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Irish Free State newspapers and the Abyssinian crisis, 1935–6

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Cian McMahon
Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University
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Twenty-four years ago, Terence Brown raised very few eyebrows when he portrayed the Irish Free State in the 1930s as an insular society obsessed with self-sufficiency. The theme of insularity has dominated most narratives of the period, with emphasis on the Anglo-Irish Economic War, the Censorship Board and the 1937 Constitution. The de Valera government’s intention in the Economic War, after all, was to create native industries behind high-tariff barriers and to favour agricultural labourers by shifting the tillage/pasture ratio in Ireland in favour of crop production. This protectionist programme was insularity writ large. Likewise, the government’s censorship of domestic and imported literature ‘concelebrated’, according to J. J. Lee, ‘the intellectual poverty of the period’.

Research Article
Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2009

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1 Brown, Terence, Ireland: a social and cultural history, 1922 to the present (Ithaca, 1985), p. 112.Google Scholar

2 Lee, J. J., Ireland, 1912–1985: politics and society (Cambridge, 1989), p. 159.Google Scholar

3 See, for examples, Russell, Elizabeth, ‘Holy crosses, guns and roses: themes in popular reading material’ and Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh, ‘Dr. Dorothy Price and the elimination of childhood tuberculosis’ in Augusteijn, Joost (ed.), Ireland in the 1930s: new perspectives (Dublin, 1999), pp 1128, 67–82.Google Scholar

4 Brown, Terence, Ireland: a social and cultural history, 1922–2002 (London, 2004), p. 134.Google Scholar

5 Lee, Ireland, 1912–85, p. 605.

6 Kennedy, Michael, Ireland and the League of Nations, 1919–1946: international relations, diplomacy and politics (Dublin, 1996)Google Scholar; idem and J. M. Skelly (eds), Irish foreign policy, 1919–66: from independence to internationalism (Dublin, 2000); O’Driscoll, Mervyn, Ireland, Germany, and the Nazis: politics and diplomacy, 1919–1939 (Dublin, 2004)Google Scholar. Kennedy characterises the 1930s as Valera, Eamon de’s ‘Heyday at Geneva’ (Ireland & the League of Nations, p. 189).Google Scholar

7 McGarry, Fearghal, ‘Irish newspapers and the Spanish Civil War’ in I.H.S., xxxiii, no. 129 (May 2002), p. 90.Google Scholar

8 Ibid. It is important not to overstate Dr McGarry’s emphasis on Irish insularity. His book, Irish politics and the Spanish Civil War (Cork, 1999)Google Scholar, for example, notes that ‘Ireland was less detached from European events and ideologies than is often assumed’ (p. vii).

9 Keogh, Dermot, Ireland and Europe, 1919–48 (Dublin, 1988), pp 58-9.Google Scholar

10 Keogh, Dermot, Twentieth-century Ireland: nation and state (Dublin, 1994), p. 88Google Scholar.

11 McGarry, Irish politics, p. 192.

12 Kennedy, Ireland & the League of Nations, p. 222.

13 Sligo Champion, 14 Sept. 1935.

14 Memorandum by Boland, F. H., 25 Jun. 1935 (N.A.I., D.F.A., 27/95).Google Scholar

15 Dáil Éireann deb., lix, 485 (6 Nov. 1935).

16 Ibid., 634 (7 Nov. 1935).

17 Ibid., 502 (6 Nov. 1935).

18 Ibid., 497.

19 Ibid., 509.

20 Irish Independent, 4 Oct. 1935.

21 Irish Press, 9 Oct. 1935.

22 Dáil Éireann deb., lix, 506 (6 Nov. 1935).

23 Irish Independent, 8 Oct. 1935.

24 Dáil Éireann deb., lix, 490 (6 Nov. 1935).

25 Binchy, to MacDermot, , 3 Nov. 1935 (N.A.I., MacDermot papers, 1065/14/5).Google Scholar

26 Waley, Daniel, British public opinion and the Abyssinian war, 1935–6 (London, 1975), p. 48.Google Scholar

27 Irish statute book database (http://l (14 July 1936).Google Scholar

28 For a classic examination of British and Irish governmental relations during the period under review, see McMahon, Deirdre, Republicans and imperialists: Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s (New Haven, 1984).Google Scholar

