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Pre-Famine Ireland: Social Structure Copyright © 2000 by Desmond Keenan Hard copy of book available from and

Chapter Twenty Seven

                The Press

Summary of chapter.  The press was well-developed Ireland having been started a century earlier. The various newspapers reflected various strands of political thought. Government attempts to influence newspapers, never very great virtually ceased. But editors could still be caught if they breached the law against seditious libel, namely by publishing writings likely to lead to a breach of the public peace. Newspapers in provincial towns were quite numerous.

(i) Irish Newspapers in General

(ii) The Dublin Newspapers

(iii) The Provincial Press

(iv) The Specialist Press

(v) The Government and the Press

(vi) The Newsagents


(i) Irish Newspapers in General 

            Irish newspapers date back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the Belfast Newsletter, over 250 years old, has some claim to be the oldest daily newspaper in the British Isles. 

            The improvement in post and packet systems after 1691 led to daily newspapers, the first of which is claimed to be the London Daily Courant of 1702, a single sheet measuring 13 inches by 7 inches. The Tatler was started in 1709 and the Spectator was started in 1711. A British Stamp Act (1712) killed off most of the early British newspapers. A regular bi-weekly newspaper was published in Dublin from the beginning of 1704 with several octavo pages. Its contents consisted of excerpts from British and other newspapers. Soon there were several newspapers circulating in Dublin that seem often to have been pirated copies of London news-sheets.  The first to enjoy long-term success was Pue’s Impartial Occurrances the first issue of which appeared at Christmas 1703. Richard Pue, the owner of Dick’s Coffee House, published it. The Dublin Intelligence of Francis Dickson of the Union Coffee House appeared about 1705. By about 1720 the size of the page had been increased to quarto size with four pages and this format was retained for the rest of the century (Westmancoat). 

            At the beginning of the nineteenth century the chief interest catered for was the commercial one, and a large part of the available space was given over to advertisements. There was usually a column containing snippets of foreign news like 'British victory in Egypt' or 'Napoleon defeats Prussians at Jena'. Another column would contain items of domestic news like 'outbreak of agrarian crime' (frequent), or 'Work resumed on the Grand Canal'. After the advertisements the greatest space was devoted to the reporting of Parliament, and with the development of shorthand systems, the reporting became more accurate. Occasionally court cases of particular interest were reported at length. From time to time there were descriptions of the seventy or eighty rounds in boxing matches given in the jargon of the ring. After a drawing room by the Lord Lieutenant there were detailed descriptions of the ladies' dresses. (Some 'lady of rank' may have been earning a few shillings with her pen.) There were occasional editorials couched in vitriolic language the points of which were not always obvious. Editors had a propensity to use violent and extreme language especially when attacking the Government, and this was to lead to a series of prosecutions by the Government for seditious libel as well as suits for common libel. 

            Printing was done by contract by independent printers. Steam presses were introduced to Ireland in 1833. Before that hand presses with an output of about 250 copies an hour were used. If a large number of copies were required a second machine with a duplicate set of type had to be used. It is doubtful if any Irish newspaper had to use a second machine.  The type used by the contracting printers rapidly improved in the nineteenth century but Saunders' Newsletter always managed to look old-fashioned. The type used by country printers was always poor, so we can assume that they bought their fonts second-hand from Dublin printers. 

            Morning papers began printing shortly after midnight, and several editions were printed before midday. The evening papers could not be finally set to type until the morning mailboat had arrived and the editor had a chance to glance at the London and foreign newspapers. The first edition had to be ready, made up in packets, and handed into the General Post Office by 5 p.m. so that they could be dispatched by the night mailcoaches to the country areas. Registered newspapers were carried free to every part of Ireland so the Post Office inspectors opened a sample of them to see that no communication was enclosed. At first newspapers being sent to England were charged one penny each, but this charge was later removed. Papers to the colonies were charged at three pence each. 

