THE 150th anniversary of the Newtownards Chronicle has been celebrated at a special event organised by Ards and North Down Council.

Bangor Castle was the venue for a special civic reception attended by politicians, senior council officials, representatives of the business and community sectors as well as Chronicle staff, past and present.

The paper, which was established in 1873, was praised for the ‘integrity and independence’ it continues to display today.

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Jennifer Gilmour addressed gathered guests when she hailed the Chronicle’s survival in the ‘advent of the digital age’ as an ‘an incredible achievement, especially for a family-owned publication’.

Speaking at the occasion, prompted by a motion from Ards peninsula representative, alderman Robert Adair, she observed: 

“Few newspapers have survived the tests of time, particularly in the advent of the digital age that has revolutionised the way in which we consume media. Life was certainly very different back in 1873,” she said.

Remarking that the paper came into being in the same year as the fire which London’s Alexandra Palace, and when the UK’s first chocolate Easter eggs were produced, continued: “Many things have changed since the first edition went on sale but your newspapers have remained consistent in their approach to providing a source of information about the events and goings-on in Ards and North Down. 

“They tackle issues that are relevant to our community, provide a platform for local businesses to promote their wares, and provide employment to local people. And you make sure that councillors and council officers are kept on their toes too.”

Strangford MP Jim Shannon, who sent his best wishes through Ms Gilmore during Friday’s reception, had previously raised the anniversary in the House of Commons when he offered his thanks to ‘editor, Paul Symington and deputy editor Ismay Woods, for leading the paper so well and for ensuring the impartiality of this incredible piece in the jigsaw of the Ards and North Down Community life’. 

In his words to the House, he also commended the ‘incredible work done by Bobby Torrens and Jonathan Coates in photographics through their immortalisation of life through images and their great work in archiving’.

Former managing director, Ian Alexander, spoke of the paper’s early history.

Mr Alexander regaled guests with the amusing relationship between the Chronicle’s founder and editor, William Henry, and the owner of its competitor, North Down Herald, WG Lyttle.

As historian Horace Reid has memorialised, Mr Alexander referred to the bickering between the two editors, which had spilled over into the public, eventually ending in a scandalous court battle.

Among those past and present, who attended Friday’s anniversary reception, were some of the Chronicle’s longest serving former employees, like Sammy Moore who worked as a compositor and typesetter for four decades; former reporter Mervyn Jess, who later became a familiar face on Northern Ireland’s television screens with the BBC; and one-time cub reporter, Carl Anderson who joined at the tender age of 15.

Now aged 84, Mr Anderson recalls his early days when he earned just £1.6 shillings and a penny, giving his mother a large chunk of that every week and borrowing it back throughout the next the week. 

North Down MLA Stephen Dunne also praised the Chronicle, stating ‘local newspapers like the Chronicle are at the heart of our community, keeping residents informed on the issues that matter to them and capturing weekly snapshots of community life’.

“It is a testament to the newspaper’s quality and popularity that it continues to be in wide circulation despite the development of online and TV News. I would like to congratulate the current team at the Chronicle for their success and wish them well for the years ahead.”

One of the Chronicle’s long-serving employees, deputy editor Ismay Woods was ‘delighted the council decided to hold a civic reception to mark the Chronicle’s 150th anniversary’.

“The Chronicle has been a big part of my life; it was a staple in our house whilst growing up, and I have been a reporter with the paper for over 40 years. Of course, there have been many changes during that time, including the reporting team merging with that of our sister paper, the County Down Spectator. The reception on Friday was a wonderful gesture, and the support for local, community-based journalism was very much in evidence.”

As the youngest member of staff at the Chronicle, sports editor Rory McKee said it has been ‘encouraging to discover the appetite is still there for the local printed press’.

A graduate of journalism from Sheffield University, he has covered news but said ‘sport is what has always interested me the most.

“I joined the Chronicle/Spectator as their Sports Editor in September 2022. It’s a role I am privileged to do, alongside some of the best colleagues and with the assistance of so many fantastic local clubs.

“This is an interesting time for sport in the borough, with Ards FC closer than ever to securing a return to Newtownards and Bangor staking a real claim to end a 15-year wait for top flight football, while home-grown athletes like Ciara Mageean and Rhys McClenaghan continue to deliver on the world stage and hopes are high for both ahead of this summer’s Olympics,” he said.

“The Chronicle has had an important part to play in highlighting the many sporting achievements of this area, and it’s my wish we can keep pushing on ahead with that mission.”