Christmas stories past: Dip into the Echo archives

Since 1892, the Echo has been documenting the lives and times of Cork folk. This year the newspaper's back editions were uploaded onto the Irish Newspaper Archive website, meaning a wealth of articles dating back 127 years can now be accessed online. JOHN DOLAN perused through some Christmas stories from bygone days. In some ways, times have changed; in other ways, they have stayed the same
Christmas stories past: Dip into the Echo archives
Evening Echo Archive: From the Echo front page on Christmas Eve 1959.

TURKEYS selling out in Cork, emigrants unable to make it home for the feast, and the Taoiseach and union officials meeting on Christmas Day in a bid to avert a bank strike.

These are just some of the hundreds of thousands of stories from the Cork Evening Echo that can now be viewed online thanks to a brilliant resource.

The Irish Newspaper Archive provides access to more than 300 years of Irish history, as appeared in the newspapers of the day, and this year the Echo’s back copies were uploaded onto the site.

People can view data there from around 80 newspapers going back to the 1700s.

As a taster, the Holly Bough accessed some festive editions of the Echo — which this year dropped the ‘Evening’ part of its title and became a morning newspaper for the first time (see panel below). These were some of the highlights of bygone days:

Saturday, December 23, 1939

With World War II just a few months old, the cartoon on page 5 of that day’s Echo showed Santa in a tank instead of a sleigh, unloading a stash of arms and ammo at a dreaming boy’s bed.

Some of the newspaper’s content at the time would have been bought in from the UK, and it can only be assumed this was a piece of British propaganda which, to modern eyes, looks extremely unsettling.

Evening Echo Archives: From the front page of The Evening Echo on Christmas Eve 1949.
Evening Echo Archives: From the front page of The Evening Echo on Christmas Eve 1949.

Christmas Eve 1949

The Echo cost a penny and comprised of just six pages in those frugal times.

There was a sweet festive photo adorning the front page, showing three boys hanging up their stockings above the fireplace.

A small section of funnies on Page 3 called ‘Thoughts and Trifles’ contained the following:

Life-size television for the home was demonstrated in London last night for the first time.

Now all we want is a life-size home for the television.

******

The young bride placed the turkey carefully on the table for Christmas dinner.

“This, my dear,” she exclaimed, “is my first roast turkey.”

Her husband looked with admiration. “Marvellous, darling,” he said. “And how wonderfully you’ve stuffed it.”

“Stuffed it?” she asked. “Why, dearest, this one wasn’t hollow.”

******

Young man to spinster — “You look so cheerful and happy all the time. I always thought unmarried women were sour and grouchy. Why are you so different?”

Spinster — Well, I have a fireplace that smokes, a dog that barks, a parrot that swears, and a cat that stays out all night. What do I need with a man?”

There was also a report that day 70 years ago on a camp of Baltic refugees in Rockgrove, and the Red Cross ensured people there were provided “with all the good things of Christmas”.

Wednesday, December 27, 1950

The Echo comprised just four pages, and the splash that day was about President Truman studying proposals for a United Nations trade boycott of Communist China, in response to the ongoing Korea crisis.

However, of more pressing interest to Cork readers was the story about the banks being shut that day owing to strike action by employees.

Remarkably, the Taoiseach and Tanaiste had met officials from the Irish Bank Officials Association on Christmas Day at Government Buildings — but their talks had proved fruitless.

Inside, the Echo reported on a J. Kerrigan winning a scrambling contest on Rooves Bridge in Coachford the day before. His chain had come off during the race and he ended up freewheeling to victory.

Evening Echo Archive: From the Echo front page on Christmas Eve 1959.
Evening Echo Archive: From the Echo front page on Christmas Eve 1959.

Christmas Eve, 1959

Now up to eight pages, and costing twopence, the edition featured another cute shot of boys peering into their fireplace.

A Mopsy cartoon, penned by a woman, poked fun at office pests who harassed women workers, while the ads for domestic helps made for interesting reading —one sought girls as young as 15 to be live-in domestics at a convent.

On the front page, the Echo reported that “the turkey had almost disappeared from Cork shops to-day”.

A prominent retailer said: “If we liked to take advantage of the situation, we could auction off turkeys to the highest bidder.”

This trader, the Echo added, had maintained the previous day’s prices of 5/- per pound for hens and 4/- for cocks.

Rather presciently, as the 1960s were days away, an Echo front page story on Christmas Eve, 1959, was headlined ‘He hopes to go to the Moon some day’, about a German-born U.S rocket scientist called Dr Wernher Von Braun, who dreamed of orbiting and even landing on the surface!

There was an advert for a Cork Celtic v Cork Hibs clash taking place on St Stephen’s Day.

The first Echo after Christmas in 1959 reported on riots in Dublin on Christmas Eve. Gardaí blamed “Dublin lads returning home from England for Christmas” who were carrying squibs — fireworks — that they had smuggled through customs, as they were illegal in Ireland.

A Garda said: “We would have had complete control of the situation within 20 minutes but for the people crowding in to watch. We were afraid we might hit the wrong people.”

Among films in the cinemas in the 1959 festive period was classic western The Searchers starring John Wayne. The Echo described it as “a most unusual western” that was “well worth a visit”.

The newspaper also ran a round-up of Christmas reports from the various county towns.

In Macroom, more than 2,000 “members of the faithful” received Holy Communion on Christmas morning, at masses that ran half-hourly between 7.30am and the “Solemn High Mass” at noon.

In Midleton, “in the memory of the oldest inhabitants, this Christmastide the weather was the worst for years”.

Evening Echo Archives: A photo of Cork triplets that appeared in the Evening Echo on December 23, 1967.
Evening Echo Archives: A photo of Cork triplets that appeared in the Evening Echo on December 23, 1967.

Saturday, December 23, 1967

There was a lovely photo on page one of Cork triplets who had just celebrated their first birthday

The splash, headlined ‘Many unable to be with families this Christmas’, spoke of how emigrants in the UK had heeded a warning from the Irish Government not to come home at Yuletide, to reduce the risk of foot and mouth spreading here.

The article began: “For many in Ireland, this is a lonely Christmas, the family festival without the head of the family in some cases, or without sons and daughters. Travel restrictions between Britain and Ireland will make many vacant places in Irish homesteads on Christmas Day.”

It added that Taoiseach Jack Lynch had appeared on British TV, thanking the Irish there for staying put.

On a lighter note, the article ended with reports of a threat to the Opera House panto, Jack And The Beanstalk, because of foot and mouth.

“An essential in the show is the cow which Jack sells for a handful of beans,” explained the Echo.

“The papier mache head and ‘body’ were being obtained from England, but the British Post Office refused to accept the parcel, deeming it be ‘used clothing’ and therefore banned from consignments to disease-free Ireland. Efforts were being made today to get the costume in direct by air.”

The Echo splash round-up of Christmas concluded: “Many young couples have good reason for celebrating and remembering Christmas in a very special way. This morning’s Cork Examiner published 34 engagement announcements, in place of the usual half dozen or so.”

Wednesday, December 27, 1967

A letter headlined ‘Bad manners’ stated: “My daughter was travelling on a city bus recently and had to stand during the whole journey of 20 minutes with her baby (18 months) in her arms.” The writer, from Friars Walk, added: “The bus was full of teenage girls but not one of them offered her a seat. This would not have happened in Cork 20 or even 30 years ago. The young then had far less to spend, but they were kind and mannerly.”

See www.irishnewsarchive.com

A spokesman for the Archive said they hoped to have all Echo archive pages loaded by the end of the year, and would then look at the possibility of putting old Holly Boughs up.

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