posted on | written by Jim Walsh
Last month as part of its input into the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, the Irish Independent newspaper group published a series called the Centenary Papers 1916 stories: Reporting the Rising 100 years ago. Included were reproductions of newspapers from Easter week and immediately afterwards.
What is intriguing about the reproduction of the newspapers of the day is the way businesses advertised their goods and services or took advantage of the events that were happening to promote themselves. Nothing much has changed.
The first edition of the Irish Independent to appear after the Rising was dated from 26th April to 4th May. In it, as you would expect, were the “Business as usual” advertisements and notices about temporary offices being opened, alongside advertisements for dry cleaning, pianos and cures for corns.
One company, which clearly did not believe that the Rising would have any political affect, was Sunlight Soap. It published a drawing of a young lady at a clothes line with the slogan: “I peg a Union Jack on my clothes line every wash day! In other words, I use the purest and best BRITISH SOAP.” It ends “So be loyal to your country! Use Sunlight Soap and peg a Union Jack on your clothes line every wash day.”
In the days following the Rising, more and more companies were placing advertisement announcing a resumption of business. But the reopening of businesses was not universally welcomed. Insurance companies were under fire because damage caused by the Rising was not covered by any insurance policy. The insurance companies pointed to a clause in all policies which expressly excluded “damage from riot, civil commotion, military or usurped power.” Some retailers were castigated for charging exhorbitant prices for bread. On the flip side it was reported that “there was much relief and gratitude that Kennedy’s were keeping the price (of a loaf) at the old rate.”
The PR benefit in providing media stories was also understood then. Under the heading “Maid, Bride and Widow in one day” in the Evening Herald of Friday May 5th, a jeweler in Grafton Street, Mr. Stoker described how an attractive and emotional young lady arrived at his shop the previous Wednesday to purchase a wedding ring. He says she told him that she was the fiancée of a Mr. Plunkett who was to be executed the following morning. According to Mr. Stoker he was “thunderstruck and expressed his deep sympathy. The young lady quietly thanked him, selected a ring and departed.”
Although not named in the story, the lady was Grace Gifford who married Joseph Mary Plunkett in his prison cell the night before his death by firing squad. The marriage has been immortalised in the song “Grace”.
No doubt if there was a similar uprising today, the newspapers and online media would have similar advertisements and stories to be seen in 100 years’ time.