Father, Son, and a loving Mother
It isn't meant to be profane,
but for the last eighteen years of its existence the "Vindicator"
depended on this trio. The mother was Pa's second eldest daughter, Elizabeth,
more familiarly known as Lizzie, the father was her husband John, more
familiarly known as Jack, and I was the son, John, the youngest of their four
Lizzie McAdam was Pa's tomboy daughter. A short pen picture of her appears
elsewhere in this Home Page. Whether authentic or not, it was popularly believed
that one of her earlier ambitions had been to become a circus bareback
equestrian. True or not, she did have the will to spread her wings. According to
my niece Carol, when Pa was a journalist with the "Irish Times" in
Dublin, the family resided in Rutland Square, a fashionable address, now renamed
Parnell Square. Their neighbours were the highly esteemed Findlater family, a
name well known to Dubliners. Findlater's Presbyterian Church is still a
landmark. The two families became friends.
At the time Lizzie was a serious musical student, with aspirations of
becoming a concert pianist. According to Carol: "I remember her telling me that
she was driven to school, Eccles Street Dominican Convent, in a carriage and
pair. She laughed so much because the school was quite nearby, and she thought
her parents were just trying to impress people."
For whatever reason, she left home on a number of occasions to return to
Dublin, without as much as a simple farewell. Each time she landed up with the
Findlater family, where the only question she was asked was: "Does your father
know you're here?"
When the answer was "No", Pa would would receive a telegram next day:
"Have your daughter. What will I do with her? Findlater."
"Keep her until I can fetch her. McAdam".
And each time he brought her back to Ballyshannon. There she helped her elder
sister Marie, and reported on social events, concerts, recitals, in Donegal and
Lizzie met Dad in Derry, where he worked in the post office, and with his
brother Barry played football for Derry City. Barry was the better player, and
Dad's career was peremptorily cut short when he arrived home one Saturday
evening with heavily bloodstained togs. Lizzie said "That's enough of that".
At age twenty-six she married Dad, on June 29, 1912, in St. Columba's Church,
Long Tower, Derry. He was two years younger, and judging from family photographs
they were a handsome couple, she with long auburn tresses, he with light sandy
hair. Their material assets were scant, a purse of sovereigns, a present from
his colleagues, and she with only her trousseau. Pa had marched her into one of
the city's women's wear shops and told the proprietress: "Give her two of
Jack had for some time been co-opted into providing sports reports for the
"Derry News", and made his first venture into cartooning. An early
example had as its subject a rather violent football match, with broken legs and
arms strewn all over the pitch. It was a talent he developed in future years,
and some of his best work appeared in the "Evening Herald" in Dublin and
the "Irish News" in Belfast. His cartoon on gerrymandering in the Six
Counties, reproduced below, in simplicity, clarity, and sting, was on a par with
the cartoons of Low in the "Manchester Guardian", generally regarded as
the pre-eminent newspaper cartoonist of the day. That, however, lay far in the
Two of his cartoons published in the "Irish News", Six County politics and Six County
the heyday of the discredited Orange regime, are reproduced herewith.
Three years and two sons on, Jack, like his two brothers-in-law, went off to
fight, not for King and country, but for the freedom of small nations, Belgium
being the most hapless case, and in the conviction that Home Rule for Ireland,
passed but not proclaimed, would reward their efforts when the war ended. Many
did likewise, their names an honour roll only recently acknowledged in their own
country thanks in large part to a Donegal man, Paddy Harte of Lifford, long-time
T.D., and to a courageous columnist for "The Irish Times", Kevin Myers.
Thus did the McAdam men miss the 1916 Rising, and in their absence the
republican banner was raised and carried by their sisters and step-sisters.
"Where were you in 1916?" used to be a standard slur directed at anyone who
was thought not to have taken an active part in the rebellion which was centred
in Dublin. There the General Post Office was the headquarters and principal
centre of the fighting, and in later years the number claiming to have actually
been in it surpassed the building's capacity many times over.
