Shamrock Isle at the Panama Pacific International Exposition and the end of the Irish Village

Historical Essay

by Elizabeth Creely, 2015

Originally titled "Erin-Go-Blah: The Shamrock Isle at the Panama Pacific International Exposition and the end of the Irish Village"


Shamrock Isle at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, 1915.

Photo: courtesy of John Jones

On March 28, 1914, a story appeared in the Monitor, the newspaper and “official organ” of the San Francisco archdiocese, which alerted subscribers to the groundbreaking that month of the only Irish-themed concession, the Shamrock Isle, at the upcoming Panama Pacific International Exposition. “For the first time in the history of this county,” the editors exclaimed, “the real Ireland is to be properly represented.”(1) This was a big commitment: there had already been three Irish Villages at two previous world’s fairs that promised the same thing. The real Ireland, at that moment, was skirmishing with itself over labor issues and against England in pursuit of independence. It wasn’t clear in Ireland what the “real” Ireland was—colonial dependent or contender for small nation status—and if it wasn’t clear there, how could the exposition organizers be so sure of themselves?

James H. Creely with daughters Marion and Clair Creely at the PPIE 1915; Photo: courtesy of Elizabeth Creely
The Shamrock Isle, which was located on the Joy Zone, the 65-acre amusement section of the exposition, stood apart from the main exposition grounds by virtue of distance as well as programming. Where the baseball diamond in the Moscone Recreation Center now stands, a replica of St. Laurence Gate, the famed barbican gate which failed to prevent Cromwell’s soldiers from massacring the villagers of Drogheda, welcomed visitors into the concession. Directly across from the Irish Village stood the Chinese Village. This placement was both ironic and fitting, given the historical antagonism of the Irish working class and their union leaders towards the Chinese, who were their unacknowledged confreres in the building and development of San Francisco. “There are many dignified reasons for having an amusement district,”(2) wrote official PPIE historian Frank Morton Todd, somewhat defensively. One reason was the “exhibition of strange people and customs.” The other reason was simple. “People want to have fun.” Perhaps he was saying what the exposition board could not. Underlying the beauty of the exposition, with its acres of Beaux Arts palaces, romantic courtyards, and flower-lined avenues, was a tone of hectoring insistence on public education, self-improvement, and better living through unrestrained consumerism.

An index from June 22, 1915, lists the day’s programs, forty-five separate events, with lectures like “Dogs: Their Points and Purpose” and “Care and Treatment of the Insane.”(3) After gaping at such novelties as the Large Electric Clock in the Palace of Manufacturers or being serenaded by the Anvil Choir (this was five “automatic blacksmiths” who hammered out the Westminster Chimes on their anvils), visitors were encouraged to bend their steps towards the Joy Zone and the long avenue of theatres, restaurants, rides, and exhibits. The exposition was engrossing and memorable, certainly. But it may have been a bit exhausting as well. After the spectacle of the eleven palaces and the relentless whirl of activity throughout the main grounds, feeling joy might have been a stretch. I have a souvenir photo of my great-grandfather, San Francisco attorney James H. Creely, and his two daughters. James looks wearily dazed. Perhaps he heard too many renditions of the Westminster Chimes.

“Irish Villages”

Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; Photo: Guide to the Irish Industries and Blarney Castle, Irish Industries Association
The first Irish Villages in America appeared on the Midway Plaisance at the 1893 Chicago world’s fair. Conceived of as a single village, tensions between the exhibit sponsors split one village into two. Both villages were the pet projects of two strong-minded British women, determined to bring reform—moral, physical, and economic—to rural Ireland through the elevation of cottage industries to the level of international trade. Village number one, the Irish Industrial Village, was sponsored by the Irish Industrial Association, a trade association founded by Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Village number two, the Donegal Irish Village, was sponsored by Alice Rowland Hart, always called Mrs. Ernest Hart in newspaper interviews. The Irish Villages were to be a collaborative effort between the two women, but in a scenario surely familiar to nonprofit employees who have tried (and failed) to work in coalition, the project faltered when the women behind the villages could not agree on the funding levels needed for re-creating authentic village life in rural Ireland. Both women had the same idea: the promotion of cottage industries in Ireland and the moral rehabilitation of the Irish. Both villages involved themselves with the idea of industry: not the mechanized efficiency of the machine, but the doubtful industry of the native Irish, a trait that needed to be seen, apparently, in order to be believed.

