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The Irish Times reports the death of former owner, Major McDowell, Sept 10, 2009

category national | arts and media | news report author Thursday September 10, 2009 10:13author by Captain Green - The Captains Without the Kings Report this post to the editors

The Major "kept clear of involvement in editorial content", reports Irish Times

The Irish Times reports the death of former owner, Major McDowell, September 10, 2009:

Major Thomas Bleakley McDowell
Former Irish Times chairman dies, aged 86

Widely known as “The Major”, he kept clear of involvement in editorial content, insisting that that was the domain of the editor.

The Irish Times changed during the Major era, from a newspaper reflecting the protected but significant interests of a distinct Protestant business class to one that reflected the moderninsing interests of Irish capitalism. It was not as smooth a transition as the Irish Times usually reports.

In 1969 Major McDowell was 'hot under the coller" about the Irish Times. So wrote Andrew Gilchrist, the British Ambassador in Dublin to Whitehall. He went on:

The Sunday Independent reports major (though secret) editorial interference in the Irish Times - 26 Jan 2003 [CLICK TO READ]
The Sunday Independent reports major (though secret) editorial interference in the Irish Times - 26 Jan 2003 [CLICK TO READ]

McDowall [sic] is one of the five (Protestant) owners of the Irish Times, and he and his associates are increasingly concerned about the line the paper is taking under its present (Protestant, Belfast-born) Editor, Gageby, whom he described as a very fine journalist, an excellent man, but on Northern questions a renegade or white nigger.

And apart from Gageby's editorial influence, there is difficulty lower down, whereby sometimes unauthorised items appear and authorised items are left out.

"There is Difficulty Lower Down Whereby Sometimes Unauthorised Items Appear"

Why was the 2nd October 1969 letter from the British Ambassador to Whitehall, not published when it was released by the British Public Records office in 2000:

The Fourth Man' or 'Who Else Was in the Queue in Kew?'

Was it the end or the start of an era in the Irish Times and in Irish Society?

Gageby and McDowell changed the Irish Times as Irish society changed during the 1960s. Circulation grew steadily. The Times was less fearful of growing liberal sentiment and its last Protestant editor, Gageby, was in tune with Irish Nationalism. When the North blew up in 1968-69, extensive Irish Times reporting under its Protestant nationalist editor was a change too far for the Major. He offered his secret services to the British government and sought its help in August 1969, the month that British troops appeared on the streets of Belfast and Derry.

This is an Irish story and a newspaper story and also a story about a newspaper

On the mystery surrounding the non-reporting of the 'white nigger' letter in 2000, its eventual appearance in 2003, and how that was reported then in the Irish Times:

A little subversion in Ireland
by Niall Meehan

Cock-up’ rather than conspiracy. That is the Irish Times view of why the paper failed to adequately report secret meetings between the then Chief Executive of the Irish Times, Major Thomas B McDowell and the British Ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, in 1969.

The British Public Records Office in Kew released the correspondence under the thirty-year rule in January 2000. Rachel Donnelly of the Irish Times London office reported the story on January 3 2000. The Irish Independent also reported the story, though with significant information that the Times left out......

[Read on:]

Related Link: http://www.spinwatch.org/-articles-by-category-mainmenu...eland

The British Ambassador's reports what Major McDowell said about his editor, Douglas Gageby [CLICK TO READ]
The British Ambassador's reports what Major McDowell said about his editor, Douglas Gageby [CLICK TO READ]

author by The ghost of Gagebypublication date Sat Sep 12, 2009 10:53Report this post to the editors

Obituary in Irish Times today for the Monocled Major. Here is what is reported about the 'white nigger' episode:

Irish Times 12 September 2009 Maj Thomas McDowel

When the North erupted in violence in 1969 - a time when there was little or no real communication between nationalists and unionists or between Irish and British politicians and bureaucrats - he tried on his own initiative to interest the then British prime minister, Harold Wilson, in talks with all the other parties involved.

His efforts came to nothing but irritated the then British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, whom he had bypassed.

In a briefing letter about McDowell's approach, Gilchrist wrote that McDowell had described Gageby as "a renegade or white nigger". McDowell strongly denied the charge when Gilchrist's letter was published in 2003: "I never used that phrase, nor would I have thought of using it, about Gageby," he said in last year's interview. "Other people [ in Belfast] called him a renegade, but I never thought he was a renegade. Douglas never made any secret of what he was. There could be no doubt about him turning or changing or anything like that."


"Irritated the then British Ambassador" - that's a new one. So, the highly experienced Andrew Gilchrist decided to lie to his government because he was "irritated".

As they say, pull the other one.

