The Editors 11 people, excluding the incumbent, have edited this newspaper during the past 150 years. From widely varying backgrounds, all have followed the imperative of producing a quality newspaper for Ireland.
Dr Geoge Ferdinand Shaw - 1859
The first editor of The Irish Times was Dr George Ferdinand Shaw, an academic in Trinity College Dublin who remained in the position for only three months. Born in 1821, he became a scholar in Trinity in 1841 and subsequently became a Fellow, Senior Fellow and Senior Dean in the university where he spent practically all his adult life.
After a six-year stint as Professor of Physics in the new Queen's College in Cork, he returned to Dublin where he became a well-known man-about-town, indulging in journalism, and a friend and associate of the leading actors and actresses of the day. His interests, as declared to Who's Who, were plays, opera and drama.
He was highly energetic and said to be never at a loss for an anecdote, wit or banter. "He contributed little, perhaps, to the education of Dublin but a good deal to its entertainment," a history of Trinity concluded.
Fourteen weeks after the launch of The Irish Times, he gave up the editorship when the paper went from publishing three times a week to daily. Officially, he found "the onerous work of an editor incompatible with the accomplishment of his important College duties". However, a rival newspaper, Saunders Newsletter, later claimed that the incompatibility was political, and arose from what it termed The Irish Times' founder, Major Lawrence Knox's, sudden volte face from Liberal to Conservative shortly after its launch.
Whatever the reason, he appears to have continued writing for the new paper and he also edited Saunders' Newsletter for a time and wrote leaders for the Evening Mail, which would not suggest that he objected to a swing to conservatism in The Irish Times. On the other hand, he was said to have written as well for The Nation, the journal of the Young Irelanders.
When he stepped down as Editor of The Irish Times he recommended his brother-in-law, another Trinity man, George Bomford Wheeler, to succeed him. Shaw died in 1899.
Rev George Bomford Wheeler 1859-1877
George Bomford Wheeler became Editor of The Irish Times at the age of 54, taking over from his second wife's brother, George Ferdinand Shaw, when the paper went daily some three months after its launch.
Born in 1805, Wheeler was a classics scholar in Trinity College who was well known there as a private tutor or "grinder" (the term at the time) who specialised at one time in preparing students for the Indian civil service. He was so successful a grinder that he was said to earn £500 or £600 a year at it. He was also a prolific editor and writer of Latin and Greek textbooks with up to 50 editions to his name.
He was ordained late in life, possibly shortly before or around the same time as he took over at The Irish Times. He was chaplain at a reformatory prison in Dublin's Smithfield and was appointed rector of Ballysax in Co Kildare more than five years after taking over as Editor. At Ballysax he also acted as an unofficial chaplain to the military forces based at the nearby Curragh Camp.
In spite of his healthy income from grinding, he found journalism a more congenial occupation and began writing for the Dublin Daily Express at the time of the Crimean War. At the same time as editing The Irish Times, he wrote regularly for a wide number of newspapers and journals in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Manchester, and London where he contributed to Charles Dickens' weekly literary journal All the Year Round.
Wheeler returned to his parish every Saturday and remained there until Monday nights. After getting off the train at Newbridge one weekend in October 1877, his horse's harness broke, his car overturned and he broke his thigh. Although he seemed to be recovering, he died two weeks later at the age of 72, leaving his second wife and seven children. A memorial fund was set up – including the owners of Dublin's other newspapers – to support his widow and youngest children.
James Scott 1877-1899
James Scott was the first professional journalist to edit The Irish Times, perhaps reflecting the more commercial approach of the newspaper following its purchase by the successful businessman, Sir John Arnott.
Born in June 1829, he wrote for a number of publications from the age of 19 and was mainly associated with the Evening Mail, including during the period when the former Irish Times Editor, George Shaw, was writing for it. Scott was particularly interested in having journalism recognised as a profession and was an organiser in Dublin of the newly-formed Institute of Journalists which also acted as a trade union.
Appointed editor of The Irish Times in 1877, he had to deal with a turbulent time in Irish politics – what his obituary in the newspaper referred to languidly as "various trying exigencies" – which included the Land War, Home Rule bills, the rise and fall of Parnell, and the political polarisation of nationalists and unionists. He also edited the Dublin University Magazine and was well known as a raconteur with what was described as a constant stream of reminiscences, anecdotes and stories.
