A propaganda photo and some Corr family stories (by Dominic Corr)

 


Corrs BT

This is another classic example of propaganda from 1920-1922. The photograph above was reproduced in the Belfast Telegraph on 20th September 1921 with a second photo (see the end of this post for the second photo). The caption said, “So bad have conditions become in Vere St., Belfast, that the loyalists have had to tunnel the walls of their backyards so as to get to and from their business, the street being under continuous fire from a Sinn Fein locality. Here is a man and child standing in the tunnelled back gardens.

This being the Belfast Telegraph, the family in the foreground are actually Catholics and the houses shown were occupied by Catholics in the upper end of Vere Street. The story behind the photo is even more incredible.

Vere Street had repeatedly witnessed serious violence including in the weeks leading up to the shooting of two women Margaret Ardis and Evelyn Blair on 18th September 1921 (the area subsequently had its own curfew imposed). Two other women had been wounded several days previously and the streets had been swept with machine gun fire earlier in September (one judge referred to Vere Street as the ‘toughest street’  in Belfast). The incidents earlier in September appear to have attracted the press interest that saw the tunnelled back yards being photographed. This happened before the 18th September 1921.

The man in the foreground and the woman in the photo are John and Mary Ann Corr. Far from being loyalists, John and Mary Ann were one of the Catholic families that lived at the North Queen Street end of Vere Street (residents at the upper half of Vere Street were mainly Catholic, the lower half mainly Protestants). What is more, on the evening of 18th September, after Margaret Ardis and Evelyn Blair were killed in lower Vere Street by a shot fired from the upper end, the Corrs had their house searched and John was arrested and charged with their double murder (he was refused bail hence the photograph must date to before the 18th September). This is an example of the type of disinformation and propaganda described by Fr John Hassan in his Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922. The subsequent trial fell apart as eye witness testimony that identified John Corr firing the fatal shot from a rifle fell apart as a soldier testified to being served in Corr’s shop by him at the time of the shooting and post-mortem evidence revealed that the fatal shot had come from a revolver.

Here is Dominic Corr on this story along with some more of the Corr family history. This includes some stories from the 1920s, including the tunnelling of the walls shown in the photograph above. In the same week the photo appeared in the press his Grandfather was framed for the shooting dead of two women on Vere Street during a riot. He had ammunition planted on him during a search (this must have immediately followed the publication of the photograph) and was then brought to trial on a double murder charge (he was acquitted). Dominic includes more details on the Corr family in the 1930s and 1940s, including the imprisonment of his father and uncle and the death of his grandmother and another uncle during the blitz. I’ve included some additional links to previous posts which mention the Corr family at the end.

My grandparents John and Mary Ann Corr reared their family in different homes they lived in north Belfast in and around districts such as Little Patrick Street in Little Italy in the Docklands, Hardinge Street off the New Lodge Rd and Vere Street in the Fenian Gut off North Queen Street. I remember my Da telling me he was born in the room of a house when they lived in residences in a house in Little Patrick Street in an area known as Little Italy off York Street
This district was called this due to the amount of Italian families which had emigrated to Belfast and set up home in this area. My Granda John Patrick, Johnny Corr and his wife Mary Anne moved to a room in another house in Hardinge Street and then to a house they got in Vere Street off North Queen Street when they got their own rented house sometime between 1916 and 1919 close to the district known as the Fenian Gut (see map below).