            Daily newspapers, which were morning papers, sold best in Dublin. The evening papers, which were tri-weeklies, sold best in the country areas. A tri-weekly had to have twice the circulation of a daily to match its total sales. The popularity of the evening papers in country areas is explained by the fact that they were ready just before the departure of the mailcoaches, that the annual subscription for them was half that of the dailies, and that country people did not mind waiting an extra day for the news. No Sunday newspapers seem to have been published in Ireland. The imported British Sunday newspapers were denounced as 'vehicles of profaneness and trash' IFJ 21 Aug 1819. The Farmers’ Journal itself carried pious readings suitable for Sundays. The denunciation of British Sunday papers was still being repeated a century later.

            The sales of newspapers can be determined with reasonable accuracy from the number of stamped copies of newsprint each editor bought from the Stamp Office. Newspapers could hold extra stocks, or could borrow some stamped paper from a fellow editor, but over the year the sales of copies would not differ much from purchases of stamped paper. The newspapers were heavily taxed especially in wartime. In 1798 the editor of Saunders’ Newsletter remarked that two pence out of the cover price of three pence went to the Government in taxes. 

            In 1788 there were 37 Irish newspapers of which 13 were in Dublin. Saunders' was then the only daily. In 1831 there were 46 newspapers in Ireland including weeklies and provincial newspapers. Of these four were dailies. Scotland at the same time had 28 newspapers, none of them dailies, while England had 16 dailies, 8 in the morning and 8 in the evening. 

In 1815 The Correspondent was claiming the highest sales (over a fifteen month period) of 540,000 stamped copies, while The Freeman's Journal had 352,000, The Evening Post 338,000, and Saunders' Newsletter 308,000 (The Correspondent 30 March 1815). By 1820 Saunders' was claiming the lead with weekly sales of 19,000 copies against the 10,000 of its nearest rival Carrick's Morning Post. In 1826 the newly-founded Evening Mail was claiming the largest annual sales in Ireland with 395,000 copies to Saunders' 300,000. The re-launch of The Correspondent as the High Tory Evening Packet cut into the sales of the Mail so that in the Thirties Saunders' was ahead again with sales of 444,000 against the Mail's 425,000 and the Packet's 223,000. (The latter two of course combined exceed the former, but Saunders' was moderate Tory in views while the other two were High Tory.) The Whig paper, and by the 1840's the only Whig national newspaper remaining, the Dublin Evening Post, had annual sales of 270,000 in 1815, 242,000 in 1824, and 164,000 in 1835. The leading Whig newspaper in 1815, the Freeman's Journal, had annual sales of 280,000. By 1835 it had become a Repeal newspaper and its sales had dropped to 165,000. In 1835, the leading Tory papers had a combined sale of about one million copies, the Repeal newspapers about a half a million combined, while the sole surviving Whig paper 164,000. 

            Sales of the leading Dublin papers were about 870,000 in 1821. In 1826 the combined annual sales of the 18 Dublin newspapers that purchased stamps was 2,046,348 or 40,920 a week. The circulation of 47 provincial papers was 1,426,666. Sale of stamps to all newspapers was 5,782,851 in 1839. The number of titles of newspapers and stamp-paying periodicals peaked about mid-century. There were 121 titles listed in 1835 but only 102 in 1870 including monthlies.  

            Sales of provincial papers were not so large. In 1825 The Cork Southern Reporter sold 137,000 copies (2,700 a week), while its rival The Cork Constitution sold 132,000. Belfast's two leading papers, The Belfast Newsletter and The Belfast Commercial Chronicle sold 136,000 and 119,000 copies respectively. The Limerick Chronicle also had sales of over 100,000 copies annually (or 2,000 a week), for its circulation reached 138,000. 

            In the Forties, the editor Gavan Duffy claimed an enormous success for the new nationalist weekly The Nation with its weekly print run of 10,000 against an average of 2,900 for the Mail and 2,500 for Saunders’. But a fairer comparison could be made with the sales of other weeklies. The High Tory weekly, The Warder sold 7,200 copies a week, while the Weekly Freeman, the weekly edition of the Freeman's Journal sold 7,150 copies. 

