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Kenny Memorial Lecture 2003 by Peter Berresford Ellis.
NEWS OR SOCIOLOGY? KENNY AND THE FORGOTTEN `GREATS' OF IRISH JOURNALISM I do not intend to deal with the life and career of Pat Kenny. This Autumn School has produced some very fine research and papers on that subject, most notably Patrick Maume's contribution `Between Fleet Street and Mayo'. My intention today is to try and put some professional context around Kenny as a journalist and to draw attention to the Irish input into journalistic development in these islands in the 18th to early 20th Centuries. Now I decided to introduce this subject today along a strictly personal path. The renown Belfast born journalist and essayist, Robert Lynd, who was a contemporary of Kenny, once wrote that fate has to do with events in the past that are the total of innumerable decisions of innumerable men and women which have summary and unintended results. I am not intending to launch a debate on Fate and Free Will but in giving this year's Pat Kenny Memorial Lecture, I feel justified in saying that there is some inevitability that has drawn me here to deliver it whether it was destiny or such an unintentional result of events. To start with, I first heard of Pat Kenny as an important figure in journalism when I was very young. My father - also a journalist who started his career with the old Cork Examiner in 1916 - often spoke of Kenny's writing professionalism while totally disagreeing with what he wrote. Having come from a Catholic and Nationalist background Kenny had turned to a faith in the already dying British Empire and espoused the Unionist cause in Ireland; his Anglophile attitude was an almost mystic belief in the values of a southern English identity that had never really existed. It is true that his anti Catholicism was more anti-clerical while his later anti-semeticism and proto-fascism is hard to understand or justify. Expressing such views during the turbulent birth pangs of the Irish State was not wise, especially in Mayo, which the English had declared a `proclaimed area'. Kenny once declared he was the most hated man in Ireland and thought nationalists were trying to assassinate him. That seems more a product of his imaginative vanity than reality. Those struggling for Irish independence were too busy to bother with the likes of a contrary eccentric like Kenny. However, he was feted by the English Tories who used his writings as propaganda against the Irish independence movement. My father judged him from a radical republican Left outlook which he shared with Robert Lynd Robert Lynd and my father worked together on the News Chronicle and both he and Lynd were sympathetic to the ideas of James Connolly. My father once told me that they were in agreement regarding Pat Kenny, the journalist, as a consumate professional but were simply appalled by his views. Robert Lynd's daughter, Máire Gaster later confirmed that. I am sure that most of you have heard of Robert Lynd. I suppose, in fairness, Unionists in the north would regard Lynd in the same way as nationalists regarded Kenny. Lynd was all the things that propaganda will tell you - could not possibly exist out of the Belfast Protestant background into which he was born in 1879. He was the son of the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and educated at Queen's University. But he was a fluent Irish speaker, he joined the Gaelic League in its early years, taught Irish to Roger Casement, became a Republican, a socialist and supporter of James Connolly. He moved to London in 1901 to become drama critic on Jerome K. Jerome's journal Today. He worked for the Daily News, which was to become the News Chronicle in 1930 and also became the leading essayist with the Left-wing weekly the New Statesman where his reputation was established. In all, Lynd wrote thirty books and he also contributed introductions to James Connolly's 1916 edition of Labour in Irish History, to Peadar O'Donnell's famous novel Islanders (1927), and Nora Connolly O'Brien's life of her father James Connolly: Portrait of a Rebel Father (1935). Among the close friendships Lynd developed was one with James Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle, who often stayed at Lynd's Hampstead home. Lynd, incidentally, married the Dublin born poet and novelist Sylvia Dryhurst. Sylvia was a great beauty and Arthur Ransome, who is best known for his children's novel Swallows and Amazons, once proposed marriage to her. Lynd's daughter, Máire, with whom I kept in touch until her death ten years ago, told me that her parents actually came to Mayo for their honeymoon in 1909 and her father took the opportunity to visit Pat Kenny to discuss his work. What a pity their conversation went unrecorded. The Lynds spent some time on Achill Island and introduced the artist Paul Henry to it. You probably all know his famous series of Achill and Mayo paintings. I was nearly seven years old when