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” We do not care if a majority of the people are Protestant or Catholic….they should be free to choose their own form of government.” Quotation from(Robert) Lindsay Crawford in an address to a sold out Butte audience at the Broadway Theater. Hello this is John Conlan and welcome to this episode of The Harp Without the Crown, where I will be discussing the visit of Lindsay Crawford to Butte in February 1920.
Lindsay Crawford was from Northern Ireland and worked as a journalist and editor for the Ulster Guardian. Early in his professional career he was a strong supporter of unionism and allegiance to the British Empire. However, as co-founder of the Independent Orange Order, he became committed to advocating reconciliation between Irish Catholics and Protestants, as a way to achieve Irish independence. He also supported tenants’ rights and land reform for everyone in Ireland.
At that time, many in Ireland and Northern Ireland viewed reconciliation and cooperation between Catholics and Protestants as impossible. Divisions between the two religions were deep, as Protestants generally favored the continued union with England while Catholics desired total independence from the British Empire. However, it should be noted there were exceptions, as Protestant politicians and patriots, such as Wolfe Tone and Charles Stewart Parnell, were important advocates for Irish independence.
Crawford, like many of his fellow Protestants, did not initially favor Irish independence. Over time he became sympathetic to the cause of Irish Independence. This shift in thinking led him to become allies with the Irish Gaelic League President Douglas Hyde and Land League President Michael Davitt, two outspoken advocates for Irish independence. Both Hyde and Davitt visited Butte and have been profiled in this series.
Crawford came to Butte on two occasions, in 1920 and 1930. In February of 1920, Crawford spoke at the Butte Broadway Theater under the auspices of the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom. The purpose of the visit was to enlist the sympathy of American Protestants with the people of Ireland in their struggle for independence. He emphasized the struggle for independence was not a religious issue, which challenged the world view of much of the Catholic and Protestant clergy and citizens in Northern Ireland. Also at this same time, Northern Ireland was becoming part of the United Kingdom, which heightened tension and divisions between religious, social and political groups in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Crawford was billed by the Butte newspapers as the “best informed man on this side of the Atlantic on the Irish question as it relates to Northern Ireland.” During his talk, he stressed that cooperation between Irish Catholics and Protestants should be the first step in the struggle to obtain Irish independence. Like many Irish activists who visited Butte, Crawford noted that the claims of the Irish people to national independence were similar to, and just as strong as the American claims for independence during the Revolutionary War. His message was well received, as the Butte Miner reported Crawford “was met with a rousing reception as he pleaded for Ireland’s independence…. the crowd cheered, applauded and stamped their feet.”
This series has profiled Irish activists and politicians who visited Butte in the early 1900s. Most were generally in favor of armed rebellion against England as a way to obtain Irish independence. These respected Irish activists, such as Constance Markievicz, Eamon de Valera and Margaret Pearse, disagreed with Crawford’s vision of peace through reconciliation. Their positions were understandable because of cruel British government policies toward Ireland. However, it was important for Butte audiences to listen to viewpoints that were an alternative to those who saw the Irish
independence movement as a violent struggle between religious groups and the British empire.
It is impossible from accounts to determine if Crawford was successful in gaining supporters. His talk was sponsored by The Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom, so there were probably some in Butte who believed in his message. However, the Butte Robert Emmet Literary Association, an organization committed to financially supporting armed rebellion in Ireland, had a large membership at the time. This Irish Catholic organization generally was not receptive to working across religious lines and it is doubtful Crawford had much impact within the Emmet’s circle. Despite these differing viewpoints on Irish independence, Butte audiences gave Crawford a warm welcome and listened attentively to his points during his talk at the Broadway Theater.
Unfortunately, Crawford’s message in 1920 was ignored in Northern Ireland, as countless lives were either lost or traumatized due to sectarian violence throughout the 1900s. The violence reached its climax from the late 1960s until 1998 during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland that took the lives of over 4,000 people. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 ended much of the violence during that time period.
Even today, solving the many political and social issues in Northern Ireland is still seen by some hardliners from both religions as a religious struggle. However, it is important to note that Crawford’s message of reconciliation and cooperation is gaining in importance as a way to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Recent elections in Northern Ireland indicate that many people in Northern Ireland are tired of conflict and violence. They have voted politicians into office who value peace and reconciliation as a way to move forward in solving the many issues facing Northern Ireland. Also, the progressive thinking of the younger generation will hopefully move Northern Ireland toward a path of peace and reconciliation.
Crawford had a productive career, not only as a peace advocate, but later in life as a trade representative and consul for the Irish Free State and Secretary for the American National Foreign Trade Council. He later came to Butte in 1930 to speak about trade relations between Ireland and the United States. Crawford died in 1945, just a few years before Ireland became an independent Republic.
This is John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown