[Amended] Happy Birthday News Letter (the oldest regular English language newspaper in the world)…

In about half an hour, there’s an unveiling of a plaque to one of the least remarked upon artefacts of Irish history: the founding of the News Letter 275 years ago Francis Joy.

Ben lowry of the paper notes this morning:

Early News Letters are among the most important historical documents in Britain or Ireland (50 years before The Times), although most of the first 13 years is missing. There is, though, a fascinating intact six month stretch in 1739 which gives a detailed glimpse far back in time.

Just reading the archive in Belfast Central Library is an extraordinary experience. It records many epic editorial battles.

Not least a prolonged ding dong through the famine years when it conducted a long skirmish with the upstart Times of London over the character of the Irish people.

Though it should be pointed out that it was not in the beginning a daily. And some of the news from America came in directly ‘from our correspondent in The Harve’ as it rolled off the boat three weeks late.

And well into the 1840s, poetry was a regular feature on its pages.

There’s a plaque unveiling at Joy’s Entry this morning at 11am, and what looks like a generous invite back to the papers shiny new offices afterwards. Happy Birthday News Letter. It’s no mean achievement to still be at the party.

Long may it last.

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  • Just to complement this event:

    The pre-1800 News Letter index is available online. John Greene of the University of Louisiana began working on it in 1983. I found the 1858 reference there to ‘Derrykeehan tythe stack demolished’ and then obtained a copy from the microfilm archive in Ballymena reference library.

    The News Letter is in the British Newspaper Archive from 1828 [not free].

  • Tomas Gorman

    Extremely impressive. While I don’t agree with the political tenor of the paper today, I still feel a pang of local pride in this.

  • UTV is a direct product of the News Letter. What else would you expect? Both of them take a viewpoint on the troubles that unionists had no part in it’s genesis, and this state of denial is shared with the Belfast Telegraph. By their denial shall we know them.

  • Shoot the messengers.

  • Mc Slaggart

    ” Mister_Joe (profile)
    Shoot the messengers.”


  • Greenflag

    Surely we can leave the ‘politics’ aside and celebrate the News Letter’s achievment . No mean feat to continue in the news business for 275 years .

    I noted in the video link that there was a similar blue plaque to Henry Joy McCracken underneath that of Francis Joy .

    Any familial relationship I wonder ? Perhaps Nevin the local historical/genealogical expert might be able to shed some light ?

    Will it make it into it’s fourth century ?

    Like a lot of print media it will be a challenge and perhaps the ‘plaque’ is just a premature tombstone ?

  • HeinzGuderian

    Happy New Birthday News Letter,and many more of them 🙂

  • “Any familial relationship I wonder ?”

    Henry Joy McC was the son of John McCracken and Ann Joy and the grandson of Francis Joy.

    His father was a partner in Joy, McCabe and McCracken which was a textile business and it was here that Henry Joy worked as a manager when he was 22 years old.

  • Greenflag

    Thanks Nevin -I thought there might be a connection .No time to google these days 🙁

    Here’s a memory of those times sung by Frank Harte street balladeer minstrel which was one amongst his many talents .

    . No joy for Orr, Bond, Byrne , Shears or McCracken among tens of thousands of others in this rendition.

  • Submariner

    Yes Congrats to the Protestant Pravda. Some achievement

  • Yes, quite remarkable. Belfast must have been little more than a village when publication started.
    Hope they can survive the present wave of devastation in the newspaper industry.

  • david thistle

    I might be wrong but I always thought this title belonged to the Glasgow Herald?

  • Mick Fealty

    The Herald began on Wednesday 1 January 1783. Old, but not as old as the News Letter. It’s a classic piece of Ulster reticence that it’s not more widely known.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick their was lots of Newspapers before the Newsletter. Are you just thinking of in the English language?

  • Christopher McCracken

    I was researching my family history a few years back and spent many hours looking through old newsletters. I was struck by how much advertising each copy contained (indeed the paper was primarily set up to provide a channel for Belfast’s growing commercial sector – the news was only included to get people to read the adverts). We often hear complaints about 21st century commercialisation, but in some respects nothing much has changed!

  • Mick. About a decade ago the NL had a fairly liberal-minded editor who had given a column to the then Derry Journal editor Pat McArt which must have been one of it’s better periods of editorship. Can’t recall the name of theNL editor but he left to go over to the Hampstead and Highgate gazette, and later remarked that he didn’t miss his former readership in the slightest. Maybe he was English himself..

  • Alex Kane

    Hi Daniel,

    It was Geoff Martin.



  • Daniel, you’re probably thinking of Geoff Martin [in interview].

    Geoff Martin, editor of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, is now additionally editor-in-chief for all weekly titles published out of the company’s offices in Swiss Cottage.

    As well as the Ham and High, these include the Willesden and Brent Times, Islington Gazette and Hornsey and Crouch End Journal.

  • david thistle

    I stand corrected Mick.
    Congratulations to the The NewsLetter.
    Submariner- stupid comment, its not exactly AnPhlobact.

    On another note, any of you guys across the water enjoying the miniseries Hatfields and McCoys? Surely an Ulster-Scots ( or the American title Scots-Irish ) saga?
    Very well made showing their good and bad sides, and humourous in parts.

  • Greenflag

    From Nevin’s Geoff Martin link above last paragraph where Geoff Martin says that the GFA settlement would have been ridiculous in any ‘normal society’ .

    ‘ I think if Northern Ireland had been a normal society it would have been ridiculous, but you look at our record. We can’t claim to be a normal society.’

