A glance at the Christmas newspapers…from 1913

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Blogging Irish History

Herald 24 De 13

Evening Herald, 24 Dec. 1913

The end of year review is a staple of the newspaper industry. While History Ireland isn’t a newspaper, there seemed no reason not to attempt something similar. Given the nature of the magazine, the obvious thing to do was to glance back to the past. So we thought: why not look at what was in the news (and the newspapers) at Christmas 1913?

 

That date naturally corresponds with the current vogue for centenaries, so it made sense, in a newspaper round-up, to see how the event that garnered the most attention in 1913 (and quite a bit 2013) was viewed towards the end of the year in which it happened. The ongoing Dublin Lockout resonated in the editorials of Dublin’s newspapers. Jim Larkin’s own ITGWU organ, The Irish Worker (20 Dec 1913), observed that ‘the one question agitating all Dublin is whether this Christmas will see a re-lighting of the Fiery Cross or the ringing of Christmas bells of peace and rejoicing’.

 

On Christmas Eve 1913 The Irish Times (24 Dec. 1913) was by no means sympathetic to Larkin in its editorial, but put forth a critique of Dublin that Larkin might well have approved of:

 

‘In one sense Dublin is a rich city; in another sense it is a highly religious city; it is also a charitable city. Nevertheless, with all her religion, wealth, and charity, Dublin remains, in many essential respects, shockingly low in the scale of modern civilization. Our poor are housed worse [sic] than those of any other great city in Europe. Our death rate is still very high; the slums take an awful toll of infant life. A ghastly proportion of our citizens is born and dies in public institutions. The standard of cleanliness among our large class of casual workers is, and, in existing conditions, must continue to be, very low’.

 

The Times was deeply critical of Dublin Corporation for failing to tackle such social problems, and was hopeful that the ongoing labour dispute would prompt members of the working class to insist upon municipal reform. ‘We want the coming year to be a year of social reform in Dublin, and for that reason we earnestly desire a speedy settlement of our unfortunate labour troubles. We wish a happy Christmas to all our readers. It will not be the less happy for those who, amid their cheerfulness and comfort, spare a little time for thought about their responsibilities as citizens of Dublin’.

 

On the same day the Dublin Evening Mail (24 Dec. 1913) noted the cold weather of the previous night, complete with snowfall. It then looked at the contrast between rich and poor which had been thrown into stark relief by the Lockout. Dublin was:

 

‘Thronged with shoppers and sightseers…to think that Dublin has now nearly completed the fourth month of one of the most destructive labour disputes which have ever taken place in the United Kingdom is hardly possible considering the marvelous bustle [of] activity and general eagerness which could be seen on every hand. The only explanation possible is that Dublin is a city of unexpected wealth and financial resource, and that the middle classes are well provided [for], and beyond paying somewhat above the normal prices for necessaries they are bound to have a good time’.

 

But there was also ‘the sad side of the picture – the spectacle of bare-footed, half-naked children, and miserable men carrying home the food parcels from the English food ship, or whiling away the weary hours walking through the city, aimlessly and unhappy. The child-beggar, too, was a tragic picture. You met him everywhere – in the poor thoroughfares as well as in the rich. Christmas is his harvest time, and the softening influence of the festive season is rather accentuated by the keen poverty which the labour war has produced’.

 

Yet life went on. On Christmas Eve The Irish Times had carried advertisements for Brown Thomas (promoting ‘useful & seasonable articles suitable for presents’ and ‘65 years reputation for quality’), along with Christmas appeals for Jervis Street hospital, the National Children’s Hospital on Harcourt Street, and the Mendicity Institution on Usher’s Island. On the same day the Dublin Evening Mail carried an advert for the Swastika Laundry on its front page, along with the reassuring news that the Rotunda Rink was open for dancing on St Stephen’s Day (8pm: admission 1 shilling). And to keep its readers happy in the meantime, there was even a recipe for sweet sauce for a Christmas pudding. ‘Bring half a pint of milk to the boil, put in a slice of butter or piece the size of a walnut, a dessert spoonful of castor sugar, and nine drops of essence of almonds. Let them come to the boil, stirring in a little cornflour slackened in milk to thicken’.

 

The Evening Herald (24 Dec. 1913) covered a variety of stories in its Christmas Eve edition: there was a vaguely uncharitable reference to visitors to the capital (‘incursions from the country’), along with reports of a drowning in Clontarf, the shooting of a Russian brigand, and Jim Larkin’s possible departure for the US.  It also noted that ‘Bakers Grand Christmas Bazaar’ was open on Dorset Street. The Herald carried its own charitable appeals, and pointed out that the ‘Herald Boot Fund’ (to purchase footwear for the poor) was a worthier cause than buying toys, the novelty of which would soon fade.

