The Limerick Vigilance Committee was especially active from 1911 to 1914. They first came to notice in 1911 when they succeeded in confiscating a consignment of English newspapers at the train station, which they burned in public. For this act they garnered the National headlines and were looked upon as the vanguard of the movement by other Vigilance Committees. They held their largest rally in Limerick city on the 29th November 1913.
This large meeting was attended by nearly 5,000 citizens of Limerick who protested against “the sale of evil literature in the city.” The meeting was organised by the Limerick Vigilance Committee and was held at the O’Connell Statue. Several city bands were also present and the Limerick Chronicle made note of those who were present on the platform addressing the crowd, the lists includes politicians, public servants, professionals, the clergy and business men.
According to John Horgan (see article), the Limerick Vigilance Committee managed to get 26 of the 28 newsagents in the City to sign an agreement that they would not stock “objectionable material”. They now wanted to prevent the possibility of such material from being sold completely by banning its importation and/or publication.
But what was this “evil literature”? Far from being pornographic or explicit literature, it actually referred to that which was deemed to be “bad” – The various speakers on the platform revealed what they believed to be “impure” or “demoralising”. Father O’Connor referred to books which were “reeking with details of divorce cases & murders of every description…while the bad novel disclosed the privacy of the home, and tried to pollute it.” Mr. Comyn ranted that “Impure literature had destroyed France, was on the way towards destroying England, but it would not destroy Ireland!” He also referred to literature “of a Socialistic tendency” which “purported to be in favour of the workingman.” The Mayor of Limerick said “I believe that impure literature is poisoning the minds of our young people of every class of society”. The meeting finished with a resolution proposed by Michael Joyce MP for Limerick City. It was carried unanimously. It read..
While this was 1913, it was not until after gaining independence that this proposed resolution became law in Ireland. I leave the final word to Fr. Devane, who was a leading figure in this censorship movement, he justified the newspaper burning in Limerick as follows..
“There are only two alternatives in stamping out an evil: law or terrorism, and we had to fall back on terrorism.”
- ‘Saving Us from Ourselves: contraception, censorship and the ‘evil literature’ controversy of 1926′ by John Horgan (Irish Communications Review, Vol. 5, 1995)
- Committee on Evil Literature
- Censorship of Publications Act, 1929