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The Champion and Sligo News or The Sligo Champion, as it became, was first published in 1836, and is still published today. The paper offers a fascinating insight into life in the north-west of Ireland in the nineteenth century.
A typical nineteenth century weekly paper, The Sligo Champion was initially published on Saturdays at a price of 7 pence. By the 1850s the paper had expanded to eight pages and the price had dropped to 6d. At twice the size of most other newspapers of the day it offered relative value for money (6d was half a day’s wage for a farm laborer). A typical edition carried an array of news stories from around the world as well as extensive local news. The paper offered entertainment alongside serious news including poetry, serialized novels and even jokes. In a time of low literacy (in rural areas up to half the population could not read or write) the newspaper would be passed around many houses and read aloud for those who could not read it for themselves.
The first edition was published on June 4th, 1836 and, as might be expected from a paper printed a hundred and seventy-seven years ago, it shows some signs of wear and tear. Digitization is helping to preserve these fragile objects and is bringing them to a global audience. These stories from the first edition give a real flavor of life a decade before The Great Famine.
Not unsurprizingly as a newly established publication the first edition of The Sligo Champion is a little light on advertisements and ordinary news but passionate in its politics. Parliamentary debates are published, the first edition of the paper features O’Connell calling for a reform of the House of Lords.
The layout of early newspapers can seem a little odd to the modern reader. The text is small and cramped and not separated with ‘headlines’ or even spaces between stories. A snippet about unusual vegetables can suddenly turn into a tip about preventing creaking shoes which in turn leads into an announcement about a judicial appointment, which is then followed by a report on a ‘hostile meeting’ (which turns out to be a duel, one of those involved is ‘shot very slightly’ and the other ‘severely but not dangerously’!) and finally a story of the court-martial of a soldier. It can leave the reader a bit breathless!
1836 was the year the national police force was inaugurated in Ireland. Previously policing was organized at a local or regional level and their structures and uniforms (where they existed) had a military overtone. The numbers of police, about 7,500, for a population of approximately eight million was roughly half of what it is today (about 14,000) for a population of about five million, not counting the horses!
The newspaper has stories from all over the country and includes one about a gala fete held at Dublin Zoo which had opened just five years previously. Admission to the Zoo was 6d. Four years after this article appeared (in 1840) that the Zoo made the ground-breaking decision to charge 1d on Sundays allowing many more people to enjoy the sights and sounds of the exotic animals it housed, animals that the people would have never have seen before, not even in ‘picture books’.
Among the notices one that catches your attention is a public declaration of the insolvency of one Edward Casey. With the loss of records relating to insolvents & debtors in the explosion at the Four Courts in 1922 notices such as this one are invaluable for piecing together parts of our ancestors’ lives that would otherwise be forgotten.
Newspapers offer up amazing genealogical gems and incredible insights into life in nineteenth century Ireland so explore them today and see what you can discover.
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