James W Upton was an Irish journalist who participated in the 1916 Easter Rising, but whose contribution to Ireland and dedication to the freedom of speech is largely forgotten today.
Upton started working as a reporter for the Waterford Star newspaper in 1904, after several years of writing Gaelic reports for various regional newspapers under the pseudonym “Valiant.” The Sinn Feiner was forced to resign from the paper in 1914 as a result of his nationalist activity and became the editor of the Kilkenny Journal. He also wrote and edited for Joseph Stanley’s Gaelic Press, providing copy for the Gaelic Athlete and editing Honesty and the Spark under the pen names Gilbert Galbraith and Ed Dalton.
In March 1916, the British authorities raided the Gaelic Press. Afterwards, Stanley and Upton continued publication of the Spark in the basement of Liberty Hall, under a guard provided by the Irish Citizen Army.
A recent piece in the Irish Times recounts Upton’s contribution to the 1916 Easter Rising: “On Monday, April 24th, following a meeting with Pearse and Connolly in the GPO, Stanley commandeered a small printing works in Halston Street in order to print and distribute Pearse’s bulletins. Upton remained with Stanley throughout the Easter Rising, jointly authoring several articles in Irish War News and assisting with printing and distribution of subsequent bulletins. In the aftermath of the Rising, Upton slipped back to Kilkenny to continue his editorial role and republican agitation; activities that earned him a Black and Tan 'death warrant' in 1921.”
Upton has never received recognition for his role, in part due to his own reticence in seeking credit. He refused to claim a pension or medal, saying that what he did was for Ireland and he did not want a reward for a job “only half done.”
After leaving the Kilkenny Journal in 1922, Upton spent and number of years working as a freelancer and served six years as editor of the radical national weekly journal Honesty.
The Irish Times writes: “Upton, who had a lifetime commitment to freedom of speech, offered a platform in Honesty to political views from across the spectrum, a policy that would eventually bring him into conflict with the leadership of Fianna Fáil. In July 1929, Upton published an article by Patrick Belton that attacked the leadership of the party, accusing them, among other things, of lying in the Dáil. Boland and Lemass cited Belton’s article as justification for surreptitiously instructing the party membership to boycott Honesty, an action that effectively sounded its death knell.
“However, the attack on Honesty was as much about de Valera’s interest in the flagging Nation and the soon to be launched Irish Press, as it was about their ire at Upton’s editorial policy. Honesty struggled on for another couple of years but eventually closed in February 1931. In May of the same year Upton launched a new publication, Publicity; however, it failed after just eight months, ultimately ending Upton’s career as an editor.”
Upton would continue to work as a freelance journalist until 1945, when he was forced to take up employment as a reference librarian with Waterford City Library.
He died in Waterford, in 1956, at the age of 84.