Personalities who shaped the Early Years – Mr. W.D. Peebles Proprietor and Editor, Sligo Independent
Mr. W.D. Peebles was an enduring member of Sligo Chamber of Commerce for over twenty years from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s. Proprietor and Editor of the Sligo Independent Newspaper, more formally known as “The Sligo Independent and Western Telegraph”, he also had other business interests as a newsagent, stationer, toys, and fancy goods provider, all of which including the newspaper he operated from his premises at 4 Grattan Street, Sligo.
From Cookstown in Co. Tyrone, he began his career in journalism at the “Mid-Ulster Mail”. It was there as a young journalist he reported on the Home Rule controversy, writing about Sir Edward Carson, head of the Unionist Movement and John Redmond, the Nationalist leader. He dated his interest in history and politics back to the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 where he could recall from memory the actions of the South African leaders Kruger, de Wet and Cronjé and their British counterparts Generals Buller, Roberts and White.
Leaving Cookstown, he came to Sligo in 1915 to work at the Sligo Independent which at that time was the principal rival publication to the Sligo Champion. It was owned by Mr. A. Gilmore, a former Lord Mayor of Sligo and his sister, Miss Gilmore, and it was from the Gilmores that W.D. Peebles would acquire the paper in 1921. The Sligo Independent remained in publication under his stewardship as Proprietor and Editor until 1962 when economic circumstances forced its closure.
Not one of the original founder members of the Chamber, the Minutes of the Meeting of the 22nd of January 1925 record that it was:
“Moved by: Mr. A.H. Henderson
Seconded by: R.S. Gorman and Resolved: –
That Mr. W.D. Peebles be and is hereby elected a member of this Chamber
He remained actively involved in Chamber activities for over twenty years until 1946, the Minutes of the Meeting of the 27th of May record his being proposed as a member of the Industrial Development Committee, an initiative taken by the Chamber “with a view to securing the establishment of an industry or industries in Sligo”. Interested in attracting tourists to Sligo, he was a member of a committee that drew up plans for lavatory shelters and seats at Rosses Point to put forward in 1940 for grant aid from the then newly-established Irish Tourist Board. He was appointed to the “Dinner Committee” to make the arrangements for the first Annual Chamber Dinner which was held in the Grand Hotel on the 26th of February 1946 with 62 Members and Guests present.
But it was as a journalist that W.D. Peebles excelled. A standout article and evidence of his bravery as a young editor was his reporting on the visit of Arthur Griffith to Sligo on Easter Sunday the 16th of April 1922. The Post Office, Town Hall and other buildings including the Sligo Independent offices were seized and fortified by republican forces and an attack on Mr Griffiths was expected. In the face of adversity, W.D Peebles got his news article published, and as the following extract from the Sligo Independent reveals, his was a very descriptive style of writing that brought life to the narrative of the report.
“The right of free speech was vindicated at Sligo on Easter Sunday. Henceforth “Remember Sligo!” will be a phrase to point a useful and salutary warning to any misguided caucus of Irishmen who may contemplate the setting up of mediaeval forms of tyranny, in their own country. Not only that “Remember Sligo!” will prove a veritable “slogan” to rally the forces of freedom against threatened military despotism from whatever quarter it arises. The gauntlet was thrown down challenging the right of the people to the free hearing of free speech on as vitally important an issue as ever faced a nation, and the gauntlet was taken up and flung back again. Mr Arthur Griffith and Generals McKeon and O’Connell, with their dauntless guard of picked men—soldiers of Erin’s new Army—accepted the challenge to the complete discomfiture of the challengers. To say the inevitable thing, Caesar’s dictum “veni, vidi, vici ” would come with real appropriateness from the lips of the President of Dail Eireann in this connection at this very moment. Sligo people will not soon forget, nor forgive perhaps, the hours of tension foreboding through which they passed; nor the wholesale commandeering of their houses and property to which they were subjected for no earthly good but the carrying out of a crack-brained escapade inspired by a few turbulent irresponsible. The calm, deliberate, and prompt action of the Free State delegation on their arrival restored public confidence and won unbounded admiration besides. The lead has now been given by a handful of brave Irishmen in the midst of overwhelming odds, who with unflinching courage and consummate skill, snatched victory from the very jaws of defeat to save the soul of Ireland from the shackles of a new Prussianism”.
His own life was not without personal tragedy while still a relatively young man, as the Minutes of the Chamber Meeting of the 8th of April, 1929 records:
“On the proposition of F. Nally
Seconded by: A.H. Henderson
A similar resolution of sympathy was directed to be sent to Mr. William Peebles, Proprietor of the ‘Sligo Independent’ on the great calamity that had befallen him on the death of his Wife.
The President, H.C. Lyons and J. Gilbride associated themselves with both resolutions”.
Lilian Mary Peebles was only 34 years of age. The other resolution was the death of Mr. James Flynn, Editor of the rival newspaper the Sligo Champion. A widower for the rest of his life, he raised four young children, daughters Irene, Beryl and Valerie and a son, Ivan W. Peebles. Irene and Ivan also worked in the Sligo Independent, Ivan going on to be chief sub-editor of The Belfast Telegraph and who made trade union history in 1974 by becoming the first Irish-born journalist to be elected President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the members of which came from throughout Ireland and Britain. W.D. Peebles did not aspire to the role of President, and served under three Chamber Presidents, Harper Campbell Perry, Dudley M. Hanley and Frank Nally. Nonetheless, he was a very active Chamber member, involved in various committees, and was highly regarded by his peers who nominated him to be a representative of the Chamber in the East Ward in the Sligo Municipal Elections in August 1942. Committed to the community of Sligo, he took pride in the fact that under his editorial stewardship, the Sligo Independent never missed an edition for its readers from 1921 to 1962.
W.D. (Billy) Peebles, Sligo Chamber Member, journalist, dedicated to the people of Sligo, and family man retired in 1973 when the shop closed and moved to Belfast where he spent his final years at the home of his son, Ivan.
# Sligo Chamber Centenary