Irish Radical & Political Archives

Radical Newspaper Archives

The Radical Irish Newspaper Archive
In the spring of 1921, with the Irish War of Independence raging on many fronts, Patrick J. Little (1884-1963) was sent by Eamon de Valera and the provisional government on a diplomatic mission to South Africa.

To many people Little’s role in the War of Independence up until this point had been relatively unknown, although behind the scenes through his work as a newspaper editor he had played an important role in the propaganda war. During the course of six weeks in 1921 Little travelled throughout the vast South African terrain relaying the message of the provisional government, speaking at no less than thirty-six locations. In the university town of Stellenbosch he was given a great welcome where all of the student body quit their classes. This of course reflected the fact that the students were largely Afrikaner nationalist in character. The success of Little’s diplomatic mission was quickly evident forcing the South African premier, Jan Christian Smuts to adopt the ‘Irish question’ for domestic and international diplomacy concerns.
The career and work of Patrick Little as a newspaper editor is just one such which is highlighted in a new collection of Irish history which has just been made accessible to the public. The Radical Newspaper Archive is an extraordinary collection of over 115 Irish radical and political newspapers, journals, pamphlets and bulletins. Fully searchable and consisting of more than 11,000 editions with a total page count of 102,755 these newspapers, according to Dr Ciarán Reilly of Maynooth University, ‘hold the key to understanding Ireland in the turbulent decades of the early twentieth century’. Spanning one of the most important periods in Irish history, from the Home Rule debates of the 1880s to Ireland on the eve of the Second World War, these somewhat obscure titles provide an insight into a myriad of opinions on Irish life. Covering events such as Home Rule, the redistribution of land, the 1913 Lock Out, the 1916 Rising and its aftermath, the War of Independence, the fractious Civil War, the rise of Fascism in Ireland and the Economic War of the 1930s to name but a few, The Radical Newspaper Archive sheds important new light on all of these critical moments.
Despite the military clamp down on radical and subversive newspapers after the 1916 Rising, the propaganda they provided played a major role before, during and after the revolutionary period. Many of these newspapers are unavailable elsewhere, and this is the first time that they have been made available in one place, offering researchers and the general public a unique and accessible insight into this period of Irish history. From newspapers such as the short An Saogal Gaedealac, suppressed by Military Authority in 1917, to the voice of rural Ireland The Hammer and the Plough, the newspaper of the Workers Party of Ireland & Working Farmers Party, to The Irish Peasant published in Navan, county Meath and heavily influenced by the local implication of the introduction of the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, every facet of Irish life is represented in this collection. In the main, the newspapers in the Radical Newspaper Archive differ from other publications available for this period in that their focus was on opinion and editorials, rather than reporting news. Here we see the work of important editors such as the aforementioned Little, P.S. O’Hegarty (Irish Freedom), one of the first historians of the revolutionary period and James Upton (Honesty). For other editors the premise and objective of many of these titles was education. Newspapers such as Young Ireland: Eire Og (1917) and The Hibernian (1915-16), the newspaper of the fraternal organistantion – the Ancient Order of Hibernians- regularly featured stories of Irish history as a means of educating younger members of its organisation. An interesting feature of the newspapers in the collection is the advertisements that they carried, in particular titles such as Sinn Fein Daily (1909-10) which highlight the support that existed in the years prior to the 1916 Rising. It was for this reason that these newspapers were monitored closely by Dublin Castle officials who examined the content and readership.

The unrest which spread across Ireland in the first three decades of the twentieth century in the form of strikes and labour disputes indicated that if some had been left behind in previous times, for example following the Land Acts, they would not be so in the coming revolution. Titles such as The Torch – the organ of the Kilkenny Workers Council reflect these feelings, while the prelude to unrest in Dublin in 1913, for example, can be traced in titles such as The Trade and Labour Journal: the official organ of the workers of the city and county of Dublin, which survives for 1909. The upsurge in labour movements in Ireland in the wake of Russian Revolution of 1917 is also evident in the collection highlighting that the union voice, representing and fighting for workers’ rights was heavily influenced by events elsewhere. This access to the voice of the marginalised and the left is a key feature of The Radical Newspaper Archive.
The addition of a number of Irish language newspapers, including An Claidheamh Soluis, represents another and important facet of the cultural reawakening, which shaped the revolutionary period. The collection also includes the voice of the Irish diaspora including Irish-American papers, for example, The Harp (first published in 1910) and The Irish Exile which embraced the voice of the Irish in Britain. Local and provincial newspapers are also to be found in the collection through the pages of The Dalcassion (Clare) and The Bottom Dog (Limerick), while a number are remarkable for their longevity such as Notes from Ireland which ran from 1886 to 1918. Researchers and others will be interested in the legacy of the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War and the pages of newspapers such as The Blueshirt illuminate on this. In the battle to win the hearts and minds of a fractured society, by the late 1920s other newspapers such as The Star (1929-30) were dedicated to the political and economic improvement of the country. Conversely, newspapers such as Dublin News (1922-1929) continuously outlined violence and intimidation against republicans in Dublin. All of these fascinating publications provide hidden histories of Ireland during this transformative period and it is hoped that the archive will allow for further examination. If you want to understand Ireland during this period and the various political opinions which formed it, then these newspapers are a necessity. According to Dr Reilly ‘The Radical Newspaper Archive provides access to those who influenced a whole generation and today provide us with an understanding the development, transition of power and early struggles of independent Ireland’.
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