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?
Amen to Fr.Sheehan's response which embraces my opinions fully, and expresses them with the insight of an Irish clergyman.
I can remember that back in the late 1970s many of my friends here in Britain would be asked by their cousins back in Ireland to bring them over supplies of condoms during their annual pilgrimage "Home" during the summer holidays.
My dad was convinced that many swear words were only invented during the last 40 years, or so, because he had never read them in a book, or heard them in a film, during his years growing up in Ireland. He never associated the absence of such swear words from books, newspapers, radio, films and everyday life in Ireland during the 1930s, 40s and 50s with State censorship but, instead, insisted that it was because the Irish were a better class of people and somehow above the use of four letter words.
During the Border Campaign of the mid-late 1950s, when my uncle was imprisoned in Limerick Prison, Mountjoy Prison and interned in the Curragh, any mail he received, or sent out, was censored by the authorities. On one occasion in 1953, it was he, himself, who had tried to act as a one man censor when he attempted to prevent the Royal British Legion from screening in Limerick a film recording of the coronation of the British Queen.
I have still never seen any corner shop, or newsagent shop, in Ireland displaying pornographic magazines on the "top shelf" the way that they do in Britain. Is that because they are still banned from selling such magazines, or is this self imposed? Either way, it is pleasant to enter such shops in Ireland with young children, or elderly female relatives, without worrying about their gaze, or mine, inadvertently straying onto such publications.
Great insights Kieron. I remember my Mam reading her True Detective magazines that were supplied from England and even they were hidden from us.
I have one memory of censorship in Ireland. I was there in the late 80's and Thatcher had just ordered a ban on Gerry Adams voice over the BBC. Already, RTE could not broadcast the voices of any Irish Republican or Sinn Fein members, either over the radio or on TV. So one evening we were watching the news in my cousins house when a report about the North came on and a reporter asked Gerry Adams a question. The camera then cut to Gerry Adams whose lips started moving but no words came out like when a translator's voice is dubbed in over someone being interviewed. Sure enough an actor's voice came on speaking (in English) the same words that you could clearly read on Adams lips. At first we were in hysterics at the ridiculousness of it, but then realized really how sad it was that really, in Ireland and the UK at that time, there really was still no freedom of speech. I don't normally quote wikipedia but they do have a paragraph on the Gerry Adams voice ban:
"Adams's prominence as an Irish Republican leader was increased by the ban on the media broadcast of his voice (the ban actually covered eleven republican and loyalist organisations, but in practice Adams was the only one prominent enough to appear regularly on TV). This ban was imposed by the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher on 19 October 1988, the reason given being to "starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend" after the BBC interviewed Martin McGuinness and Adams had been the focus of a row over an edition of After Dark, an intended Channel 4 discussion programme which was never made.
A similar ban, known as Section 31, had been law in the Republic of Ireland since the 1970s. However, media outlets soon found ways around the ban, initially by the use of subtitles, but later and more commonly by the use of an actor reading his words over the images of him speaking. One actor who voiced Adams was Paul Loughran.
This ban was lampooned in cartoons and satirical TV shows, such as Spitting Image, and in The Day Today and was criticised by freedom of speech organisations and British media personalities, including BBC Director General John Birt and BBC foreign editor John Simpson. The ban was lifted by British Prime Minister John Major on 17 September 1994."
It has been said that of all the actors who dubbed Gerry Adams, the one he preferred was Belfast man, Stephen Rea, who would go on to play leading roles in The Crying Game and Michael Collins.
One other story about censorship that given the recent controversy over Che Guevara you might find amusing...Mike Quill, the founder of the TWU in New York....after his death his wife Shirley went to Kerry in the process of writing his biography. She looked up John Joe Rice who was a prominent IRA officer back in the War of Independence and Civil War, was one of Quill's commanding officers and apparently knew him pretty well. When they sat down to chat in his living room she noticed a book lying flat on the table as if Rice had just been reading it, which he had. He noticed this and she says he picked it up to show her that it was a copy of Che Guevara's book on Guerrilla Warfare which, at the time she said, was banned from Ireland! Rice just looked at her with a smile and said "It seems some things are the same all over the world," or something like that.
Wasn't James Joyce's ULYSSES banned in Ireland when first published?
I believe it was banned elsewhere, I heard Ulysses was not banned in Ireland as they could not find the 'offensive' passages.
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.
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. ---
NAUGHTY MARY, WHIST YER GOB.
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. Amazon.com 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.
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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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT9xuXQjxMM