Irish periodicals - non-fiction content
Elena: thank you for this fascinating presentation. I get a clear sense, in your account, of how Irish myths and legends, in particular, provided models for the formation of Irish nationalist youth, rooted in the prelapsarian past. Could you tell us a little more about how these periodicals engaged with actuality? Was most of the content fictional, and if not, what else filled their pages? Was there explicit propagandist content, and how did the magazines engage with the trauma of the European war, the Easter Uprising, and the Civil War? Were current events refracted at all in the content of these periodicals? And if so, how: photographically, in news stories, in fictional content? These questions are too vast in scope, perhaps? But I'd be fascinated to hear more.
Thank you for your questions and sorry for the delay in answering them. Most of the content of the periodicals was fictional, but they all featured also a column devoted to the letters from the readers, book reviews, columns about sports (Gaelic Games) and editorials. The periodicals organised essay-writing contexts for their readers on topics such as "My favourite Irish heroes" and the like.
They also engaged with actuality, though especially in the years of the Anglo-Irish War and of the Civil War when actuality became paramount because the young readers wanted to read about what was happening around them. In the early 1910s, they all mainly looked into Irish history. The contributors sought events that could be considered archetypal or watershed in Irish history and adopted them as material for the plots of their stories. There was a fictional elaboration of the past that aimed to highlight the contribution of eminent men and women to the nation’s progress. Parallel to the fictional stories there were articles providing pieces of information about those men and women: usually, they were graphically juxtaposed to the stories on the very same page. And the book reviews were often thematically related. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that events such as the Great War were completely neglected.
The case of the reception and representation of the First World War is of great interest, because many Irish joined the British Army and fell in the conflict. Our Boys published articles about it in a laconic, terse style, and fictional stories set in the trenches. It was originally a Redmondite paper and since Redmond supported the British war effort and his own country’s participation in it, linking the sacrifice of Irish people with the implementation of Home Rule, Our Boys fondly remembered those young who died fighting for Ireland’s freedom and Christianity on the Continent. For these reasons, the Brothers’ periodical was attacked by Fianna – the editors of the latter conceived the Great War as an Imperialist War and those Irish who were fighting in the British Army were tainted with accusations of treason. Fianna did not believe in Redmond and Britain’s promises of Home Rule in exchange for Ireland’s participation in the conflict. Similarly, Young Ireland criticized Ireland’s war effort but direct references to the conflict are few: after the Easter Rising, the periodicals – with the exception of Our Boys – celebrated the heroes of the Easter Rising and ‘forgot’ about those who were fighting or had fought on the Continent. The first fought for the just cause, the others no. But so many Irish died in WWI, so many families were suffering, that Sinn Fein and the other radical nationalists did not attack openly the ex-veterans as Fianna had done years before. They did not write about the war, they just talked about Irish history and the Rising. Incidentally, it should be noted that the contemporary heroes of the Easter Rising were depicted as part of that long succession of patriots, historical and legendary, who tried to achieve national self-determination. Patrick Pearse and the other were seen from a historical perspective: they furthered on the battle for Ireland of the ancient heroes, a battle which still the young reading the periodicals had to bring to a conclusion.
One last remark on the Easter Rising: the Christian Brothers editing Our Boys were late in questioning their views on Irish nationalism after the Easter Rising. In March 1917, an article listed the reasons why Irish people should still believe in Home Rule. This obstinacy in supporting the moderate nationalist party shook the loyalty of many of its readers, unwilling to keep buying the now out-dated paper. And sales plummeted to a few thousand. Our Boys shows us that periodicals are businesses depending on sales and that they rely on the opinions of their readers, which are variable. The Christian Brothers had to change their editorial line due to the collapse in sales and adopted the same attitude as the other periodicals. In the 1920s, the Brothers were compelled to jettison any ambiguity or reticence towards the contemporary political situation, so they appointed a radical nationalist as the editor of Our Boys. With him, the paper began to address contemporary political events in its fictional pieces such as the hunger strikes of Republican political activists. Actuality was what the young readers wanted - fictional stories focused on the guerrilla against the British, the Black and Tans… - but the “historical perspective” never disappeared.
With regard to photographs: in the 1910s and 1920s, the periodicals did not feature many of them. During the wars, it was not easy to get into print: paper rationing, censorship, some editors were jailed... the periodicals mainly consisted of long pieces of writing (in an increasingly smaller font) interspersed with drawings. Photographs, though, appeared in the ads: each issue had an "extra cover" which was made only of ads.
Thank you for this comprehensive (!) answer. So interesting: do you know of comparable periodicals in other countries, aimed at indoctrinating youths into a militant nationalist cause? I wonder where you might look for parallels?