Personal

25 Years Ago Today, The Irish Press Passed Away

Remembering when a newspaper institution closed — and I lost my job

Said roar, roar, the thunder and the roar

Son of a bitch is never coming back here no more 

(Tom Waits, Clap Hands)

On this day 25 years ago, the thunder and the roar of the Irish Press newspaper group’s printing press — the ink-clotted heart that pumped the blood and oxygen of headline and hearsay through a nation’s arteries for 64 years —  was silenced. Forever.

Taking with it into that final silence my job as a sports desk sub-editor, and the livelihoods of nearly 600 journalists, printers and office staff. 

Thousands of readers, loyal, true or transient, were abandoned too, of course. Left to choose alternatives that weren’t alternatives at all — it was like asking a Liverpool fan to walk alone or join the throng on Manchester United’s Stretford End.

The sprawling ancillary army feeding off the group’s three titles was wounded grievously too.

But, really, the company had been spluttering along for years, and this was the perfect excuse for management to shut the doors

Like those daredevil lads who screeched around town on their filthy Irish Press, Evening Press and Sunday Press delivery scooters.

Or the street sellers hoarsely calling out “Herald or Press?” What would it be now, “Herald or … nothin’!”

The small ad hustlers … the stringers harrying busy newsdesks or accounts for the pittance due for their small town ‘scoops’, tip-offs and match reports.

phone box
Could be a stringer waiting to call the Irish Press

The drinking dens too that would lose a fortune.

The massive yet homely Press building was right in Dublin city centre, fronting on to the whiffy Liffey quays, and backing on to poky Poolbeg Street, and down those narrow backdoor steps workers would go on their breaks, or after their shift, to nearby Mulligans pub (journalists) or the White Horse (printers and compositors), down an adjoining laneway.  

Mulligans
Mulligans where more than a few scoops originated

There’s nothing more silent than a dusty, wheezing, ink-exhaling, yet strangely beguiling monstrosity of a printing press without its deafening shudder and clang, and that son of a bitch in the basement that shook the old Press building into life every morning, and belched out those thousands of newspaper bundles every day, was never coming back there no more.

Press delivery
Delivery time for the Press gang

We, the shutter-clicking snappers and typewriter-clattering hacks, the cranks, rascals, wordsmith geniuses, like the great Con Houlihan, skiving bluffers and everybody nobodies like myself, had thought the Irish Press newspaper group would shudder and clang on forever, but we were wrong.

con article
My article in the Irish Daily Star of May 25, 2020, the 25th anniversary of the closing of the Irish Press group, celebrating one of the group’s most famous journalists, the late, great Con Houilihan

As I only found out that Thursday afternoon, May 25 in 1995, when I stopped into the little cafe on the corner of Burgh Quay for my coffee take-out before my afternoon shift on the Irish Press sports desk.

“Haven’t you heard about the strike?” the talkative country woman with the slightly bucked teeth who owned the cafe said to my befuddled self.

Not long out of bed after a roisterous enough night out, I hadn’t seen or heard anything resembling news.

Sure enough, there was gangs of my friends and colleagues on the narrow street outside the newspaper building, more informed but just as bemused as I was.

The main newsroom in the Press was open plan, and one of the funniest experiences of my life was when a gaggle of us took turns to wheel each other on office chairs at break-neck speed around the vast perimeter

The paper wasn’t going to press because an industrial dispute over the sacking of the group business editor, the late Colm Rapple, that morning, over an article he had written criticising the chain’s hapless chief management duo, the bespectacled and permanently startled-looking Eamon De Valera — grandson of the former Irish president of the same name who had started the newspaper as a mouthpiece for the political party he co-founded, Fianna Fail — and bluff silver-haired chairman Vincent Jennings.

But, really, the company had been spluttering along for years, and this was the perfect excuse for management to shut the doors.

There were accumulated losses of €19m and the company applied to liquidate with a few days of the dispute that followed Rapple’s sacking.

