A return to the local papers

Jan 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

There was a local newspaper report two, perhaps three, years ago about the funeral in England of a young army officer who had died in one of Mr Blair’s wars.  The task of the priest was unenviable; the officer’s father was a retired senior army officer and there would have had to have been a toeing of the line.  There would have had to be the appropriate words, I would have found it difficult to have said the right things, but I know that the priest of the parish will have chosen his words carefully and well. I recognized his name as I read the report – when I was 21, he prepared me for confirmation, a good and a Godly man.

I thought about the past three decades he had spent in a corner of a rural diocese, not an ascent of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but the fulfilment of a calling to be a faithful shepherd and the sense of having been a part of a community where he was known and loved.

Perhaps the best parishes are those where you open the weekly paper and see the name of the local clergyman, not because he has sought any publicity, but because he is at the heart of the community and the news is about the life of the community.

Dublin is a grand place to live, but there is never that sense of community, there is never a sense of rootedness. The identity of south Co Dublin is so amorphous that it does not merit a genuine local paper.

Talking to a friend who ministers in a parish out beyond the Pale, we discussed a very able colleague who has spent the whole time he has been a Rector in a little country place, perhaps he should be elsewhere, but it was easy to understand why he stayed where he did. If you are in a community where you are known and loved, then why would you want to go somewhere which can’t  support a local paper?

I gave notice a few years ago  that, in 2011, I planned to move back to the country. A return to big diffident farmers and their eminently practical wives, engaging again with the rhythm of rural life. Not because I don’t love being here, I do; but because I haven’t a clue how to really engage with the challenges of ministry in an urban setting and because I was trained for ministry in a bygone age, where the priest and his people shared the life of a community and where that life was reflected each Thursday in the pages of the local paper.

I had set my heart on Co Wexford, but that isn’t to be; Katharine’s appointment to Kilkenny will keep me west of the Blackstairs Mountains, but a year earlier than planned, there will be a return to picking up the local paper each Thursday to discover the heart  of the community.  My ambition is that one day people will pick up the paper of wherever I serve out the remaining sixteen years of my ministry and say, “There’s old Mr Poulton, I remember him, he wasn’t a bad man”. That will, for me, be success.

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  1. You’ll be remembered Ian, no worries about that. But I think you’ll embrace the quieter rural life although according to the Rev. C it’s not all a bed of roses. As for local papers, we still get two but there’s precious little in them other than advertising. Sadly, they don’t deliver down our street because it’s too far for them to walk between mailboxes. Some ‘community’. Cheers and a very happy new year to you. Change is scary but it can be good.

  2. Thanks, Baino.

    There are no beds of roses, but I can do traditional and conservative better than cutting edge stuff – I come out of a very traditional rural community.

  3. We have two weekly papers and a daily Worcester News, sometimes the contents make very gloomy reading. Petty crime,wife beating, drug crime and three times in recent memory, murder. Worcester is a quiet and pretty place, with a beautiful Cathedral and cricket ground by the river, home of Elgar and ‘Englishness’. Do we have community – I think so – along with whatever else life brings with it. You are right there are no beds of roses.
    I teach ‘disaffected’ young people, my eldest sister teaches in a school that is under ‘special measures’ (Ofsted/school inspectors), another sister works in mental health social care – both in rural Worcestershire (as opposed to the city) – the problems are horrendus. To focus only on that which we know, would be very depressing, one has to believe there is community, something better. I believe I create a community within my classroom. I met a student shortly after Christmas who said he was looking forward to returning to college next week. This is a lad with Tourettes who in Sept/Oct regularly left the classroom because he couldn’t cope with something that was going on (usually a reaction to a lad who used his sexuality to get a response from others). I like to think I do ‘cutting edge’ teaching in a caring, strutured community – however small that may be.
    As can be seen by the responses to you blog Ian, you do make a difference, even in ‘rootless’ Dublin. You’ll be fine, traditional and conservative is as necessary as cutting edge.

  4. I think what I love about rural Ireland is that the community is there, it does not have to be created, and it includes everyone in a place.

  5. Yes, I miss the local papers….where the Parish Fun Day is “News” and all three of the local papers send their photographers….where the Christmas services are reviewed and where the church and community work together to bring about change for the good of all. Belfast, even this part of Belfast, just doesn’t have that centre – though the Lisburn Road is perhaps trying in some small way to develop “community”. Hopefully Saint Nicholas’ will be somewhere near the heart.

  6. I used to love the ones that had obituaries for everyone. A friend from the West tells of an obituary of a local farmer who had led an uneventful life. The sub-editor was hard-pressed to find something in the obituary to use as a headline, eventually he settled on two words from the text. The headline read ‘Kept Pigs’.

