Archive for November, 2009

On first looking into Bertie’s autobiography

30 November 2009

Contributed by Myles Dungan

The late Enoch Powell wasn’t right about much but he was unerringly accurate when he pointed out that ‘all political lives end in failure’ – including his own.

Take the case, for example, of a man who led the Irish people, unchallenged by anything other than a barely audible dissenting murmur for just over a decade.  He took his party to three consecutive electoral victories and was that political rarity, a sea green indispensable.

Often a stumbling and unconvincing public speaker, despite his undisputed political authority, when his name became associated with a potentially career ending scandal he promised his party and his people that his reputation would be vindicated once he finally had his day in court. He got a massive ‘dig out’ from citizens who were concerned at the state of his finances. He was accused of pocketing funds and turning them to his own use. And when he signally failed to justify his actions before a tribunal, the people who had lionised him for a decade, at first, didn’t seem unduly perturbed. It was only when his political allies turned on him spectacularly that he was finally jettisoned.

Familiar? Undoubtedly.  While the details outlined may resonate with the biography of one of our more recent chieftains the politician in question here is the Wicklow patrician, Charles Stewart Parnell rather than the Northside populist. Read More

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The history week ahead, tv and radio guide up, 21 November to 28 November

28 November 2009

The new guide is up for this week, see the tv and radio guide page here.  As usual, feel free to add things I’ve missed to the page by using the comment box at the bottom.

Review of Clifford D. Conner’s Arthur O’Connor

27 November 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Clifford D. Conner promises a full and exacting review of the life and career of the United Irishman with the title Arthur O’Connor: The most important Irish revolutionary you may never have heard of. As one of the highest ranking members of the United Irishmen Conner argues that Arthur O’Connor suffers from neglect, with just one other biography of O’Connor. This he claims is because unlike Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Theobald Wolfe Tone he survived 1798 and had a long life. Unlike Tone or Robert Emmett, O’Connor was not executed by the government in the afternmath of the 1798 rebellion, was never hailed as a romantic figure and so he has been sidelined by history. Unfortunately many of the significant republicans and politicians of this era are without a full modern biography. Thomas Addis Emmet and James Napper Tandy, both prominent figures in the republican movement, have also been neglected, perhaps because they too survived the 1798 rebellion, possibly because there is not enough surviving correspondence and primary source material to construct detailed biography or, more plausibly still, because despite the wide-spread celebration (and consequently out-pour of publications) of the double centenary of the 1798 rebellion in 1998 there is still a lot of work to be done on the political figures of the period.

While a welcome addition to the historiography of eighteenth-century Ireland and to the biographies of major Irish political and republican figures Conner’s biography falls down on three points.  Read more

Arthur O’Connor: ‘The most important Irish revolutionary you may never have heard of’

27 November 2009

Contributed by Clifford D. Conner

My new biography of Arthur O’Connor advances the claim that he was the most important leader of the United Irishmen in the era of the Great Rebellion of 1798. But histories of the Rebellion have traditionally either mentioned Arthur O’Connor only in passing or not at all. It is almost as if books about the Russian Revolution were to neglect mentioning Lenin.

Why is O’Connor’s name not more familiar? The best-remembered figures of this critical era are Theobald Wolfe Tone and Lord Edward Fitzgerald. But in 1798, if officials of the British government were asked who they considered to be Public Enemy Number One, or if French government officials were asked to identify the primary Irish revolutionary with whom they were collaborating, all would have replied without hesitation, “Arthur O’Connor.”

In trying to focus attention on O’Connor’s contributions, it is definitely not my intention to downplay or undermine the historical reputations of Wolfe Tone and Lord Edward. But I continue to believe that the question of why they have been so well remembered and O’Connor has not is worth an answer. Read More

The Writing on the Wall for the Hitler-Stalin Pact

26 November 2009

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

The Berlin wall was inscribed across the history of twentieth century Europe. Appropriately, the Baltic States’ struggle for freedom was written on that same wall. On 12 November the Latvian Embassy launched an exhibition of photographs in Dublin’s Pearse Street Library. Taken between 1987 and 1989 the collection of twenty pictures portrayed murals and graffiti painted on the Berlin wall by activists for Latvian independence. In the first shot a bearded student in a Latvian t-shirt stood beside a mural of the Soviet-dominated map of the Baltic States with ‘SOS’ emblazoned across it. The student was a young Pēteris Elferts, current ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to Ireland – these were his personal photographs. The personal resonance of the wall was underscored by Ambassador Elferts in his speech at the launch. The audience nodded as he commented simply that ‘if the Berlin wall hadn’t fallen many of us would not be standing here today’. In a room full of diplomats from across the new Europe this was a striking thought. Murals of the Latvian flag defiled by Soviet tank-tracks, and calls for the repeal of the Hitler-Stalin pact (effectively in force until 1989), show how the wall became a noticeboard for nations campaigning against Soviet occupation. Clearly the Berlin wall had a symbolic importance far beyond Germany. This exhibition was a small but valuable contribution to a broader understanding of its role elsewhere in Europe during the Cold War. It was accompanied by photographs taken by the Latvian community in Ireland, whose pictures of Irish suburbs and countryside fit in well with the historical and political flavour of the main exhibition. After all, had the wall not fallen these photographers would not be here either.

An Epic Read?

25 November 2009

Contributed by Christina Morin.