29 Irish Times, 7 Oct. 1935.

30 Ibid., 5 Oct. 1935.

31 Irish Independent, 7 Oct. 1935.

32 Ibid., 17 Sept. 1935.

33 Cork Examiner, 21 Sept. 1935.

34 Sligo Champion, 26 Oct. 1935.

35 Limerick Chronicle, 15 Oct. 1935.

36 Irish Press, 7 Oct. 1935.

37 Ibid.

38 Irish Times, 5 Jan. 1935.

39 Ibid., 1 Oct. 1935.

40 Mercier, Vivian, ‘The Fourth Estate - 2: The [Irish] Times’ in The Bell, ix, no. 4 (Jan. 1945), pp 292-3.Google Scholar

41 Irish Times, 12 Oct. 1935.

42 Sligo Champion, 5 Oct. 1935.

43 Irish Press, 9 Oct. 1935.

44 Ibid., 7 Oct. 1935.

45 McGarry, ‘Irish newspapers’, p. 75. The connection between the Irish Independent’s sensationalism and increased circulation numbers was described as ‘Spanish-type journalism’ by Conor Cruise O’Brien in reference to the paper’s policies during the Spanish Civil War (O’Donnell, Donat [Conor Cruise O’Brien], ‘The Fourth Estate - 3: The Irish Independent: a business idea’ in The Bell, ix, no. 5 (Feb. 1945), p. 394).Google Scholar

46 Irish Times, 12 Oct. 1935.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Brown, Ireland (1985), p. 118.

51 Valera, Eamon de, Peace and war: speeches by Mr. de Valera on international affairs (Dublin, 1944), p. 41.Google Scholar

52 Ibid., p. 42.

53 Ibid., p. 44.

54 Ibid., p. 46.

55 Ibid., p. 51.

56 Ibid., p. 55.

57 Ibid., p. 40.

58 Ibid., p. 48.

59 Ibid., pp 45–6.

60 Ibid., p. 53.

61 Ibid.

62 This near unanimity of opinion should not be attributed to the fact that all Irish newspapers acquired their news from the same news services (that is, Reuter’s, Press Association and United Press). After all, during the Spanish Civil War, the editors of contending Irish newspapers reworded the headlines of articles from foreign wire services to tint the stories (McGarry, ‘Irish newspapers’, p. 75). Most Irish rural newspapers could not afford to purchase reports from these French, British and American agencies, choosing instead to reprint news articles published in the Dublin and London dailies, coloured, of course, with their own headlines and editorial commentary.

63 Irish Times, 8 Oct. 1935.

64 Irish Press, 17 Sept. 1935.

65 Ibid., 9 Nov. 1935.

66 Clare Champion, 21 Sept. 1935.

67 Connaught Telegraph, 21 Sept. 1935.

68 Waterford News, 20 Sept. 1935.

69 Wicklow People, 5 Oct. 1935.

70 Galway Observer, 12 Oct. 1935.

71 Irish Times, 17 Oct. 1935.

72 Irish Press, 18 Sept. 1935. The irony of a pro-Fianna Fail newspaper endorsing the partition of a fellow ‘small nation’ is noteworthy.

