the American Legion, which quickly evolved from a group of war veterans into the most influential American veteran group, with over a million members and local posts across the country. Donovan became a hero with a national following.

Major General William J. Donovan, director of the O.S.S., and Colonel William Harding Jackson in April 1945.

Returning to Buffalo to practice law, Donovan soon grew bored of private practice and won appointment as a U.S. attorney in Buffalo. Prohibition laws then existed, but his Saturn Club openly flouted them; nevertheless, Donovan declared the “law is the law,” and ordered a raid on the club by sledgehammer-wielding federal agents. Damned by the influential club members, Donovan was effectively driven from Buffalo, much to the consternation of his wife’s WASP family.

Moving first to Washington, D.C., in 1924, he became assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, but his career was blocked by anti-Catholic discrimination. Donovan then came to New York in 1929 to start his own lucrative Wall Street law firm, which made him a millionaire. Ever restless, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1932, surprisingly proving to be a poor stump speaker who drew resentment from many Irish voters for looking and acting like the rich Republican he was. Spending lavishly, Donovan was always on the move, shuttling between his Washington mansion, his duplex on New York’s Beekman Place, his summer home on Cape Cod, and his Virginia country home.

His wanderlust increasingly took him to Europe and Asia, where he wrote reports for clients on the investment climate. In 1939, he met Spain’s Generalissimo Franco on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, where he observed Nazi Germany’s frightening use of its weapons and warplanes. He also visited Italy’s Mussolini, who was impressed by Donovan’s war heroics. Ostensibly traveling for business, Donovan in fact gathered intelligence for a secretive private organization known as the Room, a group of international businessmen and lawyers who traded tips on the increasingly ominous European situation.

Amazingly, before World War II, the U.S. government had no foreign spy agency, leaving it unprepared for the upcoming world war. In 1939, with Britain facing war, its foreign intelligence service MI6 began looking for American allies and spotted one in Donovan who, despite his Irish background, was an anglophile. In July 1940, Donovan flew to London to meet Colonel Stewart Menzies, the chief of MI6, and Winston Churchill, whom Donovan greatly impressed.

Returning to Washington as the Battle of Britain raged, the pro-British Donovan told Roosevelt that Britain could survive only with America’s help. In January 1940, Donovan sat in a radio studio plugging The Fighting 69th, a new Hollywood movie. The film, starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, and George Brent as Donovan, put him back in the spotlight just when President Roosevelt needed someone with Donovan’s European experience.

Roosevelt liked Donovan and trusted his intelligence, even though Donovan was a Republican. In July 1941, FDR established the Office of the Coordination of Information (C.O.I.), naming Donovan its director. After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt again turned to Donovan, adopting Donovan’s blueprint for a secret American intelligence service based on the British model and appointing him to run the agency, called the O.S.S.: the Office of Strategic Services. Quickly, Donovan created a massive spy network fighting a worldwide, clandestine war. Occupying the rank of two-star general, Donovan slept little, continually flying abroad on secret missions. Ever the soldier, Donovan even defied orders, landing at Normandy on D-Day while barely avoiding capture by German soldiers. Donovan’s O.S.S. nevertheless played a huge behind-the-scenes role in winning the war for the Allies.

At the end of the war, America was in transition. Donovan and the American Legion pushed the GI Bill, the most far-reaching education program in American history, through Congress, allowing millions of veterans a college education. America also knew it needed a foreign intelligence agency and Donovan hoped to be named by FDR’s successor Harry Truman to head the newly created Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. However, Truman, a loyal Democrat, did not share FDR’s high opinion of Donovan, instead naming one of Donovan’s spies, Allen Dulles, to run the CIA. Deeply disappointed, Donovan went to Nuremberg, where he played an important role in providing evidence in the prosecution of former Nazis.

For the remainder of his life, Donovan longed to run the CIA, but President Eisenhower also denied him the job, instead naming him ambassador to Thailand, where Donovan first began to show signs of the dementia that quickly grew worse. Hospitalized in 1957, Donovan suffered hallucinations, imagining the Red Army coming over the 59th Street Bridge, while often wandering onto the street in his pajamas. In his last days, Donovan received a hospital visit from Eisenhower, who called Donovan “the last hero.” When Donovan died on February 8, 1959, the CIA cabled its station chiefs around the world: “The man more responsible than any other for the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency has passed away.” Today, Donovan’s statue stands in the lobby of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a tribute to the Irish-American war hero who single-handedly created America’s foreign intelligence capability. ♦

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Irish War Brides: A Little Irish Romance https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/irish-war-brides-a-little-irish-romance/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/irish-war-brides-a-little-irish-romance/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:36:38 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42325 Read more..]]> A group of workers on the docks serenaded the passengers with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and “Come Back to Erin.” The sirens of other ships in the harbor wailed while the 314 Irish brides waved, held up their 140 babies, and sang “Auld Lang Syne” through floods of tears as the Henry Gibbins, a 12,000-ton U.S. Army transport vessel, sailed away from the Herdman Channel, Belfast, on March 7, 1946.

This was the first of three shiploads of brides from Northern Ireland and Éire to embark for the United States. Many had married GIs as early as 1942. The majority of the women were in their early 20s. The youngest bride was 17, the oldest 45, with three grown daughters in tow. At night, mothers slept in upper berths and babies beneath in the lower, where a screen was constructed to prevent them “falling out on their noses.” Days were spent listening to Red Cross personnel lecturing from A Short Guide to the U.S. on “The GI Bill of Rights,” “Becoming a Citizen,” and “Currency Differences.”

