Leslie Bryan looks at the history of The Irish Post, the men who created it and how it was to grow into the voice of the Irish in Britain
“One achievement overrides all others. The newspaper played a very large part in creating a sense of community which involved all the Irish in Britain”
The words above of Brendan Mac Lua, co-founder and first Managing Director of The Irish Post, were a reflection on the first 30 years of the newspaper’s history. Mac Lua was justifiably proud of what his ‘baby’ had achieved. It had grown since its arrival in the world, become stronger, more confident and more than ready to take its place in the world. Much like the community it represented…
And when those achievements were threatened, when the newspaper closed in 2011 that community rallied round. The Irish Post had fought for the Irish people in Britain – and now they were going to fight for The Irish Post.
How this newspaper came back from the dead is described on other pages in our special issue this week but one thing is certain, Brendan Mac Lua would have been touched, and not a little proud, at such a determined effort from ‘his own people’. Ironically, while Mac Lua’s is the name most remembered when the history of The Irish Post is discussed it was not he who first came up with the idea of producing a newspaper for the Irish in Britain.
That came from Co.Waterford businessman Tony Beatty who at the time ran an accountancy firm in north London. “Tony and I first met in Dublin in August 1969,” Mac Lua recalled in The History of The Irish Post, published in 2000. “His idea was a weekly newspaper for the Irish in London but we soon agreed that it would be a newspaper for all of Britain and that we would launch the following year.” And so it came about. The first issue appeared on an inauspicious date – Friday the 13th of February 1970. It was not to prove an omen. The front page of that issue called for the Irish in Britain to put their votes to good use and place their X for those politicians who supported the Irish viewpoint. It was a strong call that was to prove the first of many as the paper spread itself throughout the country, providing that ‘voice’ that Irish people so desperately needed. Especially as these were the most trying of times.
Civil unrest in the North of Ireland was spilling over into outright violence as the Troubles began in earnest. Increasingly, the Irish in Britain were subjected to suspicion and prejudice – and with worse to come in the shape of blatant miscarriages of justice as Britain became a target for the bombers and the authorities reacted with measures that alienated the Irish community still further from their neighbours.
The paper’s campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four are well documented – but it was not just those headline-grabbing cases which the newspaper pursued with vigour. Former long-serving editor Donal Mooney recalled a less publicised but, to him, equally important campaign. John Matthews, a young Derry man, had been arrested at Heathrow Airport on April 1, 1993 when London’s Bishopgate had been torn apart by an IRA bomb. Peter Bottomley, then a Conservative Minister in the Northern Ireland Office read the paper’s coverage of the case and took it to Home Secretary Michael Howard. SDLP leader John Hume weighed in, the newspaper kept up the pressure and three months later John Matthews was released at a hastily convened sitting at Thames Magistrates Court as, according to the sitting magistrate, “an innocent man without a blemish on his character”. John Matthews, Mooney remembers, wrote a touching letter of thanks to The Irish Post in which he said “without you I would still be inside”.
The campaigning nature of The Irish Post had been introduced early by Mac Lua and it was not just on political matters or those relating to the Troubles. Other issues were tackled, such as the fact that Irish people travelling to and from their home country were subject to the most expensive fares in Europe — and, just for good measure were denied the chance to buy duty free goods in transit. Mac Lua was a powerhouse in those days, as those who worked with him recall all too well. Reporter John McCaughey said: “Mac Lua was an astonishing character, short, stocky, blackhaired with ferocious black eyebrows, a volcanic temper… dominating every inch of the paper, both editorial and advertising.”
And it was the latter, Mac Lua acknowledged, that was a key aspect to The Irish Post’s survival and growth. “Advertising,” was the key he pragmatically told Martin Doyle in an interview for that 30-year retrospective. The paper succeeded where others had failed because it identified itself with the successful business community in Britain as much as it did the disenfranchised who needed a voice. It was a winning combination. As The Irish Post grew that voice grew with it. By sharing news and views amongst the Irish communities of the great cities, London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow the paper helped create a solid sense of community. It played a part in helping to establish a number of great dreams, that of the formation of the Nationwide Federation of Irish Societies in 1974 among many others.
Its news and comment pages created an important forum where the hopes, fears and views of Irish people — and of the future paths of the political relationships between Ireland, North and South, and Britain were strongly aired. And, vitally, it was a constantly vigilant force, challenging anti-Irish racism and stereotyping and helping to create, by the 1990s, a new image of the Irish in Britain, that of an educated, successful, affluent and trendy — as in ‘totally cool’ people.
And so we come to today, with The Irish Post celebrating a year back on the newsstands following that short two-month hiatus. Still ready to fulfil that vision Brendan Mac Lua and Tony Beatty created 42 years ago. Still striving to play that large part in creating a sense of community which involves all the Irish in Britain. With many thanks to all those Irish people, from ordinary readers, to politicians to businessmen who made that possible.