Archive for April, 2010

Book of the Decade

30 April 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Want to know what you can do with a history degree? The answer may well be write a historic novel! There certainly seems to be a ready market for them in Ireland. Bord Gais are sponsoring the vote for the best Irish book of the decade and with the overall shortlist consisting of 50 books a quick glance shows that history seems to be doing quite well. There are three history books nominated: Read more

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Urban Unrest and Decent Dwellings: The Early Radicalism of WT Cosgrave

29 April 2010

Contributed by Frank Bouchier-Hayes

Old newspapers provide the historian with often overlooked pieces of information which add important details to the historical record of a person or event. I recently came across two long forgotten letters by WT Cosgrave in the Irish Independent which were written when he was a member of Dublin Corporation. The earlier letter published in January 1912 addressed the perennial task of preventing strikes by suggesting that “a Committee of Inquiry be formed for the purposes of investigating grievances of employees whether in public or private service”.  Cosgrave attributed the growing unrest among the urban working population at the time both to an awareness of the enhanced working conditions for rural workers and to the higher demands which a greatly improved educational system had evoked in the public at large.  Interestingly, he also believed that dissatisfaction among the working population as a whole was actuated by “the enormous success that has followed in the wake of democracy of late years in many parts of the world”.  Moreover, he went on to offer a definition of democracy which makes for interesting reading in light of his later involvement in the Easter Rising: “When I say democracy, I mean the power of the people – that is of the masses, legitimately and lawfully used for the attainment of their reasonable rights and the improvement of their condition – and as such, democracy has no time for unrealisable dreams or extreme measures”.  Cosgrave also laid out the problems which he saw facing workers in his day that sadly still have some contemporary echoes: “There are long hours and scanty remuneration in many large concerns; there are under-paid girls in large catering establishments, and abuses to be remedied in the treatment of nurses in some of our large hospitals, not to speak of the most urgent need for better housing for the poor”.  Read more

Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’

27 April 2010

Contributed by Donal Fallon

The following article aims to address what I see as a significant misunderstanding, even at the highest level of historical research, about state forces during the years of what is widely labeled the ‘War of Independence’. Auxiliary Cadets of the Royal Irish Constabulary are consistently lumped in with the seperate ‘Black and Tans’ to create the overall historical figure of the ‘Black and Tan’. Many events involving Auxiliaries, in popular Irish history, are associated with ‘The Tans’.

Florence O’ Donoghue, a leading republican involved with the Cork No.1 Brigade of the I.R.A, wrote of the differences between the two forces briefly in his article The Sacking Of Cork. The Royal Irish Constabulary, O’ Donoghue believed, had been strengthened by “..a reinforcement of British jail-birds and down-and-outs who had been hastily recruited into the force in England when candidates had ceased to offer themselves in Ireland. These instruments of despicable policy were the origin of the expression ‘Black and Tan’”. Read More

Divisive memories. 25 April 1945, Italy’s ‘day of liberation’

25 April 2010

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Italy from fascism and German occupation. A national holiday in Italy, the day will be marked with both commemoration and celebration – from solemn ceremonies of remembrance to parades, speeches and open air concerts in Italy’s piazzas. The biggest ceremony is held in Milan, the site some of the fiercest fighting, and of the grotesque public display of Mussolini’s body in the days that followed. However, despite the numerous events planned to mark the occasion at national and local level, the ‘festa della liberazione’ has never been a straightforward day of celebration for all Italians.

The date marks the end of almost two years of ferocious civil war and foreign occupation in Italy, as the collapse of fascism turned the country into a battleground between the Allies, advancing upwards from Sicily, and the Germans who occupied Italy in September 1943 to prop up Mussolini’s dying regime. While Rome was liberated by the Allies in June 1944, the tug of war continued in northern and central Italy for almost another year. Read More

Family History: PJ Medlar (1885-1949)

22 April 2010

Contributed by Pól Ó Duibhir

This is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patrick Joseph Medlar, Dublin City Councillor 1920-24 and 1930-42. Although he was seen as a native Dubliner , PJ was actually born on the Upper Ballyellin Lock, near Goresbridge, in Co. Carlow, among his mother’s people, the Brennans. His father was a blacksmith from nearby Paulstown, in Co. Kilkenny, who then lived in Dublin, and after the birth of his two children went to the USA to find work, with the intention of then sending for the family. Unfortunately he died there soon after his arrival, and his wife Ellen was then adrift with two children to raise. She farmed out the children to their grandparents, Larry to Ballyellin, and PJ to Paulstown, while she went back into domestic service, this time in 22 Merrion Square, Dublin. This was the household of Samuel Mason, Professor of Midwifery at the College of Surgeons. The house has recently been restored and extended and still keeps its connection with the College of Surgeons by housing the College of Anaesthetists. Read more

