Manchester Irish in Britain Representation Group and Grass Roots Books Radical Bookshop (and later Frontline Books)

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In 1981 a new wave of Irish activists became involved in not just the campaign for a united Ireland but also in campaigning for the  civil rights and equality for the Irish in Britain: the Irish in Britain Representation Group (IBRG).

The early 1980s were critical times during the conflict in the North of Ireland, it was a time of the hunger strikes when 10 young men died for their right to political status. It was also a time when 40,000 Irish people each year were making the journey across the Irish Sea to Britain.

It was a time when Irish people of different generations were becoming active in a new wave of activism including organisations such as the Troops Out Movement, the Irish Abortion Support Group, and the Irish in Britain Representation Group. It was a time when there was an active group of people in the Labour Party , the Labour Committee on Ireland, who fought for a progressive policy on the North of Ireland, supported the rights of the Irish in this country and at council level prepared to fund groups, such as IBRG.

Manchester IBRG was one its first branches and its members were involved in the formation of the national organisation.  In 1986 I moved back to Manchester and revived the branch as it was not that active. It  was based in a Catholic centre that was also not easy to access and it was dominated by some reactionary men.

The new branch had more women members than men and  included many younger people who were second generation or over from Ireland and had a different,  more assertive attitude to their Irishness. It included older women who were part of the traditional Irish community but were looking for a new organisation to reflect their lives and experiences. Although not party political most of the members were from a left/feminist background.

In the 1980s asserting oneself as Irish was deemed as making a political statement. Anti-Irish racism was part of everyday life and at all levels of society. Discrimination against Irish people was rampant and it was an issue that galvanised the Irish community in Manchester with IBRG taking the lead.

The war going on in Ireland and the state’s use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act made Irish people very nervous about getting involved in Irish organisations. Attracting members was not easy. We asked GRB for a post box so that we could receive mail and use the shop’s address to send out mailings. We were “Box 9”!

GrassRoots lBRG membership ed

IBRG Membership Leaflet

IBRG was effectively banned from most Irish Centres in  Manchester either  because they were run by right wing business people who opposed our politics or they were worried that if they did host our meetings, they would attract police attention and lose their licence. We held our branch meetings in Manchester Town Hall and the Students’ Union of Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University). In 1988 Liam Bradshaw of St. Brendan’s Irish Centre in Old Trafford offered IBRG space to have meetings and organise events.

We were very grateful to GRB (and later  Frontline Books) for the support they gave us. Located in the city centre it made access easier  for an Irish community spread across the city. Also, for a community that had a radical past (and future) the bookshop was an ideal place for us to have our mail box and meetings.   In March 1990 we sent the shop  a donation of £15 as a thank you for their support.

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GRB had an excellent selection of Irish books, fiction, and non-fiction. They produced a questionnaire which they asked us to circulate to our members to inform them when they were buying new books. They also offered to put on a display of IBRG work at the shop.

When we produced an IBRG magazine (An Pobal Eirithe) they agreed in April 1988 to sell  10 copies.

ape 1990

In 1990 Grass Roots Books became Frontline Books.

An example of the hysteria that was prevalent at that time was that one day at work I got a phone call from Neil Swannick at Frontline asking me to immediately go to the shop and retrieve a parcel that had just arrived. I worked outside the city and so  got to the shop later that day. The parcel was waiting for me at the desk at the front of the shop. I opened it in front of Neil. It was a video sent from Ireland about the Hunger Strike Campaign, that I was going to use at a meeting.

Over the years 1986-1995 we held several meetings at the bookshop. This included;

History and the Irish Community 11 September 1991 with Ruth and Eddie Frow.

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Irish Women Writers 17 September 1991 with writers Moy McCrory and Berlie Doherty.

Manchester  Festival Women Writers and Men Writers events 23 & 30 Sept. 1992

Historian Liz Curtis (author of “The Cause of Ireland”) meeting Frontline 17 March 1994

Hugh Callaghan (Birmingham 6) book launch in May 1994.

Hugh Callaghan meeting 1994

Bernadette Hyland (IBRG) and Hugh Callaghan

In IBRG Minutes of 19 September 1995 an Irish political prisoner contacted IBRG asking for people to send him books. I circulated this to members and said that if they were not happy to use their own address to send the books they could do so via our box at the shop.

The bookshop was of course much more than a place to hold meetings and receive mailings. It was a welcoming space for people who had never been involved in politics. It was a place to meet other people  looking for alternative views about the world and to get involved in activities. It was a place to find radical information in pamphlets and books that were not available anywhere else.

The archive of IBRG can be accessed at the WCML see

Contact the archive of GRB at grbhistory@gmail.com

For further information see  leftontheshelf/research which has a listing and bibliography of radical bookshops and hosts a newsletter on the history of radical bookselling.

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
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