All of this rehabilitated Irish industriousness took place within an imaginary Irish village, situated within an imaginary Ireland. Both villages used a triad of symbols—cottages, colleens, and castles—to summon the spirit of the auld sod. Lady Aberdeen’s village used a replica of Cormac’s Chapel as an entrance; Mrs. Hart’s village was fronted by the St. Lawrence Gate that failed the villagers of Drogheda so badly in 1649. “It is impossible to describe the feeling which crowd upon the imagination; the grey hoar and solemn and melancholy ruins seem in their mute eloquence,”(4) the official guide to the Irish Industrial Village informed village visitors. Mute eloquence to be sure. Whether that was the muteness of le temps perdu or the funeral silence of the dead is debatable: it probably depended on who was walking around the replicas of relics and ruins, decayed remnants from the past re-purposed as picturesque decoration.

In the Irish Industrial Village, merchandise was made onsite by the personnel, the Irish colleens, selected by Lady Aberdeen, who had toured Ireland inspecting Irish villages and looking for candidates to stock her exhibit. A description of this hiring tour —entitled “Selection of the Fittest”(5)— appears in the official guidebook to the Irish Village. The use of social Darwinism in Lady Aberdeen’s marketing materials corresponds to the marketing and production values of the Midway Plaisance, a site described by Otis T. Mason, ethnologist and curator from the Smithsonian Institution, as “one vast anthropological revelation”(6).
One of Lady Aberdeen's "Colleens";' Photo: Guide to the Irish Industries and Blarney Castle, Irish Industries Association
Calling the Irish women “colleens” emphasized the strategy of the ethnologists of depicting the cultures and ethnicities on display in the Midway Plaisance as childlike and in need of forthright Anglo-Saxon guidance. A picture from the Irish Industrial Village brochure, entitled “A Bright Worker,”(7) shows one of the colleens: an anonymous woman with lines on her face, smiling gamely for the camera.

The women weren’t selected for their youth, but for their specific skills: Mary Flynn, was picked for her lace-making skills, while Bridget McGinley showed American visitors how a spinning wheel worked. Newspaper accounts and the promotional literature produced for the village show an almost fetishistic focus on the women’s nimble Celtic fingers, making the women sound robotic, their labor regimented and tightly controlled. A later account of the success of the village was blunt in its assessment of the women’s true status: “The Irish Village at Chicago with over 100 inmates was a great success.”(8) The word “inmates” may have been the most appropriate description, confined as they were to the precincts of the village/model colony with their bodies on display and their private lives under controlling scrutiny. Lady Aberdeen boasted to the women assembled at the Congress that “The forty Irish girls whom we brought out with us, go back the pure, true, sunny maidens that came out with us.”(9) (How could Lady Aberdeen know?) Perhaps the village colleen’s chastity and virtue functioned as a guarantee: the purer the maker, the purer the quality of the merchandise.

Lady Aberdeen displayed the some of merchandise by wearing traditional Irish dress inside her cottage, which she had specially built for her. Called Lyra na Grena, it was there that she received important visitors to the exhibit, seated behind a spinning wheel, dressed in traditional garb, commissioned, perhaps, from one of the Irish workers. Professor Caroline Malloy who has written extensively on representations of the Irish and Ireland at Worlds Fairs,(10) likens this marketing ploy to high fashion. Indeed, it is not unlike Marc Jacobs’s infamous Fall 1992 grunge show, where the clothes of the street become the costumes of couture. Posing in native Irish clothes to drive sales of merchandise isn’t a bad idea. It was a canny marketing ploy on Lady Aberdeen’s part. But this “high fashion” moment of cultural appropriation is disorienting. Working at her spinning wheel, Bridget McGinley wore clothing based on what she could make herself, a material, embodied reality. When the Lady donned her elaborate Irish costume made of the finest materials and sat herself down behind her unused spinning wheel, she created a sort of shell game: which cottage is the real Irishwoman in?

