The Impartial Reporter

Jenny Cathcart looks at Ireland's third oldest newspaper

The year 2000 marked the 175th anniversary of The Impartial Reporter and in that year the Fermanagh weekly won the UK’s Regional Newspaper of The Year award for the second time.

The Impartial as it is commonly referred to is the third oldest paper in Ireland behind The News Letter and the Derry Journal but it holds the record for the longest ownership of a newspaper by one family.

Five generations of the Trimble family have managed the paper since William Trimble, the first owner/manager launched it in 1825. A fiery Ulster Scots Presbyterian who served his apprenticeship as a printer in Dublin, this was his ambitious brief:

'Regardless alike of the frowns of party, and the smiles of power, we shall state our own convictions on all subjects which come under our review. We shall defend the Protestant when we consider him in the right, and the Roman Catholic may expect similar treatment.'

William's son, William Copeland Trimble, passed the mantle to his son William Egbert Trimble in 1941. Egbert`s daughter, Joan Trimble took over the paper in 1967 and she remained chairman of the board until she died at the age of 86 when her daughter Joanna McVey took over as the present managing director.

William Trimble who founded The Impartial Reporter had 26 children by two wives, and it was his son William Copeland Trimble who took over the running of the paper in 1883. William Copeland was a firm campaigner for the rights of poverty stricken farmers, helping them to form the Fermanagh Farmer`s Association, though this led to the landlords denouncing the Impartial as a Land League Journal.

He was against Home Rule in Ireland and when Sir Edward Carson arrived in Enniskillen in 1912 to open his anti-Home Rule campaign, Trimble led the Enniskillen horse in escorting Carson into town.

A flamboyant character who had been tempted to make a career as a professional singer, William Copeland had a natural gift for writing and he edited the Impartial for 66 years. He produced a three volume history of Enniskillen which is still an important reference book. In 1921 he travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA and celebrated his seventieth birthday in New York.

Egbert Trimble
When William Copeland died in 1941 it was his son Egbert Trimble who became managing editor of the Impartial, assisted by a single reporter, Jimmy Baker, and three workmen. He found the newspaper in a parlous financial state and was obliged to let the premises above the shop where his parents had lived. He went to live in what was formerly the Model School house which remains the family home at the Battery above Belmore Street.

Egbert used to say that by the time he walked down the 32 steps from the Battery to Belmore Street and on to the Impartial offices on Main street, he would have met someone or several people who provided a story for his newspaper.

In those days, there was no TV, no electricity, no cars, no telephone. On Wednesday afternoons, the little newspaper boys, mostly barefoot, gathered outside the front door of the Impartial office to collect their papers and away they went up the street shouting ‘Reporter-er-er-er’.

Mail came and went by the railway station and the Impartial was sent to Belfast, Dublin and to Fermanagh friends in all parts of the globe. Egbert played the organ in the Presbyterian church and was keen on amateur dramatics. The Trimbles owned a rowing boat, ‘The Harvest Star’, and enjoyed picnics on the lakes. The Townhall was a popular venue for concerts, plays and formal dances which were well documented by the newspaper’s photographers.

Joan Trimble
When Michael Collins was assassinated in July 1922, Egbert`s daughter Joan Trimble was seven years old and had just acquired her first scrapbook. She recorded that Collins had visited Enniskillen where Helen Kiernan, sister of Kitty, Michael Collin’s fiancee lived in Belmore Street just below the Battery.

There had been a great party in the house before Collins returned to Dublin for the Treaty negotiations. Eight months later, he was dead. In 1923 the Civil War ended. The border between north and south was set up and the customs station was opened at Belleek.

During the war years, while Joan and her sister Valerie were studying music in London, and were making a name for themselves playing two pianos in BBC radio broadcasts, Joan sent home copy about her work in the Red Cross and life in war torn London.

In the 1950s and 60s, Joan accompanied her father to meet many of his colleagues from Ulster Press who also owned family newspapers, the Simpsons from Dungannon, the Armstrongs in Omagh, the Weirs from Ballymena. The Impartial was printed on the Enniskillen premises until the early 1970s.

There was never any discussion about succession before Egbert`s death in 1967 but it was assumed that Joan Trimble would continue to run the family newspaper. Joan was living in London with her husband and young family and taught music at the Royal Academy so she was obliged to commute to Enniskillen on a weekly basis.

Together with John Switzer the editor, she set about modernising the linotype and she met the managers at Bowaters in London to negotiate rates for newsprint. Her decision to raise the sale price by one penny was criticised by the local MP but she was determined to keep the paper going.

And then in 1969 when the Troubles began, there were bomb threats against Impartial Reporter staff and the premises. Joan wrote the weekly editorials herself, and was forced to make local journalistic sense of a situation which was making world headlines. She regularly met the leading politicians and journalists of the day who took the same flights as she did to and from London.

In 1975, Joan wrote most of the articles for a 100th anniversary supplement and in 1977 she returned with her family to live in the Battery, the family home in Enniskillen. Notable events covered by the newspaper included the death in 1981 of Bobby Sands, elected member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone who was the first martyr to die in the H Blocks.

When an IRA bomb exploded at the cenotaph in Enniskillen on Sunday November 8, 1987, killing eleven people, Impartial journalist and current editor, Denzil McDaniel wrote the definitive book about the incident.

In 1990, Joan Trimble’s daughter, Joanna took over as managing director marking the fifth generation of Trimble’s at the helm. Like her mother and forefathers, Joanna plays an important role in the community being chairman of the NI Rural Development Council, a trustee of the Fermanagh Trust and a member of the Northern Ireland Partnership Board.

One time reporters on the newspaper include Feargal McKinney and Keith Baker. Contributors to the 175th Anniversary Special supplement included Enniskillen born actors Charles Lawson and Adrian Dunbar and writer and broadcaster John Kelly. Joan Trimble was the subject of a BBC radio documentary marking her 85th birthday in June 2000. A CD celebrating the work of Joan and Valerie Trimble was released in December 1999.