Scott was deeply involved as well in the Church of Ireland through his parish, St Matthias, and its Dublin Council and General Synod. He died, still working, at the age of 70 in November 1899.
William Locker 1901-1907
William Locker was born into a journalistic and literary family in London on the last day of 1863 and educated at Charterhouse and Merton College, Oxford where he studied history.
He joined the literary staff of the Globe in London before moving to The Graphic where his father Arthur was editor and then returning to the Globe as editor. From there he became editor of the conservative Morning Post for two years from 1895.
He appears to have become the London editor of The Irish Times for a time before moving to Dublin as Editor in 1901. He remained in the post until 1907 when he returned to London as the paper's correspondent there. Coincidentally, or otherwise, his departure from the editorship and from Dublin occurred the same year as his cousin's husband and Liberal Party politician, Augustine Birrell, became Chief Secretary of Ireland.
Back in London, Locker began to write for the satirical magazine Punch and took over "The Essence of Parliament" column during the first World War from its creator, and one of the first parliamentary sketch writers, Sir Henry Lucy. He also became assistant editor of Punch from 1915 to 1929. Meanwhile, he continued to be the London correspondent of The Irish Times until 1924.
As Editor, he kept a low public profile in Ireland, apart from outings with The Irish Times cricket club with which he played. In an anonymous appreciation after his death, one of his former colleagues on the paper twisted a common obituarist's phrase to say of him: "He was tolerant of weakness and could even suffer fools."
He died at his home in London in 1930 at the age of 66 after a long illness. His wife pre-deceased him: they had no children.
John Edward Healy 1907-1934
John Healy was the longest serving Editor of The Irish Times, holding the position for 27 years which included the most tumultuous years of the 20th century in Ireland. For all of that period, as his obituary in The Times of London noted, he was the protagonist of a losing cause.
He was born in Drogheda in 1872 to a solicitor father and a mother who was the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman. He went to Trinity College and thought for a time about becoming a clergyman. He studied classics and literature while also teaching at a school in Rathmines and lecturing in Alexandra College as well as writing for newspapers, mainly leaders for the Evening Mail. After graduating, he got a staff job on the Daily Express, then edited by the nationalist T.P. Gill. He subsequently became editor of the paper after it had been taken over to become a conservative unionist mouthpiece by Lord Ardilaun.
Meanwhile, he had begun working as the Dublin correspondent of The Times in 1899 – a position he occupied for the remaining 35 years of his life – the same year he married Adeline Alton, the daughter of a Trinity College professor. He gave up the editorship of the Daily Express after two years to study law and was called to the bar in 1906. Shortly afterwards, he was offered and accepted the editorship of The Irish Times for which he had been writing occasional leaders.
As a staunch unionist in Dublin, Healy found himself on the wrong side of history as events trundled from the 1913 Lockout to the Home Rule Bill, the first World War, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Treaty, the Civil War, and the formation of the Free State. He opposed partition vigorously, seeing it as among the worst possible solutions: in a private letter to the editor of The Times in 1913 he predicted that a Northern parliament unleavened by Southern conservatism would be dominated by socialism while a Southern parliament unleavened by the character and brains of Ulster would be another Tammany Hall.
Frequently the target of verbal attacks in those highly-charged times, Healy refused all offers of protection for the newspaper's offices, his Pembroke Road home and his person from the British Army and, later, the Free State Army. On the evening of Bloody Sunday in 1920, he and his assistant, Bertie Smyllie, were detained on their way to the office by drunken Auxiliaries who threatened to shoot them as Sinn Féiners until they were rescued by British army officers. At a later period, shots were fired into his home by republicans.
He turned down numerous offers of journalistic posts in London to stay on in the occasionally hostile environment of Dublin. Seen in his later years as aloof and austere, he was described after his death by a colleague (probably Smyllie) as having the habits of a recluse rather than those of a man of affairs.
He died in 1934 at the age of 62 and was survived by his wife Adeline and two sons, one a flight lieutenant with the RAF, the other a journalist with The Times.
