Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 2 May 2019
Tales from 1919: The American Commissioners Arrive
On 7 May 1919, Peace Terms were handed to Germany. Fifteen days were granted for consideration. Any counter proposals were to be submitted in writing. German representatives denied responsibility for the war, which they believed was the result of the “imperialistic spirit of all the nations”. They were quite willing to conclude peace in accordance with America President’s Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, and on that basis, Germany had agreed to cease hostilities.
On the same day 7 May 1919 different functions took place in Cork in connection with the welcome accorded to members of the American Commission on Irish Independence, Messrs Edward F Dunne and Michael J Ryan. The delegates had been well received in Dublin and Belfast. It was hoped that one of the results of the visit of the American delegates to this country was that America would back Ireland in her demand for freedom during the agreement on the Peace Terms.
Sinn Féin held that the Irish should be on Woodrow Wilson’s list of peoples who could win freedom from the peace settlement and that he would support the presence of an Irish delegation in the peace negotiations in Paris. In the first four months of 1919, Woodrow Wilson did detail to the press that he had twice talked with Lloyd George about the Irish situation and that he had pushed upon him the significance of an early settlement, with which Lloyd George agreed. An Irish settlement was deemed crucial to future US-British relations.
In addition, Woodrow’s American Commission on Irish Independence arose in spring 1919 from a 1918 New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson. To reinforce the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference Convention leaders selected a three-member delegation to journey to Paris.
The Commission comprised three prominent Irish-Americans – Frank P Walsh, Michael J Ryan and Edward F Dunne came to Ireland for 11 days in late April and early May. Messrs Ryan and Dunne came to Cork. Mr Ryan was a lawyer and former judge. He had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Mr Dunne was a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner; he had been president of the United Irish League of America.
On 7 May 1919, the commissioners arrived at Glanmire Station (now Kent Station) on the early morning train from Dublin. On the platform the Lord Mayor William O’Connor accompanied by the City High Sheriff, the Town Clerk, and attended by bis mace and sword bearers awaited to give them a civic reception. The Church was represented by Bishop Cohalan and a number of priests, secular and regular. There was also a large attendance of members of the Corporation, the Harbour Board, including the Chairman. The Irish Volunteers’ Pipers Band took up a position at the booking office end of the platform, and the brass and reed band of the Greenmount Industrial School towards the tunnel end. When the train steamed in both bands struck up “Let Erin Remember”.
Messrs Dunne and Ryan were accompanied by several members of Dáil Éireann—Richard Mulcahy, David Kent, William Cosgrave, Thomas Hunter, Terence McSwiney and Liam de Róiste. Subsequently they were conveyed to the carriages and motors in the station yard. The route to Cork City Hall was lined with people, and from a few shops the tricolour and American flag were flown. The balustrades of St Patrick’s Bridge were spanned with the tricolour, which with the American Bag was hoisted over the City Hall.
At Cork City Hall, which was crowded, the meeting was addressed briefly by the Lord Mayor and Messrs Dunne and Ryan. Michael J Ryan stated that the delegates had come to Ireland, not as Irish-Americans, but as Americans, and that they spoke not only for the Irish in the United States, but for all America; “The distinction adds to the weight and importance and influence that they wield, as the voice of all America attuned in harmony with the Irish demands for freedom must necessarily carry farther than that of Irish-Americans only”. He placed emphasis on the point that a large section of the British Press to him seemed disposed to regard the mission to Paris as being solely due to the efforts of Irishmen in the United States.
Edward F Dunne noted that he had seen realised in America, a Republican form of Government based upon the consent of the governed, and naturally he sympathised with peoples aspiring to the same conditions with which the Americans were blessed. It was the most prosperous and he believed the most contented Government on earth. He would like to see nations of like character established throughout the world. America, he declared, did not enter the war until they were convinced that the fate of the democracy of the world was at stake.
Subsequent to the speeches the visitors and party were entertained by the Lord Mayor in his office and the visitor’s book was signed. Cork had impressed the members of the Commission. However, wider political wrangling between the US and Britain – prompted by international concerns and personal annoyances appearing in early summer 1919 led to a reversal on Woodrow’s Wilson’s policy of intervention in the domestic affairs of Britain.
May Walking Tours with Kieran:
Bank Holiday Monday 6 May 2019, Ballintemple Historical Walking Tour; meet in old Ballintemple graveyard, Templehill, opposite O’Connor’s Funeral Home, 2.30pm (free, duration: 2 hours, finishes on Blackrock Road).
Sunday 12 May 2019, Stories from Blackrock and Mahon, meet at entrance to Blackrock Castle, 2.30pm, (free, 2 hours, finishes near railway line walk, Blackrock Road).
Saturday 19 May 2019, Douglas and its History, meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 11am (free, duration: two hours, circuit of village, finishes nearby).
995a. US President Woodrow Wilson, 1919 (source: Cork City Library)
995b. Edward F Dunne, member of American Commission on Irish Independence 1919 (source: Cork City Library)
995c. Michael J Ryan, member of American Commission on Irish Independence 1919 (source: Cork City Library)