            Readership was another matter. Newspapers were then printed on strong paper, and it was estimated that each copy was read by from eight to ten persons. In country areas parts of the newspapers were read aloud. O’Connell, realising this, often composed his speeches in the form of letters to the people of Ireland, to be read aloud to them. They make turgid reading but were probably effective when read aloud. 

            With regard to staff, the newspaper proprietor employed an editor, and probably a couple of clerks to deal with advertisements, subscriptions, etc. No reporters or staff writers were employed at first but these were introduced gradually in the course of the century. Weeklies depended more on able staff writers or contributors than dailies that had merely to compile news from whatever resources were to hand. [Top] 

(ii) The Dublin Newspapers 

            From every point of view except appearance the best newspaper was Saunders' Newsletter (1753-1879). For the historian a single line of unadorned fact from Saunders' is worth more than whole columns of obscure diatribes from others. Its tone was moderate Tory, and a family named Potts owned it. These opposed the Union until 1829 and its rare editorials up to that date expressed this fact. After 1829 they supported the Union. Early in the century editorial comment was virtually non-existent, but later it adopted the valuable habit of reprinting editorial comment from the more judicious London papers. These were usually Tory papers but Whig papers were not excluded. The editor of Saunders’ was scrupulous about his facts. His reports of events like the meetings of the Catholic Association were models of accuracy, conciseness, and fairness. On the reporting of happenings outside Dublin as late as the Forties Saunders' copied an editorial from the London Times complaining about the difficulty of establishing what was actually happening in the worst famine-stricken areas. Two reporters, eyewitnesses, writing within a fortnight of each other about conditions in the same workhouse flatly contradicted each other. One said that the place was remarkably filthy, the other that it was remarkably clean. It was obvious that the reports were deliberately distorted for political reasons, and Saunders' wished to make this clear to its readers. Altogether an excellent newspaper. 

            The Freeman's Journal (1764-1924) was a Whig newspaper in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Three Dublin merchants founded it, and its first editor seems to have been a writer named Henry Brook. The paper was chiefly associated with the irascible 'patriot', Dr Charles Lucas, who contributed to it and attacked the various Tory Governments. At the end of the eighteenth century it supported the Tories. In 1804 it passed into the hands of Philip Whitfield Harvey one of the ablest newspapermen of the time, who made it one of the most progressive papers in the United Kingdom. He employed capable editors, and collected around him a permanent staff of good writers. He anticipated developments in London by adding an extra column to each page thereby increasing the size of the paper by 25%. On Harvey's death in 1826 the ownership of the paper passed to his daughter, the wife of Henry Grattan, junior. In the Thirties it passed to other owners who adopted the politics of Repeal. Thereafter rhetoric replaced reliable fact. 

            The Dublin Evening Post (1732-1875) was nearly seventy years old when the nineteenth century began. It was established by a man named Theophilus Jones apparently as a commercial venture with no political content. Towards the end of the eighteenth century it was acquired by the erratic (or half-mad) John Magee who used it as a vehicle to attack his personal enemies. The paper was Whig (or at least anti-Tory) in tone, and its vigorous (to say the least) editorial style made it a target for prosecutions by the Attorney General. The paper always supported the Catholic cause. In 1812 Magee died and his son, also called John succeeded him. O’Connell mercilessly abused the young man's inexperience and the trust placed in him. Magee, relying on O’Connell to keep him within the law was several times charged and found guilty of libelling the Government, and finally was sent to prison. O’Connell and his associates left him in prison. The Magee family hastily transferred the ownership of the paper to John's brother James, and brought in a new editor to keep the paper within the law. The Government was more anxious to catch the authors of the libels than the editor of the newspaper. When these did not come forward Magee was eventually released. The new editor was Frederick Conway who was to be the most outstanding editor in Ireland in the first half of the century. Conway later bought the Post. As a young man he had supported Repeal, but gradually came to see the benefits of the Union. He always supported the Catholics, and was the only editor to support Archbishop Murray against the Repealing clergy. He gave a cautious support to O’Connell on various issues, but never forgot how he had left John Magee, and in a different case a printer named Harding Tracy, in prison. 

