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Eily McAdam
The Woman and her Cursade

My aunt, Eily McAdam, was the eldest of Pa's three daughters by his second wife. I knew her well when she was living in Dublin, a little blue eyed lady with a family of four, two boys and two girls, Austin, Paddy, Una, young Eily, and a husband, Jim, a lovable eccentric in the guise of a latter-day Micawber and Gully Jimson combined, but with the addition of Irish wit and wits. She had a shock of unruly white hair in those days, and according to a family photograph of the five McAdam daughters, a shock of unruly hair of a different hue as a young woman. It is with Eily herself and her link with the "Vindicator" that the story is carried forward.

If I may indulge in one personal memory, it is of Eily in her later years, with lively blue, blue eyes, shrunken of frame, cardigan, and skirt covering a tummy that bounced with jollity, laughing at one of the unending stream of stories of days past told by her husband, Jim Walsh. Sitting at either side of a miserable grate fire on a cold November night, in their flat in Upper Mount Street, Dublin, they were two of the most memorable people I have ever met. May the snows rest lightly on them.

Pa McAdam's daughters, with Eily in the foreground, are shown in this picture, taken at the rear of the "Vindicator" premises. The Erne river runs just behind the group.

Pa McAdam's Daughters
Click for larger image

Central to the story is Eily's experience as a young university undergraduate living in Dublin during the 1916 Rising and her acquaintance with one of its leaders, the third signator to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Thomas MacDonagh. I am deeply grateful to Cristín Leach, a great grandniece of Eily McAdam, for allowing me to quote freely from her research into the public life of Eily McAdam which formed the basis of her thesis when acquiring her Masters of Arts Degree in Journalism at Dublin City University in 1998. It is my hope that her study, combined with the familial recollections contained in this story of the "Vindicator", will add more to the knowledge of a remarkable woman, one who for a time was lost in the shuffle of political life in Ireland.

I bring the 1916 Rising to the forefront so that readers may judge its impact on the formation of Eily's political views, and on her life in general.

Writing in the "Catholic Standard" of May 21, 1943, a paper to which she was a regular contributor for many years, Eily recalled:

Once, long ago, I sat in a College classroom and listened to the teaching of a man. The man afterwards went down gloriously in history as one of those who paid the price for the "glorious folly" of Easter week. But I, sitting at class, had no prophetic vision to see that end. His words impressed me of themselves. The talk had turned on happiness. This man's classes were like that. He educated, and the meaning of that word is in its Latin derivation--"e" or "ex", out of, and "duco", I lead--to lead forth, to draw out character, knowledge, wisdom, not to cram it in, which is real education.....The discussion went back and forward round the table and then our teacher spoke:

"Anyhow, who ever told us to expect happiness in this world?" he said.

"That phrase has often come into my mind since he spoke it. Truly it is only the fairy-tale which arranges for people to live happily ever after...."

Cristín Leach went on to record another instance when Eily referred back to MacDonagh:

For the Easter edition of the Standard in 1953 Eily wrote an extremely personal account of her experience of the 1916 Rising and the news of MacDonagh's execution:

"Easter Week, 1916, is passing into the region of history. It is thirty-seven years ago, and yet, to those who were then young, when old heroic days seemed to have come back again, it does not seem so long ago. Odd to think that, with teenage eyes, some of us looked at the blackened ruins of the General Post Office, and saw rubble heaped up in the middle of O'Connell street....Vivid still the memory of those heart-hurting moments when news came of execution after execution. Most vivid, of course, the memory of the moment when the news was of the death by execution of one's own particular hero--reading in a brief newspaper paragraph the name of Thomas McDonagh, crumpling the paper to a ball as if, by crushing it, one could destroy the reality of what had been announced. And yet it was not a sad time. They had failed. Very well, they failed. But one had a sort of defiant pride in the fact that they had tried....."

"Defiant pride." Those two words defined the young and the mature Eily McAdam. In her fiery days as a young crusading newspaperwoman in the Ireland of the 1920s, and in her later years as a young-at-heart crusading Catholic journalist with a family to raise, she defied hypocrisy wherever she met it, and depended on an unspoken pride to meet and overcome the vicissitudes of material poverty.

