Blast from the Past: Archive coverage of the Playboy riots and the anti-jazz campaign

Examiner 180: The Irish Examiner marks 180 years in existence this month, and this new weekly series recalls some of the paper's coverage of the arts and culture sphere
Blast from the Past: Archive coverage of the Playboy riots and the anti-jazz campaign

A protest meeting against immoral literature at Grand Parade, Cork, in 1927. Picture: Irish Examiner Archive 

As can be seen from the pieces below, the cultural sphere has created plenty of controversy through the decades, not least as conservative forces clashed with the more progressive views expressed on stage or page.

In the first archive piece, we see the infamous reaction of an organised group from the Gaelic League to The Playboy of The Western World. Then the Cork Examiner, the paper was eight pages, with the front page made up entirely of advertisements. No photographs appeared in the paper until about 1911.

Impressively, though the disturbances at the Abbey took place on a Monday night, the reporter was still able to file their copy in time for Tuesday's paper.

In the second piece, we get a flavour of the Catholic Church-led campaign against foreign music in the 1930s, part of a moral scare that saw the organisation tighten its control on Irish society with the introduction of the Public Dancehalls Act, which has only come up for reform this year.

Scenes at a Dublin theatre: Players hissed 

Tuesday, January 29, 1907 (From our own correspondent, Dublin, Monday night) 

There were uproarious scenes tonight at the performances of Mr Synge's play The Playboy Of The Western World at the Abbey Theatre.

The play deals rather unfavourably with Irish character, the central figure being a rough customer who has nearly murdered his own father and who on account of this great feat is beloved by several women.

The first performance on Saturday evening passed off in comparative quiet, but after the unfavourable notices in the press a number of Gaelic Leaguers turned up tonight to express their feelings on it.

Shortly after its opening, hisses, groans and disorder broke out. It became impossible to hear the actors: there was stamping of feet and beating of sticks, and the din was terrific.

Mr Fay, who took the principal par, assayed to get a hearing. He was understood to say that he was a Mayo man himself and that no insult was intended to his county.

There was, however, a renewed outburst of hisses, groans, etc, and the police were called in. They entered amid loud groans and took up their positions in the pit. However, as no personal complaint would be lodged against any individual members of the audience by the theatre management, they simply remained spectators of the scene.

The performance was proceeded with amid all the disorder. The players very pluckily went through their parts, though it was dumb show for the audience. Shouts of 'Don't disgrace the name of Ireland', 'We have not got Lynchechaun back yet', etc mingled in the din, and 'God Save Ireland', 'Who Fearst to Speak' and 'The West Awake' were chorused.

At the end of each set, the players bowed their acknowledgments ironically, and the uproar was thereby increased. The performance was brought to a conclusion in this disorder.

Pernicious system: Jazz attacked: strong speech by a priest

November 14, 1934 

A strong attack on jazz music and dancing was made at a Gaelic League Convention at Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim, by Very Rev. P Conefrey, P.P., Cloone, who said that the people would have to rise against this pernicious system, which was against their traditions and faith. 

"If the people were worthy of their race and traditions," he declared, "they would blow up any hall where jazz dancing is practised."

Did Mr MacEntee [government minister, elsewhere accused of having a “soul buried in jazz”] and the others who supported jazz dancing, he asked, know what they were doing? The Convention adopted a number of resolutions aimed at increasing the use of Irish, including one calling for a gramophone concert of one hour each month in Irish in the national schools.

Very Rev P. Conefrey, P.P., Cloone, who came before the public very prominently last year in the agitation against jazz dancing and music, presided at a County Convention of the Gaelic League, held in Drumshambo last night.


He quoted from an article in the Irish Rosary, 1927, entitled: "Bobbing and Jazzing" by Herbert Moore Pim, which said that "jazz is a Central African word, meaning the acting in public of something of which St. Paul said, 'Let it not be so much as named among you.' 

"The dance and music was borrowed from Central Africa by a gang of wealthy international Bolshevists in America, their aim being to strike at Christian civilization throughout the world."

That, Father Conefrey continued, should be enough to show that anything they did in this movement was correct. Was it right that Irish Catholics should allow their Irish music and dance to be banished and driven out of the country by wealthy Bolshevists? Did all the priests know what jazz meant?


The people would have to rise against this pernicious system, which was against their traditions and faith. He knew the majority of priests knew this was wrong, and many would not speak out.

"There are others," he said, "who don't understand this; and their idea is to let the people have those dances when they want them. That was not the attitude of the True Shepherd. Everything should be done to prevent this jazz dancing. If the people were worthy of their race and traditions, they would blow up any hall where jazz dancing is practised.” 

Waltzes or barn dances, continued Fr. Conefrey. did not come under the head of jazz. The ideals they stood for could not be put in the pawnshop. They should find out if past pupils of convents and colleges and Government officials were organising these jazz dances. His idea was that there should be a National Reconstruction League formed, which would look after the language, music and dancing, their system of industries and arts. 

Nothing was being done for traditional Irisn dancing, and he wished they had the right kind of traditional Irish dancing in Dublin and all over the country. He urged the bringing together of all traditional Irish musicians in each area, so that proper ceilidhe bands could be formed. It was, then, their duty to see Irish music fostered.

Resolutions were adopted on the lines suggested.

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