Though Magill is no more today, the magazine was hugely important in its day and remains a very useful tool for those researching the Ireland of the past.
Founded by Vincent Browne in 1977, the magazine included frequent contributions from some of Ireland’s most relevant journalists, including Eamonn McCann and Gene Kerrigan. It also included the photography of Derek Spiers, who captured great images of social movements in the Dublin of the 1970s and 80s. The magazine frequently found itself making headlines in other publications. A 1982 edition, exposing criminal activity on the part of the Official IRA, caused serious headaches for Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party (SFWP), while the magazine also interviewed many controversial individuals, including Provisional IRA spokesmen and criminal elements.
Today, the archive of the magazine is online and free to browse, thanks to the people at politico.ie, and it’s something I want to highlight here. From 1977 to 2008, the collection covers very important moments in Irish political and social history, and it should be noted the publication was incredibly diverse; from the League of Ireland to youth subcultures in Dublin, there is much of merit here.
I have decided to pick out a few particular issues I think will interest CHTM readers here:
In April 1983, Magill interviewed the killers of Declan Flynn, an innocent gay man beaten to death in Fairview Park, a well-known cruising spot for the gay community in 1980s Dublin. Flynn was just one of a number of gay men attacked in the park by bigots in the early 1980s. When five men were put on trial for his death in March 1983, Justice Sean Gannon disgracefully told the court that the actions of the men “could never be regarded as murder.” Maggie O’Kane’s interview with some of Flynn’s killers makes for harrowing reading:
They began to beat and kick him. When they had finished Declan Flynn lay on the path choking on his own blood.Tony Maher knew he was dying, he opened his shirt button,his hands were trembling, he felt all panicky. Robert Armstrong went to get the ambulance, the others just stood there and looked. They turned him on his side and then they legged it.
Earlier this year, with the passing of the marriage equality referendum, flowers and ‘Yes Equality’ badges were left at the bench where Declan Flynn sat before he was brutally murdered.
The Dunne family were a scourge on working class Dublin, directly responsible for the importation of large quantities of drugs that would tear communities apart. Mary Raftery’s piece on the family highlighted the manner in which they were personally profiting from the lucrative heroin trade that was reeking havoc on inner-city Dublin in the early 1980s. Raftery’s piece shocked the public, by shining a spotlight on the rise of a criminal empire that the state was slow to confront:
Down through the years every housing estate had its share of criminal families. They were known to be involved in various kinds of crimes, break-ins and shoplifting and the like. The Dunnes were in that tradition, distinguished only by their success and by their progress to bigger crimes. By the 1980s they had become an anachronism – very visible, their connections obvious.Crime had become a more professional pursuit, with specialist individuals coming together for criminal projects.
As public consciousness of professional crime increased and the issue became one of embarrassment for politicians and police alike the Dunnes became an obvious target.This was why, in the early summer of 1982, Charles Haughey and Sean Doherty had a meeting with Patrick McLaughlin and Joseph Ainsworth, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Gardaí. Haughey told them bluntly that he wanted something done about the Dunnes,that they were walking the streets freely. He told them he wanted the Dunnes in prison within twelve months.
Like the Dunne family, Ma Baker was responsible for pushing misery onto working class communities. Magill noted that “day by day the heroin bushfire moves Southwest across Dublin, with one community suffering as another chases the pushers out.” Colm Toibin, Mary Raftery and Maggie O’Kane penned a fascinating report on the drugs crisis gripping Crumlin at the time:
Ma Baker and her sons are among the largest pushers in the Crumlin area of Dublin. They have between 150 and 200 regular clients and operate all over Crumlin, but usually not outside it. Five of her distributors are members of her own family. A further six are small boys.The boys are all local and she does not use kids who take heroin. She also changes them regularly. Her nephew, who is currently charged with possession of heroin with intent to supply, also distributes for her.
One of her sons is serving an eighteen months sentence in Mountjoy. Two of her other sons are facing drug-related charges.Baker is not her real name, but she is widely known by other pushers and by addicts as Ma Baker, a corruption of Ma Barker, the name of the machine gun-wielding head of an infamous criminal family in the US in the Thirties.
In 1986, Magill turned its focus to some of the reactionary Catholic forces who were preparing to do battle in the divorce referendum. Emily O’Reilly and Gene Kerrigan combined to produce an eye-opening report on the shadowy bodies preparing to fight any attempt to introduce divorce into Irish society:
The campaign against divorce will be run by a group of Catholic professionals, shadowy but well-organised, linked in varying degrees to Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbanus. Seasoned by their victory in the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign, they have no difficulty in raising finance and no shortage of powerful connections. Even the bulk of Family Solidarity members are unaware of their existence.
In April 1982, a Magill article entitled ‘In the Shadow of a Gunman’ raised awkward questions around the Official IRA, noting that “SFWP aspirations towards socialist respectability are undermined by the continued military operations of the Official IRA.” The magazine listed a number of murders and criminal activities which it claimed the OIRA were directly responsible for, and the magazine would also examine “the trade union and media infiltration by SFWP.”