What Jack was doing in 1917 was playing hide and seek in the deserts of
Arabia with T. S. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.. The story is
simple. Lawrence was very much an individualist, a quality unbeloved by the
military mind, shaped and fashioned over generations of unquestioned obedience
to rank and authority. He chafed at the necessity to keep his superiors informed
of his actions and plans in the field, a pretty large field which included parts
of Mesopotamia [now Iran], the United Arab Republic, and Palestine.
Waging a form of guerrilla warfare, his plans were flexible. His superiors
were not. That he was successful fed their ingrained ire, and he was forced to
accept a member of the Royal Signals Corps of Engineers through whom he was
expected to maintain contact with headquarters in Cairo. This was how Jack comes
into the story and, thanks to Lawrence, came to fall in love with desert
sunsets, the myriad hues of light and colour that only a desert displays.
To cut to the chase, Lawrence soon separated himself from his unwanted link
with headquarters, and Jack spent many long days searching for him. He sought
him here, he sought him there, but the Pimpernel of the Desert was not to be
found. When his rations ran out he reported back to his immediate superior, and
nothing came of the matter. When Lawrence wanted to disappear, he disappeared.
My Dad's code book and diary remain in family hands.
By the time I became conscious of such things, my brothers had been first to
hear the story and even the war itself had ceased to be a topic of conversation.
The one remaining lesson for all of us was how to see colour in nature, not by
viewing it head on but with eyes turned at right angles to their usual axis.
Following Marie's death, her brother John took over management of both family
papers. Regrettably he had no business experience. A printer he was, and a good
one. Like his father he had a mechanical aptitude, but no contact with the
reality of economics. In the gateway where a former clerical occupant of the
premises had kept his horse carriage, John stabled two cars which he acquired in
quick succession, one a blue Humber, with small wheels, fat tyres, and a rumble
seat, and the other an ancient canvas-top touring car with large wheels, skinny
tyres, and outside handbrake. As a small boy I used to think that someone with
two cars must be rich. I was soon disillusioned. The touring car had long been a
roosting place for hens on some farm. He had paid four pounds for it, and often
said "You couldn't buy a good car for less." What happened to the Humber I don't
know, but he sold the other car for scrap metal following the outbreak of World
War II. As a restored antique it would now be in a rich person's collection of
Click for larger image
When it soon became apparent that he needed help, my mother and father answered
the call, and that was how I came to regard Ballyshannon as the place where I
grew up. By that time my brothers were following their own vocations, Charlie as
a reporter with "The Irish News" in Belfast, Barry as a linotype and
Ludlow operator with the Sligo Champion", and Brian as a novice studying
to become a missioner. Charlie and Barry had both cut their journalistic and
printing teeth with the "Vin", and all three maintained close links with
it, visiting when they could.
The staff had shrunken drastically. Elsewhere I have told the effect of
switching to the use of "hot metal" (the Intertype machine) from compositors
setting long newspaper columns "from case", each letter, space and punctuation
mark transferred by hand from boxes holding fonts of type, and back again when
the printing process was finished. McCarvill's pub, which adjoined the
"Vin" caseroom, suffered a drastic decline in business. As I keyboard
this text, I have just learned that a similar decline in production staff has
taken place in the surviving Ballyshannon newspaper, sixty years onward, and it
is now being produced in Derry City--a complete reversal of Pa McAdam's
The outbreak of war had a devastating effect on the "Vin's" fortunes.
Paper for job printing, posters, pamphlets, even raffle tickets, and card for
stiffer purposes, became almost impossible to obtain outside Dublin, and even
newsprint supplies slowed to a trickle, once stopping completely. Present-day
researchers at the National Library are routinely told that the newspapers
produced during "The Emergency" years and held in the stacks are extremely
fragile. Surely it is high time they were made available to researchers only on
micro-film as is the case in the national libraries of other countries.
Faced with these conditions, the only hope for survival was further cutbacks.
