Marking 50 years is always an important milestone, but marking 50 years of the Leitrim Guardian is something which touches the heart of all that we hold dear.
Founded in 1968 by Michael Fox, the annual has played many roles: as a pathway for emerging writers; a vital record of the changing lives of the people of Leitrim and an important historical document in its own right.
Last Friday evening, nearly 300 people gathered at The Bush Hotel to mark the 50th edition of the annual magazine.
Many of the past winners of the Leitrim Guardian Person of the Year also returned for this special celebration and for those who were unable to attend, family and friends came to stand in their stead. That in itself showed how important a publication the Leitrim Guardian has come to be for those living in the county and abroad.
While there was no Leitrim Guardian Person of the Year selected for 2018, the publication is dedicated to those who have helped to create the Guardian, to the founders and the committee who have worked on it and to those who have been honoured with the Person of the Year Award in the past.
Editor, Dr. Bláithín Gallagher said it was “some achievement to be here” launching the 50th edition of the annual.
Paying tribute to outgoing Person of the Year, Hubert McHugh as a “great example to others,” she also paid her respects to the late Michael Fox, who founded the Leitrim Guardian in 1968.
“Michael Fox hoped to bolster confidence and inspire optimism,” she said, with the publication.
“He so believed in our county that he funded the first six years of the publication from his pocket, through a loan,” she said.
“The Leitrim of today reflects his ambitions for the county,” she observed, noting we owe a “great debt of gratitude” to him and others.
She paid particular tribute to Tony Fahy, Carrigallen, other members of the Leitrim Guardian Committee and past editors, her own family, Turners Printers and all those who contributed to the latest Guardian and over the last 50 years.
Officially launching the 50th edition of the annual, broadcaster and author, Vincent Woods, noted the vast differences between the world, indeed the Co Leitrim of 1968 - when the Guardian first appeared - and today.
Man had yet to walk on the Moon. Ireland was still pre-decimal currency and the country was still five years from joining the EEC.
“It was a different Leitrim, too. Much poorer – small farms, big families, women unfree within the Republic of the Family as John McGahern described it,” he observed.
“I thought the way of life I grew up with and amongst would last forever.
“Out of this world of 1968 emerged The Leitrim Guardian – a journal with a strong sense of local pride and identity, determined to assert the importance of the local and seemingly ‘small’ in addition to and equal to the national, the international.”
Still a young child when the Leitrim Guardian first appeared, Vincent, regardless, recalled the strong sense of pride he felt with the publication, of connection and he credits the publication with helping to shape him “as a writer and a person.”
In 1984, Vincent won the Leitrim Guardian MJ McManus Literary Award noting: “Back then I was just glad of a forum in which to publish poems – and later prose – and honoured and mildly embarrassed to get some recognition for the inadequate words I put together.
“I can honestly say that without The Leitrim Guardian, the presence and work of John McGahern and early poems published in The Leitrim Observer and a handful of supportive, visionary teachers like Stephanie Gibbons, I might never have had the courage to follow my heart into the world of writing.”
However he admitted when receiving his award he had given a speech “full of the certainty and righteousness of youth” in which he raised the question “what was The Leitrim Guardian guarding?”
He said he was still asking questions: “50 years on, what does The Leitrim Guardian represent, speak of and speak to? How do we ensure its survival? Is it even necessary that it survives? Is it relevant to the young? Does it reflect changing life in all its variations?
“Well, this year’s 50th anniversary issue of the magazine answers many of the questions I have raised… and I want to pay tribute to this year’s editor, Bláithín Gallagher and all those who have worked so hard to bring the Guardian out year after year and who have been so unstinting in their work.
“The Leitrim Guardian has shown what can be done with vision, work, love of place and determination to make that place live and grow. The Guardian deserves to sustain, survive and grow.
“I salute everyone involved in its making and look forward to what the future holds, and deem it an honour to officially launch this 50th edition of The Leitrim Guardian,” he said in conclusion.
I’m honoured that the ‘Leitrim Guardian’ has given me the 2018 ‘Literary Award’ for Poetry.‘Kilty Relics’ was written in memory of my Dad & his yarns. Thanks also for publishing two of my other poems & a short story. May you showcase #Leitrim for another 50 years.#LeitrimGuardian pic.twitter.com/oWowgbvz4H— trish bennett (@baabennett) November 12, 2017
Great to be at the 50th Anniversary launch of the Leitrim Guardian last night in the Bush Hotel with some local music and comedy entertainment! Fantastic magazine celebrating all that is good about #Leitrim pic.twitter.com/ZBpoLNSUoM— Colin Griffin (@colingriffin) November 11, 2017
Congratulations to the Leitrim Guardian Committee on the launch of the 50th Edition of Ireland's longest running County Magazine...a fantastic achievement by a hard working committee. 200 Pages of pure class ...— Leitrim GAA (@LeitrimGAA) November 10, 2017