Walk through 250 years of Derry Journal history this June at Foyelside

The Derry Journal will be celebrating a milestone next month as the second oldest newspaper in Ireland marks 250 years since its foundation and first edition.

By Brendan McDaid
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 9:14 am

Our Story is Your Story Too!

You can experience our local history for yourself by visiting our FREE commemorative Exhibition in Foyleside Shopping Centre from Monday 30th May to Sunday 12th June. Supported by our partners, St Mary’s College, Alchemy, Crash Services, Museum of Free Derry, City of Derry Airport and Associated Print Holdings, the live 3D exhibition will showcase some iconic front pages from across the past two and a half centuries, showing the evolving public face of the Derry Journal and highlighting key moments from our local history.

See the changing mastheads of your Derry Journal newspaper, and relive pivotal moments of history, from the Great Hunger and its aftermath in the 1840s, the Troubles of the 20th century, through to the recent Covid 19 crisis, Lockdown, right through to the historic recent Stormont elections.

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The front page of the very first Derry Journal (top right) and some of the other front pages over the past 250 years,.

Looking back at life and events of the 1770s, it is remarkable how much of the region’s past remains tangible today, and yet it is also a world much changed.

When the Journal was first published in June 1772, the ancient city of Derry was already over a millennium old and was well established as a port of global significance. Indeed early editions of the Journal listed the names and origins of people who came from across Ireland to board ships docked on the Foyle bound for the promised land of America.

Meanwhile a linen industry was taking off in the city and its population was growing rapidly as settlements sprang up outside the 160-year-old City Walls. It was, in fact, in the 1770s that a Linen Hall was built on the city centre street named after it and which still exists today, Linenhall Street.

Globally, slavery still existed but a landmark case in England in 1772 saw an African man, James Somerset, who had been taken into slavery by an English man in north America, freed by a judge after challenging the person who wanted to sell him in Jamaica, while the famous Boston Tea Party incident in 1773 fuelled discontent between George III’s England and the colonies in America just as James Cooke set sail on an expedition that would discover Antarctica.

Here at home the famous and colourful Bishop Frederick Augustus Hervey had been installed as CoI Bishop of Derry, taking up residence in what is today the Masonic Hall with its sprawling gardens (now Bishop Street car park). It was this Bishop who built Downhill and the famous Mussenden Temple on a cliff overlooking Benone and Lough Foyle, and who is perhaps most noted for his conciliatory stance towards the native and largely Catholic population of the wider region. He even donated £100 to the construction of the Catholic Long Tower Church, situated nearby and built on the site of a once massive cathedral for the Templemore parish and an ancient round tower, with links back to the 6th Century and St Columba.

There is less material that has survived on the plight of the ordinary people but it is known that across Ireland poverty was rife during the 1700s. Discriminatory laws barring Catholics and also Presbyterians from holding political office and Catholics from buying or acquiring land resulted in the native Irish Catholic and dissenter populations owning next to nothing, after the carve up by colonists over preceding generations.

However by 1772 change was afoot and the course of our history would be set. Within the next 20 years some of the discriminatory laws would be repealed so that by 1793 some Catholics could vote, buy land and marry a Protestant (although they still couldn’t be MPs and many were living in dire poverty). By then, Wolfe Tone had created the United Irishmen and risings flared across Ireland inspired by the revolutions in France, the US and elsewhere.

For the more affluent however, life continued as it had. Boom Hall in 1772 was acquired and rebuilt by James Alexander (who would later become MP for Derry and whose descendant would marry Cecil Frances Alexander) along with lands at Moville, while Prehen House was in the possession of the Knox family, and Elagh Castle- once a stronghold of the O’Doherty clan - was by now already in ruins. Its tower can still be seen today high above the Buncrana Road near the border with Bridgend.

It is fascinating to think of how the north west has evolved over the past two and half centuries. It is remarkable that so much of our heritage remains today and lamentable too that so much has been lost.

Throughout those years however the Derry Journal has been a constant, a key observer of local events, the paper of record which has played a vital role in bringing the world to the people of the north west and representing the people of the north west of Ireland to the world. It has been an important voice, and many times a lone voice, championing local people across Derry, Donegal and Tyrone over those two and half centuries.

Many of you of all generations will remember scouring the pages of the giant Friday Journal for the latest news and sport, having your photo in the paper, maybe attending a Journal dance, looking up ads for jobs, houses, services and placing memoriams down the years.

Arguably, the biggest changes for our industry and in society generally have occurred over the past 20 years but we hope to be telling the story of this city and region for many years to come in print and online at www.derryjournal.com.

Derry Journal 250th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition in Foyleside Shopping Centre from Monday 30th May to Sunday 12th June. It is free to visit and is open during centre opening hours. Thank you to our partners St Mary’s College, Alchemy, Crash Services, Museum of Free Derry, City of Derry Airport and Associated Print Holdings for helping to make this possible.

Brendan McDaid, Editor, Derry Journal