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The Fenian Gut was an area long since gone of a few streets that were nestled in between York Street Mill and North Queen Street close to the top of Henry Street. Just beyond it were Sussex Street, Vere Street, Grove Street and Earl Street with Cross Street running along one end at the North Queen Street end and Dale Street running along the bottom of Vere Street and Grove Street. All in the shadow of York Street Mill.
Between living in Little Italy, Hardinge Street and the Fenian Gut they had a family of eight children four girls Winnie, Bridget, Josie and Debbie and four boys Arthur (Arder), my father Kevin Barry, Johnny and Freddie.
My Granda Corr had four sisters and my Granny Corr had a twin sister who died in infancy and a brother who lived until 1960 when he died in Manchester. Her maiden name was Bloor which had been anglicised from the Belgian name Bleur and her family emigrated to Ireland from Congelton, Cheshire in England in the mid-1800’s though its believed they originally came from Belgium.
What brought a family originally from Belgium who lived in Cheshire to Ireland during a time of poverty and starvation around the time of an gorta mór? Is anybody’s guess. Her father Frederick was registered as a steeplejack while brother Frederick Bloor was registered as having left a workhouse in Cheshire to emigrate to Ireland. He also joined the navy.
The Corr side of the family came to Belfast from Ballnagilly in Cookstown on the Tyrone side of Lissan. Lissan is a townland situated on a borderline  which straddles both county Tyrone and county Derry  and as far as I know it was my Granda Johnny’s father, also called John, who made that move. After he and his wife Bridget Corr nee McAleer had returned to Ireland from Burrow-on-Furness where they had emigrated to from Ballnagilly in Lissan.
They set up home at 9 Pinkerton Street in the New Lodge area of Belfast after they had lived in Union Place and Columbia Street in Belfast. It has been passed down the family in an oral storyline that when they moved to Belfast he and Bridget had separated  around eight or nine years later and that he may have had other families in Burrow-on-Furness and Coalisland. All that I know his my own Da and his brother Arder hadn’t much of a good word to say about their grandfather John after whatever had happened.

Baker Corrs

The Corrs photo as it appears in Joe Baker’s book The McMahon Murders.