             Faulkner's Dublin Journal (1725-1825) proved unsuccessful in the nineteenth century and came to an end amid the flood of new titles in the Twenties. In the early years of the nineteenth century it was leased to a man named Jack Giffard with very anti-Catholic and pro-ascendancy feelings. Conway of the Post recalled the Journal’s claim that it circulated 'in all places known and unknown in the world, in Constantinople and Eyre Connaught'. The Hibernian Journal (1770-1820) was similar in tone. Both were Tory and pro-Government and for this reason received considerable assistance from the Government. When these subsidies were withdrawn from newspapers both these papers folded. 

            Newspapers that attacked the Government had usually better sales in Ireland than those that supported it. Two different Irish Secretaries tried to launch moderate but pro-Government papers. The first of these was established when the Whigs were in office in 1806, and it was called the Dublin Correspondent. It was a well-produced paper, with a clear layout, an excellent font of type, and printed on good paper. For a brief while it had the largest circulation in Ireland. When Wellesley Pole was Secretary he made a second attempt to launch a pro-Government paper. This was called The Patriot and it lasted just as long as it was supported by subsidies. By the time Peel was Irish Secretary there was dissatisfaction with what the Government was receiving in return for its advances, and by 1820 these were brought to an end. 

            The result was to promote the growth of vigorous new papers, both Whig and Tory, entirely independent of the Government. The Dublin Evening Mail was set up in 1823 to promote the Protestant interest and to oppose the policies of the Marquis Wellesley. It boasted that it received no assistance at all from the Government. It soon had the largest circulation in Ireland. Its editor was Remy Sheehan, a cultivated man and often liberal in his views that were always expressed in moderate and reasoned language. The Correspondent was re-launched in 1828 as the Dublin Evening Packet and it was generally similar in tone to the Mail though the two papers disagreed over particular policies. In the second half of the century these two were amalgamated. A knowledge of these two papers is essential for insight into the minds of a majority of Protestants. 

            The Morning Register was founded in 1824 by a former editor of the Freeman's Journal, Michael Staunton, as a Whig newspaper. He was closely associated with O’Connell and the Catholic Association. The Register had a reputation for being boring and being filled with statistics compiled by Staunton which some found credible and others considered politically biased. When O’Connell began his Repeal campaign the Register supported him.

            When the Emancipation campaign was at its height there was talk of launching a specifically Catholic newspaper. As nothing came of this a Protestant named Richard Barrett launched The Pilot in 1828 to express the Catholic viewpoint. It was often regarded as O’Connell's newspaper but he had no connection with it. He always gave advance copies of his long turgid Letters to the People of Ireland to Barratt. The paper reproduced O’Connell's speeches at inordinate length, but presumably its readership appreciated that. It supported O’Connell through thick and thin and so came to be supported by many of the Catholic clergy. It backed him and the Catholic Repealing bishops against both Young Ireland and Archbishop Murray. As befitted papers largely circulating in rural areas both the Pilot and the Post provided excellent coverage of the state of the crops and of farm prices. 

            One of the best papers published in the first half of the century was the short-lived satirical weekly, The Comet. Publication began in the early Thirties and it attracted perhaps the ablest group of writers of any newspaper. These spurned the names of Catholic and Protestant, Orangeman and Ribbonman, and sought only to enlighten and entertain the public. The paper introduced novelties like a 'Poets's Corner' and 'Replies to Correspondents' which were later adopted in The Nation. The lively satirical style led to prosecution by the Government for libel. The young writers lacked financial backing and the paper did not recover from the lawsuit. 

