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First published on July 4, 1898, a date chosen to reflect resolute patriotism and devotion to community interests, Louisville’s Kentucky Irish American was one of the nation’s most durable ethnic newspapers and at its close one of three Irish-American newspapers in the United States. Later renowned for its satirical examination of politics, sports, and popular culture, the weekly that the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith ranked just above bread and slightly below whiskey as a necessity in his home attracted politicians, intellectuals, and plain folk across Kentucky and the nation.

Founded by William M. Higgins (1852-1925), a typesetter who had moved to Louisville from Syracuse, New York, the Kentucky Irish American was initially devoted to the defense and advancement of the community it served. During its earliest decades it opposed any organization or interest understood to be anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, or anti-Democratic, including Great Britain, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Republican Party. It was pointedly critical of what it perceived as the pro-British sentiment of Henry Watterson’s Louisville Courier-Journal during the years preceding American intervention in World War I, and it frequently responded to anti-Catholic sentiments in Louisville’s two Baptist newspapers, the Western Recorder and The Baptist World. A casual racism, exercised in descriptions of African Americans, was also evident in the Kentucky Irish American’s earliest years and was often tied to the paper’s partisan opposition to the Republican Party. This changed in the 1950s and 1960s as the paper strenuously supported civil rights. Circulation never increased to more than several thousand, but the paper could count among its subscribers the likes of Harry Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.

Shortly after the newspaper’s creation, John J. Barry (1877-1950) became a financial partner with Higgins. Barry, a native of Louisville’s Irish-American neighborhood of Limerick, inherited the paper in 1925 after Higgins died at its offices. In turn, John J. Barry’s son, John Michael Barry (1909-92), would become the newspaper’s editor after his father’s death. Mike Barry had written for the paper since the early 1930s, but under his editorial leadership the small, family paper entered its golden age, reinvented as a pointedly independent and broadly Democratic weekly. Self-described as the “World’s Greatest Handicapper,” Mike Barry passionately addressed not only horse racing and other sports, but also politics and the perplexing nature of modern life. Barry’s writing was incisive and mordantly funny. No politician or public figure was spared, but Mike Barry’s most beloved target was Albert B. Chandler, Kentucky’s Democratic governor, senator, and commissioner of baseball. Barry famously observed that “Any time Chandler is referred to…as ‘Kentucky’s favorite son,’ it should be made unmistakably clear that sentence is incomplete.”

Without flourish, the Kentucky Irish American published its last issue on November 30, 1968, and with it passed a paper once described as “all the excuse any man needs for learning to read.”

Provided by: University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY