8 Banned Books and the 8th Amendment

Down at the end of this post there’s a list of forty-seven books, with one thing in common – they were all banned in Ireland in 1930, the first year of existence the country’s Censorship of Publications Board.

Committee Cover

Ireland achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1922, and almost immediately set about banning as many book as they could get away with. The Irish Minister for Justice, Kevin O’Higgins, told the Dáil in October 1925 that he thought that the existing obscenity laws were adequate, and that the Irish Government should not interfere any further with people’s freedom to read what they chose. This did not go down well. The newly formed Free State of Ireland wished to be insular, Catholic, and morally conservative, and wished to protect its citizens from evil and corrupting influences, whether they wanted to be protected or not. Bowing to the pressure, in February 1926 the Minister established The Committee on Evil Literature – yes, that’s really what it was called – with a committee of three laymen and two clergymen – one Roman Catholic and one Church of Ireland – to advise the government on the issue.

Unsurprisingly, they decided that the existent laws, inherited from the previous regime, were too lax, and recommended the establishment of an Irish censorship board. The Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, was duly passed, and the Censorship of Publications Board started by banning Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, first published by Chatto & Windus of London in 1928, on 9 May 1930.

NewYorkSocietyForTheSuppressionOfViceWhat is more important, though, with all due respect to the esteemed Mr Huxley, is the next entry, and many like it afterwards. Margaret Sanger was an American nurse, writer, birth control activist, and sex educator. Her book Family Limitations had already been prosecuted in her native land in 1914, under the restrictive Comstock laws which banned, amongst other things, using the U.S. Postal Service to send any information about pretty much anything relating to sexual activity of any kind, and especially about the prevention of conception, and abortion. Those Comstock laws were named after Anthony Comstock, who served as a special agent for the US Postal Service, and who had founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, whose symbol included an image of book-burning…

Margaret Sanger’s book was only the first of many, many books written to attempt to educate and inform women and men about sexual activity, reproduction, and also the prevention of pregnancy, that were banned in Ireland. In the forty-seven titles listed below there are at least seventeen non-fiction titles, by writers like Sanger, Marie Stopes, George Ryley Scott, and others, which were deemed unsuitable for Irish eyes. It is fair to say that these were only the beginning. The final number of books banned here was 12,493. Of those, eight remain banned, almost exclusively due to being deemed to contain information on abortion, the first being Abortion: Right or Wrong? By Dorothy Thurtle, banned on 13 February 1942 – the next half-dozen don’t appear until the 1980s.

There has been one other book banned in Ireland very recently, The Raped Little Runaway by Jean Martin, banned in March 2016. I am no supporter of censorship, in virtually any form, and I haven’t read this book, but I cannot help feeling that the world might not be any the worse if it didn’t actually exist. IMHO…

And it is worth bearing in mind that these were books that were attempted to be made available for sale in Ireland – a frequently quoted fact is that James Joyce’s Ulysses was never banned in Ireland, because it was never offered to be sold to us in the first place. But it probably would have been. Who knows how many more books the publishers and distributors did not even bother trying to bring in, knowing full well in advance their likely fate?

Well of LonelinessSprinkled throughout the list you will find many books that are not only freely available in bookshops today, but which are rightly regarded as important classics of world literature – The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall; two more books by Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay and Brief Candles; Cakes and Ale by W Somerset Maugham; and Redheap by Norman Lindsay, which has the distinction of being the first Australian novel to be banned in Australia. On this list, it looks a lot like The House of Gold by Liam O’Flaherty has the same dubious merit in Ireland.

Although all but those now nine books are banned in Ireland, it was not until the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, sponsored the Censorship of Publications Act in 1967, which limited the time a book could be banned for to twelve years. In excess of 5000 books on the list, banned between 1930 and 1955, immediately became at least theoretically available for sale in Ireland, if they were still in print, and to be found on a publisher’s shelf. As time passed, and with due notice being taken of the aforementioned eight still-banned books, we eventually reached a point where the last book banned – on 28 November 1998 – had been banned more that twelve years before, and therefore, at the end of 2010, everything was finally free again.

Except, that is, for anything that might provide information on procuring an abortion, of course.

The only place the lists of these books currently exists is in several large leather bound volumes, sitting on a desk in the Irish Film Classification Office in Smithfield in Dublin. I have been slowly but slowly (to quote John Lennon) been typing up the titles, from photographs I took myself of the individual pages. It’s a long, slow (very slow!) process, but I’ve got up as far as the first thousand.

It wasn’t the plan to start publishing up lists of the titles until I could do some sort of a booklet about it, but those eight books, and the fact that information should be free, and that people should be free to have access to that information, to make the best possible decisions in their lives, has prompted me to do this now. If you Vote YES, one of the many consequences will be this final few books being final struck from that Register. Information, like people, yearns to be free.


Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger

Wise Parenthood by Marie Stopes

Home to Harlem by Claude McKay

On Conjugal Happiness by Dr L Lowenfeld Hofrat

Married Love by Marie Stopes

Early Days of Birth Control by Marie Stopes

Contraception by Marie Stopes

Radiant Motherhood by Marie Stopes

The New Motherhood by Margaret Sanger

The Pivot of Civilisation by Margaret Sanger

What Every Mother Should Know by Margaret Sanger

The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall

Marriage and Morals by Bertrand Russell

Class 1902 by Ernst Glaeser

The Intimate Journals of Paul Gaugain by Paul Gaugain

Schlump [No Author Given]

The Ant Heap by Edward Knoblock

The Party Dress by Joseph Hergesheimer

Brief Candles by Aldous Huxley

Redheap by Norman Lindsay

Sex and Its Mysteries by George Ryley Scott

Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

Wise Wedlock by Dr G Courtenay Beale

The Truth about Birth Control by George Ryley Scott

The Why and How of Birth Control by Dr Stewart Adamson

Painted Veils by James Huneker

Mitsou, or How Girls Grow Wise by Colette

Parenthood: Design or Accident? by Michael Fielding

My First Two Thousand Years: The Autobiography of the Wandering Jew by George Sylvester Viereck & Paul Eldridge

The Army Behind Barbed Wire by Edwin Erich Dwinger

Women and Monks by Josef Kallinikov

Confessions and Impressions by Ethel Mannin

WAAC by Anonymous

WAAC Demobilised by Anonymous

The Physiology of Sex by Dr RT Trall

My Life by Isadora Duncan

The House of Gold by Liam O’Flaherty

Mr Weston’s Good Wine by TF Powys

Mark Only by TF Powys

Cakes and Ale; or The Skeleton in the Cupboard by W Somerset Maugham

Salome, the Wandering Jewess by George Sylvester Viereck & Paul Eldridge

Nothing to Pay by Caradoc Evans

Apples Be Ripe by Llewelyn Powys

A Room in Berlin by Günther Birkenfeld

A Night in Kurdistan by Jean-Richard Bloch

The Forty Second Parallel by John Dos Passos

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The Cardinal and/or the Corpse: Flann O’Brien and Sexton Blake

The Cardinal and the Corpse CroppedThis is by way of being an unashamed plug, actually. I have written an essay – I was calling it an article, but my editor assures me it is an essay – which is currently called The Cardinal & the Corpse, A Flanntasy in Several Parts (although is has at least a half-a-dozen alternative names, as seemed only right), and it is, or at least started out as, an exploration of whether or not Irish writer Flann O’Brien (amongst other names – he had both more and less pseudonyms than people think) once wrote Sexton Blake stories under the pseudonym of Stephen Blakesley. This investigation itself sprang from my viewing of Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit‘s brilliant, obscure, and brilliantly obscure semi-documentary The Cardinal and the Corpse, shown on Channel 4 in 1992.

Anyway, I ended up with an essay of something like twelve thousand words, which I offered to my friend and editor of Irish literary gorse, and which is now available in gorse #3, although in a necessarily edited version of about six thousand words. At some point in the nearish future, I’ll be expanding the long version quite a bit – once you start digging properly with something like this, you just never really finish, do you?

There’s is currently an extract from the essay on the gorse website (<– through that link there), and you can buy a copy of the publication in question here.

Just because we’re nice people, here’s the extract, for your reading pleasure, after which you can make your way in an orderly fashion, over to that link, all right? I’ve even added an arbitrary extra sentence to this version, just because I love you all. But I’ve also removed, almost at random, a sentence from the version as seen over there. So both versions are different, for no really very good reason. Anyway, enjoy!

The Cardinal and the Corpse: A Flanntasy in Several Parts
Pádraig Ó Méalóid

Drif CoverThe Cardinal and the Corpse, a 40-minute semi-documentary made in 1992 by Christopher Petit and Iain Sinclair for a late-night slot on Channel 4, described quite accurately by one commentator as ‘a show about books and bibliophiles in London,’ muddied the pseudonymous O’Brien waters further. When I first watched it, I had no idea what was going on in The Cardinal and the Corpse, or who most of the people in it—with the exception of Alan Moore and British science fiction writer Michael Moorcock—were. It seemed to be another story with several beginnings, several different threads running through it, none of which I had the slightest understanding of.


In the course of the action, we see husband and wife book dealers Gerry & Pat Goldstein rummaging through tables of books at one of the London markets. Pat Goldstein pulls out a handful of pulp novels, looks at them, and says that they are ‘Sexton Blakes by different writers.’


