By Niamh Lynch

Staff at The Irish Emigrant E-Newsletter. Back row: Liam Ferrie, Pauline Ferrie, Denis O’Brien. Front: Nualann O’Brien (no relation), Miriam Arthur, Donal Ferrie, Deirdre McFadden, Noreen Bowden.
Like many people of my background, I am partial to citing astounding feats of Irish accomplishment. I collect these facts and unleash them on those I suspect of having insufficient appreciation for Ireland’s contribution to mankind. Who do we have to thank for Halloween? The Irish! The Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry? Irish! Highest per capita consumption of breakfast cereal in the world? Ireland! Well, there is one more piece of interesting Irish trivia to add to the list. The oldest and longest-running email newsletter in the world is The Irish Emigrant, sent out each week for the past 25 years by Galway couple Liam and Pauline Ferrie.

First published in 1987 and emailed out to fifteen people, the Emigrant now goes out to over 20,000 subscribers in over 160 countries. Very few people even had an email address in 1987, but Liam worked at Digital Equipment Corporation at the time and he thought the new technology offered a good way to keep overseas Irish colleagues up-to-date with what was happening back at home.

Each week he and Pauline would aggregate news and sports stories from around the island and send them out to Ireland’s far-flung Diaspora. It would be years before Irish emigrants could read major Irish newspapers online, text a good night to their family, or tune into RTE radio, and it would be decades before they could peer into their parents’ living room via Skype. The arrival each Monday of the Irish Emigrant email marked many people’s only regular connection to home and they devoured every nugget of news it provided.

By the mid-‘90s the project was large enough both to require Liam and Pauline’s full-time effort and to survive the arrival of many more online sources of Irish news. The newsletter even spawned highly successful hard copy partner publications in Boston and New York. There were still very few places where Irish emigrants could get local news, and the paper’s highly popular “32 Counties” section featured excerpted stories from most of the county and regional papers.

The newsletter encouraged a much more tangible sense of community among the global Irish but more than that, it empowered people in a way that those of us who are emigrants can especially appreciate. Now when we returned home for a break or for Christmas, we could make references to earlier news stories, developments in politics, and sporting events as though we had never left. We could be full participants in family debates around the dinner table, banter down in the pub, and in public discourse in general. We could demonstrate that we weren’t “out of it” and that we were still invested in Ireland.The Ferries are due to retire this month after a quarter of a century of keeping us included and informed.

“Liam and Pauline have made an invaluable contribution to the happiness and well-being of the Irish Diaspora in ways that are particularly evident to those of us who work with Irish immigrants on a daily basis,” said Sister Lena Deevy LSA, Executive Director of the Irish International Immigrant Center here in Boston.

“On behalf of all us at the Center I want to thank them for their friendship and support over the years and especially for all that they have done to ease the isolation and loneliness of Irish immigrants in Boston and elsewhere. While they will be missed, we are delighted to learn that The Irish Emigrant newspaper will continue under the excellent leadership of Connell and Siobhan Gallagher.”

According to the Central Statistics Office, 40,200 Irish nationals left Ireland for overseas in the year April 2010 to April 2011. The numbers for this year are likely to be even higher. Whether they go to Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, or the United States, most of them will have internet access and will instinctively reach out for news from home. When they do so, they should take a minute to give thanks for the trail-blazing work done by Liam and Pauline Ferrie, two individuals who kept the light on for all of us for twenty-five years.

Congratulations on your retirement Liam and Pauline, and best wishes from all of us for a bright and happy future.

* Statistic on Irish dominance in cereal consumption is taken from Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal, by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford.