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Deadly Headley, Pub Investors, Thriving Rag Trade

by Jimmy Rhatigan

There was a time in our country when provincial newspapers were as important as popular Postman Pat who delivered registered letters to local families.
The latter brought a welcome flash of cash. The former was for donkeys’ years a Friday breakfast mate of a toasted lump of a PJ Crotty’s sliced pan smothered in Kilkenny Creamery Butter and a touch of marmalade.
In a nutshell the paper and the postie were part of what we were or perhaps what we appreciated, even loved.
The few quid in registered post usually came from a hubby or a family member domiciled in England, mainly London, Kilburn High Road and environs, fathers who were digging for gold in the streets to send home grub money to struggling Kilkenny families.
In return for their continued diligence in helping to keep home fires burning, our enforced exiles would be posted copies of The Kilkenny People by grateful families.

The latter was a letter from the old sod, packed with news, views, sport and entertainment.
Included too in the newspaper were quirky columns and lashings of court cases, enough to keep any local valley of squinting windows busy gossiping until the following week’s papers.
We are talking about a Kilkenny of long, long ago that depended hugely on its newspapers, fondly but respectfully, local rags.
Most popular was the Keane family-owned Kilkenny People, with the Kenealy family’s Kilkenny Journal ensuring that there was always a hotly contested derby match in print.
Just in case you needed a mid-week fix, there was The Post, the baby of the ‘People academy of journalism and wit.
It was a conglomeration of news and sport, a conduit perhaps to the weekend publishing of big brothers, the ‘People and Journal, that between them were prized in almost 100% of homes the length and breadth of Kilkenny.

The ‘People papers had an interesting catchphrase: For the greatest and the most, read the ‘People and the Post.
Newspaper owners were dyed in the wool print-loving families dedicated to the freedom of the press and hence their publications attracted scribes and snappers that saw journalism and photography as vocations.
Despite being at least as popular as fish ‘n’ chips, and often used by local chippers to wrap hunger-pleasers after a feed of porter, the one-time community bibles – ‘of course it’s true, sure it was in the paper’, had their own rocky roads.
When money was scarce and advertising even scarcer, the going got tough.
But, come hell or high water, the local paper always reached the news-stands.
The newspapers had very high standards, top class journalists that produced broadsheet pages that won the hearts and minds of local communities, and, most importantly, were good enough to hold on to that support.

For decades, the ‘People would have been in Ireland’s Top 3 provincial papers.
That was a huge achievement as the standard of rural journalism was sheer class.
A plus for news hounds was that over the years we had some great Kilkenny Corporation teams of councillors, some of them very witty, others excellent orators, all of them characters in some way or other.
Sadly, the Corpo as it was dubbed, is no more. That bastion of local democracy was carved up by former Minister Philip Hogan.
Corporation meetings provided great copy in the ago, including the spoils of party rivalry where good friends became deadly foes for a few hours and then enjoyed a tipple together.
Such was the spirit of the times that a Monday night meeting could provide a full page of exciting copy for the following Friday’s paper and maybe the lead story, aka the page one splash.

Half a century ago in the KP, Peter Roughan’s columns ‘Laughter in Court’ and ‘A Callan man looks back’ made fascinating reading.
Court coverage for an era was extensively and excitingly very different to any of today’s legal eagle round-ups.
That is mainly because in the hot seat at another time was a District Court Justice called Hedley McCay, lovingly Deadly Hedley, or not so fondly if you were up for stealing a pound of butter or carton of cottage cheese.
Hedley would have been regarded as fair but tough, teak tough and he loved to play to a gallery of journalists, thus ensuring that his many wacky and witty quotes would make newspaper headlines.
There were writers who believed firmly in courts as grist to the mill that is the newspaper industry.
Others disagreed, arguing that being fined or imprisoned for a misdemeanour was punishment enough without a person being highlighted in print as a public enemy, even for a trivial offence.
That debate still continues.

So what has happened to the great entertainers that were the newspapers of another time.
That is another story which some of us have written already.
One view would be that investors slowly but surely took ownership of newspapers from those who had proved that they knew what they were doing.
Businesses that would have earned reputations as cash cows were not always what they seemed, with some notable exceptions.
For instance there was a time when investors flocked into the pub business that was viewed as a licence to print money.
Did those people stay the course behind bars, bar counters that is, are they still in situ?
The answer is quite obvious.
Anyway, the Corpo has gone, investors have moved on and hopefully newspapers will survive.
The latter face testing times and would be advised not to tread on what is sadly now a ‘thin ice’ business.

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