An editorial thanksgiving
IN APRIL 1930, when The Tuam Herald was facing the worst crisis of its existence, the then editor-publisher, RJ Kelly, excused himself for committing “a breach of journalistic etiquette” in writing from a personal point of view.
More than 80 years later, with the paper having overcome that 1930 trauma and having just celebrated the 175th anniversary of its first publication on May 13, 1837, I claim the same indulgence.
Most Irish newspapers were founded as family businesses. Few have remained so. The Tuam Herald has had three publishers from the Kelly family: the founder, Richard, his son Jasper, and his grandson Richard J. When the paper was about to disappear in 1930 John Burke, who had managed it since 1900, borrowed from relatives to buy it and revive it. He was followed by his son Jarlath, who has been followed by the present writer.
The history of this newspaper mirrors in microcosm that of the country. It began with the dream of repeal, supporting Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. Within ten years it was lamenting the horrors of the Famine; it reported the first meeting of the Land League in Irishtown, and took the side of Parnell in the Split; it deplored the loss of life in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
In the 1930s it commented on emigration, the Economic War, and published article after article on the economic and industrial development of the country. More recently it has chronicled local triumphs and failures, most notably the rise, varying fortunes and eventual decline and fall of the Tuam Sugar Factory. It has seen progress and recession come in waves, like the sea.
Every one of these phases has been lived through, week by week, in the pages of this newspaper. The lesson to be drawn from over 9,000 weekly publications is that we cannot know what is to come — like those who lived through the Famine, the wars, the recessions, and did not know their future any more than we know ours, we can only go forward in faith. Which we sincerely hope to do, along with you, our loyal readers.
Many of those who spoke at the anniversary reception in the historic Synod Hall of St Mary’s Cathedral paid tribute to Jarlath P Burke, who edited and published this paper from 1945 to his death in 1993. It was he who started the careers of at least 25 national journalists, of all of whom he was quietly proud. He would have been greatly pleased and characteristically amused that his first protegé, Jim Fahy, was the distinguished master of ceremonies for the evening.
It is deeply to be regretted that he did not live to see two of the young men to whom he gave their start become the editors of, first, the Irish Independent and then The Irish Times. That Gerry O’Regan and Kevin O’Sullivan took time to attend the event and speak of their respect for JP Burke was a well-deserved posthumous tribute.
The current team in our newsroom and sports department tries to maintain the standards set by our predecessor. As the figurehead of the weekly effort, I am encouraged by the spirit of co-operation among our staff which makes this a generally harmonious working environment.
One of the things that distinguish today’s newspapers from those of the past is that nowadays journalists get bylines. Their names are associated with their major stories. So our readers are familiar with the names of Jim Carney, Tony Galvin, Tom Gilmore, Siobhán Holliman, Jacqueline Hogge, and the picture credits of Ray Ryan. They are backed up by subeditor Bernie McNicholas.
However, while journalists and photographers are the public face of a newspaper, many other people labour behind the scenes to make the weekly publication possible. Nowhere in the 19th century files of The Tuam Herald are recorded comprehensively the names of the printers and writers who worked to create it.
On this occasion, for this snapshot in history, we record the unsung staff: in reception, Margaret Fleming and Kathleen Walsh; Karinne Gardiner in accounts; in production Noel Egan and Nick Skehan; in scanning John Dooley; typesetting, Mary McHugh and Sinéad Hendricks; delivery, Padraic Gilmore. Carmel O’Halloran, accounts manager, and Liz Gardiner, advertising manager, give tremendous service, and were invaluable in planning the current and future 175th anniversary events.
Finally, I acknowledge my family: my wife Fionnuala, present at the 150th anniversary but now absent from us through debilitating illness; children Miriam, Aoife and Colum; my ever-supportive in-laws and neighbours Riana and Pat O’Dwyer; and my partner Mary Ryan, whose love, wisdom and support have been without parallel through good times and bad. She and her son Cathal have brought a new and refreshing life to me and our family. — David Burke