The villages were curious ventures: highhanded and maternalistic on the one hand, but nonpartisan as well. Both Irish Villages were supported by prominent Irish Americans, and no less a republican that Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League, sent a letter of support to Lady Aberdeen. “I fully believe you will succeed beyond your expectations,”(11) he wrote. Both the Irish Industrial Village and the Donegal Irish Village functioned as fair trade projects, minus the element of workers organizing themselves into worker’s cooperatives: native goods were being sustainably produced by the native workers with a percentage of profits being returned to the workers. Like the workers in the highlands of Guatemala today, the native Irish were tasked with righting their local and national economies, stitch by stitch, in the aftermath of famine, land wars, and the forced entry into the economic superstructure of the British Empire via the Act of Union. In Chicago, the Irish colleens were carrying out Ireland’s economic and social comeback in a staged performance as tightly choreographed as a theatrical production. A different future might unspool from this unreal presentation of the past. All that needed to be done was for the Irish to roll up their sleeves, get behind the spinning wheel or loom, and get back to work.

Does nostalgia restore the past? Or re-story it? It depends on whose gaze has settled on the barbican gate, the ruined castle or the quaint cottage. In 1893, it was entirely possible for an Irish-American visitor to an Irish Village to be a famine immigrant, one who left Ireland when the sight of deserted, roofless cottages was a common sight. The ideas conveyed by the bland romanticism of nostalgia—restoration, a new beginning from the ashes of the past—must surely have withered into mere sentimentality under the gaze of the knowing immigrant who understands that the while past is spent, it is rarely innocent.

Irish Village in San Francisco

Twenty-two years later, there was another exposition, and another authentic Irish Village in the offing. The Panama Pacific International Exposition was eagerly anticipated by San Francisco, and the Irish exhibit that would surely appear was anticipated as well. “Ireland to send big 1915 exhibit,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in June of 1911. “Fast horses included.”(12) This article covered a speech given at Kendrick’s Hall on Valencia Street by one Canon J. Daly, who promised that Ireland and its manufacturers were ready to ship their finest wares across the ocean and through the Panama Canal on ships “all built in our Irish shipyards,”(13) mentioning the Lusitania and the Mauritania as carriers as well as two other new additions to the White Star fleet, the Olympic and the Titanic. Belleek china, linen, textiles, and tobacco would sail through the soon-to-be-completed Panama Canal all bearing the mark Déanta in Éirinn, all to be sold alongside the goods of other nations at the exposition. The plan just needed backers.

2 20 15-ad-for-Shamrock-Isle-2.jpg

Advert for the Shamrock Isle, Feb. 20, 1915.

Image: The San Francisco Monitor

In 1913, a group of twenty-five businessmen and community leaders calling themselves the Celtic Society of the Panama Pacific International Exposition were selected by the United Irish Societies to “procure a fitting representation of Irish commerce industries and art” at the upcoming Exposition. Claiming that “Ireland has never been properly represented at any of our great Expositions,”(14) — apparently Irish-American opinion of the Irish Villages had soured —they unveiled a plan to bring the best of Irish arts and industry to San Francisco. However, the man who won the concession contract from the exposition board of directors was an Englishman, Kenneth R. Croft. The Irish Village that emerged under Croft’s supervision, and the scrutiny of San Francisco Irish community, differed little from the Irish Villages that had been seen previously in America.

Kenneth Croft moved to San Francisco in early 1914, after having been granted the contract for the concession on June of 1913. Described by the Chronicle as one of London’s “smart set” and a scion of “an old Irish family”(15) as well as a nephew of Sir Archer Croft of Croft Castle, Croft lived at the Palace Hotel with his wife, a minor theatrical actress and opera singer.


Cartoon of Kenneth Croft.

Image: The San Francisco Call and Post, March 21, 1914

Croft—who claimed to have mounted the Festival of Empire, an international exposition held in London in 1911 to celebrate the coronation of George V.—was a busy man in the years leading up to the opening of the exposition. His company, the Kenneth Croft Amusement Company, which he started with his wife Nona and future Hollywood director L.A. Howland, won him the concession rights to build the Hawaiian Village at San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition, which ran concurrently with the San Francisco exposition. He spent the fall of 1913 in Ireland, looking for manufacturers to rent space inside the Shamrock Isle and navigating the political landscape of nationalist Ireland somewhat imperfectly: in November 1913, he brought the wrath of the Irish Industrial Development Association down on his head by using “English” stationery while staying at the wrong hotel. He was advised by the IIDA that it might be “wise to take up his quarters in a hotel that patronized Irish manufactured goods.”(16)

Croft may have won the battle for the concession contract, but quickly discovered the limits on his vision: a suspicious community and a concession concept that was quickly becoming not just dated, but unpopular.

