Curator Andy Simons discusses how leaflets and pamphlets were used by all sides during the Northern Ireland conflict and how they can be used by campaigners today.


A transcript of this slideshow is available below.

Who is talking?

Andy Simons - Curator of Modern British Collections

Andy Simons is curator of social history in the Modern British Collections. He acquires historical and contemporary publications that the British Library might otherwise miss. These areas include politics, popular culture, and Britain’s immigrant communities. Outside the Library he edits an international jazz research quarterly and has published research on black British jazz.



Since the invention of printing, printed materials have been used by campaigners to communicate their messages. The production of leaflets, pamphlets and booklets doesn’t require the backing of a traditional publisher or a financier. They are a form of media that allows completely free speech.

One of the first campaigns to use them was the campaign to end the international slave trade. Pamphlets and leaflets where used to put forward reasons for opposition to this trade, to appeal for support and to encourage debate. The distribution of printed material was also an effective tool in the fight to give women the vote. Pamphlets can be cheaply produced and quickly disseminated. They always remain under the editorial control of the author and so prove to be a highly effective method of communicating. During the 1970’s photocopying came of age and made it easier for those who had something to say to use printed material to do so.

Ireland has had a troubled history, with divisions based on religion, class differences and its relationship with the British mainland. From the late 1960’s, pamphlets and booklets became an important tool for all sides in the Northern Irish conflicts to get their message out.  They were used for a variety of purposes, from information relating to very specific events, to more general propaganda about the wrongs of the other side.

This 1972 leaflet was produced by the Ulster Vanguard, a Unionist organisation which allied itself with a paramilitary group.  They wanted a semi-independent Northern Ireland. The design of this pamphlet is very simple. The layout and style of writing allows the reader to quickly see what the organisation opposes and what they demand. This simple text leaflet was produced by a Catholic priest to alert the international media to the process of imprisonment without trial, known as internment. It is arranged into 20 ‘easy to see’ key points. The language is firm and uses statistics to support the arguments. Other pamphlets produced during the Northern Ireland conflict made use of graphics and more expensive printing techniques to communicate their messages as effectively as possible.

Booklets, leaflets and pamphlets are still important ways to get your message to your audience. The methods used by pamphleteers are as relevant as ever:

  • Keep the message short and to the point.
  • Use statistics
  • Present the information in small, easy to digest chunks.
  • Use effective, eye-catching imagery.
  • Always remember your target audience and design it in the most effective way for them.