  7. Ian – a most interesting and insightful post – I agree with you entirely about the natural sense of community in the country though I would observe that the focus of local community is changing – not sure where its going but it is changing…

  8. I think the Irish sense of ‘place’ contributes to a feeling of a common bond; someone’s link with a townland or a parish creates an extraordinary sense of attachment. Presumably with the influx of people from other places and changes in ownership of land, there has been some dilution of that feeling?

  9. Ian

    I’m sure you will be missed. But you were after my time. I seem to remember a Canon Harris in my day.

    You have put your finger on a modern malaise – the lack of a sense of community. When I arrived in Ballybrack in 1954 it was a village. Everyone knew everyone else (more or less, given the wide class spectrum involved). My mother ran the local newsagent/sweetshop and I had a paper round up the Church Rd. as far as Ballinclae. I also did temporary postman at Christmas. So I really did know everybody. I even knew more about some of them than they would have wished – army types living our a rank well above what appeared on their pension cheques. Such is life.

    I should just mention that, as early as 1958, Ballybrack (or Shanganagh Vale really, Killiney, Ballybrack, Loughlinstown and Shankill) did have a local paper, however briefly. This was the Shanganagh Valley News, which, in its own primitive way, reported local events and carried, sometimes poetic, local advertising.

    All the best for your and Katherine’s stay in Kilkenny. I’m booking a ringside seat for Katharine’s and PaddyAnglican’s head to head for the favours of the hopefully visiting Obama. National Theatre in the making.

    Beannachtaí oraibh i 2010 agus ‘sna blianta le teacht..

  10. I have never before heard of the Shanganagh Valley News! I suspect most people here now would be hard pressed to know where to find the Shanganagh river.

    Canon Harriss retired in 1963; he must have been well into his 70s by then – I would have been two or three. There are still memories of the village from those times and, in our own church, some of the old Protestant families are still present – Gould, Haughton, Hill and Homan amongst others.

    I shall take no part in the Obama debate – I would have been a McCain voter!

    Blessings for 2010.

  11. The Shanganagh Valley News is excellent. I shall print off the material you have printed and take it with me next time I am visiting some of the older residents.

    You would have been a contemporary of Richard Hill, whose father was sexton at Saint Matthias’ church, and David Homan, whose parents kept the tea rooms, chalets and boats on Killiney beach.

  12. I like the “Kept Pigs” comment.
    As for Kilkenny – I found the Guards there so friendly they even offered myself and my girlfriend the use of a cell one night during a festival when B&B rooms were in short supply. Eventually they managed to track down a room in a house for me, which was great, but it did rob me of what could have been a good story.
    The whole rural community idea is most beguiling, but, as you’ll know already, it takes a lot of work. The village I live in (in England) thrives to the extent it does as a community because of the multifarious efforts of so many unsung heroes. (Of the two churches in the village the Baptists are the epitome of wonderful outreach, the CofE sadly not.) The village is under constant pressure from cuts to bus services, out of town shopping centres and general complacency.
    In the past I have sometimes quailed at the thought of living in an Irish midland village – the only faint light at night the fly killer in the local Chinese, itself the only focal point for bored young people too young to get served in the pub. Add into the mix a valley of squinting windows or the likes of the treatment of rape victims in Listowel, and your foot presses down on the accelerator.
    Kilkenny though always seemed a vibrant interesting place. Good luck with the move.

  13. As you may be aware I have been doing some research into the Killiney/Ballybrack area since the early 1970s. Apart from presenting the results locally at the time, I pulled them all together in a talk to the Local History Day in the Dublin City Library and Archive in September 2008, and put up thisweb page as background:

    I do remember the Ballybrack Protestant families of my day. We RCs were very conscious of other people’s religion in those days. I don’t remember the Hills, but the Goulds, Haughtons and Homans, I do. There was also the Sheckletons who had the dairy at 28 Church Rd., and supplied our (unbottled) milk at the time.

    In the course of my researches I had dug out the Report of the Select Vestry of the Parish of Killiney for 1908 (which I take to be St. Matthias and which operated in conjunction with Holy Trinity in Killiney village for certain activities) and it has some very interesting stuff which I will share with you. If you don’t have it and want any more details just ask and I can scan in pages.

    From the Main Report: Subscriptions were insufficient to maintain the incumbent’s stipend of £800 so the Pew Rents and Offertory funds, which were connected to the fabric of the church buildings and the maintenance of Divine Worship, had to be raided. The number of registered vestrymen was 100.

    From the accounts: salaries of the organist £40, of the sextoness £22, and of the sexton £20; tuning of the organ £4/4s.

