Northern Ireland

Easter Rising 1916: How the Impartial Reporter got the biggest story in Ireland

Impartial Reporter Easter Rising Image copyright Impartial Reporter
Image caption The Impartial Reporter's first reports of the Easter Rising on Thursday 27 April 1916

The Easter Rising was one of the most important, fundamental events in the history of Ireland.

The six-day rebellion in Dublin saw republican insurrectionists attempting to overthrow British rule.

Over 450 people killed, thousands injured and square miles of Dublin's city centre rendered to rubble under the a barrage of artillery fire.

For Ireland's press, it was the story of the century - except it was a story hardly anyone could publish.

The chaos and confusion in the capital, a lack of reliable eyewitness reports and the restrictions imposed by a British government on a war footing meant Ireland's major newspapers were prevented from printing detailed coverage of the fighting.

In the end, it was up to small, weekly newspaper in County Fermanagh to trump the bigger dailies to the story.

The Impartial Reporter, based in Enniskillen, is believed to be the first newspaper in Ireland to publish a first-hand, eyewitness account of the Rising.

In 1916, the newspaper was owned by William Copeland Trimble, whose son - William Egbert - happened to be in Dublin when the Rising began on Monday 24 April.

Thanks to William Egbert's position in the city, the Impartial Reporter was able to provide the first on-the-ground reports of the fighting in Dublin, published on Thursday, 27 April.

"The outburst of rebellion in Dublin has astounded the country!" its report read.

"Like a flash of lightning the carefully-matured plans of the Sinn Feiners were carried out on a religious festival and holiday."

Image copyright National Library of Ireland
Image caption Newspapers found it hard to get first-hand accounts from the chaos in Dublin

It goes on to report "armed Sinn Fein volunteers seizing government buildings and points of vantage, and virtually holding control of the chief portions of the city".

Dr √Čamon Phoenix, head of history at Stranmillis College, Belfast, said that William Egbert's position on the ground gave the Impartial Reporter an invaluable scoop.

"He was able to very quickly track down people from Fermanagh who were caught up in the fighting, such as British troops," he said.

"He was able to get reports of British soldiers who were killed, or about troops being sent out from barracks.

"He was the only trained reporter on the ground who was able to send out reliable reports, so the Impartial Reporter had a first."

'Family business'

Sarah Saunderson, current editor of the Impartial Reporter, said William Egbert - or Bertie - had strong connections with Dublin that helped him get the Rising story.

"He studied law at Trinity College, Dublin, until his legal career was brought to an end when he was home for holiday in 1901 and found himself fighting a fire on the paper's premises.

"Bertie Trimble never returned to Trinity as he was needed at home to help with the family business.

"However, Trinity's loss was the Impartial's gain. With Bertie's Dublin connections, he was in the right at the right time to deliver an impressive scoop for the Impartial Reporter."

Image copyright Irish Independent
Image caption The Irish Independent was not able to publish an edition until 10 days after the Rising

While the small County Fermanagh weekly newspaper was able to publish the first verified reports of violence, other newspapers were struggling to print anything.

In Dublin, said Dr Phoenix, the Irish Times was unable to distribute and the Irish Independent offices were damaged in the fighting.

Meanwhile, newspapers in Belfast knew about a "serious state of affairs" in Dublin but could not publish details because of a lack of first-hand reports and the Defence of the Realm Act.

This wartime law stopped newspapers from spreading reports "likely to cause disaffection or alarm among Her Majesty's forces or among the civilian population".

Image copyright News Letter
Image caption The News Letter reported 'rumours' of trouble in Dublin the day after the Rising began

"Dublin isolated" reported the Belfast Telegraph headline for Tuesday, 25 April, the day after the Rising began, but added that "we are precluded from publishing details".

The News Letter was similarly limited, reporting that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had been forced to cancel a planned trip to Belfast in order to stay in Dublin.

"Shortly before six o'clock certain very alarming rumours began to be whispered about in the city of serious trouble in Dublin," it reported.

It added "Up till the time of going to press no reports of the happenings in Dublin have come to hand. Under these circumstances we refrain from publishing the facts which we have in our possession."

"The first people in Belfast would have heard about the Rising would have been when the viceroy did not turn up on Easter Monday," said Dr Phoenix.

"A group waited all afternoon at the train station and, when he didn't come, they rang Dublin.

"What they heard back was that the viceroy would not be able to come as he was 'attending to an emergency'."

Image copyright Belfast Telegraph
Image caption The Belfast Telegraph was able to publish more details on the Thursday after the Rising began

On Thursday, it can finally report what it knows - albeit without the benefit of a first-hand account, like the Impartial Reporter, and with the caveat: "We hope these reports are correct but it is right to remember the difficulty in maintaining communications."

On the same day, the Belfast Telegraph was able to attribute its story, headlined 'Stamping Out Rebellion', to the "many Belfast people" who had "winged their way back to the north" after being in Dublin".

It also included a scathing takedown of the Rising and those that supported it: "It is a sad reflection on the Irish race that a very substantial body of ostensibly sane men could be misled by a parcel of frothy ranters whose history is the very negation of commonsense conduct."

Public opinion would change in the days after the Rising, particularly with the execution of 16 of the Rising's leaders.

By then, newspapers were able to freely print stories on Ireland's ongoing political strife.

But, for one history-making week in April, it was one small paper that got the jump on its rivals.

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