Archive for March, 2010

On God’s Mission

11 March 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

‘The history of Ireland’s missionary movement has not yet played out’, the narrator told us at the end of the two-part mini-documentary series, ‘On God’s Mission’, broadcast on RTÉ 1 television on Tuesday night. ‘And it may take another hundred years to fully understand its impact.’ When a television programme ends with an admission as equivocal as the average historian, it’s always a fair bet on the quality of the material that preceded it.

Let me admit something at the outset: I really liked this documentary. This is a subject on which I have written, researched and thought about extensively, and at every turn I found myself remarking at how well-researched, well put together and evenly paced – not easy to do – it was, with some interesting footage and only the usual, inescapable gripes about factual errors.

Its makers were helped, of course, by a terrific story. They began with Fr Joseph Shanahan’s journey into darkest west Africa in the early twentieth century, a place where, in his own words, ‘human flesh was even sold in public spaces’, where Satan was visible in the landscape, the people and the soil. Read More

The Glasnevin Cemetery Tour

10 March 2010

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

Some time in the 1970s a republican slogan was painted along the wall of Glasnevin Cemetery. Éireoimid arís it read, ‘we will rise again’, to the delight of local wits.  Whatever its political (or theological) implications, the slogan is being fulfilled in cultural terms at least.

On a very enjoyable tour of the cemetery last weekend I learnt about its past and future.  As a local with a number of family graves in Glasnevin, I suspected that I knew the place, and most of the main historical figures and events associated with it.  While the ninety-minute tour included the famous graves, the real value – and fun – came from the minor stories and incidental detail.

Ok, so it was a bit of a thrill to fulfil a childhood ambition by going down into the vault under O’Connell’s tower.  The shrine-like arrangement of the sealed coffin within an open-sided sarcophagus allows pilgrims to touch the Liberator’s casket.  There was no polite disinterest when the enthusiastic guide suggested we follow the tradition – adults and children alike promptly stepped forward and plunged their hands through the opening into the dim interior.  The crypt, with its Arts and Crafts decoration, the Celtic iconography and the stack of deceased O’Connells in a side room (each in their sealed coffin of course) engaged our interest in the tour from the start. Read More

Interview: Donough Cahill, Executive director, Irish Georgian Society

8 March 2010

What book do you wish you had written?
Maurice Craig’s Dublin: 1660-1860.

What would you do if you were not working in conservation?
Quite possibly I’d be working in field archaeology as that’s where I was before starting with the IGS.

When was the last time you looked at wikipedia?
Yesterday.

What event had the greatest impact on history in Ireland?
The famine because of its broad social, cultural, economic and political legacy.

What book are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and trying to decide now between fiction and non-fiction – any suggestions?

Interview date: 8 November 2009

The rich and varied life of a forgotten Dublin cartoonist

5 March 2010

Contributed by Frank Bouchier Hayes

Anyone who encounters a series of carefully thought out cartoons in the Irish Independent in 1924 might be forgiven for thinking that the ‘Mac’ who created them was a sharply observant man. In fact, Isa Macnie was by then a distinguished member of the Dublin United Arts Club with a varied array of sporting, political and cultural associations behind her. Macnie made her first appearance in the pages of the Irish Times as a highly talented croquet player in 1901. Prior to taking up caricatures, she established a reputation as a gifted actress, sketch writer, composer and pianist. At a fundraising concert for Drumcondra Hospital in April 1911, it was reported that an impressive baritone named Wilfrid Douthitt had performed in encore “a very charming new song, ‘Here’s to Jane’ by a young Irish lady, Miss Isabel Macnie” who also provided the piano accompaniment. As a member of the Dublin University Dramatic Society, she took part in a special performance of Lady Windermere’s Fan in May 1912 to raise funds for the relatives of those who had perished in the Titanic disaster. In June 1913, she was involved in the staging of an elaborate pageant of nursing in Dublin to mark the inaugural Nursing Conference for the National Council of Trained Nurses of Great Britain and Ireland. A month earlier, she had presided at a public meeting in the Mansion House where she told the assembled gathering “that they were met there to inaugurate the public lending library in connection with the Irishwomen’s Reform League for the purpose of promulgating literature of a non-militant character”. Read more

Celebrate the printed word: World Book Day

4 March 2010

Today is World Book Day; the biggest international celebration of books and reading. This is the thirteenth year that World Book Day has been celebrated in Ireland and in conjunction with Bookcrossing.com the Irish branch of World Book Day will leave books in public places throughout Ireland to encourage people to pick up a book and read. The aim is to encourage people to recyle their books and be more eco-friendly and yes- this means giving books away but you can get one in return!

