GUBU, Gregory and ‘cosmic cover-ups’

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, General, Issue 1(Jan/Feb 2013), Volume 21

Ireland and Apartheid South Africa

A military intelligence file entitled ‘Flying Disks—Alleged appearance at Caherciveen, Apr ’82’ . . . in fact only a clipping from the Sunday World. (2012/97/004)

A military intelligence file entitled ‘Flying Disks—Alleged appearance at Caherciveen, Apr ’82’ . . . in fact only a clipping from the Sunday World. (2012/97/004)

Apartheid South Africa was in the news in relation to a tour of South Africa by a representative team of British, French and Irish players. The Irish government officially opposed the involvement of the latter, though the IRFU had given its approval. The team, however, was coached by Irish rugby legend Willie John McBride, who gave an interview to the South African Rand Daily Mail. When asked why he had returned to a land that ‘is constantly accused of perpetrating man’s inhumanity to man’, McBride answered, ‘Who am I to come here and tell South Africa how to live? . . . South Africa is a marvellous country’. While stating his desire to see ‘progress’, McBride went on to tell his interviewer that ‘where your country falls down badly is in its public relations exercises—or lack of them. It is important that you get in first with your propaganda, not let the extremists get in ahead of you’ (2012/59/39). Some months later, Martin Mansergh met with the prominent South African journalist and anti-Apartheid campaigner Donald Woods, who was seeking Irish sponsorship for his organisation, the Lincoln Trust, which ‘is not merely designed to spearhead international opposition against apartheid, but . . . to promote inter-racial reconciliation among South Africans’. Mansergh felt that the request should certainly be considered, as ‘it is consistent with government policy’ (2012/90/380).


The bicentenary of Grattan’s parliament was marked (2012/90/834), as were the centenaries of the births of James Joyce (2012/90/899) and Eamon de Valera (2012/90/940). The government also reflected on a successful sequence of events to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Patrick Pearse, which had offered ‘ample opportunity for reflective assessment of Pearse, especially for a new generation. No militant exploitation happened and . . . on the American scene there was no confusing jingoisim’ (2012/90/397). These sentiments were presumably shaped by the looming shadow of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland and the IRA in Britain

There are a number of files on the ‘adverse’ behaviour of the security forces north of the border (2012/59/1647, 1655, 1682, 1690). The IRA bombings of Hyde Park and Regent’s Park in July 1982 also prompted widespread condemnation, though in some letters from the UK outrage gave way to naked prejudice. One correspondent from Watford wrote to the Irish ambassador to the UK to say that ‘I have nothing but contempt and abomination for the nation you represent’. After stating that he was, amongst other things, trying to organise a boycott of Irish goods and workers, he admitted that, ‘to my eternal shame, I am of Irish descent myself. Among my ancestors were a couple who crossed to this country in the 1840s . . . I wish now that they had stayed in their bog and rotted, rather than I should have to carry the taint of Irish blood’ (2012/90/981).

Drinks licence for LisdoonvarnaIn May 1982 the authorities were wary of indiscriminately granting a drinks licence to organisers of a festival to be ‘held in a large field about two miles from Lisdoonvarna. The place in respect of which the licence may be granted is the field where the event is being held. Accordingly the licencee … operated from a garage’. The festival was to have one licence, and one only, as ‘it attracts a large crowd and the granting of several licences would make it impossible for the Gardaí to closely supervise the sale of drink … drink is indiscriminately sold to all and sundry even at black market prices’ and ‘there is no attention paid to whom drink is supplied’ (2012/21/676).

AbortionEchoes of current concerns are to be found in the voluminous correspondence relating to the prospective introduction of a constitutional ban on abortion. Charles J. Haughey, as taoiseach, was implored by correspondents to ‘uphold God’s law’ (2012/90/881), and the Athlone chairman of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) assured Haughey that ‘I attended a pro-life seminar in Dublin and the visiting American and English speakers told us of their great hope that Ireland would again lead the world out of the “Dark Ages” into which abortion and its attendent evils are leading us’ (2012/90/667).  HI

John Gibney is History Ireland’s news editor.All of the 1982 governmental files and the 1923–49 Crime and Security files, including those mentioned here, are available for inspection in the National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, from Wednesday 2 January 2013. Further details at

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