Domhnall O'Cinneide pays tribute to the campaigning Irish journalist and long-time friend of the Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat, Breandan MacLua, who died earlier this month
THE IRISH POST, the weekly published in London for the Irish community in Britain under the editorship of Breandan MacLua was a bright, literate, lively, popular and honest paper during an era of blatantly mendacious journalism in Britain directed at Ireland and the Irish.
The election to parliament of the hunger striker Bobby Sands in 1981 induced even The Times of London to throw discretion to the winds and to attribute all killings arising from the troubles since 1969 to the IRA, to assert that all fatalities were Protestant, and to defend these false assertions before Britain's Press Council.
It suited the Irish establishment to acquiesce in repetition of these falsehoods by unionist politicians, British diplomats, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland and three Fleet Street newspapers, even after the Press Council had censured the Times for them.
The Irish Post, without sacrificing its celebration of the Irish community in Britain, presented fearless coverage of events in Ireland and their repercussions in Britain.
At the time travellers between Britain and Ireland were routinely stopped, searched and harassed under the so-called Prevention of Terrorism Act. British media whipped up anti-Irish hysteria. Anti-Irish insults, miscalled "jokes", were disinterred from the rubbish tips of history to make fortunes for dimwitted entertainers.
Under the pen-name Frank Dolan, Brendan MacLua wrote a column that pulled no punches, that for many, otherwise dependent on the British media, was a light shining in the darkness.
The Irish Post campaigned for the reopening of cases such as the Maguire Seven, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and other miscarriages of justice and was vindicated, even if, as in the case of Frank Johnson, it took more than twenty five years' false imprisonment before a conviction was quashed.
The letters pages were two of the liveliest, and most informative of any paper in the English language, and could be mined for many a PhD thesis. Social and political history current affairs, sport and entertainment all featured. And there were some good disputatious ding-dongs.
Many who had kept their heads down took heart and stood up to be counted. Children of Irish parents, and their British friends became politicised and saw no reason to replicate the caution of immigrants who might suffer merely for their accents.Some Irish politicians and cautious community leaders came in for criticism.
When Garret Fitzgerald first became taoiseach in 1982 his administration found that the Irish Post did not share the British media's admiration of it.
Bord Failte (Irish Tourist Board) staff in London were seconded from their state employment to run a new weekly, the Irish Observer, under an ex-editor of the Catholic Herald. MacLua had previously lampooned Bord Failte, comparing its competence to Fawlty Towers, the TV comedy hotel from hell.
Buying an Irish Press in that paper's Fleet Street Office a couple of weeks previously I heard a young woman customer forecasting that the Irish Observer would put the "dreadful" Irish Post out of business.(The daily Irish Press, with Tim Pat Coogan as editor, shared the sentiments of the Irish Post.)
I bought the first issue of the new paper, to judge its tone. I recalled the old story of the Dublin Castle official in the 1840s who,when asked the tone of The Young Irelanders' paper, The Nation, replied "Wolfe Tone."
There was little echo of Wolfe Tone in the Irish Observer, which led with an interview with the Irish Ambassador, half of which was devoted to the stag motif of his necktie, denoting that he was an Old Boy of O'Connell Schools. The other half recalled how gracious Mrs Thatcher had been to the Ambassador when together they had watched a Regiment of the Brigade of Guards Trooping the Colour in Horse Guards Parade.
Those in Britain who bought journals with "Irish" in the title were more likely to relish such Regiments Beating Retreat, taking Margaret Thatcher with them.
I cannot recall any more editions of the Irish Observer. I doubt it lasted six weeks. Its staff presumably returned to Bord Failte as if they had never left that state enterprise's employment.
The Irish Post is still going strong twenty seven years later, a monument to Breandan MacLua, a journalist of integrity and genius, and an Irishman who was true to his roots.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2009 Donal Kennedy