The Bell and The Blanket: Journals of Irish Republican Dissent
by Niall Carson, University of Liverpool and Paddy Hoey, Liverpool Hope University
Two publications that appeared at different points of modern Irish history, and which took radically different editorial approaches—the literary journal, the Bell (1940–1954) and the dissident republican online magazine, the Blanket (2001–2007)—evince some compelling shared preoccupations. The Bell is seldom considered as representing the Irish republican tradition; yet both publications question the rewriting of history by republican reformists, and share a spirit of dissent at odds with the historical periods of republican consolidation in which they operated. More important, perhaps, both journals provided fora for radical Protestant voices that ran contrary to their own political outlooks. The publication of such articles was, by definition, a form of resistance to censorship, whether the censors were the state, the IRA, or the modern Sinn Féin.
Carrie Twomey, the founding editor of the Blanket, was not cognizant of the content of the Bell. But remarkably, her vision for the magazine instinctively drew on a culture of dissent that sought to highlight inconsistencies within mainstream republican dogma—as the Bell had done six decades previously. The stance of the Blanket toward republicanism in particular is not without its critics. Its attacks on Sinn Féin’s abandonment of republican principles is tinged with a regret that—had they known where the party was going to end up—many of its writers would not have taken part in violence during the “Troubles.”1
In 2001, Billy Mitchell, a former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) chief of staff who had been sentenced to two life sentences in the late 1970s, published a series of articles in the Blanket. These articles demonstrate both the journal’s commitment to publishing a progressive voice from loyalist circles, and make explicit the connection between the Blanket and the Bell. Mitchell, who had become a devout Christian in jail, had developed a sophisticated vision of Northern Irish identity and how it could be refined to accommodate all religious and political traditions. He saw identity politics as a barrier to reconciliation. Mitchell contended that the demarcation of identities, Irish Catholic versus British Protestant, failed to recognize the shared aspects of modern Northern Irish identity. Such identifications, said Mitchell, allowed parties like the DUP and Sinn Féin to dominate the political landscape through isolationist sectarianism.
Mitchell was unrepentant about his Protestant heritage, but he saw common ground between religious and political traditions. In one of his earliest Blanket articles, he speaks of the four cultural identities in modern Ireland: “indigenous Irish Gaelic culture, Anglo-Irish culture, Ulster-Scots culture, and, the cultures of those ethnic groups who have settled in the Province in more recent times.”3 For Mitchell, the only true path to reconciliation in Northern Irish life lay not in the ossifying enshrinement of cultural difference that had resulted in deeper social divisions in the era that followed the Good Friday Agreement, but in a shared embracing and celebration of all these identities:
Each citizen of Northern Ireland has an inalienable right to watch over, promote, protect and enjoy the cultural tradition with which he or she chooses to identify. It is incumbent upon all of us to validate each of these cultures, together with the modes of expression and celebration associated with them.4Mitchell’s argument had been suggested sixty years previously by Sean O’Faolain, the Bell’s founding editor. In “The Five Strains,” O’Faolain presents a similar description of the racial “strains” which contributed to Irish identity. However, he made no reference to the Scots-Protestant planters of Northern Ireland.5 Although O’Faolain published a codicil in the next issue in the form of “The Scottish Strain” by James J. Auchmutty, this was denigrated to the position of “Public Opinion.”6 O’Faolain likewise showed his resistance to acknowledging the Scottish strain by his decision to omit them again when he wrote his history of Irish identity, The Irish (1947).7 Despite the publication of radical Protestant voices in the Bell, the move reveals O’Faolain’s deeper sympathies with the republican tradition.
The friendship between O’Donnell and Carnduff reminds us that political adversaries need not dehumanise one another. On the contrary, they should have the capacity to respect each others’ political integrity and dedication to a cause. It reminds us too that those who have worn the uniform of opposing forces need not live in a state of perpetual hatred, base recrimination and ongoing demonisation. As in the case of Carnduff and O’Donnell, dedicated political opponents are very often kindred spirits who share similar passions and, but for an accident of birth, could have been on ‘the same side’.9Anthony McIntyre, a senior writer on the Blanket and Carrie Twomey’s husband, noted the implicit influence of the Bell on radical republican thought in 2001:
The republican leadership had for long made much of the concept of ‘community as one’. There would be no alternative voices. Sean Russell rather than Peadar O’Donnell being the role model that suited best. The idiocy of the Green Book ultimately came to be preferred to the intellect of The Bell.10A further connection between the journals is an unstated belief in a civic republicanism, which manifests itself in a libertarian impulse to publish controversial articles from writers coming from a range of political perspectives. The magazines offered a space in which to express an Irish identity that was capable of accommodating inherent tensions while rejecting the exclusivist definitions of political elites, and at odds with mainstream republican thinking. The Bell never developed a clearly identifiable political outlook. Rather, its political grounding can only be articulated in its commitment to the publication of multiple viewpoints, from mainstream political sources and from marginalized voices. It was sustained by a libertarian manifesto that enshrined the right to freedom of expression above the content of what was being expressed.
