Communities on the margins: a historical example

In 2011, in the concluding episode of the (sometimes over-simplistic) Feargal Keane television mini-series The Story of Ireland (Episode Five: The Age Of Nations), Keane suggested that in Ireland’s modern history and particularly in the Celtic Tiger era and beyond, that Ireland had now to accommodate a broader sense of Irishness, and despite greater immigration far-right politics has never taken root.  He did, however concede that there was racism in Irish society.

This racism was witnessed in a very public way this past week with the intimidation of members of the Roma community by a 200 strong mob in Waterford.  While this is shocking, and rightly has been condemned by all shades of political opinion (and the wider public), this kind of conflict cannot really be a complete surprise.  Behaviour of this kind is by no means an Irish phenomenon, and is sadly a by-product of a number of factors including unemployment, lack of resources, misinformation, and rumour.

If we take Keane’s statement that a ‘broader sense of Irishness’ was needed to incorporate the many cultures which make up early twenty first century Ireland, that would indicate that Irish culture, and Irishness was a fixed and settled entity in the past.  Of course, that simply isn’t true when one takes into account British and Anglo-Irish identities.  If we leave this (admittedly huge) factor out of the equation, are we left with a fixed and narrow sense of Irishness?

Of course not, Irishness was never fixed, nor narrow.  There were, and remain many degrees of Irishness depending upon one’s view of what was Irish is or was.  What is perhaps surprising is that what was supposed to be the official and traditional conception of Irishness (native Irish-speaking, and culturally Gaelic) was not entirely accepted by the general population in a previous period of severe unemployment and competition for resources, the 1930s.  Certainly not when it was presented to them at their door. This was at a time when those heavily involved in Irish Cultural Nationalism at the turn of the twentieth century were running the country.  The ideal of that particular crop of Irish Cultural Nationalists was that Ireland would be ‘Gaelic and free’.

However, the cultural intolerance the Gaelic people faced has parallels with what we have seen with the Roma community of late.  Intimidation, and a campaign of hate compounded by half-truths directed at those who differed culturally and linguistically.  The Independent’s Colette Brown’s sardonic take on the perception of Waterford pre and post-Roma contains more than a kernel of truth about the mob mentality when it comes to culture clashes, and particularly about ideas of cultural superiority.

In the 1930s under the Fianna Fáil government, an ambitious social engineering project took place in which numerous families of native Irish-speakers were taken from their homes in the last bastion of Gaeldom, Connemara, and transplanted in the eastern county of Meath.  The plan was to help spread the Irish language in places it had long since fell out of everyday use, as well as improve the lot of the much-maligned native-speakers from the West in new surroundings.  What was hoped to have been a stepping stone on the way to that Gaelic and free utopia quickly turned into a battle ground between those who viewed themselves as native and those viewed as planters who were being afforded special treatment under a government looking out for its own interests.

The Connemara Gael was soon subjected to a campaign of intimidation.  Shots were fired into houses, one was burned down and intimidating slogans painted on the properties of the migrants “No more migrants wanted here”, and “This land is not for Connemara people – it is for Meath men”. (Irish Press, 25 October, 1935)  It is perhaps a sign of the evolution of intimidation that slogans painted on walls have now been replaced with bile posted online.


On Monday 27 October The Irish Times reprinted some of the online abuse directed at the Roma community in Waterford. ‘There have been Facebook pages, including one titled ‘Get Roma criminal gypsies out’, where posts included: “Burn the cockroaches out” and “Throw them in the river” and called people “Roma c**ts”. This page was taken down yesterday and a new page was posted, titled ‘Make Waterford a safer place’.

The language is perhaps a little less refined than used against the Irish-speaking migrants of the 1930s, although the sentiment is the same. The physical intimidation and lies spread about the Connemara Gael’s was textbook, and sadly are still in use today.  Irish-speaking women were harassed in town by ‘gangs’ and told ‘to quit talking that gibberish here’. (Irish Press, 17 Jan, 1938) While the classic line of feckless migrants sponging off the state was employed, in this instance by those aligned with right of centre politics accused the migrant population of being adverse to honest work, sleeping in until one in the afternoon and making poteen the rest of their time. (Irish Press, 7 May, 1936 and Meath Chronicle, 25 July, 1936)


Sections of the press, as in many instances since, fanned the flames of prejudice against migrants. Under the sensationalist headline ‘Reign of terror in part of Meath’ on Aug 31, 1946 The Drogheda Independent produced a report (echoing the approach The Independent’s Brown lampooned above) which compared the migrants to Corsican bandits and red Indians descending on peaceful people and disrupting their idyllic village life. It further denigrated the migrants as ‘poor advertisements’ for Gaelic culture and called upon whoever inflicted these colonists upon the law-abiding people of Meath to deal decisively with the situation.

