Derry Journal 250: Banned north and south, the eventful story of Ireland’s second oldest newspaper 1772 - 2022

So we’re officially very old indeed! In fact, the Derry Journal is now the second oldest paper still in existence in Ireland and the oldest regional paper. But we might never have got here as the paper also carries the curious distiniction of being the only newspaper ever to be banned in the north and the south of Ireland post-Partition...

Launched in Derry on Wednesday, June 3 1772, the ‘London-Derry Journal and General Advertiser’ was a hand-set, hand-printed tabloid published twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday and costing one penny. Today the Derry Journal is the second oldest newspaper still in publication and the oldest regional and cross-border paper on the island of Ireland.

The Journal’s office was originally in the Diamond area and by the early 1800s had moved the short distance to Shipquay Street, where the Richmond Centre is today. The Town Hall (Exchange), as shown in the scale model currently in the Guildhall’s exhibition of the Plantation, was at the time located at the Diamond. The Siege of Derry had happened les than a century previous. The Town Hall, which functioned as a court, council chamber and indoor market, was surrounded by businesses of every kind in the centre of a city, which was a thriving port of global significance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Back in the 1770s and for generations to come, the Journal’s focus was largely on bringing the world to local people, concentrating on national and international news, affairs and dispatches from across Ireland, Britain and around the world. Long before radio and television was invented, newspapers like ours were the central means of disseminating factual information, a function they maintain today.

Some of the front pages from 1772 to 2022.

However while foreign travel was not the norm for most people, Derry and the north west was far from cut off as traders and passenger ships would have arrived up the River Foyle on a very frequent basis. Many of the ships would be ferrying people and goods between here and England and Scotland and the early editions of the Journal also list ships and passengers bound for the ‘New World’. As a centre of global trade with a booming shipping industry, international affairs would have been of interest to many in the city at the time. The target audience was the educated classes among the mainly Protestant gentry, clergy, nobility and tradesmen in a region where much of the rest of the population was illiterate. Among the earlier advertisers were a Mister James Gilbraith offering to teach arithmetic to genteel young men who’d prefer not to be taught at ‘common’ school, and a Mr Morris who had arrived from Dublin and opened up a dancing school at the Exchange, where the ‘newest and best methods of teaching young Ladies and Gentlemen’ would be employed.

The founder and first owner of the Journal, George Douglas, was a Protestant of Scottish Presbyterian stock, and by 1809 a Mr William McCorkell had taken over the paper.

Support for Catholic emancipation

Mr McCorkell, whose family were well known in the shipping industry, moved the printing operation and Journal headquarters from the Diamond to Shipquay Street around the year 1815, and the Journal would remain here until 1971. It was this Mr McCorkell who would shape the Journal’s future editorial stance when he made the radical and controversial decision to adopt a more liberal editorial policy and the Journal declared itself to be in support of Catholic emancipation in a radical departure from its former conservative, Protestant and royalist leanings.

Journal Shipquay Street.

Because of this shift, the then editor William Wallen resigned in protest in 1829 and became one of the founders of the Londonderry Sentinel the same year in direct opposition to the Journal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was replaced at the helm of the Journal by Edward Hyslop, a lawyer turned writer from Edinburgh, who became owner-editor several years later in 1836 after Mr McCorkell’s death. Mr Hyslop invested heavily in new technology and a new printing press which had been shipped from London - and oversaw the Journal’s circulation growing by almost 50% - some 312 extra copies a week - in just a few years.

Mr Hyslop’s death in 1851 resulted in two new owners in quick succession - Arthur McCorkell and James Cruise, who were followed in July 1858 by Thomas McCarter Senior. It would be under his son, Thomas Junior that the Journal first adopted a nationalist outlook in its editorial policy around the 1870s. Mr McCarter Jnr. was something of an entrepreneur and became Alderman for Derry’s West ward. He also attempted to introduce a new ‘Daily Journal’ but this only lasted for three months in 1877. Beyond this he and his foreman, machinist Samuel Starrett patented a cast steel mechanical quoin, a labour and time saving device for printers which was adopted by at least three other newspapers.

And Mr McCarter was also responsible for changing the name of the paper. For the first time the ‘Derry Journal’ masthead appeared in March 1880 when the paper’s editor was William Roddy, whose stated ambition was to make the Journal ‘intensely nationalist’. It was at this stage that the Journal became truly the voice of the Catholic and nationalist population in the North West.

Pencil drawing of Journal staff back in 1969.
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Furthermore, when Mr McCarter established the Journal as a limited company, he did so with the proviso that its shareholders continue and perpetuate the paper’s nationalist policy. In a letter published in the Journal on January 3, Mr Carter Jnr. wrote: “The Derry Journal is a valuable property and I am naturally desirous of securing and preserving it, so that the continuity of its policy as a representative exponent of Nationalist opinion in the North West will be ensured.”

He added that clauses had been inserted in the Articles of Association “to secure the continuity of the policy of ‘The Derry Journal’ and that ‘the best way of ensuring the continuity of the Nationalist policy of the ‘Derry Journal’ is to have shares in the hands of Nationalists’. Out of the 198 shareholders, 56 were members of the Catholic clergy.

The McCarroll family

In 1925 James Joseph McCarroll - who would later become Nationalist MP for Foyle at Stormont - became managing editor/ director and company secretary.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He brought the Journal from the brink of bankruptcy to a healthy financial state, and began the long association between his family and the Journal, which would last right through to the 1990s.

