WHEN there is a crisis in the health service and Brexit is sending tremors through the business community, a politician might be stopped in the street and harangued about the noisy house next door or the dog muck in the local park.
At such times, the politician may emit a wry smile and utter the old chestnut: “All politics is local.”
Similarly, a regional newspaper like the Evening Echo has spent the last 125 years constantly reminding itself of the phrase ‘All news is local’.
In the face of global wars, famines and catastrophes, the dogs in the street know that Cork people want to read about Cork people, issues and events.
This need for local news is summed up by the possibly apocryphal story of the billboard poster in Scotland following the Titanic disaster: ‘Scottish man dies at sea’.
For that newspaper’s readers, the death of one local person was apparently deemed more important and newsworthy than the death of hundreds more in the worst sea disaster ever!
Similarly, a glance at an edition of the Evening Echo 75 years ago, on Friday, January 2, 1942, shows that although World War II and the Emergency were major news stories across the globe, coverage of how this impacted on local people was just as important.
There, amid the banner headlines about war, troops and death tolls, were some fascinating nuggets of local news. The Echo was 50 years old at the time and dutifully carrying out its role as being the “first draft of history” amid turbulent times.
One story that catches the eye relating to World War II was its impact on Cork’s toast-lovers...
The Echo ran a story about how the massive shortage of oranges in Ireland because of the war was now a big issue, as the start of the year was the best time to make marmalade.
To make matters worse, it was reported that it was next to impossible to import orange pulp, a lesser alternative to the oranges themselves.
The Irish Jam Manufacturers Association promised to deal with the issue at a general meeting to be held in Dublin a few days later.
Happily, on January 12, there was a reprieve in the marmalade lull thanks to a large shipment of oranges which landed in Dublin.
Government officials bought the entire cargo and decided to distribute the oranges equally to wholesalers rather than allowing them to go to auction as per usual.
Buyers from across Cork arrived in Dublin and were able to purchase the fruit at a price set by the Department of Supplies. So the morning slice of toast with marmalade was safe for another year.
However, an issue of even greater importance for some was talk of the possible introduction of beer rationing across the country.
The threat came about due to a poor barley crop and the difficulty of importing American oak, which was used for making beer casks.
Cork brewers insisted that rationing would not take place in the county, but one admitted to the Evening Echo that they had given in to a request from the state to reduce malting by 20%.
Meanwhile, bread rations were also causing difficulties for Cork’s working class families. City and county bakers agreed to prioritise the selling of bread to those who needed it most, stating that those with more money were in a better position to buy other food. A case of ‘Let them eat cake’ for the wealthier citizens!
However, in most of the Echo’s stories in January, 1942, there was no escaping the war and the Emergency across Ireland.
Petrol and other vital goods were rationed nationwide, although the threat of a German invasion of Ireland had receded.
The front page of January 2 was dominated with news of the war in foreign fields.
Manila in the Philippines has just fallen to enemy hands, alarms were being raised in Australia as rumours abounded that the antipodes were to be attacked, and England found herself the victim of almost nightly aerial bombing raids as the Blitz continued.
Concern was raised at the sighting of enemy aircraft over Northern Ireland. A few months earlier, 700 people had died when German aircraft dropped bombs on Belfast and the fear of bombs targeting Cork was very real.
The Department of Industry and Commerce also warned of the dangers of mines, which had been seen drifting off the coast of Cork and other south-western regions.
John Horgan, the Fine Gael Lord Mayor of Cork, called a meeting to discuss the worsening fuel crisis. He suggested that the coal delivery lines be secured to avoid delays in it reaching the county and appealed to politicians to take the matter seriously, warning of the potentially grave nature of the situation.
In Fermoy, an investigation was ongoing into the theft of money from a military canteen. The point of entry into the canteen was determined by the presence of a broken pane of glass but, as yet, there were no leads as to the identity of the culprits.
Elsewhere, unemployed men from Spangle Hill and Gurranabraher in Cork city were protesting about the wages being offered to them by Cork County Council. The men were in receipt of social welfare, or ‘labour’ as it was then called, as well as home assistance and food vouchers.
The combined worth of welfare and assistance gave the men an income of 32 shillings per week. The council were demanding the men take up their jobs, in this case working in a quarry in Blarney, for a sum of 25 shillings a week.
The men agreed that they wanted to get back to work, but said they would not do so as long as it would mean a reduction in income. They were eager to know why council wages were higher in the city than for jobs around the county.
The South Cork Board of Public Assistance supported the men’s protest and agreed to negotiate city rates for the men.
As the work was compulsory, the Board agreed to make up the difference in the men’s pay until a resolution could be made with the council.
The Board were also in the news for agreeing to hire a doctor proficient in Irish to the position of medical officer. The official policy with regards to having strong Irish was vague but the board accepted that it was important to cater for Gaelgoirs in the Cork region.
No matter what the year, it would seem that there is always someone disobeying pub licensing laws.
In 1942, it was John Buckley, of Merchants Quay, who was brought to book for allowing five men to drink in his public house after legal hours.
He was fined 40 shillings whilst three of the men who were availing of the pints were fined five shillings each. No mention is made of the other two drinkers.
Catherine Crowley was also fined for allowing six men to drink in her pub after hours. In her defence, she claimed the men were not served alcohol after 10pm, as was the law, but were finishing up drinks they had purchased earlier in the evening.
However, the judge did not believe her and she was fined, along with the men who had been drinking.
In the city, a three-day bazaar was held to raise funds to build a new church in Washington Street. St Augustine’s was completed later that year and still stands.
Elsewhere, the Evening Echo reported that entertainment was to be severely lacking in Charleville as the Pavilion Cinema on Claney Terrace had been completely destroyed by fire. The smoke was spotted by a Cork Examiner van driver who raised the alarm. The blaze spread rapidly and members of the fire brigade could not save the building.
A new column was present in the paper, called Thoughts And Trifles, which covered snippets of humorous news stories, jokes and proverbs.
The humour does not quite land in 2017, but there is something delightfully innocent about it all, as this example shows:
“My dear, today is our diamond wedding anniversary and I have a surprise for you. You see this engagement ring I gave you 76 years ago? Well, I paid the final instalment on it today and I am proud to say it is now altogether yours”.
Another new occasional feature was an Irish language column, An Fainne, recounting happenings within the Irish speaking community of Cork.
Another sign of the times was the prevalence of the ‘funnies’ — comic strips aimed at children and adults.
Mutt And Jeff was a popular strip in the Echo for many years, until around 15 years.
“The combined worth of welfare and assistance gave the unemployed men an income of 32 shillings per week. The council were demanding the men take jobs, in this case working in a quarry in Blarney, for a sum of 25 shillings a week.”