After the fanfare the migrant scheme received, many migrants felt abandoned by the government.  Promises of help in establishing themselves in the community and on the land had been broken to the point that many found themselves in debt and living on the margins of their new society.  A lawyer representing the migrants in court famously said that Meath ‘was not the El Dorado that they thought it would be’. (Irish Independent, 19 June, 1936) Parallels of the perception of minority groups can again be drawn with the Roma experience in Ireland of late.  In the wake of the murder Marioara Rostas, Roma community development officer Gabi Muntean drew attention to her community who were now living on the margains of Irish society while attempting to dispel similar myths that the Roma would rather beg instead of seeking employment.

Back in the late 1930s the Irish government attempted to tackle community friction in Meath.  In July 1938 a large event aimed at breaking down the barriers between the communities was organised in Gibbstown Co Meath, and was attended by Eamon de Valera, Minister for Education Thomas Derrig, and Senator Peadar O’Maille among others. According to The Meath Chronicle:

Through the medium of that which both loved, the Irish language, the migrant found that the Meath man was not out for his blood and the native discovered that the colonist was a human being like himself, not a humourless, suspicious individual, but a cheerful, friendly fellow anxious to live amicably with his neighbours’.

The Chronicle reported that the day was a success in which ‘barriers were broken down and a new spirit pervaded’. (Meath Chronicle, 16 July, 1938)  In truth, this approach was merely a show-piece, tensions between the communities were noticeable up until the 1970s. (Irish Independent, 25 May, 2010).  This piecemeal approach is perhaps symbolic in itself of successive Irish governments approach to issues regarding the Irish language.

Nevertheless, it points to a lack of an overall plan for culturally different migrants (even in an exclusively Irish setting) as well as a failure to engage with and integrate communities under a spirit of ‘inclusive Irishness’.  It should serve as a warning that in a more multi-cultural Ireland the piecemeal or showpiece approach will clearly not work if there is to be, as Keane said a need to accommodate a broader sense of Irishness. While the historical example given above is by no means identical, there are parallels which should not be ignored.

(newpapaper clippings with thanks to Irish Newspaper Archives)


Guest post on ‘The Great Irish Famine: Exploring Ireland’s greatest social catastrophe’. The Famine in Ulster

The link below is to a piece I have written on Dr Ciaran Reilly’s Great Irish Famine blog, on the need for re-engagement at a local level on understanding the famine period.

Unexpected discoveries, fresh perspectives: thinking outside the (archival) box. via Four Nations History Network.

This piece appeared today in King’s College London’s Four Nations History Network Project.  It was an honour and privilege to be asked to contribute, given the calibre of people who have already contributed.  It was also a very therapeutic exercise for me, providing me with an opportunity to take stock of where I am and how I got to this point in my academic journey.

War Profiteering….

At the risk of coming across as a bandwagon jumper, let me first state that WWI is not ‘my area’ (it feels strange typing that, but I’ve now been engaged in historical research for a long enough time to have developed ‘an area’).  We are in the midst of the Decade of Centenaries and are currently being bombarded (sorry) by works relating to World War I.  Only in the last couple of weeks I was invited to the launch of a local history project relating to WWI, and have also volunteered myself to write a book review on one of the works which has been released recently to coincide with the centenary.  So much for the disclaimer of it not being ‘my area’.

I have, of course a passing interest in it as a few relatives on both sides of the family fought in WWI, with a great grandfather on my mother’s side being a fatality of the conflict. I suppose I just want to say that I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on it, so what I may be showing here has no doubt been covered by better equipped and better positioned historians in the past (and no doubt the present), nevertheless here is my burnt offering.

