Not sooner had the Irish Free State been established in 1922 than the new nation set about censoring what its citizens could read and watch. The 1926 Committee on Evil Literature was appointed to report on forbidden publications, and in 1929 the Censorship of Publications Board was established, and set to work in banning almost anything that could be seen as salacious or subversive. It continued its work with little let up until 1998, when it seemed to grind almost – but not quite – to a halt.
The Board could only act is it received a complaint against a publication, but complaints, it seems, were never hard to come by. There were two reasons why a book could be banned: if it was considered indecent or obscene, it would be banned for twelve years from the date that it was placed on the Iris Oifigiúil – the register of forbidden books. After that, the book would have to be reassessed. All the books banned up to 1998 are now legally available again, but over the years the illegal books have ranged from Catcher in the Rye and Brave New World to more salacious titles like Velvet Tonged Suzi and A Moist Urge.
However, if a book also seems to “advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement”, then the twelve-year limit would not be considered – a book placed in this category would be banned indefinitely, until such time as the Board revoked the ban. Remarkably, eight books in this category are still illegal to sell in Ireland. There include Graham Masterton’s How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed (which presumably doesn’t suggest that discussion of abortion techniques is an aphrodisiac) and other sex education books. Almost all the books in this section of the banned list were published in the 1980s, suggesting that someone was being especially proactive in complaining about access to such forbidden information during that decade.
The register of banned magazines and periodicals is much more extensive, and also has no cut-off date. If a magazine was banned – and virtually every nudie, soft and hard porn and true detective magazine from the 1950s inwards seems to be on the list – then it remains technically illegal in Ireland.
The reasons for most bans seem to be sexual, though it didn’t just have to be photos of naked girls that upset the Board – the text, if seen as remotely salacious, could be just as inflammatory. That’s why men’s magazines like All Man and Man’s Life, and detective publications such as All True Fact Crime Cases and Famous Police Cases were added to the register when those magazines were at their peak.
Almost all the big name British and American girlie magazines are on the list – Men Only, Gallery, Rustler, Hustler, Fiesta, Whitehouse (though, oddly, not Playbirds) – as well as film magazines like Continental and Movie Stars Parade, nudist titles such as Health and Efficiency and scandal mags like The National Enquirer and Confidential. Romance magazines also fell foul of the moralists. As late as 1997, bland British softcore mag Big Ones was deemed beyond the pale, and the last magazine to be added to the register was Fox in 2003.
It is possible to appeal – Razzle is now no longer illegal in Ireland after the distributor challenged the ban, you’ll be relieved to hear, and Playboy was unbanned in 1996 – and how strictly the ban is currently enforced is hard to say, but the fact remains that if you want to buy, say, The Daily Sport or Mayfair in Ireland, you’ll be theoretically running the gauntlet of the law. Even The News of the World, prior to being shamed into cancellation, was outlawed. Some 266 magazines are still technically illegal to sell.
And the Censorship Board is not quite a thing of the past. In 2016, it issued the first ban in 18 years, when it outlawed Jean Martin’s novel The Raped Little Runaway.
You can read the entire list, up to 2010, by clicking the link below.