Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 4 March 2021
Journeys to a Truce: The Relief of Irish Distress
In the first week March 1921, members of an American Committee for the Relief of Irish Distress arrived in Cork City. They were hosted by members of Cork Corporation and the Cork Harbour Board, amongst others. Their arrival was a positive one in the context of the narrative of repair after the Burning of Cork and of donating money to the impoverished of the city.
Towards the end of 1920 men and women came together on the invitation of (and under the chairmanship) of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Laurence O’Neill to form the Irish White Cross. They met to consider how it was possible to alleviate the great amount of suffering that, even at that date, had resulted from the Irish War of Independence. The group were representative of practically every section of the political and religious beliefs of the Irish community. They were motivated solely by humanitarian motives.
Independently of the Irish White Cross in Ireland, in December 1920, a Committee for the Relief of Irish Distress was founded in America by Dr William J Maloney, a Republican cause sympathiser. The committee carried out its task in the same humane spirit that had inspired the many charitable organisations that went out from the United States to offer relief in the days of the First World War.
The committee influenced a series of great drives for funds, which were organised throughout 48 States of America. In a short period of time, it had at its command a large sum – approximately five million dollars – for the relief of people in Ireland.
From the establishment of the committee American members of the Religious Society of Friends were prominent in the ranks of its active members. In January 1921, several members of the latter group with experience in relief and reconstruction work in France and other areas devastated in the great war arrived in Ireland. The group comprised Messrs. R Barclay Spicer (Philadelphia), Oren B Wilbur (New York), William Price (Philadelphia), John C Baker (Philadelphia), Walter C Longstreth (Philadelphia) accompanied by Messrs C J France, (Seattle, Washington) and S D McCoy (New York) City. Their aim was to ascertain the nature and extent of American aid necessary for the relief of the Irish people.
During their mission of 49 days, which lasted until April 1921, C J France acted as Chairman, and S D McCoy as Secretary (the latter not returning to America until October 1921). Mr France remained in Ireland until June 1922, acting as a representative of the American Committee in connection with the distribution of the American Fund.
The delegation’s subsequent published report (which in the present day is now digitally scanned and online) outlines that during their visit members visited nearly one hundred communities in Ireland in which acute distress existed. They visited no less than 95 cities, towns, villages, and creameries, in which destruction of buildings or property by the military or police forces of the British Crown has occurred. In the 95 places visited there occurred 95 per cent, of the material damage to property owned by the civil population, which has been recorded during the twelve months ending 31 March 1921.
The places visited range in geographic location from Gortahork, on the extreme north-western coast of Ireland, to Timoleague, on the extreme southern coast; from Dublin, in the east, to Clifden and Aran Islands, in the west.
The delegation viewed the damage personally, and personally collected on the spot evidence as to the value of the property destroyed. In addition, written statements from reliable sources were supplied to the delegation regarding material damage in the small number of afflicted communities which they were unable to visit. They reported forty co-operative creameries, which were totally ruined and which had their whole machinery reduced to scrap-iron; thirty-five were partly wrecked and rendered unfit for work. The delegation reports on the conflict;
“In the course of this conflict at least 2,000 houses – dwelling houses, farmsteads, shops –were utterly destroyed, while about 1,500 were partially destroyed, many of the latter being rendered uninhabitable. In this way nearly 3,000 families were cast on the world homeless, and very often with the loss of their entire possessions. The majority of the victims were of the small farmer class in the country, and, of the shopkeeper and artisan class in the towns. These had little or no resources to fall back upon, and were it not for the aid of the charitable large numbers must have perished from cold or hunger”.
Summarising this data in regard to material damage and personal distress, the delegation reported that the material damage to Irish shop-buildings, factories, creameries, and private dwelling houses, inflicted by the British forces during the previous twelve months, amounted to approximately $20m. Without reductions in the cost of labour and materials they estimated the cost of replacing the buildings would be approximately $25m.
On arrival in Cork City the committee took the time to hear about the economic and fallout and the destitution created from the Burning of Cork event;
“In a city such as Cork it is difficult to estimate with accuracy the number of people who were directly involved in distress by this destruction, but it is safe to take the estimate given in the same report, that close upon 4,000 persons – men, women, and children – had to be relieved by reason of the loss of their employment. The ordinary charitable associations could not cope with the burden thus cast upon them, and the Irish White Cross had to undertake responsibility for their maintenance”.
Following the delegation’s report, over the ensuing 18 months £788,215 was sent to Ireland to be distributed through the Irish White Cross in Dublin and down to parish committees and in the Cork context to the city’s own Distress Committee. A total of £170, 398 was sent to Cork City to be distributed to those effected by the Irish War of Independence.
1089a. Branding for Irish White Cross, 1922 (source: Report of the Irish White Cross to 31st August, 1922)