The Bishop and the Irish News

On this day in 1891, Patrick McAllister, Roman Catholic Bishop of Down & Connor, established the Irish News as a rival to the Belfast Morning News.[1] The Right Reverend Dr. McAllister (1826–1895) was, by virtue of his vocation, leader of the Catholic community in the north of Ireland. His leadership was not only spiritual but political as well, as he fought to win for Catholic ratepayers the same voice in civic affairs that their Protestant fellow citizens enjoyed.

Establishing the Irish News is one of the things the Bishop did to give his community a voice. The paper was founded in the wake of the scandal that ended Charles Parnell’s dominance of Irish politics, but the Irish News had a purpose beyond opposition to one politician. Classified as a ‘Constitutional Nationalist’ publication, it advocated Irish freedom by constitutional means rather than violent rebellion.[2] In its early years it was the only nationalist daily in Ulster, and its nationalist stance explains its continued relevance in the years after Parnell – and McAllister – had faded from the scene. Clearly, the new paper struck a chord: Only a year after its founding, it was one of the most widely circulating papers among Catholics in the province.[3] 

Like other Ulster-focused newspapers, the popularity of the Irish News reached its height in the early years of the modern Troubles (late 60s-early 70s) and has declined since then. Today it is known mostly for its coverage of Gaelic football. Nevertheless, circulation figures show that the Irish News (now online as well as in print) is still the second most widely read regional paper in Northern Ireland, with a circulation just under 44,000.[4] It is still nationalist in outlook and still primarily aimed at a Catholic audience. Although the world has changed a great deal since Rev. McAllister’s day, the newspaper that he established on this day in 1891 continues to represent the community he served.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] This is not to be confused with several Irish-American newspapers of the same name, the best known being New York City-based Irish News founded in 1856 by Thomas Francis Meagher. That paper had ceased publication by this time.

[2] “Progress of the Sinn Fein Movement”, in J. Castell Hopkins, Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs for 1919 (Toronto, 1920): pp. 217-19.

[3] Parliamentary Debates, fourth series, vol. XI, 1893, p. 688

[4]  “ABC Figures: How the Regional Dailies Performed”, 31 August 2011.


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