Archive of the Month
A Northern Ireland Perspective on the Gazette’s Coverage of the 1960s
by Professor Brian M. Walker
The weekly issues of the Church of Ireland Gazette, 1960–9, are an important source for a key period in 20th– century history. Few other journals set out to cover events in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as the Gazette did. For the Church of Ireland, the Gazette served not only to reflect, but also to strengthen its all–Ireland character. Its coverage of significant issues affecting both Church and wider society was blended with news at diocesan and parish level. This Archive of the Month reveals how the decade was one of the most vital in in the whole century of the Church’s story.
During these years more new churches, church halls and rectories were built than in any decade of the century. Most of this extension work was in the north, but important new administrative and educational buildings were constructed in Dublin as will be shown below. The Gazette’s pages also reveal an impressive level of clerical and lay engagement with the church, with newspaper sales probably greater in these years than at any time in the last century.
At the start of the ‘60s, the Gazette offices were located in Dublin, as has been shown in this previous Archive of the Month here. Based at a premises on Mark Street, the editor was Canon F.A.G. Willis, incumbent of Urglin and Staplestown, Leighlin diocese. On 19 July 1963 it was announced that the company had decided to discontinue publication, central Church authorities desiring the Church of Ireland a new company, owned by the Church, be established to take over publication, and so the offices of this new operation re–located in Belfast. It is likely this decision to move north was influenced by demographic factors with over 100,000 persons reckoned to be members of the Church of Ireland in the united dioceses of Down and Dromore, a figure roughly similar to the number recorded for the entire Republic of Ireland.
It took a few months for the ‘change to be effected’ but offices were acquired in Ann Street, Belfast, and staff were recruited. It is clear that efforts were made to retain its all–Ireland character. Former editor, Canon Willis, was appointed the southern editor while Revd Dr W.G. Wilson , rector of Armoy and Loughguile (Connor) was appointed northern editor. Robert Beattie from the old Gazette was assistant editor. For a full list of editors of the newspaper see this link.
On 18 October 1963 the first edition of the ‘new series’ was published. The paper became bigger, and was redesigned to a more modern, well–illustrated format, with features for women and a special youth page. Much attention was paid to the promotion of sales. While the former paper had been sold mainly through newsagents, distribution of the new paper was largely direct to parishes.
After a year, the paper reported that circulation had increased sevenfold, thanks in part to an arrangement whereby parishes could arrange to have parish supplements with their Gazette (4000 copies had parish supplements for some 140 parishes). It recorded on 30 October 1964 that sales were up to 40 per week in Skreen parish in Tuam diocese and 85 per week in Ardoyne parish in Connor diocese. On 31 December 1965, sales of 178 Gazettes a week were reported for Knockbreda parish, Down diocese.
On 1 January 1965 an editorial declared:
The Gazette brings us news from every part of Ireland, North and South, and important events in the Church throughout the world are brought to our attention
Reaching out to both parts of Ireland was an important feature of the new Gazette, as it had been for the earlier paper. In the early 1960s, when based in Dublin, the paper gave a prominent place on its second page to a popular weekly column by the outspoken northern correspondent, Cromlyn, the pen name of the Revd John Barry, rector of Hillsborough parish, Down diocese, who continued writing after the transfer to Belfast.
From 1963, Frances Condell, a church member from Limerick diocese, who served twice as mayor of Limerick city, also wrote a weekly column, while the new layout carried photographs on the front page with care taken to feature scenes or people from both north and south.
Like earlier editions, the new series included at least two or three pages devoted to diocesan news across the island, recording information on events, services and movement of clergy. Often parishes ran parish magazine (many of which are available in the RCB Library in the context of parish collections) while the Gazette helpfully provides an overall picture demonstrating the variety of active parishes with well attended youth organisations.
For example, on 19 April 1968 a photograph appeared of the scout group, numbering 50 cubs and 60 scouts, attached to All Saints, Clooney, Derry diocese, asking if it was Ireland’s largest scout group. On 6 June 1969 the Gazette described a major Boy’s Brigade demonstration and parade at Landsdowne Road Stadium in Dublin and Girl’s Brigade parades in Cork and Limerick.
One development reported regularly on in the paper from the mid–1960s was a successful, widespread Christian Stewardship Campaign, raising money and galvanising many people to parish involvement including a reported 1000 volunteers in November 1969.
Besides local news, the Gazette carried accounts of developments in the church around the world. Activities of various missionary societies were regularly featured. Various theological and church issues were discussed. There was debate about women priests. The question of Church unity was a matter of great interest in the Gazette pages, as were the Vatican Council and the Toronto Congress of 1963.
On 22 September 1961, my father, who was rector of the south Belfast parish of Knockbreda (Down), placed an advertisement for a senior curate assistant to help with a ‘daughter parish in new housing area in the near future’. The person who took up the position was the Reve James Moore (later bishop of Connor), one of many southern clergy to serve in the north. This led to a new church, consecrated in 1964, in Belvoir housing trust estate. The church was one of some 10 churches built in the 1960s in Down diocese to cater for the post–War shift to the suburbs, with many church builds in Connor, Dromore, Armagh and Derry dioceses.
