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!
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.
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”.
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.”
The intrepid editor and proprietor a Welshman called Frederick Potter used in his editorial a report on a secret treaty by Russia [the Eagle is keeping its eye on the Emperor] to expand its territory 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.
This phrase 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, founded in 1889, its first editor D.D. Sheehan, and included amongst its shareholders one Michael Collins.
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.