            Its format and style were revived a decade later by Charles Gavan Duffy the editor of The Nation. The size of sheets used by the newspapers had been growing larger but Duffy reverted to a tabloid format. Like all newspapers founded to promote strongly held beliefs it was inspiring to those who held similar beliefs but turgid and repellent to those who did not. This was, with few exceptions, especially true of the poetry it published. Closer reflection might lead older and wiser heads to conclude that its ideas were unworkable, and that vested interests on all sides would prevent them from succeeding. Nevertheless, its message of hope in better things, in a free Ireland where political corruption was unknown, where everyone strove for high ideals, and where the whole country was prosperous, all expressed in vibrant language, sent a thrill through its readers that can be experienced to this day. 

            The Catholic hierarchy defeated Young Ireland, and nationalism became Catholic nationalism, and it became aimed chiefly at taking jobs and land away from Protestants to give them to the Catholics. The Nation believed in educating all Irish children together, and reducing religion to a state of private importance only. Yet despite the great success of The Nation there seems little doubt that most of its readers were closer in sentiment to the Repealing bishops and that they looked to nationalism to take the jobs and land from the Protestants and give them to them. [Top] 

(iii) The Provincial Press 

            Newspapers had existed in some of the larger provincial towns for almost as long as they did in Dublin. The first Irish provincial newspaper was published in Waterford in 1729, and the second was the Belfast Newsletter published in 1737 by Henry Joy a paper-maker who introduced paper-making to Ulster. From 1820 onwards they became numerous, each small town acquiring two, a Catholic one and a Protestant one. Almost without exception they were weeklies. Standards were almost universally low, though Ramsay's Waterford Chronicle was an exception. They were poorly printed, with poor type on poor paper. News was copied from the Dublin papers, and local news was non-existent. But they were cheap, appeared but once a week, and carried local advertising. A notable feature of the provincial papers was their strong editorial line. Early in the century the Secretary of the Catholic Committee, Edward Hay, remarked that people in Dublin did not appreciate the passion with which views were held in the countryside. In the 1820's the local papers became, as they have remained to this day especially in Ulster, strongly for or against Catholic claims. As sources of local history up to 1850 they are virtually useless being filled with obscure diatribes against local rivals. Their local advertisements were always their most informative part. [Top] 

(iv) The Specialist Press 

            Periodicals aimed at particular specialist readerships were quite common but often short-lived. They were usually well-written and contain an immense amount of information on Irish customs, practices, and law of the time. Those devoted to the promotion of agriculture were the most common, but several attempts were also made to produce periodicals concerning the Irish theatre. 

            The surviving collections in British and Irish libraries are purely haphazard ones. Among the survivors may be mentioned the Irish Agricultural Magazine of 1799. It contained little original matter, being culled from contemporary British periodicals. The Irish Farmers' Journal was started in 1813 and folded about 1826. It aimed at being a family magazine, complete with spiritual readings for Sundays. It also gave some account of political events as they affected farmers. In such cases it provided what was rare in Ireland, unbiased comment. Its average sales while it lasted were about 1,000 copies a week. A revival of interest in progressive agriculture was signalled by the establishment of the Irish Farmer’s Gazette in 1840. 

            The railway boom in the 1840's brought two railway periodicals, also abounding with useful facts and often unbiased comment. These were the Irish Railway Gazette, much the better of the two, and the Irish Railway Telegraph. 

            The sporting periodical, the Racing Calendar merely gave lists of runners at various meets, but about 1840 it was joined by the Irish Sporting Chronicle that gave descriptions of various sports. 

            The theatre was a matter of perennial interest to the Dublin papers that often carried acerbic comments regarding the theatres, the managements, and the performances. About 1820 several short-lived attempts were made, one of them by Conway of the Post, to provide a periodical entirely devoted to the theatre. Among these were Nolan's Theatrical Observer (1822), The Stage (1821), and The Tatler (1834). 

            Of learned periodicals one can mention the Dublin Quarterly Journal, the Dublin Review  (Catholic), and the Dublin Quarterly Review of Medical Science. 

            The common problem of all these periodicals was that the whole British Isles was for all practical purposes a single publishing field, the readers within which used a common language, had common aspirations, and faced common difficulties.  Irish periodicals were therefore in direct competition with richer British publications, and unless they could keep up a supply of local information they had noting distinctive to offer. [Top] 

(v) The Government and the Press 

            Treatment of this subject has suffered more than most from deliberate political distortions. Though its coverage is incomplete the chapters on Ireland in Politics and the Press by A. Aspinall contain much useful and relevant material. 

