ON August 9, 1889, a new publication hit the streets of Limerick promising to “be the faithful organ of the National Party in the counties of Limerick and Clare”.
The Limerick Leader was founded 125 years ago as a staunchly Parnellite organ dedicated to the causes of Home Rule and land reform. In his history of the title, Tim Madigan said the first edition - which cost a penny - led with news of the release from prison of the nationalist MP and Caherelly farmer John Finucane.
The Leader itself was in the bad books of British intelligence in its early days, with officers in Dublin Castle noting the paper’s “inciting to boycott and intimidation” - and early editors were prosecuted for such offences against the Crown.
While the paper has become less radical over the last 125 years, it has built a reputation as Limerick’s paper of record and its pages are a treasure trove for those researching the history of the city and county, the region and the nation.
From 1914, we can read news of a shipping disaster in Canada that claimed the lives of two Limerick crew. Over 1,000 people perished when the Empress of Ireland sank on the Saint Lawrence River after a collision with a Norwegian collier - but the disaster is a historical footnote compared to that of the Titanic two years earlier.
Two other Limerick men lost at sea 100 years ago were J Cooper, fleet paymaster, and Frederick Tracey, stoker, when the HMS Monmouth was sunk by the Germans at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile. They were among the early Limerick casualties of World War One, a conflict that would claim the lives of over 1,000 Limerick men and women over the next four years.
While hundreds signed up to answer Redmond’s call, more saw England’s difficulty as Ireland’s opportunity. Limerick yachtsmen Conor O’Brien and Thomas Myles were instrumental in running guns for the Irish Volunteers into Howth and Kilcoole in 1914.
One of the first weapons was presented to Limerick republican Ned Daly, who along with Athea’s Con Colbert was instrumental in organising the volunteers.
War also dominated the pages of the Limerick Leader in 1939, with reports from Newcastle West, Kilmallock, Ballylanders, Rathkeale and elsewhere that hundreds of young men were answering De Valera’s call to enlist in Local Security Forces. In September of that year, Cannock’s department store took out an ad in the Leader selling 5,000 yards of air raid precaution blackout material!
Also 75 years ago, the Flying Boat Station in Foynes welcomed its first commercial transatlantic passenger flight - The Yankee Clipper.
Making the Leader in 1964 was Ted Kennedy’s visit to Limerick, a year after his late brother JFK had made the same journey.
Kennedy was given a hero’s welcome in the city and was lucky not to suffer the same fate as Brendan Bowyer, who was reportedly “mobbed by 500 adoring fans” outside Cruise’s Hotel. He had a number one hit with Kiss Me Quick in 1964, a year in which he also signed to play for Limerick soccer club.
Another Limerick star making waves in 1964 was Richard Harris, who was Oscar-nominated for This Sporting Life 50 years ago.
And a great Limerick sporting life came to an end in 1964 with the death of Pallasgreen’s Paddy Ryan, an Olympic gold medal winning hammer thrower with the United States.
Also on the sporting front, a Limerick CBS team including Eamonn Cregan and Eamonn Grimes won the Harty Cup. It was the first of a four-in-a-row for the city school. Later teams would feature the likes of Pat Hartigan and CBS’ success helped lay the foundation for glory days for the Limerick senior team.
Politics got a lot of coverage in the Leader in the general election year of 1989, which saw the PDs hold on to two seats in Limerick East but fall from 14 to six nationally. Des O’Malley did what many might have thought unthinkable by going into coalition with Charlie Haughey. In Limerick West, Gerry Collins, Michael J Noonan and Michael Finucane were returned.
Next year, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of university status for UL.
And Limerick also said goodbye to one of its best-known landmarks when Ranks silo on the Dock Road was demolished. Four attempts to blow it up failed but it finally came crashing down with the help of a wrecking ball.