Tribune celebrates 25 years!
Hard to believe but it is true… the Tribune is 25 years old this week.
On the last Monday of February 1991 our first edition of 3,000 copies rolled off the printing presses at The Sligo Champion and we arrived home at11.00pm.
It was a day that spanned 18 hours of hard work, seeing the production at first hand of a newspaper, tedious driving and doing an interview on the Danny Sharkey Show on Highland Radio.
And after 1035 editions it is time to look back and to reflect on the changing face of the rural landscape that has been our beat every weekend as our team heads out to cover the latest events. The functions: council meetings, politics, the paedophile scandals, sport, church events, the bowling, the dramas and pantomimes… to mention but a few.
And how were we to know that our much-loved Tribune dog, the legendary Bouncer would go behind our backs and become a fully paid up member of Fianna Fail.
All these years later we are still embarrassed that Bouncer failed to join Bertie Ahern in CityWest for their Ard Fheis.
Legend has it that Noel McGinley was the man that guaranteed Bouncer that his future was brighter with the Soldiers of Destiny. And after many years trying to convince the Blaney supporters to return to the true faith, Noel finally settled on Bouncer to boost their fortunes in the Fanad Peninsula. A place that was a barren landscape for the Eff and Effers and it was often noted that they had more branches (six) in Fanad than actual members.
And as we look back we do so with pride: pride in our survival against all the soothsayers of yesteryear on Letterkenny’s Fleet Street. Rather amusing now to look back and reflect that the Tribune was one of the country’s first newspapers to be generated on an £800 computer with a German keyboard and precious little else. The Donegal press, still living in the world of hot metal and linotype thought we were mad… were they right? Who knows.
And so it was that on the last Monday of February 1991 we set off for Wine Street and the Sligo Champion for our first production run… and even today we are still proud of that copy since it was a very big step… into the unknown and it’s one we’ve never regretted.
We’ve been there in the community reporting the good times and sadly the not so good. Unfortunately we have had too many tragedies, accidents, and road fatalities. We’ve met and experienced the grief, the trauma and sudden death and in our own way we’ve done our best to record the lives and times of so many of those great people… often they are personal friends. Because we meet and record how the community interacts and how they combine go give each other strength when help is needed.
Going to wakes and funerals and getting the details of the deceased has always been a priority and if that is old time reporting, long may it continue to flourish.
This week, we pay tribute to Mary Haggan Ramelton who was always close to the Tribune in her many and varied projects.
We hope that in our own way, we have helped to create a social history of the area and also in promoting the small but all important voluntary projects on which our community depends so heavily. It has been an exhilarating journey, sometimes fraught with danger of being sued or assaulted… for telling the truth.
In this business you soon get the feel of a solicitor’s letter from some pirate reader who does believe that by intimidation they can influence us to change our minds on issues of conflict. That too was a part of the culture that grew with the Celtic Tiger and focus by our readers on planning issues annoyed some of the big developers.
Because the truth is a story that someone somewhere does not want to see on the front page of any newspaper.
There have been huge changes in that 25 years; many of our great friends have departed this mortal coil. We remember our health columnist, the inimitable Harald Schmidle; our great German advisor and mentor Michael Lohman, Jimmy ‘Tommy’ McElwaine our crossword maker, John McCreadie and Jim Bruce from the Isle of Skye who came over to Donegal to help when we decided to establish our own printing technology.
Jerry Carlin has been our erstwhile production manager and over many years his work in printing the paper speaks volumes for his craftsmanship. Our staff has giving loyal and dedicated service to the paper and to you, our readers and we value the continuity that is such an important part of our legend.
As a print business working to serious deadlines, we’ve come to depend on a number of engineers who can be in Donegal within a couple of hours. In the first instance Dennis Cullen from Leeds used to fly over to service the machines.
But the Tribune’s mechanical engineering has been looked after by Billy Ferson from Stewartstown on Lough Neagh. His skills are a valued asset here at the paper. Billy is a legend who has, on several occasions arrived in Milford after one in the morning to work through the night on repairs that allowed our production to meet the deadlines. And it is to his credit that we’ve not ever missed one deadline.
But on occasions it has been a case of living on our luck and instinct. There was one memorable night in 1998 when the Tribune was struck by a lightning storm. The real miracle was that the four of us in the room escaped with our lives. The bolt of lightening smashed all our computers and phones to smithereens as we rushed to meet our final deadline. But against all the odds the paper went to print as normal the following day… but only after another all night session of retrieving stories and copy.
Most of our engineers have come from Northern Ireland and their work has been exemplary, apart from one instance.
A Belfast character and well-known chancer had to be escorted from our print shed in a cloud of ready mix concrete as he protested his innocence and not to mention the mad printer from Carrickfergus who disappeared rather quickly when he crashed the Tribune’s only company car!
And our industrial relations policy platform is also very different. In most instances staff members accept instructions from management… it never works that way at the Tribune.
It has been our very unique privilege to go out among our readers to bring back the pictures, the happy times, the sporting successes, the All Ireland Fleadh welcome homes or to take a picture of the dart winners in so many of our small rural pubs.
