‘Father of Slieve Bloom’ and ‘Patron of the Tullamore Regional Hospital’
This blog is published to mark the new compact edition of the Midland Tribune and Tullamore Tribune (from 15 June 2017) and to reflect on the history of the Tribune since 1881. One who contributed much to the newspaper and to County Offaly was editor proprietor James I. Fanning of Birr who died in 1990.
John Powell, owner and editor of the Midland Tribune until his premature death in 1901 had a large family. One of the surviving girls, Ann Josephine, took a very active interest in the newspaper which continued after her marriage to Dr J.J. Fanning in 1902. On the death of Mrs Margaret Powell in 1931 the Tribune passed to Dr Fanning’s daughter who had become a widow with two sons in 1908, only six years after her marriage. It is likely enough that Doctor Fanning had played some part in the running of the paper prior to his premature death in 1908 at the age of only 38. A well-travelled and widely read man he had been educated at Stonyhurst and Edinburgh, but his English education had done nothing to quench the strong nationalist tradition in his family. At the time of his death he was chairman of the southern division of the United Irish League in King’s County and a member of its divisional executive. His education in an English Jesuit boarding school can be attributed to his uncle who had joined the Jesuits.
Doctor Fanning was a son of Martin Fanning of Limerick Street Roscrea (died 1903) a grocer and a publican, and vice president of the Roscrea Land League when it was established in 1880. Presumably Martin Fanning came to Roscrea from the family farm at Castleroan, Dunkerrin, in south County Offaly. Doctor Fanning, who was medical officer of health in Birr, married Annie (Birdie) Powell, in 1902 and had two sons, Arnold P. and James I. Fanning, before his death in 1908. James I. Fanning succeeded his mother as proprietor of the Tribune on her death in December 1955 and had been editor since James Pike’s retirement in 1946. He died in June 1990 having been editor until December 1989. He was succeeded by Buddy Burke who died soon after. Burke was succeeded by John O’ Callaghan who has been editor of the Midland Tribune since June of 1990 while Ger Scully succeeded Geoff Oakley as editor of the Tullamore Tribune. Geoff Oakley had started his career with the Chronicle in 1944.
This writer met James. I. Fanning (or James I. as he was generally called) at his house in John’s Mall, Birr in 1980 when commissioned to write a history of the Tribune for the centenary in 1981. He was a rara avis in Irish provincial life, enjoying cultural pursuits combined with strong adherence to Fianna Fáil, and able to wear a House of Commons type smoking jacket on that evening I called. I don’t recall having a whiskey and soda, but for a perpetual student (at that point) it made an impression.
All through the 1970s he and his chief reporter, until editor of the Tullamore Tribune (from 1978) had galvanised support for the retention of Offaly County Hospital and succeeded marvellously as Tullamore and Offaly people know so well today. Another of his projects was his support for the development of Slieve Bloom. Would that one of our students looking for a serious project would write up a biography of someone who (not quietly but influentially) did so much for the county of Offaly.