Category: Archive

A fond farewell

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Claire Grimes

Endings. Beginnings. This will be the last issue in which a Grimes will appear as publisher since 1955 when Offaly native Paddy Grimes bought this newspaper. As the Grimes era comes to a close, kindly join me for a bit of nostalgia.

1928 was an important year for the Irish in America, not only because the Irish Echo was founded, but because Al Smith ran for president of the United States. He had two strikes against him, Al did – he was Catholic and he was considered Irish. But someone had to get up to bat, and he was it. Too familiar with a lack of civil and political clout back in Ireland, Irish immigrants once here headed for realms of influence, namely police and politics which went hand in hand.

Big news was being generated in post-Civil War Ireland but you’d be hard pressed to locate it in the American press. Enter Monaghan native Charlie “Smash the Border” Connolly who filled the void, putting together a broadsheet Irish Echo of eight pages which sold for a dime. He and friends distributed the Echo wherever the Irish in New York gathered, be it dance halls, churches and pubs. They could be seen barreling down the cobblestones of the city in a borrowed horse-drawn Spic & Span laundry service truck. Connolly is recalled as a tough man who would rather lead a parade of three men than be behind thousands.

After WWII, the newly restructured U.S. immigration laws encouraged large numbers of Irish to find their way to America in search of a better life. Eventually this fueled a thriving membership in the county organizations which invariably printed their dance journals at Grimes’ Irish Echo office then located at 152 E. 121 St. in Harlem. In those days St. Patrick’s dances often were held in ballrooms at the best New York hotels. But by the beginning of the seventies the county organizations were greatly diminished and the demise of the Echo’s job printing followed.

Like the forties, Echo news in the fifties heralded the cause of Irish unification, IRA campaigns, events and sports. In 1955 Patrick J. Grimes made news by becoming the first of his clan to appear on the Echo’s masthead as publisher and owner. Promptly a Grimes Travel Agency ad prominently appeared in each week’s Echo. And while Paddy knew nothing of publishing, his agency thrived. In 1958 when Aer Lingus began traversing the Atlantic, Paddy would only book clients on the new Irish flag carrier. After booking your trip he was widely kown to invite you into the ‘kitchen’ for a cuppa “tea.” In the early fifties when there were no CAB restrictions, Paddy leased eleven planes, and in one fell swoop they departed for the GAA games in Ireland. He promoted it as the “Flight of the Gaels.’ One after the other, the buses left from Columbus Circle heading for LaGuardia Airport with police escort leading the parade. Once on board, people were seated according to their native county. You didn’t want to miss the fun, and Flight of the Gaels was successful for a number of years. A roster of those travelling appeared in the Irish Echo.

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Daughter Mary Grimes Farrell, former editor of the Echo ( and responsible for the Echo series “An American Diary” by one Brian Friel) recalls a 1957 letter from her mother, Beatrice Cassidy Grimes who worked at the newspaper and agency, in which she referred to the Echo going tabloid with 16 pages which were increased shortly to 20-24 pages. Today a minimum of 44 pages (120 in March) are printed, with periodic magazine supplement IE initiated by Paddy’s granddaughter Jennifer Grimes and in recent years expanded to include a Business IE by her sister Kate Grimes.

In l968 the Echo reported the pivotal civil rights march in Northern Ireland when the RUC attacked peaceful marchers and when John Hume first emerged as a hero. Coincidentally John was the Echo’s Man of the Year in l998, after having just learned of his Nobel prize. So it became a dual celebration, as he and Pat Hume joined the Echo’s 70th Anniversary dinner at the United Nations. But back in the sixties, peace initiatives were only a dream. Today I may live to see it. Today it’s only a matter of time and goodwill on everyone’s part.

With Paddy’s demise in 1978, son John Joseph Grimes, a former U.S. Navy pilot, took over the controls as publisher and owner. He brought the Echo into the computer age and introduced newsprint supplements. He also introduced me to the family Grimes, and changed my life forever. He ensured the Echo’s disparate community a voice, in keeping with our old masthead which read “The Voice of Ireland in America.” It still is. Since that time my 41-year old love of Ireland and Irish America has enhanced my life, and indeed informs it every day.

In l987 when John suddenly died at age 54, I came to the Echo never dreaming I’d be here these last fourteen years. It was a time of burgeoning immigration from Ireland, and thus escalating readership of the Echo that mandated a new format and new editorial direction for the nineties. And it was a time to show off Ireland as a modern country emerging as an integral part of the European union. No longer would we perceive it in the context of an agricultural country but rather as it progressed into the Silicon Valley of Europe. Technology was changing with breakneck speed in the late 80s. Our printer could no longer accommodate the paper’s growth, and searching for another provided me with increased information en route. And so it began with a sort of a seat-of-the-pants-MBA, and culminating now with this salvo. Next week a brand new chapter in the history of this 73-year old proud lady will receive a new byline just as a new century continues to unfold and a new year begins. Happily the Echo has a life of its own and as in the past its resilience, growth, leadership and reputation for fairness promise its continuum.

I salute my dedicated colleagues past and present who comprise a most talented ensemble, my remarkable and supportive daughters, Jennifer and Kate, and of course John Grimes.

Happy new years to the Irish Echo.

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