A brief history of Belfast IRA newspapers, part 2 (1946-1970)

This is the second part of an introduction to the newspapers published by the Belfast IRA from the 1920s to 1970. You can read part one, covering the period to 1945, here.

After the demise of Republican News in 1946, a monthly publication was resumed in November 1951, called Resurgent Ulster, deliberately referencing the newspaper produced by the Belfast Battalion in the 1930s, An Síol, the Voice of the Resurgent North. Resurgence was also the name of a short-lived newspaper published in Dublin in 1946 by Cumann Séain Mhic Eochaidh of Sinn Féin, which was largely made up of Belfast republicans living in the city (and pre-figured the IRA and Sinn Féin re-aligning in the late 1940s).
For Volume 1, published monthly from November 1951, Resurgent Ulster was very much a do-it-yourself production in the style of War News, being typed on a stencil then reproduced using a Gestetner machine. The front page was printed onto a prepared letterhead in red which said Resurgent Ulster and a large red hand, with the phrase Ní Síocháin Gan Saoirse (there is no peace without freedom) in old Irish type.

Resurgent Ulster, Volume 1 format

Resurgent Ulster was edited and largely written by Jimmy Steele, who had been released from Crumlin Road in September 1950. He was involved in re-organising the Belfast IRA, of which he was the O/C, with Joe Cahill as Adjutant. Publication of The United Irishman, the Sinn Féin newspaper, had begun in 1948.
The low production quality of Volume 1 was to continue until April 1953 and each issue cost 3 pence (the print run was similar to that of Republican News, at 5,000 copies and generally sold out). Volume 2 began with the November 1952 edition. This contained a brief justification of the publicity strategy of the Belfast IRA:

Twelve months ago the first issue of our little paper appeared as a tiny spark in an Ireland infested with a spineless Anti-Extreme, so-called National Republican Press – a Press controlled by the Political Groups existing in Ireland today. But that spark has since burst into a bright flame over a wide area, and over all-Ireland, parts of England, Scotland and America …. The true message of sincere Republican Ireland.

The January 1953 issue expanded on this, saying the aim was to:

”…to propagate like Tone the cause of unity among our people, not only to endeavour to unite Orange and Green but to strive for a return to that splendid unity which animated the nation in those glorious years up to the signing of the treaty.”

The low quality production of the first volume of Resurgent Ulster was superseded in April 1953 (Volume 2, Number 5) by a more professionally produced newspaper, with the May 1953 edition indicating that it was printed by ‘Clólann Chromaic, 45 Mhic Amhlaoidh, Béal Feirsde’ (Cromac Printers, McAuley St, Belfast) and issued by the Republican Publicity Bureau. The correspondence address given for Resurgent Ulster and Glór Uladh was almost invariably 37 Institution Place, Joe McGurk’s home address. The transition from essentially hand-produced to high quality printing is mentioned in an article in the May 1953 edition of Resurgent Ulster where an Irish language article points out that any typos and mistakes in the previous issue were down to time constraints in proof-reading the April issue.

The higher quality production of Volume 2 of Resurgent Ulster

The switch to the higher publication quality also appears to coincide with the inclusion of poetry (although this is solely based on the surviving issues. Easter Morn (by Jimmy Steele) and Maura O’Kelly (a Civil War song from Galway) were included in the April 1953 issue, the first to be produced in the new format. The poetry was mostly included without identifying the author. Although Resurgent Ulster wasn’t (as yet) banned, the assumption probably was that it soon would be and that previous contributions could be considered as ‘acts preparatory to’ a breach in the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act and so lead to a term of imprisonment. In some cases, the anonymous poems were reproduced in later publications by Jimmy Steele (eg Antrim’s Patriot Dead and 1916-66: Belfast and nineteensixteen) and had been written by Steele.
The change in print quality also took place as republican candidates prepared to stand in election for Sinn Féin in the summer of 1953, with endorsements appearing in Resurgent Ulster. This coincided with internal rifts within the Belfast IRA and the departure of some individuals, including Billy McMillen, that autumn. Articles about the 1943 strip strike in Resurgent Ulster, early in 1954, clearly appear to be part of a process of reconciling differences over the progress of the strike. Clearly Resurgent Ulster provided a forum within which Belfast republicans addressed current issues.
There was also the usual housekeeping associated with running a newspaper. There were regular requests for agents to clear up outstanding accounts, particularly in 1954. At the same time, distribution of Resurgent Ulster was clearly under surveillance as some issues, such as June 1954, carry a notice apologising to subscribers who did not receive their copies and confirming they had been posted and must have been confiscated by the authorities. By October 1954 issues of Resurgent Ulster were appearing as Ulaidh ag Aiséirghe, the Irish language translation of the title. That October 1954 issue also carried a warning about censorship saying:

