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Anti-Irish speech stirred outrage in boro

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In June 1921, Irish Americans throughout Queens were outraged about the famous “jackass” speech made by U.S. Navy Rear Adm. William S. Sims in London June 7. In the speech, Sims spoke of “jackass” resolutions of sympathy for Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army, in America and charged Sinn Fein with being responsible for the loss of American lives in World War I.

In Flushing, the reaction was the denunciation of Sims as a “rat” and “traitor” in a meeting where motion pictures, eight reels of them, showing suffering in Ireland under British rule was screened.

One of the speakers at the meeting, the Rev. Father O’Reilly, former state president of the Friends of Irish Freedom, made the sensational prediction that war between the United States and England within 10 years was inevitable. He exclaimed, “And then God help England!” The statement was received with loud applause.

Meanwhile, Sims had been recalled. In his farewell address in London on June 14, he further inflamed the situation by saying, “We confidently appeal to all good 100 percent Americans to see to it that the bad Irish who curse every land in which they set foot are not permitted to work their wicked will.”

Upon his arrival in New York June 22 on the White Star liner “Olympic,” security not seen since former President Woodrow Wilson traveled to the city was in force. When word of the liner’s docking spread, some began to cheer for Sims and some hissed.

The depth of feeling was shown by a number of arguments that eventually led to blows. The admiral was whisked by automobile to Pennsylvania Station, where he boarded a train for Washington, D.C.

He declined to make any statement about the matter at that time, but said the entire matter would be thoroughly covered later.

The Greater Astoria Historical Society is open to the public Wednesdays 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays noon till 5 p.m. at Quinn’s Gallery, Fourth Floor, 35-20 Broadway in Long Island City.

For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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