The first edition of ‘The Nation’ was published on 15th October 1842. The founders of the Nation newspaper were three young men – two of whom were Catholics and one a Protestant, but all free from the ‘slightest taint of bigotry and anxious to unite all creeds and classes for the country’s welfare.’ They were Charles Gavan Duffy who became editor; Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon.
The following was said of the Nation in ‘The Young Irelanders’ written by T.F. O’Sullivan and published in 1944.
“There has never been published in this, or any other country, a journal, which was imbued with higher ideals of nationality, which attracted such a brilliant band of writers in prose and verse, which inspired such widespread enthusiasm, or which exercised a greater influence over al classes of its readers, which after a time included every section of the community.
The Nation preached a nobler and more self-sacrificing Gospel of Nationality than Irishmen and women had been accustomed to hear for many years.
It sought, not only to disinfect the political life of the country, but to raise the whole standard of national self-respect based on the inalienable right of people to guard their own destinies; to inculcate a sentiment of pride in Ireland and everything Irish -in our history, legends, language and literature; in our music and in our art; in our magnificent contributions to the culture and civilisation of other countries; in our sacred ruins scattered throughout the land and in lonely islands off our coasts, silently preaching silent sermons on Irish sanctity, learning and foreign rapacity; in our heroic struggle for Freedom throughout the ages; in the brilliant achievements of our soldiers on the continent of Europe and in America, where they helped the oppressed colonists to achieve their independence – and it strove to regenerate the motherland intellectually, spiritually, socially and nationally.
The Nation was a great educational agency – the greatest that ever was conducted from a newspaper office in Ireland. “It wound itself into the fibre of the Irish heart” – quote Sir Charles Gavan Duffy – one of the three founders of the Nation – “The poor peasants clubbed their pence that they might hear on their only day of rest what they could do for the Cause; the young tradesmen to whom it had become almost as necessary as their daily bread, clung to it. The Conservative students enjoyed it as a stolen pleasure, trembling to be caught in an act of Patriotism; the Irish exiles in England or France, or felling forests in Canada, or digging railways in the Western Republic, who still longed like their predecessors two generations earlier, to hear, ‘how was old Ireland, and how did she stand’; the poor Irish soldier who stole into a secret place with his treasure; the young priest who judged it with his own brain and conscience, not by the word of command, cherished it the more for the dangers that it ran”
In inspiring prose and soul-stirring verse the great epic events in Ireland’s history and distinguished Irish people who had achieved fame in all walks of life – saints, sculptors, authors, scholars, national leaders, martyrs, dramatists, novelists, orators and wits were made familiar to Irish people.
Irish antiquities were invested with a new interest. Crumbling shrines were once more filed with holy men and saintly women and the clash of arms and fierce battle cries were heard again on many battlefields long since the graveyards of brave men – of savage Viking, of armoured knight and of Irish gallowglass. Cairns, beehive cells, cromlechs, Ogham stones and battered castles took on new meaning. Irish history became a fascinating romance, with some dark episodes of foreign tyranny and native treachery.
The nobility of sacrifice in the national interest was preached as a cardinal virtue. The slave mind and the anti-Irish Irishman were held up to contempt and the responsibility of our countrymen for their own enslavement emphasised.
The right to nationhood of a people long submerged industrially, commercially, politically and socially was boldly proclaimed, and the crimes and intrigues of the invader exposed. At the same time, it was pointed out that the people should make themselves fit for freedom, and that they had duties to discharge, one to the other, and all to the nation, as well as rights to gain. Every phase of Irish life was critically examined and remedies suggested where weaknesses were revealed.
Above all, the Nation brought a message of hope and encouragement to the Irish, taught them self reliance, gave them a higher conception of nationality and urged union of all Irishmen – Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Orangeman and Repealer – in order to achieve definite national objectives.
It is not surprising that a paper of such a character should make an earnest appeal to thinking Irishmen and women who had not lost all sense of national self-respect; and that it’s appearance wach week should be looked forward to with keenest interest in all parts of the country, and that its influence should be felt in the castle and in the cottage.”
