Jailing the Journalists

Perilous Pastime Getting Out Some Newspapers in Ireland.

Freeman's Journal

January 1 1921

Jailing the Journalists

Perilous Pastime Getting Out Some Newspapers in Ireland.

Freeman's Journal

January 1 1921

IT’S a great life, if you don’t weaken, say those who have witnessed the perils that confront the editors, publishers and staff of some of the newspapers in Ireland. The destinies of Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, one of the oldest papers in the world, are now being directed by a Canadian, H. N. (Mike) Moore, formerly in newspaper life in several Canadian cities, including Fort William, Toronto and Montreal. He is the son of a Methodist minister of Dominion-wide renown, and the troubles of Freeman’s Journal therefore have a personal interest to many in this country. 

This paper has been suspended from publication, and then allowed to resume. It is frankly Nationalist, and has expressed views which the authorities view as Sinn Fein in tendency.

One night about the end of November an attempt was made to burn down the Freeman building. Here is what the paper itself has to say of the event:—

 “Just before midnight a fire broke out in the rear of the advertising and business offices of the Freeman’s Journal, at 27 Westmoreland street. 

“The circumstances surrounding the outbreak point very strongly to the theory that this was a ease of arson, carefully planned and recklessly carried out. The police and fire brigade have no hesitation in stating that the premises were fired by unknown men.

“The story begins with the sudden onslaught of a party of masked and armed men on the offices of the Irish Times at 81 Westmoreland street. The first intimation was the smashing of glass on the front door of the office and, it is stated, the firing of a shot. 

“The raiders then rushed in and ran to the editorial offices. The entire staff was gathered into one large room, where they were addressed by one of the raiders, who was evidently a leader. They were told that if a word of the occurrences in Dublin were published or divulged in any manner— over the wire or the telephone, or through any other medium—‘We’ll know what to do to-morrow.’ 

“The raiders were dressed in civilian clothes, and had handkerchiefs or other means of disguise tied over their faces. They were exceedingly truculent, and flourished their revolvers in a manner that betrayed their reckless disposition.

“Having made their threat, the raiders, each one of whom had taken up a position at the order of the leader, left the building. No names were mentioned, a number being used by the leader when it was necessary to give an order to any individual of the party. 

“While these startling events were taking place in the office of the Irish Times it is believed that other members of the raiding party were engaged in breaking into the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and, setting fire to the premises. The heavy iron gates which front the doorway were forced open. To accomplish this expert mechanical means or a large body of men must have been employed, as the iron posts which meet when the gates are swung to are sunk some six inches into the concrete entrance floor.” 

During the same week the directors and owners of the Journal were being tried by military court-martial for various offences against the law and order of the realm, particularly for publishing military information alleged to be untrue. Here is a splendid word picture of the scene of the trial—written, it may be not incorrectly surmised, perhaps, by H. N. Moore, in that style so familiar to readers of the Montreal Star:— 

“The scene is a cold, grey and brown oblong room, that usually serves as a theatre to amuse the armed forces of the Crown.

“For the nonce it is being improvised as a country in which seven military gentlemen are trying a newspaper and those who control it, for offences against the regulations which the Government—the British Government—have imposed upon Ireland. 

“This cold, horrid, oblong room, pierced by eight windows, four on each side, admitting all the winds of heaven on a brutally cold and frosty day, is the court-house. “What do we see? Four tables arranged in a sort of T, covered by dirty, tawdry cloths which would shame the cheapest lodging-house in Dublin. Along the head of this arrangement of tables sit the seven worthy military gentlemen who hold the fate of the Freedom of the Press in their hands. On their left and right, at the tables set at angles to the two top tables, are opposed the counsel for the prosecution and the counsel for the defence. 

"With the contest of wits between these counsel we have nothing to do. They are experts in the law, and we can only admire the way in which they counter each other. Which shall win is a moot point. 

“Our concern is to give our readers a picture of the room in which a most moving scene—the most important trial of a newspaper—is taking place. 

“The long, cold, ugly room—bare of furniture—at one end the tawdry and battered proscenium which serves for a stage, and at the other end the closed window of a refreshment bar.

 “Alas, it was not open.

 “And then you see seated the seven holders of the threads of fate—the seven military officers—gentlemen all, and this we say most sincerely—and opposite them the three accused prisoners. On their left are the three counsel employed by them to defend them against the charges under which they suffer, and opposite these legal gentlemen the two learned counsel briefed by the Government to prove the guilt of the accused.

 “And all around is cold and grey as on a November day. 

“Draughts and a freezing atmosphere everywhere.

 “There are two fireplaces in the room, but it seems to be no one’s duty to replenish these fires.

“One sits behind the accused—the prisoners—and one wonders at their stolidity. 

“One asks do they realise what an adverse verdict may mean to them - they sit still stolidly, probably frozen to their seats.

“Then there grows an idea in the spectator's mind that there are other factors in this case.

 “There is a table away in the background at which is seated a group of pressmen, men who are going to send the news of this f rial to the four corners of the earth. 

“They, too, are in the cold and draught; they, too, are victims of a somewhat indifferent arrangement for their accommodation.

"Of course it is stupid to expect the Press to be given even ordinary and comfortable accommodation at a trial of such unique character.

 “And this is a trial of unique character.

" For the first time in the history of the Press a newspaper is being tried by a ... of soldiers. 

“Do the Press of the world realise this?" 

"Do they understand what it means? 

"What would a military prisoner say if he were tried for a military offence by a court of journalists?

"These are facts all pressmen must ponder.

 “But let us get back to the cold, oblong barrack room in which the court-martial is being held. 

 "Let us run our eyes once more around its dull and grey surroundings—its bar at one end (closed), its stage at the other end—in a state of disrepair that could be put right by the bright brains of the regiment tenanting the Royal Barracks. 

"But what we wish to emphasize is the fact that this trial—unique as it is—has not been so considered by the authorities. 

“Let us forget the brown and grey painted walls of the tawdry room in which the trial is taking place—let us forget the eight round-headed windows which let in the draughts of heaven—let us forget the bare boards and the frowsy table cloths and the gouty tables and ail the cheap impedimenta with which the Crown has chosen to furnish its arena for this great contest; but we cannot and must not forget that the Liberty of the Press is on trial, and all newspaper men must realise it. 

“Oh, the cold, grey and brown oblong room that shelters all the winds of heaven and the chilliness of a court-martial conducted by seven good men and true.”**