First published in 1737, The Belfast Newsletter is thought to be the oldest English-language newspaper still published today. Findmypast has issues of The Belfast Newsletter dating to between 1828 and 1900. The newspaper had national circulation and is an invaluable source for Ireland and particularly the nine counties in the province of Ulster.
The newspaper cost 5d, about half a day’s wages for a labourer, and the equivalent of about €25 today. The price was partially due to the high taxes newspapers were subject to for most of the nineteenth century. This high price meant that newspapers were for the most part read by middle and upper class people. Newspapers would also be passed around for weeks after their publication and read aloud to those who could not read them for themselves.
Advertisements & Notices
As was common at the time, the front page of The Belfast Newsletter is given over to advertisements and notices rather than news. The notices range from notices of debtors to military promotions. The dozens of names listed in the army promotions are a real boon to anyone with military men in their ancestry, as it shows the movement of officers between regiments.
Local stories of ‘human interest’ fill the pages of nineteenth century newspapers. One on the front page of The Belfast Newsletter is a story from Tralee, County Kerry, of a man aged 106! Mathew Greany, born in 1721 was married twice and had eighteen children, including a set of twins when he was 91! According to the report he outlived his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We followed Mathew’s story to the Tipperary Clans Archive, and discovered that he died in 1831. This in turn led us to death notices in both the Belfast Newsletter (12 July 1831) and the Freeman’s Journal (17 June 1831). And although it appears he only aged a year in the three years since the first report 107 is an amazing age to have lived to particularly in the early nineteenth century. An average age at death for the period was about 50.
Births, Marriages & Deaths
Birth, marriage and death notices are a staple of newspapers. Notices would be placed by fairly well to do people and they did not confine themselves to local events, notices can refer to people who had long since left the area. One death notice announces the death of a local Lisburn doctor’s son in India.
The public way that personal and private business is reported in the newspapers can be surprising. One Chancery Court notice draws attention to the incapacity of one Hugh Boyd who, by reason of mental illness, was deemed incapable of taking care of his own affairs. The Chancery Court took control of his assets and published a notice declaring their intent to rent out the substantial properties on his behalf.
Finally we were pleased to see Griffith’s Valuation make an appearance in the newspaper, with a notice to the public that the boundaries of the townlands having been sketched were available for verification by the locals.
We hope you enjoy the Irish Newspaper Collection as much as we do, if you come up for air be sure to let us know your favourite finds and stories.