Much of the complaining came from the pen of Father Peter Yorke, pastor of St. Peter's Church in the Mission district and vice president of Sinn Fein in the United States. Known as the Labor priest, Yorke founded the pro-labor newspaper the Leader. In the Leader and the Monitor Yorke flung accusation after accusation at the Shamrock Isle and Croft. “This Englishman has got from the fair directors a concession for the Irish Village . . . The whole thing has an ancient and moldy smell of small graft,”(17) he charged, suggesting corruption by Frank Burt, the director of the division of concessions and admissions.

The minutes of the Committee of Concessions shows some caution in their dealing with the Englishman and some consciousness of Yorke’s, and perhaps others', reaction to their decision. Croft’s first choice of name for the concession was the Donnybrook Fair, a poor choice of name for a model Irish Village. On July 16, 1913, the committee approved the contract with the Kenneth Croft Amusement Company with the proviso that the proposed name be changed to the more mystical (and less pugilistic) name, the Shamrock Isle. The committee also took the unusual step of appointing six Irish-American “censors” —Thornwell Mullally, Joseph Tobin, Father Joseph McQuaid, Archbishop Riordan, J.M. Toner and P.B. Mahoney, all of whom had served on the short-lived Celtic Society of the Panama Pacific International Exposition —to oversee the concession. It was clear that the sight of Irish women plying their skill at the loom or the wheel under the supervision of anyone but Irish-American managers and censors was unthinkable.

Yorke’s anger, and the decision by the exposition directors to supervise Croft, suggests that there was more than mere disenchantment with the never-ending reform schemes that had been attached to previous Irish exhibitionary villages. Yorke bemoaned that the Shamrock Isle would be “a side show”(18) and just as objectionable as the “miserable exhibitions in Chicago and St. Louis.”(19) He reiterated this belief a few months later in another editorial which predicted the almost certain appearance of a figure hated by respectable Irish Americans: the “obsolete, degrading stage Irishman...”(20)

Stage Irish; Image: courtesy Matt Weimer
The Stage Irishman, a bogeyman who appears in most of Yorke’s editorials and who is referred to obliquely in almost all newspaper account of the Shamrock Isle, was real: he was a Galway-born Irishman named Patrick Touhey, a vaudeville performer and an acclaimed uillean piper, touched off the “Stage Irishman controversy,” so-called by the Dublin Evening Mail, in the Irish Village at the St. Louis world’s fair. Touhey was part of the planned entertainment at the Irish Village which included four actors brought from Dublin to perform Irish plays. The actors, who had been involved with the Irish National Theater, were promised the very best of the Irish plays being written at that time. This was an empty promise: Yeats flatly refused to allow his work to be performed, as did J.M. Synge (which might not have bothered at least two of the actors, Dudley Diggs and Marie Quinn, who had resigned from the INT in 1903 over a production of Synge’s play The Shadow of the Glen). The actors got a single play, AE’s Deirdre, which quickly closed. The manager of the Irish Village, a man named Myles Murphy, claimed the audience was leaving the play in droves and so dumped the play after three performances. Touhey’s vaudeville act, though, was popular. The actors, who were already on the defensive and miffed at the lack of material to perform, complained about Touhey’s performance to the management. Touhey performed again, almost a month later, to the consternation of the actors who refused to perform. They were fired. Making their way back to New York, they wrote an account of the flap: “During the entertainment, a man named Patrick Touhey . . . came onstage, made up in the recognized ‘Stage Irishman’ style, and sang a garbled version of a bingo music hall song entitled ‘It Takes the English to Beat the Dutch,’ substituting the word ‘Irish’ for the word ‘English’ throughout.”(21) In his act, Touhey also implied that he stole a dancing medal in Dublin and then proceeded to tell the audience that his “brother Pat was mistaken for a monkey. In short,” the actors concluded, Touhey “conducted himself in the usual Stage Irishman fashion.”(22)

Yorke doubtless heard about Touhey’s act: the artificially enhanced snub nose, the lopsided “tile” or top hat, the reddened cheeks, the cheerfully wandering monologue about casual acts of thievery and his brother’s resemblance to a monkey. The St. Louis episode shows the durability of ethnic stereotypes in theatrical and performative cultures and traditions: images of the Irish as insane, simian-like monsters, sitting atop beer barrels with a mug in one hand and sticks of dynamite in the other, were first popularized in British satirical magazines throughout the mid-nineteenth century. They remained embedded in American vaudeville well into the twentieth century. In an edition of Denison’s Make-Up Guide, published in 1930, actors wishing to play “The Irishman” were advised thusly: “The conventional burlesque Irishman should have a high, bald, and somewhat retreating forehead… and a pug nose molded to shape with nose putty… the upper lip is whitened somewhat to give the effect of greater expanse.”(23) The visual referent to apes is unmistakable. Yorke railed against the Stage Irishman, knowing full well where the Stage Irishman came from: not the stages of Ireland, but the pages of England’s political magazines and newspapers.