Although $75,000 had been spent on reconversion, the Gibbins, which carried 2,900 troops at a time during the war, was no luxury liner. However, The Northern Whig, a newspaper from that time, made much of the lavish menu aboard ship, which included “as many old-fashioned shell eggs as they liked.” No more coupons, points, and rationing for the brides. There was more meat, eggs, chicken, and fresh fruit than they’d seen in years. Unfortunately most of the women would be too seasick to enjoy the feast.

Seasickness was aggravated by their intense excitement at rejoining their husbands, regrets about leaving their families and homeland, and apprehension as to whether or not they would get a hearty welcome from in-laws in America.

Marion (Callendar) Carlson, from Belfast, got a terrific welcome when she arrived in New York aboard the James Parker in May 1946. “We were met by American Red Cross people,” she remembers. “They had big placards, ‘Welcome Irish War Brides,’ and a GI military band played Irish tunes.”

Other brides who weren’t so lucky remember being met by hostile groups of American women shouting, “You stole our husbands,” and “You stole our boyfriends.” By March 1945, U.S. naval officer T.J. Keane had disclosed that 25 percent of the men under his command had married women from Northern Ireland. The greatest number hailed from areas where the largest numbers of American troops were stationed, Cookstown, Derry, Coleraine, Kilrea, Portrush, and Belfast.

U.S. Immigration tables for the period from December 28, 1945 through 1950 account for 1,466 Irish war brides and three war “grooms,” but in fact there were many more. Those figures don’t take account of the 30,000 Irish and English brides transported secretly while the war was still on.

Although authorities after the war predicted that 80 percent of marriages between GIs and foreign women would fail, the opposite has proved true.

Beryl Lynch and Charles Colvin, who married in 1944.

Esther (Canning) Munger, her husband, and their five children can chuckle when she tells about her Irish friends who “had a bet on when I came to this country that I would be back home in six months.”

Esther, from County Wexford, was only 17 when she married, having met her future husband at a birthday party in Lincoln, England. Her parents told her she “was too young, that he was not Catholic, and that America was too far away.”

Parental fears and misgivings at the time were understandable. As one war bride put it, “Going to America was like going to the moon!” In all likelihood, parents might never see their daughter again, or be able to help her if the marriage failed.

One woman from Coalisland, County Tyrone, who had met her GI while working as a waitress in a hotel in England, sailed secretly aboard the Mauritania in February 1945 during wartime, along with 500 other brides, 200 babies, and 1,500 wounded soldiers. She remembers how they “took a zigzag course on account of U-boats.”

“Because of the U-boat threat,” another war bride aboard recalled, “I wasn’t allowed to notify anyone that I was on my way. All our written material had been censored – even my Bible – and was put into sealed packages which we weren’t allowed to open until we got to the U.S. There were no pressmen on the dock; it was all hush-hush because the war was still on.”

Another bride who came over secretly with 13 other women during the war remembers that puzzled soldiers aboard who saw these unaccounted-for women in the officers’ dining room and lounge started rumors that “the girls onboard were there for the entertainment of the officers.” The next day, it was announced that they were war brides.

Most war brides still marvel at how easily attracted they were to those Yanks in their smart uniforms, smelling of Old Spice, generous to a fault.

Marion Carlson, who met her Yank at an American Red Cross event, feels that basically there wasn’t really all that much difference between Irish and American men, “except Americans seem[ed] to treat women nicer, sending flowers, candy, and the like.”

According to Lillian “Betty” (Kearney) Frantz of Belfast, who met her husband on a blind date while working in England during the war, American men were “better dressed,” but “failed to use a knife and fork properly when eating, failed to open doors or light a cigarette, but treated women like queens.”

Some Irish women served in the British A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service) during the war and met their American husbands on the job. “Both of us worked in the Headquarters Allied Armies, Italy,” says Phyllis (Boyack) Lancaster of Clonmel, County Tipperary. Although she often found GIs to be “loud and brassy,” she also thought them “more outgoing” than British men.

At her wedding in October 1945, Phyllis wore an often-borrowed wedding gown, on loan from a Canadian women’s group to members of the A.T.S. Many wartime gowns were fashioned out of parachute silk. Gauze bandages were transformed into wedding veils.

Jean (Campbell) Corda, of Lisburn, County Antrim, who met Pvt. Elmer Corda at the movies in her hometown, remembers “three of us girls married Americans in the same church by the same minister on March 27, 1943.” Not long after they settled in Oregon, rising waters from the Columbia River broke a railroad dike and flooded their town. For a while, their only shelter was a tent. Elmer told Jean he wouldn’t blame her if she packed up and went back to Ireland. Jean told him that World War II brought them together and she wasn’t about to let hell or high water chase her away.

“We had our struggles,” Jean admits. “We didn’t have a lot when we first came, but we managed. You go up the hill and get kicked back down, then you go back up again. My mother used to tell me that when one door closes, another always opens up.”

“I wouldn’t do it again!” says Sally Kastl of Belfast in her clearly Irish brogue. She hasn’t forgotten that she “cried for five years” from homesickness. However, her mother-in-law, an English war bride from World War I, provided some understanding.