Jimmy Coughlan was the first to go. Jimmy was a compositor who worked "on the
stone", making up posters and arranging the columns of Intertype slugs in chases
for transfer to platen or double-demy Wharfedale. He was a character and a
prankster. One of his favourite sayings when tackling a particularly intricate
job was "It'll be a hell of a reel if it doesn't work". Somehow it always
He delighted in asking someone, usually the current printer's devil who,
because of rapid turnover, was always called "Buckshot", to hand him a slug of
type from a heap of other metal, into which he had previously introduced a live
electrical wire. When "Buckshot" did, the jolt of electricity was enough to make
him extremely wary of Jimmy's future requests. That someone was not fatally
electrocuted remains a mystery. Jimmy was also a faithful member of the
Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band.
Next was Frank Burke, the Intertype operator who, come weal or woe, retained
a deep affection for his first boss, my aunt Marie. She could storm at him over
the most trifling matter, but Frank always came up smiling. Frank carried his
career with him, first to Longford, and then to the "Irish Press" in
Dublin where, if memory serves, he finally became Father of the Chapel, an
honorary post held by the oldest or longest serving member of a caseroom staff.
There was left Michael Slevin, who succeeded Frank and Jimmy as Intertype
operator and stonehand and, with my uncle John, and, of course, "Buckshot",
constituted the entire production staff of the North of Ireland Printing and
Publishing Company during the Emergency and beyond. It is hard for me to pay
tribute to Michael. What I write can never do justice to him.
As a schoolboy I spent my afternoons in his company. He taught me how to set
from case, and I still remember the sense of pride I experienced when I first
composed my name in hand-set type, complete with address, extending to "Ireland,
The Earth, The Universe", and printed copies to be pasted into the covers of my
schoolbooks. Years later he suffered through my first lessons on the Intertype
keyboard, this when I was simultaneously learning the typewriter under the
tutelage of Miss Hilda Boyle. The two are quite different, the Intertype
requiring a very light touch, hands held in butterfly position, and the manual
typewriter demanding a firm stroke and completely different hand and finger
positions. The "s-h-r-d-l-u" of the Intertype was miles apart from the
"q-w-e-r-t-y" of the typewriter. However, in time I became sufficiently
proficient to replace Michael for two weeks each year when he took his summer
Dad and Michael had a great sporting rapport. Michael was a leading member of
the Ballyshannon G.A.A. football team in the 1940s and 1950s, and captained it
twice when winning the Donegal county championship. A picture of the team and the
story behind it appear elsewhere in this Web page. And Dad knew football. His
weekly reports of the team's matches were eagerly awaited on Friday afternoons,
some of the players even hanging around Tommy O'Donnell's shop to pick up the
first copies of the "Vin".
When I last saw Michael in 1980 at the funeral(s) of my brothers Charlie and
Brian, he had severe problems even walking, a far cry from the days of glory
when he, Red Jack, Owen Carney, Big Bob, the Dodger, and Mick Melly played for
their beloved town in many a heroic tussle.
The last "Buckshot" also attended when my brothers were buried, but he had
far outstripped that name. Eddie Gallagher was also a machine-room companion of
my schooldays, and later returned to learn his trade as a printer. For some
reason, "Half Ounce" had replaced "Buckshot", but "Half Ounce" or "Buckshot", we
still had good memories of a time when Ballyshannon could boast of two weekly
newspapers and we had produced one of them.
Having been forced to concentrate on "Vindicator" which, in the
language of the era, provided our bread and butter, and to forgo job printing,
which provided the jam, Dad devoted his energies to producing a paper which was
well written and worth preserving. He did so with the double approach of
editorials which commanded attention way out of proportion to the paper's
circulation, and Christmas edition cartoons which were eagerly anticipated,
though with foreboding by some. Some of those cartoons resurfaced earlier this
year, more than fifty years after they first appeared, at a highly acclaimed
celebration of the Erne at a well attended event held at the White Horse Bar in
Ballyshannon. I am deeply grateful to John Sweeny and his talented spouse Pat
for perpetuating his memory.
Special Christmas editions had always been a feature of the paper, and in the
1930s appeared with garish red and green holly borders. The paper was usually
expanded to twelve pages, from the usual four and occasionally six pages, for
the four weeks leading up to the holiday, filled with advertisements from local
establishments and many others from Sligo shopkeepers, all seeking to improve
their pre-holiday trade. It was Mother's busiest time of the year, for it was
she who actively canvassed the advertisements in the preceding months.
