In 1987 IBRG was six years old and growing as new branches were being started across the country. Communicating with the Irish communty was not as easy then as it is today. In the 1980s some Irish people were visible in traditional organisations such as Counties Associations and at Irish Centres, in political organisations such as the political parties and left groups such as the Connolly Association. But for many, and particularly radical women, they were unlikely to join anything with Irish as a prefix. During the 1980s over 40,000 Irish people were coming to Britain to look for work and reaching out to them was not going to be easy.
“an pobal eirithe” ( The Risen People) the new magazine of the IBRG was produced to “promote the objectives of the IBRG”. This included to communicate with the Irish community in Britain, to promote the rights of Irish women and men, (note;women first!) to promote the cause of self-determination for Ireland and the Irish people. It was funded solely by IBRG and individual branches were given copies to sell.
The title in Irish was challenging as most Irish people (born in Britain or on the island of Ireland) were not Irish language speakers, but it was a bold statement with the aim to challenging the neglect of the language and restate its importance to the Irish community.
Five copies of the magazine were produced between 1987 and 1991. It publicised the activities of IBRG branches across the country, aimed to recruit new members and debated some of the most important issues for Irish people living in Britain.
The first issue included an article by the Cathaoirleach (Chair) ( Irish was used for all officer posts and names of meetings) Gearoid MacGearailt which was taken from his speech at the 1987 Ard Fheis (AGM). In it he reflected on the way in which IBRG had changed over the years as had the community. “We have developed the ability to be a community organisation and a pressure group at one and the same time.”
Gearoid highlighted the creation of the Women’s Sub Committee and the magazine included several articles by and about women. They ranged from an article about the Women’s Sub Committee, women in Irish history, strip searching, but also the first part of an interview with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein. Second generation Irish woman Laura Sullivan in Issue 1 wrote, one of several articles, on being Irish and working in the public services. “Uniting together we have a strong voice and far greater influence. We are no longer invisible and can’t be ignored.”
In apr crucial issues to the community such as anti-Irish racism were debated and put into a historical and contemporary context. It was an issue that the organisation came back to constantly whether challenging the racism of the Irish joke in programmes such as the “Comedians”; campaigning for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which targeted the Irish community; or objecting to the discrimination by local councils in its service provision.
In Issue 2 Micheal O Cnaimhsi wrote about his branch in North East Lancashire – an area that had a proud history of Irish activism including the birthplace of Land League leader Michael Davitt. Michael described how difficult it was to organise the Irish when redevelopment had destroyed places where Irish people would gather, including pubs, Irish centres, etc. in addition local authorities were ignoring the needs of the Irish. But this did not stop the branch in March 1987 producing a report “The Irish in Lancashire” detailing the needs and aspirations of the Irish.
Over the five issues a picture was drawn of Irish community activity across Britain. It reflected the discussions and debates going on about what it meant to be Irish in the C20th and took on many of the issues that the more established Irish establishment did not want to acknowledge, particularly how the conflict going on in the North of Ireland was impacting directly on the Irish in Britain.
Issue 1 brought up the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four and by issue 4 in Spring 1990 the editorial board were welcoming the release of the Guildford Four : “But our joy was accompanied by bitterness and resentment that the Four had spent fifteen years in jail for offences of which they are innocent, that the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward, the Winchester Three and many others are still in prison.”
Issues 3 and 4 had front pages which highlighted campaigns around justice for the Irish. The editorial in issue 3 reflected on the year of 1988 “ a dreadful year for the Irish, and indeed anyone who cares about the relationship between Ireland and Britain.” Articles highlighted the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, Irish political prisoners in British jails, as well as the rights of Irish gays and lesbians, Bolton IBRG, and the mental health of the Irish.
apr gave a voice to activists who were not members of IBRG including Tom Walsh, stalwart of the Liverpool Irish community, whom over many years had supported Irish people stopped at the port of Liverpool under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In issue 4, in an interview he explained the work he did supporting detainees and their families without any support from the establised Irish community organisations.
By Issue no. 5 the Birmingham Six had been released. It was the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the last issue included articles ranging from the history of women in 1916 and a bibliography of the history of the Irish in Britain ,to articles by guest writers including Raymond Crotty on getting the vote for the Irish in Britain in elections in the Republic of Ireland and Des Wilson on alternative education practice in West Belfast.
Articles on culture including language, music, book reviews, and poetry ran through the five issues. As does the crucial issue “The Right to be Irish” by Padraig McRannall (issue 4) which concluded that “For we too are part of the working class struggle in Britain for a better life for all including our own community and every other community.”
The archive can be accessed at the WCML. This is one of a series of blog posts which I am doing as I archive the IBRG documents.