The story of the Skibbereen Eagle

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | March 22, 2017 1


In the small West Cork Town of Skibbereen they still remember how their small local paper “The Skibbereen Eagle” took on one of the world’s most powerful men who less than 20 years later, found himself out of a job.

The legendary Skibbereen Eagle newspaper was founded in 1857 in the small town in West Cork, Ireland from which it took its name. It was initially a monthly publication and then became weekly, grandiosely expounding its British imperialistic stance on local, national and international affairs as it was aimed squarely at its readership, the local Protestant land owning and merchant classes or as they were nicknamed by Irish Nationalists the “West Brits.” In the late 19th Century the town was not the sleepy and rather lovely tourist backwater it is today but a busy commercial hub with steamship services and two railways the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway and the narrow gauge Schull and Skibbereen Railway. The first copy of The Skibbereen Eagle was issued on May 6th 1857, by the Welsh-born Frederick Peel Eldon Potter and his two sons.

Skibbereen railway station

Perhaps the most famous moment, worldwide, for The Skibbereen Eagle was when it became embroiled in international relations with Russia in 1898 which became known as “keeping an eye on Russia”. 

Skibbereen Eagle

Rather grandly the editorial claimed: “It [The Eagle] will still keep its eye on the Emperor of Russia and all such despotic enemies – whether at home or abroad – of human progression and man’s natural rights which undoubtedly include a nation’s right to self-government. ‘Truth’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Justice’ and the ‘Land for the People’ are the solid foundations on which the Eagle’s policy is based.”

In the spring of 1898 after having the market to itself for 40 years the long-standing Skibbereen Eagle was at war with the fresh-faced Southern Star over column inches and lucrative contracts. They also had differing political stances; The Eagle aired on the anti-nationalist side while The Southern Star was strongly nationalist. As he sat in his office in Bridge Street, Skibbereen considering the future of his newspaper Potter was forced to do something to stand out from the crowd. skibb2skibbereen cig card

The intrepid editor and proprietor Frederick Potter used in his editorial a report on a secret treaty by Russia  to expand its territory into Manchuria by leasing the Liaoning Peninsula and the ice free Port of Dalian which they provocatively renamed Port Arthur. Russia and Nicholas II were taken advantage of growing regional tensions between China and Japan after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The Japanese saw Russia’s ultimate aim as annexing all of Manchuria with its natural resources of coal and iron. Ultimately Russia’s action led to the shock comprehensive military and naval defeats of Russia by Japan in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904/5. This in turn led to the Japanese invasions of Manchuria and Korea and dealt a body blow exposing the archaic weakness of the Czarist Regime leading ultimately to the Russian Revolution in 1917. Indeed it set the scene for conflicts in World Wars 1 and Two and regional tensions in Asia which persist to this day.

At the same time Russia launched attacks into the Muslim lands of the Caucus in a vicious campaign spearheaded by the Cossack Cavalry – the source of the bitter tension and Russian oppression which exists to this day in Chechnya, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.  The Skibbereen Eagle as the weekly paper of the landed and merchant classes of West Cork  identified with the British Imperial Project, then at its most feverish and the threat to British interests in India. 

Frederick Potter’s scheme for The Skibbereen Eagle to punch above its weight by commenting on world affairs certainly garnered publicity and its influence can be seen to this day, no more so than on the Blogosphere. In truth as somebody who was British and pro-Unionist he was an outsider in West Cork and the World and the Empire’s not to mention the Emerald Isle were soon to be irrevocably changed by the Great War and the fight for Irish Independence.

Skibbereen itself was no mere spectator to these struggles having been one of the places most hit by the Great Hunger / Famine of 1847-1852 as the 10,000 bodies in the infamous famine pits at Abbeystrewry just outside the town mutely testify. The son of a man who starved to death in the famine Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was one of the founders in Skibbereen of the Phoenix Literary Society which became the Fenian Brotherhood. Patrick Pearse’s incendiary oration at his graveside in 1915 when the body of the dead Fenian was brought back from New York where he died in exile “They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace” set the scene for the Easter Rising the following year.

As for Fred Potter he died in 1906 and soon found himself on the wrong side of history but history remembers him for keeping his Eye on the Czar of Russia and for showing journalism has no boundaries. Ownership of the title passed to his son Eldon who had a thriving career as a barrister and didn’t take part in the management of the paper from its Bridge Street offices where the Southern Star is ensconced to this day serving the West Cork Community. The Eldon Hotel which still exists in Skibbereen is named after him.

The Skibbereen Eagle24th June1893

‘The Skibbereen Eagle’, 24th June, 1893


DeValera and Stalin discussing The Skibbereen Eagle!

The phrase “Keeping its Eye on the Czar of Russia” became famous over several decades causing at one point the embarrassed Irish Times to make an uncomplimentary reference to it in a somewhat disdainful fashion, though it later apologised, regretting “its hasty and inadvertent blunder”. By then, however, the bold little newspaper was famous for the “eye on Russia” saga.

This newspaper was superseded by the Southern Star which took over the faltering Skibbereen Eagle and closed down the paper in 1929. The Southern Star was founded  in 1889 to represent the Nationalist viewpoint in West Cork in opposition to the Eagle which was pro-Unionist. The Southern Star was founded in 1889 by two Skibbereen brothers, John and Florence O’Sullivan. One of the main reasons for establishing The Southern Star was to combat The Skibbereen Eagle as an organ of British imperialism and also as a paper very inimical to the Catholic Church. The Southern Star’s  first editor was D.D. Sheehan, and it later included among its shareholders one Michael Collins. 

Skibbereen Eagle

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.

Skibbereen Eagle (The). The chiel amang ye takin’notes. It was the Skibbereen, or West Cork Eagle newspaper, that solemnly told Lord Palmerston that it had “got its eye both upon him and on the Emperor of Russia.” This terrible warning has elevated the little insignificant town of Skibbereen, in the southwest coast of Ireland, quite into a Lilliputian pre-eminence. Beware, beware, ye statesmen, emperors, and thrones, for the Skibbereen Eagle has its eye upon you!

Now the Spirit of the Skibbereen Eagle has been revived on the internet with this successor casting a cold eye on the world and its comings and goings. Beware, beware, ye statesmen, emperors, Tories and thrones, for the Skibbereen Eagle still has its eye upon you!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.

Skibbereen Eagle

Skibbereen Eagle

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.
The Skibbereen Eagle

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One Response

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