Rapple
Colm Rapple (left) is interviewed

All these years later, my memories of  the Irish Press, where I spent nearly seven years, are a splurge of colour, tedium, effusive alcohol consumption and days aimlessly happy enough.

Walking Lily and Bella out this morning, a quarter-century later, the warmth and the clear blue sky reminded me of that scorching summer of 95, when we fundraised on the city streets and harried in vain to get our newspaper clanging and belching again.

In  between, there were swims in shockingly icy Killiney waters, queueing visits to Werburgh Street dole office, and conferring pints aplenty.

In the immediate aftermath of the closure we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, and on the actual day, I joined in with what became a four-day occupation of the Irish Press building, living on a plentiful supply of beer, cigarettes, food, duvets, clean underwear and the rest from the many people eager to support our efforts early on.

There was footage on the daily TV news bulletins of us all up on top of a flat roof in a corner of the massive complex, and me there with my long hair and the black beret I wore at the time. A regular Che Guevara was I.

Nightly we watched and listened on the radio as our adventures slipped down the bulletin charts, from first day top billing, as Ireland got ready for a visit from a certain minuscule musical marvel, Prince. 

There was the time Jack Charlton arrived up to the window hatch, while the bus loaded with Irish soccer internationals of the day inched up hard-pressed Poolbeg Street behind him, and boxer Steve Collins, and Mrs Brown himself, Brendan O’Carroll, also came up to confer with our revolutionary leaders.

The main newsroom in the Press was open plan, and one of the funniest experiences of my life was when a gaggle of us took turns to wheel each other on office chairs at break-neck speed around the vast perimeter.

It was Office Chariots Of Fire, with only the famous music and slow-motion footage lacking.

Enda O'D XPress (1)
Irish Press journalist Enda O’Doherty on X-Press fundraising duty

Then there was the X-Press free sheet we wrote, assembled  and ‘sold’ at pitches at various landmarks in the city, and on ventures to GAA matches down the country. 

It all fizzled out soon enough, as these things do, and by the end of summer, we were scattered to the newspaper winds, employed in other papers or embarked on different careers. Some never worked again.

The character-full Irish Press building is long sold out and gone, replaced by another characterless apartment block. The shops of those days are gone too, with only Mulligans holding back the years.

Wouldn’t you know the brutally ugly vastness of the Hawkins House civil service building is still looming over this little side street, across from the ghost of newspapers passed?

There is still the Press ex-employees Facebook page, but unfortunately, the big reunion planned for this year had to be cancelled because of Covid-19.

But in truth, I merely recall those Irish Press day from time to time, and so much has happened since, they do not define my career, or me.

To paraphrase the last lines of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No 2, I don’t mean to suggest I loved those years the best.

 I remember them well, but I don’t even think of them that often.

But today, I do. I surely do.

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38 comments on “25 Years Ago Today, The Irish Press Passed Away

  1. This is a nice remembrance and I’m sorry for your loss way back then
    I’ve had a few similar experiences
    Stay well and laugh when you can

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A bittersweet memory. I’m pleased you overcame the setback and have had a long career since then 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I want to say something poetic, something deserving of the words you have strung together in this brief history of story and sorrow. Yet, the best I can say is wow for the words and the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “A splurge of colour, tedium, effusive alcohol consumption and aimlessly happy enough days” describes by BOI days nicely … wonder if it had anything to do with 90s Ireland?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ian Northeast

    A beautifully written memory. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Maura Stuart

