A Case Study of John Ferrar’s Limerick Chronicle 1774.


There were at least ten newspapers printed in Limerick during the eighteenth century. John Ferrar began printing Limerick’s fourth newspaper the Limerick Chronicle, in 1768 and it is currently the longest running newspaper in Ireland. Limerick city museum holds seventy-five extant editions dated 3 March to 22 December 1774.   They offer a rare insight into Limericks eighteenth century life as viewed by Limerick man John Ferrar its printer/proprietor.

The Ferrar family name had links with the ancillary printing trades of font making and book binding stretching back to Renaissance Rome, and to seventeenth-century Huntingdon, England. From the 1720s the family was linked with the development of Limericks nascent print culture and the connected trades of bookselling and book binding. John Ferrar, born in 1742 was an author, printer/proprietor, bookseller and stationer in Limerick up to the 1790s when he moved to Dublin for family reasons. As an author his print output included poetry, travel writing, political pamphlets on the Volunteers, education and parliamentary reform and a history of Limerick which went through two editions (1767 and 1787). In 1769 he compiled Limerick’s first trade directory, and a number of book catalogues.

Image Limerick 1769

Limerick Trade Directory Cover 1769

In addition to his own works, Ferrar printed upwards of twenty items that encompassed the genres of religion, philosophy, literature, poetry and politics.


John Ferrar LC first one.jpg

(Vol.1 No 2. Limerick Chronicle, Vol.1 No. 1  has not been discovered to date.)

John Ferrar printed the Limerick Chronicle between August 1768 and December 1781, when he sold his business to Andrew Watson. Ferrar was a key figure in the expansion of the newspaper business in Limerick, advanceing the model provided by Limerick’s first serious newspaper printer Andrew Welsh in the 1740s. Indeed it should be noted that from 1768 onwards Limerick had two newspapers running simultaneously, Ferrar’s Limerick Chronicle and Welsh’s Munster Journal.

Andrew Welsh MJ.jpg

(The Munster Journal – Andrew Welsh proprietor)

Building on Andrew Welsh’s distribution network, Ferrar used strategically located urban and rural agents and the Assizes as points of distribution. In addition he advertised for riders to deliver his paper twice weekly to towns such as Ennis, Charleville, Tipperary and Nenagh. Only four weeks after the newspaper first appeared, in August 1768, Ferrar boasted that he had over nine hundred papers for posting, which involved a substantial number of subscribers. Clearly his distribution network was broad and it suggests a growing awareness of the newspaper in many of the satellite towns around Limerick city. His advertising suggests an increasingly urban based readership.

From the outset John Ferrar’s Limerick Chronicle of 1774 was very different to Welsh’s Munster Journal, both in its appearance and the way in which Ferrar disseminated his news content. John Ferrar increased the size of his newspaper page to seventeen and a half inches in length, altered its font size, added an extra column and in doing so he offered his readers 408 lines of printed text more than the Munster Journal. Ferrar had also increased the number of colums from three to four by 1774 and used various forms of ornamentation to differentiate his content and he grouped his advertisements under various headings.

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1774 Typical page of advertising in Limerick Chronicle 

The issue of trust was of major significance in the printing of eighteenth century newspapers. As Robert Munter has commented the long-term dependability of the newspaper was based on the ‘reputation of its publisher’. Eighteenth-century provincial printer/proprietors relied heavily on their personal reputation. This is most reflected in the title bars of eighteenth-century Limerick newspapers. Ferrar inserted an image of a castle in his title bar. He was the only Limerick newspaper printer/proprietor to do so. The use of the image is significant as it reflects how Ferrar saw his newspaper and where it was to be placed in Limerick’s expanding market. This newspaper would not reflect the world of popular culture but that of the elite, middling sort and those who were educated in the art of reading. By linking his newspaper with the castle, a symbol of governance and status, Ferrar had created a perceived connection with those in power. During his tenure as printer of the Limerick Chronicle, Ferrar changed the title of his paper to the Limerick Chronicle and General Advertiser. However; he retained the image of the castle in its title bar.

