The NZ Tablet was a Catholic periodical that was published weekly in Dunedin from 1873 to 1996. It was set up to represent the interests of Irish Catholics throughout the nation. The Tablet was, particularly in its first fifty years or so, one of the most significant religious and political journals published in New Zealand.
The Tablet was founded by Patrick Moran, the first Catholic bishop of Dunedin. Moran was an articulate but vitriolic polemicist on behalf of Irish Catholics. His outspoken criticism of the government – over the secularisation of education, which he saw as part of an international conspiracy against the Church, and the failure to fund Catholic schools –attracted national attention but alienated many, including the majority of the press. The Tablet was established to provide him with an alternative means to express his views; Moran often edited the paper and was a regular contributor to it.
Moran was a staunch supporter of Irish nationalism and he ensured that the Tablet gave this cause much coverage. In fact there are indications that he sometimes regarded Irish issues as more important than Catholic ones; in the 1880s he criticised the Vatican for not supporting Irish nationalism as strongly as he thought they should.
While Moran had many commendable qualities, his views and the vehemence with which he expressed them were divisive and served to separate Catholics from the wider community.
After Moran’s death in 1895, the Tablet pursued a more moderate line with Henry Cleary as the editor. Cleary, who was in charge from 1898 to 1908, favoured a much more conciliatory approach and he distanced the magazine from the cause of Irish nationalism. In 1918, ten years after leaving the Tablet, Cleary founded the Month, a moderate Catholic journal, to oppose the Tablet, which under James Kelly had returned to the strident approach of Moran.
Kelly became the editor of the Tablet in 1917. He was probably even more outspoken on Irish issues than Moran. Kelly was a supporter of Sinn Fein and used the Tablet to promote their cause. His support for Irish nationalism and the anti-English comments he made in the Tablet during the war offended many New Zealanders. These were a factor in the rise of the Howard Elliott and the Protestant Political Association, a sectarian organisation that enjoyed widespread support throughout NZ during the war and through the 1920s. Kelly’s style became more bitter and fractious as the years went by and he was forced to resign as editor in 1931.
The Tablet continued to be a prominent and often outspoken advocate for Catholic and Irish issues after Kelly but it did this in less strident and provocative ways. The Tablet remained an influential periodical, particularly under the editorship of John Kennedy, editor from 1967 to 1989. He was well known as a political commentator and some believe his support for the Labour party in 1972, expressed through the Tablet, was important in their election as the government that year.
The Tablet wound up in April 1996.
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