Media and Propaganda

First published on the 7th February 1914, the Irish Volunteer aimed to provide guidance to members and advance the nationalist volunteer movement. The publication ran for two years until it finished production on the eve of the 1916 rising. 

Following two years without an official periodical, the idea of reviving a secret publication was considered by the executive in July 1918. First published on the 31st August 1918, An t-Óglach was produced for circulation among members.  

Throughout the Irish War of Independence, the publication featured the tagline ‘The Official Organ of the Irish Volunteer’ and played a major role in Irish Republican Army (IRA) GHQ (General Headquarters) meetings, with the editor obliged to provide articles and notes to the meeting for consideration. 

Published once every two weeks, the publication successfully managed to continue in circulation despite numerous raids and having to function in secret to evade complete closure.

The period of the First World War and the Irish War of Independence was the hey-day of mass-circulation newspapers. In Britain, press barons such as Lord Northcliffe, who owned the Daily Mail, and the journalists who worked for them often had a powerful impact on public opinion and helped shape political decision-making. Over the course of 1919 and for much of 1920, the national and provincial press in Britain was generally supportive of government policy in Ireland and the conduct of the Crown Forces. Irish Republican Army personnel were usually denounced as cowardly murderers, and commonly referred to as ‘the murder gang’, while the men of the Black and Tans, the Auxiliary Division, and the regular British Army were praised for their discipline and bravery. This narrative began to change in the autumn of 1920, and especially after an event that became known as the ‘sack of Balbriggan’, during which a unit of the Black and Tans set fire to numerous homes and businesses and killed two civilians in a small town in north County Dublin. 

The events at Balbriggan, which occurred on 21 September, were not the first, or the most violent, ‘reprisal’ for IRA activity committed by the Crown Forces, but they were widely reported in the British and international press. From this point on, The Times, the Manchester Guardian and other papers began comparing the conduct of the British paramilitaries in Irish towns and villages with atrocities committed by German soldiers in Belgium and France during the First World War. Some papers, such as the pro-government Daily Chronicle, continued to defend the British policy of reprisals, but editors and special correspondents increasingly both criticised the Crown Forces and called for an end to hostilities as the conflict intensified in late-1920. The British press coverage of the War of Independence, which was generally not sympathetic to Irish republicanism but increasingly critical of the Crown Forces, can be seen as an important factor in the government decision to call for a truce in the summer of 1921.

As the events of the First World War came to a conclusion towards the end of 1918, journalists on the European continent turned their attention towards a new conflict that was brewing in the United Kingdom. 

A feature of the press in Europe was the wealth of weekly supplements that documented dramatic incidents in illustrated form and printed in full colour. In order to create these illustrations, the periodicals employed a variety of skilled artists who, guided by their imagination, produced dramatic depictions of events. 

In France, due to its cheap cover price and large circulation, the leading periodical was Le Petit Journal based in Paris. Throughout 1919–1921, Le Petit Journal depicted some of the most significant incidents during the Irish War of Independence in a reasonably even handed way. The events covered included the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike and various raids and ambushes. 

In Italy, Rome’s La Tribuna Illustrata depicted events that favoured the British perspective. The supplement to the main newspaper had coloured front and back pages that showed events such as the burning of Cork city in December 1920. In Milan, a Sunday supplement entitled La Domenica del Corriere published illustrations by accomplished painter Achille Beltrame. Over the course of the war, Beltrame produced illustrations of ambushes and raids.

Despite many of the depictions being drawn from the artist’s imagination rather than fact, the coloured drawings of the Irish War of Independence bring some of the most significant events from that period to life against a backdrop of black and white photographs produced in the United Kingdom.