On my way to a conference last month, I found myself with a bit too much time in the airport and nothing better to do than wander about Duty Free and find myself something to read on the flight. Accordingly, I popped into the nearest Hughes and Hughes for a bit of a browse, overpriced latte in hand. I was looking for something light to read – not as light as the gossipy rags stocking the magazine rails (though I have been known to buy those from time to time, all the while insisting that I never usually read them!) but certainly nothing as heavy as the research monographs I’d packed in my bag, just in case. As it happened, I was in luck; after passing by the latest Martina Cole and Cecilia Ahern offerings, I lighted upon what I thought was a perfect medium between the two extremes of light and heavy reading: John Mulcahy’s 2009 novel Union. I had read briefly of the book’s publication earlier and was delighted to see a fictional attempt to deal with the Anglo-Irish Union (1801) – an absolutely central event in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Irish social, political, and cultural history which, oddly, has very rarely provided the background for popular, historical fiction. Credit is certainly due to Mulcahy for attempting to recover, in an entertaining but educational manner, this important event to a general reading audience.

Published within the last few months, Union has an impressive list of politicians, historians, and writers gracing its back cover with exuberant words of praise. Patrick Geoghegan, for instance, is credited with hailing the novel as ‘[a]n unconventional love story [… that] captures brilliantly the chaos and intensity of the 1798 Rebellion, the passing of the Act of Union, and the doomed heroism of Robert Emmet’. Mulcahy’s novel, as you’ll deduce from Geoghegan’s comments, is concerned with more than just the immediate period surrounding Anglo-Irish Union. Instead, it attempts to capture the decade or so leading up to and following Union, gesturing towards the political and emotional fervour that surrounded all three events that Geoghegan mentions.

I suppose I should’ve been clued in to Mulcahy’s rather more far-reaching intent than his title suggests when I saw the novel’s cover- Read more

A historian’s view of Tuesday’s public sector strike

23 November 2009

Contributed by Brian Hanley

This Tuesday, 24 November, will see a nationwide public sector strike in protest at the government’s plans to implement cutbacks as part of their strategy of dealing with the economic crisis. The strike will see also historians joining picket lines at universities and colleges. For Irish Academics to take industrial action is rare (Marie Coleman’s history of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) tells the very interesting story of their first strike at Maynooth during 1977) and the fact that they are doing so now has caused some adverse comment. Aside from those who agree with the government’s strategy and therefore see no reason to protest against it, there are others, and I’ve had plenty of discussions on these lines myself, who believe academics are too highly paid anyway, work very short hours and have no real reason to object to cuts. Opinion among students is also divided, with the Students Union at Maynooth reportedly advising their members to pass pickets and attend college. Without a doubt there are those in academia and in university management who have been very well rewarded and are highly paid by any standards. Historians are also lucky enough to work at something we enjoy, and be able to research and write about things that interest us. But, as readers of this blog will probably know, high wages and secure contracts are far from the universal picture, particularly for younger academics, who face short term contracts and long periods of part-time work or unemployment with little prospect of a permanent contract. Read More

Henry’s handball? Plus ça change

23 November 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

A trip to Paris marred by a poor refereeing decision, a French manager arriving in Dublin ‘lurching from one crisis to another’, Liam Brady reflecting that ‘the difference between making it and not making it is so slight – but why is it that we never get the breaks that would make the difference?’ and an Irish manager uttering ‘You are a disgrace and a cheat’? Not 2009 but 1981. Plus ça change.

On 27 October 1980, Ireland’s football team arrived in Paris for a World Cup qualifier, top of their group and in a good position to take a significant step toward their first major tournament. They had taken two victories over Cyprus, beaten a fading Dutch side in Dublin, and drawn with Belgium. But from Paris events took a turn that makes Henry’s handball, in the words of Shirley Bassey, look like just a little bit of history repeating. Read More

The Kennelly Photographic Archive

20 November 2009

Contributed by Ciara Breathnach

CB 1The Kennelly archive represents a 20-year photo-documentary record of social change in Ireland from 1953-1973, with a particular focus on County Kerry. The enterprising photographers, Pádraig and Joan Kennelly, had a studio in Tralee but did not limit their business to its confines. Apart from studio shots, the Kennellys toured the county taking photographs at various social, church, sporting events and fairs. In 1959 they diversified into the postcard business and shortly after that Pádraig became a freelance cameraman for RTÉ. He established the Kerry’s Eye, which is still a thriving local newspaper, in 1974. Needless to add his media interests influenced his photographic oeuvre and consequently, the archive features the more serious photo journalistic coverage of events like the Moss Moore murder in 1958 (John B. Keane’s 1966 play The Field, was based on this tragic affair, Jim Sheridan’s iconic movie of the same name, was released in 1990). Read More

Requiem for the Poppy: Reflections on Remembrance

19 November 2009

Contributed by Sean Brennan

The season of Remembrance is upon us and once again the sign of the poppy challenges both Unionists and Nationalists to remember those ‘faithfully departed’ who died for ‘the Cause’ in that ‘Great War’ of 1914-1918. For many Unionists the act of Remembrance is almost a religious experience as they pay homage to the blood sacrifice of their forefathers, who fell in the fields of Flanders, Gallipoli, Dublin and at Somme. For the Nationalist community who’s father’s, brothers and sons fell along side Irish Unionists all along the Western Front, the act of remembrance is more circumspect and the memory of ‘the fallen’ more sombrely recalled amid accusations of ‘poppydom’ by opponents still angered by the activities of cruel Britannia.

Today, in Ireland, many Nationalists view the poppy as a British war symbol but history shows that in it was French Republican soldiers-during the Napoleonic era who first adopted the poppy to remember their comrades and their citizen’s sacrifice in Modern War. Read more