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Alberta's Irish Legends: J. Patrick O’Callaghan (1925-1996) b. Mallow, Co. Cork

Updated: Oct 12, 2023



J. Patrick O’Callaghan (1925-1996)

b. Mallow, Co. Cork d. Toronto

Occupation: Journalist, Publisher, Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald


When he moved to Canada to become managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate, J. Patrick O’Callaghan joined a 200-year-old tradition of newspapers founded or run by Irish Canadians, including the Regina Leader (Nicholas Flood Davin), The New Era (Thomas D’Arcy McGee), and the Irish Vindicator and Canada General Advertiser (Daniel Tracey). Patrick O’Callaghan might have enjoyed knowing about another O’Callaghan from Mallow, Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, who in 1833 succeeded Tracey as editor of the Montreal Vindicator. Dropping “Irish” from its title in 1829, The Vindicator became a strong advocate of its local Quebec community and a scourge of economic elites controlled by a distant English government. As its first editorial noted, “no man knows better the value of a just government than an Irishman.” As journalist and then publisher, the twentieth-century O’Callaghan shared his Irish-Canadian forerunners’ belief that an independent press was a civic and democratic necessity.


O’Callaghan’s newspaper career began early: his family moved to England while he was a child, and when he left school at sixteen, he became a junior reporter for Worcestershire’s Malvern Gazette. After a brief stint in the RAF during World War II, he worked at various local newspapers in northern England, including the Liverpool Daily Post, whose owners wished to expand internationally. O’Callaghan’s initial response was to ask, “Where’s Alberta”? when they invited him to become editor of their newly-acquired Red Deer Advocate. But he accepted, moving to Canada in 1959. He began working for Southam News in 1969 before becoming publisher of the Windsor Star in 1972. He returned to Alberta in 1976, becoming publisher of two of the province’s major newspapers: The Edmonton Journal and then the Calgary Herald in 1982.


As a publisher in Alberta, O’Callaghan made his mark on both papers: writer Brian Brennan recalls him remaking “the Journal into an extension of his professional Irish persona, colouring the masthead shamrock green, promoting the paper on green-painted billboards, and selling it from green street boxes.” Under his leadership, the Herald switched to morning delivery and published 7 days a week. He also gave the staid black and white publication a modern look, adding a coloured masthead as well as colour illustrations and photographs.


More significantly, O’Callaghan followed his Irish-Canadian journalistic predecessors in speaking up for the interests of local citizens rather than those of distant governments or corporations. When the Alberta Conservatives, under Peter Lougheed, swept to power with 74 out of 79 seats in the Legislature, O’Callaghan’s papers functioned as an unofficial opposition, questioning and challenging the government. While often irritating the powerful, he was loved by the people he worked with. Writer and editor Catherine Ford described him as having “the heart and soul of an Irishman who was always up for a fight, whether it be with a premier, a prime minister, or his God,” but who remembered the name of every cafeteria and maintenance worker at the Herald.


After leaving the Calgary Herald in 1988, O’Callaghan remained committed to the importance of impartial journalism through his work as a visiting professor of journalism at Ryerson University. He also represented Canadian journalists at the International Free Press Institute and was vice-chairman of the American Press Institute. He died in Toronto and is buried in his native Mallow.


Further Reading

Brennan, Brian. “J. Patrick O’Callaghan: Maverick Publisher.” http://www.brianbrennan.ca/blog/2013/06/10/j-patrick-o-callaghan-maverick-publisher/


Ford, Catherine. “Edmonton Publisher Patrick O’Callaghan’s Words Live on in Memoir.” Calgary Herald, 26 November 2015.


"J. Patrick O'Callaghan Former Southam Publisher Defended Freedom of Speech." The Globe and Mail, 2 August, 1996.


Holmgren, Michele. Canada to Ireland: Poetry, Politics, and the Shaping of Canadian Nationalism 1788-1900. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021.


O’Callaghan, J. Patrick., Maverick Publisher: J. Patrick O’Callaghan A Life in Newspapers. Ed Piwowarczyk, ed., Carrick Publishing, 2015.

 

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