Given the Bell’s republican background, three trends emerge that demonstrate its interaction with contemporaneous mainstream political ideologies. First, the magazine was committed to rewriting the discourse around republican sacred cows, and to opening up space for dissenting voices within the republican movement. Second, it offered robust resistance to censorship in all its forms, and a commitment to progressive dialectical debates. Finally, as a logical consequence of its stance on censorship, the Bell was committed to publishing strong Northern Irish voices, and in particular, those of Unionists. These three strands offered an ideological template and the cultural inheritance for such future publications as the Blanket. Open-ended editorial policies characterize both the Bell and the Blanket. The capacity to contain competing and resistant voices sets them apart from other publications with more doctrinaire outlooks. Indeed, inculcating this freedom of expression remains their journalistic legacy.
In October 1940, the Bell was launched with one of Ireland’s preeminent men of letters, Sean O’Faolain, as its editor. Under his stewardship and that of its second editor, Peadar O’Donnell, the Bell would develop into Ireland’s most significant literary journal, and would go on to publish many enduring Irish writers of that generation, including Frank O’Connor, Patrick Kavanagh, Elizabeth Bowen, and Flann O’Brien. The Bell also expanded its scope to include political writing and criticism, notably in its unrelenting attacks on the excesses of literary censorship in Ireland. However, the Bell is also, in many ways, a republican journal. This aspect of its history is often overlooked by those who focus on its political resistance to de Valéra’s government. But republicanism is key to any comprehensive understanding of its formation and culture. Despite the plurality of voices printed in the Bell, in many ways the journal operated as a continuation of the debates occurring within republicanism at that time.
Stuart’s article was an early attempt to vindicate Ryan from any Nazi associations. In doing so, he also attempted to vindicate himself. Stuart’s account remains a moving piece of writing that focuses on Ryan’s ill health, bravery, and kindness. For Stuart, Ryan represented nothing more than a man determined to get home; Ryan had “a deep love of country in the old romantic sense” and “an equally deep faith in the possibility of a reign of social justice and equity.”19 Throughout the reminiscence, Stuart maintained the distance of a detached observer and was keen to stress the random hazards of war that threw them together as exiled Irishmen. Current scholarship tends to confirm that the association of these three republicans was a product of chance—but in 1950, only five years after the end of the war, opinions remained much more partisan and the facts were still contested. O’Donnell, who knew Ryan closely enough to give his graveside oration when he was reinterred at Glasnevin cemetery in 1979, would have been eager to establish his socialist credentials and his anti-fascist idealism. Stuart, it would seem, was acting from a desire to humanize Ryan’s position and to draw attention away from his own active wartime role, if not also to eulogize his lost friend. It is perhaps a tribute to the subversive potential of this article that Stuart’s time in Germany remains a topic of debate today.20 Its impact at the time of publication was nothing short of shocking, as it amounted to a direct questioning of the IRA’s ability to operate effectively. This article represents a stark criticism of the republican leadership at a time when they were still pursuing an armed campaign.
This was not the only direct criticism of republican strategy in the Bell. The magazine also criticized the IRA hierarchy when it published Stephen Hayes’s account of his involvement with, and eventual kidnap by, the paramilitary organization. Hayes was acting chief officer of the IRA in southern Ireland during Russell’s absence in 1941. At that point, under pressure from the governments of Northern Ireland and Éire, the IRA was an almost spent force. Its leadership in Northern Ireland decided a spy had been leaking information to the Fianna Fáil government, and they suspected Hayes. As such, they issued an order for his arrest and trial. Under torture Hayes agreed to write his confession, but lax security allowed him to escape and turn himself in at a local garda station.21 The controversy surrounding Hayes’s arrest and imprisonment remains current, and although Hayes always maintained his innocence and denied the charges of spying, the issue is unresolved.22 Hayes’s attempt to rehabilitate himself in the public eye and deny the charges of spying were first aired in the Bell. “It never crossed my mind,” he wrote,
that my authority within the I.R.A. was being undermined, however much the I.R.A. might have lost control of the general political development. I had no whisper that a conspiracy was afoot: no whisper that in the feverish situation perfectly innocent happenings were being twisted by suspicion into a trap for honest men.23The article was an unusual choice for O’Donnell to publish, considering Hayes was a member of the physical-force men who sided against O’Donnell in his split from the IRA hierarchy in 1934. Nevertheless, it was still a sensational story in 1951, coming after Hayes had served a five-year jail sentence for his membership of the IRA. It was also an early example of open dissidence within the IRA hierarchy, even if Hayes’s own political outlook differed from O’Donnell’s more socialist vision.
