August 9: 125 years later, our purpose is unchanged

When the Limerick Leader first rolled off a printing press, 125 years ago this Saturday, the available methods of communication were beyond comprehension to today’s teenagers, surgically attached to their smartphones. Radio had yet to be invented. There were no cinemas for mass entertainment. Only 13 years had passed since Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. The power that a good newspaper possessed to inform the community it served – or, at least, those who could read – was in many ways immense, for the competition from other media that would later emerge was then non-existent.

When the Limerick Leader first rolled off a printing press, 125 years ago this Saturday, the available methods of communication were beyond comprehension to today’s teenagers, surgically attached to their smartphones. Radio had yet to be invented. There were no cinemas for mass entertainment. Only 13 years had passed since Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. The power that a good newspaper possessed to inform the community it served – or, at least, those who could read – was in many ways immense, for the competition from other media that would later emerge was then non-existent.

That said, many newspapers came and went. They perished for different reasons and as the detailed article in our Leader 2 section this week amply illustrates, the newspaper you are reading now could easily have been one of them. Happily, the Leader survived and remains the local paper of record, cherished by Limerick people throughout the world.

We are proud this week to celebrate this notable anniversary. We salute all those who made it possible – not least the many hundreds of staff members who upheld the paper’s reputation for quality. It is fitting, too, that we recognise the sterling efforts of the countless contributors down the years. As Tim Madigan notes in his account of the Leader’s first 30 years, the very first local notes were published in 1893. While we are proud of the journalism produced by staff reporters down the decades, we are also mindful that for many readers the notes service provided by their neighbours and friends - small happenings in small communities - remains the bedrock of the paper.

In 2014, we have readers who rarely pick up the printed editions and as the move towards digital coverage continues apace, the Leader will not be found wanting. Our website has established itself as the most popular online news service provided by any Irish regional title.

As events for the early years of the Leader attest, this newspaper was not set up merely to report the news in an unbiased manner. It has also had a long and defiant tradition of exposing wrongdoing and holding public agencies to account. Politicians who would prefer their local newspaper to print their public utterances in full, without ever challenging their authority or holding their actions up to scrutiny, have perhaps been indulged by some newspapers – but not by this one.

Twenty-five years ago, writing in this column, editor of the day Brendan Halligan remarked of the paper’s 100th anniversary: “The Limerick Leader strives to entertain as well as to inform. But we are still very conscious of our primary responsibility as a newspaper of record, acting loyally in the best interests of our loyal readership. We are proud that this beneficial symbiosis has now lasted a century.”

To that, add another 25 years. The joy of covering the news is that each week is different. In this issue, we focus on the excitement locally ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final. Win or lose the paper will strive to capture the events as they happened. Like all newspapers we are far from infallible but we strive each week to uphold the traditions so valued by our predecessors at 54 O’Connell Street.

We thank all who have helped the paper to reach this anniversary in rude health. We have many good things planned for the coming months as the Leader continues its epic journey. We invite you to share it with us, as ever.