Robert Marie Smylie 1934-1954
Bertie Smyllie was the most famous of Irish Times editors, a larger-than-life character whose impressive journalistic coups are less well remembered than the legion of anecdotes and stories that surround his editorship, many relating to the "court" he held almost daily in the Palace Bar and later the Pearl Bar in Dublin's Fleet Street.
He was born in 1893 in Glasgow, the son of a Scottish journalist, also Robert, and an Irish mother, Elizabeth Follis. The family moved to Sligo shortly afterwards where Smyllie senior took over the local conservative paper, the Sligo Times. Bertie went to Trinity College and spent the summer of 1914 on the Continent as a tutor to a rich young American. Unable to leave Germany on the outbreak of the first World War, he was interned in the Ruhleben camp for civilians near Berlin for the duration of the conflict.
On his return to Ireland he sought a job with The Irish Times which sent him to Paris to cover the peace talks at Versailles, partly because of his fluent German. Among his first scoops was an exclusive interview with the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Back in Dublin, he quickly became the right-hand man and assistant editor to John Healy, whom he revered (suggesting, perhaps, that Healy was not as dry an ascetic as he is generally portrayed).
Among Smyllie's other journalistic coups were the revelation of a Fianna Fáil-Labour pact for a government in 1927 which he pieced together, literally, from the wastepaper basket of a hotel room in which they had been having secret talks. He covered numerous major events of the times, from the first public sightings of Michael Collins at a sitting of the Dáil in 1921 to the closing Mass at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. In addition he had numerous foreign assignments including, later in the 1930s, a series of articles on Nazi Germany. He wrote regularly under the pseudonym Nichevo (which he said was Russian for ?I don't know, who cares) and initiated An Irishman's Diary.
He took over as Editor on Healy's death in 1934 and shifted the emphasis of the newspaper from a rearguard action in support of the dwindling British links to greater involvement in purely Irish affairs. The rival Irish Press credited him with giving the paper a new position in Irish journalism through the force of his personality while the veteran republican Todd Andrews said he had integrated The Irish Times with the Irish nation. Cathal O'Shannon senior described him as a repository of secrets, political and personal, through his close friendships with people in all parties, professions and creeds.
The first five years of his editorship were the most successful. He cut an extraordinary figure around Dublin, hugely overweight, wearing a green sombrero, an overcoat like a cape, and often followed by a coterie of hangers-on. In the office, he liked to sing parts of his editorials in operatic recitative and provided a platform for all sorts of literary talents, most notably Brian O'Nolan in the guise of Myles na Gopaleen. Lacking among his own talents, to the despair of the paper's management, were any administrative interests or ability.
Smyllie accepted war-time neutrality as the only policy possible in the circumstances. But he did not approve of it personally and found his journalistic flair and enthusiasms curbed by the rigid censorship. He fought continuing battles with the censors and won some, famously his VE day front page, but his health began to deteriorate and slowly worsened over the subsequent years.
He died in 1954 at the age of 61 and was survived by his widow, Kathlyn: they had no children.
Alec Newman 1954-1961
Alec Newman was as unlike his predecessor as it was possible to be, although they had worked closely together for longer than the 20 years of Smyllie's editorship.
Born in Waterford in 1905, he moved with his family to Belfast at the age of seven, an experience that turned him into a nationalist: his mother left her green costume behind and he was not allowed to bring his airgun north with him. They arrived in Belfast during a tense period of rioting and "troubles" which strongly influenced him.
After attending the Royal Belfast Academical Institution he went to Trinity College in Dublin to study classics and became involved in student journalism, particularly with the weekly magazine T.C.D. After graduating, he became the senior classics master at High School but did not enjoy teaching: he was rescued from it by the offer of a job as a leader writer with The Irish Times for which he had already been a regular book reviewer.
With Smyllie's appointment as Editor in 1934, Newman became his deputy. In spite of their differences in personality and style – Newman was soft-spoken and bookish – they worked well together. Two colleagues, Lionel Fleming and Bruce Williamson, later described them as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: "they were always bickering, in a good-humoured and very often in an extremely comic way, but between them they did the paper a great deal of good."
Newman was a regular broadcaster on Radio Eireann, featuring on a programme called Information Please from 1939 to 1952, and BBC radio. With the coming of television to Ireland, he was a panellist on an early journalistic quiz show, Cover Story.
