Thursday, November 27, 2014

Farewell to The Sentinel

It was almost poignant this week to see the final edition of the Connacht Sentinel hit the newsagents – just months short of the Galway paper’s 90th birthday.

For as long as many of us can remember, The Sentinel was part of the fabric of Galway life every Tuesday.

It was the first paper of the week in the city throughout virtually all of those nine decades and attracted a loyal following thanks to its heady mix of weekend sports reports, lively columns, and up to date reports from the previous day’s court sittings or local authority meetings.

Since 1925, the tabloid attracted a loyal following. But its demise was almost inevitable after ten of the Connacht Tribune staff opted to take voluntary redundancies, due to difficult trading conditions, two months ago.

With a reduced staff, and a vastly changed media landscape, management have opted to concentrate on their two main titles, the Connacht Tribune and Galway City Tribune.

The Sentinel was a key part of Galway life for so many people for so long. In school, back in the 1980s, I remember the paper being passed around from student to student at Colaiste Iognaid.

There was a great thrill if a freelance journalist singled you out for praise from an U-16 soccer game which was sometimes given the importance of an FA Cup Final in the following Tuesday's report on the Sentinel’s sports pages.

Front page of the last Connacht Sentinel
Rowers, rugby players, and boxers, too, would be delighted if their sporting achievements were recognised in the  local tabloid. You would bounce home from school because your goal in a Sunday morning soccer game had been written up with such enthusiasm in the paper.

There was a voyeuristic side to readers, too. People love to gossip and there was a sly satisfaction in noting what neighbours got up to if they were unlucky enough to end up before Judge John Garavan at Galway District Court. 
By the time I began writing for the paper in the early 1990s, Judge Garavan had received legendary status across the city. Even the hardened criminals seemed to love his quirky sense of humour.

Sometimes he would have the entire District Court, including Gardai, defendants, solicitors, witnesses, and journalists, howling with laughter as he brought a rare human warmth to what was undoubtedly an intimidating experience for many people.

“Don’t quote me on that!” he would roar over at the young journalist in the press box, who was mindful that the occasional outburst from the bench would get both the esteemed Judge and the newspaper into deep trouble if it was reported accurately in the following morning’s Sentinel.

I can remember one colourful character welcoming a new Garda Inspector to the District Court “on behalf of the criminals of Galway”, a gesture which was met with surprising charm and warmth by (the now late) Judge Garavan.

Because of The Sentinel, Mondays were always busy in the Tribune office. We would either be writing up the sports reports (for me, Galway United or the Galway hurlers) from the weekend markings or telephoning politicians and people in authority in order to “chase down” stories.

The Tribune used to print its own three titles in those days, so it was possible to type up a piece early on a Tuesday morning – just an hour before it appeared on the news-stands.

That meant that when Galway won the All-Ireland football title for the first time in 32 years, I was able to attend the 4am homecoming at the Cathedral car park and, buzzing with adrenaline, managed to have both a front and back page piece written up for the following morning’s edition. I bounced into work at 9am after sleeping for just three hours.

The whole city and county seemed to be on a high that night in September 1998 and it was hugely rewarding to be able to put all the excitement, all the drama, into a few hundred words.

City Councillors and officials used to marvel at how much coverage their Monday night meetings used to get in the following morning’s paper.

It was “normal” to get back to the office from a local authority meeting at 11pm and then spend two hours writing up five or six stories which would be on the editor’s desk when he came in the following morning.

For a young reporter, there was a real “buzz” about churning out so much copy in such a short period of time – and I always preferred to get the Council meetings covered in the early hours rather than rush into the office early the following morning. The boss didn't mind as long as the meeting was covered in full.

All of that changed, though, when the Tribune closed down their own printing works in 2008. The din of the printing machines, such a feature of life on Market Street every Tuesday morning for almost a century, gave way to an eerie silence as a group of happy workers (who always seemed to be laughing and joking) lost their jobs.

I used to park my bicycle in the empty works in more recent years and was sometimes haunted by the memories of all the wonderful people who had worked there down through the years.

The printing of the paper transferred to a new plant in Cork, which meant it was no longer possible for reporters to “write up” late stories on Tuesday mornings. Instead, the Sentinel was printed at 4am and in the shops before most of us made it in to work on Tuesdays.

In recent years, the lively tabloid had adapted to changing times. My colleague, Dara Bradley, set up an irreverent political column which had the local TDs and City Councillors fretting with fear at times. Mind you, in some cases our politicians would prefer to be mentioned in a negative sense than not to be mentioned at all.

In the hugely popular About Town column, the rest of us could rant about poor service in restaurants or bars or celebrate new discoveries we had made, or delights uncovered, around Galway over the weekend. 

Peader O Dowd celebrated the heritage of Galway, while there always seemed to be a competition among older readers to see who would win the acclaimed Sentinel crossword.

Editor Brendan Carroll always gave great scope to his reporters and, on Mondays, would welcome stories from me about protests in solidarity with the people of Gaza or the victims of sexual abuse whenever I would attend demonstrations in Eyre Square at the weekends.

He was delighted when reporters generated their own "stories" and there was a wide mix of interests and personalities across the newsroom.

For a small paper which essentially took just one day to produce, the paper had a fantastic mixture of news and sports reports, lively and challenging columns, and feature articles.

The paper’s demise has hardly come as a shock, given that newspapers all over the world are closing down, but it was still sad to see it on the shelves for the last time this Tuesday. 

It will be missed.


  1. Some great starting-out memories there too, Ciaran. My first front page, July 1993: New age traveller row in Terryland on a Friday afternoon when everybody else had gone home! Eibhir

    1. What the hell were you doing at work on a Friday afternoon Eibhir? Shocking!

  2. Ah Ciaran I agree with your blog about the sentinel. But we can still write for About Town in the City Tribune and Bradley will keep biting!