It’s more difficult to say how Yorke’s readers felt about the Stage Irishman. The Californian Irish have long been seen as laid back and lacking the defensiveness of the East Coast Irish. But Yorke—who was from Galway, not California—knew how he felt. His disapproval, and perhaps that of his parishioners in San Francisco’s Mission District, was enough to send the exposition’s directors of concessions and admissions into a sustained posture of placation. Perhaps this is why Croft’s management team—Michael O’Sullivan, a California artist, Seumas O’Brien, an Irish playwright, and Patrick Joseph Kelleher, a tailor—were entirely Irish born. O’Brien and Kelleher were, moreover, active members of San Francisco’s republican nationalist community who were as busy as Croft during this period, convening the Irish community to fund Ireland’s independence and arm Irish nationalists.


Kelleher & Brown ad for Blarney Tweeds.

Photo: Sutro Library

“The long-vexed question as to how Ireland will be represented at the 1915 World’s Fair seems to have been settled at last,”(24) announced the Monitor in February 1914, with a palpable sense of relief, one year before the opening of the exposition. The money to build the exhibit had been secured and it was time to begin building support for the Shamrock Isle among Irish Americans in San Francisco as well. (After Yorke’s broadsides, they probably needed a bit of convincing.) Throughout early 1914, the Shamrock Isle’s management team, perhaps at the behest of its censors, actively courted the press in the year before the opening, giving several interviews to members of the press. Four articles appeared in the Monitor between February and April 1914 that described the attractions the concession would contain and how it would avoid the mistakes made at the Irish Village in St. Louis, seven years earlier.

Michael O’Sullivan gave a reporter a virtual tour using a scale model of the concession and listing the architectural features contained therein. It’s a familiar list: Once again, the St. Laurence Gate ushered visitors inside the concession. Two castles, Blarney and King John’s stood inside, with Irish cottages, snuggled against their grey sides. But no matter: it was planned to be an enormous concessions packed full of attractions and merchandise and somehow totally different from previous exhibits, even though the architectural features presented the same dreamlike landscape of an untroubled Irish Village in an untroubled Ireland. Rural cottages sitting in the shadow of a looming castle was no radical departure from the past three Irish Villages. (It was, perhaps, an apt metaphor for the social and economic stagnation of pre-revolutionary Ireland.)


Irish Theater, PPIE 1915.

Photo: courtesy of John Jones

The Shamrock Isle featured a large theater inside King John’s Castle. Here, it was hoped, the local Irish community would gather to sing, to dance, to watch the plays written especially for the theater by Seumas O’Brien, a minor playwright whose plays had been produced in Ireland, and to watch moving pictures “of the finest films obtainable.”(25) The theater might have screened silent films: one of the attractions advertised was the “Kerry Gow.” First written as a play by Frederick Marsden, the story of the Kerry Gow—the Blacksmith from Kerry—was adapted into a silent film by the Kalem Company, a American company that made thirty films on location in County Kerry from 1911 to 1915. Appropriately, the manager of the Irish Theater was a Kerryman named Patrick Joseph Kelleher. Born in Kilgarven in 1868, Kelleher, more than any other person publically associated with the Shamrock Isle, shows the censor’s determination to thoroughly inoculate the Shamrock Isle against any possible charges of slander.

Kelleher was the co-owner with George A. Browne of “Kelleher and Browne,” known by their ads as “The Irish Tailors.” Kelleher’s bona fides were impeccable: he was President of the original Gaelic Dancing Club and a thirty-year member of the Knights of the Red Branch, a local branch of the Clan na Gael. His firm ran weekly ads in the Monitor, many of which demonstrate the confluence of Nationalist politics and exposition business. “Your Exposition Suit should bear this 1915 trademark,”(26) read an ad, the trademark being the Shamrock label affixed to all Kelleher and Browne suits. Another, run in March of 1915 during the enormous St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the exposition, speaks directly to the surge of support for the Irish Volunteers.
Sinn Fein St. Patricks Day advert; Image: courtesy The San Francisco Monitor
The phrase “Sinn Fein” was followed by “Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.” Beyond Kelleher’s commitment to a united Ireland, the ads reflect a shrewd assessment of the opportunities that the exposition offered to local businessman: the exposition was about trade and commerce, internationally and locally. The masses of goods displayed in the Varied Industries Palace must have provoked at least a few shopping sprees on exposition grounds and in San Francisco’s commercial district. It is easy to imagine visitors wanting to be well dressed, as they strolled through the gorgeous exposition grounds with its miles of murals and gorgeously tinted architecture. This urge to look well could be harnessed to twin goals: the financial well-being of Kelleher and Browne within the commercial space that the exposition made available and the advancement of political ideals in the swirl of national and ethnic identities and aspirations on display. A person who shopped at Kelleher and Browne would not only get a well-made suit for promenading, he could also be sure that a percentage of the firm’s profits were arming an Irish Volunteer, drilling on the streets of Dublin, awaiting that certain day.

O’Sullivan, O’Brien, and Kelleher were all busy men in the spring of 1914. O’Sullivan had been sent to Ireland in the summer of 1913, before Croft’s troubled visit, to sketch landscapes and “quaint marketplaces, picturesque lanes and ancient houses”(27) around the Killarney lakes region for his tableaus depicting the Lake of Killarney that were to be lit by “electrical and mechanical devices.”(28) O’Brien and Kelleher were dispatched to Ireland in the spring of 1914 in a second attempt to find vendors for display in the cottages. Kelleher was in charge of securing samples from woolen mills, while O’Brien was in charge of the arts and crafts exhibits: woodcarving, Belleek china, metal work, and jewelry. O’Brien was also writing plays for the theater and creating a sketch model of “Erin,”(29) a figure of Ireland, nine feet in height and cast in bronze, intended to be placed inside the grounds of the Shamrock Isle. Everyone, it seemed, was caught up in the organization of the well-funded, elaborate concession. But within a year, Kelleher—and Croft—were gone.

Throughout 1914, the concession management had sounded optimistic, almost frantic in their assurances that the Shamrock Isle would be the biggest, the best, the most authentic. Every news item repeated the assurance that no Stage Irishman would be part of the entertainment. Then, one month before opening day, Gerald Griffin, an Irish singer, whose tenor voice had graced an Irish fundraiser for the Irish Volunteers that Kelleher had helped organize just two months previously, was named as manager of the Irish Theater. There was no word explaining Kelleher’s departure. Included in the announcement of Griffin’s advancement to manager was a note about O’Brien, who had been described as not only writing plays but also directing them. “It is hoped that some of the plays of Seumas O’Brien will be secured.”(30) This tone of doubt was at odds with the certainty of the previous year. As late as February 6, 1915, fourteen days before opening day, Croft was still running ads in the Billboard, a newspaper for concessionaires and exhibit producers, advertising for that space was till available in his enormous concession. Cracks were appearing in the ivy-covered façade of the Shamrock Isle, and it hadn’t even opened yet. The cracks widened and the façade began to crumble in April of 1915.

On April 3, an advertisement appeared in the Chronicle. “Free Admission,” it declared. Perhaps the financial backers of the exhibit felt they could make money on the restaurant and merchandise for sale inside the concession. The next mention was a small feature in the Chronicle on May 29. The Shamrock Isle had reopened, it said, and was “thoroughly renovated and rebuilt.”(31) The façade had been changed and there were now two theaters instead of one. There was still Gaelic singing and dancing in one of the theaters. In the other there was a brand new attraction: a “vaudeville show with the Williams Jennings Bryan Taylor Triplets, formerly of Barnum and Bailey’s circus.”(32) It isn’t clear that the novelties for sale were even made in Ireland. Certainly the triplets were not. (They were born in St. Louis.) More importantly, they were exactly the low sort of entertainment that the managers of the Shamrock Isle had sworn wouldn’t besmirch the authentic culture on display inside the concession. Who was in control of the Shamrock Isle?

Probably not Croft. He’d had a turbulent month. His wife had divorced him, based on her claim, corroborated by her maid, of physical abuse. He was also, it turned out, working as a military recruiting agent for the British government.

