Sunday, 28 September 2014

In Summary and Conclusion

This research has shown how a small snippet of oral history can open up a fascinating study of social history. Catherine Dwyer’s recollection of a story passed down in her family, about a Carmelite priest in New York who answered a knock on his priory door to discover the fugitive Irish leader seeking shelter from the authorities, has opened into an absorbing examination of early 20th century Irish history.

But if the bigger narrative has been about the history of a small nation fighting for its freedom whilst attempting to manipulate political relations between two larger nations, it has also been about two personalities, Lawrence Flanagan, a man of the humble priest’s habit from county Westmeath and New York born Eamon de Valera, the man who would lead Ireland out of the rubble and despair of the 1916 Rising to its freedom and formal independence in 1922.

These were two youthful students in Dublin of the late 1890s, who no doubt  studied, prayed and sang together at Blackrock College, perhaps even took to the rugby field together, before taking separate roads for a decade or two, their paths fatefully crossing again as the clock of Irish history began to chime in the American summertime of 1919.

Two deeply religious men, ultimately with different destinies and different characters but sharing a dedication to Irish freedom which for this short but intense period of time transcended other commitments. De Valera chose to go to America for eighteen months of his life, whilst many of his country men and women were literally being killed during the war for independence back home. He also left behind his wife and children with no more contact than trans-Atlantic letters, as he went on a quest to gain American-Irish support for the cause. His aim to influence US foreign policy and to raise money for both the war and the proposed new Irish economy.

Flanagan on the other hand supported and, with others, facilitated the Irish-American conspiracy emanating from the Roman Catholic churches of Manhattan, in league with radical Gaelic organisations in the U.S. A conspiracy which became a campaign driven by the belief that Britain would only relinquish control of Ireland by the use of force, by an armed struggle. Recent oral histories conducted by the north American Carmelites themselves revealing that guns and ammunition were hidden in the basements of their churches with the full knowledge and countenance of many priests. Rebel fugitives and men of the gun were given clandestine refuge, meetings both private and public were hosted on church property in the cause of the Irish rebellion and Flanagan himself provided shelter and counsel to the infamous leader and president in exile, Eamon de Valera.

Most modern-day writers of Irish history will confirm the general impression that the New York Carmelites supported the Irish freedom movement in America and gave shelter to fugitive rebels. But according to Alfred Isacsson, O.Carm., whom we have seen has written extensively about the history of the New York Carmelites, few people on this side of the Atlantic ocean, including the Carmelite order in Dublin themselves have any idea of the full extent of the activity which went on in the New York churches and priories in the second decade of the 20th century.

We have learnt that De Valera himself may not have been the desperate fugitive for very long in America. His escape from Lincoln prison in early 1919 might have been more of a political and public relations tactic over the enemy than a military necessity. Tim Pat Coogan suggests that De Valera was desperate to enact his escape before the British government released the Irish prisoners, which they did shortly afterwards:

' Now at this stage it might be remarked that on one level all this trouble was unnecessary. From the time of the general election campaign of the previous year the prisoners had been expecting release, and, though disappointed at not being allowed out to take part in the actual election, de Valera had a shrewd suspicion that, once it was over, freedom lay around the corner. But he had a number of reasons for persevering with the escape plans: ‘Indeed his great fear at this moment was that the Government might decide to release him before he could escape.’ He wanted to do as he had done with his campaign of destruction prior to the 1916 prisoners’ release and deprive the British any PR advantage which might accrue through freeing him. More importantly, he wanted to capitalize on the enormous publicity and morale- boosting bonanza which an escape would bring.' 

It is true though that the British authorities were devastated by his escape from Lincoln Jail and that De Valera subsequently went into hiding for many months, with his initial escape route organised by Michael Collins taking him back to Dublin via Manchester and Liverpool. Meanwhile warrants were issued for his arrest all over Europe and sightings of him were reported from Paris to Amsterdam.

After a short stay in a safe house arranged by Collins—the gate lodge of the Archbishop’s house in Drumcondra, and having been elected President of Dail Eireann on 1 April 1919, De Valera made the controversial decision (especially unpopular amongst his comrades who were about to embark more fully in a renewed war of independence) to go in secret to America. In June 1919 he was smuggled back to Liverpool and hidden aboard the SS Lapland ship bound for New York.

It is not clear when or for how long De Valera took refuge with the Carmelites in New York. The accounts are sketchy and anecdotal. We know with much more certainty that fellow republican, Liam Mellows, both resided with and worked for the Carmelites for a substantial time. According to Tim Pat Coogan, as soon as De Valera stepped off the ship in New York on 11 June 1919, he was met by Harry Boland and the prominent Clan na nGael leader, Joseph McGarrity who took him to ‘a room on East 39th Street’ which was rented by Liam Mellows, to freshen up and then on to McGarrity’s house in Philadelphia.

Wherever he stayed in the next few weeks, by 23 June de Varela would ’burst upon an amazed world via a press conference at the Waldorf Astora Hotel’ followed by a visit to the mother who had abandoned him now living in   Rochester. The newspapers celebrated his appearance in America, describing him as ’the famous Sinn Fein escapologist’.

If he had been a fugitive in hiding ever since his prison escape five months earlier, from 23 June 1919 onwards, De Valera was now very much out in the open for the next 18 months, touring America where his public appearances at large sports stadiums drew in monster crowds of tens of thousands of Irish Americans from the east coast to the west and back. Tim Pat Coogan writes:

' The Waldorf Astoria had become his headquarters. It was there on the 23 June that he had given his first press conference in America, after a reception at which he had met the leaders of the Friends of Irish Freedom and other important Irish American figures. Twenty-third Street was thronged when he arrived to be met by Cohalan and Devoy, one carrying the Irish Tricolour and the other the Stars and Stripes of America.'