By the time Eily graduated from Dublin University, Pa McAdam had found the task of running three newspapers a burdensome one. The "Herald" was the first to go under some years previously. Perhaps it was the death of his first wife and her burial in Strabane that persuded him to concentrate his energies on Derry City, then the commercial mecca for a very large portion of the population of Donegal, but the constant travelling by rail between Derry and Ballyshannon began to exert a toll. [Isn't it wonderful the way the old newspaper cliches still perform their job?] Then came Partition, the artificial sundering of six counties from what Behan in a later age called "the three-quarters Republic", the inauguration of what was triumphantly called "a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people", followed by the inevitable economic downturn. Faced with a political maelstrom in the south, in December 1921 he turned over management of the "Vindicator" to his then twenty-four year old daughter, Eily, whose credentials as an out and out Republican could not be challenged.

The story of Eily's earlier attempt surreptitiously to publish An Dáil has been previously mentioned. At this late date one wonders how surreptitious it really was. Pa was by no means a man to be easily hoodwinked, and as a Scot by birth he could hardly fail to notice any increases in the consumption of newsprint and printer's ink. As revealed in Cristín Leach's research, he was able to put a figure on the financial losses incurred by Eily (and her sisters) in her first newspaper venture, "a loss of at least two hundred pounds". Translated into present terms the loss was well over five thousand pounds.

One family story of Eily's days as publisher of An Dáil concerns her arrest and conveyance by army vehicle to Finner Camp, the British army base located halfway between Ballyshannon and Bundoran. Her brother John, who had been with her at the time of her arrest, was bundled into the same vehicle. They were in the back seat. Using John to draw attention from her escort, Eily began tearing up papers she had in her handbag, swallowing some, and leaving the rest in tiny bits.

Under search at the camp the pieces were found, and an attempt was made to piece them together. It failed. Eily had successfully made the rebel dispatches, for that is what they were, undecipherable. The British officer, as she recalled with merriment, had to be content with the papers her brother John was carrying, a series of love letters! Eily was trucked off to jail, and John lost his letters. He, by the way, remained a lifelong bachelor.

On December 2, 1921, two signed notices appeared in the "Vindicator", the first over Pa's name, handing

"complete control, the editorship and management of the "Donegal Vindicator" to my daughter Miss E. Dalton McAdam BA who proved her journalistic capacity in her first venture "An Dáil" which came to an abrupt end when the far flung power of the British Empire clanged the gates of Armagh Jail behind her."

The sarcasm behind the words was delicious: All the power of the British Empire brought to bear against a diminutive "five-foot two, eyes of blue" rebel from--literally--the winding banks of Erne!

In the second notice Eily "accepted the trust and responsibilty which is thus imposed on me," and went on to assert:

"I shall preach the thing that is in my heart in the hope of inspiring the men of the North to new efforts in the ancient cause that is ever young. My belief being what we call today Sinn Fein, the policy of the paper shall be likewise....sincerity is always valuable and truth will out."

Eily was twenty-four at the time she assumed editorship. By coincidence, when my turn came I was the same age, and in retrospect have come to understand more fully what she undertook at an historic time in the fight for Irish unity.

Students of Irish history will be well aware of the events which then were rapidly unfolding. The Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland was signed just three days after she became editor, under the threat of "immediate and terrible war" from then British Prime Minister, Welshman Lloyd George. To some extent the subject has been treated with in the recent film "Michael Collins", but what transpired in reality was more exciting, more chilling, more horrific in its aftermath than anything which followed the signing of an earlier treaty, the Treaty of Limerick, remembered for being broken by England "before the ink was dry on the paper".

Debated in Dáil Éireann, the treaty was carried by a vote of 64 to 57. Its main opponents, Eamon de Valera, and his supporters, were venemous in their opposition. Anyone who doubts this analysis has only to read the Dáil Debates of the time to see how visceral were the exchanges, and in those exchanges the women members surprisingly were at times the most vocal. As a lifelong believer in the value of contemporary records, I strongly urge a re-reading of those debates. And, as an aside, I may mention that the memory of one official Dáil reporter, a member of the shorthand team who helped transcribe and preserve those debates, was alive, at least in the institutional sense, among his successors, until the 1950s.

Not to belabour the matter, civil war followed, a precursor of the Spanish Civil War, and Irish politics was polarised for generations to come.

Through the two years, 1921 to 1923, Eily steered the "Vindicator's" fortunes, a rebel battered by those who had formerly been comrades, trying to see the good in both sides, and "preaching the thing that is in my heart". One can trace in her editorials the pressures which she felt. The young girl who had experienced firsthand the events of the Easter Rising and the executions of its leaders, in particular that of her gallant professor, Thomas MacDonagh, now saw Irishmen killing Irishmen.

She had the task of writing her first editorial for the issue of December 9, 1921, three days after the signing of the Treaty, and in her initial euphoria she did not see the oath it contained, to quote Cristín Leach, "as a problem". "It is but a phrase and British royalty only a figurehead".