Sexton Blake worked as a consulting detective, had a sidekick called Tinker, a faithful hound called Pedro, and a bullet-proof Rolls-Royce, named The Grey Panther. He was a bit more of a physical detective than a cerebral one, though, and this may have been part of his appeal to his intended Penny Dreadful audience. Before long there were Sexton Blake stories—either stand-alone stories or serialised ones—appearing in The Half-penny Marvel, The Union Jack, and Pluck, and numerous others. Blake was hugely popular, and there have been something in the region of 4,500 stories written about him, by around two hundred writers, an awful lot of them under various pseudonyms and generic house names.

Terrell in Trouble CroppedSo, what evidence is there that Flann O’Brien wrote Sexton Blake stories? On the face of it, there appears to be lots of it, overwhelming amounts of it, actually, both from himself and others. First of all, there’s a letter he sent the then popular writer Ethel Mannin in July 1939, along with a copy of At Swim-Two-Birds. The correspondence, although brief, is in itself fascinating, with references to various side characters who may or may not have been mutual acquaintances of Flann and Mannin. Once she had read the book, though, Mannin didn’t like it, and said so, prompting the obviously thin-skinned Myles to write back to her, full of bluster, including these closing paragraphs,

It is a pity you did not like my beautiful book. As a genius, I do not expect to be readily understood but you may be surprised to know that my book is a definite milestone in literature, completely revolutionises the English novel and puts the shallow pedestrian English writers in their place. Of course I know you are prejudiced against me on account of the IRA bombings.

To be serious, I can’t quite understand your attitude to stuff like this. It is not a pale-faced sincere attempt to hold the mirror up and has nothing in the world to do with James Joyce. It is supposed to be a lot of belching, thumb-nosing and belly-laughing and I honestly believe that it is funny in parts. It is also by way of being a sneer at all the slush which has been unloaded from this country on the credulous English although they, it is true, manufacture enough of their own odious slush to make the import unnecessary. I don’t think your dictum about ‘making your meaning clear’ would be upheld in any court of law. You’ll look a long time for clear meaning in the Marx Brothers or even Karl Marx. In a key I am preparing in collaboration with Mr Kevin O’Connor, it is explained that the reader should begin on p. 145 and then start at the beginning when he reaches the end like an up-&-down straight in Poker. The fantastic title (which has brought a lot of fatuous inquiries to bird-fanciers) is explained on p. 95 and is largely the idea of my staid old-world publishers. My own title was ‘Sweeny in the Trees’. I am negotiating at present for a contract to write 6 Sexton Blake stories (25 to 30,000 words for £25 a time) so please do not send me any more sneers at my art. Sorry, Art.

Many things that would preoccupy O’Brien throughout his life are evident in that letter: his desire for literary acceptance, his preoccupation with money, his difficult relationship with James Joyce, and of course his strange obsession with Sexton Blake. O’Brien’s choice of Ethel Mannin as a possible champion of his work is certainly a strange one: her forté was mostly sentimental popular fiction with a left-leaning feminist tinge, very far from what AS2B was, and her liberal views—she had affairs with both W.B. Yeats and Bertrand Russell—hardly coincided with O’Brien’s own highly conservative Catholic worldview, or his evident misogyny.

Conclusion of the foregoing.

Just in case, here’s that link again: Gorse #3. We thank you in advance!

[The black-and-white illustration is by the excellent Jess Abbo, and is used with at least some of his permission…]

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Addendum

Savings Box

Not a book, but an old tin savings box, in the shape of a book. Time to start saving for Christmas 2015!

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty-Five – Irish Christmas Stories

Irish Christmas Stories

Irish Christmas Stories, edited by David Marcus
Published by Bloomsbury, London, in 1995

Because Irish Christmases are the best Christmases! Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty-Four – Santa: A Life

Santa A Life HC

Santa: A Life by Jeremy Seal
Published in hardback and paperback by Picador, London, in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Both covers included here because 1) we have both editions, and 2) In this case, I prefer the paperback cover.

Santa A Life PB

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty-Three – Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers: An Illustrated History


Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers: An Illustrated History by Peter Kimpton
Published by Tempus Publishing, Gloucestershire, in 2004

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty-Two – Christmas Cats

Christmas Cats

Christmas Cats by Pauline Flick
Published by Collins, London, in 1981

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty-One – Angelina’s Christmas

Angelina's Christmas

Angelina’s Christmas written by Katherine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig
Originally published by Aurum Press in 1985, this edition published by Puffin Books in 2001

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Twenty – The Nightmare Before Christmas

Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton
Published by Disney Press, New York, in 1993

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Twenty-Five Books of Christmas: Number Nineteen – Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas by Daphne du Maurier
First published in November 1942 by Todd Publishing Co, London – this edition published by Century, London, in 1984

[Of all the books I’ve chosen to put up here, this has to have the least inspiring cover of the lot of them!]

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