This is Banned Book week.  Ireland has had a heavy handed history of censorship.  The first book to be banned was Liam O’Flaherty’s ‘The House of Gold’ in 1929 for indecency and obscenity.  Others on the list include ‘Brave new world’ by Aldous Huxley, Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the rye and our own Edna O’Brien’s ‘The country girls. The pill, post and porn were some of the items that came under the censor's eye. 

Do you have any recollections of censorship in Ireland?

Did it bother you then?

Are any of Ireland’s censorship laws today archaic? 

Image By Stefan-Xp (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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From about 1976 to about 1993, Sinn Fein was banned from Irish media.  This, arguably, slowed down the peace process -- or, more correctly, kept the peace process from starting up....It's hard to get peace when people in conflict are not allowed to express their opinion.

From Wikipedia on Censorship during 

The Troubles

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland censorship was used to prevent Sinn Féin and IRA members from having access to the media. Under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, it was forbidden to broadcast the voice of Sinn Féin members. This rule was brought in by Fianna Fáil Minister for Posts and Telegraphs Gerry Collins in 1971 and strengthened by Labour's Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1977.[15][16]

Conor Cruise O'Brien tried to use Section 31 to censor coverage of the troubles in Northern Ireland, which could have been seen as pro-nationalist, in papers such as The Irish Press;[17] the editor, Tim Pat Coogan, published editorials attacking the Bill.

The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government tried to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the maltreatment of republican prisoners by the Garda Heavy Gang, with the paper winning the case.[18] the then government also prosecuted the publishers of The Hibernia magazine.

The United Kingdom operated a similar rule between 1988 and 1994, although British broadcasters subverted this censorship by dubbing Sinn Féin speeches and interviews, with an actor's voice repeating the speech word-for-word. This was not possible in Ireland as the Government maintained the broadcasting ban did not allow word for word broadcast of a speech etc. and had sacked the entire Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) authority in 1971 and jailed RTÉ's Kevin O'Kelly when he interviewed IRA chief of staff Sean Mac Stiofain but did not say he was the voice on a taped interview.[19]

However, RTÉ even refused to broadcast Sinn Féin members when they were talking about matters completely unrelated to the Northern Troubles. For example, Sinn Féin member Larry O'Toole was not permitted to appear on RTÉ to talk about a trade union dispute he was involved in. Instead, clips of the speaker talking were shown, along with a brief summary of what was being said. The High Court later found that this exclusion was not justified under Section 31.[19]

In 1991, European Commission of Human Rights upheld the ban in case Purcell v. Ireland, though not unanimously.[20] The Section 31 broadcasting ban was lifted in 1993 by Minister for Arts, Culture & the Gaeltacht Michael D. Higginsas part of the Northern Ireland peace process.

A comment on the Wild geese FB page

"No discussion of censorship in Ireland is meaningful without discussion of the censorship against authors such as Tim Pat Coogan "The Famine Plot" and indeed Ireland's past president, Mary McAleese "The Road From Ardoyne". I'l wager very few have even heard of the McAleese biography, much less seen a copy or had an opportunity to read it."

While I don't know of any censorship on Tim Pat Coogan's 'The Famine Plot', I do know he was denied a visa when going to the U.S. to promote it.  Was that an indirect form of censorship?

Has anyone read 'The Road from Ardoyne" is by Ray Mac Manais? If so can you comment.

So few know about this, or apparently even care. I wrote in my Irish American News column about this some 8 years ago. I interviewed Coogan recently and showed him a copy of Mary's book. He said he had heard of it but never actually seen it I gave him the copy. ---                                                                  



        I don’t recall how I came across this book about Mary McAleese, the first Irish President born in British-ruled Northern Ireland. But with Christmas coming up the end of the month, it’s a good time to recommend her inspiring biography by Ray MacManais titled “The Road From Ardoyne, The Making of a President”. (Brandon Books - Mount Eagle Publications, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland, ISBN: 0863223419)


        Mary was raised in the Ardoyne, a poor Catholic Belfast neighborhood that’s borne the brunt of many pogroms by pro-British mobs over the years. Ardoyne is home to Holy Cross School for Girls where day after day in 2001 and 2002 Royal Police allowed Protestant “neighbors” and members of pro-British UDA and UVF paramilitaries to pelt Catholic parents and their daughters with spit, abuse, bags of urine and explosive devices as they made their way to grade school.


         Back in 1969 the Ardoyne was also set upon by Protestant mobs encouraged by RUC and B-special police. Catholic families in several entire streets were burned out of their homes and 17 residents shot. Mary’s father packed the family up and drove down to Dublin. They returned, but had to once again abandon their home when it came under repeated attack.


        I decided this would be a great read, and went off to Border’s to pick up a copy.  The book was published in hardcover in 2004 and paperback a year later, but Borders had never heard of the title and did not have it in inventory. My odyssey had begun. An online search of Brentano’s and other American booksellers was also futile. had a few copies, used and new, but all were from the UK- booksellers at the Scottish Parliament, the British Parliament, and smaller private shops- that’s where the interest lay. I ordered two and waited for them to arrive.