Under O’Faolain, too, the Bell had offered a forum for voices suppressed and censored from mainstream political discourse. O’Faolain’s politics are much more difficult to interpret than those of O’Donnell. Although he was a savage critic of narrow-minded Irish nationalism, he also maintained sufficient passion for republicanism to write bitterly against Partition. In an often overlooked 1944 pamphlet produced for Denis Ireland’s Ulster Union Club, O’Faolain declared, “When I think of Partition I think of something that is a sin against Ireland, but also I think of something that is a sin against civilisation.”24 Denis Ireland was a radical voice in Northern Ireland during the 1940s, an Ulster Protestant who supported a united Ireland under a republican administration. He was published frequently in the Bell, as Billy Mitchell was later in the Blanket. Although Ireland was not from the physical-force tradition like Mitchell, he also saw sectarian identities as the main barrier to social harmony. Ireland wished to see a united thirty-two-county republic, To this end, Ireland formed the Ulster Union Club to promote the concept of a United Ireland among Ulster’s Protestants.
I love this Belfast of mine. So would you if it were possible to lay aside your natural antagonism to our institutions, customs, and beliefs. To a great many people in Ireland every movement which has a beginning in Belfast must be alien to Irish culture and character. This is a stupid and dangerous attitude.Carnduff comfortably asserted that his origins were distinctly Irish, and he did not suffer from the crisis of identity that would lead such writers as John Hewitt or W. R. Rodgers into a style of aestheticized regionalism: “however, I think you will agree that Belfast has a national background. And Belfast is an Irish City, populated by Irish families. The fact that many of our surnames may have originated from earlier pilgrims to this shore rarely interests Belfast-men.” Indeed, Carnduff was confident that literature in Northern Ireland was distinctive because of this sense of Protestant identity, and that this was its main source of strength: “whatever contribution Belfast has made towards Irish Literature, Gaelic or Anglo-Irish, this has to be admitted, it has been a protestant contribution.”
Carnduff’s account is voluble and refreshingly direct in stating his suspicions of Southern nationalism. Just as Billy Mitchell would later eulogize the influences that informed the particularist traits of loyalism in the Blanket, Carnduff’s final paragraph is eloquent and defiant in support of the northern Protestant identity:
All I can say is that I have played in its streets as a child, slaved in its factories as a youth, sweated in its shipyards as a man. I have seen hell let loose in its streets because man has yet to learn tolerance. I have cowered in fear while its people were slaughtered and their homes shattered as the sky vomited death and destruction. Yet its people have been kindly to me, their homes have sheltered me. Whatever be their faults, those failings are also mine. We Belfastmen love Ireland. Every sod and stone and mountain and lake is part of us. There is no land on earth as fair as this Northern land of ours. And I wonder how any man could think otherwise, with the glory of the Mourne country at his side, or the grandeur of the Glens, or the green roll of the Antrim hills ever in sight.29Such an impassioned appeal on behalf of Unionist Belfast is not unproblematic, O’Faolain demonstrated considerable courage in publishing it, especially as it directly mentioned the Blitz in Belfast at a time when references to the war were vigorously censored by the Irish government.
The Bell ran a gauntlet between de Valéra’s mainstream constitutional republicanism and physical-force republicanism, resisting both discourses by presenting a broader vision of Irish identity. Under the guidance of O’Faolain and O’Donnell, the journal demonstrated a notable acceptance of dissident political voices. In opening its pages to dissenting voices from within the republican movement, and from those violently opposed to it, it demonstrated that restrictive impositions of social identity could not account for the myriad expressions of human experience. Its achievement was to demonstrate that a more holistic attitude to identity would allow for the articulation of contradictions without dissolving the whole.
Indeed, jail had been a transformative experience for many of the founding writers on the Blanket; it was there that they wrote and published for the first time. The republican prisoner magazine An Glór Gafa (The Captive Voice), appeared between 1989 and the release of the last political prisoners in 2000, was an earlier publication that shared many contributors with the Blanket. An Glór Gafa presaged the Blanket by providing a space for republicans to debate difficult subjects and publish articles on a range of often controversial topics not often included within mainstream republican discourses, including gay and lesbian rights.31 The Blanket’s Anthony McIntyre was one of those who contributed frequently. An Glór Gafa had broken out of its narrow confines as a prison publication by the quality of the writing it presented, and the Blanket, too, had an impact beyond Northern Ireland.
