Hastings, William (c.1844–1926), journalist and land agitator, was born into a protestant family in the mid-nineteenth century; nothing is known of his early life. He later claimed to have founded a journal to advocate land reform in the early 1870s, but no sign of it has survived. In 1879 he addressed several early Land League rallies in Mayo, including the meeting at Irishtown, which is traditionally regarded as the starting-point of the ‘land war’. He also occasionally claimed to have had links with the Fenian splinter group known as the Invincibles (founded in 1881). He was involved in several local newspapers, with stormy results; he was imprisoned at least once for criminal libel, and on one occasion a cart from which he was selling his publications was thrown into the Liffey by an angry mob.
His later career centred on the Western News of Ballinasloe, which he acquired in 1893. His relations with the local catholic clergy were stormy; at one point he successfully ran a slate of his own against the clerical nominees for Ballinasloe rural district council. This was unusual: at most times Hastings was isolated on the council. (His claims to be a labour advocate were weakened by the notoriously bad conditions to which he subjected the employees in his printing works.) At the turn of the century Hastings associated himself with the land campaign of the United Irish League (UIL); Western News editorials regularly denounced landlords and graziers, while the paper published intimidatory resolutions from local UIL branches. In 1902 Hastings was prosecuted for advocating the boycotting of graziers.
After the passing of the Wyndham land act (1903), Hastings associated himself with the dissident nationalist faction led by William O'Brien (qv) and T. M. Healy (qv). He argued that once the land question had been resolved Ireland should associate itself unreservedly with the empire. (The neighbouring ultra-unionist polemicist Lord Ashtown (qv) alternately praised Hastings's displays of loyalty and denounced his support for land agitation.) In 1910 Hastings was sued for criminal libel after mounting a sustained newspaper campaign against the local workhouse master, whom he accused of having a child by an inmate and attempting to seduce Hastings's daughter-in-law (a workhouse nurse, who testified in support of the allegations). The court sentenced Hastings to imprisonment, declaring that the Western News was ‘fed on libel’ and unfit to exist; it transpired, however, that Hastings had secured the business from seizure by placing it in trust for one of his daughters (who approved his actions).
In line with his general views, Hastings supported the British war effort during the first world war. He was an outspoken supporter of the treaty; during the civil war he appealed for financial contributions to enable his paper to continue its advocacy of the Free State cause. Hastings suggested that Éamon de Valera (qv) and Erskine Childers (qv) should be shot on sight, deported as undesirable aliens, or exhibited in Dublin zoo. The Western News ceased publication in 1923 and Hastings died on 5 March 1926, aged 81. Hastings is a striking but not unique example of a maverick, attention-seeking personality, attracted to the verbally vitriolic protest politics of late Victorian Ireland and operating within the expanding local newspaper industry of that period. He is notable for his protestant background and his unusual combination of extreme agrarian radicalism with ultra-tepid nationalism.