    The article on Con Houlihan in the Star this week was excellent. I knew him and you managed to capture that mingling of shyness and erudition, fun and mayhem that were so evident in his writings. I was once accused by Con of having abetted in the disappearance of a green and yellow marrow from the newsroom, which, he alleged, I fed to my family in “darkest Killiney.” My ‘accomplice’ who remembers you well, was /is my husband Charlie Stuart, now 75 and long retired. He enjoyed reading your memory of that last day in the Irish Press too. You write well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So lovely to hear from you, Maura, and your “accomplice”, Charlie, who I too remember well. I interviewed Con for our college newspaper in Rathmines, Metro —the interview later appeared in In Dublin. I was surprised, firstly, at him agreeing so readily to do it, but even more so by that wonderfully beguiling mix of mischief and gentle mayhem he stirred up, that was soon revealed. After the interview, which started in one of several pubs, I retired to my Rathmines gaff, and spent the rest of the evening with a basin beside my bed!!. Sure Con was only warming up. I later worked in the Press, as revealed, and he would chide me as “my Boswell”. Hard to believe it’s 25 years, eh?

      Like

  7. PS: I love the marrow story, and the typical Con ribbing over it

    Like

  8. Anne Fraser @theplatinumline.blog

    So many papers have gone. I remember watching the Bristol Evening post come off the press when I was young and remember the old men who sold the papers on the street wait for the 2 star or three star edition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed they have, Anne … it’s a precarious business now — and I am biased, but i think we are paying a price for it. Standards slipping and kids happy with just the bare headlines, no matter where how contaminated the source

      Like

  9. I loved reading this! I could picture it all in my head and your ending para is perfect. Thanks for brightening an otherwise dull morning. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Beautifully written Enda and definitely stirring with the memories and the impact it had on you. The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years – newspapers are becoming old hat, but their loss is the world’s loss because they represent something that the internet just doesn’t quite match.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Leanne. I agree the loss of newspapers, or at least, the lessenning of their influence, however compromised they might be in terms of ownership and commercial bias, is incalculable. Bit of a vicious circle, kids don’t trust them nowadays and get their information elsewhere — with good reason, but some of that is down to them not being willing to pay for, or read, quality informed content!

      Like

  11. Hi Enda thank you for sharing your memories of this difficult time with us at #MLSTL. It must have been such an upheaval in the lives of those employees and also the loss of another voice apart from the Herald to provide a different point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ohmummymia

    How nice to read about Irish newspaper history. And your personal story. I hope you are staying positive as always
    #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  13. As usual your storytelling is wonderful. I felt like I could smell the ink and hear the machines. My Mum used to give me newspaper to play with as a child and laugh when I got covered in ink. Last laugh was on her though, having to clean me up later! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a shock that must have been for you at the time to have the Irish Press finish so abruptly and without warning. It’s interesting to read about how much the buildings have all changed since 1995 – it really doesn’t feel possible that it can be a quarter of a century ago. #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was indeed a shock, Louise. So much has changed, and I have been down Poolbeg Street many, many times since and it is still strange to not have the Irish Press building there anymore

      Like

  15. It certainly was some shock, Louise … and it really is hard to credit to think this all happened 25 years ago.

    Like

  16. It must be interesting to realise you were part of history…even if at the time it felt like something else. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were part of history, Lydia, okay, but it’s happening to a lot of newspapers, worldwide. Tough times. Thanks for commenting, Lydia

      Like

  17. paternaldamnation

    Bet there’s a fair few stories that deserted newsroom could tell. Hope you get your reunion rearranged soon. Sounds like Mulligans would make an apt venue! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Tracey Carr

    I suppose it’s like you say Enda – I don’t want to live in the past but it’s a nice place to visit every now and then. I like the way you say that your years at the press haven’t defined you but from reading your post it certainly looks like they helped shape you. And I bet that’s good enough! #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tracey … they were significant alright. I suppose I’m cognisant of the fact I only spent a certain time there whereas others spent their entire working lives

      Like

  19. loopyloulaura

    I had no idea that this was part of your history. I’m so glad that this upheaval didn’t staunch your writing. Thanks for sharing your experience with us at #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Reading this post was nothing short of pure bliss. Beautifully written and I got a history lesson to boot!

    Like

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