Liverpool-Irish Trauma During 1939 IRA Bombing Campaign A Dark Portent For West’s Muslims

Ed Moloney thinks the Irish experience in Liverpool might be a portent of things to come for Muslims. Ed Moloney blogs @ The Broken Elbow.

As the post-Paris conversation gets uglier, and anti-Muslim acrimony flourishes, in France itself, in Britain and especially here in the U.S., my mind went back to the anti-Irish hysteria that swept England during the early and mid-1970’s, prompted by an IRA bombing and shooting campaign that for its time, and in its sometimes indiscriminate targeting (no warning pub bombs for instance), was arguably the equivalent of today’s ISIS violence.

So I began a search on the internet for material from that period and to my surprise I could find none, or at least only passing references (perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised as the peace process has made the sensitive areas of British Hibernophobia and Irish Anglophobia off limits).

What I did find however was a fascinating and sharply written article about the unhappy experience of the Liverpool Irish during the IRA’s short-lived but very violent English bombing campaign of 1939, in the months preceding the start of the Second World War.

The work of Liverpool-based academic, Dr Bryce Evans, whose website can be accessed here, ‘Fear and Loathing in Liverpool….’ firstly sheds new light on the extent of the campaign, at least for me. For example, there was an IRA bombing incident in England ‘almost every other day’, according to Dr Evans, during the first nine months of 1939. Although short-lived, the IRA’s England Campaign was clearly a more forceful affair than is usually depicted.

But his work is really important because it chronicles the nightmare visited upon the city’s Irish population as fear and outrage spread in a city already infamous for its sectarian divisions.

In circumstances that Donald Trump might find pleasingly familiar, the Liverpool Irish became targets not just because of their suspected sympathy for the IRA, but because Irish immigrants were ready to work for lower wages than the natives who consequently were losing jobs.

A huge public meeting was held shortly after the first IRA bombings in the city in mid-January, 1939 and angry citizens demanded that an Irish bureau be set up “to monitor the city’s Irish immigrants and expel trouble-makers”.

To a chorus of cheers, a local councillor complained that if the flow of Irish migrants to the city continued, Liverpool would have to be renamed Dublin.

A month later as anti-Irish frenzy spread – encouraged by some racially salacious reporting by the local media – the newly formed Liverpool Irish Immigration Bureau began overseeing the forced expulsion of undesirables back to Dublin. Evans writes of poignant scenes at Liverpool docks as tearful relatives saw off expelled family members.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act notwithstanding, the IRA’s campaign of the 1970’s never produced an excess to match this.

Two potent forces, fear of, and anger at IRA violence combined with resentment at job losses blamed on Irish immigration to make life increasingly uncomfortable for Liverpool’s Irish population during 1939 and some in that community adjusted accordingly.

By the time a 19-year old Brendan Behan was arrested in Liverpool, on the day he arrived in the city, in December 1939 at the fag end of the IRA campaign, he was, Evans writes, jeered by a hostile crowd who shouted: ‘String the bastard up’.

Behan, who went to Liverpool on an unauthorised bombing mission and subsequently served time for IRA activity in Ireland, later wrote of the experience: “….some of them were Liverpool-Irish, trying to prove their solidarity with the loyal stock.”

Another IRA activist wrote of a change in the Irish mood as 1939 wore on: the Liverpool Irish, “… met him and his comrades with fear and sometimes outright hostility.

All this, and possibly much worse, is what faces Europe’s and America’s Muslim people.


  1. No to this, and your yellow crescent BS. Did this author ever release articles comparing the Unionist community to the Jews of the Holocaust because of reactions to their murder gangs? It would of been wrong then too btw. The Irish experience in comparison to Muslims was something that deeply troubled me too a while back. But its only relevant if you think the comparison of IRA to ISIS in their respective communities are the same, and they are not. Muslims cannot disavow ISIS actions, given they are the from their Prophet. You dont need me to list all factions in Ireland to know no groups have universal support as a matter of doctrine.

  2. DaithiD,

    there is no justification for hounding the Muslims because of the fact that they are Muslims. Somebody will come along in your wake and argue that it all goes back to the god idea and if we could only eradicate that we will have no Islamic problem. Then we treat all the believers as the Irish were treated in Liverpool. Where would that leave us?

