What publications of the last century tell us of what our fathers really thought…

What publications of the last century tell us of what our fathers really thought…
Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland 2: A Variety of Voices,  edited Mark O’Brien and Felix M. Larkin (Four Courts Press, €50.00)

This new book complements an earlier volume on periodicals and journalism, also edited by Mark O’Brien and Felix Larkin, which was published back in 2014. The two volumes, taken together, offer a comprehensive overview of the periodicals that flourished in Ireland in the last century.

This is a valuable collection of essays on journalism in periodicals that flourished in Ireland in the twentieth century. Nine of the 15 essays are about individual titles. One reviews the economics of periodical publishing. Three survey a number of periodicals with a common purpose or target audience. Two are concerned with particular series of articles in The Bell and The Leader.

Felix Larkin (a regular on these pages) provides a scintillating essay on ‘Mirrors of a changing Ireland: The Bell’s series The Fourth Estate, 1944-5’. The series was written by Vivian Mercier and Conor Cruise O’Brien, O’Brien (as a serving civil servant) using his literary pseudonym Donat O’Donnell.


In analysing the Catholic newspapers, O’Brien was at his brilliant best. Of the two Catholic newspapers, The Irish Catholic and Catholic Standard, he found the latter to be the more noteworthy. It was associated with Alfred O’Rahilly, and O’Brien comments: “Professor O’Rahilly probably does not write all of the Standard every week, but it would be feeble merely to say that he has impressed his personality upon it. It is he who has given it a social policy, consisting of his own monetary theories, he who fights its battles with H.G. Wells and others, he who orients its attitude to science and philosophy and life. Under his occupation the Standard shifted to something that might almost be described as the left.”

Michael Kennedy discusses a series of articles written by T. Desmond Williams under the title ‘A Study in Neutrality’ first for The Leader and later for the Irish Press. Based on British and American wartime sources, captured German documents and off-the-record discussions with Irish officials, those articles provided the first insights into the secret world of neutral Ireland’s wartime diplomacy.

Williams commended Éamon de Valera for his conduct of foreign policy and the preservation of neutrality from 1939 to 1945. Among his many claims, Williams contended that Leopold Kerney, the Irish ambassador in Madrid, had been suspected of pro-Axis sympathies and had not always acted as was expected of him by the Irish Department of External Affairs.

This collection of essays is an exemplary publication and a treasury of splendid history writing, which for once places religious opinion in a national context”

Kerney took action to restore his reputation. In the event, Williams was not able to cite a source validating his allegations and lost a libel action in the matter. It was a serious blow to Williams’ reputation as a historian. He was seen to have “turned hearsay into history”, to quote Mr Kennedy.

One of the most informative and interesting essays is that by Ian d’Alton on the Church of Ireland Gazette, which he pithily describes as a “Church paper for Church people”. He traces the paper’s multiple transformations as it attempted to cope with radical cultural, social and political change.

Patrick Maume, a leading contributor to the Dictionary of Irish Biography, directs his attention to the Catholic Bulletin (1911-39), the greenest publication on the island. He shows that its dominant Catholic post-independence nationalism was mainly due to the guiding-hand of Fr Timothy Corcoran, SJ.

The final essay, by Declan O’Keeffe, deals with publications sponsored by members of the Irish province of the Society of Jesus. These range from the devotional Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart and Madonna to the avowedly intellectual Lyceum, New Ireland Review and Studies.

Most influential

Of these, Studies was and continues to be the most influential. It first appeared in March 1912 and has surfaced four times a year ever since. Mr O’Keeffe states that it was co-founded by Fr Thomas Finlay, SJ, and Fr Timothy Corcoran, SJ. He could have acknowledged that Alfred O’Rahilly was also one of the magazine’s founders as, before leaving the Society of Jesus just before ordination, O’Rahilly co-edited it and wrote a considerable part of each issue in its first years under his own name and under a pseudonym. And he eventually became its most prolific contributor.

This collection of essays is an exemplary publication and a treasury of splendid history writing, which for once places religious opinion in a national context.