Paul Healy’s Week – 4th November

Every day

I don’t remember when I opened the pages of a newspaper for the first time. It was, I suppose, over forty years or so ago.

I have always felt the buzz. The buzz has never gone away; every time you open a newspaper you are unwrapping a new present.

Sometimes, it dawns on you that it’s a slightly mad obsession quietly manifesting itself in your life. You carry home bulky Sunday newspapers in the sure knowledge that it’s like sitting in a restaurant and ordering several dishes from the menu; that is, taking on far more than it will be possible to consume.

But the bulky Sunday newspapers are too tempting to resist, too beautiful, their colourful content full of promise and as yet undiscovered pleasures. I’ve bought newspapers in Spain and in other countries, despite not being able to read the language…instead drawn to the design and personality of the particular publication.

For all of us who love newspapers, there’s something special about just holding and turning the pages, something about the feel of ink on newsprint, even something about the scent of the paper.

Perhaps we retain our fondness for newspapers because they have always been a part of our life, there with us through triumph and tragedy, documenting all that’s happening in the wider world while remaining a friend to us in our own lives too.

Coming home from school in the 1980s, it was essential on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to get the Evening Press. Con Houlihan’s column on the back page – sometimes, after a big match, it began on the front page – was unmissable. It was Con who, reporting on a Moss Keane try for Ireland, scored despite the best, desperate efforts of a Scottish tackler, wrote: ‘It just proves that a rolling Scot gathers no Moss.’

I acquired a typewriter in 1985 and its home became a table in a spare room in our house in the centre of Rooskey village. There, I painstakingly pressed the keys and transferred my thoughts to paper, the page rattling along from right to left, the bell ringing out when your words had reached the end of the line, whereupon you pressed the return lever and the paper moved up to allow you type a new line.

When I started sending the Rooskey Notes to Eugene McGee in the Longford Leader, I gave myself a broad brief – writing about life in Rooskey, but with a bit of commentary on world affairs thrown in. The words from our actual spare room and from the spare room in my mind were now appearing in print, now part of the newspaper world.

Fiona and I started the Roscommon People in early 2007, with big hopes and a bigger bank loan. Our mission? To launch a quality free newspaper, one of the first outside the main cities in Ireland, a community newspaper which would hopefully forge a relationship with Roscommon people and become a part of their everyday lives.

Last week, we published our 500th edition (see pages 24 and 25). In the New Year, we’ll celebrate ten years in business. The time has flown by. We had no idea when we started out that an economic tsunami was speeding towards Ireland. But, thanks to the great support of the Roscommon community, we’re still standing.

For the first edition, and to paraphrase the Rubberbandits, we had a horse outside. Roscommon Lions Club were launching their annual Cheltenham Preview Night. The photocall was at the Percy French Hotel in Strokestown.

A horse called ‘Proud Ruler’ posed for a photograph with businessman Dermot Hughes (one of the sponsors). Both the horse and Dermot smiled broadly from the front page of the first edition of the Roscommon People.

That was February 2007. Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach. Kerry were All-Ireland Football champions. Pat Kenny was hosting the Late Late Show. Amy Winehouse stormed into our consciousness with Back to Black. In the UK, Rihanna spent ten weeks at number one with Umbrella (yes, found that one via google). George W. Bush was President of the United States of America. (People thought he was a bit crazy, but now….?). The then All-Ireland Minor Football champions were Roscommon.

The Roscommon People was embraced by readers and the business community from the beginning, for which we are very grateful. But the country was about to encounter that tsunami. We had been promised a soft landing. Promises, promises. Instead, we crashed to earth. Brian Cowen called to the People offices in person (well, he was opening the Harrison Centre). Gerry Adams called, so too Enda Kenny. We had Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore. They all smiled like Proud Ruler (the horse from edition one).

But it was too late. The economy had crashed; the horse had bolted. That vicious recession rocked the country. Many businesses went to the wall and the private sector, particularly, took savage blows.

At the Roscommon People, we had to batten down the hatches as quickly as possible. It was the same everywhere. Small businesses were plunged into crisis, thousands of them suddenly sailing into stormy seas.

Businesses and stressed mortgage holders cried out to the traditional rescue boats, but faceless bankers were merrily steering them off into the distance towards dry land. The politicians and economists and commentators who had spoken of soft landings either retreated to the shadows or insulted our intelligence by rewriting history.

500 editions? Wow! It’s been quite a journey. On pages 24 and 25 this week, we reproduce some headlines, some striking front covers. Those 500 front pages, those 500 editions, have hopefully done what newspaper pages do well, and what social media, for all its attractions, can’t quite match.

With newspapers, it’s more intimate. The relationship between a newspaper and its loyal readers – those millions of people worldwide who are smitten by this weekly or daily arrival of familiar ink on familiar print – is a very special bond. The local newspaper captures the mood of the people, reflects our highs and lows, the mundane and the marvellous.

At the Roscommon People, we’ve reported on news events, politics, sport, community projects, the achievements of ordinary people, the sad and happy milestones, everyday life really. Roscommon Hospital? Well, I’d have to paraphrase Basil Fawlty… ‘Don’t mention the war! I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I think I got away with it!’

One thing that we are absolutely committed to is supporting local communities. In rural Ireland, our towns and villages are under threat. That’s why the Roscommon People, while still hugely focussed on being the number one advertising medium for local businesses, is absolutely committed to good journalism and to being a voice for and within our community.

The Roscommon People is embedded in the local community and we will continue to support all efforts to sustain and enhance local communities. If we say so ourselves, we are truly a local paper, not part of a conglomerate.

The media is changing – quickly and dramatically. However, the Roscommon People remains independent…family-run, a local paper owned, based and produced in Roscommon. We know from dealing with hundreds of small businesses throughout County Roscommon and adjoining counties how difficult it can be to establish, maintain and grow a business.

Critical to the survival of such small businesses is their local knowledge, their commitment to their area…and the support of local people. We’ve enjoyed that in great measure since launching in 2007 and in return, we intend to continue to support local businesses.

So, after the ‘first 500,’ a sincere thanks from Fiona and I to our excellent staff, all freelance contributors, columnists, readers and advertisers.

Breaking news: We’re planning more of the same…

Noel’s book on life and legacy of St. Comán
Coming soon…

Whenever I get chatting to Noel Hoare…whether it’s about history, Rural Men’s Groups, community issues, sport, anything to do with Roscommon really…the passion he brings to it all is always in evidence.

When it comes to County Roscommon and the local community, Noel wears his heart on his sleeve.

When he said he was going to take on the daunting task of writing a book on the life and legacy of St. Comán, I didn’t doubt him. St. Comán was a missionary belonging to the Early Christian Church in Ireland.

Ros Comáin is the only county in Connacht named after a Saint and Noel rightly reckoned that there is a fascinating story to be told – and some myths and untruths to be addressed – about the man who gave his name to our beloved county.

Now, after a huge amount of research – which unearthed some fascinating new information – Noel has completed his labour of love, a book that spans several centuries (from the 5th to the present, to be exact). ‘Remembering St. Comán – Patron Saint of Ros Comáin’ is a magnificent publication which will be launched in Gleeson’s Townhouse on Wednesday, 16th of November next.

In a gesture which is typical of its author, any and all profits from sales of the book will go towards Dysart Rural Men’s Group. We’ll have more details on the book launch in coming editions, but I just wanted to inform readers of this exciting new ‘Roscommon book,’ the publication of which will hopefully ignite new interest in and appreciation of the great legacy of St. Comán, from whom Roscommon town and county derive their names.