By Oliver O’Hanlon, PhD Student Department of French and School of History, University College Cork.

You never know what you might come across while researching in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Ireland. I have already written an Irishman’s Diary in the Irish Times (14 October 2013) about how I found a lock of hair in one particular collection. It was while examining the Art Ó Bríain (O’Brien) Papers (MSS 2141, 2154-2157, 5105, 8417-8461) that I stumbled upon this unexpected piece of personal history.

Lock of Mrs MacSwiney’s hair (MS 8447/11)


The envelope which contained the lock of hair was marked Mrs MacSwiney (MS 8447/11), and it was of course a memento of Muriel MacSwiney, the wife of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney. Appointed as a representative of the First Dáil in England in early January 1919, Art Ó Bríain played a key role in publicising MacSwiney’s hunger strike in England and around the world, which culminated in MacSwiney’s death in Brixton Prison on 25 October 1920. The collection list of the Art Ó Bríain Papers, available from the NLI Main Catalogue at, was compiled by Owen McGee in 2009 and it provides researchers with a very detailed description of what is contained in the collection.

The vast majority of the material, which comprises sixty-three boxes and six volumes of material, is paper based. This includes memoranda, letters, telegrams, postcards, photographs, reports and complete copies of newspapers, as well as newspaper cuttings. There is also a small amount of unusual or unexpected items, such as the lock of hair.

Even though he was born in London, Art Ó Bríain played an important role in Irish political and cultural affairs in Ireland and among the Diaspora in England during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. His entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography lists the many Irish themed organisations of which he was a member. At various times, Ó Bríain belonged to the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. For a good number of years, he was president of Sinn Féin in England and Wales. He was also chairman of the Dáil London Loan Committee, as well as being a founding member of The Irish Self-Determination League in Great Britain.

Postcards sent to Art Ó Bríain following Terence MacSwiney’s death (MS 8447/11)


My interest in the Ó Bríain Papers developed from an attempt to assess the propaganda role played by Ó Bríain in London in the early 1920s. During the Irish War of Independence, Ó Bríain spearheaded the push for positive Irish publicity in England and further afield. As the Dáil’s London representative, he was in touch with a large number of domestic newspaper journalists and editors. He was also in frequent communication with members of the foreign press corps who were stationed in London. This group included journalists representing newspapers in many different countries in North and South America, Europe and Australia. Ó Bríain made it his business to meet these journalists to convince them that what was being said and written by the authorities in London and Dublin Castle about events in Ireland was often exaggerated or, in many cases, just wrong.

In this role, Ó Bríain often acted as a middle man, passing information and publicity material from Dáil ministers and departments directly to journalists, to other Dáil representatives based in Europe and to interested parties all around the world. We can see from the Art Ó Bríain Papers that both during and after the Terence MacSwiney hunger strike, Ó Bríain was one of the main sources of information to the outside world as to how the hunger strike was developing. As well as issuing correspondence on the worsening health condition of the Lord Mayor, Ó Bríain also received a good deal of correspondence from members of the public in England and in other countries. This included hand written letters, Mass cards, prayers and poems. Some of the messages were in sympathy for the Lord Mayor and his family and some were hostile and called into question why it was necessary to go through this ordeal and how his family could condone it. McSwiney’s hunger strike and death prompted an outpouring of emotion, which can be sensed in the various personal responses that are gathered in this collection. It is very interesting to find this deeply personal material among what is predominantly a political collection.

novena Item sent to Art Ó Bríain following Terence MacSwiney’s death (MS 8447/11)


Before he died in 1949, Ó Bríain sketched out some useful information for his biography (MS 8461/31), but unfortunately, neither he nor his sister ever managed to finish the project. Judging by the material that I have viewed in the Art Ó Bríain Papers, I can only say that it is a shame that his story has never been fully told.


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By Ray Burke, Chief News Editor RTÉ News

A first-hand account by James Joyce of his unsuccessful attempts to avoid publicity when he married Nora Barnacle in London in 1931 is among the most recent additions to the National Library’s digital collections.

Two previously-unpublished letters from Joyce to his son Giorgio in the days before and after the wedding are among more than 160 items digitized for online viewing by the National Library this summer on behalf of the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich. See for complete access.

Drawing of James Joyce by Wyndham Lewis, 1920. NLI Ref: PD JOYC-JA (1) II Drawing of James Joyce by Wyndham Lewis, 1920. NLI Ref: PD JOYC-JA (1) II


The handwritten letters contain a detailed account of  Joyce’s alarm and distress when the English newspapers discovered that he was about to marry Nora Barnacle in a civil ceremony in London after they had been living together as husband and wife for nearly 27 years in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.

