The Belfast News Letter

The oldest newspaper in Ireland

The first newspaper published in Belfast was the Belfast News Letter and General Advertiser, still running today and now the oldest newspaper in Ireland. It appeared as a single sheet on September 1, 1737, from the press of Francis Joy.

Originally issued twice a week at the price of one penny, from 1851 it was issued thrice weekly, and in July 1855, became a daily.

After July 18, 1769, the words ‘and General Advertiser’ were dropped from the title. Around 1756 the printing premises were changed to a little court off Joy’s Entry, and remained there for half a century, returning to Bridge Street in 1807, and continuing there until they moved to Donegall Street in the early 1860s.

In May 1795, the Joy’s sold the paper to an Edinburgh firm, apparently consisting of Robert Allen, George Gordon, Ebenezer Black, James Blair and Alexander Mackey. Mackey printed the paper from July 31, 1801, until October 1820, when he died and was buried in Clifton Street Cemetery. On the death of his widow, the News Letter became the property of his three daughters, one of whom married James Alexander Henderson.

The editorial chair of the News Letter has been filled by some distinguished men, including Dr James Stuart, later editor of the Belfast Guardian and historian of Armagh, Dr James McKnight, latterly editor of the Londonderry Standard, WH Kisbey, and Richard Lilburn. Frankfert Moore, a member of staff for several years, went on to become a prominent novelist. One of Moore’s colleagues on the Belfast press at that time wrote, ‘He could use more words to clothe or obscure an idea than any writer I ever met'.

In 1855, a weekly edition of the News Letter was launched entitled the Belfast Weekly News.

For over 40 years, the News Letter practically had the newspaper field to itself, for the Public Weekly Registrar, which appeared in 1741, was printed in London and only republished in Belfast.

James Magee’s Belfast Courant does not seem to have lived for more than a year, between 1745 and 1746. In August 1783, however, a serious rival appeared.

Based on articles by Albert Campbell. © The Glenravel Local History Project