        Meanwhile, I checked with an Irish librarian at my local public library. “I’ve never heard of it” she said, but ran a search of the Illinois system. She came up with one copy, not in Chicago, but down in Urbana in an Irish collection at the U of I.  I had it sent up. Then I ran into Irish American News’ long time book reviewer, Frank West, a man who’s had the tenacity to devour and review thousands of Irish titles over the years. No dice. Out of curiosity I touched base with Peg Reid, librarian at the Irish American Heritage Center. (“What’s the title, again?”) Peg looked it up and actually found one copy available there.


        At Shannon airport this year I browsed the large bookstore at the duty free. On either side of the main passageway were two huge displays- biographies of Hillary and Billery. I asked the salesgirl about the Irish President’s biography. She rubbed her chin and looked ceilingward. “I can’t say I’ve heard of it”.  This wasn’t a big shock by now, even in Ireland. I was used to telling librarians and booksellers all about a book they should have been describing to me. So I asked if the manager was around… perhaps he had heard of it. She rounded up the manager, a pleasant and very knowledgeable young man. He knitted his brow, pursed his lips, rubbed his chin, but no cigar. He was equally dumbfounded, but wanted to know more about the book. When I got to the part about her family being burned out of Belfast, a light seemed to come on. “Oh, that’s a no-no”, he said. “A no-no- What do you mean?” He told me that the President was not supposed to make any controversial statements. Apparently fiery attacks by armed police and klan-like religious vigilantes were not fit for discussion, especially by the country’s President.


        Like Alice discovered in Wonderland, things were getting curiouser and curiouser. You’d have thought I was asking for copies of Ulysses, or Naked Lunch. But of course everyone would recognize those titles right off; and they’d have copies on hand. I called the Irish Consulate here and, sure enough,  the secretary also had not heard of the book. Considering the book was about the boss, and written with her approval, one would think they’d have a big stack on hand. She put me on hold and got back in a minute or two. Yes, the vice-consul and consul had heard of the book. I mentioned the Shannon experience. “Oh, that’s a small bookstore”. The consuls suggested I try the big Irish bookseller, Easons. (Easons does not carry it.) They suggested Amazon.  I told her the hard cover came out in 2004. “Oh, 2004. You know they only come out for awhile and then they’re gone”. I pointed out that 2004 was only 2 years ago and that the paperback was released only last year. Besides, the book didn’t sell out, it had never been put on the shelves in the first place. I could tell the receiver on the other end had morphed into a hot pratie. “Go to Amazon. Try Amazon”. “Sure thing. Thank You”.


        McAleese’s account of her stint as a reporter and researcher for the government-owned RTE during the hunger strikes, a period she describes as "the most difficult, the darkest, the worst time of my life", may be considered even more of a “no-no”, something best kept in the closet behind the Waterford shamrock bowls. McAleese has compared working for RTE current affairs back then to working for the East German secret police. It was a sticky situation. Some former staffers maintain that up to 15 members of the Official IRA or Workers Party were ensconced in key positions at RTE. They were anti-Republican, anti-Nationalist, and courted the Unionist point of view in their programming. McAleese (in her diary): “RTE journalists…never did their research, never did their homework. They would come to Belfast and head straight for the bar of the Europa Hotel. They used to get their information, or a version of the information, from the RUC Press Office.” “H-Block coverage is biased at worst, misguided at best.”


        So, buy the book. Buy a couple of copies if you can round them up, and give one to a friend. Pass your copy around when you’re done. You will have the thrill of beating the system and tasting forbidden fruit, all from the comfort of your easy chair.



Chicago- All cable systems: Channel 19: Monday 7PM, Tuesday 2PM

Comcast- (Elmhurst bills) 41 West suburbs– Channel 19: Tuesday 7:30 PM

Comcast- (Skokie bills) 24 North suburbs – Ch. 19 (or 35): Tuesday, 6PM

 E-mail:          © Mike Morley 2006


The very irreverent "Father Ted" TV show mocked censorship in Ireland in an episode in which the feckless priests attempted to protest a blasphemous film

Utterly delightful - new to me, of course, but You Tube is available!

Well it was fun smuggling in Lady Chatterley to school and we'd all have a read.

Sometimes some brave guy would smuggle a men's magazine like Playboy into school after the families trip to Belfast. That was the best but another friend who went to Synge Street got caught and had his arse beaten until it was red. Won't say what the Brothers did after that as it is now common knowledge.

Remember the Church ruled Ireland and what the Pope or the Bishops said was taken seriously. Dev never moved without consulting Rome and Ireland's foreign affairs was the same.

There are some items that have to be censored for children. I do believe that but adults who have had a full education and exposure to the world should be allowed to make up their own minds what to read or what to watch.


I remember at St Brigids school in N. Ireland they banned us from going to the cinema to watch, Life of Brian, the nuns even picketed outside the cinema, I watched it a few years later and fell about laughing, it was so funny.

I wonder if they ever saw it though?

On this day 1994 - Irish Government announces the end of a 15-year broadcasting ban on the IRA and its political arm Sinn Féin.

When Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy was banned in the late 1950s the Irish Times featured a cartoon of two men passing a newsagent placard reading " Irish Author Banned " one man says to the other, ' Success upon success, I'd say'. Behan used to say if all the books banned in Ireland were printed in Irish the language would thrive.

On hearing the above book was also banned in Australia Behan's acerbic comment was " Australia; where's that?"

James O'Brien ( Against The Wind)


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