Newspaper Reactions to the Easter Rising in Cork, Part 1
By Alan McCarthy, UCC School of History
The Easter Rising of 1916 has traditionally been viewed as a century-defining epoch that has shaped modern Ireland for the past one hundred years. In this centenary year it has received extensive column space and media attention, just as it did a hundred years ago.
During this period Irish newspaper enterprises played a key role in disseminating both the news and opinions, and occasionally intruded upon the narrative and become part of the news themselves.
This research seeks to highlight the politics of Cork’s newspapers and their employees prior to the Rising, their reaction to the Rebellion itself and the transformative effect, if any, that this event had on their reportage. Dynamic personalities reflected, and indeed refracted, contemporary events for the popular newspapers of the day. It should of course be noted that proprietors, editors, reporters, journalists and printers in Cork at this time would have been all men. These men belonged to the middle-class, and served as links between the high political figures of the time and ordinary citizens.
The Skibbereen Eagle
The Skibbereen Eagle was the older of the two West Cork papers, having been founded in May 1857 by the Potter family. Originally it was a four-sheet paper containing mainly advertisements and snippets of local news, but would become renowned for its sharp acerbic witticisms throughout its lifespan. The paper’s opinions were even more numerable than its name changes, which included: The Skibbereen and West Carbery Eagle: Or South Western Advertiser, and The Cork County Eagle and Munster Advertiser. Any reference to the journalistic merit of the Eagle, however, would be incomplete without reference to its notorious comments concerning keeping a ‘Watchful Eye on the Czar of Russia’.[i] Characterised by its outspoken nature towards the end of the 19th century, the Skibbereen Eagle’s solemn warnings to the Czar are certainly not representative of delusions of grandeur on the part of the West Cork weekly. Rather, they highlight the sensationalist style of the paper, which would be continued throughout the revolutionary period, with the paper customarily raining down stinging swipes from its editorial ‘Watchtower,’ regardless of its oft-changing political affiliations. The ‘watchful eye’ of the Eagle has been immortalised by the J.J O’Molloy character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as being famously referred to by legendary sports broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy in his final television appearance.[ii]
The Southern Star
Launched in opposition to the Eagle, the Southern Star was founded by John and Florence O’Sullivan in 1889, with the paper becoming noted for its support of the Catholic Church following its sale by the O’Sullivan brothers to a consortium fronted by Monsignor O’Leary in 1891.[iii] Advertised as “the recognised Nationalist organ of South and West Cork” since its sale to the Monsignor, this consortium’s mismanagement is vehemently criticised in the memoirs of former Minister for Finance and one-time editor of the paper, Ernest Blythe.[iv]
The Cork Constitution
In the City, the Cork Constitution was not content to merely be an avid supporter of the British Empire. “The good old Tory organ” as Liam De Róiste called it, embodied the British Empire to such an extent that its windows were smashed and its offices stoned during the Rising.[v] Founded in 1825, the printing works and newspaper offices of the Cork Constitution were located in 42 Marlboro Street. The newspaper was taken over in 1885 by Henry Lawrence Tivy, “a member of a respected and affluent Cork family.” Tivy purchased the paper having made a small fortune as a highly successful butter merchant.[vi]
The Cork Examiner
The Constitution’s immediate counter-part, and sparring partner for close to a century, was the Cork Examiner. The paper was founded by John Francis Maguire, a close friend of the Apostle of Temperance, Father Matthew, before being taken over by the Crosbie family.[vii] At the time of the Rising, the paper remained a committed, but unofficial, Redmondite journal and was edited by George Crosbie.
The Cork Free Press
By way of contrast, the Cork Free Press served as the organ of the All-for-Ireland League since it’s foundation in 1909. In the oft-repeated tale, William O’Brien and his supporters were prevented from approaching the platform at the United Irish League’s ill-tempered, to put it mildly, ‘Baton Convention’ of 1909, being informed that no one with a Cork accent would be allowed to speak. In response, O’Brien formed his own constitutional Home Rule party, the All-for-Ireland League, and launched the party’s campaign newspaper, The Cork Accent, which was later replaced by the Cork Free Press.[viii] The paper was ostensibly founded by O’Brien, but primarily funded by his wife Sophie Raffalovich and other supporters like Lord Dunraven. As issues such as public commemoration, inclusivity and television dramas are hotly debated today , it is only fitting to reflect upon how the Rising was framed in the media by the dynamic personalities that reflected, and indeed refracted, contemporary events for the popular newspapers of the day in Cork City and County.