His editorship ended abruptly in 1961 when he was fired suddenly by the board of the company which was unnerved by the failure of its investments in a Sunday and an evening newspaper and the static circulation of The Irish Times. After a brief period as a freelance, he joined The Irish Press as a leader writer and also wrote a daily commentary, Talking Points, under his own byline.
He died in 1972. He had been married twice (both his wives predeceased him) and he had a son and two daughters.
Alan Montgomery 1961-1963
Alan Montgomery was the junior member of the triumvirate led by Smyllie and Newman which had run The Irish Times editorial operation in the 1940s and 1950s. He succeeded Newman as Editor partly because the person groomed for the job, features editor Jack White, left the newspaper to join the new RTÉ television service.
He was born in England in 1910, the son of Leslie Montgomery, a bank manager who wrote some 20 books about the fictional village of "Ballygullion" under the pen name Lynn C Doyle, a pun on linseed oil. He grew up in north Co Dublin, between Skerries and Malahide, and was educated privately.
He joined The Irish Times as a junior reporter in 1934 and became its chief reporter, or news editor, seven years later. Among his innovations as news editor were the introduction of a less formal writing style and the appointment of some specialist reporters.
He became managing editor of the ailing Evening Mail when The Irish Times bought it and turned it into a tabloid in 1960. Just over a year later, he was appointed Editor of The Irish Times to replace Alec Newman.
His editorship lasted only two years, when he left to become information officer at Guinness in circumstances that have become part of the folklore of Dublin journalism. He had been asked to help Guinness find someone for the job and took it himself when he saw that it paid more than the editorship. Although he never explained publicly why he took the job, it is probable that he also saw his future in The Irish Times as uncertain.
A highly popular man and known as great company, he remained with Guinness until his retirement in 1977 and then joined the public relations company, Murray Consultants, for a further decade or so. Among his post-Irish Times jobs was the chairmanship of the judging panel for the Journalist of the Year award for many years.
He died in 1996 and was survived by his wife Berteen and two daughters.
Douglas Gageby 1963-74 and 1977-86
Douglas Gageby was the most successful Editor of The Irish Times, doubling its circulation in his first 11 years as editor and rescuing it again during a recessionary slump in the late 1970s in his second term. Very much a journalist's journalist, he is credited with bringing the newspaper into the forefront of Irish life and removing the last lingering ties with the ancient regime.
A convinced republican, he was born in Dublin in 1918 but brought up in Belfast where his father returned to join the Northern civil service on its establishment. He was educated at Belfast Royal Academy and studied modern languages and law in Trinity College, Dublin.
On the outbreak of the second World War his parents persuaded him to put off enlisting in the Defence Forces until he finished his degree. He joined the Army as a private in 1941 but was quickly commissioned and moved into G2, the military intelligence unit, not least because of his fluency in German and his knowledge of Germany which he had visited several times in the 1930s.
After the war, he joined the Irish Press as a sub-editor and later reported from Germany during the Berlin blockade, becoming assistant editor of the Sunday Press in 1949. In 1951, he was made editor-in-chief of the Irish News Agency set up by the inter-party coalition government to counter a perceived pro-British bias in international news agency reporting of Irish affairs. He returned to the Irish Press in 1954 to help launch the successful Evening Press which he edited for its first five years.
He joined The Irish Times Ltd as joint managing director in 1959 and became Editor in 1963, proceeding to lift the circulation from 35,000 a day to 69,500 over the next decade. In doing so, he was helped by people like news editor Donal Foley and John Healy, an old friend from the Irish News Agency and Irish Press, who had their fingers firmly on the pulses of aspects of Irish life of which Gageby had little personal experience, such as the rituals of rural life and politics.
His success, and that of the newspaper, was also helped by his light but firm editorial touch, giving many of his younger reporters and writers – particularly the women in the early days of feminism – their heads but always ready to curb their excesses.
He allowed his own political views – "largely in favour of Fianna Fáil", as he once defined them – to be a minority view within the newspaper though they made him more tolerant of Charles Haughey's early machinations than he might have been otherwise.
He stepped down as Editor in 1974, some months after the formation of the Irish Times Trust, partly as a result of criticism from some staff members of the fact that he and the other directors/shareholders had each netted £325,000 from the buyout by the Trust. Three years later, however, he was invited back as the paper struggled with a fall in circulation, a fall in advertising caused by the recession, and critical finances as it tried to pay off the loan used to buy out the directors.