One year Charlie managed to get surplus mattrices from the"Irish News"
where he was then working, and I watched in fascination as Dad and John poured
molten metal over them, which when cooled bore illustrations in relief. These
illustrations were then included in the advertisements.
Mention of illustrations demands telling of Dad's ambition to introduce
pictures in the "Vin", this at a time when no provincial paper of
relative size could even dream of carrying photographs. He had always tinkered
with cameras and developing processes, going back to the use of wet plates,
albumen, and various chemicals of his own choosing. His one big chance came
during the Second World War with the ferrying of newly-made American aircraft
across the Atlantic to airfields in the Six Counties and Scotland.
Many people will recall watching a steady stream of such aircraft coming in
over Donegal Bay in daylight hours. Unfortunately some didn't complete the
crossing, and a number crashed soon after reaching the Irish coastline. The
frame of one such airplane remains buried under Tullan Strand, less than a mile
from the overlooking cliffs. Another came down about the Loughside above
Higginstown. When there were survivors, the friendly Irish authorities helped
them to reach their original destinations in safety.
One of the downed aircraft was equipped with an aerial reconnisance camera
housing a massive lens, at least massive to me. Its housing was smashed in the
crash, but an enterprising local farmer wrenched the whole apparatus from the
plane, and in the course of events it landed in the "Vindicator" office.
Disentangling it from a myriad of cables, Dad retrieved the lens and set about
constructing a processing camera to make halftone printing plates. I would love
to describe the details. It was a work of improvisation from start to finish.
The wooden bed came from an orange box, the ratchet from an antique plate
camera, the screen he had to buy--the most costly item in the contraption--thumb
screws from a hardware store, and lo, he had the rudiments for plate making. One
thing he hadn't was the equipment to manipulate the distance from the halftone
screen in hundreds if not thousands of an inch. What to do? The answer was right
in front of him. We still had remnants of job paper of varying thicknesses. An
inch of one size comprised 300 sheets, of another thinner size, 500 sheets. One
sheet of paper equalled one three-hundredths of an inch, another sheet equalled
one five-hundredths of an inch. He was in business. Gum arabic was later spread
on the zinc printing plates by attaching a rubber suction cup to the underneath,
the cup bottom being grasped in a hand-powered carpenter's drill. When the drill
handle was turned the drill whirled the plate, and the gum arabic was spread
evenly on its surface. The burning and the etching were similarly achieved by
ingenuity. The only drawback was the time involved in producing one plate. I
still have a copy of the
"Vin" containing a couple of pictures produced in this manner:
Click for larger image
Later I too was stricken with the desire to have pictures in the paper, and
was hugely excited by descriptions of a camera, manufactured by the Fairchild
Corporation of California, which could produce halftone plates on a rubber
compound. Unfortunately the price placed it far out of reach.
The aircraft crashing as they reached Ireland was one item that never made it
into print. Press censorship was very severe during the "Emergency". Not even
record winter storms could be reported in case of breeching Irish neutrality.
The chief press censor was Michael Knightley, who later became Editor of Debates
in Dáil Éireann when WWII ended. He was relentless in pursuing the least
infraction, and seemed particularly attentive to perceived transgressions
allegedly committed by the "Vindicator". At one stage we were threatened
with closure and newsprint supplies suddenly dried up completely. The
"Vin" seemed headed for extinction.
Relief came from a surprising source. In addition to the occasional Allied
plane crash, Donegal's coastline yielded up cargo from torpedoed ships. We were
forbidden from mentioning such occurrences. In fact news of them seldom leaked
far from the areas in which such spoils were discovered, the local inhabitants
fearing visits from customs official and confiscation of the bounty yielded up
by the sea.
At the time of which I write, I was a first-year boarder at St. Eunan's
College in Letterkenny. One morning I was told to report to Canon Kerr, College
President, in the visitors' parlour.
I never had visitors, and a summons to attend the president tout
suite--Paddy, Canon Kerr, was our French teacher--necessitated a hurried
examination of conscience. But when I walked in, there, to my joy, was Mother,
unannounced, unexpected. Paddy granted me a half day to go downtown with her. It
was some years later before she explained the reason for her visit.