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Limerick Chronicle and General Advertiser 1769

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Limerick Chronicle 1774

By 1774 Ferrar had reverted to the original title of The Limerick Chronicle the image of the castle had been reduced in size.

In 1780 John Ferrar became Sheriff and it is interesting to note that he removed the image of the castle in his title bar and changed the title of his newspaper to ‘Ferrars’s Limerick Chronicle’  suggesting that Ferrar saw his role as printer/proprietor as something separate to that of his promotion into civic life. The Limerick Chronicle also imparted the news in different ways, when compared to its local competitor, the Munster Journal. By 1774 John Ferrar’s front page relied less on literary articles and he printed shorter news items varying in length from ten to twenty lines. This resulted in news content being presented to its readers in a tapestry like fashion which weaved together a broad range of subjects including some parliamentary news, trade issues, high seas adventures, military and naval battles, weather reports, accounts of freak accidents, catastrophes, scientific discoveries, reports concerning crime, civic and state processions, funerals, illuminations, balls, and culture, specifically the theatre. While his content continued to promote political and economic improvement, which had been a hallmark of Welsh’s Munster Journal, John Ferrar’s newspaper also reflected a strong emphasis on developing the mind.

In terms of content, 45% of the Limerick Chronicle was devoted to advertising and 55% percent for non-advertising items. Half of his advertisements were devoted to Ferrar’s own goods such as books, plays, stationery, pills and medicines. The focus of this paper is on the non-advertising news at it appeared in 1774.

Front page news in the Limerick Chronicle predominately concerned foreign news items taken from the London Gazette and covered events in Great Britain, the continent and the colonies.  John Ferrar also placed both Limerick advertising and non-advertising items on the front page of his newspaper as he noted that Limerick was as important as any other town. Page two he dedicated solely to advertising; while pages three and four contained some advertising, they were primarily filled with literary extracts, letters to the printer, items of poetry and additional foreign news items. 74% of all reported news in the Limerick Chronicle during 1774 was devoted to what Ferrar termed ‘Foreign News’. He classified his non-advertising news items using geographic headings and their size and placement in the newspaper varied. News from London represented the largest amount of coverage at 28%, followed by Europe 23%, America 18%, Dublin 16%, Country news 8% and Limerick was 2.3%.

The political backdrop to much of the foreign news reportage in 1774 was the reaction of the British government and parliament to the ‘Boston Tea Party’ on 16 December 1773. ‘Dublin’ news items in 1774 encompassed a range of items that included Irish parliamentary discussions, military and civic appointments, civic proclamations, crime reports, and the leisure activities of elite members of Dublin society. However, items classified by Ferrar as ‘Dublin News’ often reflected a geographic spread beyond Dublin and included material dealing with Belfast, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Cork, Strabane, Sligo, Roscommon and Waterford. Many of these items were short biographical notices, reports of crime and punishments including references to the activities of the Whiteboys. ‘Limerick’ news imitated the same reporting framework as that of ‘Dublin’ news. This section contained short notices and appeared on the front page of the Limerick Chronicle in 1774. John Ferrar kept his readers up to date with Limerick’s civic appointments, military movements, the price of goods, port news and the assize of bread. He also continued to include regular notices concerning the physical improvement of Limerick city and county, including the establishment of turnpike roads, the further promotion of the Shannon Navigation Scheme and the building of Limerick’s House of Industry.

house of industry

House of Industry built in 1774

Ferrar’s reporting of social events focused primarily on concerts, assemblies, drums and theatre evenings which were generally run as fundraising events for the poor. These reports were often no more than two lines in length, often including the names of those making donations of food, clothing and or cash to the charities. For instance dated 12 December 1774 Ferrar included several short notices throughout his newspaper, such as:

 2 guineas from Mr. Nicholas Mahon, Merch. [sic],

Also shirts, shifts and caps from Mrs. Bishop Gore and 1 guinea from Mr. John Norris, Merch…

Mr. Hill rec of 12 pair of stockings from Caleb Powell, and ditto from Mrs. Doctor Maunsell, for the House of Industry…and any old shoes would be very acceptable… 

It could be suggested that John Ferrar imitated and promoted the habits of other urban centers such as London, Dublin and Cork. In addition it is significant also that these notices helped frame Limerick society as the frequency with which they appear throughout his newspapers, suggests a lasting influence.