73 Irish Times, 2 Oct. 1935.

74 Wicklow People, 19 Oct. 1935.

75 Cork Examiner, 6 Sept. 1935.

76 Ibid., 21 Oct. 1935.

77 Irish Press, 23 Dec. 1935.

78 Ibid., 20 Dec. 1935.

79 Irish Times, 14 Dec. 1935.

80 Ibid., 17 Dec. 1935.

81 Ibid., 14 Dec. 1935.

82 Irish Press, 16 Sept. 1935.

83 Ibid., 4 Oct. 1935.

84 Irish Times, 10 Oct. 1935.

85 Ibid., 3 Oct. 1935.

86 Ibid., 11 Sept. 1935.

87 Wicklow People, 24 Aug. 1935.

88 Cork Examiner, 6 Sept. 1935.

89 Ibid., 12 Sept. 1935.

90 Irish Times, 6 July 1936.

91 Irish Independent, 23 Sept. 1935.

92 Ibid., 11 Oct. 1935.

93 Ibid., 7 Nov. 1935.

94 Ibid., 9 Nov. 1935. A letter to the editor of the Clare Champion also expressed similar fears over threats to the Catholic Church. Conor Hogan of Corofin wrote that ‘All the subversive forces in Europe, such as atheists, other exploiters and the socialists are active against Italy’, and he claimed that these menaces would ‘applaud the sacking, bombing, burning and utter destruction of Rome’. Hogan went on to foretell ‘the very likely killing of the Pope … and wrecking and demolishing [of] the Catholic churches’ (Clare Champion, 19 Oct. 1935).

95 Ibid., 19 Dec. 1935.

96 Ibid., 4 May 1936.

97 Ibid., 4 May 1936.

98 Ibid., 12 Sept. 1935.

99 Ibid., 6 Sept. 1935.

100 Keogh, Ireland & Europe, p. 58.

101 Irish Independent, 21 Oct. 1935.

102 Another interesting way to probe inter-war Irish society would be through the lens of racism and anti-racism. The Abyssinian crisis offers some interesting starting points for such a project. For example, Starkie’s portrayal of Abyssinian women as smelling like the ‘rancid butter which they put in their hair’ and of native homes as resembling ‘a collection of monster bee-hives’ is instructive (Irish Independent, 6 Mar. 1936), as is a report in the Irish Independent of an October 1935 street fight in New York City between ‘Negro and Italian women’: ‘Excited by the news from Abyssinia, the women fought with racial fanaticism using household implements as weapons … ‘ (emphasis added) (Irish Independent, 15 Oct. 1935). Frustrated with the Irish Independent’s consistent complaints about the discomfort of the Italian people under the League’s economic sanctions, the Irish Press accused the Irish Independent of ignoring the suffering of the ‘men, women and children of Abyssinia who are being blown to pieces by bombs from Italian aeroplanes and howitzers … Are [the Abyssinians] not God’s children just as much as the Italians, or can it be that… the colour of their skin puts them outside the application of moral law?’ (Irish Press, 9 Dec. 1935).

103 Quoted in Keogh, Ireland & Europe, p. 58.

104 Macaulay, W. J. B. to Walshe, Joseph, 6 June 1935 (N.A.I., D.F.A., 27/95). The Lateran Treaty was the concordat signed in 1929 in the Lateran Palace between the kingdom of Italy (represented by Mussolini) and the Holy See (represented by Pope Pius XI), which recognized the papal state as fully sovereign and independent under the name Vatican City.Google Scholar

105 Macaulay, to Walshe, , 15 June 1935 (N.A.I., D.F.A., 27/95).Google Scholar

106 Keogh, Ireland & Europe, p. 55.

107 The Catholic journals and periodicals examined here are The Cross, Father Matthew Record, and Lourdes Messenger. Also included are the Catholic Bulletin and the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s Hibernian Journal, both of which, though published by secular organisations, reflected clerical opinion. The influential organ Studies was reviewed, but barely made any mention of the Abyssinian dispute - indicative, perhaps, of the ambiguity of clerical support for Mussolini.