A ship carrying newsprint had been sunk off the Donegal Gaeltacht--I refrain
from mentioning names--and some bales of newsprint had washed ashore. They were
stored in an outhouse and word somehow reached the "Vin" that they could
be had, for a price. Manna from heaven, but for a price. Mother and John
travelled to inspect the goods, and Mother had stopped at Letterkenny on her way
back to Ballyshannon.
Apparently the inside of the bales was not affected by sea water, and a
price, including delivery, was agreed upon.
The "Vin" was saved, or so they thought. But when delivery took place
some weeks later, it consisted of the waterlogged paper. The good stuff had
fetched a higher price elsewhere. There was nothing to be done but accept the
paper, pay for its delivery, and refuse payment for the damaged goods. It seemed
the newsprint was beyond redemption, but Dad managed to restore some of it to
printable condition, and eventually, under pressure, Dublin restored our
newsprint quota. For Dublin read the Government. For Government read our
political foes. For foes read Fianna Fail.
To simplify the political explanation, over time the Treatyites and
anti-Treatyites of Eily MacAdam's editorship had metamophisised into two
political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The "Vindicator" supported
Fine Gael, and Fianna Fail were not amused, especially once they formed the
The damaged newsprint, which originally was a blueish grey in colour, can
readily be discerned in the National Library, where researchers have to brush
flakes of it from their clothing.
Without going deeply into the politics which dominated, and still does, the
public life of the Twenty-Six Counties, a chuckle or two may not come amiss.
Once when asked how he knew what the voters wanted, de Valera replied that all
he had to do to know what the Irish people wanted was look in his own heart. Dad
promptly dubbed this "government by stethoscope", a phrase later attributed to
others but which made its debut in a "Vindicator" editorial.
My own small contribution came in the first year of An Tostal, 1954, when for
weeks we had been bombarded with press releases telling us that "His Excellency
Frank Aiken, Minister for External Affairs" would attend the official opening
ceremony in Ballyshannon. Now government ministers had been called many things
by many people, but "His Excellency" wasn't one of them. Yet it was "His
Excellency" this and "His Excellency" that, and "His Excellency", when he
finally arrived on the great day, was greeted with a Guard of Honour from Finner
Camp, and a retinue of local politicos.
After the customary speeches, the "Vindicator" solemnly reported that
His Excellency descended from the welcoming platform, walked across to the newly
erected flagpole at the Market Yard, and there His Excellency hoisted the Tostal
Flag "high above the public convenience". By sheer oversight, those in charge of
arrangments had failed to notice the structure behind the bus office over which
His Excellency's flag now flew. The embarrassment was colossal.
Years later I met Frank Aiken at the Country Club in Ottawa, when he
accompanied de Valera on a visit to Canada. I am happy to report that on that
occasion there were no public conveniences, men's or women's, in sight.
Dad died in December 1951. He had done everything in his power to keep the
"Vin" alive against tremendous odds. The fumes he breathed while etching
zinc plates with sulphuric acid were a contributing cause of his final illness.
After each plate had its picture burned on it, in our case using a primus stove
for the purpose, an acid bath cut through the spaces between each halftone dot,
and the exposed zinc was etched, leaving the dots higher than the zinc. It was
these dots which the Wharfedale rollers covered with ink, and the sheets of
newsprint were imprinted with the dots, usually sixty to the inch. In our
computer age the dots would be called pixels, and the more pixels the clearer is
a computer graphic.
This left me, at twenty-four, as editor of "The Donegal Vindicator".
It was the same age at which my aunt Eily had taken over in 1921. I had a
tradition to carry on, and I had the optimism and the vigour of a young man with
which to do so. What I did not have was the wherewithal to introduce modern
equipment and machinery. This photograph of the total staff of
the "Vindicator", all four of us, was taken shortly before Dad's death in 1951.
Appropriately, I was just about to emerge from the shadow cast on my face.
