Paupers, Penury and Pressmen: Irish newspaper coverage of the Dublin insolvency courts during the period of the Great Famine By Abigail Rieley

Abigail Rieley

Court coverage has always been a mainstay of news for the Press. In
the first half of the 19th century, when newspapers and the law were
both evolving rapidly, the relationship was almost symbiotic. This was
particularly true in Ireland, where the fledgling Dublin newsrooms of
newspapers keen to establish themselves as belonging to an impartial,
accurate press despite the difficult colonial environment they
operated in saw court coverage was a valuable source of home news that
could be used to reflect the newspaper’s political stance far more
subtly than an editorial would. Between the 1830s and 1850s the state
of the country was mirrored in the insolvency courts, which were
consequently assiduously covered.

The advent of digitisation has opened up these early 19th century
newspapers to detailed examination. It is now possible to follow
individual careers, stories and trends across a far broader sample
than would ever have been feasible before and reveal a picture of the
characters who frequented these courts – the small shop keepers and
tenants who were slipping into destitution, the disgraced gentry who
used the courts as a way of balancing the books, the bailiffs who used
brute force to reclaim their debts. This is an area of urban social
history that has simply not been viewable in this depth before,
particularly in an Irish context. By looking at the reporting of the
courts it is also possible to reevaluate the pioneering papers of the
period. At a time when Irish journalism was very much looked down on,
papers like The Morning Register, Dublin Evening Mail, Freeman’s
Journal and Evening Packet show a standard that goes some way to
explain of why so many Irish journalists went on to become key figures
in the evolution of the newspaper press across the English speaking

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900