Editor Carrie Twomey has established that contributions and analysis from the Blanket found their way into documents of the United States state department, the British Home Office, and were also raised by TDs during discussions in Dáil Éireann.32 The Blanket’s impact can certainly be seen in the mainstream media. McIntyre, its most prolific contributor, also frequently wrote for the Belfast Telegraph, the Guardian, Parliamentary Brief, and the Los Angeles Times; he was routinely interviewed by journalists interested in the landscape of post-peace process Northern Ireland. Many journalists for traditional media outlets, such as Suzanne Breen and Henry McDonald, benefited from their attention to the dissent recorded in the magazine. The Blanket’s achievement is all the more remarkable when we recall that—even though its writers lacked the reputations of O’Faolain, O’Donnell or their list of famous contributors—the magazine gained substantial media space in the contemporary public sphere. It harnessed both the publishing opportunities and inclusive impulses of the new online world. The Blanket was more prolific in output than its 1940s counterpart, publishing twice weekly for six years. There were few rules or guidelines for publication, other than asking authors to put their name to any articles they were submitting, a rule that was only relaxed in cases where the author might have been in extreme danger of reprisal. Unlike the Bell, the Blanket rarely published contributors under pseudonyms; no more than a handful appeared under pen names.
By definition, the Blanket was less literary than the Bell, and it published articles of widely varying journalistic quality. But like its predecessor, it displayed a witty and subversive streak, publishing satiric work by the newspaper columnist Newton Emerson and the propaganda of its own fictional pro-Sinn Féin member, Jimmy Sands, as well as cartoons by Brian Mór and John Kennedy.33 Its sole aim, beyond critiques of official republicanism, was to give a voice to those denied a space to speak in the mainstream media in a contemporary political landscape dominated by Sinn Féin and the Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The Blanket also represented a tradition of socialist republican armed activism, as earlier embodied by Peadar O’Donnell. Contemporary media narratives, informed by Sinn Féin press and publicity, portrayed the Good Friday Agreement as offering a blueprint for the complete cessation of the republican armed struggle. The Blanket, growing out of the writing of a group of former prisoners who had coalesced in their opposition to Sinn Féin’s political direction, disputed this.34 It also questioned how republicanism’s aims were recalibrated as a struggle for equality in Northern Ireland and as another of the interim bridgeheads on the journey toward a united socialist republic. The Blanket’s purpose, on one level, echoes contributor Henry McDonald’s preface to his polemical book, Gunsmoke and Mirrors: “to challenge an entirely fake orthodoxy . . . that the IRA’s bombs and bullets expended during that period were done so in order that somehow Ulster’s Catholics could become equal citizens in the North of Ireland.”35 McIntyre was likewise critical: “for the Provisional Republican Movement, the long, slow one-way journey away from the core tenets of republicanism, which sustained it throughout its struggle, will at some point be completed . . . the only destination that awaits them is the establishment sea of constitutionalism.”36
The origins of the Blanket lay in the Bobby Sands Discussion Group and the Irish Republican Writers Group (IRWG), both of which sought to articulate the criticisms of former republican volunteers of the peace process. In part, it was motivated by frustration with the republican leadership’s attempts at marginalizing and discrediting dissent within its own ranks of former volunteers:
A group of ex-prisoners had set up the Bobby Sands Discussion Group. Its role was to throw about ideas generated from whatever quarter and to stage public debates. After one lively debate in Derry in early 1995 the leadership closed down the discussion group. Members of DAAT (Direct Action Against Thinking) began to attend discussion group meetings. One “assured” us that the leadership was so clever it was even right when it was wrong.37After this closure, the newly formed IRWG began publishing Fourthwrite, a magazine unstinting in its critiques of Sinn Féin, but which also sought to place Northern Irish republican politics within a wider socialist framework.
|Brendan Hughes, Tommy Gorman, Carrie Twomey, Anthony McIntyre, and Liam O Ruairc|
The Irish Republican Writers Group emerged at a crucial time in the history of republicanism. The Good Friday Agreement had just been accepted by 96% of the Sinn Fein membership. It seemed, in Foucauldian terms, that the anti-systemic soul of Provisional republicanism was being erased as easily as a face in the sand at the edge of the sea.39As with the Bell, these writers found themselves in the position of occupying a political landscape of post-struggle disillusionment.
Their resentments were fuelled by a perceived betrayal by their political leaders, many of whom were former comrades in arms. After a split in opinion over the direction of Fourthwrite, the Blanket began publication early 2001, after Real IRA man Joe O’Connor was murdered in West Belfast. McIntyre and Gorman explicitly charged the Provisional IRA with the killing, despite an official ceasefire.40 Their homes were picketed by Sinn Féin, and Gerry Adams accused both of being “fellow travellers with the Real IRA” despite his continual denunciations of a futile armed campaign.41 Speaking to Liz Curtis, McIntyre denounced the dissident violence of the Continuity IRA and Real IRA, saying, “I would prefer Gerry Adams’ strategy to that, because it’s not leaving body bags in the street.”42 Despite such declarations, it must be noted that the Blanket can be accused of maintaining an ambiguous relationship with republican groups still actively engaged in, or supportive of, violence.43 For instance, it routinely published statements and articles by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, considered to be the political wing of the dissident Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). Nonetheless, McIntyre and Twomey remained unambiguous in their personal disavowal of violent means for republican aims.
