Making the papers – An Irishman’s Diary on 250 years of the ‘Limerick Chronicle’
Founded in 1768 by John Ferrar, a man before his time
The Limerick Chronicle, the longest surviving newspaper in the Republic, is celebrating its 250th birthday this year. The Belfast Newsletter, founded in 1737, lays claim to be the oldest paper in the country as a whole.
The Chronicle was founded in 1768 by John Ferrar, a man before his time. A Protestant, he was an avowed ecumenist, and wrote in the foreword to his History of Limerick, “why should we quarrel with an honest man because he differs from us in his manner of worshipping the Supreme Being?”
The newspaper was an instant success, its news content depending mainly on gleanings from the Empire and the Continent, with odd snippets of local news thrown in. Developments in the American Revolution were reported regularly, including the Boston Tea Party, the paper dismissing the Colonists and their activities as “nothing more than a mild irritant”.
An avowed Tory and unionist, Watson was a mortal enemy of Daniel O’Connell, and wrote vitriolic articles about the Liberator
The Chronicle was sold on by Ferrar to his-son-law, Andrew Watson, in 1781. Watson, who would be described these days as being a cute hoor, did extremely well when he acquired the Chronicle, the newspaper, according to the Limerick Reporter, “concentrating on local gossip, and was by no means scrupulous in its catching at flying rumours and all things that might feed the current appetite for which it bore for some period a rather remarkable name. It could not be excelled as an authority on army movements, promotions, exchanges, etc, and on war news, which was avidly read not alone in this country but beyond.”
Watson’s modus operandi, the Reporter recorded, was to visit a contemporary, Ned Flynn, proprietor of the Limerick Advertiser, who was well up on foreign politics, such as the strategy of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the position of hostile armies. Watson seemingly used stroll over to Flynn’s office, and slyly draw out from him the latest army news and strategies taking place in Europe.
He had the effrontery to jot down Flynn’s observations and publish them in the Chronicle about an hour before Flynn’s Advertiser appeared on the streets. And if that wasn’t enough, Watson went around town “with a knowing wink and hint to everyone what a queer fellow Flynn was to take his news from the Chronicle and not acknowledge it”.
An avowed Tory and unionist, Watson was a mortal enemy of Daniel O’Connell, and wrote vitriolic articles about the Liberator. When addressing followers in Limerick, O’Connell would invariably draw a cheer when sarcastically asking for the well-being of his antagonist. “How is my dear Andy Watson, ” he would enquire, referring to him as the proprietor of that Tory rag. It is certain that Watson cared not a whit. His profits from the Chronicle, “known everywhere – in all circles – and in all places”, plus his copious fees as a charter justice for affidavits, etc, made him a wealthy man.
The newspaper remained in the hands of the Watson family until 1856, with various owners taking over from them, none as colourful as the afore-mentioned Andy Watson.
I had just started my apprenticeship as a compositor in 1952 with the Limerick Leader when the Chronicle was bought out by that firm, owned by the Buckley family.
Let us pay tribute to those who down the years have kept the Chronicle flag flying through famine, rebellion and financial constraints
Informed by the Typographical Society that the publication of both papers on alternate days meant that we had now become a daily newspaper, it meant, to the delight of the compositors, and dismay of the proprietors, fewer hours and a rise in wages.
We lost the front page of the Chronicle one Saturday. In the days of the Linotype and hot metal, the heavy chaise was dropped accidently when being lifted from the stone, with the metal slugs scattering in a thousand pieces on the floor. Manager Paddy Moroney got us to lift matter from the previous day’s Leader to form a new page. Readers were none too pleased.
We celebrated in style, with a sumptuous meal, the bicentenary of the paper in 1966. What we didn’t know was that we were two years too early; local man Joe McMahon came across a copy of the second edition of the paper in an antique shop in Wales, dated August 15th, 1768. No sign of the first edition. Also missing, tragically, is the file for the full 12 months of the momentous year of 1798.
The present proprietors are Iconic Newspapers.
Let us pay tribute to those who down the years have kept the Chronicle flag flying through famine, rebellion and financial constraints; not forgetting the intrepid old-time compositors, who by the light of candle and oil lamp, picked by hand the six-point type from cases, returning each one when the paper was printed off.