Joyce had tried to keep the wedding secret by delaying his application for a marriage licence until two days before the civil ceremony and by using his full name – James Augustine Aloysius Joyce – and omitting his birthplace and his profession from the application.  But a Press Association reporter confirmed the prospective groom’s identity and journalists laid siege to Joyce at his home and at the Kensington Register Office over the following days.

“All day the bell went and the telephone.  Even at midnight when we came back from supper there was a reporter posted on the steps,” Joyce told Giorgio five days after the wedding, adding that anyone who thought the ceremony was a publicity stunt “must be a complete imbecile”.

The four-page, closely-written letter goes on to outline the persistent demands of the “Press Association man” for a statement, as well as the scene outside the Kensington Register Office on the wedding day when the street was full of newspapermen.  It also recounts a “pure blackmail” attempt by a Sunday Express reporter who tricked his way into Joyce’s home later that day.

The Press Association man had approached Joyce near his home – in exclusive Campden Grove, just off Kensington Church Street – within hours of the advance wedding notice being posted at the Register Office.  Joyce told Giorgio that he tried to buy time by continuing to chew a marzipan cake or sweet that he was eating, but the reporter “went on to say he had been sent to me for a statement as to why, if I married N. B. in 1904, I was etc etc”.

Joyce brought the PA reporter into his home while he tried to get advice by telephone from his solicitor and from his friend Robert Lynd, the Belfast-born literary editor of the News Chronicle.  The PA man persisted in seeking a statement and he only went away when Joyce promised that his solicitor would supply one before 9pm.

Postcard from James Joyce, Ventimiglia, Italy to Giorgio and Helen Joyce, 01.04.1934. NLI Ref: JBZJJF/L/2/09 Postcard from James Joyce, Ventimiglia, Italy to Giorgio and Helen Joyce, 01.04.1934. NLI Ref: JBZJJF/L/2/09


The solicitor, Fred Munro, advised Joyce to “make a clean breast of it”, the author told Giorgio.  He added that Munro also wanted to say in the statement that Joyce and Nora were going through the civil ceremony in English law “for domestic reasons”, but that he had insisted instead on using the words “testamentary reasons”.  Joyce told Giorgio that the “testamentary reasons” explanation was true because he would have to make a new will.  But he added:  “The story that we are to stand by is that there was a marriage in 1904 in Austria invalid for some reason”.  He said he would “invent” a reason, possibly “that Nora’s name was given falsely”, lest her parents should now make inquiries through the British Consulate in Austria.

The agreed statement, dictated personally to the Press Association by Munro, did not convince the Fleet Street newspapers.  On the morning of the wedding they included the statement in their reports, but they also pointed out that Joyce’s Who’s Who entry stated that “he was married in 1904 to Miss Nora Barnacle, of Galway”.

The encounter with the Sunday Express reporter who tricked his way into the Joyce home on the afternoon of the wedding by pretending to be a friend of a friend is also described in the letter.  Joyce said the reporter told him that he had inspected the marriage register and he wanted Joyce to comment on why it described Nora as a “spinster”.    Joyce said he got rid of him by referring him to his solicitor, but that “in ten minutes he was back” with a message from his editor.

“It was pure blackmail”, Joyce told Giorgio.  “They offered me half of the middle page if I would write an article for the next day on Modern Marriage and Free Love and he gave me to understand that if I did I would be well paid and if I did not the paper would hold itself free to deal with my ‘double marriage’ as it pleased”.

Joyce told Giorgio that he dismissed the reporter’s persistent begging for a statement and he went on:  “I told him to inform his editor that I did not write for the Press and did not read it either, but that my solicitor would read with the proper attention anything they might publish.  The Express came out next day without one word. (Keep all this to yourself)”.

Announcement of publication of Ulysses, 1921. Announcement of publication of Ulysses, 1921.


The dismay in the post-wedding letter to Giorgio is in stark contrast to the jocose tone of his letter written two days before the event.  “My Dear Children”, he wrote to Giorgio and his wife Helen, “…the marriage has been arranged for Saturday July 4 (my father’s birthday and the birthday of my brother George to say nothing of American independence) at the hour of 11.15am Greenwich time”.

He added:  “To throw people off the scent the bride will wear her lifeguard uniform while the groom will be in green satin with a white veil and an orange umbrella”.  And he advised:  “Try to look as natural as possible so that people meeting you may not perceive that you have been turned into honest citizens all of a sudden”.  Before signing off with the usual signature he used when writing to his children, “Babbo”, he also wrote:  “Say your prayers…and don’t eat with the knife”.

Joyce usually wrote to his children in Italian, but his letters to Giorgio and his American wife, Helen, are written in English.  His handwriting is poor and some words are indecipherable.  His eyesight was deteriorating badly by the time of his London wedding, when he was aged 49 and Nora was 47.

