The Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.
In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).
The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).
The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.
The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.
The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.