Getting a job with Michigan Bell Telephone Company as an operator helped Lillian Frantz get through her homesickness. In 1953 she was promoted to management and retired after 28 years of service.

A page from our 1991 archives.

“The terrible heat in Oklahoma,” was the worst thing at first for Marion Carlson to get used to. She, too, found satisfaction in a career and a happy marriage.

Sally, now a proud grandmother, is still as fiery as ever. She lives with her husband Frank in San Francisco, where neighbors have dubbed her “the mayor of San Bruno Avenue,” because of all the letters she writes to the city council and her involvement in political affairs affecting her neighborhood.

As much as Sally misses her homeland and Irish family, leaving was a liberating experience for her. “I had red hair down to my hips; Mother didn’t believe in cutting hair. First thing I did was get it cut!”

A friend who traveled recently in Ireland told me he stayed at a bed-and-breakfast, where he asked the proprietor about the photo of a Yank he spied on the parlor wall. “It’s me,” he answered. He turned out to be one of an unknown number of GIs who chose to stay in Ireland with his Irish bride.

On December 28, 1945, Public Law 271, known as the War Brides Act, was passed by Congress. The act facilitated the entry of alien spouses of U.S. servicemen by granting them nonquota status. This act remained in effect for three years, until December 28, 1948.  ♦


Ellie Shukert is the author of War Brides of World War II, published by Penguin Books. This article was published in Irish America in April 1991. War bride Sally Kastl passed away in 2004.

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Window on the Past: Manifest Destiny https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/window-on-the-past-manifest-destiny/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/window-on-the-past-manifest-destiny/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:32:44 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42328 Read more..]]> Two words from one Irishman who trumpeted the world’s superpower.


“Manifest destiny…” These words, placed together, command one’s attention. They sound important, almost biblical. But they didn’t come from an Old Testament patriarch or New Testament prophet. Rather, they came from the pithy pen of a 19th-century Irishman named John O’Sullivan.

His ancestors were from County Kerry and included men who abandoned plans for the priesthood in order to become soldiers of fortune. His father was a naturalized American citizen who was serving as U.S. consul to the Barbary States when O’Sullivan was born on a British warship in the Bay of Gibraltar (between Spain and Morocco) in November 1813. According to the National Cyclopedia of American Biography (vol. 12), his family had been living at a nearby military post, but after the outbreak of plague, a British admiral invited them onto his ship.

O’Sullivan received his early education at a military school in Lorize, France, and then at the Westminster School in London, before matriculating at New York’s Columbia College. Upon graduation, he worked as a tutor for a few years. He also practiced law for some time, though it does not appear he was particularly interested or successful in the profession.

The most notable period of his life began in 1837, when he launched a magazine called the Democratic Review. This publication was bankrolled by funds his mother received from the U.S. government as restitution for having been wrongly arrested on suspicion of piracy more than a decade earlier, as relayed by Julius W. Pratt in his article “John L. O’Sullivan and Manifest Destiny,” which appeared in a 1933 edition of New York History.

Though O’Sullivan was foremost a political writer, he also clearly had literary interests. In his leading role at the Democratic Review, he published the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The two became good friends and O’Sullivan even served as godfather to Hawthorne’s eldest child.

O’Sullivan – who was described by a contemporary as “always full of grand and world-embracing schemes” – had a wild optimism that sometimes irritated people, including Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau. However, his magazine became influential enough to attract contributions from some of the nation’s leading writers, whether or not they enjoyed his sanguine style.

O’Sullivan as depicted in a 1874 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

The Democratic Review was also the venue that first mentioned “manifest destiny,” which came in the middle of 1845, a year that saw the U.S. embroiled in disputes about whether or not it should annex Oregon and Texas.

This first mention of “manifest destiny” attracted scant notice, likely because it was obscured within a long essay, which typically is not the type of format that attracts a massive readership.

However, the second mention of the phrase appeared in a December 27, 1845 newspaper editorial, a format that often received massive readership. Sure enough, this time the phrase took flight and soon saw frequent use in arguments about the expansion of U.S. territory.

Though not everyone agreed with the concept of “manifest destiny,” O’Sullivan’s words gave voice to a widespread sentiment that the U.S. was a divinely guided nation, which had not only a right, but also a mission, to spread its greatness across the continent.

In O’Sullivan’s view, the U.S. had a “manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

In 1846, he sold the Democratic Review for $5,000 (about $165,000 in today’s money). That same year, he married Susan Kearny Rodgers. The couple chose Cuba for their honeymoon, according to Robert Sampson’s book John L. O’Sullivan and His Times. Aside from being a romantic location, Cuba was a place where O’Sullivan was convinced the U.S. should manifest its destiny.

In April 1851, O’Sullivan was arrested in New York and charged with violating U.S. neutrality by preparing an unsanctioned attack on Cuba. He had hoped to liberate the territory from Spanish rule, so as to facilitate its annexation by the U.S. O’Sullivan’s strange case made it to trial, but the jury deadlocked and he was never convicted. Unfazed by this close call, but unwelcome back in Cuba, he became involved in political intrigues in Europe.

Despite his rather freewheeling background, O’Sullivan managed to secure a post as U.S. Minister to Portugal during the administration of President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). But the end of the Pierce presidency spelled the end of O’Sullivan’s tenure. It also seems to have been the last time he had a consistent occupation.