It seems probable that the involvement of the Carmelite priests in supporting the Irish freedom movement started long before De Valera’s arrival in New York. Certainly the hospitality that they extended to Liam Mellows seems much more significant than any fleeting visit of De Valera.

On the other hand, we have read oral history accounts from old Carmelites themselves, such as Fr. Joseph (Linus) Ryan, describing Flanagan as a lifelong confidant of De Valera:

After de Valera had escaped from Lincoln Jail in England in 1919, he made his way to Our Lady of the Scapular Priory on E. 28th Street in New York City. Here Fr. Flanagan, who was ordained a Carmelite and had become part of the New York Irish Province, and the other Carmelites hid De Valera in the priory while an international police force searched for him in vain. De Valera, a daily communicant, never forgot the kindness of the Carmelites to him. '

I am certain that this is not the end of the story and there is more research to be done to dig out the facts. What is incontrovertible however is the collective role played by the New York Carmelites, De Valera himself  writing in 1939:

“The Carmelite Priory of East 28th Street will always be memorable for all of us who know at first-hand what inspiration and strength were drawn from it twenty years ago. Some of the best friends Ireland ever had there gave counsel and help and hospitality to the workers for the freedom of our country. None who took part will forget the meetings in the priory and the school hall memories of which bring back the figures of Liam Mellows, Harry Boland and many others whose work has passed into history. Ireland’s debt to the Carmelite Fathers is not easily measured. What could we have done without Father Magennis and Father O’Connor not to mention Father Lawrence Flanagan still happily left?”

Perhaps the full extent of the Carmelite contribution will never be known, firstly because of the secret nature of their activities during this time when their churches were under surveillance by the American authorities and secondly because supporting an armed struggle might not have been well regarded by their own Carmelite hierarchy back home. Intriguingly, in spite of the more recent efforts of oral historians, the New York Carmelites of 1916-1921 may well have taken their closest secrets with them to the grave.

As Athlone I.R.A. adjutant Michael McCormack said in his witness statement   recorded by the Bureau of Military History in 1956:

' In 1920, Father O’Flanagan from Sawmills House, Moate, came home from the U.S.A. on a visit to his home and he gave me a message—a dispatch in fact, from Mellows encouraging us to continue in the fight for freedom. Father O’Flanagan told me all about Liam Mellows and what he as doing for “Dark Rosaleen” in America. '    

The reference to Dark Rosaleen being particularly poignant as it comes from a  16th century poem, also called Roisin Dubh (the Black Rose), which was a metaphor or poetic symbol for Ireland - a patriotic poem therefore disguised as a love song in times when nationalistic expression was outlawed in Ireland.

The poem has had several translations and interpretations, including one by Padraig Pearse, a school teacher famous for leading the 1916 uprising. This   version is the first translation by James Clarence Mangan in the 19th century:

O MY Dark Rosaleen,  
Do not sigh, do not weep!  
The priests are on the ocean green,  
They march along the deep.  
There 's wine from the royal Pope, 
Upon the ocean green;  
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,  

My Dark Rosaleen!  

My own Rosaleen!  
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,   
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,  

My Dark Rosaleen!  
Over hills, and thro' dales,  
Have I roam'd for your sake;  
All yesterday I sail'd with sails 
On river and on lake.  
The Erne, at its highest flood,  
I dash'd across unseen,  
For there was lightning in my blood,  
My Dark Rosaleen! 

My own Rosaleen!  
O, there was lightning in my blood,  
Red lightning lighten'd thro' my blood.  

My Dark Rosaleen!  

All day long, in unrest,  
To and fro, do I move.  
The very soul within my breast  
Is wasted for you, love!  
The heart in my bosom faints  
To think of you, my Queen,   

My life of life, my saint of saints,  
My Dark Rosaleen!  

My own Rosaleen!  
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,  
My life, my love, my saint of saints,   
My Dark Rosaleen!  

Woe and pain, pain and woe,  
Are my lot, night and noon,  
To see your bright face clouded so,  
Like to the mournful moon.  
But yet will I rear your throne  
Again in golden sheen;  
'Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,  
My Dark Rosaleen!  

My own Rosaleen!   
'Tis you shall have the golden throne,  
'Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,  

My Dark Rosaleen!  
Over dews, over sands,  
Will I fly, for your weal:   
Your holy delicate white hands  
Shall girdle me with steel.  
At home, in your emerald bowers,  
From morning's dawn till e'en,  
You'll pray for me, my flower of flowers,  
My Dark Rosaleen!  

My fond Rosaleen!  
You'll think of me through daylight hours,  
My virgin flower, my flower of flowers,  

My Dark Rosaleen! 
I could scale the blue air,  
I could plough the high hills,  
O, I could kneel all night in prayer,  
To heal your many ills!  
And one beamy smile from you   
Would float like light between  
My toils and me, my own, my true,  
My Dark Rosaleen!  

My fond Rosaleen!  
Would give me life and soul anew,   
A second life, a soul anew,  
My Dark Rosaleen!  

O, the Erne shall run red,  
With redundance of blood,  
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,   
And flames wrap hill and wood,  
And gun-peal and slogan-cry  
Wake many a glen serene,  
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,  
My Dark Rosaleen!   

My own Rosaleen!  
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,  
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,  
My Dark Rosaleen!


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