Cork newspapers under fire during revolutionary period

Nationalist newspapers targeted by British while loyalist publications suppressed by IRA

Alan McCarthy says that historians often tend to look at newspapers as simply “historical sources” rather than “the historical forces that they were”.

Alan McCarthy says that historians often tend to look at newspapers as simply “historical sources” rather than “the historical forces that they were”.

 

Cork became a hotbed of activity during the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1923 because of the role played by unionist and nationalist newspapers in shaping opinion and ratcheting up tensions, a study has found.

UCC history PhD student Alan McCarthy said the British authorities and IRA were acutely aware of the importance of the press in shaping public opinion during the period leading to the suppression of unionist and nationalist papers in Cork at various times.

Mr McCarthy found nationalist newspapers like the Southern Star and the Cork Examiner and unionist newspapers like such as the Skibbereen Eagle and Cork Constitution all suffered censorship and suppression during the period which in the case of the latter two led to closure.

According to Mr McCarthy, both sides in the War of Independence were aware of the role played by local papers in “the battle for hearts and minds” at a time when such media conveyed information and shaped opinion.

However, historians often tend to look at newspapers as simply “historical sources” rather than “the historical forces that they were” and Mr McCarthy noted the contrast in reporting matters by the Skibbereen Eagle and Southern Star.

The Eagle, a unionist paper, never reported on the Dáil courts, whereas the Star was staunchly republican after its acquisition by Sinn Féin. It reported on the Dáil courts, thus helping to legitimise them, he said.

Printing presses

While the British authorities used the Defence of the Realm Act on several occasions to close down the Star, whose printing presses were seized, the IRA were just as forceful in dealing with the Eagle over its unionist stance.

Mr McCarthy notes in the UCC journal, the Boolean, that masked men raided the Eagle’s premises in 1917 and smashed the presses. A year later, the paper’s editor Patrick Sheehy was tarred and feathered by militant nationalists over its “anti-national and pro-British policy”.

According to Mr McCarthy, it is indicative of the severity of the campaign by the IRA that while the British authorities used all the machinery of the state to suppress the nationalist press in Cork,it survived whereas the unionist press could not survive suppression by the IRA.

The Cork Examiner which was moderate in its nationalism suffered under the Crown’s censorship for the first time in September 1919 for advertising the Dáil loans,” said Mr McCarthy, adding that the IRA and loyalist Anti-Sinn Féin Society forced the paper’s staff at gunpoint to insert notices.

“The Eagle was subjected to horrific censorship and suppression and was driven out of business in the summer of 1922 and the Constitution shut down a week later after anti-Treaty republicans in Cork imposed a rigid censorship over both it and the Examiner which survived.”