McIntyre’s dangerous stance against active republicanism evokes O’Faolain’s before him. O’Faolain, too, wished to break from the violence of IRA activity, and he was wary of the personal threat that gunmen posed. In his resignation letter to Jim O’Donovan, editor of Ireland To-Day and a committed republican activist, he acknowledged the danger posed by the IRA: “Don’t you see the fellows who shot Somerville and Egan [IRA] are the mush who are reducing Irish life to imbecility? You know these chaps. I know them. We worked and fought with them. They’d plug you or me in two seconds in a moment of hysteria.”44 O’Faolain was probably an unlikely target for the IRA in the 1930s, but McIntyre, Twomey, and other Blanket contributors faced a very real threat.
There is, of course, a paradox inherent in the Blanket’s stance of being, on the one hand, supportive of peace, but simultaneously critical of the abandonment of core ideological tenets that had sustained the republican armed struggle. The dissidents pointed out that republicanism aimed to coerce the British from Ireland forciby and to discredit the notion that Unionist consent was needed for the British to leave. But the Blanket contributors never made clear how it could do so peacefully.45 The magazine was also unstinting in its criticism of republican leaders who—having stated their intent of dismantling the Stormont government and its security forces—moved to taking seats in the devolved assembly and playing an active role in reform of the police service. Dissenting republicans protested that they had fought not for reform of policing and justice, but for the establishment of a new system of policing beyond the sectarian forces that republicans opposed. Much of the Blanket in the years 2001 to 2004 would point to Sinn Féin’s abandonment of both of these principles.
In February 2002, Gerry Adams, while attending sessions at the World Economic Forum, signalled that neither he nor Sinn Féin wanted to take Northern Unionists into a united Ireland without their consent. Although keen to stress that this was not about a Unionist veto, he told the debate, “I don’t think we can force upon unionism an all-Ireland which does not have their assent or consent and doesn’t reflect their sense of being comfortable.”46 Adams’s statement sent seismic shocks among dissenting republicans. For these groups, many of whom contributed to the Blanket, this was the ultimate betrayal of a cornerstone of the struggle and the principles that had been adhered to in the jails and the Hunger Strikes. They saw Sinn Féin as in effect assuming the mantle of the constitutional nationalists, such as the SDLP, whom they so decried for collaborating with the British in the 1970s.
Eamonn McCann’s Belfast Telegraph column of that week, reproduced by the Blanket, noted that
Some will remember the deluge of derision which Sinn Fein poured on the SDLP in the 1970s and 80s for signing up to the principle of consent. It was this which, in republican nomenclature, earned the SDLP the alias, ‘Stoop Down Low Party’. The dismay of some who stood up for the Republic and gave years of their lives to the fight to achieve it is natural.47McIntyre portrayed Adams’s statement more baldly:
A revolutionary body that settles for and then seeks to legitimise the very terms it fought against simultaneously de-legitimises and arguably criminalizes its own existence. Consequently, historians of the conflict, now armed with the present Sinn Fein logic will in all probability come to view the IRA campaign much more negatively than may previously have been the case. A sad denouement to an unnecessary war in which so many suffered needlessly.48Eamon Lynch, writing for the New York-based Irish Echo and carried by the Blanket, critiqued the paradox of Official Provisionalism’s now simultaneous acceptance of the principles of constitutional nationalism, while continuing to use the IRA as a policing force in republican communities:
While claiming to have entered a new phase in its war of liberation against the British, the reality is that the IRA is now engaged in little more than a territorial scuffle. . . . This may constitute community defence of a sort, and many nationalists clearly tolerate or welcome it as both necessary and justified. But it is not republicanism. Perhaps when that fact is acknowledged we will be spared the now-familiar spectacle of Sinn Fein conducting a chorus of “A Nation Once Again” when they know the band is actually playing ‘”Rule Britannia.”49
The Blanket sought to escape the narrow identity politics that Sinn Féin occupied in post-peace process Northern Ireland.50 Arising after Twomey and McIntyre’s experiences of the more accessible and open marketplace for ideas that came with the internet and the early online bulletin boards, the Blanket actively sought articles from former loyalist fighters, like Billy Mitchell, and from evangelical Protestants. In doing so, it echoed O’Faolain and O’Donnell’s ethos of embracing these identities, and gave them a place to articulate their positions. In an era of deep polarization in a political landscape dominated Sinn Féin and the DUP, the Blanket, like the Bell, committed itself to a politically diverse editorial agenda—a conscientious decision on behalf of the editors to resist sectarianism and censorship. In a 2009 interview, McIntyre stated that to complain about being silenced by mainstream republican leaders yet not give an opportunity for loyalists and Unionists to write about their position would be an act of hypocrisy.51 Along with McKearney, he had worked alongside loyalist former prisoners, including Mitchell, in producing the Other View, a magazine for political prisoners, from both sides of the sectarian divide. The Blanket also printed the work of the loyalist leader David Adams, a former Ulster Democratic Party councillor and ex-member of the Ulster Defence Association leadership. He wrote for the magazine and contributed his weekly columns from the Irish Independent and the Irish Times for republication.
