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Keeping disloyalty within bounds? British media control in Ireland, 1914–19

  • Donal Ó Drisceoil (a1)
Extract

Control over the media is a key lever of state power. During the First World War and immediate post-war period, British officials in Ireland exercised this power as they attempted to curtail radical Irish nationalism. While state control over the media can be wielded in direct form (usually through suppression), it frequently manifests itself more subtly and indirectly, through moderate censorship for example, especially when the state in question has a democratic dimension and liberal traditions or pretensions. In Ireland in the period covered by this article state interference with the media was both direct and indirect, partially mirroring the dual policy of coercion and conciliation that marked the final years of British governance over the whole island. Neither strategy succeeded in hobbling republican political advance, however, and censorship and suppression came to be regarded by radicals as irritants and obstacles that could be overcome.

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1 Martin, HughIreland in insurrection (London, 1921), p. 40.

2 The term was used by E. S. Montagu, financial secretary to the Treasury, in a letter to joint permanent secretary Sir Thomas Heath following a visit to Ireland in February 1916 (quoted in O’Halpin, EunanDecline of the Union: British government in Ireland, 1892–1920 (Dublin, 1987), p. 111).

3 O’Halpin, , Decline of the Union, p. 135.

4 Maurice Walsh consulted at least some of these files, and makes limited reference to the censorship regime in the early chapters of a study that concentrates mainly on the 1919–21 period (The news from Ireland: foreign correspondents and the Irish revolution (London, 2008), pp 120–2). The most detailed account of the censor’s activities published thus far is to be found in Carty’s, James little-known Bibliography of Irish history 1912–1921 (Dublin, 1936), pp 2122, which carries an incomplete list of the censor’s ‘Circulars to the Press’, held by the National Library of Ireland. These were also utilised by Herr, Cheryl for background in the chapter ‘Culture as censor’ in her Joyce’s anatomy of culture (Urbana and Chicago, 1986), pp 5460. Probably the best-known published reference is the reproduction of a censored version of the Sinn Féin 1918 election manifesto in Macardle, Dorothy, The Irish Republic (Dublin, 1951 ed.), pp 921–2. Brian P. Murphy has dealt with the issue in relation to the Catholic Bulletin in O’Kelly, J.J., the Catholic Bulletin and contemporary Irish cultural historians’ in Archiv. Hib. 44 (1989), pp 71–8, and The Catholic Bulletin and Republican Ireland 1898–1926: with special reference to J. J. O’Kelly (Belfast, 2005), pp 15–23, and more generally (though with few specifics on the 1916-19 censorship regime) in The Easter Rising in the context of censorship and propaganda with special reference to Major Ivon Price’ in Doherty, Gabriel and Keogh, Dermot (eds), 1916: The long revolution (Cork, 2007), pp 141–68.Novick, Ben lists the ‘Press censorship files, 1916–1918’ in the National Archives of Ireland in the bibliography of his Conceiving revolution: Irish Nationalist propaganda during the First World War (Dublin, 2010), p. 250, but makes no obvious use of them in a study that could have benefited enormously from closer attention to censorship context. The same author dealt with the pre-1916 suppressions in ‘DORA, suppression and nationalist propaganda in Ireland, 1914–1915’, in New Hibernia Review, i, no. 4 (winter 1997), pp 41–57, and with the postal regime in 'Postal censorship in Ireland, 1914–1916’, I.H.S., xxxi, no. 123 (May 1999), pp 343–56. The most detailed published anecdotal treatment of the censorship is in Gallagher’s, FrankThe four glorious years 1918–1921 (Dublin, 2005 ed.), pp 3943.

5 See Cook, Charles (ed.), Defence of the realm manual (London, 1919), pp 107–8, 116–17 and 166–8.

6 Sir Edward Cook, Press Bureau, to Decies, 30 Oct. 1916 (N.A.I., Office of the Press Censor (O.P.C.) 2/107).

7 See Hopkin, DeianDomestic censorship in the First World War’ in Journal of Contemporary History, 5, no. 4 (1970), pp 151–69;Brock, Millman, ‘H.M.G. and the war against dissent, 1914–18’ in Journal of Contemporary History, 40, no. 3 (July 2005), pp 413–40;Ewing, K.D. and Gearty, C.A., The struggle for civil liberties: political freedom and the rule of law in Britain, 1914–1945 (Oxford, 2000), passim.

8 Broin, Léon ÓDublin Castle and the 1916 Rising (New York, 1971), pp 22–5 and 37–40.

9 Nathan, Mathew evidence, The royal commission on the rebellion in Ireland: minutes of evidence and appendix of documents (London, 1916), p. 5; circular notice ‘To the readers of Éire-Ireland’, from Arthur Griffith and Sean T. O’Kelly, 4 Dec. 1914 (N.L.I., Piarais Beaslaí Papers, MS 33,912(1)); Irish Times, 4 and 5 Dec. 1914; Weekly Irish Times, 12 Dec. 1914.

10 See Reilly, TomJoe Stanley: printer to the Rising (Dingle and London, 2005), pp 24–5 and Novick, , Conceiving revolution, pp 2934.

11 Notes and correspondence from the Chief Secretary–s Office, 30 Dec. 1914 – 2 Mar. 1915 (T.N.A., CO 904/160).

12 Broin, ÓDublin Castle, p. 64;Reilly, , Joe Stanley, p. 30.

13 Irish Times, 25 Mar. 1916.

14 Quoted in Ewing, and Gearty, , The struggle for civil liberties, p. 338.

15 Townshend, CharlesEaster 1916: the Irish rebellion (London 2005), p. 308.

16 Maxwell to all editors, 1 June 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 3/128).

17 Decies to all editors, 5 June 1916, ibid.

18 Office of the Press Censor, correspondence with the Press Bureau, Oct. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/107).