108 Riordan, Susannah, ‘The unpopular front: Catholic revival and Irish cultural identity, 1932–48’ in Cronin, Mike and Regan, J. M. (eds), Ireland: the politics of independence, 1922–49 (London, 2000), p. 101.Google Scholar

109 McGarry, Irish politics, pp 142, 237.

110 Father Matthew Record, xxviii, no. 10 (Oct. 1935).

111 The Cross, xxvi, no. 8 (Dec. 1935).

112 Hibernian Journal, xvi, no. 11 (Nov. 1935).

113 Catholic Bulletin, xxv, no. 10 (Oct. 1935).

114 Ibid., xxv, no. 11 (Nov. 1935).

115 Ibid., no. 10 (Oct. 1935).

116 Ibid., xxvi, no. 2 (Feb. 1936).

117 Lourdes Messenger, v, no. 8 (Aug. 1935).

118 The Cross, xxvii, no. 2 (June 1936).

119 Catholic Bulletin, xxv, no. 10 (Oct. 1935).

120 Osservatore Romano, 23 Mar. 1935 (N.A.I., D.F.A., 27/102).

121 The Cross, xxvii, no. 2 (Jun. 1936).

122 Dáil Éireann deb., lix, 529 (6 Nov. 1935). 121 Ibid., 530. 124 Ibid., 531.

125 Ibid., 1685 (28 Nov. 1935).

126 Ibid., 516 (6 Nov. 1935).

127 Ibid., 522.

128 McGarry, Irish politics, pp 149–53.

129 Irish Independent, 24–25 Feb. 1936.

130 , Lodi to Byrne, Archbishop, 8 May 1936 (Dublin Diocesan Archives, Byrne papers).Google Scholar

131 Archbishop Byrne to Lodi Fé, n.d. (ibid.).

132 Keogh, Dermot, Ireland and the Vatican: politics and diplomacy of Church-state relations, 1922–60 (Cork, 1995), p. 132.Google Scholar

133 See, for example, Fuller, Louise, Irish Catholicism since 1950: the undoing of a culture (Dublin, 2002).Google Scholar

134 Irish Times, 6 May 1936.

135 Ibid., 1 July 1936.

136 Ibid.

137 McGarry, ‘Irish newspapers’, p. 68.

138 Irish Times, 13 Sept. 1935.

139 For an examination of O’Duffy’s attempts to raise a force of a thousand Blueshirts for Mussolini’s adventure, see McMahon, Cian, ‘Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts and the Abyssinian crisis’ in History Ireland, x, no. 2 (summer 2002), pp 36-9Google Scholar. At least two Irishmen (Brophil and Hickey) did, however, participate in the war, as doctors with the Abyssinian Red Cross (Irish Times, 23 Oct. 1935). There were several reports in Irish newspapers of Irishmen volunteering to serve in the armies or medical units of the Abyssinian army, but only Brophil and Hickey actually went, probably on account of their military experience during the First World War (Irish Times, 17 Aug. 1935; Cork Examiner, 26 Aug., 17–18 Sept. 1935). The Department of External Affairs also received a novel offer from Joyce Pollard, general correspondent of the ‘Peace Army’, who wrote that the movement’s members were ‘prepared to practise whatever form of peaceful intervention may be possible, to the extent of standing unarmed between the combatants’ (Pollard to de Valera, 28 Oct. 1935 (N.A.I. D.F.A., 27/95c)). The offer was politely declined.

140 Sligo Champion, 5 Oct. 1935.

141 Townshend, Charles, Ireland: the 20th century (London, 1999), p. 150.Google Scholar

142 De Valera, Peace & war, p. 50.

143 Ibid., p. 59.

144 Kennedy, Ireland & the League of Nations, pp 220–2.

145 Lyons, F. S. L., Ireland since the Famine (New York, 1971), p. 543.Google Scholar

146 The Leader, 31 Jan. 1951, cited in Keogh, Ireland & Europe, p. 61.

147 The Leader, 27 Jan. 1952.

148 The author would like to thank Professor Michael Laffan, who supervised the M.A. thesis from which this article derives, and Dr Fearghal McGarry, who read an early draft of it.

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