The varied voices of Irish opinion

Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland

ed. by Mark O’Brien and Felix M. Larkin

(Four Courts Press, €55.00/£43.70)

Tony Farmar

Newspapers, magazines and journals have long been a favourite way to channel opinion, to keep in touch, to pass an idle hour. Despite the internet, the sheer variety of magazines on display in any large newsagent boggles the imagination.

Even in the struggling 1930s, as the great Fr Stephen Browne reported, there were over 100 weekly and monthly periodicals published in Ireland and perhaps 400 imported from Britain (some of course in minute quantities).

In Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth Century Ireland edited by Mark O’Brien and Felix Larkin contributors analyse 14 southern Irish periodicals, ranging from Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein (discussed by Colum Kenny) and Patrick Pearse’s An Claidheamh Soluis (Regina Uí Chollatáin) from the early years, to the more recent Hot Press (Joe Breen) and Magill (Kevin Rafter). They were picked for their political or cultural influence, and for a certain ‘against the grain’ style of journalism.

The key question raised in this stimulating book is a perennial one in the history of ideas: how, by what agency, does change occur? If Hibernia (Brian Trench) highlighted a particular issue, what if anything happened? Is it more or less than the ‘quietly subversive’ effects of The Furrow (John Horgan)?

The wildly opinionated editors (virtually all men—even editing the votes-for-women Irish Citizen) celebrated in this book start with Arthur Griffith, editor of a succession of journals which were often forcibly shut down by the authorities and revived under different names.


He thought the relationship of Ireland and Britain should be modelled on the Austro-Hungarian empire, he hated Jews but supported Zionists; he claimed that the Freeman’s Journal’s editorial policy was dictated by the wife of the Lord Lieutenant; he did not much like James Larkin.

Padraig Pearse’s time as editor of the Gaelic League’s Claidheamh Soluis is not much dwelt on, but that chapter expounds the basic business model of all these journals. It was not a royal road to riches. They survived on meagre rations of cover sales and advertising, hopefully supplemented by hand-outs from rich supporters. It was disappointing then for Dublin enthusiasts that the Claidheamh was quite unable to interest either readers or advertisers in the Gaeltacht.

DP Moran, founder and editor of The Leader (Patrick Maume) from 1900 to 1936, pioneered a pungent name-calling style that was echoed strongly in the conservative  Catholic Bulletin – though it lost its imprimatur because of its support  for the Easter Rising; and faintly in the late John Healy’s Irish Times columns. For Moran, Protestants were ‘sourfaces’, brewers were called ‘Mr Bung’ and The Irish Times was ‘the Bigots’ dustbin’. His weekly columns were populated with sarcasms aimed at ‘gombeens’, ‘West Brits’, ‘shoneens’ and ‘Castle Catholics’.

One of the more surprising cultural successes of the mid years of the century was the Capuchin Annual edited 1930–54 by Fr Senan Moynihan.

Its starry list of contributors included Ben Kiely, Maurice Walsh, Daniel Corkery and the poet Pearse Hutchinson.

The Annual was elaborately and handsomely produced, with lavish use of photography and often multiple types of paper. Two issues in particular, those for 1942 and 1966, are of lasting value for students of the Rising, but was it really, as Sonya Perkins proposes, “a powerful force in defining the culture of a new nation”?

Many would argue that Seán O’Faolain’s The Bell (Mark O’Brien) was exactly that, battling for modernity with its vigorous attacks on social and economic issues that the great and good preferred to ignore. But since it had a circulation of only 5,500 copies at its highest, possibly the gently humorous Dublin Opinion (some 40,000 copies a month from 1922 to 1968, discussed by Felix Larkin) was, obliquely perhaps, more ‘important’.