The photograph shown above was taken from a book a while ago after two old New Lodge residents Annie Kelly and Josie Wiggins RIP had brought it to a family members attention and confirmed that the man with the moustache in the front was my Grandfather John Patrick (Johnny) Corr and the woman was his wife my Granny Mary Ann. The picture is said to have been taken in the back yard of a house in the Vere Street, Earl Street, Grove Street and Sussex Street area sometime around 1920/22. When residents dug holes in back yard walls to use as access and escape routes during the unionist/British military  pogroms and sectarian terror attacks which paved the way for the establishment of the six county Stormont state.
My Granda Johnny and his family like many other Irish Catholic families in Belfast had witnessed and been on the receiving end of unionist state violence, harassment and injustice. My Granda Johnny was at one point arrested and charged with a double killing in North Queen Street. Two women, Margaret Ardis aged 22 years old and Evelyn Blair aged 22 years old, who were part of a unionist crowd attacking Vere Street were both killed by a single bullet as a sniper shot them on the 18th of September 1921.
Local folklore had it that both women were dressed in a provocative manner as Mary and Joseph one on a donkey and the other walking the donkey on a leash shouting anti-Catholic profanities at the time of the shooting. The bullet is said to have struck Miss Ardis on the head killing her instantly  passing through her and striking Miss Blair who  died a short time  later in hospital.
My Granda John (Johnny) Patrick  was arrested after the British military raided the family home in Vere Street. My aunt Winnie, who was his oldest daughter, told him not to touch his coat and to register a complaint right away as she had seen a soldier attempting to place ammunition in the pocket of her fathers coat. Johnny asked to speak to whoever was the officer in command of the search telling him to take the soldier who placed the ammunition in his pocket aside.
He explained what Winnie had seen and asked that the commanding officer search both his coat and the soldier to ascertain if he had any missing ammunition. This was done and the bullets found in the coat pocket matched the same number of bullets missing from the magazine of the soldiers rifle. John was still arrested and charged.
The death knell for the case came when another British soldier said that at the time of the shooting he had seen Johnny Corr working in a shop in Garmoyle Street which was around a quarter of a mile away serving someone tobacco.
Johnny maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested right through the trial on charges of this double murder for which he would’ve been hanged if found guilty. This soldier who gave evidence that wrecked the crown case had been involved in an incident in Clonard in which a priest had been shot dead the year before. In July 1920, a Redemptorist member, Brother Michael Morgan, aged 28, was shot dead by a British soldier as Brother Michael was looking out from an upper-storey window of the monastery adjoining the church.
Johnny was released as the crowns case against him collapsed. Family members have gained access to the actual charge sheet and witness statements which contradicted each other and some made little or no sense. Despite several attempts  to gain access to documents relating to this actual trial and acquittal from PRONI public records office by members of our family we have yet to have any success.
In the years later he moved between Belfast, the south of Ireland and England to work as the candy and tobacco shop he ran in Garmoyle Street closed. In 1928 Johnny and Mary Ann had a young son Johnny he died as an infant a year later as a result of cardiac failure due to chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. In the mid 1930’s onwards Arder, Kevin Barry and Bridget were involved in the IRA and Cumman na mBan in Belfast.
Arder was sentenced in the late 1930’s to seven years in Belfast prison Crumlin Road Gaol. It was during this term of imprisonment as a republican political prisoner that his mother Mary Ann and youngest brother Freddie, who was 11 years old, both died on Easter Tuesday 1941 during the Luftwaffe blitz on Belfast.
They were killed when bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe exploded on York Street Mill which was said to have been the biggest spinning mill in the world at that time. The main side wall of the six storey mill collapsed on top of their home and many other houses in Vere Street and Sussex Street off North Queen Street killing and injuring many of the residents.
Their bodies along with many others were brought to the Falls Road bath’s which at the time was turned into an emergency morgue. When my Granny Corr died she was 48 years old along with her youngest child Freddie who was 11 years old. She left behind her husband Johnny Patrick, four daughters Winnie, Bridget, Josie and Debbie and two sons Arthur and my father Kevin Barry who was 19 years old at the time.
My aunt Josie received burns to her arm and chest in a different house in Vere Street as she was blown onto the hearth of the open fire and my aunt Debbie was found in another house in Vere Street trapped inside the chimney as in the panic they couldn’t make it to their own family home at the time the bombs were being dropped. People had been running in and out of houses in panic as the Luftwaffe planes dropped the bombs.
My father was at a dance in St Marys Hall off Chapel Lane and they were locked in as the bombs dropped.
When the air raid had finished and word spread of the houses demolished in Sussex Street and Vere Street my father was told his mother and younger brother had been killed and were taken to the Falls Rd baths. My Da who at that time was an active republican made his way to the baths and was shown in by a friendly attendant where he was able to unofficially identify his mother and brother. My Granda Johnny Patrick  had been working in England at the time. As a result of this the coroner said the oldest son would have to identify my Granny and Freddie’s bodies.
My uncle Arthur (Arder) was the eldest son at 25 years old but was a sentenced republican prisoner in Crumlin Road Gaol at the time. He got compassionate parole to identify his mother and brother. He was brought from the Gaol to the Falls baths in handcuffs which he wore throughout the process of identification and his return to the Gaol.
I watched a documentary programme from the 1990’s about the blitz. When a man who had worked in the Falls baths as an attendant at the emergency morgue almost cried as he recounted how Arder was handcuffed and a detective stood between him his mother and brother making sure he couldn’t touch them or have any physical contact with either of them.
After Arthur was returned to Crumlin Road Gaol the Catholic Bishop at the time had to intervene on the family’s behalf so Arder could get paroled a second time for his mother and brothers joint funerals. My Granda was contacted in England and told of the deaths of his wife and their youngest child. He returned to his family to bury his wife and son.
A year later our Granda Johnny died on the 17th of July 1942 from throat cancer and his son Arder was refused compassionate parole to visit his father yards away in the Mater hospital next door to Crumlin Road Gaol or go his father’s funeral.
Less than two months later my father Kevin Barry and Arder were to lose their friend and comrade Tom Williams a nineteen year old political prisoner and IRA member hanged in Belfast prison Crumlin Road Gaol.
Tom was hanged as a result of being involved in an IRA operation in which an RUC constable Patrick Murphy was shot dead. My uncle Arder who was a fellow Irish republican political prisoner at the time wrote a song in tribute and honour of Tom, The Ballad of Tom Williams, while he was in his cell in Crumlin Road Gaol shortly after Tom Williams was hanged on the 2nd of September 1942.
Within months Arder was to get a pleasant surprise, well all depending at what way you look at it. A screw opened his cell door to tell him he had a special visitor, and it would be a long visit, as his younger brother, my father Kevin Barry, was pushed into his cell.
He had been arrested after months on the run when he was found in a warehouse in Belfast docks having taken ill with pneumonia.
He was brought under armed guard to the Mater hospital where he was held under guard for almost a fortnight and then brought to the Gaol next door. On his introduction both my father and Arder started a protest in refusing to share a cell as it meant the prison authorities were attempting to double men up in cells. Meaning they could make room to bring more Irish republican political prisoners into the Gaol. Arder had a habit of protesting and annoying the screws and governor so much so that he was whipped with the cat-o-nine-tails.
In this instance the governor and a screw called Witherspoon who were trying to act clever. Saying as they were brothers and due to all they and their family had been through, they should be glad to be reunited and share a cell together. Both refused and in an act of vindictiveness the governor moved Arder to Derry Gaol and kept my Da in the Crum. He was escorted to Derry gaol by the screw Witherspoon who took great joy in telling him what he was going to do to his younger brother now he was in the Crumlin  Road Gaol without Arder. The screw’s joy ended in a wisely judged silence as Arder recounted to him a lot of personal details about himself and other members of the Witherspoon family.
Arder received a sentence within Derry Gaol which resulted in him being forcibly tied to a rack and flogged with a whip which was known as the cat-o-nine-tails. It was a whip which had nine strands which had weights on the end of each one. It was a brutal method of torture inflicted on political prisoners who the prison authorities deemed as dangerous and problematic figures who posed a threat to the status quo within a prison.
By that stage their sisters had moved in with aunts and Bridget in particular came under serious harassment from the RUC as she was in Cumann na mBan in Belfast. My father was released after being interned for three and a half years and Arder was released after serving his sentence.

