The Harp Without the Crown – Liam Mellows


“I’ve been told that Butte is the most cordial city in the Northwest, but I believe that is a paltry description….I should say that it extends as warm a welcome to a stranger within its gates as any other city in the United States. Quote taken from Liam Mellows on his arrival in Butte, Montana on June 2, 1919.

Hello, this is John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF and welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown, where I will be discussing the visit of Liam Mellows, an Irish patriot and politician, to Butte in June of 1919.

Liam Mellows, born in County Galway in 1892 became active in the Irish independence movement as a young man. This interest led him to join the Irish Volunteers, an organization committed to obtaining Irish independence by overthrowing British rule in Ireland. Mellows eventually became the General Secretary of the Irish Volunteers and this position put him in charge of 700 men in County Galway during the 1916 Easter Rising. Although the main focus of the Easter Rising was in Dublin, the Irish Volunteers were poised to attack other British troops stationed in Ireland, such as Galway in the west of Ireland. He took flight after the Irish Volunteers were defeated by British armed forces.

He spent six months hiding in the countryside and was able to escape Ireland for America.

Unfortunately, upon his arrival and stay in New York, Mellows was arrested and served prison time on the charge of aiding the German cause during the First World War. Upon his release, Mellows worked with John Devoy, editor of the Gaelic American, a widely read New York weekly newspaper, in planning and organizing Eamon De Valera’s trip and fund raising activities in America in 1919.

Eamon De Valera recruited Mellows to be his advance agent for his upcoming trip to America. He was responsible for making the logistical arrangements for De Valera’s trip to each American city. He was accompanied by Charles P. Sweeney, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a popular early 1900s newspaper on the East Coast. Sweeney served as Press Agent for Mellows as they traveled America organizing De Valera’s trip.

His job as advance agent was a huge undertaking with little time to discuss Irish independence and related topics in depth. However, during his stay in Butte, Mellows was repeatedly asked by newspaper reporters and the public about his role in the Easter Rising. He eventually gave in to these requests and provided details of the events of the Easter Rising in Galway. The fact that he discussed his participation in the Rising is remarkable because Mellows had a history of downplaying his role in that important event. His reticence in talking about his role in the Rising was not because he feared execution or prison, but rather he felt there were many unsung Irish heroes who played just as important a role as himself in the fight for Irish independence.

In addition to providing details of his participation in the Rising in Galway, . Mellows made several pointed statements concerning the British government’s rule in Ireland. He noted British rule was not supported by a majority of Irish and the British government used the British Army “to keep the people in subjection and compel them to bow to the yoke of imperialism.”

. Even though the British ruled Ireland, an Irish Parliament existed, which the Lloyd George Government declared “suppressed and non-existant.” Mellows noted, “the Irish Parliament will continue to function until the last of its members have been imprisoned or executed.” In addition to the Irish Parliament wanting complete Irish independence from England, Mellows noted that a recent election in Ireland showed eighty percent of the voters favored a Republic free from England and that the “people of Ireland have the right of ownership of Ireland.” He also compared the struggle for Irish independence to the struggle of the American thirteen colonies against British rule, a comparison many Irish activists and politicians made while in Butte.

Liam Mellows was probably not as well known as some of the Irish who came to Butte to rally the Irish American community for Irish independence. His role in the 1916 Easter Rising was significant and he was trusted by Eamon De Valera to organize his important American trip, which raised six million dollars. While in America, he was elected to the British House of Commons, but like many Irish patriots, refused to sit in the British Parliament or give the required allegiance to the King. As Mellows departed Butte, he stated, “I have been here, and I am assuredly coming back…a splendid spirit is manifest in Butte, a sympathetic leaning towards Ireland’s cause.” Mellows’ desire to return to Butte never materialized, as he was executed three years later in 1922 at age 30 by British

troops for his participation in the takeover of Dublin’s Four Courts Judicial Building during the Irish Civil War.

This is John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown.