Posted for: Emily Poteat.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 ignited international political tensions, and catapulted the world into World War I a month later. World War I was fraught with multiple layers of political significance for countries and individuals across the world. For the Irish American Club, who called themselves the Clan-na-Gael, the Great War presented a way for Irish Americans to directly work against the interests of the British, and towards forming political ties to support the cause of Irish Independence. In the Minute Book of the Board of Officers for the Irish American Club, the way in which Irish Americans, in the Irish American Club, actively engaged in support of the German war effort comes to light, and offers new insight into ways Irish Americans engaged in Irish republicanism during the early twentieth century.
Seemingly the disdain and urgency to work against British interests in World War I emerged soon after the onset of the conflict. Just short of two months after the beginning of World War I, on September 20, 1914, the Irish American Club in their meeting minutes for that day’s meeting discuss ways to work against Irish people fighting for the English in the war. This is clear with the statement “A motion was passed that a re-union [sic] be called for next Sunday night to pass resolutions condemning the action of Redmond and those so called Irish leaders in urging the Irish people to join the English army to fight against Germany” (p. 308). With this strong assertion against Irishmen fighting for the English in World War I, it is clear that the Irish Americans were conflating support of the English with anti-republicanism, as this war was viewed by the Irish American Club as serving the interests of the British. Because of this understanding of the First World War, the Irish American Club worked earnestly to support the opposing side of the war, the Germans.
The Irish American Club’s support of the German war effort emerges from the pages of the Minute Book of the Board of Officers for the club, in the form of both advocacy work and monetary support. For, on page 392 of the minute book, in an entry of meeting minutes from March 21, 1915, the club donated seven hundred dollars to the German and Austrian Red Cross. This is evident with the statement “Bro McGarrity produced a receipt from the German + Austrian Consuls for $70000…for the German + Austrian Red Cross” (p.392). Clearly with a monetary contribution of that value, the Irish American Club were staking their claim and attempting to make ties with the Germans in working against the British war effort. Further denoting this tie between the Irish Americans and the German war effort, “a letter of thanks from the German Ambassador at Washington thanking Clan Na Gael for” the donation of money to the German and Austrian Red Cross was delivered to the Irish American Club (p. 392). In addition to their monetary support, the Irish American Club also held demonstrations in connection with German-American societies in support of American neutrality in the war.
This tie between Germany and the Clan-na-Gael, under the name of the Irish American Club, is interesting to note, as it connects to other attempts to forge alliances between the Irish and the Germans. Prior to the Easter Rising, Clan-na-Gael representatives requested support from the German ambassador in the United States as early as 1914. With this information in mind, the actions of the Irish American Club in supporting the German war effort could have been in the hopes of gaining more definite support for their own revolution against England. As a whole, the actions of the Irish American Club in their support for Germany in World War I give further insight into the activities twentieth century Irish American organizations took in working towards their goal of Irish independence.
Emily Poteat is a graduate assistant in Irish Studies and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement Department, and a graduate student in the History Department.