19 ‘Kerryman and Liberator’, correspondence regarding, 13 Aug. to 21 Sept. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/89).

20 Decies to the under-secretary, 19 Nov. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/39).

21 Irish Times, 3 Aug. 1916.

22 Decies to attorney-general, 5 Sept. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 1/53).

23 Murphy, ‘J. J. O’Kelly’, p. 75.

24 Decies to the attorney-general, 5 Sept. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 1/53).

25 Shaw to Decies, 4 July 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/110) and Decies to Sir Frank Sweetenham, Press Bureau, 25 Nov. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/107).

26 Decies to Byrne, 16 Dec. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 3/122).

27 Decies to editor, Irish Opinion, 3 Oct. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 1/56); in general, see ‘Circulars to the press’ (N.A.I., O.P.C. 9/171) and examples in Carty, Bibliography of Irish history, pp xxi–xxii.

28 Correspondence between Office of the Press Censor and various publishers, 1916–19 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 1/60, 4/178, 11/123, 9/89 (old), 5/36, 8/49, 11/144, 12/207).

29 See list of ‘Seditious publications, 1916–19’ (N.A.I., O.P.C. 6/1 (old)) and Dublin Metropolitan Police reports on seizures, 9 Jan. 1917–2 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., CO 904–161).

30 Decies to Byrne, 19 Nov. 1917, and general correspondence on prints, Nov. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 11/149).

31 Press Censorship monthly report, Apr. 1918 (T.N.A., CO 904/166) (hereafter P.C.M.R. with month and year).

32 Decies to editor, Tipperary Star, 24 July 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/99).

33 P.C.M.R., Aug. 1917.

34 Decies to inspector general, Royal Irish Constabulary, 1 Feb. 1917 and to Duke, 7 Feb. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 3/150).

35 Decies to attorney-general, 17 July 1917 and to Duke, 24 July 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 3/147 and 1/6); P.C.M.R., Aug. 1917.

36 P.C.M.R., Aug. and Nov. 1917; direction to the press, 2 Aug. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 9/171); Decies to Horace Plunkett, Irish Convention chairperson, 27 July 1917 (N.A.I.,O.P.C. 4/238).

37 P.C.M.R., Aug. 1917; Military Intelligence report from Southern District, 31 Aug. 1917 (T.N.A., CO 904/157).

38 Irish Times, 9 Oct. 1917.

39 P.C.M.R., Nov. 1917.

40 Decies to Duke, 13 Jan. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 4/160).

41 P.C.M.R., Sept. 1917.

42 Decies to Chief Secretary’s Office, 6 Aug. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 6/1 (new)).

43 Decies to editors of Young Ireland, Nationality, Irish Opinion and The Irishman, 15 Aug. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 11/134).

44 War Office to Decies, 5 Nov. 1916 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/110).

45 War Office and Office of the Press Censor correspondence, Feb.-July 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/110); Decies to editors of Irish daily and large provincial newspapers, 5 Mar. 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/64); Cooper to Decies, 31 July 1917 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/39).

46 P.C.M.R., Jan. 1918.

47 Various correspondence between Decies and Chief Postal Censors, Liverpool and London, 1916–18 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 2/108 and 8/54); Chief Postal Censor, London, to Decies, 20 May and 10 Dec. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 8/54).

48 P.C.M.R., Jan. 1918.

49 Correspondence, Mar. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/39).

50 P.C.M.R., Apr. 1918.

51 Ibid.; correspondence between the proprietor, Westmeath Independent and Decies, Apr. 1918 and regarding Mayo News, Mar. – May 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 8/67 (old)), 6/2 (old), 9/82 (old) and T.N.A., CO 904–160).

52 O’Halpin, , Decline of the Union, p. 157.

53 P.C.M.R., July 1918.

54 Dublin Metropolitan Police reports on seizures, 21 Sept.–2 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., CO 904–161), and P.C.M.R., Sept.-Dec. 1918; Reilly, , Joe Stanley, pp 122–42;Irish Independent, 14 Sept. and 2 Oct. 1918.

55 Correspondence re Southern Star, Aug. 1918–Apr. 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/47).

56 P.C.M.R., Oct. 1918.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid., Dec. 1918; Decies to under-secretary, 19 Nov. 1918 and chief secretary to Decies, 27 Nov. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/47). For deletions to the manifesto, see Macardle, , The Irish Republic, pp 921–22.

59 Decies to Press Bureau, 22 Jan. 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 8/49 (new)).

60 P.C.M.R., Feb. 1919; chief secretary to Decies, 22 Feb. 1919 and Decies to under¬secretary, 11 Aug. 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/47).

61 An tÒglach, 15 May 1919.

62 Correspondence with chief secretary re ‘Limerick Soviet’, Apr. 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 6/1 (new)).

63 See Robinson, LennoxBryan Cooper (London, 1931), pp 120–1.

64 Press Censorship memorandum, Aug. 1919; Cooper to Foreign Office, 10 July 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 5/47 and 9/72a).

65 Correspondence, Aug. 1919 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 11/136).

66 Young Ireland, 6 Sept. 1919.

67 Childers, ErskineLaw and order in Ireland’ in Studies, 8, no. 32 (Dec. 1919), p. 602.

68 Watchword of Labour, 4 Oct. 1919.

69 The Times, 27 Sept. 1919.

70 P.C.M.R., Aug. 1918; Decies to Chief Secretary’s Office, 6 Aug. 1918 (N.A.I., O.P.C. 6/1).

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Irish Historical Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-1214
  • EISSN: 2056-4139
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