Old Belfast Newspapers: The late 19th century

From the Morning News to the Ulster Echo.

The Morning News

Early in the 1880s, Edmund Dwyer Gray, proprietor of the Dublin based Freeman’s Journal bought the Morning News and transformed it into a nationalist daily. After the Parnellite split, the Roman Catholic bishop Dr McAllister disapproved of the paper’s politics. The Irish News was established in 1891 and absorbed the old Morning News within a year. Gray lost about £20,000 in his Belfast venture.

The Weekly Press

In 1858, SE McCormick and David Dunlop, proprietors of the Banner of Ulster, began to publish a Saturday paper under the title of the Weekly Press. Still in existence in the early 1870s, it probably ceased publication around the time The Witness was established.

The Ulster Observer

Early in the 1860s, a number of leading Roman Catholics from Ulster formed The Ulster Catholic Publishing Ltd, intent on establishing a newspaper in Belfast to voice their opinions. The result was the appearance on July 1, 1862, of the Ulster Observer, published thrice weekly, priced 1p, under the editorship of Andrew Joseph McKenna. McKenna was an able and versatile journalist but he failed satisfy all the proprietors, and from 1864 to 1868 there was continual friction in connection with the management of the paper. Several attempts were made to remove McKenna from the editorship and the company was finally dissolved, the last edition published on January 16, 1868.

The Ulster Examiner

However, McKenna’s former colleagues, especially Owen Kerr, a newsagent at 4 Castle Place, were determined to crush him. With the substantial financial assistance of Bishop Dorrian, the Ulster Examiner was launched almost simultaneously. Kerr and TE Fitzpatrick acted as publishers and an office was established at 104 Donegall Street. Father Cahill was the first editor, succeeded by a Mr Mulrennaan. In 1869, McKenna sued Kerr and Fitzpatrick for libel and was awarded £250 damages. After the decease of the Northern Star, the Examiner tacked on the name of its rival to its title, leading to the nickname the ‘Vatican Juggler and the Star of Purgatory.’ Eventually Bishop Dorrian withdrew his patronage and the circulation grew smaller. In the early 1880s, the paper was acquired by Edmund Dwyer Gray and amalgamated with the weekly edition of the Morning News.

The Belfast Telegraph

In 1861, William and George Baird took over the Daily Mercury premises at Arthur Street. On Thursday, September 1, 1879, they began to issue the Belfast Evening Telegraph, the first halfpenny evening paper in Ireland. The Telegraph was an immediate success and in 1873, a weekly edition was started. In June 1886, the business was transferred to its present location at Royal Avenue.

The Evening Press

The idea of an evening paper in Belfast had been taking shape in the minds of William and George Baird for a considerable time, but the date of the actual publication was hastened by the appearance on hoardings in August 1870 of a poster announcing ‘a new evening paper will shortly appear.’ This bill emanated from SE McCormick, and five days after the birth of the Telegraph, the first issue of the Evening Press appeared. The new arrival was really a continuation of the Banner of Ulster, but it ceased publication within a year.

The Belfast Times

The Belfast Times was a daily newspaper established primarily by John Clarke of Clarke and McMullan in 1872. The selection of Nicholas Flood Davin as editor was perhaps unfortunate. An able journalist, he nevertheless oscillated between fits of libellous activity and sheer idleness.

The paper ceased to trade around August 1872 and Davin emigrated to Canada, later becoming a senator.

The Witness
Following the disappearance of the Banner of Ulster in 1870 and the Evening Press in 1971, the Presbyterian community in Ulster was left without a newspaper. The Rev Thomas Hamilton of York Street Church (later the vice chancellor of Queens University Belfast), and a number of others then launched The Witness, a penny weekly. The first number was dated January 2, 1874. Alexander McMonagle was appointed editor and manager, and held these positions until his death in June 1919.

The Ulster Echo

An adjunct to The Witness, the Ulster Echo, a halfpenny paper, was issued in May 1874. McMonagle’s causerie, written under the penname ‘The man in the Street’, was a popular feature of the Echo, and the cessation of the journal in June 1916 owing to shortage of paper and other causes attributable to war, was generally regretted.

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