Lynd died. So my vague memory of him was the smell of tobacco and his chain smoking. Indeed, he died of emphysema (in 1949). When his daughter Máire died I was invited to examine the books in her study for any important items. Many were inherited from her father. Among them were several Pat Kenny publications. Most of Lynd's own work is now out of print, although some years ago Lilliput Press produced a volume of his essays Galway of the Races, which demonstrates Lynd's remarkable talent. Lynd, therefore, is one of the great journalistic contemporaries of Kenny, standing at the opposite end of the political spectrum. As I say, I first heard of Pat Kenny when I was a callow youth. I did attempt, in my early teenage, to read The Five Sorrows of Ireland, published in 1907, mistaking its title on my father's bookshelf, as I recall, for being a mythological tale in the mould of the Three Sorrows of Storytelling. I was quickly disabused after the first sentence as I found myself into a heavy tract on economics and agriculture and politics. The book was one of a couple of Kenny's titles on my father's shelves which were heavily annotated with points of disagreement. Now, I have not lost my theme as to how Fate, for want of a better description, brought me here. Another interesting coincidence, if you like, along the path was that I joined the English south coast weekly the Brighton and Hove Herald as a junior journalist. Pat Kenny had lived in Brighton while he was working in London's Fleet Street, once the Mecca of journalism. It was after his father had died (in 1901) that he left what, in The Five Sorrows of Ireland, he called `the comforts of Brighton', to return here to Mayo, to take over his father's farm and study the science of farming on which he wrote so prolifically. That, in itself, raises another coincidence. A few years before I started my career on the Brighton Herald, a journalist called Michael Viney started his career there. Mike Viney then went to London, wrote for Today magazine for a while before joining the Irish Times in Dublin. During the late 1960s he became well known for his series of hard-hitting social articles - his pieces on the problems of child poverty and the deficiencies in the mental health service were so praised that the Irish Times reissued them as pamphlets. He became a key figure in pioneering `social journalism' in 1960s Ireland. Hibernia, a sadly missed fortnightly political and arts journal, likened Mike and his wife Ethna as `Ireland's Sidney and Beatrice Webb', the English Fabians, historians and political activists. There is another Kenny coincidence, Mike and Ethna bought a small farm on the coast just south of Louisburgh, Clew Bay, here in Co Mayo. Mike's farming experiences became the substance of his writing, he continued a regular column in the Irish Times, broadcast on RTÉ and published books. Perhaps you could call Mike a modern day Pat Kenny but only so far as writing on the subject of agriculture goes. There are two other events that provide links for me with the Kenny/Naughton Autumn School. In the 1960s I had joined a weekly magazine in London. In 1966 I was attending a private showing of a film then about to be released - it was Alfie - and, of course, Bill Naughton was the author and screenplay writer. After the fillm, with the drinks and nibbles being circulated, my fellow journalists were crowding round Michael Caine, Millicent Martin, Vivian Merchant and the other big stars who were appearing in the movie. I was talking to William Miller, who was then a joint editor of Panther Books, and Bill Naughton's publishers in paperback. I noticed a man slightly apart looking uncomfortable at the glitz and glamour. I asked William who he was. William introduced me. It was, of course, Bill Naughton. He impressed this young journalist as professional and unpretentious; a writer who was concerned with his craft and uncomfortable with the personal publicity that inevitably came in the wake of success. The last link that I will mention is that of a previous speaker at this school - Brendan Mac Lua. He spoke here in 1996. Brendan is a person that I would place among the prominent innovative journalists from Ireland. He was born in Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare and moved on to Gael-Linn writing for a weekly news programme made for Telefís Éireann. He was a columnist on the Irish Press and Sunday Press, became executive officer of the GAA and was then head hunted by the National Publishing Group, which was, in the mid 1960s, Ireland's biggest magazine publishers. Brendan became editorial director of the Gaelic Weekly. I did some freelance work for the Gaelic Weekly and hence came into contact with him. In the autumn of 1969 Brendan, together with a London based Irish entrepreneur Tony Beatty, decided to launch a weekly newspaper for the Irish in Britain. Brendan 'phoned me and, the rest, as they say, is history. In February, 1970, the Irish Post was