Book-Burning in 1924 Ireland

The rule of ignorance in post-independence Ireland

The Ireland of 1924 was a bleak place for anyone who didn’t subscribe to a narrow, rigidly Catholic view of the world, as the following newspaper extract shows.

The most conservative revolutionaries ever, as Kevin O’Higgins described himself and his colleagues,  wasted no time in getting down to ultra-orthodox business, stamping out everything that didn’t fit in with their emotionally-dysfunctional  outlook on life, and that included books.  Barely eight years later, of course, in another European country, book-burning would assume an even more sinister place in history, but the ignorance was the same.

The overbearing intolerance behind the acts of intellectual vandalism was no greater in Germany than it had been in Ireland, only two years after achieving freedom for a small elite and selling it to the masses as a great act of  liberation.

Just read this, from the proceedings of Galway County Council in 1925, in case you doubted what sort of country the freedom fighters carved out for the weak, the poor or those with the temerity to think for themselves.  Is this any different to behaviour we’d expect from the Taliban, or any of the other ignorant, oppressive religious extremist groups we like to condemn these days?

Context: this book-burning took place in an Ireland where unmarried mothers were classified as offenders.  It happened the same year the Tuam mothers and babies home was set up, where the Bon Secours nuns used the young women as slaves and penitents, and where 800 children died of malnutrition and neglect in the name of Christianity, because the Irish people were so ashamed of themselves, of their humanity and of their very survival that they treated their own daughters as pariahs and criminals.

The boldfaced text in this extract is mine, for emphasis.  The italics are from the original.

Personally, I find the arrogance, the ignorance and the sheer hypocrisy of this mindset staggering, but unless we face up to the fact that this is the State our freedom fighters carved out for themselves and their cronies, we have no future as a mature independent nation.



Book Burning in Galway 1928Contingent on the co-operation of the Archbishop of Tuam and the clergy of the county generally, as well as the intention of the scheme after the dissolution of the Irish advisory committee of the Carnegie Trust in 1924, it was agreed that the catalogue of the then circulating stock of libraries be submitted to the Archbishop of Tuam. Certain books were strongly objected to and on instructions from the Carnegie Trust the books and all existing copies of catalogues were withdrawn.

They may be classified as:– Treatises on philosophy and religion which were definitely anti-Christian works;

ex professor de obscenus novels of the following type —

(1) Complete frankness in words in dealing with sex matters;

(2) insidious or categorical denunciation of marriage or glorification of the unmarried mother and the mistress;

(3) the glorification of physical passion;

(4) contempt of the proprieties of conventions;

(5) the details and the stressing of morbidity.

The events related took place between December, 1924 and February, 1925, and the books in question never found part of the stock handed over to the County Council when they took over control of the library.

Since the disposal of the books in question was at the express command of the Carnegie Trust at a date prior to the taking over of the scheme by the County Council and thus in pursuit of an agreement to which the Council’s Library Committee was never a party, the Sub-Committee feel that the discussion of this matter is irrelevant, and that no useful purpose can be served in continuing it. By some oversight, several of these books got into circulation, and strong complaints had been made to members of the Committee about them.

Mr James Lee proposed that the report be adopted and Mr Eamonn Corbett seconded. Mr Corbett said that the burning of the books had received a lot of publicity. Mountains had been made out of molehills and the committee had been made a kind of cockshot. Whatever was done was honestly and conscientiously done in the moral interests of the people and they feared no publicity or criticism and had no apology to make.

Mr Peter Kelly said that not one per cent of the Irish people could object to the books that had been burned at the last meeting.  He thought that the kind of books that had been burned were one-and-sixpenny novels “in which things were put slightly bluntly.”  Every book written by Bernard Shaw should not be withdrawn.

The sub-committee’s report was unanimously adopted.



Credit for the research goes to Liam Hogan (the excellent @limerick1914 on Twitter).

Source: Storify

5 thoughts on “Book-Burning in 1924 Ireland

  1. Well caught, Bock.

    I chanced upon the Dáil debate on the Censorship of Publications Bill 1928, where one J.J. Byrne TD summed it up nicely:

    “I ask the House, does it intend to tolerate the admission of such books as “Woman and the New Race,” by Margaret Sanger; “The Well of Loneliness,” by Radclyffe Hall; “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” by D.H. Laurence, and “Sapho,” by Flaubert. There are other books such as Fielding’s “Tom Jones,” which I think this country could be better without. There is another very prolific writer, Doctor Marie Stopes, who deals with sex problems, with birth control and with things which no father would permit his child to come in contact with.”

    Heaven forfend that they might disagree with Daddy!

    And the argument against allowing ‘propaganda’ favouring birth control? “Race suicide”:

    “If I might turn for a moment to the question of artificial birth control, that is another aspect of the problem that must be faced. This country I believe stands for the sanctity of the marriage tie. It stands for the preservation and the shouldering of responsibilities by those who enter into the married state. To the vast majority of the people the limitation, the control of births, or the infliction of race suicide upon this nation is one that is bitterly resented … Is it suggested by that learned Senator that birth control or race suicide is in the interests of any State? If one might refer with all respect to the great French nation, what has happened there? The French population actually exceeded the German population in 1850. To-day the German population stands at 69 millions and the French population at 39½ millions. Is that for the benefit of France? Does it not cause the gravest concern to French statesmen who have the interests of their country at heart? Does it make for the production of a better race, and what is the effect upon a people from whom all moral responsibility, as far as the marriage tie is concerned, is removed?”

    ‘Kindergeburt Macht Frei’?

  2. Don’t have to go back to 1924, I attended a boarding school in the mid 70’s run by religious brothers and remember getting a few slaps of the Leather for being “caught” with a Lee Dunne book. The Fooker told me the book was banned and shouldn’t be in any “decent” house. The Fooker. Can’t remember much about the book but for a teenage boy it was racy….

  3. The more I see and read, the more it becomes clear, that home rule was indeed Rome rule.
    Outside of one person one vote, how could this country be considered a republic

  4. They had to burn books and ban writers like James Joyce in order to keep
    control of the people’s minds. These writer’s were trying to keep some
    sense of sanity in the lunatic asylum the oppressors were trying to create.
    They’ed still be at it, if they were allowed.

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