You can read more about Arder Corr and the Ballad of Tom Williams here and the Corr family, including Dominic’s aunt Bridget are mentioned in this account of the violence in the area in 1935. The trial of Margaret Ardis (22) and Evelyn Blair (22), eye witnesses claimed two men, one of them they claimed was John Corr, had come out of a house close to the Corr’s house, went to the corner of Dale Street and fired two shots, the second hitting both Ardis and Blair as they leant out of the doorway of 6 Vere Street. In court, it was stated that the two women were killed with a revolver bullet, not a rifle bullet, and military witnesses testified that they were exchanging fire with a single gunman further up Vere Street when the two women were hit. None of the military witnesses could identify the gunman and John Corr’s alibi was sufficient to prove his innocence.

The second of the two photographs that features in the Belfast Telegraph on 20th September 1921 is online in Getty Images and was taken by George Rinhart (see below). The photo on Getty Images shows the same tunnelling between backyards in Vere Street with John Corr’s left arm appearing (out of focus) in the foreground on the left of the picture. In the top left, just over the yard wall, you can just make out the chimneys of houses on Sussex Street. Behind them, you can see the upper storeys of the York Street Mill looming over Sussex Street and Vere Street. On 16th April, 1941, German bombers brought the six storey high mill wall down on top of Sussex Street and Vere Street killing at least 35 people including the Corrs and my own grandfather’s first cousin, James O’Boyle.

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Northern Whig and Belfast Newsletter on #Soloheadbeg and the First Dáil: #Dail100

Given that the two centenaries were being commemorated over the past week or so, I’ve reproduced text from two contemporary articles commentating on them from a unionist perspective. One is from the Northern Whig, the other from the Belfast Newsletter. Both are worth a read for the startling use of language about martyrs at Soloheadbeg and for the Newsletter’s belittling of the use of the Irish language and the nature of propaganda in 1919.

The first account was published in the Northern Whig on 23rd January 1919 with the headlines, LAWLESSNESS IN IRELAND, SINN FEIN AND BELFAST GAOL and THE TIPPERARY MURDERS. In light of the recent debate over how to commemorate the various centenaries, the Northern Whig articles opening sentence provides an interesting angle on two points, Firstly, the two fatalities at Soloheadbeg are described as “…martyrs to the British cause in Ireland” (quoting a Morning Post article itself entitled ‘The Irish Martyrs’), using language which more typically gets associated with Irish republicanism. This may point towards one avenue worth exploring during the ongoing centenaries – the extent to which language has shifted (or not) over the intervening period of time.

A second point that jumps out from the same article is the extent to which Soloheadbeg was seen in an ongoing continuum of conflict between Irish republicanism and the British authorities in Ireland. Rather than some form of departure into a War of Independence*, instead the Northern Whig states that “We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. [my emphasis]”. The reasoning behind the Northern Whig stating that there had been a ‘beginning of the war’ isn’t further explained in the article, but it offers an interesting counterpoint to invoking Soloheadbeg and the first meeting of the First Dáil as the chronological starting point of the War of Independence. Did unionism have a perception that war had already begun?

