By Ray O’Hanlon
For only the second time in its 73-year history, the Irish Echo is poised for new ownership.
A 100 percent buyout deal has been agreed to between Echo publisher Claire O’Gara Grimes and Dublin-based businessman Sean Finlay. The agreed sale price has been privately agreed.
Finlay, a Dublin native, is managing director of RF Communications and is part owner and serves on the board of Meteor Communications, which holds one of the three mobile phone licenses in Ireland.
While a contract for sale of the Echo has been agreed, the deal is not scheduled to close until Jan. 9.
Finlay, who is a board member of the U.S.-based Ireland-U.S. Council, was first linked to a possible purchase of the Echo just over a year ago.
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“This is a commercial venture which complements my active involvement in U.S.-Irish trade,” Finlay said Tuesday.
He said he believed the Echo held “immense potential” for further development in terms of editorial, distribution and advertising sales.
“The Irish Echo is an ideal vehicle to promote Ireland’s interests in tandem with the interests of Irish America,” Finlay said.
According to a statement released on Finlay’s behalf by Dublin-based Young Communications, the expansion plan for the paper includes the opening of an Irish Echo office in the Irish capital.
The Echo has had four publishers to date but has been sold only once before, when it was purchased by the late Paddy Grimes in 1955.
Present publisher Claire O’Gara Grimes, who took over at the helm of the paper when her husband, John Grimes, died in 1987, said that the sale would mean an exciting new chapter for the paper.
“Beginning in 1987 I saw my role as bringing the Echo into the ’90s, and here we are in the beginning of a wonderfully challenging millennium,” Grimes said.
“An exciting chapter is yet to be written in the long, proud history of the Irish Echo, and it’s time now for the new byline to be Sean Finlay’s. Serving the disparate Irish-American community fairly is a responsibility I have taken seriously, and I am confident Sean will grow the Echo to its full potential.”
Finlay indicated that he was in agreement with the Echo’s longstanding nationalist ethos but equally wanted to preserve the paper’s impartial political perspective, a stance that has enabled the Echo to fairly reflect differing political party positions, both in Ireland and the U.S.
Finlay said that no immediate major changes were envisioned in the day-to-day running of the paper.
“The success of a paper comes down to the people working in it,” he said.
Noel Minogue, general manager of RF Communications, is to assume the role of general manager of the Irish Echo for the first six months after the sale closes in January.
The Irish Echo was founded in New York City in 1928 by Charlie Connolly, a County Monaghan native who carried the colorful sobriquet of “Smash the Border.”
The early Echo was eight broadsheet pages and was distributed in Manhattan via a borrowed horse-drawn laundry truck.
The sale of the paper by Connolly to Offaly native Patrick J. Grimes in 1955 resulted in immediate changes to the paper’s look and design, as it initially grew to 16 tabloid-size pages, with special editions running to 24 pages.
Grimes, a decorated World War I veteran, was the first leaseholder on the site in the Bronx that was to become Gaelic Park.
Following the death of Paddy Grimes in 1978, his son John J. Grimes became owner and publisher, bringing the Echo into the computer age and expanding the paper’s readership throughout the 50 states.
Upon his death in 1987, John Grimes’s widow, Claire Grimes, became the third Grimes family owner and publisher. She arrived at the helm of the paper at a time when profound changes were occurring in the Irish-American community, not least due to the arrival of tens of thousands of new immigrants from Ireland, many of them undocumented
Under the guidance of Claire Grimes, a periodic magazine entitled “IE” was launched, the Echo’s format and design was revamped several times using the latest in publishing technology, and a web version of the paper was also initiated.
Annual revenues during the 1987-2001 period soared as result of these various strategies and investments, which, in turn, were boosted by both the robust revival of the Irish community in the U.S. and the unprecedented economic development of Ireland itself.
Today, the Echo retains its position as the largest-selling Irish American newspaper, and though the paper’s primary market is in the Greater New York and Boston areas, it covers Irish-American news throughout the country and holds the distinction of not just being read each week in all 50 states, but also beyond them by means of the worldwide web.