Tuesday 21 May 2019

Extra, extra! The inside story of the 'Irish War News'

Copy for publication was dictated from the GPO frontline, writes Fergus Cassidy

Patrick Pearse envisaged the 'Irish War News' as a good way to get the message of the rebellion out to the greater public. Credit: UCD Archives
Patrick Pearse envisaged the 'Irish War News' as a good way to get the message of the rebellion out to the greater public. Credit: UCD Archives
A 'breaking news' style article announced the events of the Rising on the back of the four-page publication. Credit: UCD Archives

The Irish War News was the brainchild of Patrick Pearse, who wanted to get the message about the rebellion out to the public. He recruited printer Joe Stanley, a well-known republican who published several activist papers and edited The Gael magazine.

Stanley explained how the newspaper came together. "On the evening of Easter Monday 1916, I went into the GPO to join the military action, which had started by that time. I had some previous acquaintance with James Connolly and in view of my knowledge of printing, he instructed me that I could be of most service by getting official publications and arranging their distribution. At a conference, which took place subsequently, with PH Pearse, James Connolly and myself and at which the commandeering by me - with Military Escort - of the Irish Independent works was considered at length - it was finally decided that it would be of better military value if a smaller plant was commandeered".

Armed with a revolver given to them by Connolly, they took possession of James O'Keefe's works at Halston Street.

Charles Walker, a young printer at the Gaelic Press, gave an account to the Bureau of Military History.

"We all worked there. Mr Stanley checked and read the proofs. My father, Matthew J Walker, (Thomas) Ryan and (James) O'Sullivan set up type and I printed the jobs. Mr Stanley carried the printed jobs to the GPO and collected extra copy."

Stanley wrote, "We produced and circulated two editions of the Irish War News and three issues of the Official Daily bulletins. This work involved my attendance at the GPO for two or three hours each day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in addition to dangerous penetration through the British cordons which were drawing in around the Post Office from Wednesday.

"Our operations at Halston Street finished on Friday morning when I ordered my staff to disperse and as any further contact with the Post Office was impracticable - in view of the British cordons, I had to 'go on the run'."

Priced at one penny, most of the only issue was taken up with commentary on Irish and world affairs, and some satire, but the most important article came on the last of its four pages. Headlined 'STOP PRESS! THE IRISH REPUBLIC', it begins "(Irish) 'War News' is published to-day because a momentous thing has happened. The Irish Republic has been declared in Dublin, and a Provisional Government has been appointed to administer its affairs."

It went on to detail the signatories to the Proclamation, and reported on where the rebels had seized buildings. It boasted "the populace of Dublin are plainly with the Republic, and the officers and men are everywhere cheered as they march through the streets."

Twelve thousand copies were produced, with Pearse writing his articles inside the GPO itself before Connolly's secretary Winifred Carney, who entered the post office "with a typewriter in one hand and a Webley revolver in the other", typed it up for the printers.

Copies of Irish War News are rare, with one copy selling on the 90th anniversary for €20,000, although in recent years copies have changed hands for less than €1,000.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News