The most prolific Unionist “Blanketman” was Dr. John Coulter, an evangelical Protestant Orangeman and journalist, who went on to contribute a weekly column for the Irish Daily Star. Coulter contributed the first of an eventual more than one hundred provocative columns in November 2004. His political manifesto was wholly at odds with the republican ideals of the Blanket. For instance, he called for a popular evangelical Protestant revival to happen alongside the establishment of a thirty-two-county united Ireland tied to the British state. Unlike Mitchell, who saw an acceptance of all identities as the solution to Northern Ireland’s problems, Coulter saw the answer to the problems of Partition as lying within existing British state institutions and traditions. Whereas the Bell turned to the poetry of Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, and W. R. Rogers to evaluate the Ulster Protestant mindset, the Blanket’s publication of Coulter’s work framed the debate not within aesthetic confines, but in controversially hardheaded political solutions.
For Coulter, Northern Irish Protestants were not the architects of Partition. He saw the solution to the problems of the political divide in the further integration of a united Ireland with Great Britain under the auspices of the British Commonwealth:
Many Southern Catholics and Northern Prods could be attracted to a pro-Commonwealth Unionist movement—driven by an evangelical radical Presbyterianism—which guaranteed their middle class lifestyles would not be threatened by the ever expanding European Union. Revolutionary Unionism would take the British islands—including Ireland—out of the EU and into the global economic security of the Commonwealth.52Again, we find similarities with ideas expressed earlier in the Bell. The proposed re-affirmation of the link with the Commonwealth in some ways resembled O’Faolain’s sentiments in his “One World” series, wherein he hoped Ireland might follow Canada’s example and impose a federal solution to Partition, writing that “the two parts of Ireland might some day decide, if the circumstances force it into their heads—that federal union was a plan.”53 O’Donnell had also published such controversial solutions to Irish division sixty years before Coulter made his case in the Blanket, when he printed an article by W. Douglas, secretary of the Ulster Unionist Association that made a similar argument, proposing seeing the solution to Partition as lying in further integration with the United Kingdom. Dounglas openly blamed Irish nationalists for the divide that separated the two states: “Ulster is not to blame for the 1920 Act, which separated the North from the South. Her people desired to remain with Great Britain and the British Empire. The real partitioners were the agitators in Southern Ireland, who demanded complete separation from the United Kingdom and the establishment of a State owning no allegiance to His Majesty the King.”54 That the Blanket, and the Bell before it, should publish such similar arguments testifies to their radical nature—and also to the enduring quality of such radical, if impractical, political suggestions.
Coulter’s penultimate article for the Blanket, which appeared just before the magazine shut down, illustrates his revolutionary vision for a new Ireland. Twomey and McIntyre had married and were intent on building a life away from the hostile surroundings of West Belfast. They took a break from publishing in late 2007 and decided to cease publishing after the death of the former Falls Road IRA commander Brendan Hughes in February 2008. The final editions ran in February and May 2008 and consisted of a series of articles that celebrated the life of Brendan Hughes, along with tributes to the Blanket from a range of contributors, including loyalists like Coulter and David Adams.55 In a deliberately provocative argument, Coulter conflated modern republicanism with the seventeenth-century ideals of the Protestant Revival:
Unionists should remember Brendan Hughes; a republican who realised the pitfall into which Sinn Fein had tumbled. So my fellow Unionists, forget the feuds—when Paisley is gone, we can formally begin the process of reclaiming our ultimate birthright bequeathed to us by King William III in the Glorious Revolution. Ironically, it may well have been IRA OCs such as the late Brendan Hughes who pointed the way. Now that’s one of the ironies of Irish politics.56Here and on many other occasions, the Blanket, like the Bell, sought to steer debates away from the safe environs of the established, and imperfectly formed, consensuses of their times.
Thus, a web magazine—the name of celebrated the struggle of republican paramilitaries and their resistance in the jails of the British state—gave rise to a body of activist journalism that signposted a shift from the revolutionary era ideals of the twentieth century. In a sense, the Blanket signaled the end of an era that O’Faolain, O’Donnell, and the Bell had helped to develop. In 2008. Mick Fealty, the founder of the Northern Irish political blog Sluggerotoole, summed up the Blanket and its successes. “An era of protest has passed,” he wrote, adding that
There are still a few who are attempting to carry on the armed struggle the IRA effectively abandoned fourteen years ago. But for many others, the Blanket gave another, more civil account of a term that has more commonly been reserved for Republican paramilitaries who refused to follow the lead of the Provisional IRA: ‘dissident’.57The combined heritage of republican and socialist dissent shared by the Bell and the Blanket operated in a similar way. Both were vocal objectors at a time of political stabilization. That both journals chose to publish their criticisms openly testified to their belief in the security of the prevailing political order, despite the obvious risks such criticism entailed and despite their undisguised displeasure with the nature of that order. In their own way, each publication marked a new era in Irish politics, in which the dynamic forces that shaped their world—namely, armed struggle—gave way to a period of self-questioning and criticism. The Bell and the Blanket played a key role in such a process for their respective generations. Their legacy is to demonstrate that once political power has been won, the question of what to do with it often remains to be resolved.
