The Left Archive: “The United Irishman” from Sinn Féin, March 1969 March 31, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive.
Cast your mind back to March 1969. The Troubles had yet to manifest themselves. Sinn Féin was a single organisation, as was the IRA. Almost unbelievably [and I'd like confirmation of this] Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop in their work on PIRA suggest that the first Civil Rights Association branch in Belfast was organised that April]. And April was to see the first serious clashes there between CRA members and the RUC.
So, if not quite the calm before the storm, it was certainly only in the first stages of the storm. But, as Richard English has noted, in 1966 the IRA’s strength was about a thousand, and in that year a plan had been drawn up to restart a campaign in the North. Indeed English writes that ‘in Belfast the IRA had grown significantly between 1962 and 1969. All of this should caution against too simplistic assumption that the organisation was militarily dead in the 1960s… in part however such martial noises as the IRA made during the decade were required precisely because Goulding did indeed want his army to embark on a new departure into radical politics’.
In this context what then was the message coming from the Republican movement?
Well, a mixed one which clearly tilted towards civil activism but hasn’t forgotten the past, as evidenced by an article on the 1939 campaign. One can but applaud the series on the counties of Ireland (Gaillimh in this edition) and the sidebar on estates of more than 400 acres, or indeed the tips on ‘defence tactics for demonstrators’. Roy Johnstone has an article on the Irish Labour Party. We read a piece on the Independent Orange Order.
The editorial criticises Peoples Democracy (not least for its stance on partition) and interestingly argues that ‘confrontation in the Six Counties must not be pushed beyond its real use’. An indication of future directions perhaps in the following sentence ‘In its extreme form as in Newry it polarises religious attitudes, as each side springs to defend “its own”.
The design of this newspaper is good with a strong visual approach that would put some commercial publications of the time to shame.
I hope this will be the first of a regular posting (but trust me, not every week) of successive UI’s through 1969 and on through to 1972 which will be an interesting means of charting the changes that occurred as Republicanism ruptured and very different approaches established themselves in those crucial years.