launched with Brendan as managing director and editor and I as deputy editor. Brendan Mac Lua, now retired, recently edited A History of the Irish Post. The Irish Post still survives and, of course, Joe Mullarkey, one of your organisers, is a prominent Irish Post columnist. I think Brendan's professionalism, not merely as an editor, but his controversial Frank Dolan column, made the Irish Post the success it became. Brendan certainly deserves a niche in the journalistic hall of fame. So these are the links or coincidences along the route to my being here. And in sketching that path, I have already mentioned a few prominent Irish members of what journalists call The Fourth Estate. This leads to my main thrust. It is interesting that Ireland's contribution to journalism on an international scale, like Ireland's contribution to literature, is disproportionate to its population. The first newspaper to be published in Ireland was launched 1660. During the late 18th and early 19th Centuries more newspapers were being printed in Ireland per head of population than in England. In Co Cork alone, between the end of the 18th and start of the 20th Century, some 118 newspapers were published. All these publications were in English. This is in itself interesting when you consider there were two languages in Ireland and until the early19th Century, English was not a majority language. A survey carried out for Trinity College in 1820 estimated that half the population, 3.5 million spoke Irish of which over one million spoke only Irish. Now here is an amazing `black hole' in studies on the Irish language. We know during the 17th Century and especially during the Penal Years, books in Irish were being printed on the Continent and smuggled into Ireland but no one has ever dealt with the apparent lack of newspapers and magazines in Irish. We know that twelve Belfast Presbyterians launched the first Irish language magazine on January 4, 1792 - Bolg an tSoltháir, its editor being Samuel Neilson. But it only survived one issue, albeit of120 pages. Search any history of the language to find out what the first regular Irish language newspaper was and there is a distinct lack of information. So far as we can gather, it was An Fior Éireannach (The True Irishman) launched in Co Tipperary in 1862. Even the National Library do not appear to have copies of this and lists An Claidheamh Soluis, launched as a weekly in June, 1903, as the first all Irish language newspaper. Indeed, it was only in the 20th Century that we can begin to identify important Irish language newspapers, their editors and contributors. Editors like Ciarán Ó Nualláin, who launched the weekly newspaper Inniu in March 1943, and was brother of the famous Flann O'Brien. Inniu, some of you may recall, was published for forty years and closed with the August 24, 1984 issue when it was absorbed into the Sunday tabloid Anois which disappeared in 1996. We find journalists like Cathal Ó Sándair, whose amazing journalist contributions are eclipsed by the fact that he published 160 novels in the Irish language in a writing career spanning nearly 50 years. This area of study - Irish language journalism - should rightly lay in the hands of someone more competent than myself. My aim now is to try to give you a brief taste of the sort of people that I feel deserving of a place in an Irish journalistic biographical dictionary concerntrating on those who contributed, like Pat Kenny, to the English language media. I have already mentioned a few. Looking at some of the great innovations in the world of newspapers and magazines, especially in England, one might be accused of prejudice by the observation that the Irish played more than an insignificant role in bringing them about. The first penny daily newspaper ever published in England was launched by a Wexford man; the world famous Financial Times in its modern guise was set up by a man from Tipperary; that English Establishment, Punch magazine, was co-founded by a man from Birr, Co. Offaly, and the first modern war correspondent was a Dubliner. A Galwayman helped to establish The Quarterly Review the great London literary journal, which had a publishing life of over 150 years. A Cork journalist became president of the Press Association, the premier newsagency, founded in 1868 as a rival to Reuters. A journalist from Co Derry created that bastion of the London journalistic Establishment, the London Press Club, founded in 1896. Are these Irish links merely coincidences? It is doubtless easy to link isolated people and events on the basis that there is simply an Irish common denominator and draw conclusions. But the links are there and I think it would be ingenuous to write any history of journalism in these islands without acknowledging the Irish input. When I started in journalism over forty years ago, it was before the age of the many technical aids that journalists have now - audiocassette recorders to take down what people are telling them