    Any ideas on what a normal society is , was, could be or should be out there ? Belgium ? Bosnia Herzegovina ? Sweden? USA ? Saudi Arabia ? Iran ? North Korea ? Myanmar ?

    Normality for societies may just be a spectrum ranging from the ultra conflicted internally divided least developed and poorest countries /regions at one end and more developed richer and less conflicted societies /nations at the other end .

    On that spectrum one could plausibly locate Afghanistan or Somalia at one end and Denmark, Australia or Canada at the other end .

    But where would NI fit on such a spectrum and how would it compare with the USA’s position on such a spectrum ?

    Normality like beauty may be just in the eye of the beholder ?

  • Mc Slaggart

    “EU for me in the “wiener zeitung” is worth reading.


    Oldest newspapers still in circulation:
    “Post- och Inrikes Tidningar (Sweden) 1645
    Haarlems Dagblad (Netherlands) 1656
    La Gazzetta di Mantova (Italy) 1664
    The London Gazette (UK) 1665
    Wiener Zeitung (Austria) 1703
    Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) 1705
    Worcester Journal (UK) 1709
    The Newcastle Journal (UK) 1711
    The Stamford Mercury (UK) 1712
    The Northampton Mercury (UK) 1720
    Hanauer Anzeiger (Germany) 1725
    Lloyd’s List (UK) 1734
    The Belfast News Letter (N. Ireland) 1737”

  • Greenflag

    @ mcslaggart ,

    Thats all very well but none of us were thinking of foreigners 😉

    The view from Belfast might be like the view from a child in a Swiss elementary school best expressed when a Swiss inspector of Educational Standards made his customary annual visit ‘

    Herr Yodelmeister (the Inspector ) enters a class and the teacher Herr Baumgartner asks the pupils

    ‘Who was the first man’ ?

    Silence ‘

    The teacher :

    ‘Franz Josef , please tell the Inspector who was the first man ‘ ?

    Franz Josef : ‘William Tell’

    Teacher : ‘What about Adam’ ?

    Franz Josef : ‘I did’nt think of a foreigner ‘

  • Mc Slaggart


    Its the same the world over. I was on the Budapest Metro and a Hungarian friend explained that it was the oldest in the world. I suggested London was older? Then she said it was the oldest in “Continent of Europe” :- )

  • Mick Fealty


    Malachi O’Doherty’s book on his first year in journalism in the Sunday News is worth reading for what the News Letter had become over time. It’s not been exclusively Catholic for a long time, but it has the readership is has.

    I suspect Geoff got the worst end of the anti peace process lobby. It’s always a thankless task to provide leadership when your readership is split right down the middle. Not exactly the actions of a Protestant Pravda either.

    However for a more balanced view of the paper throughout its history, I would fully recommend a visit to the Central Library. Try the famine years particularly.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick it is not surprising that the newsletter covered the famine as it was a British event. The great hunger may have occurred on the Island of Ireland but it was a British “famine” not an Irish one.

  • Alex Kane [8.27pm]
    Thanks for that, Alex. I had just moved by here after 15 years across the water and starting to catch up on the local politics after having left shortly after the Mountbatten killings. I read both NL and Irish news since the late nineties which I didn’t in either caser in the 70s.

  • Mick Fealty [12.15] I’ been to the newspaper library regularly to read 40 year old old editions of the Telegraph and spotted a photograph of myself in the archived Mid Ulster Observer [our local paper at the time] of november 13th 1969 while at school. I still remember the headline from March 1966 in the Irish News ‘Nelson’s Pillar Blasts Off’ [sic], without having to search it out.

  • Nevin. I used to get the Willesden and Brent Times in the eighties while living in the area. plus the Kilburn Times. I wouldn’t have expected to recognise the name Geoff martin back then.

  • Mick. I assume that ‘exclusively catholic is a slip. surely it should be ‘Protestant? I only remember reading the sports pages in the Sunday News back then. I see it’s successor Sunday Life still doesn’t publish chemist opening hours in Derry, Seems a bit excessive as a gesture, while it does have sunday chemist lists for Strabane and Newry. Puzzling?

  • Daniel, I’ve done a little more digging. It seems Geoff Martin entered journalism as the Gracehill correspondent of the Ballymena Guardian!

  • Nevin, I’m aghast at this latest revelation on the life of the storied Mr Martin, Just jesting.

  • Daniel,

    Not so puzzling. Strabane and Newry, being border towns, were popular destinations for people from the Republic who wished to purchase condoms. These were available from the chemists. Mainly just the “Protestant” ones, of course, unless you knew a Catholic one well enough to have him discreetly sell you some from the box he kept hidden under the counter. The chemists in Strabane followed a rota whereby one would be open on a Sunday, mainly for emergency prescriptions.

  • ’emergency prescriptions’, Joe? That covers a multitude of sins in Strabismus, sorry, Strabane.

  • Daniel, I thought your ‘ghast’ might have been exercised by this Martin quote from the interview [link above]:

    I remember there was a farmer from up around the Glens whose excuse for a speeding fine, I thought, was going home for sex. That’s how I wrote it, but of course but it actually turned out to be potato sacks! But that was spotted before I actually got into the newspaper.

    The young man from Gracehill appears to have had a rather sheltered upbringing 🙂

  • Potato sacks indeed. Reminds me of the tourist in Ballymenawho plucked up the nerve to ask one of the grizzled patrons in a bar. ‘What do you folks do about sex here’? ‘we usually have our tae round a half sex’. Goodnight.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m told that the News Letter will have a supplement out tomorrow celebrating their great age. Its claim is to be the oldest English daily in continuous circulation. Notes of congratulations from the Queen and the PM are to be included.