The reporting of American news became increasingly important during 1774, as tensions in the colonies rose. Initially, American news items were woven through a varied range of news content. However, four months after the Boston Tea Party news from America became more formalized. By June 1774, American news bulletins drawn from the London Gazette were printed under a discreet heading entitled ‘AMERICA’ on the front page of the Limerick Chronicle. Vincent Morley noted that it was not until September 1774 that the Hibernian Magazine designated a regular colum to American events. John Ferrar also included other American news items that were predominantly sourced from a range of American newspapers named in the Limerick Chronicle as the New York Gazette, Massachusetts Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal, Virginia Gazette, New York Times and the New England Gazette. While historians have generally mined newspapers for information on specific events a more systematic analysis offers a nuanced understanding of how certain news items were selected and disseminated by printer/proprietors. The size, placement and frequency of items of news reflected the thinking of printer/proprietors like John Ferrar.

Closer examination of the front page of the Limerick Chronicle reveals how the English government’s response to the Boston Tea Party was reported locally. The reporting of the Boston Tea Party in the Limerick Chronicle was vague. Initially the coverage suggested that the colonists were nothing more than a mild irritant. Moreover, as formal news channels drip fed information concerning events in America, newspaper proprietors like Ferrar were left to construct a newspaper from a variety of sources, not all of them reliable. Much of the early coverage of the American news focused on the disloyalty of the colonists and the possibility that they might use force against his majesty’s troops. The March editions of the Limerick Chronicle noted that Britain’s immediate response to the Boston Tea Party was to send additional troops to Boston. On 17 March 1774  Ferrar selected a news item from France which illustrated how a show of force could quell a local disturbance;

‘We have received the agreeable news from Tours, that the people of that place who committed too many excesses on account of the high price of corn and bread are returned to their duty, and that every thing is quiet there.

The piece went on to say that another twenty seven villages in France had also been up in arms as a result of the high price of grain but that they had been pacified after troops were dispatched to quell the riots. This suggests a manipulation of news items so as to re-enforce a point of view and to frame the newspaper in a specific way. On page three of the same issue John Ferrar included items of poetry whose content reflected on the “obstinacy of the Americans” who refused to succumb to the British Parliament’s right to impose taxes on them. Indeed one of the poems suggested that the Americans’ aim was total separation altogether. On page four of the same issue, Ferrar included a twenty line item sourced from the London Gazette which stated that on January 17, a bill had been posted up in Boston in “the most public parts of this town,” which urged the colonists to be ready to physically fight for their cause.

What is significant about this item is its placement in the newspaper. It was sandwiched between a complete column of Limerick advertising, on the one side and a seventy line report of an earthquake in Guatemala on the other. Above the notice from Boston was a letter to the printer, a rather tongue in cheek piece that suggested excise officers be permitted to cohabit with their wives and daughters ‘without molestation or disrepute to the parties’ and that the ‘owners of Carriages may be branded as well as the Carriage, to avoid imposition.’ Also on the same page Ferrar had included a detailed report on the high seas adventures of a Limerick naval man named ‘Captain Roche commonly called Tyger Roach.’ What appears as a random or arbitrary placing of an item reflects a clever manipulation of the dissemination of news in an attempt to attract the eye of his Limerick advertisers and readers. The poster from Boston was printed with no introduction and no commentary. It was a stand alone item. Interpretation was left open to the readers, however its placement framed amidst the much broader context of the eighteenth century world offers an insight into the thinking of John Ferrar as printer / proprietor.

The following month in April news disseminated through the London Gazette and in turn selected by Ferrar continued to focus on the disloyalty of American colonists and Britain’s state of preparedness for military conflict with them. John Ferrar also selected items from American newspapers which focused primarily on the sense of injustice felt by the colonists. However, April 1774 also saw a turning point in the way that news from America was reported by Ferrar. He printed Edmond Burke’s famous ‘Speech on American Taxation’  a total of 184 lines of text. Burke noted that the closure of ports as a method of punishing the colonists would be detrimental to trade and that

there are but two ways to govern America, either to make it subservient to all your laws, or let it govern itself by its own internal policy.’

From this point onwards Ferrar selects items that emphasise  on the consequences of conflict with America to Irish and in turn Limerick trade. Troop movements and the ensuing logistics of transporting men to America continued to be featured in the Limerick Chronicle. However John Ferrar selected items of news highlighting that there were potential benefits for Ireland, primarily to improved trade through Irish imports and exports.

A final point. For many Limerick readers, one of the most important pieces of British legislation passed in 1774 was , presumably the Quebec Act. Bearing in mind 80% of Limerick population was Catholic. While Ferrar favoured toleration of Catholics, he did not offer Limerick readers even basic information on its passage. Snippets of news concerning the Quebec Act accounted for less than 0.5% of the newspaper coverage during 1774 and these appeared primarily on the back page, contained in short reports from the British House of Commons. The Quebec Act facilitated religious tolerance of Catholics and met with significant opposition from both the English and Irish Protestant elites. On 4 July 1774 John Ferrar included on the front page, news pertaining to the Quebec Bill. The item was forty seven lines long and classified by Ferrar as ‘Dublin news’. It noted that the “Dissenters Bill, ought to be annexed as a codicil to the Quebec Law for the encouragement of Popery.” It reported that when “the monarch was to pass the Quebec Bill the almost universal shout was NO, Popery, NO, Popery.”

The use of capitals on certain words makes them jump out at you when you first glance at the page; in this case: “NO Popery, NO Popery,” and PROTESTANT religion are clearly intended to grab the reader’s eye. Capital letters are not used in such a fashion any where else on the page and indeed were often only used in advertisements. However the news items noted that when General Wolfe conquered Quebeck, [sic] and

‘the British soldiers carried the standard of glory through Canada, little was it imagined that they were sacrificing their own liberites, to set up the religion of our enemies in the dominions of England and pave a direct road to artibrary government.’


According to Ferrar “there will be more reading in one Year to this Chronicle than in two guineas worth of any kind of Books.” His newspaper certainly contained a broad range of news items which were constructed, manipulated and framed in very specific ways. Many of the American news items appeared on the front page of the Limerick Chronicle and as noted earlier, they were predominantly snippets of information no more than twelve lines of printed text woven between news items from England and continental Euorpe as it was in these contexts that they were viewed by the eighteenth century reader. Ferrar’s Limerick Chronicle pushed an agenda for improvement, for example through his frequent reporting on fund raising charity events. However, the newspaper also offered opportunities for personal advancement. It should not be forgotten that much of the products that Ferrar advertised were sold by him. In addition, during his tenure as printer/proprietor the newspaper offered him opportunities to move up the social ladder. He became an agent for the distribution of English newspapers, an Insurance agent, Church Warden to St. Mary’s Cathedral, Secretary and Treasurer of Limerick Annuity Society, Secretary for the House of Industry, Printer for the municipal corporation 1778-1779, he also became a member of the Loyal Limerick Volunteers from 1779 and sheriff in 1780. It could be argued that with rising literacy levels, an expanding middling sort readership and a complex distribution network, John Ferrar’s Limerick Chronicle had a significant influence on Limerick society both urban and rural by 1774. If I was to highlight one point it is that it is the frequency and distribution of two bi weekly newspapers that is significant when assessing the impact of limerick newspapers as “Local culture is not something that starts full blown but is something that accumulates.” Dr. Paul O’Leary quoting Gerald D. Suttles 19th century Sociologist…


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