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.
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.
What 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?
Sprinkled 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