            A free press was one of the glories of the British Constitution, and the Whig principles of 1688 were universally accepted in Ireland by the year 1800. Any citizen was free to attack the Government in print, a liberty not found elsewhere except in Holland and the British colonies. There was no prior Government censorship, and no Government spies. The freedom of the press was on a par with the freedom of the mob to break the Prime Minister's windows. The Dublin Evening Post (25 Feb 1737) noted that the liberty of the press was not specified in the Bill of Rights (1689) but it was acknowledged in King William's reign when the Licensing Act expired and was not renewed. The courts and the independent judiciary provided the only restraints on the press. 

            The law of the land forbade only the printing of obscenity, blasphemy, slander, and incitement to civil disturbance, or in legal terminology obscene libel, blasphemous libel, slanderous libel, and seditious libel. Seditious libel is more properly translated from legal jargon as a book liable to incite public disturbance. Traditionally British (and later Irish newspapers) took a hearty line with regard to the Government. Some attacks were sincere. In other cases the editor abused the Government until he got the pension he was angling for. If the attacks went too far, and became notorious, the Attorney General could bring charges of seditious libel. With regard to the liberty of the press the Post in 1732 noted: 

'From messengers secure no printer lies,
They take composters, pressmen, devils, flies.
What means this change! the sum of all the story's
Tories depressed are Whigs, and Whigs in power are Tories' (DEP 7 Nov 1732). 

            With regard to ordinary libel the accused could proceed either with an indictment for a criminal offence, or by a civil action for damages. Libel was defined as defamatory remarks in writing. Truth was not regarded as a defence for part of the offence consisted in using language calculated to lead to a breach of the peace, i.e. a challenge to a duel.  

            Before the French Revolution the Irish Parliament had begun to take measures to control the excesses of the press. The Stamp Act (1780) was a fiscal measure to raise revenue. It required that a copy of each issue of the paper be lodged with the local stamp office. An Act passed in 1784 required that the publishers of newspapers state their names. This was intended to make them liable for the penalties for any libels that appeared in their papers. Other Acts were passed in 1798 and 1800 against 'seditious' writings. Peel consolidated these Acts in 1815.  

            On the legal side the Irish Government, like the Government in Britain, took a firm line against seditious libel, and between 1810 and 1820 several suits were brought by the Attorney General. An example of the kind of language the Government had in mind was displayed in the libel suit against a publisher who attacked the administration of the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Richmond (1807-1813) with the words 'They insulted, they oppressed, they murdered, and they deceived'. It was for a jury to decide whether this was a fair statement of fact or incitement to disaffection and civil disturbance. It should be remembered that agrarian crime was rife at the time. 

             The suits were not aimed at the proprietors, editors, or printers of newspapers, but at the 'agitators' who were writing anonymous articles. Two of these, Denys Scully and Daniel O’Connell, were leading 'anti-vetoists', but it should be remembered that the Attorney General, Saurin, was opposed equally to vetoists and anti-vetoists.  He was concerned not with the religious question but with the point of public order. None of the anonymous writers ever admitted responsibility for their writings, so the proprietors, and printers, were prosecuted in accordance with the law. As mentioned earlier, O’Connell shamefully abused the confidence placed in him by the inexperienced John Magee. One of Magee's trials was extraordinary in that O’Connell, on the verge of defeat, used language regarding Saurin that would normally provoke a challenge to a duel. The judge on the bench understood what was said and told him he was only harming his client's case. Magee instantly dismissed O'Connell and hired new counsel. 

            Despite many allegations of  'packed juries', the Dublin juries of the period showed considerable independence of the Government. By 1820 the Irish newspapers had moderated their language to some extent. It was a cultural change, and the whole-hearted denunciations of the eighteenth century became rare, though kept up at times by people like Archbishop MacHale. In 1848 some newspapers were suppressed, but they could hardly complain for they were openly preaching revolt against the Government. 

