Tuesday 20 March 2018

Relive the Rising through the Irish Independent

Fionnán Sheahan

Newspapers are often regarded as the first draft of history and where scholars go when they want to put shape and reason on the past.

That's not to say that these journals always got it right, or were ruthlessly objective, but if you want a sense of the flavour of the past and texture of the times, there's not a better place to forage and browse.

In the case of the Irish Independent 100 years ago, that first draft took a whole eight days to reflect.

The offices of this newspaper were located right in the heart of the action on Middle Abbey Street, right around the corner from the GPO. Unfortunately, the proximity meant the offices were inaccessible and it took eight days for the next edition after Easter to emerge.

Today, the Irish Independent publishes the first of four replica newspapers from Easter 1916, when what was perceived at the time as a small Rising triggered the slow and painful journey to nationhood.

The paper was anxious to reflect what its middle-class Catholic readers felt about the insurrection, which was initially without popular support. This lead to editor Timothy Harrington's misguided editorials damning the rebels leaders in the most uncompromising terms.

In Independent Newspapers: a history, edited by Mark O'Brien and Kevin Rafter, Felix M Larkin describes the stance of the editorials as "bloodthirsty".

Larkin argues the Independent and its editor "simply misread the shifting mood of the public".

"The evidence for this is that Harrington was quoted soon after the Rising as saying - somewhat ruefully - that 'the people cried out for vengeance and when they got it, they howled for clemency'," Larkin wrote.

The newspaper's owner at the time, William Martin Murphy, later repudiated the articles in private - "though never in public, apparently out of loyalty to the Independent's editorial staff".

As the execution of the leaders of the Rising proceeded, the newspaper's stance changed, as did that of the public at large.

Ultimately, in the following period, the Irish Independent became a strong nationalistic voice in favour of independence.

The coverage is printed - warts and all - from a heady period when Irishmen were fighting a bloody war "for King and country" in Europe, while others became caught up in a revolution at home. These papers give a fascinating insight into the carnage as it unfolded on the streets of Dublin.

Introducing the series, the renowned historian and former editor of The Irish Press, Tim Pat Coogan, puts into historical context the tone and tenor of a newspaper that had its finger on the pulse of the nation.

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