1. See Suzanne Breen, “Decommissioned Provos Thrown on the Scrapheap of History,” Sunday Tribune, 16 April 2006. The former Falls Road IRA officer and Blanket contributor Brendan Hughes said, “My brother is taking me to Cuba. The revolution improved ordinary people’s lives there. It was a waste of time here.” http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/BH100208.html.
2. Billy Mitchell, “Maintaining Beliefs Without Bigotry,” Blanket (n.d.), http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/maintaining.htm.
3. Mitchell, “Culture and Identity,” Blanket (February, 2002)http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/culture.html.
4. Mitchell, “Culture and Identity.”
5. Sean O’Faolain, et al., “The Five Strains,” Bell, 2, 6 (September, 1941), 13–30.
6. James J. Auchmutty, “Public Opinion: The Scottish Strain.” Bell, 3, 1 (October, 1941), 79–82.
7. Sean O’Faolain, The Irish (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1947).
8. Mitchell, “The Orangeman’s Handshake,” Blanket (2000),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/orangemans.html.
9. Mitchell, “Orangeman’s Handshake.”
10. Anthony McIntyre, “Dangerous Words, the Genesis of the Irish Republican Writers Group,” Fortnight (September, 2001), available at the Blanket,http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/dangerouswords.html.
11. Maurice Walsh was at that time one of Ireland’s most successful writers, and wrote the short story on which The Quiet Man (1952) film was based. His presence on the editorial board was probably calculated to give the Bell some credibility as a literary rather than political journal. Walsh is interviewed by H.L. Morrow, “The Bellman” in an early edition: “Meet Maurice Walsh,” Bell, 4, 2 (May, 1942).
12. Brendan Behan, “I Become a Borstal Boy,” Bell, 4, 3 (June, 1942). Some biographical details appear in the short extract in the Bell that are absent from the finished version. For example, his prosecution at St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, where visitors can still retrace his steps from the cell to the dock today, is left out of the finished version.
13. Michael O’Sullivan, Brendan Behan: A Life (Niwot CO: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1999), p. 94.
14. Margaret Ward, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: A Life (Cork: Cork University Press, 1997), pp. 336–37. Róisín Walsh was not the wife of Maurice Walsh, though that claim is often made in studies of the Bell. Although they shared the same name, it is difficult to see what else this radical feminist republican would have in common with the author.
15. J. Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army: The IRA (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997), p. 81.
16. Francis Stuart, “Frank Ryan in Germany,” Bell, 16, 2 (November 1950), p. 40; and Francis Stuart, “Frank Ryan in Germany,” Bell, 16, 2 (November, 1950), p. 40.
17. Brian Hanley, The IRA, 1926–1936 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002), pp. 104–09.
18. See: Geoffrey Elborn, Francis Stuart: A Life (Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1990); Seán Cronin, Frank Ryan: The Search for the Republic (Dublin: Repsol Press, 1980).
19. Stuart, “Frank Ryan in Germany,” p. 40.
20. See: David O’Donoghue, “Stuart Had Many Reasons for German Stay Including IRA Role,” Irish Times, 3 February 2000, p. 12; Seán Cronin, “IRA Leaders Were Ideologically Apart But Friends,” Irish Times, 20 April 2000, p. 12. For more on Stuart’s stay in Germany, see David O’Donoghue, Hitler’s Irish Voices: The Story of German Radio’s Wartime Irish Service (Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications, 1998), pp. 99–105.
21. For an account of Hayes’s arrest and trial see the Irish Times, 20 June 1942, p. 3.
22. Brian Girvin, The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939–45 (London: MacMillan, 2006), pp. 83–84.
23. Stephen Hayes, “My Strange Story,” Bell, 17, 4 (July, 1951), 16.
24. Sean O’Faolain, “Partition,” in The North: A Collection of Short Stories, Articles and Poems (Belfast: The Ulster Union Club, 1944), p. 6.
25. Sean O’Faolain to Lloyd Williams 26 December 1937, BBC Written Word Archive Reading. Recont 1. Sean O’Faolain Talks, File 1, 1932–46.