*I get irrationally irritated by the use of the term ‘Tan War‘.

Northern Whig, 23rd January 1919

The ‘Morning Post’ in a leader under the heading ‘The Irish Martyrs’ says: The two constables who have been murdered near Tipperary are among the many martyrs to the British cause in Ireland. We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. Irish policemen and English soldiers have been shot in the open street or in the dark from behind hedges. And in most cases the murderers have got away without punishment In some cases of which we have heard no action could be taken because there was no hope of justice. The whole countryside was in a conspiracy to defeat the law. Not only so, but the police themselves, and the military also do their duty in the knowledge that they are not only liable to be murdered by the rebels but to be deserted by the authorities. They have the additional bitterness of hearing the mocking laughter of our enemies.

A few weeks ago the prisoners took possession of one of the wings of Belfast Prison and wholly wrecked it. The Government treated with them, and put them in the other wing with all the honours of war. They have now wrecked the other wing. Such as been the state of Ireland under Mr. Shortt. We hope it will be better under Mr. Ian Macpherson, and we are glad to see that he has had the courage to impose martial-law on Tipperary, and to put the Belfast prisoners in irons. These two actions suggest manhood. But Mr. Macpherson will fail unless he is supported by the Imperial Government, and it will fail unless it gives up the policy of conciliating our enemies at the expense of our friends. There is only one way that is successful in Ireland. It is the way of strength and justice and no concessions to the law-breaker.

The second (longer) article was published in the Belfast Newsletter on 22nd January 1919 under the title “OURSELVES ALONE” IN FACT, Inaugural Proceedings, DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. While obviously downplaying the significance of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil and entirely condescending in tone, there is at least a refreshingly professional concern with details of terminology (indeed the article was a lead into a much longer piece detailing what was discussed etc). At times the language is almost wistful, noting that the one thousand tickets to attend the inaugural meeting were “...orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters…” (see image at the bottom of this screen). There is particular derision for the aspirational use of the Irish language in phrases that could have easily featured in the same papers news coverage of the last few years claiming that “…not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic” and equating the use of the Irish language to a step back in time of nineteen centuries akin to the abolition of ‘modern civilisation’.

There is a certain longevity to its criticism’s of Sinn Féin, both in its stereotypes and the way that it is delivered. Citing a letter written by a Catholic cleric and published in a ‘nationalist’ paper, it identifies the categories ‘Sinn Féiners’ fall in to: (1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle; (2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich; (3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country; (4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps; (5) Popularity hunters; (6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members; (7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd; plus an un-numbered eighth group described as “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.”

Given that this is referring to those members of Sinn Féin at the time of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil the persistence of the same broad caricatures in contemporary coverage of Sinn Féin and other non-establishment political movements is surely notable. Similarly, the delivery method here is a good example of an information policy (i.e. propaganda) device, whereby a story is second-handed (in this case, re-published from a ‘nationalist’ paper) and authored by someone that it is believed the target audience will be more receptive to, in this instance a Catholic priest. What sits behind all of this, though, is an understanding of how such propaganda needs to be delivered. This involves managing relationships and developing spokespeople to act as the source of the appropriately phrased language and information dismissing and placing a negative interpretation on the motivations of all those involved in the First Dáil. It also means ensuring that this is sufficiently masked that it stands up to some level of scrutiny. Thus, rather than the Belfast Newsletter, a Dublin Castle source, a figure in the colonial administration or a unionist offering this categorisation of those involved in the First Dáil, instead it sources it to a Catholic priest in a nationalist paper.

Here is that Belfast Newsletter article. As it runs into almost a full page on the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil, I have only reproduced the introductory sections to give the flavour.