    People need to be protected from the arbitrary powers of the state. While ISIS is deeply rooted in Islam it hardly follows that all Muslims or the bulk of them feel the same way. Religious types are the most inconsistent you are likely to meet when it comes to adhering to the doctrines. Why would Muslims be any different?

  3. AM, I dont really care whether some people say they dont feel the same as ISIS but still call themselves Muslim. Who follows their texts closest decides who is Muslim. That unambiguously entails deprivation of every liberty we in the West take for granted. I have no solution for it, i certainly dont advocate hounding anyone, at the very least its counterproductive in exposing Islams designs for us. The comparison to the Irish experience, which hadnt changed much by the seventies/eighties when my parents moved for work here is only superficially the same. This enemies enemy is my freind shit is how we jump into bed with Nazis.

  4. That is much too like the argument used to suppress free inquiry in respect of the conflict in Ireland. People were often criticised for being IRA supporters because they supported a united Ireland. This was not to discourage the IRA but to strip of authenticity support for a united Ireland.

    Whether you care or not is simply that - you don't care. Plenty didn't care either about the Irish who were discriminated against because they were Irish, not because they were IRA supporters. The distinction was something they did not care about.

    Religion if given state power will always strip away our freedoms: religion has to be practiced on others. The horrible practice of withholding condoms from African Aid projects on religious grounds caused more deaths than the fascists caused in Paris. Yet we cannot justifiably go around targeting all the Catholics because of the threat their religion poses. If we look at the alliances built between the Vatican and the Islamic powers in the UN to thwart human progress, then it will not be too long before we will find cause to target not only the Muslims but their religious allies, the Catholics.

    If distinctions are not made, strategy cannot be devised, alliances cannot be built, you simply reinforce a mass against you. And of course somebody will argue that it then be nuked.

    If you can demonstrate that the Muslims are being treated differently from how the Irish were treated, I am sure we would listen to your argument.

    My own view is that we need a wholly secularised society, not just freedom from Islam but all religion.

    At the same time we can't pretend that Islam does not pose a particular challenge.

  5. You think there is a equivalence between condoms and slaughter by gun? Like low wage and slavery comparisons : I suggest you learn the difference on your own hide!
    Its getting a bit abstract, but being Irish was never a political positions,and being Irish said nothing about ones political leanings. Its not the same thing with Muslims, who believe all the same things ISIS (if they follow their texts faithfully).I dont get all the state references, they have already decided on this and its a pro-Islam position.Islamic learning centers get council funding,the people who have their liberties restricted in Britain today are those that speak out against it.Shariah roadshows go on uninhibited.


  6. "I always thought as myself as a defender of human rights and human dignity, beyond left- or right-wing categories. Now suddenly I was painted as a right-wing firebrand." quote from Teun Voeten article at

    This I feel is the position that many of us have now arrived at should we now express concern for our own believes and freedom of conscience. Eurpeans have agreed values and standards which allows some felxibility from Contracting State to Contracting State. If we set aside the violent extremist side of Islam we are still left with a very extremist religion that tests or undermines our standards of compassiona and human rights.

    Daithi does make a pertinent point -muslims do not condemn ISIS and other jihadis because the prophet did these same acts. A senior French Islamic cleric has been strongly critical of ISIS and has called for them to be bombed. But this does not mean that he is a 'moderate' muslim he is motivated by ISIS killing of other muslims. One of the difficulties the US and Brits had about arming muslim rebel groups is where will they aim their weapons after the syrian war? So if ISIS were iradicated would this cleric replace them with his irrational dogma? I don't think so.

    We can beat up on all religions but should prioritize those that still practice the severing of limbs fro theft or stoning for adultry, death sentences for blogging on the internet, for blasphemy, sexual orientation or apostacy.

    We should heed calls for calm heads and not resort to injustice, blind prejudice or hatred. We must find a balance between upholding our values and dealing with the jihadi next door

  7. In terms of individual evil I always think the hands on approach of guns is easier to see. In terms of systemic evil, we need only go back a bit further.

    I think they are different forms of evil inflicted on the vulnerable for religious reasons with the outcome known in advance by the perpetrators. I think the deliberate deprivation of life enhancing/saving properties such as food, medicine, contagion preventatives, leaves little on which to base a claim to be morally superior over somebody who deprives life through guns.