instead of the laborious note-taking. One of the essential subjects you had to be proficient in to get your National Diploma in Journalism was shorthand. There were two types of shorthand. Pittman's, which was favoured by secretaries and those in the legal profession, and there was Gregg's and it was Gregg's shorthand that was most favoured by journalists as being less complicated than Pittman's - there were no thick and thin strokes and above and below a base line. Gregg's system was so flexible that it had already been adapted in seventeen different languages within the first 25 years of its use. John Robert Gregg who invented this easy form of shorthand in 1888 was from Rockcorry, Co Monaghan. A journalist, he actually published his shorthand method when he was 21 years old. He emigrated to Boston in the United States where he formed his own publishing company but it was his system of shorthand that brought him fame and fortune and the blessing of many struggling young journalist. It is said that journalists have to be lucky as well as talented. Spencer Perceval has secured his place in history by being the only Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to have been assassinated in office. He was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons in May, 1812. Perceval was actually from an old Anglo-Irish Ascendancy family whose members were active in the Dublin Parliament in the 18th Century. Perceval's grandfather's estates were in Cork. His assassin was John Bellingham, a frustrated businessman who had lost money in ventures in Russia for which he blamed the Government. Bellingham was married to Mary Nevill from Newry and they lived in Dublin. But for three years Bellingham had petition the Government in London for compensation and seemed on the verge of achieving it when Perceval intervened and stopped it. Bellingham went to the House of Commons with two loaded pistols and shot Perceval dead. Bellingham was tried and executed two days after Perceval's funeral. I am tempted to venture the `bad taste' comment that they didn't hang around in those days There was only one journalist who witnessed the event and not only witnessed it but disarmed and captured Bellingham. Enter Vincent Dowling, chief reporter of The Observer newspaper. Vincent was actually born in London of Dublin parents. He was only a few months old when he was taken to his parents home in Rathermines, Dublin where he was brought up and educated. He began work with John Hillary who ran a bookshop in Castle Street and then worked on the Hibernian Telegraph and Morning Star. Dowling went to London and was given a job on the Observer, which was in financial trouble. Dowling's stories - some of them he had to manufacture himself - like crossing the Channel in a rowing boat single handed - and don't forget the Napleonic Wars were still going on - attracted readership to the ailing newspaper. But when still only 27 years old, his scoop on the assassination of the Prime Minister Perceval made his reputation and secured a future for the Observer, which is still with us. I mentioned the founder of the Press Club in London. This was Charles Williams born in 1838 in Coleraine in Co Derry. He started his career on the Belfast News Letter but eventually went to London and became a celebrated war correspondent on the Daily Chronicle and Standard. We know hardly anything of his personal life only that he believed in reporting wars from the front line and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Williams won praise for his despatches sent during the Egyptian Expedition against the Mahdi in 1882 commanded by Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood whose biogrphy he later wrote. Williams also wrote one novel in 1889 entitled John Thaddeus Mackay. I mention this because it was a curious novel for the time about a northern Irish Presbyterian minister a`stickit minister' and a priest journeying to India together who learn mutual charity. Williams was not the only renown Irish war correspondent of his time. More fame has attached itself to William Russell, who regretfully I see described in The Readers Encyclopaedia as `English'. But for the record, he was born and educated in Dublin and started writing for the Evening Freeman. Aged 21 he sent a report of the Irish general election of 1841 to the editor of the London Times who was impressed. A few years later he was asked him to cover the Repeal agitation. Russell's accounts of the monster meetings and interviews with Daniel O'Connell caused him to be invited to London on the permanent staff of The Times. Russell became famous for his despatches from the Crimea revealling the incompetence and mismanagement of the general staff and commissariat and which caused the resignation of Lord Aberdeen's Government in 1855. In one of his despatches during the battle of Balaclava he used the descriptive phrase about a line of defending soldiers as `the thin red streak topped with a line