26. Clair Wills notes the severity of Irish censorship during World War II in an effort to demonstrate the state’s strict neutrality to the public. See Clair Wills, That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War (London: Faber and Faber, 2007).
27. Thomas Carnduff: Life and Writings, ed. John Grey (Belfast: Lagan Press, 1994).
28. Thomas Carnduff, “Belfast,” Bell, 4, 4 (July, 1942), 269–73.
29. Carnduff, “Belfast,” 269, 270, 272, 273.
30. Sean O’Faolain, “This Is Your Magazine,” Bell, 1, 1 (October, 1940), 9.
31. Brendi McClenaghan, “Invisible Comrades, Gays and Lesbians in the Irish Struggle,” An Glór Gafa (Winter, 1991). The article became particularly controversial when Sinn Féin leadership cut it from the edition to be sold in United States. It was reprinted by the Australian magazine Green Left, 22 November 1992. Available athttp://www.greenleft.org.au/node/2588.
32. Interview with Paddy Hoey, Drogheda, 12 December 2010; transcript in the possession of the authors.
33. Jimmy Sands, whose name derived from the ironic loyalist graffiti “Jimmy Sands we’ll never forget you” that appeared after the death if Bobby Sands on hunger strike, was a satiric character who would often “contribute” pro-Sinn Féin articles so ludicrous as to render the official stance ridiculous.
34. Anthony McIntyre, “The Irish Republican Writers Group and the Battle for New Ideas,” Socialist Democracy (2001),http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/ProblemsOfPeace/POPTheIRWGAndTheBattleForNewIdeas.html. McIntyre stated, “The two most frequent anti-Agreement republican writers at the time, Tommy McKearney and myself supported peace but not an empty process or a strategically futile armed campaign.” See also Anthony McIntyre, “Supporting Peace But Not the Process,” Blanket, 21 December 2001,http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/pens.html.
35. Henry McDonald, Gunsmoke and Mirrors: How Sinn Féin Dressed Up Defeat as Victory (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2009), p. iii.
36. Anthony McIntyre, “Rivers Change Their Course Sometimes But Always Reach the Sea,” Blanket (18 April 2003),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/riverstosea.html.
37. Anthony McIntyre, “Dangerous Words.”
38. See Greg McLaughlin and Stephen Baker, The Propaganda of Peace: The Role of Media and Culture in the Northern Ireland Peace Process (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2010). The authors argue that the media played a significant role in persuading the public that a dramatic realignment of politics had happened in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement.
39. McIntyre, “Dangerous Words.”
40. Anthony McIntyre, “The Irish Republican Writers Group.”
41. Ed Moloney, “Adams Article Fuels Republican Dispute,” Sunday Tribune, 29 October 2000.
42. Liz Curtis, “A Rebel Republican,” Irish Post, 26 April 2001.
43. Martyn Frampton, Legion of the Rearguard: Dissident Irish Republicanism (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2011), p. 163.
44. Sean O’Faolain to Jim O’Donovan, quoted in Frank Shovlin, The Irish Literary Periodical 1923–1958 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), p. 79.
45. See “Radio Free Eireann Interview With Brendan Hughes,”Blanket (March, 2000). Hughes said, “I don’t have an alternative, people keep saying to me if your (sic) going to criticize put up an alternative. I don’t have an alternative, the alternative is within the republican movement.”http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/BH60208.html.
46. “United Ireland Will Not Be a Cold House for Unionists,” Republican News, 7 February 2002.
47. Eamonn McCann, “Green Is Still the Colour,” Blanket, (14 February 2002),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/greenstill.html.
48. Anthony McIntyre, “Republicans Acknowledging a Democratic Basis to Partition,”Blanket (10 February 2002).http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/partition.htm.
49. Eamonn Lynch, “Andersonstown News: Voice of Banana Republicanism?” Blanket (18 June 2003),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/andersonstownewsbananarepublicanism.html.
50. Kevin Bean, The New Politics of Sinn Féin (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), p. 248.
51. McIntyre, interview with Paddy Hoey, Drogheda, 11 November 2009. Transcript in the possession of the authors.
52. John Coulter, “Revolutionary Unionism” Blanket (13 November 2006),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/JC2191106g.html.
53. Séan O’Faolain, “One World,” Bell, 8, 4 (July 1944), 284. See also Brad Kent, “Sean O’Faolain and Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Midcentury Critiques of Nationalism,” New Hibernia Review, 12, 1 (Spring, 2008), 128–45.
54. W. Douglas, “Impossibility of Irish Union,” Bell, 14, 1 (April, 1947), 33.
55. David Adams, “A Genuine Platform of Free Expression.” Blanket (18 May 2008),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/DALB.html.
56. John Coulter, “An Irony of Irish Politics,”Blanket (24 February 2008),http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/JCDARK.html.
57. Mick Fealty, “In Praise of a Journal of Dissent,” Blanket (18 May 2008), http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/MFLB.html.