 

These were newspapers based in Dublin. But what was being said in the press elsewhere in Ireland? Most newspapers outside Dublin were published on a weekly rather then a daily basis, which meant that the last edition before Christmas 1913 came out on the previous Saturday: 20 December.

 

The Kerryman (20 Dec. 1913) was inevitably filled with GAA news, given Kerry’s victory over Wexford at Jones’ Road in Dublin in the 1913 All-Ireland football final, played the previous weekend (‘the Kingdom crowned again’: Kerry 2-2, Wexford 0-3). It also carried a substantial Christmas supplement filled with stories, verse, and cartoons. The more sombre realities of Irish life were to be seen on the front page of the Derry People and Donegal News (20 Dec 1913), which was concerned about ‘Carsonism in practice’, in the form of ‘bigoted intolerance in Derry’; an echo of the ongoing crisis over Home Rule, looming on the horizon in the aftermath of the creation of the Irish and Ulster Volunteers in 1913. And the perennial issue of emigration from the west was hinted at in an advertisement on the front page of the Leitrim Observer (20 Dec. 1913), for the Allen Line, sailing from Derry to Montreal, Halifax, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and ‘all parts of Canada and United States at lowest rates (sic)’.

 

On the other hand, The Connacht Tribune (20 Dec. 1913) was at pains to point out what was available to its readers from the good burghers of Galway. ‘What would Christmas be without the shops? During the Yuletide season, the different channels of commerce are converted into one long, varied, multicoloured bazaar, where goodwill reigns supreme, and where even the humblest visitor finds a welcome and an outlet for the most limited store of cash’. And, to avoid getting confused whilst wandering between Eyre Square and Dominick Street, the shoppers of Galway should look no further than the paper they were (hopefully) holding in their hand. ‘Few provincial newspapers, if, indeed, any, can offer to their reader such a varied assortments of advertisements to choose from…this will save endless trouble and worry…the best and most reputable houses are wise enough to advertise in the best and most widely read journal’; proof positive of what the Tribune described, without any hint of modesty, as the ‘magic attraction in the columns of the Tribune’. But whatever about the magic of the medium, elsewhere the message itself was put forth with remarkable bluntness. In Tipperary, The Nenagh Guardian (20 Dec. 1913) carried this masthead advertisement for Corneille & Co. of Castle St, Nenagh:

 

‘Reader! You may be a prince or a peasant, rich or poor, but remember the undeniable fact that Corneille & Co (established, 1834) is the grand old firm where your father and grandfather before you got their wants supplied in the days gone by, and to you, his worthy successor, we wish you a most happy Christmas, and inform you that we are, as usual, ready to receive your orders.’

 

And if that wasn’t enough to induce said reader to buy the teas, plum puddings, cakes, hams, bacon, jams, jellies, turkeys, geese, dried fruit, biscuits, and 8-year old Jameson whiskey that Corneille loudly and proudly stocked, then ‘come and see us. You want the BEST of everything and you MUST get it’.

 

Not all was naked commercialism. The Cork County Eagle & Munster Advertiser (20 Dec. 1913) reminded its readers that Christmas was a festival that brought people together, and remained

 

‘A good, jolly, generous time, despite what cynics and pessimists may say to the contrary…the loneliness and emptiness which have come with the passing years to thousands of homes will be broken and dispelled. The great festival brings with it a sense of peace and wholesome thought, which finds outlets in open-handed generosity. There is a feeling of happiness and joy all round; rural homes have been made bright and cheerful, and the shops of our towns and cities are laden with good things which delight the hearts of the little ones. The railway stations present scenes of great animation, and the air is laden with kindly words and greetings, and the dear ones whether in the great republic of the west, or by the long wash of Australasian seas, are fondly and tenderly remembered’.

 

That last sentiment still has an uncomfortable resonance for many a century later. But if it still retains its relevance, so too does the imprecation with which the Cork County Eagle ended its Christmas greeting:

 

‘To our readers at home and abroad we again wish a happy and joyful Christmas’.

 

John Gibney

 

The newspapers used in this article were consulted on microfilm in Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse St, Dublin 2, and online via the Irish Newspaper Archives: www.irishnewsarchive.com.

 

 

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