The Catholic Bulletin was first published in 1911 as The Catholic Book Bulletin, a monthly review of Catholic literature and soon established itself as a family magazine with popular appeal and an estimated circulation of 10,00-15,000. While not overtly political in the beginning, the Bulletin was opposed to the English popular press and displayed Irish Nationalist sympathies. By late 1914 the editorial direction had taken a more political turn, publishing articles that were openly critical of the Home Rule Bill and continuing with criticism of the Irish Parliamentary Party and regular political commentary from 1915. Since the introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, press censorship laws had been in effect in Ireland. As a consequence of this, the first issue of the Catholic Bulletin published after the rebellion (a double issue for May-June) contained blank pages where the editorial section and ‘Matters of the Moment’ would normally have appeared. This immediately presents the Bulletin as sympathetic to the cause of the rebels.
By the end of May 1916, an Irish Press Censor was appointed and even stricter controls were enforced so as to supress the publication of any political commentary in support of the rebellion. In its July issue the Bulletin published ‘Events of Easter Week’, the first in a series of articles which commented on the “Catholic and social aspects of the lives and last moments of those who died either in action or as a result of trial by court-martial”. Censorship was circumvented by using an obituarial format with photographs to praise the lives of the rebels without explicit political discussion. The Press Censor, Lord Decies, was aware that these articles were designed to evoke sympathy for the rebels but acknowledged that “since it purports to be written with a religious motive it is most difficult to censor.” By the end of 1916, the lives of over 70 men had been celebrated in the pages of the Catholic Bulletin.
The Bulletin did not restrict its account of the ‘Events of Easter Week’ to the fallen Volunteers. The December 1916 issue featured photographs of their widows and children with the aim of increasing public interest in their welfare, while the February 1917 issue published biographical accounts of the women connected with the Rising including Countess Markievicz, noted as a convert to Catholicity. The ‘Events of Easter Week’ series continued until March 1919 during which time accounts of the military actions were also published. In presenting the respectable life stories of those involved, the Catholic Bulletin played a major role in reconciling the Irish public with the events and people connected with the Easter Rising.
Issues of the Catholic Bulletin may be consulted in the Early Printed Books reading room. For further reading see The Catholic Bulletin and republican Ireland, 1898-1926 : with special reference to J. J. O’Kelly (‘Sceilg’) by Dr. Brian P. Murphy.
Assistant Librarian in Digital and Electronic Collections, Maynooth University