Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

16 December 1999 Edition

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Notes from a beloved Luddite

Rita O'Hare was editor of this paper from 1985 until 1991, but she first started working for what was known as ``the official organ of the republican movement'' in 1978. Here, she reflects on her time at the paper, some of the famous personalities associated with it, and the impact of technology on the production process.

Former AP/RN editors Rita O'Hare and Danny Morrison pictured together in 1988
``Write me an article for the last An Phoblacht of the century Rita,'' he said. ``You can e-mail it to me.''

I don't do e-mail. Twenty-first century or not, Martin Spain will get this article the same way I wrote my first article for the paper in 1978. Handwritten. In pencil. Put on the editor's desk.

There was no e-mail in 1978. No word processors. No computers. Not even fax machines. The production of An Phoblacht probably had not changed much for 50 years.

With the amalgamation of An Phoblacht and Republican News in 1979, the production was all done in Dublin. Then, as now, we did all the pre-print stuff ourselves. The paper was put together and made ``print ready'' in what is now Head Office and the Ard Chomhairle room in 44 Parnell Square. Accounts, administration, distribution, layout, and photographic dark room were all in the outer office. There was even a small printing press there as well for the production of leaflets and small posters. The back room housed the editor, sub editor, reporters and proof readers. Desks were shared, space was at a premium, but we managed somehow.

Next week's paper was started on Friday, the general plan laid out. Handwritten, in pencil, of course. The ``stars'', Cormac and The Brigadier, were always on the same page each week. We looked forward to Cormac coming down, everybody gathered round to read it. The same with The Brigadier column - though there were times that political correctness won over triumphal gloating and a wee bit of editorial censure was imposed - which resulted in abusive phone calls from The Brigadier but a more subtle comeback from Cormac. A cartoon would appear a few weeks later about censorship! The brigadier, however, would be very indignant - `what's wrong with a wee gloaty?'

The War News also had its own set slot. Hilda MacThomas, the political analysis column from the North, was another staple that people automatically turned to. In between were the news stories, the first-hand accounts of what was really happening on the streets of Belfast and Derry and in the rural areas of the North and the border counties.

These were the censorship years, and the Paper's (can't stop thinking of it without capitals) main raison d'être was to counter censorship and give people a true account of what was happening and, more importantly, why.

Censorship was not just the banning of Sinn Féin from television and radio. It was also the practical agenda of many of the newspapers. There were notable exceptions of editors and journalists who refused to be either intimidated or dictated to. But for all those years, our main medium to overcome censorship and get our message across was the Paper. And we did it without e-mail!

Dinosaur or not, I never stood in the way of technology. As long as I could still ``do it my way'', I accepted and encouraged the inexorable march of progress.

One big step was the move to 58 Parnell Square. This building had been empty for years, almost derelict, and it was the vision of people like Mick Timothy, the then editor, that resulted in us buying 58 and refurbishing it. Sadly, Mick died before we moved in, a tragedy and a severe loss for his young family and for all his friends and a huge loss to An Phoblacht and the struggle.

So the move to offices with space and your own desk and more than one phone and our first computers held a great sadness for all of us who had worked with Mick - a brilliant editor and great writer whose Burke's at the Back column (which replaced the Brigadier) were classics. The building is named in his memory, a fitting tribute to someone who brought not only commitment to the paper but a high standard of writing and professionalism.

And no amount of technology can replace or reproduce what people like Mick brought to An Phoblacht. So it's great that the present staff don't have to work all night to get the paper ready. All this technology makes it faster, but it is people whose dedication and hard work bring that paper out week after week, not the machines.

My years on the paper, from 1978 to 1991, were through some of the most traumatic years of the struggle. The paper and everyone who worked on it were an essential part of that struggle and contributed so much to it. It's great to see some of the same faces from all those years ago still there in the paper or back with it. They're sitting in front of keyboards and computer screens now but they are still the same people.

To all of you still there in An Phoblacht and to all of you who I hope increased your skills and honed your politics in An Phoblacht and moved on to other work, thank you. Thank yuou for the satisfaction of getting the paper out no matter what happened. And we did it with the old lead pencils, (with rubber on the end, of course).

Editor's Note:

It was Rita O'Hare who, in 1989, took a chance on hiring the current editor, then a callow UCD graduate with ill-defined politics and an unhoned writing style. Oddly enough, it was the almost simultaneous arrival of computers into the office that saved his bacon, as O'Hare was insisting on typed articles rather than his mangled scrawl, which she struggled in vain to decipher. I owe my career to the delete button, the spell checker, and to my first editor, whose passion was infectious.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1