What others have said of itBarry O’Brien biographer of Parnell and of Lord Russell of Killowen stated that “The articles in prose and verse revealed fervent, well informed and high minded patriotism which captivated Ireland. They recalled memories which made our people proud of their country and filled them with detestation of the power which had destroyed its freedom”
Lecky in his ‘Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland’ wrote, “The Nation enthusiastically supported it (the doctrine of Nationality), and great efforts were made to revive, or strengthen, everything distinctive in Irish Nationality. The old names, which had been anglicised or forgotten, were restored. Irish history, traditions and antiquities were much studied. Historical associations connected with different localities were collected. Davis ardently threw himself into the movement for teaching and diffusing the Irish language.”
T.W. Rolleston in his Treasury of Irish Poetry said “The Nation poets, inspired, almost recreated, Ireland; and their work still continues to inspire Irishmen all over the world with its Nationalising spirit. It became impossible after the songs of the Nation were collected and published, for England or Europe ot America to either forget or ignore the passion for Nationality in the hearts of the Irish”.
A.M. Sullivan wrote:
“It was not a newspaper so much as a great popular educator – a counsellor and guide. Its office a sort of bureau of national affairs, political, literary, industrial and artistic, its editorial room was the rendezvous of the ‘youthful enthusiasts’ learning how to become an editor for books as the older school of politicians called them: orators, poets, writers, artists.”
The Contributers The contributors in addition to the founders included
James Clarence Mangan, (1803-1849). born, Dublin. Poet, essayist, translator.
Denis Florence McCarthy (1817-1882). born, Dublin. Poet, translator & biographer
Father C. P. Meehan
Father John Kenyon (1812-1869). born Co. Tipperary.
Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867), born Waterford. Brigadier General US Civil War
William Smith O’Brien M.P (1803-1864) born Co. Clare. Irish Nationalist & Minister of Parliament. Son of Sir Edward O’Brien
William Carleton (b1794), Co. Tyrone. Although he wrote for the Nation he regarded Duffy and Davis as ‘insane politicians’
Denny Lane (1818-1895) b. Cork. Poet, Scholar, Businessman & politician. Author of ‘Carrigdhoun’
Thomas MacNevin b. Dublin, barrister, author of ‘History of Volunteers of 1782’ amongst others. Brother to Capt. Edmund McNevin, San Francisco
John Mitchel (1815-1875), b. Londonderry, voice of Southern American viewpoint in US 1850’s & 1860’s. Elected to British House of Commons but disqualified
Richard Dalton Williams, M.D.
Michael Doheny (1805-1863), poet. Lawyer & soldier in the U.S. with the Fenian Brotherhood
Martin MacDermott (1823-1905)
John Thomas campion
Thomas D’Arcy Mcgee (1825-1868), b. Louth. Elected to 1st Canadian parliament 1867, assinated 1868.
John O’Hagan – Judge
Michael Joseph Barry
Michael Joseph McCann
John Kells Ingram
John Cashel Hoey
Dr. R. R. Madden
James Fintan Lalor
Father P. O’Brien Davern
Thomas Devin Reilly
John Edward Pigot
Arthur Gerald Geoghegan
John Fisher Murray
William Pembroke Mulchinock
John Cornelius O’callaghan
W. J. O’Neill Daunt
Dr. Robert Dwyer Joyce
Terence MacMahon Hughes
Dr. John Thomas Campion
O’Donovan and O’Curry the Irish scholars became subscribers to the journals from the start and co operated with Davis in presenting to the public the correct spelling of Irish names which had been changed.
Samuel Ferguson who founded the Protestant Repeal Association came to sympathise with the aims of the journal.
William Elliot Hudson provided suitable airs for a number of the lyrics from the Nation when they were published in book form.
Women also contributed:
Jane Francesca Elgee: Lady Wilde (mother of Oscar Wilde)
Elizabeth Willoughby Treacy
Mary Eva Kelly
Ellen Mary Patrick Downing