We would wish to remind our readers that all correspondence coming to this office is censored by the Stormont authorities before it reaches us.”

The paper was then re-branded as Glór Uladh in May 1955 and numbering restarted with the May edition appearing as Volume 1, Number 1. Sinn Féin had just, successfully, fielded candidates in the UK general election and Glór Uladh gave its full support to the political campaigns. By the end of 1955, Glór Uladh and the Resurgent Ulster title were both banned under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. Issues of Glór Uladh no longer appeared monthly, with more erratic publication in 1956 (eg there was combined April/May issue and then the June issue was Volume 2, Number 6 while the November issue was Volume 2, Number 9).

The format of Glór Uladh, continuing that from Resurgent Ulster and continued in later issues of Tírghrá

During 1956 other tensions were evident on the pages of Glór Uladh. The March 1956 issue criticised certain individuals who were planning to carry out actions that would be blamed on republicans but which were in direct conflict with the policy and programme of the republican movement at that time. Since late 1954 Resurgent Ulster had been critical of Liam Kelly who was building his own organisation in east Tyrone. In the April/May issue of Glór Uladh, 1956, it was also implied that Sinn Féin was being controlled by Dublin-based republicans. This seems to reflect contemporary tensions inside Crumlin Road (and pre-figures the split in the IRA in the late 1960s). The November issue of 1956, though, was much more favourable to Sinn Féin and hinted at the upcoming IRA campaign. That campaign and internment, including that of editor and chief writer Jimmy Steele, finished off publication of Resurgent Ulster/Glór Uladh.
Inside Crumlin Road during internment, Jimmy Steele published a handwritten paper in D wing (where the internees were held) called The Internee, while Daithi O Conaill produced a handwritten paper for the sentenced paper in A wing, titled Saoirse.


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Publication of Resurgent Ulster/Glór Uladh restarted in December 1962, again under the editorship of Jimmy Steele. The new paper was entitled Tírghrá. Just as Billy McKee had to effectively re-build the Belfast IRA after 1961, the first volume of Tírghrá, the Voice of the Republican North was closer in quality and style to An Síol or Republican News in having a stencilled masthead and being duplicated on a Gestetner. By 1964, though, it was being produced in a much more professional format similar to the later editions of Resurgent Ulster and Glór Uladh. This was to be relatively short-lived as publication of Tírghrá appears to have ceased completely by 1965, following McKee’s resignation as O/C of the Belfast IRA. The demise of Tírghrá also appears to be one of the factors in what some saw as the side-lining of Jimmy Steele, editor of Glór Uladh, by those around Cathal Goulding, at the time Chief of Staff. That the Belfast IRA no longer had an independent voice, in the form of its own journal, seems consistent with the centralising tendency of Goulding’s leadership. Again this was to be a factor in the split in the IRA that became formalised in late 1969. When the Belfast IRA re-established its own newspaper, it was to resume publication of Republican News, again under the editorship of Jimmy Steele in 1970 who died as the third issue was going to press. I’ll write more about Republican News at a future date.

Images from various sources including An Phoblacht and the Irish Republican Papers blog.

Deaths during internment in the north in the 1940s

Around 400 men and women were imprisoned for political reasons by the northern government during 1938-50. Of that 400, at least twelve are believed to have died from illnesses and complications arising from the conditions of their imprisonment, a mortality rate of about 3%. Typically, to provide some level of deniability, the northern government released the prisoner when death was inevitable so that they didn’t die in prison.