Between the signing of the Treaty and its passage by Dáil Éireann on January 7, 1922, positions harded throughout the country. On January 13 Eily was writing:

"The Peace treaty has been ratified and now the country must be asked if it will have a Free State....It must be evident that there is something wrong with the terms when England handed them to the plenipotentiaries with the words "sign or we shoot". This is not rhetoric but plain fact. The only excuse any one of them gave for signing is that to refuse meant immediate war. Is that how treaties are usually made?"

But partition remained her main cause for concern. On February 24 she wrote:

"While Ireland is still sizzling on the political frying pan it would be well for the businessmen of the North to lay aside their ledgers and give some time to deep thought....for a time at least Ireland will be a divided country and as such its temper will be none of the best....the Free State is not prepared to fight Derry's battle for inclusion with Southern Ireland. Let the significance of that last sentence be grasped...."

Eily never penned a more significant sentence in her entire political career. The Free State stood idly by during the pogroms of the 1930s in the Six Counties when Catholics were targetted for killing by Unionist upholders of Stormont's openly professed claim to govern for only one class, one creed. The selection of those targetted was made by consensus, or what can be described as "by committee", to use a phrase applied to similar killings in more recent times. Its successor, the Twenty-Six county Republic, also was not prepared to seek Derry's inclusion with "Southern" Ireland, and over the decades Dublin's reluctance to press for the inclusion of the severed Six Counties in a complete Irish framework led to the I.R.A. once more coming to the fore in open defence of civil rights for all.

Eily continued her support for de Valera and his supporters in the period before the actual commencement of hostilities, and once more, as with An Dáil, the "Vindicator" suffered economic consequences. On May 22, 1922, she wrote:

"We have been bitterly criticised for taking the stand we have taken in this unfortunate difference of opinion. We have been warned that a newspaper championing the Republic will not have the support of the moneyed people who are commonly supposed to keep the earth in motion. We reply that we realised all that in June 1920 when we launched "An Dáil" as a Republican organ, and realised it even more vividly when after suppression by British forces we could not find funds to recommence the work. Republicanism does not pay. Take that as a fact...."

Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Eily remained steadfast in her republicanism, but the horrors that it inflicted on the population at large troubled her greatly. One item which drew her condemnation was the alleged theft from those killed in what was termed "the Donegal ambush".

She commented with innate Christian charity on the death of Arthur Griffith and on the assassination of Michael Collins, the two foremost Treaty supporters, in August 1922. She asked:

"When will this chain of tragedies end? Is there no basis for conciliation? There can be no progress either way by the shooting of Irish leaders no matter what their political opinions are."

On September 23 she described a raid on the "Vindicator" offices by members of the National Army of the new Free State, accompanied by an unnamed civilian:

"We...expressed some surprise at his presence, the manner of his entry [by climbing a wall at the rear of the premises] and the fact that he seemed to be acting as guide for the party, and wish to enter a strong protest against the presence of an armed civilian, the hour [midnight] at which the raid was carried out and the manner of entering. The soldiers were courteous, as were the Black and Tans and the British Tommies on the occasions of their numerous raids."

This, to my own belief, is the only time the word "courteous" was applied to the Black and Tans in Ireland.

A week later Eily suffered another raid, this time, it was believed, by the IRA, and led her to write that it had "the merit of having been undertaken in error".

On November 11th she returned to one of her principal themes:

"The plight of the Northern Nationalists is pitiable but the South is too busy ensuring acceptance of the Treaty to bother about them."

As a Christmas wish she pleaded on December 23, 1922:

"....Irishmen loving this little island, forgive, forget, draw together before the cradle of Christ."

She displayed an increasing reliance on the intervention of a divine grace to end the killing of brother by brother, and in her last editorial signed Eily Dalton McAdam on, appropriately, March 17, 1923, dealing with proposals for peace put forward by the Archbishop of Cashel, she wrote:

"We are profoundly grateful as lovers of our country for the Archbishop's proposals. Even though they have failed at the moment, they will have their effect."

Collins had viewed the Treaty as "the freedom to achieve freedom" for all of Ireland. de Valera rejected it, one of his grounds being that it retained an oath of allegiance, primarily to the "constitution of the Irish Free State" but secondarily to be faithful to "H.M. King George V, his heirs and successors". It was a supreme irony that five years later, and following a civil war, de Valera substituted "empty formula" for Eily's "but a phrase" and said he took the oath "with mental reservations". Men had died for "an empty formula". This was the final disillusionment for Eily McAdam, and in 1926 she went to live in England.

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