Click for larger image
The photograph was taken outside the old machine room, which had a corrugated
iron roof, bent wooden walls, sagging window frames, and was freezing inside
during winter. Something had to be done before it fell inward on itself, and
that something involved getting a bank loan. A twenty-four year old getting a
bank loan may be a perfectly normal business transaction nowadays, but in
Ireland of the 1950s it was a rare happening.
The bank manager had his doubts, big doubts, but extended the loan in return
for a lien on the offices, house, machinery, and site. By great good fortune, my
brother Brian had a month's holidays coming up, and during those holidays, after
saying Mass in the mornings, he doffed clerical collar and jacket, dug a trench
and put in a foundation for a new machine room. Together we mixed concrete,
bolted a Dexion steel framework into place, including rafters for the roof,
raised block cement walls, installed steel window frames, and following his
directions, covered the lot with sheets of asbestos roofing. Asbestos had not
yet been identified as a dangerous product and was used freely in new buildings.
Glass panes and putty soon filled the windows, and a wide door through which
to bring planned new machinery completed the edifice. Meanwhile we had left the
old machine room intact, covered by the new structure, and when the new one was
completed we took the old one apart. It was hard work, and despite the blisters
on our hands, we enjoyed doing it. I remember the look of astonishment on
peoples' faces when they inspected the fruit of our labours.
With part of the loan I had bought new poster type, numbering machines that
automatically numbered raffle tickets as they were printed, job paper from
Spicers of Dublin, new metal from Frys foundry to fortify the old, wood borders,
and a mitring machine that gave a cleaner appearance to metal borders.
Eddie Gallagher had returned to work as a compositor, and new job printing
orders began to come in. For a time prospects looked good, but the loan wasn't
sufficient to buy a modern Heidleberg platen and a replacement for Mary Anne,
the very ancient Wharfedale. With the bank manager throwing weekly fits, and
difficulties with my uncle with whom I was a partner in the business, the result
was foregone. Following mother's death in January 1956, less than six months
later, physically tired--Thursday morning until Friday night being a weekly work
routine--I bailed out, and the "Vindicator" ceased functioning as a
newspaper. I hold myself solely responsible for its death.
I was totally responsible for its debts, and did not discharge the last of
them until 1970 after I had emigrated to Canada. In the climate of the 1950s it
was a source of embarrassment and an admission of failure "to be listed in
Stubbs" as a debtor. Today it is not considered a shame to declare personal
bankruptcy, sometimes twice or three times.
To have been a newspaper editor at such an early age is something few people
have experienced. The sense of freedom was unique. To write what I chose to
write, and to publish it, was a loss that was hard to bear in future years. Now
at the end of an old millennium and the beginning of a new one I have regained
that freedom using the Internet.
A host of names crowd in, among them Josie Dolan and Hugh Daly of the
"Democrat"; John Healy and Joe Jennings, both from Sligo, for a time
reporters for the "People's Press"; Jim Dorrian of Mountcharles,
"People's Press"; Patsy Gallagher and John Mcintyre, of Lifford,
"People's Press"; Tom Palmer, editor, "Sligo Champion"; George
Douglas and the King brothers, "Derry Journal"; Eddie Quinn, Bundoran;
Eddie McCauley, Ballintra; Paddy McLoone, Ballyshannon; Mr Peebles, "Sligo
Independent"; Aodh de Blacam (Roddy the Rover); and outside the newspaper
fraternity, Major Myles, T.D.; Michael Óg MacFadden. T.D., Captain Hamilton,
Brownhall; Cahir Healy, M.P.; Captain Scott, acerbic county councillor; Pa
O'Donnell, T.D.; Joe Brennan, T.D.; and former St Eunan's graduate, Cormac
Breslin, T.D. All touched me in one way or another and I remember them with
gratitude. Some of their stories remain to be told.
I would be remiss in not mentioning Seán MacBride, T.D., who at the time was
leader of the Clann na Poblachta party. Anent an editorial I had written on
Partition, he wrote:
"The "Donegal Vindicator" has always taken a sound and courageous
national line of policy; the views expressed in their editorial are, we believe,
shared by those who think and feel in terms of our national
Such an accusation to hurl at an Irish newspaper and its
editor: "sound and courageous"!
MacBride later went on to become a recipient of both the Nobel and Lenin
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