His "second coming" was as successful as his first, stabilising the circulation and then setting it on an upward path again. His enthusiasms remained the same – the Defence Forces, the SDLP and its leader John Hume (whom he saw as a worthy successor of one of his own heroes, Thomas Davis), and nature.
After his retirement in 1986 he continued to write the In Time's Eye nature column, signed Y, in his distinctive, often cryptic, style.
He also completed a biography (The Last Secretary General) of his father-in-law, Sean Lester, the Irish diplomat who was the secretary-general of the League of Nations and had been its high commissioner for Danzig (Gdansk) in the 1930s. "I'm still a journalist, I'll die a journalist," he told an interviewer.orothy died in 2002 and he died in 2004 at the age of 85. They were survived by their two daughters and two sons.
Fergus Pyle 1974-1977
Fergus Pyle became Editor in 1974 when Douglas Gageby resigned unexpectedly and he was summoned back from covering the then EEC in Brussels to take the position.
He was born in Dublin in 1935 and educated in Campbell College in Belfast before returning to Dublin to Trinity College, where he was known as a jazz clarinettist, and Freiburg University. He joined The Irish Times as a junior leader writer in 1961 and was sent to Belfast as the newspaper's Northern editor later that decade. Always hugely energetic and enthusiastic, it was claimed (jokingly) that his reports from the old Stormont parliament were longer than the official Hansard record of its proceedings.
As the "Troubles" took hold and EEC membership beckoned, he was sent to Paris in 1970 and subsequently moved to Brussels in 1973 to cover Irish membership. Having been effectively absent from the Dublin office for most of a decade, he was suddenly brought back as Editor in 1974.
His appointment coincided with the post-oil crisis recession of the 1970s and saw a significant fall in advertising and circulation while the paper's finances were further strained by the large debt it had incurred to buy out the previous owners and establish the Irish Times Trust. Cheerful and open-minded, he lacked the dictatorial edge required in editors and resigned the editorship in 1977 after failing to reverse a decline in circulation.
He became information officer at Trinity College, of which he wrote a history, but came back to The Irish Times in the 1980s, once again serving as Northern editor in Belfast. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 he became Berlin correspondent the following year and reported on German unification before returning to Dublin as chief leader writer. He died in 1997 after a brief illness at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife Mary and two daughters and two sons.
Conor Brady 1986-2002
Conor Brady was the first Catholic (and one of the few people not associated with Trinity College) to edit The Irish Times and took its circulation to unprecedented heights of over 120,000 copies per day during his 16-year tenure.
He was born in 1949 and grew up in Tullamore, Co Offaly, educated at Cistercian Abbey in Roscrea and at UCD where he graduated with a BA in history and political science. He joined The Irish Times as a reporter in 1969, covered the Northern "Troubles" in Belfast, and was posted to the paper's London office.
In 1973 he left the paper to edit the Garda Review, the journal of the Garda Representative Body, do an MA in politics at UCD, and complete a book on the early history of the Garda, Guardians of the Peace. Two years later he joined RTE radio as a presenter/interviewer on its lunchtime news programme and its Sunday This Week programme.
He was invited back to The Irish Times as news features editor by Fergus Pyle in 1976 (who welcomed him jokingly as the only rat to join a sinking ship) and became an assistant editor in charge of all the features sections in 1978. In 1981 he was invited to edit the recently launched Sunday Tribune where he stayed for almost two years.
He returned again to The Irish Times and was appointed Editor in December 1986.
Among the notable developments of his editorship was the expansion of the newspaper's foreign coverage with staff correspondents covering the major transitional areas of the period such as Germany, Russia, South Africa and China; the development of extra supplements and more detailed coverage of other areas; and the first online edition. The newspaper also "broke" the story of Bishop Eamon Casey fathering a son, one of the revelations that undermined the monolithic power of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
He was president of the World Editors Forum in Paris from 1995 to 2000 and stepped down as Editor in 2002 with the title Editor Emeritus. He subsequently taught at New York's City University and UCD's Graduate School of Business and was appointed a member of the statutory Garda Ombudsman Commission, which investigates complaints against the Garda, in 2005.