The loss of axe-grinding journals lamented in new volume of essays

Tribute paid by editors to contribution of independent 20th-century periodicals

The somewhat neglected contribution to Irish public life made by journalistic periodicals is the subject of a volume of essays published this week, edited by media historians Mark O’Brien and Felix Larkin.

Launching the book, Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland (Four Courts Press), Prof Terence Browne of Trinity College Dublin noted that the journals had at their centre the dominant personality of an editor. They included The United Irishman, The Worker, Dublin Opinion, The Bell, Hibernia and Magill.

And he wondered why, given events in Ireland over the past six years or so, no journal representing an alternative or challenging view had emerged, although, he added, “one gets the impression that Vincent Browne might have attained something of that status”.

Larkin characterises the journals as falling into three broad categories. The first group was associated with political agitation relating to the break with Britain. “These journals tended to have small circulations and were, to an extent, the converted talking to the converted,” he said.



Such journals included the many publications with which Arthur Griffith was associated – not a charismatic leader, says Larkin, “but a sharp writer”. Also included are the

Irish Bulletin

, edited by Robert Brennan and Frank Gallagher, with involvement from Griffith, which gave a platform to Sinn Féin propaganda; the

Irish Citizen

, edited by James Cousins and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, which gave voice to the Irish suffragist movement; and James Connolly’s

Daily Worker

, a propaganda outlet for the left-labour movement.

The post-independence period included publications such as Dublin Opinion, set up by cartoonists Arthur Booth and Charles Kelly; and The Bell, the brainchild of either Seán Ó Faoláin or Peadar O'Donnell, or both, each insisting honours went to the other.

The content characteristic of these, in Larkin’s view, was that they appealed to “people’s capacities to think for themselves”.


The third category included


, with its emphasis on business and politics;


, with its emphasis on probing reportage; and

Hot Press

, with its focus on contemporary culture and occasional forays into politics. Each was a reflection of the personality of its respective editors, John Mulcahy, Vincent Browne and Niall Stokes. Larkin describes them as, in varying degrees, organs for “aggressive investigative journalism”.

So why no platform for grinding axes today? He doesn't rate Village, which he says "hasn't the impact" of Nusight – a student magazine founded by Browne and the late Gordon Colleary – or Magill, though he is not sure why. "All the main papers are in the hands of big business."

The trust-owned Irish Times included? "Probably so," he says, "if only for advertising reasons, they are not prepared to take it on", though he cited, as an "exception", this week's exposé of corporate tax avoidance, courtesy of Luxembourg.

Echoing Terence Browne’s comment, Larkin said: “You would think our present circumstances would have spawned the type of periodical that would be reflecting on them, but it hasn’t happened.”

He asserts an intellectual line connecting this newspaper to both Dublin Opinion and The Bell. "The Bell did investigative journalism on social issues, predating much of what was done by The Irish Times in the 1960s and 1970s," he says, adding that the "subtle" humour and commentary evident in much of Martyn Turner's work is an echo of Dublin Opinion. Essays in the book are by Colum Kenny, Regina Uí Chollatáin, Patrick Maume, Sonja Tiernan, James Curry, Ian Kenneally, Ian d'Alton, Sonya Perkins, John Horgan, Brian Trench, Joe Breen, Kevin Rafter and co-editors Mark O'Brien and Felix Larkin