This new National Library digital collection is owned by the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, to which it was bequeathed by Giorgio’s step son, Professor Hans Jahnke, who died in 2010.  Professor Jahnke inherited the material from his late mother Asta, who was Giorgio’s second wife and heir, and it was his expressed wish that scholars have access to it and that it not be scattered or sold.

Aside from the wedding letters, the collection contains several other personal letters and postcards from Joyce to Giorgio and Helen and to Joyce’s only grandson, Stephen, as well as to the Joyce family in general.  It also includes copies of Work in Progress, Ecce Puer and other poems and a broadsheet of The Holy Office.  The material cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation – See

Postcard from James Joyce, Hotel Casino de Deauville, Deauville to the Joyce family,  08.08.1936. NLI Ref: JBZJJF/L/5/01 Postcard from James Joyce, Hotel Casino de Deauville, Deauville to the Joyce family,
08.08.1936. NLI Ref: JBZJJF/L/5/01


By Ian Kenneally, Historian, Author and Broadcaster. He is currently a PhD student at the History Department, NUI Galway.

The Irish Bulletin began publication on 11 November 1919 and ended publication in December 1921. During that period it was published as a daily newspaper. It was funded by Dáil Éireann; specifically the Department of Propaganda (renamed the Department of Publicity around February 1921). It was edited by Desmond Fitzgerald and, from February 1921, Erskine Childers. Frank Gallagher and, to a lesser degree, Robert Brennan provided much of the content for each edition. Another important figure was Kathleen McKenna who worked on the production and printing of the paper throughout its existence. Its initial print run was thirty copies, sent to newspapers in Britain and Europe. By May 1921 this figure had increased to 650 copies sent to newspapers and politicians around the world. By the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 this circulation had increased to around 900 copies.

Irish-Bulletin_002-(2) Irish Bulletin, 11 March 1920 – Headline: ‘Starving Irishmen into Emigration’


The paper was a publicity newspaper, whose goal was to place news of Dáil Éireann’s activities and those of the Irish Republican Army in prominent foreign newspapers. By so doing, the Dáil hoped to make foreign journalists and public figures aware of events in Ireland. The Irish Bulletin also highlighted the actions of the Crown forces in Ireland, specifically reprisals conducted by various sections of the police and the British army. In its early days the Irish Bulletin’s contents were mostly confined to lists of raids and arrests. It was gradually expanded so that, from early 1920, the paper compiled more detailed and dramatic accounts of incidents believing that such reports would provoke more interest among journalists.

Desmond Fitzgerald by Shemus (Ernest Forbes), 1923 Desmond Fitzgerald, 1st editor of the Irish Bulletin by Shemus (Ernest Forbes), 1923


Fitzgerald, Gallagher and Childers believed that it was vital to use the limited funds available to the Bulletin to target persons in positions of influence, especially in Britain. This strategy achieved much success in the months after the ‘Sack of Balbriggan’ in September 1920. The paper was quoted in many English newspapers and its reports were cited in the House of Commons by Members of Parliament hostile to British government policy in Ireland. By using the Bulletin as a source these journalists and public figures enhanced the influence and reach of the paper far beyond its limited circulation.

The paper’s history is examined by Kenneally, Ian, ‘a tainted source? – The Irish Bulletin 1919-1921’ in Larkin, Felix and O’Brien, Mark (Eds), Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland, (Four Courts Press, 2014). Other publications to analyse the paper include Kenneally, Ian, The Paper Wall: newspapers and propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921 (The Collins Press, 2008) and Inoue, Keiko, ‘Propaganda II: propaganda of Dáil Éireann, 1919-1921’ in Augusteijn, Joost, The Irish Revolution, 1913-1923, (Palgrave, 2002). Kathleen McKenna wrote an important memoir of her time on the paper in ‘The Irish Bulletin’, Capuchin Annual, 1970. The Aubane Historical Society has published the first of a proposed multi-volume reprinting of each edition of the paper: Lane, Jack (Ed), Irish Bulletin: Volume One (Aubane Historical Society, 2012). Biographies of Fitzgerald, Childers, Gallagher, McKenna and Brennan can be found in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

The Irish Bulletin can be consulted on microfilm in the main reading room of the National Library.

Irish Bulletin, 11 Nov. 1920 - Headline: 'Lecture on Technical Education Supressed' Irish Bulletin, 11 Nov. 1920 – Headline: ‘Lecture on Technical Education Supressed’


[This is the latest in a series of blogs connected to a joint project (Newspaper Descriptors Project) by the National Library of Ireland and the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland (NPHFI). The project aims to provide short descriptors or pen notes for the newspaper titles listed in our Newspaper Database here at the National Library. The descriptors include such information as publication dates, proprietors and funding, editors and significant journalists, circulation figures (if known), comment on the newspaper’s political affiliation, and mention any histories written on the various titles - Justin Furlong, NLI Newspaper Librarian]