Rebirthing the Nation: The Dublin Penny Journal and Alternative Histories

Elizabeth Tilley
National University of Ireland, Galway

Penny Magazines are often seen as rag-bags of general information,
assemblages of peculiar or exotic facts, or purveyors of moral tales,
but they can also be repositories of cultural identity and indigenous
knowledge. During the 1830s in Ireland the format of such magazines
was altered in order to reflect a particular urgency surrounding the
gathering and preservation of evidence illustrating the country’s
heritage. The Dublin Penny Journal is a case in point, as part of its
mandate was to popularize and explain to a general audience the
ancient chronicles of Ireland. One of the magazine’s early editors
was George Petrie, Head of the Memoir Section of the government’s
Ordnance Survey in Ireland and prominent member of the Royal Irish
Academy. Petrie had procured for the Academy the Annals of the Four
Masters, a record of Irish history from the deluge (dated as 2,242
years after creation) to AD 1616, and it was extracts from the Annals
that Petrie used as a way of reuniting his audience with their own
past. The Annals retold the story of Ireland’s birth and death, a
story filled both with glory and with ignominious defeat at the hands
of the English. Though ostensibly listing the achievements of the
Gaelic nobility, in Petrie’s hands the Annals also suggested ways in
which the Irish peasantry might, revenant-like, reclaim their own
history, and the penny journal format—cheap, conversational,
nationalist–made manifest this reconstruction of reality.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900