The Founder of The Irish Times: Maj. Lawrence Edward Knox (1836-1873)

“There are seventy million Irish, and only one Irish newspaper,” is the somewhat hyperbolic tagline of The Irish Times.   Although the paper has a significantly smaller circulation than its main rival, The Irish Independent, the historically controversial Irish Times is commonly considered to be Ireland’s paper of record.

Lawrence Edward Knox was only twenty-two years old when he founded The Irish Times in 1859.  He named the paper after both The Times of London and the successful, but short-lived, Irish Times that had existed from1823 to 1825.  The paper was originally established as a moderately liberal Protestant paper, but when it changed ownership after Knox’s death less than two decades later, the paper became the voice of Irish Unionism.

Knox, who was born in 1836 at Kemp Town, Brighton, England was the eldest of the five children of Arthur Edward Knox and Jane Parsons.  Arthur Knox was a Life Guards (an elite all-officer regiment of the British Army) officer from Castlerea, Co Roscommon, Ireland. Jane Parsons was the daughter of the famous Irish astronomer Lawrence Parsons, the 2nd Earl of Rosse. 

Lawrence Knox began a life in the military at the age of sixteen, when he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.  Two years later, at the start of the Crimean War, he became an ensign in the 63rd Regiment of Foot and was made a lieutenant shortly thereafter.   Eventually he became captain of the 11th Regiment, but left the army less than half a year later at the age of twenty.

After leaving military life, the young Lawrence Knox founded the newspaper that would become known as The Irish Times.  It was a time of prosperity in the newspaper industry, and The Irish Times was an immediate success. It was originally published only three days a week, but in less than four months it became a daily.   Its moderate and balanced coverage of the major issues of the day set it apart from competing papers, and it was a major factor in The Times’s success.

The paper’s readership, revenues and reputation continued to grow for the greater part of the next decade, and it became the nation’s largest paper.  Knox, who retained control of the paper, returned to military life, becoming a major in the 2nd Royal Tower Hamlets Militia.  He also served as a Justice of the Peace for County Dublin, and then was elected Tory MP for Sligo borough, only to be unseated by petition.  He was known as a sportsman, and held the position of Commodore of the Irish Model Yacht Club, a club for racing small boats of 18 feet in length.

Knox was cut down by scarlet fever in the prime of his life, and died in 1873 at the age of thirty-six.  After his death the paper he founded was sold to the widow of former MP Sir John Arnott.  The headquarters of the paper was moved and its politics became staunchly Unionist.  The paper retained its Unionist bent for decades, and critics of The Irish Times still refer to the fact that the paper, along with The Irish Independent and several regional newspaper, called for the execution of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising insurrection by Irish republicans.

In the 1930s the editors of The Irish Times angered the Catholic Church because the paper strongly opposed General Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.  During World War II, the Irish DeValera government often censored the paper when it criticized the government’s position of neutrality.  Perhaps the most controversial episode in the paper’s history occurred during The Troubles in the late 1960s, when the paper’s chairman, a former British Army officer, called its longest running editor, Douglas Gageby, a “white nigger” for not taking a harder line against the republican cause.

In recent years the paper has suffered from the industry-wide reduction in newspaper readership and now has a daily audience of slightly over 100,000 readers.  In an attempt to adapt to this shrinking market, The Irish Times has acquired local newspaper groups and, in 1994, became the first newspaper in Ireland or Britain to establish a presence on the Internet.  The paper’s management has also expressed its intention to launch a mobile phone application version of the paper in the near future.  The paper’s ownership of the website address,, is symbolic of its continuing role as the nation’s news authority.

Adam Lowe Martin (son of) – Allen Lowe Martin – Margaret Persse (daughter of) – Edwin T. Persse (son of) – Dudley Persse – Theophilus Persse – Henry Stratford Persse (1769 -26 Oct 1833) - William Persse  (1730 – 1803)– Elizabeth Parsons (1710 – 1768)  (daughter of)  – William Parsons, Esq. (1685 – 1740) (son of)  – Sir William Parsons, 2nd Baronet  (1661 – 1740) (father of) – Sir Lawrence Parsons, 3rd Baronet (1707-1756) - Sir William Parsons, 4th Baronet (6 May 1731 – 1 May 1791) - Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse (21 May 1758 – 24 Feb 1841) - Jane Parsons (d. 31 Dec 1883) (mother of) – Maj. Lawrence Edward Knox (1836 – 1873)