In the 1860s, O’Sullivan’s political pamphlets – which supported the Confederacy and argued that the U.S. federal government was encroaching too much on states’ rights – made him unwelcome in much of America. Rather than relocate to the South, he self-exiled to Europe, and waited for sentiments to cool down in the U.S. It is unknown exactly how many years he spent abroad, but one of his surviving letters indicates that he was back in the U.S. by August 1879.

According to Pratt, the last three decades of O’Sullivan’s life are veiled in “almost complete obscurity.” What we do know is that, during this period, the U.S. continued to add to its grandeur, and O’Sullivan sunk into poverty.

On March 24, 1895 – almost exactly 50 years after having coined his famous phrase – he died at age 81 in a hotel at 15 East 11th Street in Manhattan. He was buried in the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island. There was no record of a will. He had basically nothing to leave behind anyway, at least not in the material sense. He did, however, bequeath a phrase that never ceased to echo, or to stir emotions in opposite directions.

Indeed, many have found the “manifest destiny” words troubling, if not downright foul – a glorious-sounding phrase used to justify an already-powerful, nation-grabbing new land, at whatever cost to the native inhabitants. But regardless of one’s historical or political viewpoints, it’s hard to deny the impact of these words.

Many writers have penned thousands of articles and dozens of full-length books; their countless words, eloquent though they may be, almost invariably fade from memory in short order. O’Sullivan put together two words that resonated enough to galvanize a nation as grand as the modern world has seen.  ♦

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Wild Irish Women: Louise Mohan Bryant https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/wild-irish-women-louise-mohan-bryant/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/wild-irish-women-louise-mohan-bryant/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:25:38 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39633 Read more..]]> It took a movie, 1981’s Reds, to both lift Louise Bryant from obscurity and reduce her to the sniveling acolyte of American communist John Reed, Annie Hall in a babushka. Wrong. For all her (many) faults, Louise Bryant was always her own woman – a fearless journalist, activist, suffragette, and talented writer. She was also reckless, with a compulsive need to court danger, and a study in contradictions – a chronic dissembler who sought the truth, a free love disciple who threw fits of jealousy, a communist who twice married rich men and a feminist who was a serial seducer. Fiercely romantic, she always wanted to have a life of drama, tragedy, fascinating people and great events. She got her wish.

Louise’s father, Hugh J. Mohan, was a first-generation Irish journalist, orator and, befitting his convivial personality, traveling toastmaster. The Mohan family records were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake, a fortuitous event for Louise, ever sensitive about her age. After Hugh took off (or, as Louise claimed, “died”), her mother married railroad worker Sheridan Bryant, allowing Louise to take her stepfather’s name and continue to fudge her birth date. She fudged other facts too, claiming at various times she was a relative of Oscar Wilde or the granddaughter of an Irish lord.

She moved to Portland, Oregon, and, always a free spirit, Louise lived on a houseboat where she entertained friends including wealthy dentist Paul Trullinger, known for his good humor and largesse with laughing gas. Enamored by her Bohemian style and beauty – “slender with vividly pretty Irish features, reddish-brown hair…heart-shaped face” Trullinger proposed, promising Louise she could keep her maiden name, continue her suffrage activism, and have a private studio to write and paint. It was 1909.

<em>John Trullinger painted this oil portrait of Louise Bryant, the wife of his cousin Paul Trullinger, in 1913.</em>

John Trullinger painted this oil portrait of Louise Bryant, the wife of his cousin Paul Trullinger, in 1913.

By 1915, Louise was a star in Portland but, getting restless living a bourgeois life married to, of all things, a dentist. Even the laughing gas parties had become a bore. But her life changed forever when she met John Reed, a war correspondent and committed radical who was in Portland visiting his family. The attraction was mutual, instant, and intense. Jack’s boyish energy, infectious idealism, and burly physique belied his delicate health and chronic kidney problem. He was not without contradictions either: a Harvard classmate said, quite truthfully, he was as “American as apple pie” – a description that later carried some irony when Jack became the first American to be buried at the foot of the Kremlin Wall.

After falling in love with Louise, Jack wrote a friend, “I have found her at last. She’s two years younger… wild and brave and straight, and graceful and lovely to look at.” Louise was indeed “lovely,” but actually two years older, something Jack never discovered thanks to the San Francisco earthquake. In short order, Louise dumped the dentist and moved to Greenwich Village to be with Jack.

Greenwich Village in the period before World War I was the center of the arts, leftist politics and sexual liberation, as close as America got to the Left Bank. Reed’s circle of friends was composed of radicals like him who looked with disdain on the “Uptowners,” the moralists north of 14th Street. They looked with disdain too on the newly arrived Louise Bryant; her beauty led all to assume she was vapid and unintelligent, one friend sniping, “Jack’s found himself a willing colleen.” But leave it to a profoundly homely anarchist, Emma Goldman, to come up with the real zinger, “I do wish sometimes I were as shallow as a Louise Bryant; everything would be so simple.”

Almost overnight the darling of Portland became the dud of Greenwich Village.

In time Louise found her voice, a modicum of

acceptance and a few friends who realized she was more than a shallow colleen. A peripheral figure on the scene was the morose, alcoholic Eugene O’Neill who arrived after a stay at a tuberculosis sanitarium and an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Jack was

particularly generous to him, urging O’Neill, who preferred the company of vagrants and sailors, to join the “Social Register of Greenwich Village

Bohemia” as they wended their way to Provincetown Massachusetts in the summer of 1916. Louise was later to write of that time, “Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place.”

