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LAST EDITORIAL OF 1899

Last editorial of 1899

The closing days of 1899 were no doubt ones of warm post-Christmas domesticity for many readers of the Kildare Observer. But the editor of that redoubtable journal when he sat at his desk to compose his last editorial for the year also reflected another worry which was at the back of many minds – namely the progress of a war in the southern Cape colonies of South Africa, better known as the Boer War. The Observer editor was all too aware that from some households in the county sons and fathers had gone to the far away continent as soldiers of the British army. He was aware too that this war which the British had confidently claimed would be over before Christmas 1899 was quite literally not over before that Christmas and now looked more serious as the British were repulsed in a series of battles by the Boer guerrillas. However another strand of worry appears in his editorial: that of the danger of the equilibrium of Ireland within the fold of the British Empire being disturbed as Irish nationalists took inspiration from the Boer fight-back. This resurgence of nationalist activism had the potential to threaten the union of Britain and Ireland – a union which provided a comfortable existence for the occupants of the big houses of Kildare who were the main readers of the Observer. And this was his assessment as Naas slept in its winter hibernation and he bent over his writing desk in the soft light of his paraffin lamp: ‘ With midnight tomorrow draws to a close the old year of 1899 and immediately we cross the threshold of a New Year. The first lively peals of the church bells will proclaim the dawn of the last year of the nineteenth century – a year which must prove a memorable one and one of more than ordinary importance to this country in many respects. Being engaged in a war which must and will be decided in favour of British interests, and which accordingly must alter to a great extent the destinies of our Empire, the year about to open is assuredly one which has for Ireland, as part of that Empire, a deep concern.

‘As the most powerful nation (Great Britain) in the world progresses so must our interest as a dependent country also progress and hence it should be the ardent prayer of all at the dawning of the new year to see that nation come speedily victorious out of the great trial which she is engaged on in South Africa. In Co. Kildare and adjoining counties the present crisis is rendered of supreme interest in face of the fact that many of the sons of those counties are fighting a gallant battle for the safety and integrity of the mother country.

‘The consummation of the work in South Africa is, as our readers well know, being helped on by famous Irish regiments, amongst them being the 1st and 2nd battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, both of which are closely identified with Kildare and the surrounding counties. Thence we once again appeal to the public to show that recognition that brave deeds of the men of our local battalions (for the Dublins are indeed local) so well deserve by subscribing to the funds that have been started in aid of the widows and orphans of the gallant fellows who are so nobly laying down their lives for the nation.’

‘Let the Kildare people do their best in recognition of the bravery of their countrymen, and though in many instances one’s best may be but a mite, yet it will be thankfully received.’

Little did the editor know as he put the paper to bed for the last edition of 1899 that the Boer War would continue for another two years with the British Empire being shaken by the stoic Boer marksmen. And little did he realise too that within a matter of a few years the dormant energy of Irish nationalism would come to the fore and eventually sunder that connection with Empire which he had commended so fulsomely in his editorial.

As with then, so with now, and one wonders what changes the year 2011 will bring to the record of our lives. However putting aside all prediction and apprehension this column will repeat the closing words of the editorialist of December 30, 1899, ‘We wish our readers a prosperous and a bright New Year.’

Series No. 159.

Liam Kenny in his 'Nothing new under the sun' column from the Leinster Leader of 30 December 2010 reflects on the last editorial from the Kildare Observer in 1899


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