Behind the scenes at the Dublin Natural History Museum

20 April 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Cleaning glass and dusting are activities that I avoid in my own house, but for some reason in the context of the Dublin Natural History Museum they seemed like fun.  Last Friday Ciarán Wallace and I spent the day getting a completely different perspective on my favourite Dublin cultural institution.  The museum is to open on the 29th of April after three years and I am glad to say that nothing much will have changed except the paint.  They also have a nice new structurally sound staircase.  Unfortunately the downturn in public finances spelled the end for the museum’s renovation project which would have added disabled access, a cafe, a separate education room and proper toilets.  Despite this disappointment I am delighted to see the museum reopening and am glad it will retain its Victorian character.  I thought I would share some photos from our day of dusting and scrubbing.  I had the bizarre experience of looking at the museum from inside the glass cases while the animals sat outside!  Seeing the specimens out of context confirmed for me the degree to which the display structures of the traditional cabinet museum present a particular message to the viewer.  Although innovative taxidermy towards the close of the nineteenth century posed animals in family groups or in active scenes (the museum has a few bloody examples of animals eating prey), there is no question that animals in glass boxes do not trouble you with their gaze in quite the same way.  Anyway, read on to enjoy a different perspective on the museum.  Read More

PhD Diary: Andy Sargent

19 April 2010

Contributed by Andy Sargent, NUI Galway

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Originally the reason for starting my PhD was mainly due to a personal interest in my subject. Now, nearly three years on, my PhD has become a job – a job that needs to be completed!

In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD? Great encouragement from my supervisor was one of the original factors.

Andy’s PhD Diary: I am at the writing up stage and I never expected it to be so difficult. As probably many PhD students find, a PhD cannot be written like all of those degree level essays which we used to rattle off in a day or two, putting it all together is a nightmare. A work-life balance needs to be found but life seems to always get in the way. I am eternally jealous of all those who have no children or partners to juggle studying around! [Note to self: will have to ensure that partner and children do not read this]. Read more

Sketches of conferensis

16 April 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Conference season is nearly upon us.  Oh, the academic conference…  On the one hand they are vital means of communication, feedback, idea sharing and ‘networking’.  On the other hand, they are overly numerous, expensive, time-consuming and often disappointing.  I have to say that I recall my first academic conference with considerable fondness.  I was in the first year of my PhD and I went to Manchester for the British Society for the History of Science’s annual postgraduate conference.  I was so nervous before my talk that I couldn’t eat and almost lost the half a sandwich I managed to stuff into my dry mouth.  On the way back from lunch with a group of my colleagues, a rather indiscreet participant told my fellow panelist not to worry about her talk as the other papers in her session sounded horribly boring.  He meant MY paper, of course.  Just the thing to calm the nerves.  However, once the talk was out of the way, there I was, surrounded by other people who also liked the history of science!  Hurrah!  Shared esoteric knowledge is truly salve to the lonely postgrad soul.  Now I have (mostly) got over the pre-talk jitters.  I have moved to the dark side of conference organisation, full of budget spread sheets, orphan bank accounts with strange names, nagging emails (mine), whining emails (theirs), revised programmes, registration forms and conference packs.  To be honest, I much prefer sweating over giving a paper. Read More

Review: Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies

13 April 2010

Contributed by Patrick Walsh

The last twenty years have seen a revolution in Irish consumption practices and attitudes. Property and its acquisition became the watchword for success, while Irish culture and heritage became sellable commodities. This has become one reading of the Irish experience during the so-called Celtic Tiger years, and it contains many truths. Similar comments could have been made about Ireland in the mid to late eighteenth-century, when the Georgian cities of Dublin and Limerick began to acquire their modern shape, and Irish country houses began to multiply in the countryside. Often seen as symbols of political power and patronage as well as avarice by contemporaries and later generations, these products of a time that was both a Penal Era and Golden Age have slowly come to be seen as important markers of Irish architectural and cultural heritage. This process owes much to the ‘search and rescue’ activities of the Irish Georgian Society, whose famous battles with the nascent developer class from the late 1950s onwards are well known. By the 1990s relations between developers and the ‘Georgians’ had become more complex as the new rich of the Tiger years sought trophy homes, often those erected in that previous age of prosperity. Similarly that other phenomenon of the last two decades the ‘celebrity’ similarly desired their own ‘pile’. Together with a more favourable government attitude the wealth of the boom years allowed Irish Georgian to become fashionable again, leading to the Lord of the Dance becoming the Lord of the Manor. Here I am referring to Michael Flatley’s purchase of the fine Co. Cork country house, Castle Hyde, which he had lovingly restored. Its history during the turbulent years of the great famine is the subject of a fine article by Terry Dooley in the latest issue of Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, the journal of the Irish Georgian Society, which is the subject of this review. This journal reflects the IGS’s longstanding commitment to scholarship seen in its original periodical, The Quarterly Bulletin and since 1998 Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies now in its twelfth volume which has become one of the leading journals in the field of Irish art history. Read more

Archives in crisis: the response

12 April 2010

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

On Saturday over 250 archivists, archive readers, students, staff and researchers from across the humanities packed into Trinity’s arts block for the ‘Archives in Crisis’ symposium and they were just the ones who made it in. Every seat in the lecture theatre was taken and those who had not arrived early were lined up against the wall or forced to take a seat on the steps- ten minutes into the symposium the security staff were turning people away at the door. The overwhelming turn out on a beautifully sunny day confirms how seriously people feel about objecting to the planned government merger of the National Archives of Ireland into the National Library of Ireland.

Moderated by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, historian of UCD, he thanked everyone for attending and Peter Crooks for organising the event and bringing everyone together. The first speaker was Catriona Crowe, chairperson of the archivist’s branch of IMPACT, who outlined the difficult position the NAI were currently in. Underfunded and with a staff of only 44 the archives are currently forced to limit their processing and archiving to only certain government departments and in January 2010 the archive announced that they could not process the files due to be opened to the public under the 30 year rule. Read more