Old Belfast Newspapers: The 18th Century

Following on from the success of the Belfast News Letter...

Belfast Mercury or Freeman’s Chronicle

Printed by John Tisdall and Company at 28 Bridge Street, the opening address of the Mercury or Freeman’s Chronicle began:

‘For some years past it has been the avowed wish of the intelligent and literary part of the Northern public than an independent and spirited news-paper should be in circulation. At no time in the annals of Ireland was there a period so fraught with importance to the People. The efforts of ages are at a length gloriously successful, and Peace, Commerce, Liberty are our own. But with all these blessings and all the promising Spring of Patriotism, Ireland can yet be said to be only in the April of her Summer. The seeds of wealth and greatness are planted with care, and promise abundance, but the busy hand of the husband-man must be unceasingly employed to prune away Exuberances, prop up tender shoots, and guard their fair growth to maturity.’

The twice weekly Mercury was the professed organ of the Volunteers, and is notable for the ebullience of its editorial language.

Belfast Evening Post

In June 1786, the Mercury changed its name to the Belfast Evening Post, now under the control of William Magee and printed from the Bible and Crown at 9 Bridge Street. It appeared every Monday and Thursday at 6pm and ran for approximately 30 weeks.

Northern Star
The Northern Star voiced strong support for the Volunteer movement, also championing parliamentary reform and the union of the people. According to Wolf Tone, it also aimed to give fair coverage of the events in revolutionary France, and to support the emancipation of the Roman Catholics through the creation of an independent Republic of Ireland.

The first edition of the Northern Star was published on January 4, 1792. Samuel Neilson acted as editor on an annual salary of £100. Seven numbers were printed by John Tisdall, and succeeding issues by John Rabb. The principle contributors were the Rev James Porter from Greyabbey, William Sampson, a lawyer from Co Londonderry, the Rev Sinclair Kelburn, minister at the Rosemary Street Church, Belfast, Thomas Russell, librarian of Linen Hall Library, and the Rev William Steel Dickson, Presbyterian minister of Portaferry.

As the ideas fostered by the French revolutionaries filtered through to Ulster, the Society of United Irishmen increased in strength and the political tone of the paper became more extreme. Several of the proprietors were placed under arrest and eventually the Monaghan militia raided the printing office at Wilson’s Court, smashing the presses and throwing the type out the window.

In 1868, Andrew Joseph McKenna started printing the thrice weekly Northern Star from premises at 36 Arthur Street. The first number appeared on Thursday, February 6, 1868, and the last at the end of November 1872. He also published the Weekly Observer.
Based on articles by Albert Campbell. © The Glenravel Local History Project.