After the start of the war, Alexander Carnegie Ross, the British consul general in San Francisco, posted a notice in August 1914 in the Chronicle(33) calling on all Royal Navy reservists to return to England and enlist. Croft, a reserve lieutenant in the navy, and three other men of English birth living in San Francisco established an ad hoc group, the British Friendly Association, on March 15th, less than one month after the opening of the exposition. It was organized to recruit British nationals living in San Francisco into the British army, and it was funded by the office of the consul general, who also paid for rooms on Harrison Street to house the new recruits. Croft, tasked with accompanying twenty-six recruits to New York, boarded a train in San Francisco on June 16. They were stopped in Chicago on June 19 by officials with the Department of Justice. Croft told the agents he intended to return to England to reenlist, and then disappeared, re-emerging in Los Angeles almost a month later. Croft, along with his associates in the British Friendly Association, was charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States and was promptly arrested. Later accounts charged that he had conducted several trainloads of recruits back east. Croft was ultimately acquitted. It is unknown how much time he spent in jail, but one thing is certain—he wasn’t strolling the grounds of the Shamrock Isle at any time after June 16th.

None of Croft’s other ventures explains why the Shamrock Isle foundered. But it may throw light on Yorke’s suspicion of Croft. Alexander Carnegie Ross had been actively working with British Naval Intelligence before the start of World War I and was transforming the consul’s office into something much more than a diplomatic outpost in the far reaches of America. Under Ross’s direction, the British Consulate developed intelligence capacities and was actively collecting information about the Irish and Indian nationalists in San Francisco, throughout the war, leading in 1916 to the prosecution in a US federal court of an Indian-Irish-German conspiracy to provide arms to the Indian nationalist Ghadar Party. Historian Matthew Erin Plowman has described the British consulate under Ross’s direction as “the key forward base in the infiltration and destruction of the Indo-German-Irish network.”(34) There is no evidence that Croft did anything other than receive funds and escort willing recruits, in open defiance of US neutrality. To discover that Croft was working for the British government surely have been met with unease by the Irish community in San Francisco. But it’s impossible to overstate the probable outrage with which physical-force republicans like Kelleher (who were likely surveilled by the consulate) would have when they received the news of Croft’s association with the British government. If indeed, it was a secret. Kelleher’s abrupt departure (or demotion?) in early 1915 seems significant in light of Croft’s association with the Carnegie Ross.

Croft was lucky he got anything in the exhibit. Todd’s official history says, “The war made it impossible to get any interesting exemplifications of Irish life and industry.” Author Laura A. Ackley estimates that 100,000 square feet of space in the Palace of Liberal Arts “evaporated”(35) following the start of the war in August 1914. The official file for the Shamrock Isle is silent on the question of the difficulties that the war made for the exhibit: how well stocked the exhibit was with Ireland’s finest china, jewelry, and other arts is unknown. This didn’t deter the managers of the Isle—whoever they were—from running ads in the Monitor, urging readers to patronize the Shamrock Isle. In July, 1915, the Monitor ran a final story on the Shamrock Isle, alerting readers to that fact that a new tea shop had opened inside the concession. “The jaunting car, the scenic displays, the splendid array of Irish souvenirs . . . make the Irish Village one of the real successes of the Zone.”(36) Brave words, but to no avail. The concession closed five weeks later on August 31, 1915, six months after opening. SFPL irishvillage.jpg "The Shamrock Isle on the Zone." This photo was taken some time after February 1914, during the construction of the Joy Zone. Many thanks to architect and writer Laura Ackley, author of San Francisco's Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, for her help in determining this. Photo: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

For the past 100 years, the evidence that the Shamrock Isle ever stood in the Joy Zone has been little more than a cursory descriptions in exposition guidebooks, a single folder in the Bancroft Library, and several paragraphs in Frank Morton Todd’s voluminous five-volume history, where he notes its financial failure. “As an Irish Village the Shamrock Isle, with its two theaters, failed to reach any very altitudinous position in the financial world.”(37) This is an understatement: the financial records tell the story of financial disappointment: the concession cost $100,000 (about $2.3 million in 2015 dollars) to build and stock. By the time it closed, its reported revenue was only $13,096.76. It was an irony that with all the ire that Yorke hurled at the exhibit and all the vigilance the concession censors and their managers mustered, they were hardly able to do much more than emulate—and hardly even that— the previous Irish Villages.