Looking for a book to read? To mark World Book Day today we thought that we would remind you of some of the answers that were given when we asked a range of historians ‘What book do you wish you had written?’ Read more

Vampiric Delights

2 March 2010

By Christina Morin

I began to emerge last week from the enervating fug of research funding applications that has literally engulfed me since early December. Physically, I escaped relatively unscathed; mentally and intellectually, however, I was reduced to a fraction of my former self. In terms of my long abandoned leisure reading, I knew now was not the time to embark on War and Peace. So, instead, I picked up a collection of short stories I’d been meaning to read for a while, The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre (Oxford UP, 1997). An assortment of Gothic short stories published in a variety of British magazines during the first half of the nineteenth century, Tales of the Macabre definitely suited my inert post-funding-application despondency and lack of attention. Short enough to read in a bus journey to town, and dark enough to satisfy the most pessimistic, recession-obsessed mind, the tales in this collection are definitive examples of the Gothic short story tradition in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These short stories often merged with, or later became, full blown novels, suggesting the fluidity of borders during the Romantic period between genres such as the ‘novel’ and the ‘short story’, while also highlighting the continued, cross-generic appeal of the Gothic mode. Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819), originally published in the New Monthly magazine, for instance, was penned alongside Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and, in ‘introduc[ing] the vampire into English fiction’, as the editors, Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick argue, undoubtedly influenced countless novels and short stories to come, including Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Read More

Pue’s Recommendations for March

1 March 2010

Juliana Adelman Having already confessed my secret love of taxidermy I can recommend Amy Stein’s photography, which uses taxidermied animals to stage scenes, without fear.  And I can admit that yes, my mother showed them to me!  An interesting perspective on the increasing presence of wildlife in American cities and suburban areas.  Continuing in the animal vein, an email list that I belong to circulated details of a radio programme on the raising of a chimpanzee as a child by a psychologist and his wife starting in the 1960s.  This is absolutely amazing weirdness from so many angles.  The programme was created by WNYC Radiolab, and part of it was aired on This American Life, my absolute favourite show which I sorely miss listening to on an actual radio.

Lisa-Marie Griffith During a session at the Dublin Writer’s Festival this summer one of the chairs said she believed fictional accounts of historical periods could bring us closer to an event then historical narratives. At the time I remembered feeling appalled at such a simplistic view of what historians do but considering the detail in some fiction like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall I have been thinking about this a lot more and I am becoming increasingly curious about fictional accounts of historical events. I have just finished Peter Carey‘s Parrot and Olivier in America, a ‘reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous journey’. The book is worth picking up for the beautiful cover alone, a french engraving from the early nineteenth century and featured above.  I tutor American history and to my shame I have not yet read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America so this has pushed me to finally open a copy.  I am interested to see how Carey’s ‘imaginings’ of de Tocqueville fare when compared with the historical figure. I have added to my long list of reading for this month Alexis de Tocqueville; Prophet of democracy in the age of revolution by Hugh Brogan. If I manage all of this reading I hope to write a post on my observations. Perhaps though my curiosity of these books is because I am trying to justify my lost hours away from my own work… This brings me to my next recommendation- The Dublin Book Festival takes place in Dublin City Hall 6-8 March. There are some very interesting sessions but ones you may be especially interested in are ‘Rewriting Ireland’s rebel history’, ‘Possibilities, partnerships and publishing in the digital age’ ‘The Google Book Settlement- where to now?’.

Christina Morin This month, I’m really looking forward to finally making it to the Linen Hall Library’s current exhibition, Burns and Burnsiana. With an extensive Burns collection acquired from Andrew Gibson and Burns’ own great-granddaughter, Eliza Everitt, the Linen Hall Library is in a perfect position to highlight Burns’ life and literature. A major focal point of the exhibit will be a 1787 Belfast edition of Burns’ first collection – the first to be published outside of Scotland. The exhibition runs until 20 March. And, in keeping with Lisa’s Dublin Book Festival recommendation, I’m hoping to head to Dublin for 10-11 March for The Abbey Theatre’s Reading Yeats programme, which will present public readings of two of Yeats’ plays: Cathleen Ní Houlihan and On Baile’s Strand. On my way to Dublin, I might brush up on my Yeats with Terence Brown‘s much-lauded critical biography, The Life of W.B. Yeats.

Kevin O’Sullivan Every time I sit down to write these recommendations, one thing comes into my head without fail: the Jesse’s Diets sketch from The Fast Show. In that spirit, this month I have been mostly reading environmental history. In the aftermath of the big freeze (remember that?), I took to belatedly reading David Dickson’s brilliant Arctic Ireland: The Extraordinary Story of the Great Frost and Forgotten Famine of 1740-41. Which fitted rather nicely with another book I’ve been reading over the past few weeks: Sara Wheeler’s refreshingly unsentimental travelogue/history/geography of the peoples above the tree line, The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle. And, since I’ve been on a (not always kept) single-person crusade for the past fifteen years or so not to eat certain types of over-caught fish, I thought it rude not to pick up Mark Kurlansky’s fascinating Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world when I saw it on sale in my friendly bookstore. Want to know how the Basques ‘discovered’ North America, why certain town names in England end in ‘-wich’ or the details of the Anglo-Icelandic cod wars? Read this book.