Fascinating Personalities In Local Newspaper World

NO history of the media in the Newry region has been researched over the past two centuries. And certainly it would make a fascinating thesis for any student, aiming for a Master of Arts degree.

The fact is that Newry folk have always had a voracious appetite for newspapers, local and national. Some journals in the frontier town were published three times a week. And seven local newspapers circulated in the area from Rathfriland and Kilkeel to Crossmaglen, during the 70’s.

Newspapers, books and libraries `go together like a horse and carriage.` And Newry was fortunate to have had Book Clubs, Newsrooms, Reading Society and libraries, including the ultra-modern establishment on Hill Street, to satisfy the most discerning.

Some colourful characters have occupied the editorial chairs, such as John McAnulty (Belfast Telegraph), Gerry Duffy (Newry Reporter), Billy Locke (Newry Telegraph) and Joe Connellan, MP, (Frontier Sentinel).

Also some newsmen went on to higher things, such as Frank Hall (RTE), Eamonn Rafferty (Daily Telegraph), Brian Durkan (UTV), Sean Markey, Conor McAuley and Stephen Philpott (BBC); Billy Kennedy (Newsletter), Rowan Hand (BBC and RTE) and Donal O’Donnell, (Irish Press and Irish News.)

“If you trained as a journalist in Newry, you could work anywhere,” commented the late John McAnulty, that genial doyen of the local Press. The oldest working journalist in Ireland, he received an award from Newry and Mourne district council for his “outstanding contribution to the community.”

Cutting his teeth at the Armagh Guardian, under the tutelage of the legendary editor, Charlie Trimble, the knowledgeable scribe was editor of the Newry Reporter for seven years during the 40’s, before being appointed manager of the Belfast Telegraph’s Newry edition, based at the Mall.

Recalling how he had declined the offer of a transfer to Head Office in Belfast, John McAnulty stated: “Newry was a great town for entertainment, and we journalists were feted at all the social functions. I remember going with Gerry Duffy to the opening of Butlin’s at Mosney, and finishing up at a Knights of Columbanus dinner dance at the Alexandria Hotel in Warrenpoint.

But sadly he reported: “I built up a stock of thousands of photo negatives; and we were given the original list of passengers on the first ship to sail from the `Point to New York. They and a unique reference stock of information were all lost when the `Telegraph` office was bombed in the 70’s.” By coincidence, the Newry Reporter’ s photographs were destroyed in a fire at their offices in 1973.

Advising those taking up a career in journalism to “verify everything, - accuracy is vital,” John told Cuisle na Gael of how he had criticised an English reporter for embellishing a story, while phoning from the Telegraph office. The visitor responded: `If we don’t splash some colour around, the story won’t be printed.”

Another droll newsman was Gerry Duffy, who had been a `junior,’ when John McAnulty was editor of the Reporter. He later took over the top post. A real professional, Gerry was prominent in the Holy Name Sodality, attached to St Catherine’s Dominican Church, and a close friend of Newry urban council chairman, Tommy Markey.

Following a difference of opinion with the proprietor, Mr Hodgett, he was out of work for several months, neither side being willing to make the first move. Then, at the funeral of another newspaper editor, Joe Connellan, they were leaving Dromalane Church when Mr Hodgett enquired: “When are you coming back, Gerry?” Later, having joined the Northern Ireland Press Office, he phoned from Stormont on my first day at the Irish News, to extend good wishes.

Meanwhile, the Frontier Sentinel was used to further the political career of Joe Connellan, who became a Sinn Fein MP for South Armagh in the early 20’s, and later Nationalist MP for South Down. He and his successor, Max Keogh, controlled the Irish Citizens Association, which had a large majority on Newry Urban Council, until swept out of power by the Irish Labour Party in 1958.

The Newry Telegraph was one of the oldest newspapers in the region, being owned in the early 1900’s by James (Jas) Brown, who used the paper’s influence to secure a seat in the Northern Parliament. It was later purchased by the Newry Reporter, the editor being the avuncular Billy Locke, part of a comedy duo in the PJ McKay Pantomimes. Billy died tragically, the remains being identified by John McAnulty and Hal O’Brien.

When John became editor of the Newry Reporter in the 1940’s he was “given a free hand to develop the paper as I saw fit. News reports were lengthy and factual. All relevant background material was given, and nothing sensationalised. All material was to be assessed on its newsworthiness.”

That philosophy must have endured well into the 50’s. For when I was living in London, my mother would send me copies of the Frontier Sentinel and the Newry Reporter; but after a few weeks I told her not to bother. The Reporter consisted of boring, long-winded coverage of Newry urban and council meetings; Chamber of Commerce; Port and Harbour Board, etc, as well as detailed activities of various Protestant denominations.

And the Frontier Sentinal was dominated by speeches by the editor and nationalist MP, Joe Connellan at Stormont, AOH, INF and GAA social events; the Catholic bishop’s Lenten Pastoral, as well as articles about Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmett. Canon Toner, parish priest at Cloghogue, a native of Co Tyrone, encouraged Paddy Mallon, proprietor of the Dungannon-based Observer chain to launch a Newry edition, providing the Catholic population with a “decent newspaper.”

So, when placed in charge, I was determined to produce a journal, which would be interesting and controversial. Fortunately, a number of developments took place on the technical, political, social and sporting scenes. A Klischograph machine was invented, mass-producing photographs; the ICA, controlled by the Frontier Sentinel, was swept from power by the Irish Labour Party; a new style of pop music shook up the music scene; and an enterprising Down GAA management facilitated the Mourne squad in conquest of the Sam Maguire Cup in 1960.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008