Historical Reviews

Dublin Evening Mail, 21 July 1904














At St. Louis Exhibition


Facts of the Dispute


(Evening Mail Special)

Mr. J.F. M'Cormack, the well-known tenor, who has been singing in the Irish section of the St. Louis Exhibition since the 4th May Last, arrived in Dublin some days ago. His presence in the city gave a "Mail' representative the opportunity of securing reliable and first-hand information of the facts of a now notorious controversy. The details of the "stage Irishman" have already reached the public through the medium of this and other journals. But, so far, public opinion has been unassisted by any authentic record of actual personal experience. Mr. M'Cormack is, however, capable of supplying such an interesting and enlightening narrative. His courtesy enables us to put it before our readers. After a perusal of this plain and unadorned tale they will be able to form an accurate judgment as to the extent of the alleged outrage on Irish sentiment and self4espect, and as to the exact value attachable to the recent repudiations of Mr. Edward Devoy.

"I have called to get an account of your experiences at the St Louis Exhibition," the "Mail" representative explained at the commencement of the interview.

"To begin with, have you seen the reports published at this side with reference to the dispute in the Irish section?"

"No," said Mr. M'Cormack, "I have not I have been only in town for a few days."

"Well then, I will take seriatim the principle allegations that have been made, and perhaps you would not mind telling me how far they are borne out by your own knowledge. Before coming to the question of the Stage Irishman, might I ask what truth is in the statement that the Irish Section has been scandalously neglected? It is said that it has been turned into a mere side show and placed amongst the merry-go-rounds, and that while the exhibits of all the other countries can be inspected free, a charge of is. is made for admission to the Irish exhibits.?"

"It is true," answered Mr. M'Cormack, "that the Irish section is amongst the side shows, and that it is erected on the 'Pike,' as the ground devoted to the Turkish Village and similar attractions is called. But, in my opinion, there is no intention to slight Ireland by this arrangement. On the contrary, it is difficult to see how it could be avoided. At the opening of the exhibition it was made plain to us that countries in the position of France, Germany, etc.-- recognized nations, I think, was the phrase that was used -- and the various States of the Union were alone accorded separate pavilions. This being so, Ireland naturally fell into the class of side shows. The reason why a shilling admission was charged was simply because the exhibits were in a side show as distinct from a pavilion. Then(?) the Irish undertaking was more of a ___ social venture than anything else. It was an enterprise on the part of Mr. Hanly and others."

"As a matter of personal opinion, do you think it was a drawback to the success of the Irish exhibit to have this is. admission charged?" "Well, undoubtedly it was," Mr. M'Cormack replied candidly. "But, whether it was possible to avoid in the case of the Irish Section, a rule that applied to all the other side shows, is a matter upon which I could not express an opinion."

"Now about this "Stage Irishman" matter. Did you witness the performance of the 3Oth April, when an 'Anglo-Jew' is alleged to have sung a garbled version of an English music hall song, following up this performance by jokes about an Irishman being mistaken for a monkey?"

"No," said Mr. M'Cormack, "I had not reached St. Louis at that time. I did not get there until the 4th May. But I certainly heard that such a thing did take place, and that a round-robin was signed in protest and handed to Mr. J.A. Reardon."

"It appears to be an undoubted fact then that a performance, degrading to the Irish character took place on 30th April?"

"It does. I reached the Exhibition at about 12 o'clock on Friday, 4th May, and made my first appearance in the Irish Theatre on the following Saturday night. When I arrived I found on the scene three acrobats and a piper named Touhy, from New York, who is described as one of the greatest pipers in the world. In addition there was a French-American named Drummier, and a man named Bernard Kavanagh. Kavanagh, who lives within 15 miles of Buffalo and is of Irish parentage, was acting as assistant to the stage manager, an Englishman of the name of Martin. Martin was subordinate to Mr. Myles Murphy, a New York comedian and director of amusements at the Irish Section, while Mr. Murphy was acting, of course, under Mr. Hanly."

"Now, as you have mentioned the assistant stage manager, I might point out to you a rather remarkable statement that has been published over here. It is said that a Jew was engaged to assist the Englishman in managing the Irish Theatre, and that he happened to be the son of a gentleman whose New York Theatre was some time ago the scene of a riot. It appears that at this theatre a play called 'M'Fadden's Flat_ (s?)' was hooted and rotten-egged off the stage, because it represented the Irish of New York as 'supplying the missing link.' The name of the theatre-owner associated with this performance is given as Rosencrest, and the assistant stage manager in the Irish section at St. Louis is alleged to have been his son. The stress laid on this fact practically insinuates that Rosencrest's influence had something to do with the monkey-Irishman 'humour' of April 30th?'

"There was certainly a man named Rosencrest," replied Mr. M'Cormack, "but he had nothing to do with the performances in the theatre. It was untrue to say that he was assistant manager. I believe he was Mr. Murphy's secretary. Now, the first night I appeared there was not a single feature in the performance that any reasonable man could object to. Of course I heard that Touhy had given a very offensive representation of the stage Irishman on the first night, but the dispute on that ____ was seemingly ended. I heard all about the row and the agreement between Hanly and the players, providing against the repetition of what was objected to."

"You had nothing to do with any agreement?" "Oh, no. You see, the vocalists went to St. Louis as individual artistes. The members of the 'Deirdie' Company went as a company. Mr. Digges was manager of the 'Deirdie' Company. It would be misleading to speak of the vocalists and players as acting in one body."

"Now please tell me about your own personal experiences of the 'Stage Irishman."

"All went well until the evening of the 24th May. Then Touhy, whom I have already mentioned, came on and sang a song called 'Patrick's Day.' Yes: it is absolutely true to say that this song held the Irish up to ridicule. It was about a man who took 30 days to celebrate the feast of St. Patrick, and who took 29 of the days to get well from the effects of the first day's drink. While Touhy was singing this, he worked in a lot of very offensive 'business' -- he played the drunken Irishman in a very disgusting manner."