In many of the cases, the prison conditions, diet, absence of either any meaningful medical care or even medical supplies to self-treat open wounds are believed to be the main contributing factor in the deaths. Given the age profile of the dead, men in their twenties to early forties, it is interesting to compare that 3% figure to the mortality rate of the British armed forces in the Second World War, which was 3.3%.

Of the dead, Jack Gaffney is buried in the Harbinson plot and listed on the County Antrim Memorial of the National Graves Association and is the only one who is usually listed among the IRA’s roll of honour for the period (along with others who died while in prison in England, Ireland and Isle of Man, names are not for those who died after release). The reaction to Gaffney’s death, including the large funeral also seems to have dictated the future strategy for managing terminally ill prisoners – basically, don’t let them die in custody.

Here is a provisional list of those who are said to have died due to conditions in the prisons in the north (Crumlin Road, Al Rawdah and Derry):

Jack Gaffney, died on the Al Rawdah prison ship in November 1940 (he received head injuries falling from a bunk that remained untreated).

Seán Dolan from Derry, who was released from Crumlin Road to die at home (25th October 1941)

Cathal Kerr (released from Crumlin Road)

J Rooney (released from Crumlin Road) 

Joe McGinley (name also given as John McGinley, released from Crumlin Road, 1943)

Seamus Keenan (released from Crumlin Road, 1943)

Bernard ‘Sean’ Curran (Crumlin Road, 1943 while terminally although Curran died just over a year later from the same illness in 1945)

Henry O’Kane (released from Crumlin Road while terminally ill)

Dickie Dunn

Tom Graham (died of pleurisy)

Mickey McErlean

Richard Magowan (died from TB, 1943)

The sources for the deaths ascribed to conditions in the prisons are a short list printed in United Irishman in December 1950 (first four above), contemporary statements given in Stormont (in which a figure of seven dead by 1943 was not challenged by the unionists), John McGuffin’s book Internment (he cites the figure of seven dead), Tarlach Ó hUid’s account on his internment in the 1940s, Faoi Ghlas, and Vincent McDowell’s obituary of Pat Donnelly (preserved in the Sean O’Mahony Papers in NLI).

A brief history of Belfast IRA newspapers (to 1945)

During the 1920s and early 1930s the Belfast IRA largely played cat and mouse in acquiring, receiving and distributing republican newspapers like An Phoblacht from Dublin. In 1933, though, during the November election, Jack McNally and Mick Traynor began to issue a news-sheet called An Síol (subtitled The Seed). This seems to have appeared erratically, only being published regularly from Easter 1935 by which time it was known as An Síol, the Voice of the Resurgent North. The mass internment of 1938 ended production of An Síol but it was soon replaced by Belfast editions of War News (1939-40), later published as Republican News (1942-45) and The Critic (1940-41). Hand-written newspapers were produced inside the prisons during the 1940s; Faoi Ghlas among the internees and another (possibly titled Saoirse) among the sentenced prisoners. In the 1950s, a new newspaper was published in Belfast, Resurgent Ulster, which later changed its title to Glór Uladh. During internment in the 1950s and 1960s, again, hand-written newspapers were produced in Crumlin Road – Saoirse by the sentenced prisoners and The Internee by the internees. In the early to mid 1960s, publication of a newspaper began again under the title Tírghrá. I’ll cover the post-1945 papers in detail in a future post, but for now I’ll concentrate on the pre-1945 newspapers.

The regular appearance of An Síol was marked by it getting a numbered sequence that began on the 20th April 1935. The first numbered issue actually has a typo on the cover as it is listed as ‘Vol, No. 1’ rather than ‘Vol. 1, No. 1’ (although it is clear from the later numbering sequences that this is Volume 1). Issues were numbered as Volume 2 from November 1936 and Volume 3 from December 1937 until publication ceased in December 1938.

Volume 1, Number 1 of An Síol

During the run of Volume 1, each issue cost two pence, but this was reduced to one pence during the run of Volume 2 (in line with contemporary nationalist publications like An Gaedal). It was to remain at that price. There is no clear indication as to circulation but later publications typically had a print run of 5,000-6,000.

