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.


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