Belfast Newsletter, 22nd January 1919

Dublin did not take itself too seriously yesterday, despite the fact that the centre of Sinn Fein gravity, if one may be permitted to use the expression, had shifted from a wing of Belfast Prison to the Round Room of the Mansion House in the Southern city. The Sinn Fein members of Parliament and other leaders who have been placed out of harm’s way by a thoughtful Government have had their little fling, and are, apparently, none the worse for it. Yesterday was dedicated to the holding of a remarkable demonstration by that members of the party who are yet at liberty, and who, having been elected members of the House of Commons in the Imperial Parliament, prefer to establish a little House of Commons of their own. Sinn Fein has done Dublin but little good in the pat, as witness the Sackville Street of today; but Dublin, nevertheless, has taken Sinn Fein to its bosom, and has returned members of the Republican party for all but one of its borough constituencies. Having succeeded in turning the tables on the official Nationalist party, and completely reversing their respective positions numerically. Sinn Fein, with a total representation of 73 members, of whom 37 were not available for active operations at the moment – being either in jail or exiled in America —proceeded to take stock of the situation, and without any undue delay the thirty-odd members who were free to do so set about paving the way for the holding of “Dail Eireann” or “Irish Parliament,” or “Irish Republican Congress,” or “Constituent Assembly.” The Mansion House wan placed at their disposal by the Lord Mayor of Dublin—who it will be remembered assisted in bringing about an armistice recently between the prison authorities and the refractory Sinn Feiners in Belfast Jail – and they decided to hold the first meeting of the Dail yesterday afternoon in the Round Room at half-past three o’clock.

THE REAL AND THE BOGUS GOVERNMENTS.

As a move calculated to embarrass the British authorities just now, when the Peace Conference is holding its opening sitting, the Dail Eireann was assured of wholehearted sympathy and support from Sinn Fein Dublin right from the start. The city may have had its fill of the Republican party at the time of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 but the public memory is proverbially short, and the sufferings of that period have drifted into the background, and indeed, have been thrust out of light by this present excitement. The spirit of adventure was abroad in the city yesterday, and the populace was quite ready to drink a drop of the Sinn Fein potion once again. It was felt there was a chance that the authorities might deem it incumbent upon themselves to intervene, and from, the moment it was learned that a conference of the Irish Executive had been held in Dublin Castle on Saturday afternoon curiosity was rife as to the attitude of the real Irish Government towards the bogus “Irish Parliament” all sorts of rumours were in circulation but it was generally believed that no drastic step would be taken at the present juncture, so long as the proceedings are not of a turbulent character. This impression was strengthened by the announcement yesterday morning that the Order in Council prohibiting the holding of meetings, assemblies, or processions unless duly authorised in writing, which had been suspended during the elections, was finally revoked, and, as events proved, it was quite correct.

On Monday the finishing touches were put to the arrangements for the Dail. It was announced that the members would style themselves not “M.P.’s,” but “F.D.E.’s —that being the official contraction for “Feisiri Dail Eireann.” It was also notified that the inaugural meeting would be open to the public and one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters, were issued in the course of Monday morning to the crowd of callers at the Harcourt Street Headquarters. Each of the ‘F.D.E.’s’ was supplied with a generous quantity of blue tickets for distribution among his personal relatives and friends, who were expected to occupy a large part of the available accommodation.

SOME CANDID CRITICISMS

It may be of interest to note what the constituents of this “Constituent Assembly ” are, and what they represent — that is, in the light of their friends the Nationalists, as set forth by a “well-known P.P.” (of Killenaule) in a letter to a Nationalist organ recently. ” Who are the Sinn Feiners” he asks. And answers his question by stating: “They consist of different bodies.” He goes on to expose the nature of these bodies, section by section, in the following order:—

(1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle.

(2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich.

(3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country,

(4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps,

(5) Popularity hunters.

(6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members.

(7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd.

As an afterthought he adds “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.” And he remarks in a sudden outburst of candour—” Sinn Fein is damnable tomfoolery.” Betide this the statement by a Roman Catholic Canon of Bessbrook, also written in the thick of the election campaign, that Sinn Fein is “unholy ” sounds quite mild.

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE.

