Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin wrote this piece. He is a co-founder of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (NPHFI) and has previously contributed to this site, including Kennedy and Parnell, lost leaders. Mark O’Brien is a former NPHFI chairman and co-editor of Politics, Culture, and The Irish American Press 1784-1963. Larkin’s November 2021 virtual presentation about their book to the European Society of Periodical Research is posted below. … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributions. MH
Mark O’Brien and I have edited two volumes of essays on the theme of periodicals and journalism in twentieth century Ireland. The first appeared in 2014; the second in December 2021.Mark O’Brien & Felix M. Larkin, Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland: writing against the grain (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2014); Mark O’Brien & Felix M. Larkin, … Continue reading Both seek to address a particular gap in the field of press history in Ireland – namely, the links between Irish periodicals of the twentieth century and current affairs journalism. The scholarly work that has previously been done on Irish periodicals has tended to concentrate on the journal as literary miscellany rather than as a vehicle for news and commentary.
Roy Jenkins, then British home secretary, observed in 1975 that “choice is as essential to a free press as the prestige of journalists and the protection of resounding constitutional declarations”.Roy Jenkins, Government, broadcasting and the press: the Granada Guildhall lecture, 1975 (London: Hart-Davis, McGibbon, 1975), p.18. In other words, there is no genuine freedom of expression in the public sphere unless a wide variety of outlets is available to accommodate those with something to say. In twentieth century Ireland, many of the national and provincial newspapers were effectively organs of or associated with political parties or other dominant interest groups. There was, accordingly, little space for diversity of opinion. Whereas newspapers must appeal to a wide readership, periodicals – with a smaller cost base – can afford to reflect specialist or minority interests. Thus, the importance of Irish periodicals of the twentieth century is that, for however small an audience, many projected an alternative view of the world to the narrow one that was propagated by the Irish establishment in its various incarnations, both before and after independence. By providing an outlet for those writing against the grain of Irish society, they made freedom of expression a reality in Ireland.
Moreover, in the last 40 or so years of the twentieth century there began to appear a new breed of periodical that concentrated on the seamier side of politics, promoted investigative journalism and exposed the often opaque goings-on within the world of Irish business. This was a more aggressive form of writing against the grain than had been the norm in the first half of the century.
The voices finding expression in Irish periodicals are not, however, only dissenting voices. There are certainly organs of dissent among the periodicals featured in the two volumes that Mark and I have edited; but, more typically, Irish periodicals have catered for specific communities within Irish society that might not otherwise have a voice in the media – in other words, marginalized communities. In our two volumes are heard the voices of women, the young, the gay community, religious interests, the labor and republican movements and the Irish-Ireland lobby promoting revival of the Irish language.
By virtue of their influence on the ideas of an intellectual elite who were the makers of public opinion in Ireland – in politics, the public service, the universities and elsewhere – many of the periodicals featured in our two volumes helped shape the final phase of the struggle for independence in Ireland in the early years of the twentieth century and then, post-independence, the thinking that ultimately led to the emergence of a more open Irish society from the late-1960s onwards.
Of course, periodicals in Ireland in the twentieth century were never anything other than doubtful ventures in business terms. In our second volume, there is a chapter on the business of publishing periodicals in Ireland in the period 1930-55 – and it was often a messy business.Sonya Perkins, “Friendship of the intelligent few and hostility of the unimaginative many: the business of publishing periodicals in Dublin, 1930-55”, in O’Brien & Larkin, Periodicals and … Continue reading Many periodicals had, however, a faithful readership that sustained them for quite long runs of publication, and the influence they had via that readership was entirely disproportionate to their circulation levels and profits, if any. They were the fulcrum on which the intellectual foundations of Irish society moved – slowly, but irrevocably.
Split between our two volumes is a total of 29 chapters – most of them studies of individual periodicals; but some survey a number of periodicals with a common purpose and/or the same target audience; two refer to notable series of articles that appeared in influential periodicals in the 1940s and 1950s; and one (as already noted) discusses the business aspects of publishing periodicals in Ireland in the mid-twentieth century.
Both volumes are rich collections, and the range and variety of the periodicals that our contributors have written about is impressive. But what, if anything, did the periodicals in question have in common? The most common feature is the omnipresence within each of them of a dominant personality, or two – as editor and/or proprietor. This omnipresence of a dominant personality is the generally recognized paradigm for journals, both in Ireland and elsewhere. Thus, Malcolm Ballin – in his study of Irish Periodical Culture, 1937-1972 – observes that “a periodical is produced by a guiding intelligence, seeking to project an identity”.Malcolm Ballin, Irish periodical culture, 1957–1972: genre in Ireland, Wales and Scotland (New York, 2008), p 2.
Another common feature is that the periodicals were, and are, largely metropolitan phenomena. Even where the periodical was one that championed the ideal of Irish-Ireland and a return to the lost paradise of an imagined Irish past in a rural idyll, its message was addressed principally to urban readers – mainly Dublin-based ones. The contents of the periodicals are, by and large, indicative of a middle-class urban elite engaging in public discourse with itself.
Finally, these periodicals had in common a certain style, which derived perhaps from a sense of their own necessity: without them, who or what would facilitate critical thought – or, indeed, any thought – in the Ireland in which they strove, and may still strive, to exist? They were not always stylish in their physical appearance, but there was a quality in the writing that conveyed a confidence that the work they were undertaking was important. It should therefore be done well, and it usually was.
|↑1||Mark O’Brien & Felix M. Larkin, Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland: writing against the grain (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2014); Mark O’Brien & Felix M. Larkin, Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland 2: a variety of voices (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2021).|
|↑2||Roy Jenkins, Government, broadcasting and the press: the Granada Guildhall lecture, 1975 (London: Hart-Davis, McGibbon, 1975), p.18.|
|↑3||Sonya Perkins, “Friendship of the intelligent few and hostility of the unimaginative many: the business of publishing periodicals in Dublin, 1930-55”, in O’Brien & Larkin, Periodicals and journalism 2, pp. 60-81.|
|↑4||Malcolm Ballin, Irish periodical culture, 1957–1972: genre in Ireland, Wales and Scotland (New York, 2008), p 2.|