Block printed masthead of An Síol, used for Volume 2 onwards

The paper, like most that were to be issued from Belfast until the mid-1950s, was produced on a Gestetner duplicating device. The masthead for Volume 1, and (presumably) the un-numbered news-sheets issued prior to April 1935, was stencilled onto the paper used. The text was typed on to coated paper which acted as a stencil. Pages of single or double columns of text were then attached to the drum of the cyclostyle duplicator. These forced ink through the stencilled paper onto foolscap. The pages of each issue were then stapled together. By volume 2 the masthead was block-printed. At first An Síol continued to be produced by Jack McNally and Michael Traynor, later Charlie Leddy took over as editor as it became more regular (it appears to have been issued erratically, appearing every one to three weeks). Typically it included political statements, news items, republican poetry, GAA notes and Irish language articles. The content was published under pen-names.

A Queen’s University graduate, Charlie Leddy took on editorial duties in the until he was arrested at Giles Quay in 1935 (along with McNally). By early 1936, An Síol had been added to the long list of printed matter which was banned by the northern government. Since 1924 the northern government had used Regulation 26 of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts to censor its political opponents (after 1949 it had to utilise Regulation 8 of the same Acts). The complete list of banned papers is quite long, but prohibited republican publications include Éire, the Irish Nation (from I9.3.24), Poblachta na hÉireann (from I2.I2.24), Sinn Féin (from 30.I2.24), An Phoblacht, also printed as The Republic, The Loyalist or Republican Press (from 7.I.26), Fianna – the Official Organ of Fianna na hÉireann (from I5.7.26), Irish Freedom – Saoirse na hÉireann (from 14.2.1927), The Nation (from 3.3.30), Republican Congress (from 22.5.34), An Síol (from 4.2.36), Wolfe Tone Weekly (from I2.I0.37), Red Hand (from I4.I0.40), The Critic (from 20.II.40), The United Irishman, Resurgent Ulster, later as Glór Uladh, the Irish Republican Bulletin (from 29.I2.55).

Occasionally, an RUC raid on a house would turn up a copy or copies of An Síol and lead to a sentence of around three months for the owner. Copies were also seized on almost all members of the IRA conference in the Craobh Rua Club in Crown Entry in April 1936. These captured issues are pretty much all that survive in official repositories (like PRONI).

Publication of An Síol continued until the northern government began widespread internment of known republicans in December 1938. It was effectively replaced by the Belfast edition of War News in 1939 (War News was issued from the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau in Dublin and Belfast). While War News largely reported on the progress of the English bombing campaign, it retained elements of the conventional republican publications and included poetry and other items. This was produced by Charlie McGlade (who was a compositor by trade), then Tarlach Ó hUid, who worked out of various addresses in College Square, the Markets and the Pound (Ó hUid also broadcast radio programmes via a secret transmitter). Each print run was collected by women who usually hid them under babies in prams and then distributed them across the city. While some content was shared, in reality, separate editions of War News were produced in Belfast, Dublin and other centres. There was no real attempt to align issue numbers.

After various close shaves, on the 4th March, 1940, an RUC raid found a duplicator and copies of War News were recovered from the address used by Ó hUid in College Square. Some months later Ó hUid was arrested and interned. Jimmy Steele then took over editing War News. As with An Phoblacht, which the northern government banned under a number of variations in its title, it regarded War News and Republican News as the same newspaper (certainly they followed more or less the same format). During the last few months of 1940, another title, The Critic, also seemingly edited by Jimmy Steele, appears to have also been used for War News/Republican News. It was banned, along with the Communist newspaper Red Hand, in the autumn of 1940. Red Hand contained contributions from IRA members like Jack Brady as part of an initiative involving the left and the IRA (which fell apart with Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union – the left now felt bound to honour the Soviet Union’s new-found alliance with the British government).

Typical edition of War News or Republican News Belfast editions, with stencilled masthead (this is the last issue edited by John Graham)

In late 1941 and early 1942, War News began to be issued as Republican News. The Belfast edition began first and remained a couple of issues ahead of the Dublin edition (in terms of it’s numbering). A Galway edition was also issued. John Graham edited Republican News until his arrest in September 1942. During his time as editor, the RUC had captured William Smith, a compositor who worked on its publication, along with a Gestetner on which it was printed. When Graham was arrested, it was in the IRA’s publicity headquarters on the Crumlin Road and the RUC also captured broadcast and printing equipment. Hugh McAteer then took on editing duties (even though he was also Chief of Staff at the time). On his arrest in October 1942, Harry White took over as editor until Jimmy Steele assumed the role again after his escape from Crumlin Road in January 1943. Steele’s arrest in May 1943 saw White return to the role until publication ceased, apparently in 1945, when the RUC again captured printing equipment , this time in a raid on Dan Turley’s house (Turley had assisted White in producing Republican News). White escaped the raid but only produced another edition or two before Republican News folded.