of steel' and this has passed in misquoted form into English language usage as `the thin red line'. Russell covered what the English called the `Indian Mutiny' and what the Indians call the `National Uprising' of 1857. He revealed the atrocities practised by the British Army in India against the defeated Indians. Through his reports it was learnt that British generals were ordering captured Indian sepoys to be strapped across the mouth of cannons and the cannons fired to intimidate the people.The ensuing outrage forced the Government order a change in policy. Russell went on to America and reported the Civil War with his unbiased reports angering both Union and Confederate authorities,he was expelled by both sides. Wherever there was a war, Russell was to be found reporting it - the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War and finally the Zulu War of 1879. It was Russell who established the Army and Navy Gazette on January 7, 1860, which was to survive for nearly a century, the title was changed to The United Services Gazette in 1936. Russell wrote several books and many of his despatches from the war fronts were given more permanent form collected in volumes. Williams and Russell set high standards for future war correspondents to follow Another Dublin journalist maintained that tradition. Cornelius Ryan who become a US citizen when he was in his thirties. He was actually born in Synge Street, south Dublin in 1920 and went to the Synge Street Christian Brothers School. He started his journalistic career on the Dun Laoghaire Star and went to London in 1943 as a war correspondent working for the Daily Telegraph. He also believed in reporting from the front and flew on fourteen bombing missions to report on the aerial bombardment of Germany. He covered the D-Day landings and was one of the first correspondents to enter liberated Paris. He was first into Berlin when the city fell and then covered the war in the South Pacific. After the War he was offered a job with Time magazine in the USA, wrote a life of General MacArthur, 1951, a book on the air war and several other works before producing his best-selling account of D-Day The Longest Day in 1957. It sold 10 million copies and was made into a film. There followed The Last Battle, 1960, on the fall of Berlin, and then A Bridge Too Far in 1974, on the Arnhem disaster, also made into a major film. They were books on campaigns he had witnessed. He didn't pull any punches. He brought Field Marshal Montgomery's egotistic and self-promotional accounts down the reality, especially Montgomery's disastrous plan for the capture of Arnhem (Operation Market Garden) in which 7,600 Allied soldiers lost their lives in a few days fighting without taking the objective. All due to bad strategic planning. Of course, if you asked any Cork person about Montgomery's military qualities you would have heard some home truths. Montgomery, when a major, was a staff officer in Cork City during the War of Independence and is on record in writing that the army should treat all citizens as IRA and that he had no compunction in how many civilian houses he burnt down to bring the population to obedience. Anyway, the books on the campaigns he witnessed made Cornelius Ryan into a household name. He was one of the great Irish war correspondents. I should mention that there are contemporary Irish journalists who continue the war correspondents tradition such as Orla Guerin. Orla Guerin has certainly made a reputation starting as foreign correspondent with RTÉ then joining the BBC to cover the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, particularly Kossovo and later the Middle East. By the way, Orla Guerin must not be confused with the late Veronica Guerin, who, of course, deserves her own place in the journalist hall of fame as one of the great investigative reporters whose work was so feared by the Dublin underworld that she was murdered on June 26, 1996, in an attempt to still her voice and intimidate free speech. I mentioned a co-founder of Punch a short time ago. That was Joseph Coyne from Birr, Co. Offally, but I'll come to him in a moment. First I want to mention one of Coyne's mentors. John Croker from Galway, who had help establish the Quarterly Review, in 1809 which became one of the greatest English literary journals of the period. It was published by John Murray and was only discontinued in 1967. Croker was one of its editors. It was his savage criticism of John Keats' Endymion (1818) that is claimed by Percy Bysshe Shelley as having brought about the poet's early death aged 26 a few years later. Keats actually died in Rome from tuberculosis. So I think Shelly was a little OTT on attributing the death to Croker. Croker also zealously attacked Lady Morgan. Croker was one of those critics who loved to show off his cleverness by devastating attacks on fellow writers. Even his friends saw his criticism of Lady Morgan as having an almost pathological hatred in it. Lady