Posted for: Emily Alesia Poteat
The act of transcribing manuscripts can transport you back in history and allow you to rediscover voices lost or ignored in the historical record. My graduate assistantship with Villanova University’s Irish Studies Department and Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections has done just that. Throughout my time transcribing Irish American historical manuscripts in Villanova’s collection, I was confronted with a diverse set of experiences and distant voices from unique figures of the past.
Stark and defiant voices emerged in manuscripts from figures like Joseph McGarrity, who sought to make real change in their own time. McGarrity was born on March 28, 1874, and died on September 04, 1940. It is through his distinctive scrawling penmanship, McGarrity’s voice rose from the pages, and he detailed his hopes, his organizing for the Irish republican cause, and his personal opinions about the happenings of the world on the eve of World War II. Most riveting, however, was the discovery that McGarrity directly sought to partner with Nazi Germany to find support for the Irish republican cause. As Joseph McGarrity’s 1939 diary demonstrated the reach of Irish American organizing in the twentieth century. As, the purpose of aligning with Germany was to force the United Kingdom to remove its forces from Northern Ireland, and to allow a united and independent Ireland. Brute force was seen as the best way to do this by McGarrity, as he he sought, from an alliance with Nazi Germany, “technicians…particularly chemical experts,” to “ask for submarine experts to be trained,” and most tellingly with his intentions “that sufficient war stuffs be supplied in the line of war material for a major engagement in England.” From McGarrity’s rhetoric, he and he Irish republican allies sought to plan a major military effort and armed engagements with England during the onset of World War II.
Also deepening the Irish American and German connection, The Irish American Club’s connection to the Clan-na-Gael was most revelatory, as this connection was largely undiscovered. The Clan-na-Gael formed in 1867 in New York as the successor of the Fenian Brotherhood, and was a secret Irish Republican society. As the American sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Clan-na-Gael was dedicated to supporting the formation of an independent and democratic republic in Ireland through the use of force. With Irish republican beliefs deeply embedded into the organization, the Clan-na-Gael was active in assisting the Irish Republican Brotherhood in achieving an independent Ireland. Because of this deep support of Irish independence, the Clan-na-Gael was the single largest financial support of the Easter rising, as well as the Irish War of 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 came to light, and offered new insight into ways Irish Americans engaged in Irish republicanism during the early twentieth century. Through advocacy work and monetary support, the Irish American Club attempted to support the German war effort in World War I. Most distinguishing, however, was not this fact alone, it was the fact that the Irish American Club consistently referred to themselves as the Clan-na-Gael.
By delving into the archive forgotten connections that largely reorient our understandings of history are possible. For instance, just by connecting Irish Americans to Germans during the world wars, these sources offer new opportunities for research into transatlantic history, as well as into understanding the reach of Irish American organizing. If we continue to ask new questions of archival sources, we can continue to diversify the historical record with underrepresented voices from the past. While these sources can not tell us everything about certain individuals, they offer a chance to preserve the voice and experiences in the historical record.
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.