    Among those contributing to the Sustentation Fund, and whose names resonate with me, were: George Bower (local builder), Lady Deane (Dorset Lodge?); and Major Domville (Wyattville Rd. or Loughlinstown House?). To the Auxiliary Fund: W. Horner (I assume he was a relation of Mr. Horner who had a taxi business out of Shanganagh Tce. and who ferried my mother round on occasions).

    There was also a Parochial Library, which opened for half an hour a day, and the subscription to which was 3s.6d yearly for one volume (presumably meaning out at the one time).

    The parish Temperance Society had 144 members, including 32 children.

    The Report also includes a copy of the incumbent’s annual letter to parishioners. which, in this case, laments the declining religious observance of the Lord’s Day in the face of secular pressures. Nothing new there!

    Hope this is of interest. It was provoked by your reference to the local Ballybrack Protestant families of my day.

  14. @blackwatertown

    I was interested in your B&B problems. I actually succeeded in living out your good story, but in Longford, in 1966. Perhaps we should not be shining the glare of publicity on the hospitality of the Guards – they could be swamped in these hard times.

  15. Ian

    Will you be taking your blog with you?

  16. Póló,

    I think the blog will need some tinkering to survive in the country.

    Thanks for posting the Ballybrack stuff – I’d love to see more of it. A stipend of £800 in 1908 was astronomical. £16 a week – the old age pension was only 10/- a week when it came in in 1910.

    W.Horner was indeed a Horner of Shanganagh Terrace, a brother of Percy Horner, 1896-1916, who died on the first day of the Somme. I wrote a blog called ‘Remembering Percy on Armistice Day’ back in 2008.

    I assume you also remember the big black archiepiscopal car at Ashurst!

  17. Ian

    Sorry, just checked that again. Need the eyes tested. The stipend should have read £300. The “3” was highly seriffed and looked like an “8” until I took off my glasses.

    I’ll scan in the Vestry Report when I get the time and put it up on my site and reference it. It lists contributors to the various funds in extenso.

    My friend, Tom Ferris, of Hawthorn Cottage, Church Road, once got a lift from the Big Tree in the Big Black Bishopmobile (sorry Archbishop). Yes I also remember Notre Dame, now reverted to its original name.

    The man I was thinking of, in my day, was Alec Horner. It was he who explained the Daleview nickname “the Cop” as coming from the battle of Spion Kop in the Boer war.

    My own uncle died on the Somme in September 1916. A sad, useless death.
    The family never spoke of it, but I found a memorial card in my mother’s papers after her death.

    Your post on Percy is very moving. As you will see, my uncle’s name is also on the Thiepval Arch.

    Hang on to the blog!

  18. Volunteers for the Great War from the Killiney Urban District Council Area.

    The monthly meeting of the Killiney UDC, on 4 October 1915, considered a letter from The Director of Recruiting, War Office, London, asking to be informed to what extent it had been possible to release eligible men employed by the Council to join His Majesty’s Forces since the issue of the circular on 16 April last. The City and County of Dublin Recruiting Committee also sought a meeting with the Council with a view to forming a local committee. The Committee stated that they were “of the opinion that an effort of this kind may prevent any form of compulsion which may otherwise have to be resorted to to find sufficient men to fill the ranks.”

    The UDC Chairman, Mr Reginald Meagher, JP, pointed out that “every eligible man in this district who could volunteer for the front has done so already. From a small district like this fully 60 men have joined the Forces since the war broke out and I think that is very creditable. They did so without any pressure or any touting for recruits – that is very creditable indeed.”

    This was corroborated by Mr Pemberton (builder) who observed that he was “pressed for some contracts, and I want ten or twenty men and cannot get them”

    Source: Irish Times, 9/10,1915, p7.

  19. There are fifty-one names of those who served on a plaque in our church hall; in bluntly sectarian terms, they look like all Protestant names. I have often wondered about the Catholics who joined up and died and seem to have no local commemoration

  20. @ Polo – Like your tale of your night in the cell in Longford. And the Aran jumper piracy.

  21. @Ian

    Thanks for the info on the 51. The IT report dates from Oct. 1915 so there may have been more join ups after that date, and the Protestant/Catholic 5:1 ratio may not hold.

    However, I really don’t see why the Protestants should have been expected to commemorate Catholic join ups. That would have fallen to the parish of Sts. Alphonsus and Columba. Reflects the marginalising of those who joined up by an increasingly nationalist RC church and community. Know all about it. It should not inhibit, nor did it, the Protestant community in honouring what most of them saw as a just cause.


    Glad you liked my Sligo/Donegal/Longford story. (referenced above)

    Thanks for endorsing the petition on my blog 🙂 Hope St. Jude didn’t offend.