On my twitter feed (when I probably should attending to more pressing matters) I try to do a few daily ‘On This Day’ tweets based upon news stories on that day in history.  These stories, for the most part, come from the back catalogue of The Irish Press (1931-1995).  I use this particular paper as my area of research relates more to this paper than of the other Irish dailies of the 1930s.  However, as I am currently reviewing the aforementioned WWI work I decided to take a look at some of the stories contained within the Irish Independent during this period as background to my review.  As is my nature, my mind has begun to wonder away from the task at hand to other subjects which have caught my eye, mainly the advertisement pages.

Anyone who is familiar with the Irish Newspaper Archive site will know that (when it works) the adverts contained within offer a fascinating insight into consumer society, and by default wider society in times gone by.  Lets face it, many of the adverts are blatant lies. Selling products in a time before trading standards existed as we know it today was probably a much easier task.  Nonsensical claims about the properties of many products were peddled within the pages of Irish daily and weekly newspapers, not to mention sexist and racist undertones which today would rightly bring the advertiser, and most likely the paper’s editor on hate speech charges.

Outside of the regular lies peddled to the less media-savvy population of a century-or-so ago, a number of adverts began to take on a war-theme as Britain entered the war in August of 1914.  In this post I have selected a number of war-related adverts from August 1914 as Britain (and Ireland) entered the war, with the intention of adding to this through the months of the war up to 1918.  The selection ranges from adverts for Volunteer uniforms, to books and pamphlets relating to the war, right up to blatant tie-ins to the war to sell a particular product.

As the call to arms came in (see below from 6 August 1914) the advertising men swiftly followed.

Recruitment Poster 6 August 1914.

Recruitment Poster 6 August 1914.

The Big Push

‘The Big Push’ 11 August 1914

Above: Gleeson & Co Tailors and Drapers use the battle-associated caption ‘The Big Push’ to promote a ‘sale of oddments’.  While O’Reilly & Co Outfitters advertised ‘Shirts, Collars, Ties, Braces and Underwear’ under the heading ‘Ireland’s Sons Will Defend Her Shores’ on 21 August 1914.

O'Reilly & Co Outfitters 21 August 1914

O’Reilly & Co Outfitters 21 August 1914

'Irishmen Enlist' 19 August 1914

‘Irishmen Enlist’ 19 August 1914

Above: Mac Sweeny’s Pharmacy Cork sell their foot medicine ‘Tinori’ with a simple drawing of soldiers receiving their product at the front line.  Of course, nowhere does it say this product is exclusively for the use of soldiers. 

The following advert from Hearne & Co was dated 6 August 1914 showing all the equipment an Irish Volunteer would need.  This same advert repeatedly appeared over the month of August.

Volunteer Outfits 6 August 1914

Volunteer Outfits 6 August 1914

Hearne & Co had some competition from Thomas Fallon of Mary Street, Dublin.  Their advert also appeared on several occasions in the pages of The Irish Independent.  The following example is from 15 August 1914.

Advert 15 August 1914

Advert 15 August 1914

The advert pages of The Irish Independent didn’t just cater for those adventurous enough to enlist serve overseas, it also sought to cater for those who had an adventurous spirit from a safe distance.  A number of adverts appeared for books about war, including the current war, as well as maps so those at home could visualise the terrain many of their contemporaries were now shipped off to.

Clery & Co Booksellers were only one of a number of booksellers who whetted the appetite for those eager to read about the war effort with a range of books on past wars.

Wars Past 14 August 1914

Wars Past 14 August 1914

The War Illustrated: 20 August 1914

The War Illustrated: 20 August 1914

The Penny War Weekly 31 August 1914

The Penny War Weekly 31 August 1914

Perhaps the most famous contemporary account of the war came from Herbert Wrigley Wilson (1866 – 12 July 1940), the journalist and naval historian. From 1914 to 1919, Wilson edited the periodical The Great War:The Standard History of the All-Europe Conflict, which ran to 13 volumes.  The advert for the first edition appeared in The Irish Independent on 18 August 1914, and sought to justify Britain’s entry to the war.

First Edition of Wilson's 'The Great War' 18 August 1914

First Edition of Wilson’s ‘The Great War’ 18 August 1914

Not content with advertising the war-related memorabilia and tie-ins of other businesses, The Irish Independent got in on the act themselves, with a War Map for one penny.  This advert was published on 28 August 1914.

Irish Independent War Map 28 August 1914.

Irish Independent War Map 28 August 1914.

As stated above, it is my intention to explore other adverts on a monthly basis throughout the duration of the war, so hopefully this is the first instalment of many.