“The public didn’t seem interested in Irish singing and clog dancing,”(38) remarked Todd. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Irish Americans were gathering elsewhere: the scattered Irish halls and city parks in San Francisco and Oakland, where authenticity reigned as real Irish people danced and assembled and spoke of a future for Ireland that had little to do with betterment schemes or antiquated visions of the rural past. In meeting halls, like the Hibernia Hall on 454 Valencia Street in the Mission District, Irish Americans envisioned, funded and helped rebuild Ireland and the new Irish Free State. Four months after the PPIE closed, seven men stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin and read a proclamation that described a future: an independent Ireland.

The San Franciscan Irish did not need the past. They were Californians living in a golden present, in a state that wanted to think about the future. The Englishman Croft, and his censors were, perhaps, the last to know this.


1. “Ireland at the Worlds Fair.” The Monitor, 3/18/1914
2. Morton Todd, Frank. “The Story of the Exposition, Being the Official History of the International Celebration Held at San Francisco in 1915 to Commemorate the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the Construction of the Panama Canal.” V1, p.170 New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1921.
3. Morton Todd, Frank. “The Story of the Exposition,” V3, p.8 New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1921.
4. “Guide to the Irish Industrial Village and Blarney Castle: the exhibit of the Irish Industries Association.” p. 11. Published by the Irish Village Bookstore, at the Worlds Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.
5. “Guide to the Irish Industrial Village and Blarney Castle: the exhibit of the Irish Industries Association.” p. 31.
6. Rydell, Robert W. “All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916.” p. 55. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984
7. “Guide to the Irish Industrial Village and Blarney Castle,” p. 32
8. The Review of Reviews, v.9 p.55, 1894.
9. Marjoribanks Gordon, Ishbel Maria, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair. “Encouragement of Home Industries.” Lecture, The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Accessed 11/11/15.
10. Malloy, Caroline R. “Exhibiting Ireland: Irish Villages, Pavilions, Cottages, and Castles at International Exhibitions, 1853–1939. PhD diss. University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2013.
11. “Guide to the Irish Industrial Village and Blarney Castle,” p. 24
12. “Ireland to send big 1915 exhibit.” The San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday June 10th, 1911
13. ibid
14. “Ireland to have a big exhibit in 1915”. The Monitor, San Francisco, Saturday June 13, 1913.
15. “Miss Sadie Murray feted at dance by Dr. Harry Tevis.” c. 2, San Francisco Chronicle Saturday February 7, 1914
16. “Home industry idea prevails in Ireland, Exposition man says.” San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday November 30, 1913, p.23
17. Yorke, Peter. “The Irish Village.” The Leader, San Francisco February 7, 1913
18. “That Irish Exhibit” The Leader, November 1st, 1913
19. ibid
20. “The ‘Shamrock Isle’ starts caricaturing in advance,” The Leader, April 4, 1914
21. “Protest from the Irish Players,” New York Gaelic American, July 9, 1904.
22. ibid
23. McDonald, Ward and Norris, Eben H. “Denison's Make-Up Guide”. Illus. by Tarbell, Harlan. T. S. Denison & Company, Publishers, 623 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, Ill. 1930.
24. “Irish Exhibit At Worlds Fair Assured.” The Monitor, February 28, 1914.
25. “A real Picture of Ireland.” The Monitor, April 18, 1914.
26. “Ireland At the World’s Fair” The Monitor, March 28th, 1914
27. “Ireland at the 1915 Worlds Fair” The Monitor, March 14, 1914
28. “Ireland At the World’s Fair” The Monitor, March 28th, 1914
29. “One of Ireland’s Sweetest Singers.” The Monitor. January 16th, 1915
30. “Irish Village reopened as feature of Joy Zone”. San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 29, 1915.
31. Ibid.
32. “King George calls Naval Reserves to Colors.” San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, August 3rd, 1914.
33. Matthew Erin Plowman (2013) The British intelligence station in San Francisco during the First World War, Journal of Intelligence History, 12:1, 1-20, DOI:10.1080/16161262.2013.755016
34. Ackley, Laura. “San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.” Berkeley: Heyday Press, 2014.
35. “The Irish Village”. The Monitor, July 24th, 1915.
36. Morton Todd, Frank. “The Story of the Exposition, Being the Official History of the International Celebration Held at San Francisco in 1915 to Commemorate the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the Construction of the Panama Canal.” V2, p.358
37. Ibid.