IN this era of 24-hour rolling news, beamed in from the eight corners of the globe and hash-tagged directly by a personalized algorithm to a smart device in your pocket – it’s difficult to imagine a world without news.
But consider a world without internet; without social media, YouTube, TikToc or Instagram. Imagine a time before smart phones, when the smartest device available was the electric toaster. Well, that’s the world I was born into.
I came of age at a time when news was a scarce commodity. It was a time when those privileged to have television sets were limited to one black and white channel broadcast for just a few hours each day and interrupted regularly by the standard screen card stating shamelessly: “Is Donagh Linn an Briseadh Seo”. [We apologies for the loss of transmission].
Back in the day, news was suspect and seditious, and so, government information agencies curated and conveyed a suitable version to a news-hungry public. This singular source of broadcast media circumvented all voices of dissent and contradiction.
The island of Ireland of my youth was insular and monocultural. We were – One Country. One People. One News. And, far from being ahead of our time, 1974 Ireland was all that Orwell’s 1984 had predicted.
For the most part, news was drip-fed to the provinces from Dublin by the state broadcaster Radio Éireann. And each day, following a whispered recitation of the Angelus, the nation would stop whatever it was doing and cock an ear for the twelve o’clock, six o’clock and nine o’clock news. Back in the day, ‘catching the news’ was a national pastime.
I was very fortunate, I grew up behind the counter of a newsagent’s shop. In our house newspapers and print media reigned supreme.
And while broadcast news was presented by news-readers – print media was fuelled by news-journalists, and there is a difference. Because rather than a scripted government memo announced in plummy Montrose vowels – journalists offered debate and opinion that challenged and gradually chipped away at the cosy cartel of the church and state monopoly of the airwaves.
And though the national broadsheets held mighty sway along our shop counter, nothing compared to the power of local evening news.
There was something about the undiluted Cork-centric perspective of the Evening Echo that cut through the rhetoric and elevated the local voice of politics, sport and culture to the heart of the national debate.
For me, the Golden Age of print media will always be when the Evening Echo was compiled, printed and distributed from Patrick Street, a news machine with its finger on the pulse of the downtown beating heart. It generated the palpable presence of larger-than-life, sometimes idiosyncratic journalists who frequented an array of eccentric public houses, creating a forum of engagement for the great unwashed and the Fourth Estate. This collision of wits and half-wits created a vibrant strand to the colourful tapestry of the city. It was a time of epic newspaper lore and mythical anecdotes – such as the apocryphal tale of a secret drink-hatch that linked Le Chateau bar to the Echo Print Room on Faulkner’s Lane.
Integral to the life cycle of the city, you could set your watch by the early afternoon surge of news literally exploding onto the streets as squadrons of Echo Boys raced from Bowling Green Street, heralded by the evocative sound of: “E-eecho! Eve-a-ning E-eecho!” bouncing off every bus stop, bridge and bank corner.
More than just a disseminator of news, the Echo has always contributed to the cultural uniqueness that is Cork.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see four generations of the Kelleher family selling papers at Falvey’s Corner, small change stacked in columns along the chemist’s windowsill. Or looking on in awe at the king of street vendors, my good friend Johnny Kelleher selling newspapers at the Coliseum Corner, performing his tantalising tango, ducking and diving between teatime traffic.
And etched in my memory is that spiralling sense of teenage urgency as we scrambled from Flower Lodge into town after a Cork Hibernians game, to check the latest League of Ireland results, handwritten by the Echo Sports reporter Bill George and thumb tacked to the Examiner Office door; a quaint and peculiar tradition resonant of Martin Luther nailing his ‘95 Theses’ to the door of Wittenberg Church.
And so, The Echo is 130 years a-growing, but this is not a nostalgia piece. The clue is in the name – news is now, was then and always shall be all about what is new.
And while I wholeheartedly indulge the oddities and eccentricities of the past, I fully embrace new technologies and eagerly anticipate what the future might hold. These days, EchoLive.ie has a fully integrated online presence pumping out breaking news, 24/7, still fully confident that all news is local.
But I must admit, to this very day, my guilty pleasure is a rolled up Echo in my arse pocket, as I retreat to some quiet inglenook to sit and sip and read what’s happening in the real world.