"Putting the blue shirt back into the Blueshirts”: Politics and clothing in 1930s Ireland

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One of the most significant political phenomena, internationally, in the 1930s were the infamous ‘shirted movements’, commonly, though not exclusively, associated with Fascist and para-Fascist organisations. The significance of coloured shirts in the politics of the 1930s, for instance, has attracted scholarly interest, notably in Phillip Coupland’s (2004) and Perry Wilson’s (2013) work on the British and Italian black-shirts respectively. The significance of clothing in the contemporary Irish ‘Blueshirts’ has received very little attention from scholars of the Blueshirt movement, such as Manning (1970), Cronin (1997) and Montgomery (2011), however.

Drawing on Fine Gael internal communications, party newspapers and publicity, as well as national and regional Irish newspapers, Garda reports and Oireachtas debates; this paper examines the deeper significance of the blue shirt in 1930s Ireland. This paper argues, that, the ‘Blueshirts,’ like many contemporary organisations, invested their uniform with many practical functions and imbued it with multiple symbolic meanings. The colour blue, for instance, connoted the symbolism of St. Patrick and thus constituted a conservative, Catholic-nationalist statement. Like many other contemporary right-wing movements, the Blueshirts contrasted their ‘practical’, ‘modern’ uniform with the ‘outdated’ and ‘stiff’ shirts of mainstream politicians, regarding their uniform as a metaphor for action, and masculinity. Blueshirt leaders also noted that the uniform made members “so very conspicuous,’ and thus, easier to surveil and discipline, a point that has similarly been remarked upon by modern scholars such as McVeigh (1997).

Opponents of the Blueshirts also recognized the significance of the shirt. In street confrontations, left-wing republicans were known to set fire to blue shirts that had been captured. As a result of these confrontations, a nervous Irish government in 1934 proposed legislation which sought to ban the blue shirt. As a result, the shirt prompted a debate which questioned the very nature of Irish democracy itself.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021
EventFashion and Clothing Cultures In and Of Ireland - Online, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 19 Feb 202119 Feb 2021


ConferenceFashion and Clothing Cultures In and Of Ireland


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