December 5, 2011
by Ed Forry
In 1990, when first we began to publish this newspaper, the plan was to tell “the stories of Boston’s Irish.” We noted then that there were scores of stories about the culture of Boston’s broad and diverse Irish culture that were going untold in the general media, and since we were born and raised in that milieu, it was an area that called out for coverage.
At the same time, we had not been keeping up with information about Ireland, the land of our ancestors, so we began a search for reliable news and information from and about the Emerald Isle.
It led in early 1994 to a home in Menlo in Galway city, where a former Digital Equipment Corporation employee, Liam Ferrie, and his wife, Pauline, were producing a weekly newsletter and sending it out over “the electronic superhighway.” It was the early days of the Internet, and the Ferries were truly trailblazers, pioneering the way to communicate by computer around the world.
Their product – the Irish Emigrant – was revolutionary: A weekly letter from home, it brought news of births, deaths, politics, traffic accidents, sports scores, and business matters to Irish people around the world. That year the BIR made arrangements to publish some of those reports in our pages, and Liam Ferrie’s newsletter from Ireland instantly became one of our most popular features.
Last month, the impact of the Irish Emigrant was recognized by the National University of Ireland Galway, as Liam was awarded an honorary Master of Commerce degree. “We are proud to honour Liam Ferrie for his contribution to the Irish diaspora,” said NUI Galway President Dr Jim Browne. “He has fostered a sense of community among the global Irish diaspora and by delivering news from Ireland through his weekly online publication, the ‘Irish Emigrant’ newsletter.” This was a crowning achievement for the Ferries, and one for which they rightfully should feel great pride.
But now, regrettably, they have decided to retire, and it’s likely the Irish Emigrant publications may not continue without them.
“February 8 next will mark the 25th anniversary of the Irish Emigrant and will also mark the day on which Pauline and I step back from full-time involvement in the publication,” Liam Ferrie wrote last month. “It could be said that e-mail was in its infancy in 1987 when the first edition was mailed to about 15 colleagues at Digital locations in North America and Europe. I, however, was not in the first flush of youth at the time, which means that these days I qualify for the free travel pass available to all in Ireland when they reach a certain age.
“It is therefore time to take things a little easier and not be bound by deadlines which keep me up until 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on a weekly basis.”
For her part, Pauline Ferrie developed a highly popular feature called “32 Counties,” where she culled news from county publications all across the island. That feature came to an end in September. “After some seventeen years of compiling weekly stories from the 32 counties of Ireland, retirement beckons, and this will be my final edition,” she wrote then. “It has been an interesting venture searching for good news stories, and stories that do not make headlines for the national papers; it has also left me with a rare familiarity with the names and locations of towns and villages all over the country.
“I hope the Around the 32 Counties feature has helped to bring readers a little closer to home over the years.”
Maybe an investor will step in and purchase the business the couple has so lovingly built over the last quarter of a century, but so far no likely buyer has emerged.
Says Liam: “I would like to think that the Irish Emigrant will continue, and retain its claim to be the world’s longest established e-mail publication. I have no idea how that might be achieved, and so I am open to suggestions.”