Morgan was the daughter of the Irish actor-manager Robert MacOwen. She went to school in Clontarf but lived for quite a while with cousins in Conamara andlearnt Irish. Then she produced her famous novel The Wild Irish Girl in 1806, which had the same affect in literary circles as MacPherson's Ossian. She married a Dublin doctor Sir Charles Morgan and lived in Kildare Street. What caused the enmity with Croker? Croker was born in Galway, educated in Cork and Trinity College, Dublin, and called to the Irish Bar in 1802. He was briefly Customs comptroller in Wexford. He wrote a pamphlet advocating Catholic Emancipation in 1807 but was then elected as Tory Member of Parliament for Downpatrick in 1808. He soon changed his views when offered a government role. He was appointed First Secretary to the Admiralty in 1809 and remained in office until 1830 even while pursuing his journalistic career. He was a die-hard anti reformer even quarreling with Robert Peel on his reofrm programme. It was Croker who, in January, 1830, first applied the word `Conservative' to the Tory Party. Now - Croker's vitriolic criticism of Lady Morgan. Lady Morgan had published a new novel O'Donnel, in 1814 It was the first novel to have an Irish Catholic hero. If that was not cause enough to irritate Croker now a pillar of the Tory Government, her next novel Florence Macarthy, 1819, outraged him. To demonstrate the literary and social impact of Lady Morgan's new novel, let me bring you into the early 20th Century when William Faulkner's novels of the deep south of America were published. In books like Satoris, The Sound and the Fury and others Faulkner explored the burden of the southern past, the old Confederacy, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, inability of southern aristocracy, the plantation owners, to meet the demands of modern life; the alienation of the mass of people and the turmoil of black and white relations. Faulkner might well have read Florence Macarthy which was written over a century before, because the parallels are self evident. Lady Morgan deals with Irish colonial history, the inability of the old Anglo-Irish Ascendancy families to come to terms with modern life, the alienation of the ordinary people, the rise of the Orange Order and the turmoil of the Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant relationships. No wonder Croker's Ascendnacy vitriol was unleashed on Lady Morgan. So now let's return to Croker's protegee - Joe Coyne, founder of Punch. Coyne, as I said, was from Birr, Co Offaly where he was born in 1803. As a young man he wrote farce for the Theatre Royal, Dublin, and then, he set out for London with a letter of introduction to John Croker. The letter was from William Carleton, - the Co Tyrone journalist who sold his pen and formidable talent to whoever would provide security for him Unionists, Nationalists, Tories or Republicans. It was not bothered who paid his bills. Croker responded to Carlton's letter and became Joe Coyne' s literary mentor. For a time Coyne worked for the Quarterly Review, then for the Morning Gazette. During this time Coyne managed to produce some 60 farces for the theatre, many of which were translated into French and German. In 1841 Coyne co-founded of Punch magazine. It was to be a London based comic weekly magazine - a blend of humour, serious comment and views and which set out to expose various shams, fads, affections and forms of ostentation. It became an English literary establishment. But when Punch developed its horrific anti-Irish racist views that were so prevalent in Sir John Teniel's cartoons, Coyne had already quit his involvement with the magazine. (He died in 1869.) I should mention that the famous London born cartoonist Richard Doyle, son of an equally famous Irish cartoonist John Doyle, resigned in anger from Punch over the journal's anti-Irish attitudes. If you want to see for yourself the racist depths that Punch plunged to, many of the cartoons have been reproduced in Liz Curtis excellent study on the roots of anti-Irish racism in England. And a sad comment is that during the 1880s, when Punch was so prevalently anti-Irish, its chief cartoonist was a Wexford man - Harry Furniss, educated in Dublin, who went onto to be famous as a silent movie producer. I have referred briefly to the Irishman who launched the first penny daily newspaper in England. This was the forerunner of what we call the popular press. It was, in fact, the Liverpool Daily Post. The journalist who launched the newspaper was Michael Whitty from Duncormick, Co Wexford,. The son of a local shopowner, he was educated for the priesthood at Maynooth but went into journalism instead. In his twenties he went first to London and produced a book Tales of Irish Life, illustrated by the great artist George Cruikshank, better known as Charles Dickens illustrator. The book was an enormous success. But Mike Whitty was not destine
Posted by Rogers, Paul on Wednesday 03 December 2003