300 years of Irish gazetteering

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2006), News, Volume 14

The official organ of the government of the Republic of Ireland is Iris Oifigiúil, which is in effect a state newspaper for the publication of important public notices. Those notices that name and shame large-scale tax defaulters are usually given extensive coverage in the media. Iris Oifigiúil commenced in 1922, the first year of the newly independent state, and its precursor under the British regime was the Dublin Gazette.
The first official gazette was published in Venice in the sixteenth century, and the word is said to be derived from gazetti, meaning ‘chatterers’. While a publication carrying the title was issued for a time during the reign of James II, the Dublin Gazette was not published as a continuous series until 1705, in the third year of the reign of Queen Anne. The ‘official newspapers of record’ for the United Kingdom are the London Gazette (established 1665), the Edinburgh Gazette (1699) and the Belfast Gazette (1921).
While the first issue of the Dublin Gazette seems to have appeared in late April 1705, the earliest surviving copies traced so far date from 1706. The paper was ‘published by authority’ on Tuesday and Saturday each week, being a mere two pages in size, and its first printer was Edwin Sandys. There was no detailed coverage of domestic affairs, and of course nothing that would reflect badly on the government of the day. While the paper was an officially authorised publication, it would appear that actual ownership of the title and enjoyment of revenues from sales and advertisements remained with the printer.
Most regular articles dealt with foreign affairs. For example, in November 1706 there was a report on the duke of Marlborough’s military exploits in Europe, and an account of a riot against the planned Anglo-Scottish Union by the ‘scum of the people’ in Edinburgh. Official notices were given pride of place, an example in December 1706 being a proclamation by the lords justices that there should be a public ‘thanksgiving to Almighty God’ for ‘his protection and assistance to Her Majesty and her allies in the just war in which they are now engaged’ (a reference to the War of the Spanish Succession).
There were a number of printers of the Dublin Gazette, and by the 1760s the work was being carried out by Timothy Dyton. The paper was now four pages long, with a broader range of content, and in that decade the government also saw fit to appoint a ‘compiler’ to supervise the printer. While foreign news, official announcements and advertisements still predominated, some politically uncontroversial Irish news was being included, together with notices of élite births, marriages and deaths. A proclamation in early January 1762 offered a £500 reward for the apprehension of the murderers of Mary Ann Knox, daughter of Andrew Knox of Prehen, Co. Londonderry. One eye-catching advertisement of this period was for Dr Walker’s ‘patent genuine Jesuit’s Drops’, which were claimed to provide a cure for everything from scurvy to venereal disease!
While the Dublin Gazette always followed the government line and now had an officially appointed compiler, the printers retained ownership until the very late eighteenth century. There was something of a public sensation when two rival versions of the Gazette were published on 9 April 1799, one issued by the then established proprietor, Sir St George O’Kelly, the other by the king’s printer, George Grierson. O’Kelly protested at what was effectively an expropriation of his interest but to no avail, and he appears to have forfeited thereafter the right to continue publishing the paper. It is probable that in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion, and during the run-up to the Act of Union, the Irish government wanted nothing less than total control over the production of the Gazette.
The Grierson firm retained the contract until 1851, when it passed to Alex Thom, publisher of the famous Thom’s Directory, which is still being issued today. During the Victorian era the Gazette was more than ever the organ of Dublin Castle and its expanding departmental bureaucracy. When an Irish branch of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office was established, it took over compilation of the Dublin Gazette, Thom retaining the printing contract.
The content of the Gazette in the nineteenth century was in general less interesting than that of the eighteenth, with standard reportage of current events discontinued. The paper could now extend to up to 20 pages or so in length, appearing on Tuesday and Friday each week, and official announcements and orders vied for space with numerous notices relating to bankruptcy hearings and the like. In early January 1896 Arthur Vicars, Ulster king of arms, rather tartly announced that noblemen and gentlemen who had not yet been received at the viceregal court would have to be introduced by one of their fellows who had been presented before they themselves could attend a levee at Dublin Castle. Vicars himself would later be shown the door for neglect of official duties following the theft of the Irish crown jewels from Dublin Castle in 1907, which event, unsurprisingly, was not given much attention in the Gazette.
The Gazette marked the 1916 Rising by publishing a proclamation of martial law by Lord Lieutenant Wimborne and the privy council, which observed, with characteristic stiff upper lip, that ‘certain evilly disposed persons’ had ‘committed divers acts of violence’ and ‘with deadly weapons attacked the Forces of the Crown’. The shock to the imperial system is demonstrated by the fact that no edition of the Gazette appeared during the Rising and its aftermath, so that a composite issue had to be published for the period 25 April–9 May 1916.
The ‘acts of violence’ of course continued during the War of Independence from 1919 until in 1921 representatives of the Irish rebels hammered out a peace agreement with the British, and the Irish Free State came into existence in January 1922, the partitioned state of Northern Ireland having been created some months earlier. The Dublin Gazette ran on for a few issues after the formal transfer of power on 16 January 1922, and its last issue was dated 27 January and numbered 21,977.
After the latter date the Free State authorities renamed the publication Iris Oifigiúil, which might be translated as ‘official journal’, but initially at least the subtitle Dublin Gazette was retained. The Adaptation of Enactments Act of 1922 declared:

‘Every mention of or reference to the Dublin Gazette contained in any British Statute shall, as respects the doing or not doing of any act, matter or thing in Saorstát Éireann after the 6th day of December, 1922, be construed and take effect as a mention of or reference to the official gazette called Iris Oifigiúil.’

The Iris has continued to be published twice weekly on Tuesday and Friday, with occasional supplements. The printing contract passed for a time to Cahill and Co. in the 1920s, reverted to Thom for a long period, and was then taken up by Iona Print before returning to Cahill in recent years.
Iris Oifigiúil is currently compiled by the Government Supplies Agency within the Office of Public Works, and is sold through the Government Publications Sales Office. While the cover price of each hardcopy issue is a rather hefty ?5.71, the full text is freely available on the Iris Oifigiúil website, with issues archived from 2002. The editor of the paper is a designated civil servant, who in the nature of things is not one of the country’s best-known media persons. The layout of the paper has not changed for years, and the content of recent issues is dominated by appointments, statutory instruments, court notices, voluntary liquidations, and the aforementioned periodic outings of tax defaulters. The content of the Belfast Gazette is broadly similar to that of its southern counterpart, differing perhaps mainly in elements of style and apparently not including such detailed accounts of those with revenue problems.
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office has commenced a project to digitise the entire contents of the London, Edinburgh and Belfast gazettes and to place them online, and a similar project might be considered in the Irish Republic. The content of the Dublin Gazette in particular is of considerable importance to historians, especially for the period preceding 1790, as many Irish state papers from before that year were destroyed when the Public Record Office of Ireland was burned in June 1922. The microfilm copy of the Dublin Gazette in the National Library is seriously gapped, but there appears to be a little-known set of issues for the period 1750–1922 in the Oireachtas Library in Leinster House, copies of which should ideally be added to the National Library’s stock, preferably in digitised form.
Iris Oifigiúil and the Dublin Gazette, together with the Belfast Gazette, represent three centuries of official gazetteering in Ireland, and constitute a remarkable historical record of public administration.

Seán Murphy is a historian and genealogist who resides in County Wicklow.

Iris Oifigiúil, 2002–date: www.irisoifigiuil.ie.
United Kingdom Gazettes Online: www.gazettes-online.co.uk.

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