first meeting Nora Barnacle in 1904, James Joyce wrote to her one morning to
arrange a date, confident that he’dget a reply that afternoon. There was no
great distance between them, two miles at the most, but the Mail those days was
faster than it is today.
I bought a secondhand book some years ago, forgot about it, and when I rediscovered it a letter fell out, sent by a soldier in Aldershot one morning in 1916 to his wife in Essex, confident that it would reach her before he did that same day. (He had been one of the first conscripts of the war, but found medically unfit. His letter was literate and affectionate, and he had apparently not been revved up by propaganda to regret that he wouldn’t be expected to shoot Germans, Austrians, Turks or others of his fellow-human beings.
However efficient the Post was, the telegraph was instantaneous. In the 1890s Maud Gonne got a telegram in Dublin, from Paris, and sent a telegram back saying she would be in Paris the next day. So she took a steam-train to Dun Laoire, a steamship to Holyhead, a steam train to Euston, visited her London flat, took a steam-train from London to Dover, a steamship to Calais, and another steam train to Paris, without missing a beat, boat or train.
In 1920 the progress of the 74-day hunger-strike of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, was followed,around the world by means of the telegraph. Fearing he might die in Cork, the British moved him to Brixton Prison in London, the very heart of Empire. Working in a hotel by Hyde Park, the young Ho Chi Minh reckoned that no nation which had such citizens could be indefinitely held in subjection.
MacSwiney’s death, Labour Councillors, Aldermen, and Mayors of London Boroughs,
including Stepney’s Major Clement Attlee, a Gallipoli veteran, walked in full regalia
through London behind a uniformed Guard of Honour from the First Cork Brigade of the IRA which accompanied
Across the world not only did the Irish Diaspora follow the progress of the Hunger Strike by means of the telegraph. In India Mahatma,Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and other Indian patriots admired MacSwiney. The telegraph also made it a continued story. In Japan, Guo Moruo, a distinguished Chinese poet, added lines every day of the ordeal, identifying MacSwiney and Michael Fitzgerald, who was on hunger strike in Cork at the time with legendary Chinese heroes Bo Yi and Shu Qui who had died on hunger strike more than 3,000 years earlier. Guo Mora was for a long time Chairman of the China Academy and the Chinese Federation of Literary and Art Circles and a long-time friend of Mao Tse Tung.
The IRA 1919-1921 was very poorly armed and its military defence of the Republic made few international ripples. The chaos unleashed by the British engineered Great War (still reverberating today) produced many battles every day. The brute force and ignorance masquerading as “British Intelligence” in Ireland was exposed by MacSwiney, and Achbishop Mannix of Melbourne, and Eamon de Valera, Harry Boland, Liam Mellows and other Irish Republicans in America, and Dail Eireann’s daily Irish Bulletin, produced secretly in Dublin and circulated abroad.
Unfortunately today Ireland’s “National Newspapers” regurgitate the British bilge which was exposed for what it was, a century ago. But I believe they have been rumbled again.