The Papers, The Church and Satan: Ireland of the 1990s

In an increasingly secular Ireland it is sometimes easy to forget about a time when the Catholic Church wielded a vast influence over much of the population, in terms of moral guidance and education, and a time when many youth pursuits came under its scrutiny.

In the eighties and nineties the Church had something of a preoccupation with notions of satanic cults among the youth.  This may not surprise as the Church in Ireland has a long history of concerns relating to the dark arts and its influence on popular culture. However, what is interesting is the degree of ‘buy-in’ which the press had relating to the occult, music and its detrimental effect upon Irish youth.  The degree of clerical and media interest is perhaps indicative of a tightly-knit Irish society around the norms and rituals of Catholic life.

From the eighties onwards newspaper coverage of matters of the occult became popular.  In an age when much concern was focused upon matters of international significance, such apprehensions seem quaint.  That is not to say these international matters were not closely followed, it is more of a case that regional moral panic was given almost equal status in sections of the press as other preoccupations of modern living.

Or as the Limerick Leader succinctly put it: ‘In an age of micro-waved noodles, cellular phones and Mutant Ninja Turtles it is hard to imagine witchcraft is surviving’. Not only was it surviving, it was something of a growth industry, with tarot readers, water diviners, witches and strong rumours of Satanism over the city and beyond.[1]

The majority of supposedly satanic practices seemed to be a rural phenomenon.  Perhaps easily dismissed as wanton vandalism, nevertheless parents in Galway were urged to ‘be alert to any changes in their children’ who were vulnerable to the influences of Satanism and evil spirits in the wake of a church in Invern being vandalised in the summer of 1992.[2] In the same period there were fears that ‘committed Satanists’ were at work in Wicklow after a number of gravestones were vandalised in Blessington.[3]  Advice was also sought in the county relating to a girl ‘who had been allegedly affected by heavy metal music’.  The same article carried a stark sub-heading warning in no uncertain terms that ‘The Established Churches are worried’![4]

Ouija Board


If reports were to be believed the Ouija Board was rivalling the Game Boy in the popularity stakes with young people in the early nineties. In Letterkenny clergy called upon young people to refrain from using Ouija boards, following reports that their use was on the increase in the area.[5]  This tool of the occult raised the most concerns among clergy members.  The Nenagh Guardian warned young people of its dangers, stating that such activity was potentially extremely dangerous especially for young people with much trauma and even suicide likely to follow.[6]

The Irish Independent reported ‘black magic was widespread’ in Cork, with Ouija board use common throughout the country.   Not only that, six black magic groups were active in the Cork area![7]  In the same month The Irish Press reported two individuals who were living in dread of a Satanic cult.  Fr. Louis Hughes in Montenotte, Cork told that the youths in question suffered hallucinations day and night, and that their Satanic tormentors were ‘working class youths in their late teens or early twenties’ who congregated in groups of 20-25 to worship Satan in a local house,[8] enacting rituals which were the ‘reversal of Christian practices’.[9]


Not all priests bought into the panic.  Martin Tierney, Director of the Catholic Communications Institute believed people ‘should have a good laugh’ about reports of on demonic activity.  Reports of Satanism were ‘absolute piffle’.  Nevertheless, he warned Satan was in the world, he just wasn’t to be found in heavy metal records![10]

Increasing secularism from the nineties onwards left some within Catholicism at a loss to the decline of traditional religious values.  Raising the question, were these warnings the last stance of a once powerful body unable to control its flock?  By the middle of the decade the Church was beset with numerous sex and abuse scandals, somewhat relegating the spectre of Satanism to the periphery by both the Church and the media.   For a number of years however, Satan and his minions were a clear and present danger to the young of Ireland.


[1] Limerick Leader, Nov 2, 1991, p. 10

[2] Irish Independent, Aug 28, 1992, p. 3

[3] Irish Independent, July 12, 1991, p. 6

[4] Ibid

[5] Donegal News, Dec 3, 1994, p. 28

[6] Nenagh Guardian, Feb 3, 1990, p. 7

[7] Irish Independent, Sep 23, 1987, p. 5

[8] Irish Independent, Sep 15, 1987, p.9

[9] Irish Press Sep 16, 1987, p. 1

[10] Irish Independent, Jan 31, 1992, p. 6