Northern Ireland

Belfast News Letter hits 275th year in print

declaration of independence
Image caption The News Letter was the first paper to carry news of change in America

A Belfast newspaper that reported the French revolution and the American Declaration of Independence has marked its 275th anniversary with a special supplement.

The News Letter first rolled off the presses in Belfast in 1737 and is the oldest English language daily paper still in circulation.

It was founded by Francis Joy, a man of Huguenot descent from Killead, in County Antrim. A lawyer, he obtained a small printing press in settlement of a debt and used it to print the town's first newspaper in Joy's Entry.

Originally published three times a week it became a daily in 1855.

It is one of the few surviving newspapers to have reported the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Image caption The News Letter first rolled off the presses in 1737

The paper covered the radical politics of the time, but it became aligned to unionism after the United Irishmen's rising of 1798, which saw one of the founders' grandsons, Henry Joy McCracken, hanged at Corn Market in the centre of Belfast for his role in the rebellion.

The paper's news editor Ben Lowry said that it had an amazing history.

"Sadly, most of the first 13 years are lost, although there is a fascinating intact section in 1739 that gives a glimpse into Ulster life far back in time," he said.

Most of the surviving papers from that time are in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.

"There were quite a few News Letters then, there was the Boston News Letter and the Dublin News Letter, but they didn't survive," he said.

"People are delighted to keep such a tradition going but when you are working you tend to be thinking about the next day and not the last 300 years.

"But when you do look back it is incredible."

He said that in common with the rest of the traditional print media the paper has a declining circulation but he said their drop was "fairly small" and that the paper retains a "faithful readership".

"It is a challenge as people move into the online world, but we are adapting to that," he added.

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