    The juxtaposition of the slavery/low wages and the organization of death through application/deprivation binaries (even though rampant greed produces both)is not as useful as the analogy between death by siege at Leningrad or death by bombardment at the same city. That has more in common than your condoms/guns binary.

    Steven Weinberg made the great point: Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. The evils of deprivation is every bit as great as that of application.

    But we cannot plausibly claim that it is therefore right to treat all Catholics as the same on the false supposition that they all share the evil of the Vatican. It seems facile to claim all Muslims believe the same as ISIS. It appears to be a matter of record that they do not. Trying to herd them into some straightjacket to suit our own preferences and prejudices reveals more about us than it does about them.

    Being Muslim is not a political position. It is at root a religious opinion just as you have a religious opinion or Jews have a religious opinion, despite the efforts of those who want to lump them all together for the purposes of demonising them all the more easier. Muslims have the same span of opinions that the other religions have. The problem lies with the creed but that is the same with all religions. Joe Smith, a criminal, made up a religion in front of fools and they convinced themselves he was genuine. He laid down the teachings and the scripture as "revealed" and his tenets on polygamy are part of the creed. But the bulk of Mormons don't practice the creed and claim to be opposed to polygamy. Same with Islam.

    Why not say superstition is the problem and persecute all who believe? At least you would be consistent.

  8. Daniel Goldhagen, by the way, tried the same line of reasoning on the Germans, arguing in Germany's Willing Executioners that it was the Germans in general who were behind the eliminationist culture which produced the genocide. A fascination read but not one that withstood the scrutiny of its critics.

  9. AM

    Muslims I have spoken to (Russian, Caucasus, Lebonese and Algerian)have all said the same thing "A brother muslim cannot condemn another brother muslim." I think that only applies in so far as it is non-muslims that are being killed. Islam is a religion that strives to perversly control every spiritual and bodily function of its believers and to enforce the same upon non-believers, or worse.

    The problem is not ISIS but Islam and its contradictions and perverse teachings. The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland only expresses good will toward the followers of Islam in the following terms on its about webpage:
    "Praise be to Allah with Whom blessings all good deeds are performed. Peace and blessings be upon Allah’s Prophet, his kin, companions and whoever follows his path and rushes for good deeds."

    Elsewhere they condemn the Paris attacks and list as united against the attacks a number of Islamic organisations around Ireland. I find it hard not to see these sort of things as very self serving because they are in minority. They may be genuine but as I show above their inclination of "peace and blessings" are only reserved for fellow muslims and not all mankind.

  10. Diplockcourt,

    all religions discriminate in favour of themselves, their followers and their god. That is their way. ISIS rooted in Islam seems to be the primary problem. And it is not merely a question of Western involvement - this type of perspective predates wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has come and gone throughout the ages. ISIS in my view has its origins more in the fascistic thought of Qutb and the particular interpretation he gave to the Koran (and he wrote at length on it), than in Western foreign policy. If I am right he primarily hated secularism not imperialism.

    I don't feel the religious opinion of Islam binds Muslims together in some exclusivist manner. I think the perception of Muslims under attack is more likely to do that. Frankie has more experience of them than I have and they seem no more averse to the pleasures and decadence of living than the rest of us. Observing them in Birmingham it struck me that only for the different skin complexion, they liked their nights out much as we did. The bollix with a beard stood out as something apart.

    There is enough to suggest the creed is horrific regardless of what those who tell us it is a religion of peace spout on about. A more important question is how the creed is absorbed and lived out by people who identify as Muslims. I don't imagine it has a greater call on them than Christian precepts have on Christians. And as is often said the last genuine Christian was crucified.

    I am of a view that political Islam is the problem not Islam per se: the use of Islam to gain to political power. We know only too well what religion will do when it gets power, whether it be Judaism, Islam or Christianity. They have all left a trail of barbarism in their wake.

    If the Christian right and Dominionism ever got its way in the US, we would just be facing the same sort of problem. Imperial religion that thinks it should rule the world. People always read into their holy book whatever bollix they want to justify their bid for domination over the lives of others.

