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Éire-Ireland 42.1-2 (2007) 256-289

The Mosquito Press":
Anti-Imperialist Rhetoric in Republican Journalism, 1926–391
Caoilfhionn Ní Bheacháin

In December 1928, the Irish republican newspaper Saoirse published an article entitled "Mary of England in Ireland, Eddy of England and his brother in Uganda." This article made a connection between the language used in two publications, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, to describe separate British royal visits. Following a brief introduction to the context of each article, the Saoirse writer quotes two long extracts from these papers and concludes with one line at the end of the second extract: "Trace the relationship." The relationship that the reader is encouraged to recognize is that between a description of a royal visit to Uganda and one to Northern Ireland. In the first case, Sir Perceval Phillips sends a report to the Daily Mail from Mombasa that depicts the royal visitors stepping "straight from European civilization into a savage world": [End Page 256]

No more bizarre spectacle has ever been witnessed by the Prince or the Duke than the natives' incessant swaying and posturing to the rhythm of the Uganda drums—that strange, secret native medium of communication across Africa. . . . A steady throb of these long cylinders of covered zebra skin hour after hour has a curious effect on the spectators as well as the dancers. One had only to watch the latter writhing in ecstasy to their monotonous note to realize that here was the origin of all jazz. . . .2

The second report is published in the Daily Express some ten days later. This describes the reception of Princess Mary on her arrival in Hillsborough and Portadown in Northern Ireland.

But the drums! Will Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles ever forget them? They were beaten into a tremendous maddening sound that grew wilder, till one felt in the midst of a nightmare battle. There were 105 of them, drums twice as large as ordinary big drums, and with extraordinary depth of sound, and the Orangemen, trained especially for the occasion, slapped them skillfully with canes. . . .3

The similarity of language used to describe the drumming at these receptions is eye-catching. Saoirse seems to be suggesting that, for imperialists, there is no difference between the "natives" throughout the colonies. Both accounts suggest alien, exotic, primitive societies. The republican writer implicitly implies that an ideology and discourse of empire was immediately accessible to British journalists when describing events in the colonies, however disparate or far apart they might be. The juxtaposition of these two extracts with no commentary, apart from the implied, but ambiguous, injunction to analysis prompted by the words "Trace the relationship" offers a certain insight into republican engagements with anti-imperialist thinking in this period. The Saoirse article suggests that republicans were attentive to, and critical of, the idioms used by journalists when referring to colonial lands and subjects, and this self-consciousness about the rhetoric of empire raises questions about how republicans conceived of their own activism in the Irish Free State. [End Page 257]

The anti-imperialist activism of republican groups is sometimes dismissed, as in Stephen Howe's recent book Ireland and Empire, as "small-scale and seemingly almost tokenistic." Dismissive allusions of this kind suggest that republican anti-imperialism was inconsequential, and that its significance has been "misinterpreted" and "inflated."4 They also contribute to a prevailing belief that republican anticolonial consciousness only emerged in the (post-1969) Sinn Féin rhetoric of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland5 and in recent postcolonial paradigms in Irish Studies.6 Moreover, this is a position that is sometimes reinforced by the representation of Ireland as an inward-looking cultural wasteland in the decades following the Civil War. Such a view of Irish society from the mid-twenties to the mid-fifties can influence common perceptions of that period, although in recent years this perspective has been challenged in a number of publications.7 Although stereotypes of Free State insularity and stagnation...


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