  22. The 51 were those from our own parish, a small community even in those times. I have no doubt that there were large numbers of Catholics whose service was completely unacknowledged. The Dublin Fusiliers’ Association do excellent work in recovering a lost history.

  23. @Ian

    I have now put up the Select Vestry Report for 1907-8.

    It is in pdf format. Anyone who doesn’t have the Adobe reader on their computer can download it (free) from:
    The reader is a hefty file but online material is increasingly being circulated in this format, so it is worth having the reader anyway.

    I tried to scan the Report as a text document, as the file would be quite small, but my OCR programme had a number of difficulties:

    1. It made mincemeat of the Old English/Church script in some of the headlines;
    2. It had a nervous breakdown on any layout other than the normal text page. Split columns and £sd figure alignment really gave it indigestion. The full page table looked like bad Chinese.
    3. The photocopy I have has some distortion on some of the pages.

    The upshot of this is that, if I stuck with a text document, I would have to type a fair bit of it in from scratch. So I have opted to scan the pages in as images in a pdf document.

    In itself that would not necessarily lead to a huge document but I decided to scan at 300psi so that it could be printed in reasonably readable form and not just confined to viewing on screen.

    You will see that I obtained it from the manuscript collection in the National Library (I had forgotten where I had got it). The reference is top right on the front page.

    Also you will see that the copy in the National Library is that of J. R. Orpen, St. Leonard’s, Killiney, Churchwarden and Secretary of the Vestry.

    Happy reading.

  24. Póló,

    That report makes excellent reading – the place hasn’t changed in a century.

    I wonder if Orpen, the secretary to the vestry, was a connection of William Orpen, the war artist, who was a Stillorgan man. I looked at the 1911 Census and the Ballybrack Orpens are the only ones on the south side of Dublin.

    J Pim MD, one of the vestry members was medical officer at Loughlinstown Hospital. His daughter was born in 1909 and was a member of the parish when I came here. She had a photograph on her wall of a man with tennis trophies. ‘Your father was good at tennis?’ I inquired.

    She looked at me curiously. ‘He was twice Wimbledon champion’.

  25. Ian

    Just goes to show it’s always well worth talking about things and poking about. I’ve learned a lot myself in the last days about the place that I didn’t know before. There was a Miss Pim in Secrora when I was there. I hadn’t realised Joshua’s achievements. I must include him in my interactive Google map of local “sons” in the nineteenth century. Thanks for the Wiki reference. This is the map (like everything else a work in progress):

    You can manipulate the map via the coloured buttons at the top: yellow = townlands in the township – repeatedly pressing the button increases the intensity of the highlighting; brown = full township; blue = water supply – Killiney pumping station and Rathmichael reservoir/pressure tank; brown = contour lines – in feet; orange = obsolete train stations; green = personalities within the Ballybrack townland; pink = personalities within the township but ouside Ballybrack townland; black = recentre the map on original coordinates; red = clear all overlays. Hovering over a button will bring up a tooltip naming its function. If the thing gets out of control just press the reload button on your browser and start again.

    All comments welcome. I had a cut-off point for this in September 2008 for the lecture and have been concentrating on family history stuff since. You can check out Ballybrack other stuff, including maps, here:


  26. The Miss Pim you remember would have been May, who died in 2003.

  27. Ian – prepare to duck for cover! – I would hate you to be hit by friendly fire 😉 Just got word that an Obama visit may be sooner than we thought. Moneygall is ready 🙂 Tell Katharine we will accept her surrender to avoid unnecessary carnage 😉

  28. Value of my grandstand ticket just went up. 🙂

  29. If John McCain hadn’t chosen that silly woman as a running mate, we wouldn’t have any of this. With the GOP opening up a lead in the polls, Obama could be a lame duck president by November anyway, with the Republicans able to block all his proposals.

  30. Obama does appear to be turning out a bit of a mickey dazzler, as my dear departed mother would have said:
    On the other hand I don’t fancy McCain, and his Amazonian Alaskan partner clinched it.

    It does all raise the question of where the USA is going, though.

    Anyway, I don’t want to turn this admirable parish site into cock-fight, so, nuff said.

  31. I think Ireland pays far too much attention to the US – our domestic policies are far more shaped by the decisions of Merkel and Sarkozy than by anyone across the Atlantic.

  32. You might be interested in the crossover section of this post on my blog:

  33. Polo,

    The connection here has a sloth like quality about it, I shall read it at length when I get back to Dublin.

  34. Interesting to see the reference to St Leonard’s in Killiney. My brother’s family have lived there since the 1970s. Didn’t know it was once home to the Orpens. It’s now for sale for €3.85 million.

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