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.

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9 responses to “A brief history of Belfast IRA newspapers (to 1945)

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