Saturday, 18 October 2014

The New York Carmelites and the Irish Freedom Movement

In his online paper Always Faithful The New York Carmelites, the Irish People and Their Freedom Movement Alfred Isacsson, O. Carm. provides more detailed information about the relationship between the Manhattan Carmelites and Irish republicans with some specific references to De Valera’s escape there in 1919 and his close relationship with Lawrence Flanagan, described as a confidant to De Valera and “perhaps the most underrated of the Carmelite supporters of the Irish Freedom Movement”:   

De Valera in the USA in 1920
'   When Eamon De Valera came to New York after he escaped from Lincoln Prison, he came to the Carmelite priory to spend the night before his first public appearance. Hugh Devlin added the information that John Devoy and Daniel Cohalan both came to the 29th Street Priory to see De Valera before he made his first public appearance at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. These two later returned and accompanied by Dermot Lynch, Dick Dalton and Charles Rice brought De Valera to this first appearance in the United States.

Besides De Valera, those staying at the Carmelite priory or closely associated with the Carmelites were Liam Pedlar, Harry Boland, Sean Nunan, Liam Mellows, Pat Fleming, Mary and Mrs. MacSwiney, Lord Mayor Donal O’Callaghan and T. P. O’Connor. It is interesting that the first four names in this list are persons usually named as involved in the procurement and shipment of arms to Ireland.

“Griffith, Collins and O’Connor used Priory as a place where leaders could be found and messages delivered.” This is a quote from these records.

O’Callaghan placed a letter in the Irish Echo (August 28, 1943) asking for information about Peter Elias Magennis, Denis O’Connor and the Carmelites’ role in the Irish Freedom Movement. It seems this did not produce any new material.

De Valera with Harry Boland in New York 1920
He also wrote to those associated with the Carmelites and obtained their recollections of the Carmelites’ activities. In 1941, Robert Brennan, the Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Irish Legation in Washington, attributed the reorganization of the Movement after 1916 in a great part to Peter Elias Magennis. He pointed out Denis Berchmans Devlin of Whitefriars Street, Dublin, as one of the greatest supporters and the confidant and friend of every leader from 1916 on. Brennan also told of how Terenure College, Dublin, was at one time or another a shelter for most of the leaders. Thomas Hurton, a Philadelphia priest active in the Movement, replied that the 28th Street church and “rectory” were the soul of the post 1916 Movement.

Seamus MacDermott, brother of Sean executed after the 1916 Rising, answered O’Callaghan’s request by stating the Peter Elias Magennis was a member of the Geraldines Club of New York City. He recalled that he joined in 1917 or 1918 and was a member for three or four years. Dorothy Godfrey answered with praise for Magennis and O’Connor and recalled how Mrs.Skeffington went to Fifth Avenue - possibly the American Irish Historical Society - when Liam Mellows was executed. She felt frozen out and then went to the Carmelite priory where Denis O’Connor served her tea and had a long chat. 

Connie Neenan, long active in the Movement, told of Magennis returning to the United States from Rome in the 1928-30 period and bringing from Ireland messages for himself and Joseph McGarrity. Neenan received the messages in the Bronx - probably at Saint Simon Stock Priory - and delivered them to McGarrity. Neenan also cautioned O’Callaghan that the work of the Clan na Gael and of “the people at home” was never put on paper and that this was a strict policy.

Sean Nunan, then Counsellor to the Irish Legation in Washington, wrote of his stay in the United States from January, 1919 to December, 1921 when he was secretary to Eamon De Valera and the Registrar of the Irish Republic Bond Drive. He said all involved in the Movement were welcome at the Carmelite priory which was also a centre where they could get in touch with colleagues and it was a kind of post office where messages could be left and received. He cited himself as an example of their hospitality. When he jumped ship in New York to join Harry Boland, Nunan went to the priory and slept there that night. After naming the individual Carmelites, he wrote they always had the door “on the latch.”

Plans for the Bond Drive and the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic were made a the priory. Methods for combating the Black and Tans were put into operation from the priory.

Another person Donal O’Callaghan contacted was Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist Party’s presidential candidate. He saw the Black and Tans as inviting war with Great Britain and called them a reproach to our common humanity. He said he spoke in this manner at meetings Magennis presided over and at other gatherings that Magennis was present at. Thomas called his brief acquaintance with Magennis “one of the delightful memories of my life.” He went on to write, “I conceived for him the highest admiration as a man, a Priest and an advocate of a good cause. He had courage, humour, devotion and power.

Fenian rebel John Devoy was exiled to the US in 1871.
A  journalist for the New York Herald he was 
active in Clan na Gael, the most important Irish republican
organisation in the United States and Ireland.
We have put together here in one place the oral and written traditions gathered by Donal O’Callaghan to show the importance of his efforts to preserve the record of the Carmelites’ involvement with the Irish Freedom Movement. Without his work, we would be at a loss not only of much of the information we have but also for the many leads to other material that his work has furnished.

The Clan na Gael was founded on Hester Street, New York City, on June 20, 1867 by Jerome J. Collins who was originally from Dunmanway, County Cork. Collins had planned to free Fenian prisoners in London but when his plans became known he fled to the United States. Shortly after he founded the Clan, Collins went on an Arctic expedition in which he perished. In the period from the late 1880's to the turn of the century, the Clan had problems. John Devoy solved them, reunited the Clan and re-established relationships with the Irish Republican Brotherhood by means of a seven man Joint Revolutionary Directory. The Clan was from then a secret organization financed by the Supreme Council of the IRB. By 1916, the Clan had come to the position that the independence of Ireland could only be secured by force. This is the same position that Elias Magennis came to and explains why Donald O’Callaghan was so interested in Magennis’ membership in both the Clan and the IRB.   '

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