"You considered it a degrading exhibition, then?" "Decidedly, it was most degrading and scandalous," said Mr. M'Cormack, with indignant emphasis. "I watched the performance from inside the curtain. I was angry and disgusted. Touhy was encored and danced. I went straight up to Mr. Martin, and said, quietly and publicly --'Mr. Martin, I will not go on the stage after such an artist.' He said, 'All right.' I went upstairs to my dressing room, and on the way met Mr. Digges, who said -- "Quite right, Mac! I will back you out in this!" Mr. Digges went to Martin; but I can't say what occurred between them. There were some angry words. Martin told Mr. Digges and his friends to get away out of that. I was not 'next on the programme' when I objected to go on. Miss Marie Narelle was; but the moment I heard the stage Irishman sing, I made up my mind."

"It is reported that Martin on this occasion reviled the Irish actors and their nation. Did you hear him do so?"

'No, not exactly; but when myself and Digges and another were about to leave I heard him say -- 'The idea of these upstarts coming over from Ireland to try and dictate to a man who has been at the business all his life,' and he added that if we left the theatre we might take the consequences and that they would not allow us inside the place anymore. We then left and were joined by Miss Quinn and Mr Caulfield."

"You all withdrew?"

"Marie Narelle went on, but Miss Lily Foley did not."

"Were you acting on your own account or in concert with others?" "Decidedly on my own account. I was thoroughly disgusted with what had happened, and I accept the fullest personal responsibility for my own withdrawal."

"What happened next?" "We were all in a bunch outside the theatre considering what we would do. Murphy came along, and Digges and myself went over to him to speak to him. He looked very sour, and passed us by without speaking. After that Mr. Hanly, whose son was speaking to us at the time, came along, and we all stopped him. He answered that we 'should arrange all that with Mr. Murphy.' We told him Mr. Murphy would not speak to us. He passed on, but at his son's request came back and asked what our grievances were. We told him we objected to having our country and ourselves held up to ridicule. Mr. Digges was a spokesman. I cannot remember his reply exactly, but he said something about putting 75,000 dollars into the show and getting it back. But I clearly recollect that he denied any knowledge about the stage Irishman going on the boards, and said that he was every bit as Irish as any of us, and had the very same objection to these exhibitions."

"Is it a fact, as I have read, that the 'stage Irishman' appeared in all his glory the following night?" "That statement is absolutely false. He did not appear the next night, or any night afterwards up to the time I left."

"After that night, as a matter of fact, was there anything at all to object to?" "Absolutely nothing, so far as I could see. Late on the night of the 24th May -- the night of the dispute -

- I had an interview with Hanly and Murphy. Hanly accused me of breaking my contract I answered that I was prepared to stand by what I had done. He said that the legal thing for me to have done was to have gone on in the order of the programme, and to have made my protest afterwards. I said that I was aware a protest had been made before, and that he had given an undertaking to the players that there would be no stage Irishman again. He said --'Are you aware of the fact that the protest you speak about was never handed(?) in properly, and that the management were merely given to understand that it had been drawn up.' I said I heard it had been sent in, but in any event I was prepared to stand by what I had done myself Then he asked me would I go on if I got a guarantee that Touhy's performance would not be repeated, but I said it would be better for both parties that I should go home. At his request I reconsidered my decision, and as a result of guarantees given to us, Miss Foley and I went on the next night and continued to sing up to the time of my departure for Ireland. I came back because my health was not of the best, and I had trouble with my throat."

Mr. McCormack could not speak from personal knowledge about the developments leading to the alleged dismissal of Messers. Digges, Ewing, and Miss Quinn by the Advisory Board, presided over by Mr. Edward Devoy (President of the American UnitedIrish League). "We were," he said, "kept completely in the dark about all this."

"Why were you kept in the dark?" "Because," he replied, "we were considered to be weak-kneed individuals -- false to our principle for the sake of a few dollars."

"You don't plead guilty to that, I presume?" "Certainly not. We did not go back to sing until we got a guarantee that there would be no more of the stage Irishman. What then had we to protest against? We had made our protest, and it had been successful. That is a point I would like to have brought clearly out, because I consider that a serious injustice has been done to those who continued on in the theatre."

Further questions elicited the fact that the "Deirdre" theatrical performances had collapsed with the withdrawal of Mr. Digges, and had been succeeded by a little Irish play, called "Grandmother's Birthday." It was not true to say that the theatre was abandoned, and replaced by a music hall and a German beer garden. Something on the lines of a beer garden was added on the grounds outside the theatre -- not as a substitute for anything, but simply because a temperature ranging up to 92 degrees rendered refreshments indispensable. The actors had all received their notices when he (Mr. M'Cormack) was coming home, and he could not speak as to the nature of the future performances.

On being shown Mr. Edward Devoy's denial that the performances in the Irish Section caricatured the Irish Race, Mr. M'Cormack declared that it was misleading. The entertainment of 24th May was anything but "refined and attractive" and reflected anything but "credit" on the Irish character. "At the same time," said Mr. M'Cormack, "from the description you give me of the reports published in keland about the dispute, I must say that they greatly exaggerate the state of affairs. The 'Stage Irishman' at St. Louis was bad, no doubt, but not one4enth as bad as some of the things I have seen applauded at the theatres in Dublin." It was his opinion that a little more moderation and good temper on both sides would have honourably adjusted the St. Louis differences. "Personally, he had carried away from St. Louis no resentment to anybody, and he would always look back to his sojourn there with feelings of real pleasure."


Many thanks to Padriac O'Hara for providing the above article.

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