A few weeks ago I attended the launch of a unique local newspaper. It was the work of pupils of Scoil Mhichil Naofa and the 20 page newspaper edited by Eve McGlinchey, ably assisted by Nessa McGrath, was printed under the banner title of the ‘Scoil Mhichil Naofa Independent’. Launched by Claire Grady who is the Editor of Ireland’s largest selling newspaper, the ‘Irish Independent’, the occasion marked Athy’s re-entry, if only temporarily, into the world of newspaper publishing. For newspaper publishing was once a thriving if short lived business activity in the town of Athy. It was in 1849 as the final stages of the Great Famine were being played out that Frederick Kearney of Emily Square decided to compete with the powerful newspaper family, the Talbots who were based in Maryborough. The Talbot family newspaper empire was centred on the ‘Leinster Express’ which had a readership extending to South Kildare and beyond.
Kearney, a resident of Athy, who was by all accounts an Irish Nationalist, no doubt influenced by the events of 1848, decided to bring out a newspaper which he called ‘The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle’. Before he could do so the proprietors of the ‘Leinster Express’ in a move designed to kill off the new publication brought out the first edition of the ‘Irish Eastern Counties Herald’ on 13th February 1849. Printed in Athy the paper was claimed by Frederick Kearney to be merely a reprint nominally for Athy and the county of Kildare of the Maryborough based newspaper, the ‘Leinster Express’. The first edition of the ‘Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle’ went on sale on Saturday, 17th February which like its competitor was printed in Athy, but unlike the ‘Irish Eastern Counties Herald’ was an Athy newspaper in every sense of the word.
A war of words between the ‘Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle’ and the ‘Irish Eastern Counties Herald’ continued over the next three weeks. During that time charge and counter charge was made by either party, no doubt to the delight and enjoyment of the local reading public.
In the ‘Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle’ of the 24th of February its editor replied to his rival’s latest attack ‘our double headed contemporary has treated us to another lubrication or rather to a series of them. His latest publication besides retaining all the effusions with which he had before disgusted the public has added another to the number of articles that called forth the too mild strictures he received in the first number of the Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle.’
The Editor continued with an address to the people of Athy, ‘Do you believe that the establishment of a respectable journal in your native town is not calculated to attract attention to its favourable position for many kinds of business? Do you believe that it would not have the effect of simulating the intelligent youth of Athy to increase exertion in the pursuit of useful knowledge? No! We confidently answer for you; this assertion will be refuted, spurned, falsified. But it is not just in keeping with his inconsistent course of proceeding that he honours his paper with an Athy name, while he states that the town is not deserving of a newspaper. The best proof that could be given of Athy being entitled to have its own local public organ from its extent and population will be found in the following facts taken from Mitchell’s newspaper Guide and Slater’s Directory. The town of Athy is vastly superior as to trade extent and population to several towns in Ireland which have each their own local organs, namely Boyle which has but 3235, Ballinasloe 4534, Monaghan 4130 and Tuam 3681. The population of Athy is much larger than any of those towns, being 5000 according to the latest census, and yet we are told that it is not able to support a newspaper.’
The ‘Irish Eastern Counties Herald’ appeared as usual on March 13th, but with an editorial which undoubtedly surprised the Athy newspaper reading public which only one week previously was adjusting itself to the habit of two weekly newspapers where previously none had existed. The editor indicated that ‘the principal object for which the journal was established having been affected, many of our friends very reasonably concluded upon the demise of the so called Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle its publication would cease.’ The ‘Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle’ ceased publication after three editions and with its 5th edition on 6th March 1849 the ‘Irish Eastern Counties Herald’ joined its even shorter lived competitor by closing down its presses in Athy for the last time. So ended the short but lively journalistic exchange during which Athy for the only time in its long history was the centre of a provincial newspaper industry.
Thanks to Eve McGlinchey, Nessa McGrath and the pupils of Scoil Mhichil Naofa another chapter has been added to the printing and publishing history of Athy.