The Provincetown Players were a visionary theatre group, the first to recognize O’Neill’s genius and staged his one-act play Bound East for Cardiff. During the production O’Neill fell hopelessly in love with Louise but, out of loyalty to Jack, kept his feelings to himself. It was left to Louise to make the first move, sending him a note that suggested urgency, “I must see you alone.” They met, and in this small fishing village Louise came up with quite a fish tale – Jack, she confided to O’Neill, was too ill for a sexual relationship, his kidney and all that. He believed her, free love and all that, and they began their affair, one that everyone in the tight-knit community (saving Jack Reed) knew about. It was a classic love triangle, a theme that first appeared in the playwright’s Strange Interlude and would continue to reappear throughout his work.

On their return to New York, O’Neill stayed with the theatre company but was heartbroken when Jack and Louise headed upstate and married. Marriage might be a bourgeois convention, but Jack felt it a necessary one, since he was having kidney surgery and wanted to protect Louise if he died. He recovered, but his convalescence in Baltimore was prolonged, leaving Louise the opportunity to reunite with O’Neill. Free love got even more complicated after Jack’s return, when she found him in bed with the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Hardly the longsuffering, faithful wife, Louise nonetheless ran out of the house in hysterics and didn’t speak to Jack for months.

But when it seemed the United States might enter World War I, Jack and Louise focused and jilted, respectively, the poet and the playwright. Together they traveled the country, speaking out against a war that would have the working man fight and die for capitalists. When their country did enter the war in 1917, the couple turned to the revolution fomenting in Russia; this would be their chance to see the proletariat rise up.

As soon as Louise and Jack arrived in Russia in 1917, they seemed to be always in the right place at the right time, witnessing one of the most important events of the 20th century. They were there on October 23, 1917, when Lenin secretly entered Petrograd to lead the Bolshevik overthrow of the provisional government. Reed’s reportage became his book, Ten Days That Shook the World, a classic still read today. The kid from Oregon made no secret of his advocacy for the new Russia, “They no longer needed priests to pray them into heaven. On earth they were building a kingdom brighter than any heaven had to offer.”

<em>Louise Bryant in Greenwich Village in 1916.</em>

Louise Bryant in Greenwich Village in 1916.

Louise, originally charged with giving “the woman’s angle” to the Revolution, outgrew that assignment, giving a first-hand account of action, including getting shot at and almost killed. She interviewed all the key players, including Lenin and Trotsky, for her book, Six Red Months in Russia. Her writing is vivid and powerful, Trotsky has a personality “like Marat, vehement and serpent-like” and Lenin is “monotonous and dogged…with absolute moral indifference.”

Jack needed to remain in the Soviet Union, so Louise returned to New York alone, now a recognized Russian authority, and an instant celebrity on the lecture circuit. Inspired by the liberated women she saw in Russia, she used her new fame to again lead suffrage protests, even landing in a Washington jail. Her vanity, never tiny, was now amped up, emboldening her to contact O’Neill, now in a relationship with Louise-lookalike, Alice Boulton. Once again Louise wrote saying she “must see” him, claiming she had just tromped thousands of miles of frozen terrain to be with him and would even forgive him for being with “some girl in the Village.”

O’Neill, sorely tempted by his long-term temptress, wisely declined. No matter, Louise moved on knowing Jack at last was on his way home. But once he landed in New York, Jack was arrested for violating the Espionage Act and forbidden to leave America. This was a problem: he needed to return to Russia to get their support for the American Communist party.

No less a personage then James Larkin, Irish Republican and socialist, who was in New York, stepped in. Larkin got Reed forged papers and smuggled him out of the country on a Swedish freighter. But as soon as Jack arrived in Finland, he was put in prison on the orders of a party operative, the shifty Grigory Zinoviev. When Louise got word that Jack was freezing and starving in a Finnish jail, she was determined to get to him. Finally, after months of really tromping through frozen terrain, she found him, “sadder and older” (he was 32). It was 1920 and they were both disillusioned with the Revolution, disgusted with the Bolsheviks’ lust for power, and saw the leaders as dictators and executioners. Both wondered if they had been played – were they a pair of what Lenin would call “useful idiots”?

Louise was by his side when Jack, much reduced by a year of imprisonment, died of typhus in 1920, a few days short of his 33rd birthday. Despite his recent treatment by the authorities, Jack’s funeral was one of pageantry; the Russians now claimed him as a mythic figure in their history. His widow was front and center until she fainted and was hospitalized – Louise had gotten all the drama she had dreamt about as a young girl.

The third act of Louise’s life started well. She traveled throughout Europe as a foreign correspondent for William Randolph Hearst and it was in Paris she met William C. Bullitt of Philadelphia, a millionaire and former diplomat. Bullitt, as men do, fell madly in love with Louise, pursued her across Europe and finally off-loaded his socialite wife. Much like Louise scandalized Portland in 1916, she and Bullitt were the talk of Paris when they married in 1923. Again, playing the San Francisco earthquake card, she told Bullitt she was 29 when she was actually 38. The communist was soon living the life of a rich man’s wife in Paris and gave birth to a daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, the “Moen” a tribute to her long-forgotten maiden name, Mohan.