Inside the prisons newspapers continued to be produced and circulated. In A wing where the sentenced prisoners were housed Jimmy Steele wrote and edited a handwritten paper, seemingly called Saoirse, which was copied by hand and a small number of issues circulated among the prisoners. Tarlach Ó hUid continued his  own editorial role and produced Faoi Ghlas in a similar way for the internees in D wing.

A surviving issue of Faoi Ghlas as produced by Tarlach Ó hUid

I’ll cover the story from the demise of Republican News to the return of Republican News in a future post.

Two poems dedicated to IRA Lieut Tom Williams, hung 2nd Sept 1942

The northern government had hung IRA Lieut Tom Williams on 2nd September 1942 as a reprisal for the death of RUC Constable Patrick Murphy after a botched diversionary attack on Easter Sunday the same year (Williams hadn’t even fired a gun during the confrontation that followed).

While executions had become a staple diet of the De Valera regime in Dublin, deaths from neglect and the terrible conditions in the prison camps of the north had been the more typical experience under the northern government (I now believe as many as 10 prisoners died between 1940 and 1945).

Jimmy Steele was in Belfast prison at the time and he and the other republican prisoners fasted on the day of Williams’ execution. Mass was to be said at 8 am and the chaplain had arranged for a key point in the mass, when the communion host is raised up, to coincide with the exact time of Williams execution. The resonance of the symbolism of sacrifice in Catholic theology was easily understood and it broke up many of those present.

Jimmy Steele later wrote a poem called ‘Tom Williams’ that he published in Resurgent Ulster in 1954 containing the lines ‘Time must pass as years roll by, But in memory I shall keep, Of a night in Belfast Prison, Unshamefully I saw men weep…’. He also published a second poem called ‘The Soldier’ which was dedicated to Williams[1]. Both are below.


Tom Williams


Time must pass as years roll by

But in memory I shall keep

Of a night in Belfast Prison

Unshamefully I saw men weep.

But a time was fast approaching,

A lad lay sentenced for to die,

And on the 2nd of September

He goes to meet his God on high.

To the scaffold now he’s marching

Head erect he shows no fear

And while standing on that scaffold

Ireland’s Cause he holds more dear

Now the cruel blow has fallen

For Ireland he has given his all,

He who at the flower of boyhood

Answered proudly to her call.

Brave Tom Williams we salute you.

And we never shall forget

Those who planned your cruel murder

We vow to make them all regret.

Now I saw to all you Irish soldiers

If from this path you chance to roam

Just remember of that morn

When Ireland’s Cause was proudly borne

By a lad who lies within a prison grave.


The Soldier

Dedicated to Tom Williams, hanged in Belfast Prison, 2nd September 1942


They cut down his body, so lifeless and cold

To sate British justice, his life had been sold.

Alien hands laid him to rest in the day

No marble or stone, his cold grave did mark

Just grim prison walls, foreboding and stark

No cer’monial parade, for this martyr, so young

No soldier’s death, like a dog he was hung

The mantle of sorrow was spread o’er the town

His death has been marked, in the debt of the Crown

Oh! people of Ulster the debt it mounts high

Yet under the yoke you are willing to lie

Our dead in the heavens with hard eye, look on

While, to the foreigner daily you fawn

But bear with us longer, dear dead of our race!

Your sons like you spurn to live in disgrace

We’ll fight and we’ll die, we promise you soon

Your proud sons of Ulster wait the rise of the moon.


[1] ‘Tom Williams’ was published in Resurgent UlsterVol 2, No. 20 in July 1954. It appeared anonymously but is likely to have been written by Jimmy Steele. ‘The Soldier’, published later in various places is ascribed to ‘Séamus´ and so is definitely written by Jimmy Steele.