About thirty ” F.D.E.’s” expected to be present at the opening meeting of the Dail Eireann, and in order that the waiting world might be kept fully apprised of their doings special co-respondents from French, American, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, South African, Australian, and Canadian newspapers, as well as a host of journalists and Press photographers from all parts of the United Kingdom assembled in the city in the course of the week end , and, having taken up strategic positions, awaited developments. One little matter troubled them—the decision of the Sinn Fein representatives, unanimously arrived at in the course of one of the preliminary meetings, “that no version of the business dealt with by the Parliament should be supplied to the newspapers except in the Irish language.” The visitors’ own experience led them to think that “the Irish language” is very much the same as that which is ordinarily in use across the Channel, and the study of the mentality of the poetic authors of this resolution leaves them limp. They point out that the Sinn Fein members, or rather the “F.D.E.’s” in their avowed policy of separation from the British Empire, are endeavouring to negotiate the longest of long jumps forward, whilst at the same moment in their official mode of expression they are back-stepping nineteen centuries. The Gaelic language may be all very well in its proper place, say the correspondents—they are mostly unable to express a considered opinion in the matter but life is too short for any daily newspaper to print it in any considerable; quantity and live. If the Sinn Fein leaders must needs ape the Gaul, why not go the whole hog, and abolish modern civilisation altogether? Rumour has it, however, that people other than the newspaper co-respondents are exercised in their; minds over the matter— that not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic. This notwithstanding, it was decided that the proceedings at yesterday’s meeting should be conducted in the Gaelic language entirely, only translations of important documents which had already been read in Gaelic being given in the English tongue—and byway of being altogether impartial, the French tongue too. Those members who were not proficient in the ancient language were restricted to formally seconding or supporting the propositions laid before the meeting.

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One of the ‘one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters’ to attend the inaugural meeting of the first Dáil.

 

BBC apology to the British Army over its coverage of the British Army’s killing of Fr Hugh Mullan, #BallymurphyMassacre

On the 10th August 1971 the BBC was already reporting on the killings in Ballymurphy from the previous day and stating that an eyewitness was “…putting the blame fairly and squarely on the British Army”. The BBC quickly became the subject of attacks by the British government for its reporting on the actions of the Parachute Regiment. The British Defence Minister Lord Carrington even accused the BBC of “sniping” at the British Army and indulging in propaganda. The BBC called it an “error of judgement”.

On 9th August 1971, a neighbour of Fr Hugh Mullan, Bobby Clarke, was shot by soldiers after lifting a child to safety during the violence that followed the mass arrest of ‘Catholics’ that morning. After ringing the British Army HQ to advise them that he was going out to administer the last rites to Clarke, Fr Mullan ventured out, waving a white cloth and dressed as a priest, only to discover that Clarke was not fatally injured. He attempted to leave to get an ambulance for Clarke at which point he was shot by a British soldier. Frank Quinn, who attempted to provide assistance, was also shot dead.

Coverage of Fr Mullan’s death included an interview with the local Catholic bishop, William Philbin, broadcast on BBC the next day. The same day Bobby Clarke was also interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 programme, World at One, where he gave an eye witness account of Fr Mullan being shot in the back by a British soldier. Reporting of Fr Mullan’s death in many of the British newspapers repeated the claim that he had been shot as he went to administer the last rites to a wounded gunman.

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Fr Hugh Mullan

After the items were broadcast the Conservative MP for Dorset South, Evelyn King, wrote to Lord Carrington accusing the BBC of irresponsibility and “sniping” at the Army. Obviously, the use of the word ‘sniping’ was deliberate as this was the term conventionally used by reporters when describing physical attacks on the British Army in the north. The intention was clearly to use the term to associate the views of the BBC with those that were actually ‘sniping’ at the British Army. This is pretty unsophisticated censorship in that it is intended to diminish future reporting critical of the British Army as merely ‘sniping’ from the BBC.

Carrington responded to King’s letter by writing to the head of the BBC, Lord Hill, and King, stating that the radio interview in particular “…fell below the standard of fairness and accuracy people were entitled to expect” although he included other unspecified BBC items in his criticism. Carrington also seemed to be concerned that the items were also an attack on him personally since he had expressed his ‘utmost gratitude’ on the BBC for what the British Army had done. In his letter, Carrington admonished the BBC that when its “reporting falls below the standard of fairness and accuracy which we are entitled to expect, the main effect is to damage the corporation’s own standing with the public”. It should be borne in mind that, at this time in 1971, British public opinion on the deployment troops in the north wasn’t clear as there were calls for troops to be withdrawn both from the likes of the New Statesman and the National Front (see, eg, Irish Press, 24th August 1971). The latter even advocated Irish reunification, although it also wanted the forced repatriation of all Irish from Britain on the grounds that they were all mere “white wogs”.

The BBC accepted Carrington and Kings criticism and stated that “We do not defend the use of the item on the shooting of Fr Mullan. In our view it was an error of judgement to use this part of the interview.” However the BBC did reject the overall criticism.