And our rural pubs were once the heartbeat and hub of our way of life and that has changed forever. But a way forward must be found to ensure that community life and it’s building blocks are retained and that we can create work and opportunities for the young people who are now continuing to leave our rural townlands at an alarming pace.
Along the way we’ve seen and reported many political stories: none more fundamental than the demise of Ireland’s leading Independent Fianna Fail party and the death of a political legend, Neil Blaney.
We’ve done our own constituency polls for elections over these past twenty years and again we’ve done two surveys ahead of the 2016 General Election.
We’ve recorded the closure of Garda Stations, post offices and bank branches and campaigned on a big number of issues and plans that had the potential to impact on communities.
Bad roads: poor quality public services: water quality, sewage issues, hospital controversies and emigration are still as relevant today as they were in 1991. And there were memorable and highly charged battles over the licensing of fish farm sites in Mulroy Bay and Lough Swilly.
The Mobile Mast Riots in Kerrykeel saw an overnight standoff between a huge force of Garda numbers, 100 or more. And in overnight clashes Ian McGarvey and Deputy Harry Blaney were knocked to the ground. But it was Harry who brokered a solution in his own astute manner because he was one of the four TD’s that propped up the 1997 Government of Bertie Ahern.
The fundraising campaigns for a new Hospice in Letterkenny and the huge community effort is well remembered as is the work of the Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital. And we have fond recall of the many presentations with Noel O’Connell covering the four corners of the county accepting cheques and putting his hand in his own pocket to pay for countless rounds of drink in recognition of the work of the many local committees.
There was the campaign to close the refuse dumps and to keep Corravaddy free from a massive landfill site. Battles continued to be reported about rights of ways and there were memorable times as Cathal Greene and his team battled for a new vocational school in Milford. Memories are made of those campaigns… some won and others lost. The challenge to have Letterkenny’s new Council office located on the Lower Main Street was another epic battle and there were very strong personalities involved.
And too often the carnage on Donegal’s roads made our front-page headlines. In many instances we knew the fatalities personally and those events are ingrained in our memories of the past 25 years.
We met the great, the famous and the rest as well. The US Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich saw his campaign take a slide after he was followed out to Buncrana by Lawrence Donegan who was here to write a book on a year at the Tribune’s news desk. What a wonderful experience… for us!
Donegan was far more interested in Newt’s personal life… and so were others back in the USA.
Donegal’s All Ireland victories in 1992 and 2012 were obvious sporting highlights. And on a very personal level the murder of good friends, Cllr Eddie Fullerton at his home in Buncrana in June 1991 and not long after, Cllr. Eddie O’Donnell lost his life in a road traffic accident in Sligo. He had arranged an interview at the Tribune office later in the evening. And he’d asked me to have the buns on the table. I heard of the tragedy from Fr. Michael Sweeney PP Gweedore as I went into Harkin’s Shop in Milford to buy Eddie’s beloved buns.
We met and interviewed the Guildford 4: we interviewed Gerry Adams late into one memorable Sunday night when SF was banned from the airwaves by Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. A day later the Special Branch came through our door making enquiries… but we survived and obviously so did Gerry. A leading UK Government Minister came here at the height of the troubles and his name was Brian Wilson.
All hell broke lose after the Gardai discovered that Brian had visited a record number of Donegal hostelries over several days without any security… but that was not our choice nor that of the Gardai.
We survived the Celtic Tiger and never made a red cent out of the property advertising madness. We also went on to construct our own brand new printing facility. And perhaps we are the only newspaper in the British Isles to run our own sheet-fed presses of Heidelberg origin and our print run has continued to grow over the years. And we continued to build on a quality platform that gives the Tribune a very distinctive appeal for our readers.
In many ways we are a very organic outfit: our production methods are of our own making and we pay little attention to the latest fads and digital technology… and we are all the better for that.
We take a certain pride in the quality of our production and in ensuring that everyone has a copy of the Tribune…. on time and at a very reasonable cost. We also take pride in our numbers of overseas readers and long may that relationship continue.
Lawrence Donegan, a Scottish born journalist at The Guardian Newspaper spent a year working on the Tribune for his best selling book, ‘No News at Throat’ which provided a no holds barred account about what goes on behind the scenes on a small newspaper.
He was enthralled and totally engaged that a newspaper could be produced to order from the attic of my family home in Fanad. And he was equally shocked when my mother passed away on August 1998 after a very brief illness of four days.
And he recorded the wake in the most graphic detail. The paper was going to come out on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately our slot on the Derry Journal printing presses were the same as the time of the Requiem Mass. And so it was on the Tuesday a night our intrepid staff, Francis, Noel and Declan got the loan of a ladder that allowed them climb through the attic window to finish the paper.
Lawrence was appointed ‘Editor for one day’ and he played a blinder.
We take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks to our readers, all our contributors and note takers, the advertisers and everyone who helps to make the publication possible each week.
Across the 25 years there are many memories: great people we’ve met and the friendships we've forged.
It has been a remarkable journey and we are proud that you have played a very important part in our lives at the Tirconaill Tribune over these 25 amazing years.