“You might be interested in this.” Long before Browsers, Bookmarks, Favourites, spam links which said “You really should watch this” (and then sent an email to everyone in your address book of a scantily clad female), Digg or Reddit, there was The Cutting.
These pieces of newspaper – photocopied or original - with the accompanying handwritten note at the top, are rarer now. That’s a pity. It’s a gratifying moment when you get a letter that effectively says “I saw this and I thought of you”. Although that jarred somewhat with the headline on one clipping we received years ago in Dripsey: “Hanged For Poisoning His Wife”. Thankfully the sender was referring to the 19th century Doctor Cross of Shandy Hall, not to any simmering tension he’d noticed in our house.
While these types of general interest cuttings are common, for Irish families, the greatest proportion of cuttings which criss-crossed the country, the Irish Sea, Atlantic and the World were about the family. In these envelopes that were a little bit too fat to just contain a letter and unlikely to contain money, newspaper snippets of the Children Doing Well were included as supporting documentation.
“We had a lovely day at Kate’s graduation.The weather stayed fine T.G. I’m enclosing a cutting from The [Insert name of Local Paper]. The boy on the right is a son of one of the Dooleys from [insert name of village familiar to sender and recipient] would you believe? Isn’t that a good one”
Though a good news story, graduations can be an invidious clipping to send, particularly if they arrive at the door of a family who for one reason or another have not had graduations or any interest in them. One friend confided in me that as a family they could not say the word Graduation without swearing. For example “There’s another letter from Auntie Noirin with more clippings of EFFING Graduations.”
The third, less contentious, category of cutting were the ones that the family accumulated themselves. Often the whole page or entire newspaper might be kept so it wasn’t clear which bit was significant. You could stare at it for a while like one of those Magic Eye books hoping that the real reason will jump out at you, thinking “We must have kept it for something”, I worry that if hardboiled TV cops search my parents’ house they would get the wrong idea. “Look at this, Chief, it’s a load of partial clippings of bullock prices from Macroom Mart. What kind of sicko does this?” Obviously Detective Alonzorelli would be unaware that on the other sides of the papers were ‘Mentions’ of their children’s minor triumphs: Coming second in a Table Quiz organised by the Pioneers, ‘unused sub’ for Inniscarra in a defeat for the Under-16s at Cloughduv, ‘also in the chorus’ at a Macra variety Do.
Long before the Internet, humans rarely saw their name printed in any public arena apart from when they died – which was obviously too late - so getting a Mention in the paper was a big deal. It didn’t matter how brief the Mention was. It could just be of the “also in attendance were…” variety. Although it was preferable if you did something more noteworthy and warranted a longer piece.
Most people would not be so ‘a-Mention-seeking’ as to get their name in print on purpose. But it could be a means to an end.
On a recent trip home I stumbled across two old Irish Catholics (the newspaper, not my parents). Again it took some time to figure out why they had been retained. Was it the headline Father Foley Celebrates Golden Jubilee in Vietnam or the advertisement asking the reader to “Sponsor a Salesian”? I was distracted then by an article pondering the moral questions on the Maastricht Treaty. Remember the innocent days of the Maastricht Treaty? This was a time when voting on a European Union Referendum was like voting Yes to the question “Would you like us to love you a bit more?”. Voters in coastal counties could actually see boatloads of cash anchored offshore as they went to the polling stations.
Then I turned to Kevin’s Corner, the Irish Catholic’s children’s page. Pride of place in the centre of Kevin’s Corner in both editions was the Star Letter which won £5 for a certain Colm O’Regan of Dripsey Co. Cork. I remember it well. The Catholic Church’s decline in Ireland was visible to me long before the chattering classes copped on to it. The quality of children’s £5 Star Letters was so poor, it was clear the younger generation were deserting in their droves. I spotted my opportunity to clean up. My first letter wasn’t arguing a complex theological point about the Nicene Creed. It was just a poem about Summer. Then I followed up a few months later with one about the Autumn. My success sparked a flurry of letter-writing to select publications with Children’s pages where I thought I might make some cash. But apart from a ‘fun-pack’ from the Ireland’s Own, I won nothing more.
I hope there is still a place in the post and the cupboard for the cutting, although it is under threat. We say “Oh sure, I’ll see it online”. If a tangible copy is required it is printed out on a sterile, insignificant printer - not the magnificence of a newspaper printing room. And it is on dismal bland-white A4, not on the evocative soft off-white newsprint .
So if you know someone who likes to send and receive cuttings why not clip this article out and put it in the post for them. You could say they got a Mention.