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An Alternative View to the Propaganda: The Irish-American Press and the Spanish-American War

By Eileen Anderson


Finley Peter Dunne was one of the most influential voices of the Irish community during these years. Dunne, who was the son of Irish immigrants, began his career writing about the relevant issues of the Irish in Chicago but later moved to New York to write about national issues. His Chicago columns had been enormously popular, but he gained national recognition with his satirical depictions of events related to the war. Most of his columns featured as their protagonist an Irish bartender from a pub in Chicago called Mr. Dooley who became the voice of many working-class Irish. Dunne wrote about many other topics but these parodies of the General’s speeches and war reports gave him national success.

The cynical views of Mr. Dooley, the bartender, were all written in a phonetic Irish- American dialect which was then considered humorous. Dunne’s idea was to ‘make Dooley talk as an Irishman would talk who has lived thirty or forty years in America’ and ‘whose natural pronunciation had been more or less affected by the slang of the streets’ (Fanning 1987: xvi). In the sketches, one becomes wan, when - whin and the final /g/ is dropped on words which end in ‘ing’. The Spanish names are transformed as well, so Puerto Rico becomes Porther Ricky and Cuba is also given an extra syllable to imitate an Irish language pronunciation and turns into Cubia. This Hiberno-English had a long tradition in English and Irish writing and in the US context, ‘writers from the WASP mainstream throughout the nineteenth century made full use of the brogue to help create derogatory pictures of the alien immigrant hordes’, which ‘were part of the new wave of nativism that swept America in the nineties against the “new immigration”’ (Fanning 1987: xvii). However, Dunne’s mimesis of a working class Irishman is not meant to be offensive because “he used the brogue in new and salutary ways” (Fanning 1987: xix). Mr. Dooley’s humorous naïveté conceals the gravity of the issue he confronts. Dunne’s subversion of English and the conversational tone of the article undermines the serious content of the subjects written about and “the expression of social consciousness … would never have been printed unless they had been written in dialect’ (Ellis 1938: xxii).

The Threat of an Anglo-American Alliance: Irish opinion on the possibility of an English connection to the war

The traditional antagonism of these Irish American communities towards England put them opposition to US/Anglo opinion which supported intervention against Spain. Their first reaction was not to fight Spain because the Spanish government, which was also Catholic, had traditionally been an ally of Ireland. However, because of their own experiences of colonialism they also understood that these Islanders desired and fought for independence. ‘The contradictory impulses in the hearts of Catholic Americans - of sympathy for Cuba’s insurgency, and identification with Spain’s Catholicity, - might [have] distanced them from the current of popular passion’ (Doyle 1976: 165). Many of these Irish were loyal citizens who had fought for the US army but also recalled their own aspirations towards independence. Some of their resentment surfaced as the Irish saw support for the US in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, but not in Ireland.

Thus, there were three positions (that intersected and diverged on various levels) that these Irish-Catholics supported: pro-Spanish, pro-Islander (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippine) and/ or pro-US. As Hearst and Pulitzer were producing large amounts of anti-Spanish propaganda at the end of 1897 and the beginning of 1898, the Irish New York/Irish newspaper editors found themselves in an uncertain position. They were not eager to enter into war with Spain because Spain’s decline might help maintain England’s military supremacy and would give the appearance that the US supported England’s colonial policies. There was also a great deal of trepidation in the community that the United States would alienate its other European allies. Thus, the pre-War coverage of The Irish World and The Irish-American primarily consisted of connecting the Spanish Caribbean problem with England. One of these links is explained in this letter to the editor of the Irish World from 15 January 1898.

Employing her usual cunning arts, England is working hard through her agents here to defeat the settlement of the Cuban question by the establishment of home rule in Cuba. What does it matter to her that prolonging the insurrection means the prolonging of the hunger and nakedness and destitution of the poor Cubans, the continued devastation of the island and the further sacrifice of human life? With Cuba governing herself, developing her resources, advancing on the path to returned prosperity which has been opened to her by the liberal ministry of Spain discontented Jamaica seeing her Spanish neighbor enjoying the advantages of self-government might again attempt to shake off the English yoke […] and the other British West Indian Islands might follow in her lead.
A Home Ruler.

As this reader points out, pro-war advocates ignored the fact that Cuba and Puerto Rico had already been given limited autonomy by Spain with the Carta Autonómica since November of 1897.

Both newspapers also printed several small articles which described the Spanish warships coming to the Caribbean which tempered the daily reports of Spanish troop build up in the mainstream press. However, for Ford and Meehan, the threat of an Anglo-American Alliance was the issue that deserved daily front-page coverage. They were concerned about a US/British agreement that would tentatively facilitate the use of each other’s ports and canals in Asia and in Central America in case of war. [2] The Irish editors feared that the US government would align itself with the English and support colonial policy by linking it to US interests. On 15 January 1897, The World referred to an editorial in The London Spectator ‘Boasting of American Alliance’ which ‘threatens Europe with the Whole Anglo-Saxon Race, United and Resolved’ and was the beginning of a series of articles strongly denouncing the Alliance.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Anderson, Eileen, "An Alternative View to the Propaganda: The Irish-American Press and the Spanish-American War
" in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 163-170. Available online (, accessed .


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