Originally from Tyrone, McCarroll came to Derry as a reporter with the ‘Derry People’ before transferring to the Journal.

In 1927 he changed the Journal’s editorial policy from support of Cumann na Gaedheal to De Valera’s Fianna Fail party, a move which caused consternation in political circles in Donegal - and resulted in the creation, in Lifford, of a new paper to represent Cumann na Gaedheal views - the People’s Press.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

After his death in 1937 his widow, Mary Josephine (Molly) McCarroll took over as managing director until her death in 1964, with PJ Flanagan as Editor. In those days a woman in a top Executive position would have been a rarity, but unusually, when Molly McCarroll took over, the Board of Directors consisted entirely of women.

Her son Frank then held the post until his death in 1994, and his son Colm was managing director until 1998, when the Journal group of newspapers was sold to Mirror Group Newspapers.

Banned north and south

While looking through archive material for the 250th anniversary edition, I came across a previous Journal anniversary piece featuring some excellent research previously conducted by acclaimed Derry journalist and author Freya McClements, providing details of a little known fact - that the Journal holds another distinction in that it is the only paper ever to have been banned in the north and the south.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Journal was prohibited by the Free State government in 1932 and again by Stormont eight years later when both administrations took drastic action under special powers legislation reportedly linked to its unapologetically Nationalist stance.

It was just after the new year in 1932 when gardai officers called at newsagents across Donegal and without warning removed and took possession of the Journal copies. Staff at the Journal were not informed in advance and the following edition on January 6 condemned the ban as a “mystery that remains unexplained”.

Meanwhile, the Journal management headed to Dublin to try to get to the bottom of the mystery amid rife speculation back in the north west and beyond. They were assured there the paper was not banned, although no official explanation was ever given. While a leading voice opposing the Partition of Ireland, the Journal was also by this stage a critic of Cumann na Gaedheal-led government and instead supported Eamon De Valera’s Fianna Fáil. One theory for the ban was the paper’s substantial coverage of the Fianna Fáil Convention in Donegal. Another was a dispute with a Donegal TD who had lost his bid for re-election as one of the paper’s directors. The Journal itself stated: “Our crime is that we refused to follow those who bartered the nation’s birthright, who, at the call of shallow, self-seeking opportunism, foreswore the idea of a nation one and indivisible, who betrayed the principle of Collins and Griffith....”

Yet more theories emerged but to this day, 90 years later the true cause remains something of a mystery.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In line with the Free State, the Journal followed a policy of neutrality on the outbreak of World War 2, and on June 1, 1940 found itself issued with a six month ban in the north.

As a cross-border paper, the Journal reported its own banning in the Inishowen edition, which it still published that week. Again the Journal stated that it was “totally unable to throw any light on the reason underlying this amazing decision” while reasserting its editorial stance in a defiant message.

Then owner and director Molly McCarroll wasted no time in travelling to Belfast to demand a meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs Sir Robert Dawson Bates. Reports suggest he told her the ban was enforced due to pro-German headlines but agreed to lift it three days after it was issued. In reality the headlines had been pro-Irish rather than pro-German, with neutral coverage at odds with the content of other papers at the time. The ban rescinded, the owner and management placed a large notice assuring readers neither concessions nor compromise on its political stance was made.

There are plenty more interesting tales in today’s special edition. Thanks to all the staff past and present who had a hand in producing it and, our story being your story, we hope you find it of interest.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

**The above is largely based on research conducted by Freya McClements as part of an MA thesis at Dublin City University. The full text - entitled ‘Press Censorship and Emergency Rule in Ireland: The Ban on the Derry Journal, 1932 & 1940’ is available online at www.dcu.ie/communications/showcase.shtmlInto the modern era

PJ Flanagan was followed as editor by Tom Cassidy, who remained in charge from 1957 to 1977. A former footballer, he was a regular figure in the press box at the Brandywell from the early 30s until 1972, when Derry withdrew from the Irish League. The day after his death in 1987, the sad news was announced at the ground.

As well as steering the Journal through the early Troubles years, Tom Cassidy was responsible in 1971 for the Journal’s departure from Shipquay Street when it was decided in the late 60s to change over to a new production system. New printing works were built at Buncrana Road in Pennyburn, which was operational by February 1970. All departments were then transferred to the Buncrana Road site in 1971.

Frank Curran took over as Editor in 1977 and held the post until 1982 when Pat McArt was appointed, beginning what would turn out to be a long tenure right up to his retirement in 2006, when Martin McGinley was appointed. Martin McGinley was succeeded by Eamon Sweeney, who was in turn succeeded by Arthur Duffy, who retired at the helm in July 2019 after 42 years of working the Journal. Brendan McDaid was acting editor for the next 18 months before being officially appointed editor in January 2021.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Journal has changed hands several times since it was acquired by The Mirror. It was later transferred to Trinity Mirror following a merger, and then in 2004 to Local Press Ltd. before Johnston Press took ownership. In December 2020 it was acquired by its current owners, National World.

In 2012, the paper relocated from its home of 41 years at Buncrana Road to Pennyburn Pass. The Derry Journal remained here for a decade, evolving its website www.derryjournal.com and social media presence over those years, before last month relocating for only the fifth time in its 250-year history to the Catalyst building at Fort George.