Echooooo! The iconic boys’ brigade on streets of the city

The Echo Boys have entered the fabric of Cork culture, by their presence and their trademark call, says JOHN DOLAN
Echooooo! The iconic boys’ brigade on streets of the city

LEGENDS: Songwriter John Spillane receives a miniature Echo Boy statue from editor Maurice Gubbins in 2005, after he mentioned two legendary Echo Boys in his song, Mad Woman Of Cork, Dave Hogan (left) and Micheal O’Regan (right)

WHEN the Echo launched in 1892, a logistic problem presented itself to management relating to the distribution of their new product.

For more than half a century, the Cork Examiner had been mainly sold in shops and newsagents across city and county, delivered by various modes of transport during the window of several hours between printing and people waking up.

The new evening paper didn’t have the luxury of that window: time would be of the essence.

It was decided that, as well as distributing Echos to the same shops, a network of mainly young sellers would be employed to sell the new newspaper on the city’s streets.

Their job would be to ensure the Echo would be hot off the presses and into the hands of readers in a matter of minutes.

This was the birth of the Echo Boy,

In the past 130 years, the Echo Boy has become an institution and a cultural icon, a unique sight - and sound - long held dear by Cork’s inhabitants, as they stood on street corners, or dodged between trams, bicycles and cars, loudly and proudly proclaiming the name of their wares: “Echoooooo... Evening Echooooo!”

Former proprietor Ted Crosbie said the early street sellers were impoverished, and well looked after by the company.

“Most of them were barefoot in the early days and delighted to earn a wage,” he said. 

“The company set up a club for them at Lavitts Quay along with Christian Brothers College and gave them an annual holiday at Ringabella.”

However, Mr Crosbie recalled one occasion when he drew the wrath of the Echo Boys.

“At Christmas, 1952, when we increased the price of the paper from a penny to twopence, they felt they were being short-changed,” he recalled.

“My co-director Pat Crosbie and I were pursued down South Mall by a group of Echo Boys shouting ‘Tuppence for nothing!’ Luckily, I was a little quicker on my feet in those days!”

A young Echo Boy by a crashed car at Dun Laoi, Grand Parade, Cork, city, in December, 1956
A young Echo Boy by a crashed car at Dun Laoi, Grand Parade, Cork, city, in December, 1956

Mr Crosbie said the Echo Boys were organised by Johnny Mahony, then his son Donal.

“A huge influence on sales of the Echo, Johnny at one stage was selling 17,000 to 18,000 copies a day through Echo Boys on the streets of Cork. He was an extraordinary man.”

So revered are the Echo Boys that a statue of one in mid-cry was made by sculptor Barry Moloney, then Principal of the Crawford School of Art, and unveiled in Cook Street by then Lord Mayor of Cork Denis ‘Dino’ Cregan in 1991, to mark 150 years of the Examiner and 100 years of the Echo. The statue was re-located to Patrick Street, by the original offices of the two news papers, in 2004.

Some Echo Boys have slipped into city legend and lore, and achieved longevity in the trade.

Johnny Kelleher, of Glasheen, sold the newspaper for a remarkable 76 years, starting by selling it alongside his mother when he was eight, and continuing until he was 84. 

He had his pitch at the Coliseum Corner on MacCurtain Street, and it was here that he sold the Echo to then-Taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1979, breaking the news that Christy Ring had died.

After Johnny’s death in 2019, his daughter Olivia said: “The paper was like a religion to him. He was buried with the Examiner and The Echo.”

Michael O’Mahony, from Gurranabraher, was still selling the Echo in 1991, having begun in 1921 outside the Victoria Hotel. He used to send a copy of the paper up to a third-storey flat rolled with rope, to save the reader a journey down long flights of stairs!

Jimmy O’Sullivan, another long- serving Echo Boy, racked up more than 60 years on the streets. He died in 2001, while in his car waiting to collect the paper from Academy Street.

Many readers today will recall the presence of Michael O’Regan in the city for half a century, beginning in August, 1969.

In the morning, his pitch was at the northern end of Patrick Street, near another familiar landmark, Mangan’s Clock. In the afternoons he moved to the corner of Princes Street and Patrick Street to sell the Echo, and of course, the Holly Bough when in season.

“When I began selling papers there were nine Echo Boys on Patrick Street,” Michael said. “That was an era before television, when the Echo cost 2d.”

In his 50 years as a vendor, he is estimated to have sold two million newspapers and magazines.

An Echo Boy for 70 years, Jeremiah Cronin, passed away in January, aged 85. He began selling papers at 11 and worked until March, 2020, when only a pandemic could force him to retire.

His son Donal said his father’s pitch had been St Augustine’s Church, Washington Street, North Main Street, and the Coal Quay, and on Sundays he would be at St Mary’s Church. “Monday to Saturday, he was inside the door of St Augustine’s Church, he always said he had the best office in the world,” Donal said.

Jeremiah inherited his father’s job, following a special dispensation granted by then proprietor Mr Crosbie, so he could support his mother and his 12 siblings.

Donal’s youngest brother Glenn still sells newspapers in his father’s pitch, continuing a family tradition of more than 120 years.

Still a familiar sight - and sound - outside the GPO in Oliver Plunkett Street, Dave Hogan, of Farranree, has worked the patch for 44 years.

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