You can read the letter here (thanks to @papertrailpro): https://twitter.com/papertrailpro/status/1042342802867347457?s=21

While this may seem like another footnote to the broader issue of the behaviour of the parachute regiment in Ballymurphy between 9th and 11th August 1971, it points to one of the wider issues that is not yet satisfactorily addressed. The role of the media lies both in reporting events and ensuring that those in positions of responsibility are suitably held to account. This means it is critical to understand how the media subsequently reported on events and what influenced how the media framed their reporting. The potential chilling effect of criticism, such as came from Lord Carrington, is fairly obvious. The long term repercussions, though, are significant. A glaring omission from contemporary media coverage of ‘legacy’ cases involving individuals killed or injured by state forces is a clear articulation by the media of what differentiates these cases from other violent conflict deaths. For those unsure what that means: when a meaningful inquest or investigation of the circumstances has not occurred the default position is that the information given by the British Army (etc) becomes the official account of a death. Fr Hugh Mullan, like others killed by the state, is thus deemed as being culpable in his own death unless the British Army itself, or some legal process, formally recognises the killing was unjustified. It is solely victims of the state that are, in this way, deemed guilty until proven otherwise. The repeated failures to hold the state and its leading figures to account is one legacy of the real error in judgement of the BBC (and media in general) in allowing itself to become the propaganda tool of the likes of Lord Carrington.

You can read a balanced item about Fr Hugh Mullan on the BBC here along with footage of the interview with the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr William Philbin, on the day following his death (note the video may not work in every territory).

Here is the full text of a longish article on the BBC admitting an “error judgement” following Lord Carrington’s letter, as published in the Birmingham Daily Post 20th August 1971:

Interview about shot priest was an error: BBC

The BBC admitted yesterday that its use of part of an interview on the death of a Roman Catholic priest in Northern Ireland was an error in judgement.
BBC Radio 4’s The Word at One programme on August 10 carried an item on the death of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, the day before.
The item took the form of an interview with an unnamed Irishman who claimed to be the man to whom the priest was giving the last rites when he was shot. The man alleged that the priest had been shot in the back by a British soldier.

Army blamed
The programme chairman, Mr William Hardcastle, summed up: “An eyewitness putting the blame fairly and squarely on the British Army.”
But the Defence Secretary, Lord Carrington in letters to a Conservative MP Mr Evelyn King (Dorset S) and the BBC chairman, Lord Hill, has said that the item fell below the standard of fairness and accuracy people were entitled to expect.
Mr King had written to Lord Carrington accusing the BBC of irresponsibility and “sniping” at the Army in its coverage of the Northern Ireland crisis.
In his reply to Mr King, Lord Carrington said: “I can assure you that the BBC items on Northern Ireland which you mention have not gone unnoticed by my Department. They are not the only items in this category.”
He then cited as an additional example, the item arising from the death of Fr Mullan and recalled that he had taken part in an interview on BBC Television News.
“I took the opportunity to express the utmost gratitude for the work of the Army in Northern Ireland. I believe quite firmly that this admiration and gratitude is shared by the vast majority of the people of this country and that, on those occasions when the BBC’s reporting falls below the standard of fairness and accuracy which we are entitled to expect, the main effect is to damage the corporation’s own standing with the public.”
In his letter to Lord Hill, Lord Carrington said: “I hope my letter to Mr King makes it clear that I certainly do not regard all the BBC’s recent reports and discussions on Northern Ireland as unbalanced and unfair.”
But he was concerned about the instances cited.
“I hope you will agree that they are unsatisfactory and that everything possible should be done to prevent repetitions.”
Last night a BBC spokesman said “We do not defend the use of the item on the shooting of Fr Mullan. In our view it was an error of judgement to use this part of the interview.”

Difficult task
But the BBC reacted sharply to Mr King’s accusations of daily “sniping” and indulging in propaganda.
The spokesman said, “These accusations are deeply wounding to staff who are engaged in the difficult task of reporting the terrible events in Northern Ireland. Much that we have to report will be unwelcome to one of the many conflicting interests involved and there will be occasional errors of judgement. But to accuse the BBC of sniping and propaganda is unworthy. We reject the accusation entirely.”

Barney Watt: propaganda and obstructing justice in February 1971

And then, from Aidan Hennigan in London: