In Raheny, Volunteers Keep the Traditions of a Community Newspaper Alive

The MACE store in Raheny is Catríona Harper’s second stop on her delivery run.

She has stacks of the latest edition of Raheny News, bundled carefully with rubber bands, in the back of her grey Skoda hatchback.

Catríona shares delivery duties of the weekly volunteer-run community newspaper with her father Tony.

Priced at 30 cents, this week’s issue carries news of a city council support scheme for local businesses and a new commemorative plaque on Watermill Road, honoring the late Seamus Griffith, local shopkeeper and the first honorary mayor of Raheny.

Normally, deliveries are done on a Saturday evening, which means giving that up.

“But it’s worth it, to get to know people and to just feel like you’re part of the community by doing it,” says Harper.

Raheny News was first established in 1975 and has since produced more than 1,290 editions.

Each one, then as now, has been delivered to local businesses by hand, Catríona says.

The Early Days

Heather Kavanagh, a long-time volunteer at Raheny News, still remembers the early days driving around the Dublin 5 village dropping off copies.

She joined the publication soon after its establishment, looking to keep up skills she had learned while working as a typist in a solicitor’s office.

Her role now? “Nothing,” Kavanagh says with a dry laugh.

The pandemic has taken its toll. “Once COVID came in, we [volunteers] couldn’t keep together,” she says.

But it’s kept going. During the pandemic, running the paper has fallen on the Harper family, the “backbone” of Raheny News, per Kavanagh.

Prior to beginning her delivery run, Catríona had collected freshly printed copies of Raheny News from her brother, Peter Harper. He’d spent the day putting the issue together at home.

Peter was still in secondary school when he joined the newspaper in 2000. He had an inkling that he might like a career in journalism and a friend advised him to join Raheny News.

In a back room of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace church, the Raheny parish chapel, he met volunteers who’d worked on the publication for decades.

“It was interesting to see it put together, with different people, how they source their news,” says Peter, who is now the editor.

“To a large extent, the format stayed the same. It didn’t change in a great sense for quite a number of years,” he says.

Some things about Raheny News haven’t changed at all.

Since the first edition on 2 February 1975, the newsletter has been printed on green foolscap paper.

Peter O’Reilly, librarian at Raheny Library, says the publication is known colloquially as “the green paper”. The library, in the heart of the village, has a copy on file of every issue since 1975.

Over the years, Raheny News has carried stories detailing local planning applications, the exploits of sports clubs, death notices, and general goings-on.

One story, published in the ’70s, notes that a young step-dancer called Michael Flatley travelled from Chicago and stayed with a Raheny family while he was attending a dancing competition.

The masthead, emblazoned on the front page of each issue, appears in the same typeface used on the first evening of Raheny News.

Even the production of the paper involves nods to the past. Until the pandemic, some pages were formatted on electronic typewriters, an accommodation made for volunteers who prefer working on older technology.

The loyalty to tradition is a conscious choice, says Peter Harper. “Like any other sort of entity … or a product, you get a characteristic or an attribute, and people recognise you by that.”

A sense of history also pushes Peter to go to print every weekend, to give up Saturdays trawling for news and pulling together the paper.

“When something is voluntary, you’ve been involved with something a long time, you don’t want to see it die,” he says.

He has a sense of debt, too, to the others who have put in so much to keep it going and shape it.

Madeleine Meyler provided a watchful eye the first night Raheny News was printed in a living room on St Assam’s Road West.

Meyler continued to gather community news up until a short time before her death in 2015, by which time she was in her 80s, says Catríona Harper. “She was the editor, she was holding the fort. She ran it like clockwork.”

Meyler was always encouraging and always scouting for news, says Peter, and “always trying to cajole people to write bits and pieces”.

Peter’s early experiences at Raheny News prompted him to take a master’s course in journalism at NUI Galway. While there, he was awarded the Connacht Tribune Gold Medal for Journalism, an accolade given each year to the journalism student who achieved the highest grade on the course.

“I don’t think I would have been offered a place on the master’s course without having volunteered with Raheny News,” Peter says.

“I really can’t over overstate the encouragement that Madeleine and other volunteers would have given [me],” he says.

Meyler and other stalwart volunteers put so much passion into the green paper, which gives Peter a sense of obligation, he says.

“By keeping it going, it’s keeping their contribution as a memory,” he says, “remembering their contribution.”

Something to Be Said

Raheny News was born in the age of print.

Save for a Facebook page – which supplements the weekly physical copy – it has steered away from digital media.

Peter isn’t dogmatic. “There may come a time” when Raheny News will shift its focus online, he says.

But for now, he isn’t convinced that an email newsletter – or any other digital format, for that matter – is the way to go.

“If we’re talking about an online newsletter, or some sort of e-newsletter that drops into your inbox every week, I’m not sure what the up-take on those are,” he says.

“I think there’s still something to be said for physical products,” he says.

Whether it’s sport, local elections or events in the library, Raheny News is “keeping us up to date about what’s happening in the area”, says Joan Sharkey, a local resident and member of Raheny Heritage Group.

“I think there’s a great sense of goodwill towards Raheny News in the community,” Peter says.

When publication is paused temporarily, its absence is noted by locals. “Everybody is very disappointed when we break for the summer,” Kavanagh says.

Printing resumes in the autumn, as it will this coming September, Peter says.

There’s a sense of pride you get when you see somebody reading your newspaper, says Peter. “There is a sense of achievement that we get from it.”

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Author:

Fiachra Gallagher: Fiachra Gallagher is a freelance journalist, with an interest in community, sports, and immigration.

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