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Harvard Refuses to Let Irish Woman Speak about British Atrocities in Ireland after the 1916 Uprising

 Photo: National Museum of Ireland

Irish activist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was denied a request to speak at Harvard University in January 1917, when she was in Boston to speak about "The Truth of the Irish Uprising."

Mrs. Sheehy-Skeffington had already spoken at Faneuil Hall, where 2,000 people jammed into the famous hall to hear her talk about the execution of her husband, writer and pacifist Francis Skeffington, who was taken out and shot without trail in the wake of the Easter 1916 uprising in Dublin, and the ensuing British coverup. She was introduced at Faneuil Hall by Mayor James Michael Curley.

Learning of the success of the Faneuil Hall speech, Harvard then denied her access to its campus.

The Boston Globe reported, "Harvard has refused to let Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington speak in a building under corporation control. This is a great compliment to the power of the Irish widow. When she tells her story of the way in which the British Government treated the Irish at the time of the Dublin revolt, her listeners are visibly affected. Passion has often been characteristic of champions of the Irish cause. Mrs Skeffington speaks very simply. Those who sit before her are conscious that she understates her case, that she holds herself back. Her message is the more powerful because of her evident restraint. The bare facts are such that they cry out with a penetration possessed by no human voice."

The Catholic Columbian newspaper in Ohio was unsparing of Harvard's hypocrisy, writing, "Supposing that Harvard University would want a chapter of Truth from our times, (Mrs. Skeffington) applied for the use of one of its halls. This was, to the everlasting disgrace of this pro-British institution, denied her.

"We hear much of explorations and investigations of the truth of facts coming from these halls of learning. As far as modern history goes, it is a lie to say that Harvard wants the truth. She wants nothing of the kind; she desires darkness and not light and has done small credit to the England she advocates in closing the mouth of a witness of undeniable facts. Harvard's cowardice is equalled only by her love of darkness. Let her no more speak of truth and light," wrote the Columbian.

After the Easter Uprising, Sheehy-Skeffington's husband was arrested as a precautionary measure, and "without even a pretense at a court-martial, Captain Bowen-Coulthurst gave orders that Skeffington and a companion be shot. At the time, Bowen-Coulthurst gave as his reason, 'I am taking these men out to shoot them as it seems to me the best thing to do.' After the Dublin men had been shot the soldiers went in search of evidence with which to support the shooting," wrote the Globe.

Photo:  Library of Congress

Traveling with her seven year old son Owen, Mrs. Sheehy-Skeffington had been denied a passport to visit America, because she would not comply with the British demand that 'you must not talk about the war or the conditions in Ireland,' wrote the Globe. She refused the demand, and instead managed to get passage on a steamer that took her to Boston. She expected to be arrested when she returned to Ireland, she said. 

In addition to Faneuil Hall, Mrs.Sheehy-Skeffington also met at Copley Plaza Hotel with her supporters from the region's Irish societies. Later, Mayor Curley made his automobile available to Mrs Skeffington and her son to tour around Boston and see places of historic interest, the Globe reported. 

Read more about 'Boston and the Irish Rising' in Irish America Magazine.

-Research and story by Michael Quinlin.


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