<em>William C. Bullitt, Bryant's third husband, who in 1933 became the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.</em>

William C. Bullitt, Bryant’s third husband, who in 1933 became the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Janet Flanner of the New Yorker introduced Louise to the lesbian subculture of the Left Bank – Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein and sculptor, Gwen Le Gallienne, with whom Louise began an affair. Then, almost as if she were paying for her sins, however venial, Louise developed a rare and disfiguring disease, Adiposis dolorosa. The disease caused fatty tumors to develop under her skin; there was no cure but much suffering and Louise, never much of a drinker, turned to absinthe – and lots of it – to ease her pain. The gross Adiposis, the alcoholism and the lesbian affair were all too much for Bullitt, who divorced Louise, gaining custody of Anne.

Bullitt took Anne to Ireland, where she was to spend most of her childhood while Louise kept trying and failing to get news of her daughter. (The news her mother never heard was that Anne Moen Bullitt lived out her life on a 700-acre estate in County Kildare, where she became one of Ireland’s first female horse breeders.)

Janet Flanner once offered a horrifying picture of Louise’s last days: “It was a rainy night when I was walking along Rue Vavin in Montparnasse. Literally out of the gutter rose a terrifying creature. Her face was so warped I didn’t recognize her.” Louise died penniless in a $2-a-night hotel in 1936. She was 50 (really).

Somerset Maugham fictionalized her downfall in The Razor’s Edge, where she was “Sophie,” an addicted American expatriate who descended into drugs and promiscuity. Her biographer, Mary Dearborn, offers a newer, revisionist take, seeing Louise as a true 20th-century heroine, her place in history stolen by “gender politics” and a vindictive ex-husband, Bullitt, who warehoused her papers in a Dublin basement. But the last word should go to Eugene O’Neill, who knew her best. Hearing of her death, he said she was “a great woman, something out of the old Irish legends, betrayed by life.” ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co- writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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Window on the Past: A Savior of History https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/a-savior-of-history/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/a-savior-of-history/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:22:02 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39650 Read more..]]> John Gilmary Shea preserved much of the existing knowledge of the beginnings of American Catholicism.


Considering the Irish-American influence on U.S. Catholicism, it makes sense that someone of Irish descent – John Gilmary Shea – undertook to preserve much of the existing knowledge of the beginnings of American Catholicism. A prolific writer and dogged rescuer of rare manuscripts, Shea became known as the “father of American Catholic history.” At this point, however, his name receives rather little attention.

Shea was born in New York City on July 22, 1824. His mother came from an established New England family of part-Irish lineage, and his father was a native of County Limerick who emigrated to the U.S. at age 25 and later served as principal of the Columbia College grammar school in New York City. In this same school, the younger Shea received his early education. A sickly youth, those who knew him well “realized that only the greatest care would carry him to mature manhood,” wrote Peter Guilday in his book John Gilmary Shea: Father of American Catholic History, 1824-1892.

Too frail to partake in sports, Shea gravitated to reading and at a young age evinced a strong interest in Catholic history. In his early teens, he took a job as a clerk for a Spanish merchant in order to learn the Spanish language. He then wrote a biography of Cardinal Alvarez Carrillo de Arbornoz, which saw publication in the Young People’s Catholic Magazine. Shea later attended and graduated from St. John’s College (now known as Fordham University).

As he continued to pursue his interest in Catholic history, he studied law and gained admittance to the New York State bar in 1846. Two years later, though, he entered the Society of Jesus. Upon entering the Society, he discarded his given middle name, Dawson, and adopted the middle name of Gilmary (“servant of Mary”). He would retain this new name for the rest of his life, even though he left the Jesuits in 1852, having realized that his primary vocation was neither as a priest nor as a lawyer, but as a historian.

Shortly after becoming a layman again, he married one Sophie Savage in 1854. They proceeded to have two daughters, who would eventually assist their father as research aides in his historical endeavors. The same year Shea married, he published his History of the Catholic Missions Among the Native American Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854, which explored the efforts made by French, Spanish, and English-speaking priests.

When Shea’s historical career began, U.S. Catholic history was largely untouched terrain, and most American Catholics had little to no knowledge of the historical progress of the Church in their country. Worse yet, materials related to the Church in early America were being discarded, either out of ignorance of their value or, in some cases, due to anti-Catholic sentiment.

Shea – who wrote an editorial calling on Catholic institutions to use more care with their oldest manuscripts – safeguarded many preciously obscure records, thereby facilitating the survival of information on early American Catholicism.

He also authored many religious textbooks for schoolchildren and helped illuminate the efforts made by Catholics in the American Revolutionary War. Furthermore, he founded the U.S. Catholic Historical Magazine, the stated purpose of which was “to tell the story of the early struggles of priest and faithful, of heroic effort and often of heroic death.” Additionally, he served as editor for such publications as Sadlier’s Catholic Almanac and the Catholic News.

Both Fordham and Georgetown universities awarded Shea honorary degrees, and he was the first ever recipient of the Laetare Medal, which the University of Notre Dame awards each year to a member of the Catholic laity who exemplifies excellence of work and character. Upon receiving this medal in 1883, he declared, “What I have done is little, terribly little, in comparison to the work that lies untouched.” Modest in public, he remained a quiet, reclusive and almost cloistral figure, as related by his biographer, Guilday, who adds of Shea: “his was a life with the past rather than with the present.”