The notion that McDowell was setting out to rally all the parties to talks - which is how it ended up rather farcically (Major, monocle, mustache, Rolls Royce, and all) - is not how it started. So the linked Spinwatch article on all the released secret letters in the series seems to suggest:


author by the diggerpublication date Sat Sep 12, 2009 14:29Report this post to the editors

That white nigger letter by ambassador Gilchrist should be mass reproduced in facsimile form and framed. Then copies could be sold to the public in order to raise funds for worthy causes. Any groups willing to take the initiative?

author by John Martin - Irish Political Review Grouppublication date Sat Sep 12, 2009 15:54Report this post to the editors

The obituary mentions the “white nigger” letter but not its content. The British Ambassador not only said that McDowell described his Editor, Douglas Gageby, as “a renegade or white nigger” on northern matters, he also said that McDowell wanted to be guided by the British State as to which lines in the newspaper would be helpful to Britain. In other words he wanted to place the newspaper under the influence of the British State.

This meeting with the British Ambassador occurred on October 2nd, 1969. It was only at a latter meeting (October 30,1969) that McDowell suggested having “talks with all the other parties involved”. A document reporting on this meeting, written by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Kelvin White, specifically says that this offer of having talks does not exclude the previous offer of placing the newspaper under British State influence.

There is absolutely no evidence that British Ambassador Gilchrist was “irritated” by McDowell’s bypassing of the Ambassador to go straight to Harold Wilson. This is a pathetic attempt to imply that the British Ambassador did not report his meeting with McDowell accurately.

author by iosafpublication date Sat Sep 12, 2009 17:29Report this post to the editors

A quick glance at the dictionaries of urban slang would suggest so. No parent should underestimate the urban dictionaries of slang for their usefulness in deciding whether or not the kiddies or on steroids or ketamine or simply uncomfortable with their phsyiological gender assignment once their daily tweets and facebook entries have been filed for parental supervision.

We now have words like wigga and even an alternative spelling wigger . As far as I can tell these are terms used in varying forms and tones ranging from verbal abuse to warm affection for people who dress or talk like Ali. G. The origins of the term white nigger appear to be in the 19th century USA back when mass Irish migration began and sparked the sectarianism of the "know nothing" party and the "wigs". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knownothings

By the time Major Mc Dowell wrote out the two words, the N word wasn't in popular use in the UK but of course it was very common in the USA where it hadn't been abreviated to its current N word status yet . In the UK at the time the most common ethnophaulisms (as those words you use to lum ethnic groups together are called) for black people were; wogs and spades. Irish people then as now were micks and spuds. So, Mc Dowell's use of the term was curiously anachronistic and harkened back to an era in US History when ambitious black people in the post civil war and emanicipation period had been called "smoked irishmen".

All the protagonists to this story seem to have died now. Andy Gilchrist the then UK ambassador is rumoured to have laid a bet that after their deployment in the north the British soldiers would stay for at least another 25 years. He died just before the 25th anniversary in 1993 so never got to collect the bet. He spent his final days writing letters to newspapers and it seems had a publishing rate of one a week. I daresay he possibly wrote them in green ink too. Aside from that he wrote a few novels one of which was entitled "did Van Gogh paint his bed?".

That's the flow of history and retrospective priorities and certanties in a nutshell really. We chattering classes and experts have now learnt this year that Van Gogh didn't even cut his own ear off, so I reckon all bets are on that Gauguin painted his bed as well.


But at end the death of this old "major" (& it is significant how the continued use of his rank as a mark of respect is now an almost forgotten custom aside from US marines - for how many times have commentators gurgled about Ed Horgan being a commandant or ex-commandant?) really at end for me does nothing more than remind me of the bone of contention in the Irish Times then and what ought have been the glorious legacy for the Irish Times today.

The death of Mc Dowell reminds me how wonderful Douglas Gageby was
and how far the Irish Times has fallen.

But it also reminds me of how language changes and how less and fewer people make use of it.

author by John Martin - Irish Political Review Grouppublication date Sun Sep 13, 2009 17:02author email john.martin.f at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Yes I agree with the view that standards declined when Gageby left. In some cases the writing was so bad that it was good or at least funny. My favourite is this egregious example of mixed metaphors from an Irish Times columnist.

“With the Government flailing about on the nursing homes debacle, Charlie McCreevy must be thanking his lucky stars that he got out when he did. It was, after all, his imperious edict that medical cards be granted as of right to all over-70s that opened up this particular can of worms like a knife through butter” (The Irish Times, 3/3/05).


There is an interesting obituary on McDowell in the Sunday Independent today. However, I have at least one small quibble.

The obituary indicates that in 2003 McDowell was embarrassed by the release of the “white nigger” letter from the British national archives. Technically this is accurate, but it is also misleading. It implies that the letter was only made available in 2003.

As Indymedia readers will know this letter was made available to the public by the British Public Records Office in December 1999. Professor Ronan Fanning, a UCD academic and Sunday Independent columnist, knew about it then but did not see fit to write about it in his column.
In my view The Irish Times would never have published details of the letter if the Sunday Independent had not done so after having been prompted by the Irish Political Review.

The “white nigger” letter not only gives a revealing insight into the nature of The Irish Times, but also
shows how that institution deals with stories about itself.

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