09 Dec 2021

Telling the stories of a place

Margaret Rossiter
A VERY OLD cousin, who had spent most of her life in the United States, told me of her memories of living in Clonmel.

A VERY OLD cousin, who had spent most of her life in the United States, told me of her memories of living in Clonmel.

She remembered dark nights, flickering lamplight, a blazing fire in the kitchen of her home, where the neighbours gathered while her father read aloud to them from ‘The Nationalist.’

He, my great grand-uncle was a printer in the newspaper, having come to it following his training at ‘The Clonmel Chronicle.’

The paper was then a little more broadsheet than the issue of last week. It carried not only local news but brief reports on world events. My cousin recalled the rise and fall of her father’s voice as he emphasised questions and answers in the near verbatim reportage of court cases. She remembered the Siege of Ladysmith (1901) in the Boer War, when the relief of that city was chronicled, to the intense interest of some of the neighbours, who had brothers serving in South Africa.

only original easily 
accessible sources FOR 

In telling the story of a place, past issues of ‘The Nationalist’ are now the only original easily accessible sources for researching the history of South Tipperary. Several books, and a play, have been written about the infamous burning of Bridget Cleary in 1885 at Ballyvadlea. All acknowledge their source to the brilliant reporting of the court case that followed, in ‘The Nationalist.’

And because official records are scanty, and minutes minimal, and little documentation survives, the plight of Clonmel during the Civil War can now only be perceived within the contemporary newspaper’s pages, and the books, which acknowledge that source. Nearer our own time, again because of the paucity of official records, the story of the ‘kidnapping’ of a member of the County Council in the 1930s is preserved in print.

Allegedly, this occurred so as to manipulate voting for the appointment of an official, and was one of similar 
occurrences elsewhere, which led to the setting up of appointments commissioners.

The social turmoil which followed the Russian Revolution, and its influences on Europe, has been the subject of much modern study. That turmoil was reflected in South Tipperary, and especially in Clonmel with the formation of the so-called Soviet in 1922/1923.

But to access the details of it, and the inflammatory reaction to the raising of the red flag over the creamery (The Condensed Milk Company of Ireland), one has to go back to reports in ‘The Nationalist’ of that time.

One, too, still has to go back (because it cannot be found anywhere else) to the 1940/42 issues to read the vitriolic debates in Clonmel Corporation that surrounded the opening of the cinemas on Sundays.

Fortunately, all of these stories of Tipperary can now be sourced in local newspapers and are preseved and very accessible in The Source in Thurles. And the heretofore neglected conservation of documentation in public offices has been redressed in the establishment of the County Archives in Carrigeen, Clonmel.

It seems to me that, with the passing of the old and historic format of this newspaper, and in the welcoming in of the new and modern, the contribution made by editors, reporters and printers in telling the story of Tipperary, has to be acknowledged. The spoken word disappears into the ether; the written remains for centuries, and can now be perserved in perpetuity.


‘The Nationalist’ was established 130 years ago, by a group of Clonmel businessmen, in order to reflect the nationalist perspective of the time. This was in contrast to the perception that ‘The Clonmel Chronicle,’ (a very reputable newspaper) was seen as reflecting the unionist tradition.

The latter, in its time, had subsumed previous Tipperary publications and was eventually itself subsumed by the new publication.

Before moving to the present offices in Queen Street, Clonmel , in 1974 - the site of the old Fever Hospital and Dispensary - the offices and printworks were located in Market Street, in the premises of the old Quaker Meeting House (which itself had moved onto the site of a riding-school).

It was a cavernous, but very friendly, place. It was filled with clanking noisy machinery, with an adjoining large open-plan busy office, where the reporters rubbed shoulders with advertising staff, and where the steady monotonous tones of the woman proof-reader somehow soared about the surrounding din. Only the editor had some peace - occupying a sort of small cubby-hole.

My own lasting memory of the paper of wartime years is associated with Johnnie Barnes. Although he was middle-aged, he was known as “the paper boy.” He was a slim man, clad winter and summer in a thin suit, though he did make some concession to winter by wearing a scarf. He never walked, he always ran. And he came into our street, his customers would respond to his distinctive yell:



But Johnnie, like the old size and format of this newspaper, has now become a distant memory.

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