These new churches, as reported by the Gazette, reflected a movement rather than a growth in the Church of Ireland population in Northern Ireland which remained from the 1920s to the 1960s at around a third of a million. While the new parishes grew, it was at the expense of other parishes, especially in inner–city Belfast which experienced population decline, a trend increased by the ‘Troubles’, which led to closures or reduced congregations. Belvoir church was destroyed in 1992 by an IRA explosion of a neighbouring building but was rebuilt and reconsecrated in December 1993 and is once again a thriving parish.
The picture was rather different elsewhere. On 7 February 1964 an editorial commented:
While Belfast seems to be opening new churches as quickly as we can record them, down south the work of maintaining the church’s ancient buildings is one that never ceases.
It then recorded the restoration of Adare’s medieval church, one of many restored in this decade. Sometimes the paper noted the closure of churches but it also reported the building of new rectories and church halls. The Gazette gave extensive coverage to the opening of new church educational and administrative buildings in Dublin, including the Divinity Hostel covered in a previous Archive of the Month here and RCB Library in Rathgar, and the teacher training college and Church of Ireland House, in Rathmines. State financial support for Church of Ireland schools and pupils was a regular topic of concern in the Gazette, with reports on new buildings for a number of schools, such as Kilkenny College.
Many other issues were covered too, including youth issues, while press and industrial officers were first appointed during this decade. A vote at General Synod in May 1964 made it permissible to place a cross, on, behind or above the communion table in churches for the first time, while the annual pilgrimage to Saul and Downpatrick was developed as a major event, one aim of which was to attract people from north and south. On 20 March 1964 the Gazette, with certain hyperbole, declared:
From Port–na–Blagh to Killarney, from Galway to Enniscorthy, from every corner of Ireland, the pilgrims flocked to Saul and Downpatrick on St Patrick’s Day.
Visitors were put up at the homes of northern parishioners. Murlough House, Dundrum (Down) became a residential church centre which served many groups and clergy from north and south for conferences and retreats, while St Ernan’s, outside Donegal town (Raphoe) was used by church groups and then in the summer months for holidays by clergy families.
This decade witnessed new ecumenical initiatives with clergy and lay people involved in many parts of the country, as recorded in the Gazette. The funeral of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in February 1968 was attended by President Éamon de Valera, possibly his first attendance at a Protestant service.
The paper contrasted this situation with the occasion in 1949 when at the funeral of former President Douglas Hyde, President O’Kelly and the cabinet stood outside the cathedral during the service. As an indication of further change we can note the attendance of both President de Valera and Taoiseach Jack Lynch at the enthronement of Alan Buchanan as archbishop of Dublin, as reported on 26 November 1969.
Political matters and politicians sometimes featured in the pages of the Gazette. Editorials discussed issues such as apartheid in South Africa and nuclear disarmament. The first meeting of Prime Minister Terence O’Neill and Taoiseach Sean Lemass was welcomed in an editorial on 22 January 1965.
The columns of ‘Cromlyn’ (the Revd John Barry) raised concerns about justice in housing, criticised Sunday closing of swings and warned of the dangers of Paisleyism. Controversy arose in February 1966 when a proposed visit of the Bishop of Ripon to Belfast cathedral was cancelled because of threatened protests by the Revd Ian Paisley and criticism from the Orange Order. There followed debate on the role of the Orange Order in the articles and letters of the paper. During 1968 and 1969, editorials gave their backing to O’Neill during the political controversies of these years. On 7 February 1969, the Gazette carried a message from the primate, Archbishop James McCann, appealing to all to unite in supporting the ‘policy of toleration and goodwill’ proclaimed by O’Neill.
The impact of violence during August 1969 was covered in the paper. On 22 August, for example, the Gazette published on its front page a letter by two clergy, the Revd Noel Battye and the Revd Ted Woods, about their efforts to try and keep the peace in the streets of Dungannon in the early morning of 13 August.
On the front page of the same edition, it was reported how the new archbishop of Armagh, George Otto Simms, had left a committee meeting of the Council of Churches in Canterbury to fly to Belfast where he preached in St Anne’s cathedral on 17 August, urging reconciliation and penitence:
we ask for forgiveness for ‘leaving undone the things we ought to have done.
He visited and spoke to the congregations of the four churches in the worst affected areas, went behind the barricades in both Protestant and Catholic districts, meeting those responsible for the formation of peace–keeping groups and then went to see the patients, doctors and nurses in the casualty wards of the local hospital.
The 1960s were a time of great change in Ireland, north and south and this is revealed in the pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette. We see how in spite of such differences the Church if Ireland maintained an all–Ireland approach. These years showed evidence of considerable vitality for the parishes and the clergy. Progress was made to tackle existing political and denominational divisions, but serious problems remained. While the challenge in the 1960s involved the building of many new churches and other buildings, the challenge would move in the 1970s to facing the effects of violence and civil strife. The Gazette would continue to record and to comment about the life and faith of the Church in response to these events.
Brian M. Walker, Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast
The RCB Library acknowledges the support of the Irish Government’s Reconciliation Fund, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which made this presentation and release of the 1960s editions possible. To search and view the 1960s releases, and all the other editions of the Gazette to 1969, click here.