Some intensity in the present was needed, however, for him to undertake his extensive works on the past, most notably his four-volume History of the Catholic Church in the United States. In the preface to the first volume, he admitted his recurring regrets at having attempted such a colossal endeavor.

Though it exhausted him in his final years and went unfinished at the time of his death, Shea’s magnum opus would inform and inspire many thousands of Catholics, be they priests, nuns, or laypersons. His works were influential but not very lucrative for him. In fact, most of his steady pay came from editing popular, non-Catholic magazines, and even this income could prove insufficient, as he twice had to sell his library in order to alleviate financial hardship.

In January 1889, while entering an elevator in Manhattan, the 64-year-old Shea slipped, injuring his left kneecap and rupturing a ligament. He never fully recovered from this accident, and amid his otherwise declining health, he knew he was racing against mortality in the effort to complete his mammoth History. The race ended on February 22, 1892, when he died at age 67 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. On his deathbed, he had worked out an agreement with Georgetown University, which acquired his library in exchange for some financial assistance to his surviving family. This library, along with a collection of the historian’s correspondence and manuscripts, is currently found in the university library’s special collections division.

Despite his cautious and dedicated research, Shea’s works are not flawlessly accurate, though his errors often resulted from his being unable to access all the necessary source materials. Whatever his shortcomings, they were not due to a lack of objectivity: he pursued the historical truth wherever it took him, even if it forced him to reveal something undesirable about the Church. He also omitted some items that many in the Church accepted as fact but which he deemed as unhistorical.

On some occasions, Shea incurred criticism from priests who felt his works were not sufficiently pro-Church. As much as he valued his religion, when it came to his vocation, the primary bias was pro-history.


This article was published in the January / February 2019 issue of Irish America.  ♦

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Wild Irish Women: Dr. James Barry https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/wild-irish-women-dr-james-barry/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/wild-irish-women-dr-james-barry/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:56:53 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=38558 Read more..]]> The famous British Army surgeon was actually an Irish woman.


Dr. James Barry was born in County Cork as Margaret Anne Bulkley, the daughter of Jeremiah and Mary-Ann (neé Barry). Accounts vary on the year of her birth but whether it was 1789 or 1795, women were denied a formal education. Her father was a feckless grocer who lost his business, landed in debtors’ prison and last seen on a convict ship to Australia. Alone and penniless, Margaret and her mother emigrated to London where they lived with her uncle, James Barry, a successful painter, progressive thinker and major eccentric.

Uncle James had a coterie of rich, radical patrons including General Francisco de Miranda and David Stuart Erskine who became impressed and obsessed by Margaret’s intelligence. Devout feminists all, these de facto godfathers vowed to get her a medical degree especially since Miranda’s soldiers back in Venezuela needed a doctor. Together they devised a plan, a trope that dates back to Greek Literature – Margaret Anne would dress as a man. Taking the names of her uncle and godfathers, Margaret Anne Bulkley became James Miranda Stuart Barry. Now she was a he.

With taped breasts and a heavy overcoat lined with fluff, the newly christened James Barry enrolled in the University of Edinburgh. He impressed everyone with his brilliant mind but became something of a curiosity. There was the baby face (absent an Adam’s Apple), height (barely five feet), squeaky voice and bursts of violent temper. Rumors spread, not that he was female, but a pre-pubescent boy. He received his MD at the tender age of 22, noting in his final thesis, he was a “man of understanding,” something he remained for the next 56 years.

<em>Sketch of Dr. James Barry.</em>

Sketch of Dr. James Barry.

Even when he was Margaret Anne Bulkley, James Barry would announce to anyone in earshot, “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier!”  By the time he graduated, General Miranda was dead and so was Barry’s Venezuela plans. After receiving his Royal College of Surgeons diploma, he entered the British military, passing what must have been a cursory army physical. It was 1812 and Dr. James Barry, army surgeon, was appointed Medical Inspector for Cape Town South Africa.

Something of a health nut, Dr. Barry was a teetotaler and vegetarian who kept a pet goat for its milk. Always at odds with his superiors, he raged at them about unsanitary hospital conditions and kept raging until he singlehandedly revolutionized healthcare in Cape Town. Revolutionary too was his open-mindedness – he treated everybody, not just wealthy whites but colonials, slaves, the poor, mentally ill and prisoners. Throughout his career, he had an odd affinity for lepers, treating them with almost saintly compassion.

His patients adored him but not so much his co-workers and administrators who found him foul-mouthed, short-tempered and, considering his looks, full of an absurd vanity. His short fuse had much to do with the effort he undertook to look and behave as a man. Barry had by his side for 50 years, a West Indian manservant, John Danson, who supervised the makeover. John – who, it should be noted, never saw Barry naked – would obscure curves, strategically place padding and add height, courtesy of 3-inch shoe lifts. The manservant set aside extra primping time since the doctor was, ironically, a ladies’ man, thanks to his light-footedness on the dance floor.

<em>Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry's dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.</em>

Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry’s dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.

His toilette over, Dr. Barry emerged in a scarlet jacket, a plumed hat covering the wig that covered his frizzy red hair and a saber draping his tiny physique. The saber was essential since Barry, quick to take offense, would challenge anyone to a duel or threaten to cut off the villain’s ears if he heard a slight against his low stature or high voice. He and John always traveled with Barry’s beloved poodle, Psyche, and a menagerie of small animals.