  11. AM

    Too true but between exposure to criticism and scrutiny christainity rained in its desires and tempered its language because their faithful were lossing faith because they became skeptical of their nonsense. Every now and then some christian extremist/s will shock us at how retarded they are but not to the extent that muslims do. Islamic minds are rooted in darker ages and a reading of Teun Voeten's article that you posted paints a sacry picture of how a neighbourhood can be 'medivalized' before radicalized.

    Apparently US Muslims are complaining that things are worse for them now than they were after 9/11. One only need hear DTrump to envision that to be true. I have heard news presenters speak like never before -on one hand I am alarmed and on the other I realise the smothering effect of political correctness and accusations of islamaphobia have started to wear thin. Hard liners like Trump or those in the likes of Front National see an oppurtunity and are taking it -for others, they have grown weary of the tedious excuses for islamic self righteousness and contrived indignations. All of europe has broken down the suffocating hand that christainity has had on us and there is no plausible reason for us to go back to those days and self-suffocate ourselves because a minority of people believe in political or religious Islam.

  12. Diplockcourts,

    I am of a view that Islam must be subjected to scrutiny and criticism. The theocrats should not be allowed to dictate how we think or what we question. Political Islam wants to use the religion as a means to power. They preach a theology of domination. But I don't buy into Huntington's Clash of Civilizations which only produces a them and us mentality and reinforces the problem we are trying to solve.

    Political Christianity is hampered to the extent that it cannot get state power. But it makes a lot of effort to influence in other ways. It is a powerfully dangerous lobby in the US although its bunkum science (intelligent Design) took a hammering at Dover in 2005 which is just as well as that would have been a significant piece of territory seized by them. Yet it is trying all the time to make inroads and in a society like the US where secularism is not just as strong as say Europe, it has quite a lot of scope.

    Christianity is as rooted in the dark ages as Islam and makes common cause with it at the UN to block progress. The reason we are successful against Christianity is the denial of state power otherwise they would be burning us at the stake. Islam needs also to be denied state power. Christianity is clever rather than compassionate. It has learned the need to adopt even if it is slow to.

    Europe has to stand up for secularism against all religious attempts to undermine it. That is why it is important never to allow the Christians to discriminate against gays or practice their religion on others. Not only is it laudable in its own terms to tell the Christians to do their thing in their own clubhouse but it prevents others coming along and demanding the same treatment. How can Islam be told not to do A, B or C if exemption is made for Christians?

    That we still have to talk about priestcraft and religious lunacy is a source of exasperation.

  13. Dear goodness, me a Unionist and I could not agree more with a former Provisional.

    Has hell frozen over?

    Separation of Church and State is fundamental to any civilised society, and what has been so very, very wrong on our island for a very long time.

  14. AM

    The ills of christianity pale in comparison to islamic practices. -christians would wish to see more people eat fish on friday's muslims are pushing halal for every day of the week. Christians do not condemn to death apostates, bloggers, gays, adulterers, children who have dishonoured their families, blasphemers, feminists etc. At their worst christians today can cause irratation or even offence whereas we might not have seen islam at its worst but what could be worse than FGM, sex slaves of both young women and children, beheadings, burning people in cages, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide? Islam and Christianity are not 2 equal or mirror religious ideologies one is a lesser evil.

  15. Diplockcourts,

    when the human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, having assessed the matter for years during which he wrote a book calling for the pope to be put in the dock for crimes against humanity, makes the following assertion The committee's enquiries will inevitably lead it to conclude that the Vatican has broken multiple articles of the convention on a huge scale in many countries. The result in human suffering is incalculable, we really have to wonder how Western centric a benign view of Christianity actually is. The tenets of Islam which you point out are horrible. That is not in dispute. The creed is abominable. But there is no Christian bible that rejects the Old Testament as murderous madness in which an old tyrant is glorified. It is how religious tenets are internalised and practiced. I have never heard a Christian theologian tell us to disregard the Old Testament, just weasel words about the New without a rejection of the Old.

    Those of us old enough to remember the Christian regimes in Latin America, do not see a lot of difference between what they practiced and what Islamic regimes do. Again it tells us something about allowing religion to have state power.

    Christianity has become less tyrannical, less murderous to the extent that it has been humanised and civilised by external pressures not of its own volition.

    Lesser evil - sure for now but by how much and for how long? I tend to go back to the point that political Islam rather than Islam per se is the problem.

  16. Steve,

    no bad thing to agree on such matters.