First published in 1823 The Dublin Evening Mail was initially published three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, before becoming a daily paper in 1861. The paper sold by annual subscription, at a rate of £3 a year.

The Great Irish Famine

The earliest edition of The Dublin Evening Mail available on findmypast was published on January 1st 1849, a time described by the paper as “the third year of famine and pestilence”.  The Great Famine of 1847-1852 had already taken a heavy toll on the country and the news stories and advertisements reflect the harsh times through which the majority of the population were suffering.

The front page of the newspaper, as was typical for the time, is given over to advertisements and notices.  One advertisement for yarn (knitting wool) alludes to the crisis in the country suggesting that their wool

claims the attention of Irish Landlords desirous of promoting profitable industry among their tenants, and of the Philanthropists who are anxious to extend the manufacturing energy of the poor 




In the nineteenth century charity was usually given only to those who were thought ‘deserving’ or who were willing to work for it.  There were few hand-outs.  By law most relief was available only to those who entered the workhouse.    Naturally many rural subsistence tenant farmers were unwilling to leave even their small holdings to enter the workhouse for fear they would not be able to return to their homes once they had recovered their strength. The law was eventually changed due to the unprecedented scale of the mid-century famine.

Work-schemes and changes to farming practices were also brought about by the famine.  One notice proposing a project of land reclamation appears on the front page of the paper.  Building projects were also popular as a way of giving work to those in need.




We were also struck by the number of ‘positions wanted’ notices.  The famine drove thousands to the cities in search of work, and many of the wealthier citizens left the country, leaving their servants unemployed.



Tone of a nineteenth century newspaper

Along with the cramped text and the lack of headlines nineteenth century newspapers are often written in a very formal style.  The highbrow language and frequent references to the classical philosophers of Greece and Rome can sometimes make them appear stuffy and removed from reality.  But there is passion in many of the contributions as this moving example from a priest describing the conditions in his parish in Ballinrobe, County Mayo reveals:




Extraordinary Case – A fairy turned swindler!

Nineteenth century reporting could also be quite mocking in its tone.  A report about a case heard at the Quarter Sessions was written in a style engineered to raise a smile from the paper’s readers.  (Quarter Sessions were the courts to which more serious cases were referred to by the police or from the Petty Sessions.)  The case involved a widow who was conned out of money and clothing by a man claiming to be her dead husband.  He was, he said, not dead but spirited away by the fairies.  The victim is uncharitably described as ‘stupid-looking’ by the paper.  The con-man, Bryan McDonough, received a sentence of seven years transportation.




Fashion and Varieties, Army Lists, Birth, Marriage & Death Notices  & Commercial Failures. 

The newspaper although dominated by talk of the famine and the Poor Law does keep up with its usual reporting on the movements of the royalty and gentry (the celebrities of their time) and, of more interest to us as family historians, publishing notices of army appointments and births, marriages and deaths.  Another intriguing section is the ‘Commercial Failures’ which comprises notices of business that have failed, and those that have subsequently recovered.  It may be that your ancestor had a business venture after all.




Join us next week when we review our final newspaper The Belfast Newsletter from 1 January 1828.