Dr. Barry proved unstoppable. He developed a plant-based treatment for syphilis and gonorrhea, promoted the novel concept of clean water and a healthy diet, introduced the smallpox vaccination to the colony, twenty years before it was introduced in England. At a time when doctors avoided lady parts and delivering babies, Dr. Barry was, not surprisingly, a most popular OB-GYN. He performed the first successful Caesarean section, meaning both mother and baby lived, in the British Empire.

And there was a scandal. Cape Town gossip had it that he was having an “unnatural” affair with the colony’s governor, Lord Charles Somerset, a man Barry once called “my almost only friend.” Vulgar posters announcing the governor was “buggering Dr. Barry” or referring to the doctor as his “little wife” were everywhere. Rumors intensified when Barry moved into Somerset’s estate especially as Somerset had politically and monetarily backed the doctor’s reforms. As homosexuality was a serious crime, the Crown set up an investigation; both men were exonerated but soon afterwards, the doctor, likely heartbroken, left Cape Town. It was the only time Dr. James Barry found romance and if the relationship was sexual it would have been…curious.

<em>Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.</em>

Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.

After Cape Town, Barry served as Medical Inspector in posts throughout the Empire from Jamaica to Malta to Canada. Wherever it was necessary, the cross-dressing, globe-trotting surgeon established a leper colony. Wherever he was posted, he fought for sanitation and universal healthcare while remaining insubordinate to his superiors. He went AWOL in Jamaica saying he needed a “proper haircut.” In St. Helena, he bypassed top officers to petition the Home Office for medical supplies and was summarily court-martialed for “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.”

His career trajectory zigged and zagged. Stationed in Malta, Dr. Barry again found himself in good favor when the Duke of Wellington commended him for instituting public sanitation and preventing a typhus epidemic. He was promoted to the highest rank an army doctor could reach, Inspector-General of British Hospitals, the equivalent of Brigadier-General. Lord Raglan, commander of the British Forces during the Crimean War, asked the now-eminent doctor to pay a “social visit” to the battlefield.

Even though he was on leave, Dr. Barry went to Scutari, the site of an infamous hospital where more soldiers died of infection than battle wounds. It was also the site of his infamous fight with Florence Nightingale, pet of Queen Victoria. In his salty style he upbraided Nightingale about her hat or lack of, she called him a “brute” and so began a mutual and a lifelong hatred. Nightingale did improve sanitation conditions at Scutari but her achievements paled next to Barry’s, some 30 years earlier, in Cape Town. The Empire ignored his feat but continued to glorify its beloved “Lady with the Lamp”– this realization may have inspired Barry’s snit but the spat forever diminished his reputation. He was denied the knighthood his career merited, his army transgressions were revisited and Nightingale assured his omission from her Royal Commission on Army Doctors. Her legacy was as a National Treasure, his legacy was as a “footnote in Imperial Oddities.”

<em>Florence Nightingale called Barry "a brute."</em>

Florence Nightingale called Barry “a brute.”

In his play “Whistling Psyche,” Sebastian Barry imagines the two combatants sharing a room in the afterlife. The doctor despairs of a life lived in ambiguity, “I am that other sort of creature, neither white nor black, nor brown nor even green, but the strange original that is an Irish person.” Florence has her say too, describing Barry as “a dwarf… shriveled and shrunken in his rather gorgeous uniform.” Even Psyche the poodle isn’t spared, “a little black dog with hair seemingly growing out of its very eyeballs…”

In a pointed and final gesture, the army posted Barry in Canada, a cruel destination for one of advanced age who had spent years in the tropics; he became ill and was forced him into retirement. Barry returned to London where he died in 1865 of dysentery, a disease he spent his career fighting in the colonies. He left strict orders that he be buried in the clothes he was wearing, a dictate that was ignored. When the nurse undressed him, the secret was out: Dr. James Barry “had the body of a woman, a perfect female” including stretch marks from childbirth.

Speculation on the stretch marks still continues. Was the pregnancy the result of a rape Margaret Anne endured as a girl? Or was the baby the love child of Barry and Somerset? His deathbed sex secret scandalized the Victorian establishment, Nightingale gloated, Dickens had an opinion, the army put only a sandstone marker on his grave and closed off access to his papers for 100 years.

<em>Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.</em>

Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.

Today, feminists see Dr. James Barry as an icon for women while the LGBTQ communities believe the doctor is a true trans hero. If you take the “he’s a she” argument, Barry would be the first woman doctor in Britain (50 years before the other “first women doctor,” Elizabeth Garrett), first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army and the first woman to perform a successful Caesarean section. Those who take the opposite side, “she’s a he,” reject gender binaries. They assert that for 56 years, Barry presented as a man, identified as a man and only used masculine pronouns when writing or talking about himself. After he transformed or transitioned at age 14, he never wanted his secret revealed – only Psyche saw him in the nude.

It’s a gender bender but really, what difference does it make? James Barry was fearless, a brilliant doctor and public health reformer sympathetic to patients on the margins of society. When Major McKibben, the doctor who signed the death certificate, was pressed to identify the sex of Dr. James Barry, he snapped, “None of your business!” ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co- writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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