            The Government had various ways of bringing influence to bear newspapers that were derived from the revenue laws. They could not be applied arbitrarily but only through sentences by the courts. Newspapers were taxed in two ways, by a stamp duty on newsprint, and by a tax on advertisements. Anyone wishing to start a newspaper, because public revenue was involved, had to lodge with the Government sufficient securities to guarantee that the tax revenue would be paid. This was the usual procedure in tax affairs at the time. Secondly, all pre-stamped newsprint had to be bought from Government stamp offices. Thirdly, each proprietor had to lodge a copy of each edition signed by himself with the Stamp Office. Failure to pay the taxes could result in the stoppage of newsprint or even the seizure of the printing press. 

            In the nineteenth century both Whigs and Tories wished to end the practice of giving cash to editors. Charles James Fox took a principled, though some thought unwise, stand against bribing editors. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Irish Government was unwilling to follow Fox's example, and so it devoted a considerable amount of its funds to bribing editors. Though in the circumstances of the time it is far from clear to what extent any of the parties regarded this as anything more than common eighteenth century corruption as far a public funds were concerned. Most of the money was paid out of secret service funds and the editors were in theory to inform the Government of any plots that came to their attention. Newspapermen seemed to have regarded this as a normal part of their income, and Conway of the Post was for many years in receipt of a pension, though he certainly could not be described either as a Government supporter or a Government spy. The Government could support a friendly, or not too hostile, editor in another way. Government notices and advertisements had to be placed in newspapers, and the paper in which they were placed benefited in two ways. Firstly, the Government paid at normal commercial rates, and then the public had to buy the paper to read the notices. Very little is known about Government policies with regard to the placing of the advertisements, a fact that has never inhibited dogmatic comment. It seems however that some person or persons connected with the Irish Government from time to time made efforts to prop up pro-Government papers even at the expense of moderate Tory papers like Saunders'. One Whig and one Tory Government, as noted earlier, gave support to attempts to launch a pro-Government paper. It was alleged too at the time that the Government favoured some papers by giving them an early view of Government 'expresses', that is special mails delivered outside the scheduled times of the mailcoaches. Government spokesmen always claimed that as there was only one copy available it could only be given to one editor. 

            When Peel came to Ireland he concluded that the Government was getting little in return for its outlay. Gradually the amount of money spent trying to influence newspapers was reduced until by 1830 it had virtually ceased. From 1822 onwards the High Tory Evening Mail took its stand against accepting Government money. By 1850 there was only one paper in Ireland supporting Whig Governments, Conway's Post, and none which supported Tory Governments. [Top] 

(vi) The Newsagents 

            Newsagents were those who supplied news to the newspapers. They imported and distributed in Ireland the London and foreign newspapers. The Government also did this as a national service, but the existence of the newsagents meant that any attempt of the Government to abuse its position as a supplier of news could easily be defeated. The Government also provided a free translation service for foreign newspapers. The aim behind this was to give information to merchants regarding the possibilities of wars in various parts of Europe and the Middle East. As all the Dublin newspapers were relying for news on the same sources there was little variation in the news they printed. The extent to which newspapers relied on agencies even after they had begun retaining reporters is unclear. An agency would be more likely to have a reporter with a fair knowledge of shorthand at meetings for, example, of the Catholic Association. Saunders' prided itself on the accuracy of its reports of those meetings and stood by them, but does not indicate if its own reporter or an agency one made the report. During the famous election in Clare in 1828 it is clear that the arrangements for the swift dispatch of news by relays of post chaises was made by the agencies. A few years later, one agent, Mr Johnson, chartered a special train from Kingstown to Dublin to rush the first news of Peel's first speeches as Prime Minister. 

            The agents also placed advertisements in the Dublin and provincial papers. Any allegations regarding bias in the placing of these advertisements should start with the agencies rather than with the Government or the officials in Dublin Castle.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.