Early Irish newspapers

Early Irish newspapers are a much under-appreciated source, at least for that small minority to whom they are relevant. That minority was literate (in English), almost all belonged to the Church of Ireland and they were geographically concentrated enough to provide sufficient readers. So the main areas of publication were Dublin (from about 1720), Belfast (1737), Cork (1750), Limerick and Clare (1750), Carlow/Kilkenny (1768) and Waterford (1770).

William O’Neill disavows the debts of his wife Alice in 1801

Given that so many early Church of Ireland parish registers have been destroyed, the usefulness of family announcements is obvious. In some cases they will be the only surviving record. More interesting for hunters of closet skeletons are the ‘advertisements’ and business announcements. Many of the former consist of husbands publicly disowning their runaway wives’ debts; many of the latter are bankruptcy notices.

Finns Leinster Journal Saturday August 13 1791

One reason why these newspapers are underused is that they are not digitised to the same extent as nineteenth-century publications. The London Stamp Office began passing copies of the publications it regulated to what is now the British Library only in 1822, which means that the Library’s collection (being digitised at britishnewspaperarchives.co.uk)  is quite patchy for newspapers before that year. There is a decent collection on Ancestry.com) (image-only, for some reason) and the Irish Newspaper Archive has a good run of the Freeman’s Journal, The Belfast News Letter and Finn’s Leinster Journal.

One of Rosemary’s cards

But for years the only decent large-scale shortcut into these papers has been Rosemary ffolliott’s vast and painstaking ‘Index to Biographical Notices Collected from Newspapers, Principally Relating to Cork and Kerry, 1756–1827’ and ‘Index to Biographical Notices in the Newspapers of Limerick, Ennis, Clonmel and Waterford, 1758–1821’. As well as her legendary thoroughness, Rosemary brought a nicely tuned sense of humour to the task. Here are two index entries transcribed from her Cork and Kerry index:

C[ork] C[onstitution] Thu 6 Nov 1767 married last Sunday Mr Harding Daly of Whitehall near Kittmount to the agreeable widow Fleming of Hamon’s Marsh with a fortune of £800”.

Followed immediately by:

C[ork] C[onstitution] M 9 Nov 1767 the paragraph mentioning the marriage of Mr. Hardng Daly to the widow Fleming appears to be without foundation”.

Evidently Mr Harding Daly was chancing his arm.

I’ve been banging the drum about the ffolliott indexes for years, hoping someone would digitise them. My heart leapt last month when I saw that FindMyPast had put up a transcript. Off I trotted to track down the images for Harding Daly and the agreeable widow Fleming. No sign of them. So I started to poke about and some serious peculiarities showed up. A newspaper (from Portuguese-speaking Ennis?) called the Clare Journao. Also the Cloneml Advertiser, the Xlonmel Gazette,  Rinn’s Leinster Journal, the Limerick Chhonicle,  the Limerick Evening Postl. And a periodical called Fitzgerald Penrose. Wha?

Browsing the transcripts threw up even stranger oddities. A single transcript from the Cork Constitution where there are almost 13,000 from the Limerick Chronicle. Eight transcripts from the Cork Journal, as compared to 800 from the Waterford Chronicle. Only 131 entries for the whole of Cork, with 1587 for Limerick.

So it would appear that only the Limerick, Ennis, Clonmel and Waterford index is actually there. It would also appear that nobody bothered to look at the transcripts before putting them online.

The moral, once again, is that you should give all online sources a good poking before trusting them.

More on newspapers in the browse section. Also county-by-county listings of dates and location.

Digits, orifices and appendages

I saw my first actual Protestant at the age of ten, when he joined fifth class in St. Paul’s National School in Castlerea. After making sure that he wasn’t trying to enslave me, steal my land or force me to speak a foreign language, I counted his all digits, orifices and appendages. Astonishingly, he had precisely the same number as me. His name was John Smith, but his father was the heroically exotic Houston Wells, the lead singer of our local Country-and-Irish showband, the Premier Aces.

Castlerea, 1963. I’m there between Peter Doherty and Turlough Finan.

That deliriously confusing early lesson in cultural diversity came to mind as I watched TV coverage of the most recent Irish citizenship swearing-in ceremony. More than 3000 people from dozens upon dozens of nationalities became Irish. Chilean-Irish, Nigerian-Irish, Moldovan-Irish, Pakistani-Irish … For someone my age, brought up in the weird inbred monoculture of 1950s and 1960s Ireland, it should have felt bewildering. But no, it was actually very moving.


Anyone with a sense of the seismic convulsions Ireland’s population has undergone over the past three centuries knows that what’s happening now is another great change: Castlerea in 1963 was vastly different from Castlerea in 1913, which was vastly different again from 1853 … Where we are now seems to be an immigration sweet spot, the cusp of the next great shift, with large (but not too large) numbers of immigrants coming from so many different places that it’s not possible for ghettoes to form or prejudices to congeal.

Not yet, anyway. In 2053, when Brazil are playing Latvia in the All-Ireland hurling final, things might be different. Diversity is all very well but, personally speaking, I wouldn’t want too many of them Roscommon people living near me, with their strange clothes and funny-smelling food and peculiar accents.

The Premier Aces