Archive for June, 2010

Building a Just Society: the contribution of Michael Sweetman

30 June 2010

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

Michael Sweetman would have turned seventy-five on 27 June, but his life was tragically cut short in 1972 when – along with eleven other captains of Irish industry – he was killed in the Staines air disaster.  In his short life, he had an illustrious career in business, was a director of the Irish Council for the European Movement, and was part of a growing liberal wing of Fine Gael in the 1960s that challenged the party’s traditional conservatism through the promotion of a ‘Just Society’.

The ‘Just Society’ document was the creation of Declan Costello, son of the former Taoiseach, who viewed Irish politics as out of sync with the new, more confident Irish society of the 1960s.  He devised a social development strategy that would complement the economic modernisation brought about by Fianna Fáil’s Seán Lemass.  However, when he took his policy – which aimed to make a reality the concepts of freedom and equality – to the Fine Gael frontbench in 1964, he was met with resistance.  The party was dominated by an older, more conservative leadership that was either unwilling or unable to change.  The consequence of the three-week internal debate which followed was the formation of a policy committee charged with examining Costello’s proposals.  And when the 1965 general election was announced, the party adopted the concept in its manifesto, entitled Towards a Just Society. Read more

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Review: His and Hers

28 June 2010

Contributed by Joanne Mc Entee

Using an old Irish proverb as its tag line –  ‘man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest’ – director Ken Wardrop’s documentary His and Hers has won the hearts of judges and film critics alike. And it also looks set to capture the hearts of Irish cinema goers as it hits the box office this week.

Winner of the ‘Audience Award’ at the Dublin International Film Festival, ‘The Feature Award’ in the Galway Film Fleadh, an IFTA for Best Feature Documentary, and a ‘Cinematography Award’ at the Sundance Film Festival 2010, His and Hers has made the frequently insurmountable transition from art houses to general nationwide release. Read more

Review: Part 3 of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1

24 June 2010

Contributed by Adrian Grant

(Review of Part 3 of The Limits of Liberty, broadcast on  RTÉ1, Tuesday 15 June, 10:15 pm.)

The concluding episode of The Limits of Liberty concentrated on the second half of the twentieth century when, Ferriter argues, Irish people were more willing directly to directly challenge the power of the state. Workers’ struggles, public protests, feminism, sexual liberation, and great changes in the legal system all feature here, though none could be pursued with great detail in a fifty minute documentary. Moreover, many other aspects of life in the second half of the twentieth century were omitted from the programme. For example, Ireland’s entry to the EEC was portrayed as a Godsend for Ireland. There was no coverage or discussion of the opposition to Ireland joining the EEC. The idea that mass collective action only emerged in the second half of the twentieth century ignores the fact that the late 1920s and 1930s saw very similar groups marching in Dublin with similar demands. The Unemployed Workers’ Committee, which was established in 1957, was very similar to the unemployed groups of previous decades. Read more

Review: Vertue Rewarded (1693) and Irish Tales (1716)

21 June 2010

By Christina Morin

I first promised a review of these Early Irish Fiction titles back in Easter and fully intended to deliver on that promise much earlier than now, but the best laid plans, etc., etc., etc. Working with the maxim, however, that it’s better late than never, I’m offering this belated piece with the caveat that its tardiness not be taken as a reflection on the relative worth of the editions themselves, which are, in fact, a long overdue and much anticipated addition to the body of currently available eighteenth-century novels by Irish authors. The first title, Vertue Rewarded; or, The Irish Princess (1693), is a fascinating piece of prose fiction in which the main narrative’s interruption by two  interpolated tales serves to interweave the apparently disparate locations of late-seventeenth century Clonmel, during the Jacobite-Williamite Wars, pre-Norman Ireland, and sixteenth-century Peru. In each story, the same plotline repeats itself, with slight variation: man falls in love with woman; said woman becomes somehow tainted in his eyes, either morally or otherwise, and she must clear her name before their reconciliation and ensuing marriage can take place. Read more

Digital projects in Ireland: Christ on the Cross at UCC

18 June 2010

Contributed by Juliet Mullins

First impressions of the Crucifixion scene in the tenth-century Irish Southampton Psalter might be that it is crude, simplistic and unsophisticated. When cataloguing the manuscript, M. R. James described its three images as affording: “most striking examples at once of skill in decoration and total inability to draw figures”. Even the colour palette seems to confirm that this image represents an impoverished and diminished descendent of the tradition which reached such heights in the Book of Kells. When we turn to contemporary Irish writings on the Crucifixion, however, we find poets and exegetes revelling in the complex symbolism that the Passion affords. The Cross functions as a sign of Christ’s suffering, a symbol of his saving grace and, finally, as an image of judgment and the end of earthly time. These symbols can be traced not only in literature, but also in images, the use of space, music and the liturgy. ‘Christ on the Cross’ is an interdisciplinary project that aims to provide a holistic approach to medieval culture that brings together these different areas of study into a shared space. Drawing upon the expertise of its constituent members, this research team aims to demonstrate that the Cross is the most potent of all objects in early medieval culture: it is a strikingly simple image in structural terms, yet its significance is profound and its readings multifaceted. Read More

Review: ‘The Pacific’ (HBO)

14 June 2010

Contributed by Joanne Mc Entee

The sphere of operations has shifted. The theatre no longer resides in the Pacific or Europe: it occurs amongst the audience of HBO’s latest miniseries ‘The Pacific’.  Tensions are high regarding the changes in the 2010 war series from its precursor ‘Band of Brothers’ (2001). Although structurally similar to ‘Band of Brothers’, the ‘The Pacific’ has left many die-hard fans of the forerunner up in arms.

‘The Pacific’ follows marines Sledge, Leckie, and Basilone in Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Parallels with ‘Band of Brothers’ emerge as soon as the opening sequence rolls. The voice of Hanks provides information on the war in the Pacific, while contemporary black and white footage, coupled with veteran accounts, brings the narrative to life. The opening credits echo the ‘Band of Brothers’ formula, both visually and melodically, while the type-faced of the title of each episode mirrors its predecessor. All these structural similarities merely fuel a desire to compare content. Yet it is here, at the most fundamental level that variations emerge. In direct contrast to the action packed, bloody, assault of the prequel’s ‘Day of Days’, the beachhead in the ‘part 1’ confronts a deserted strand, while ‘japs’, though often alluded to, rarely emerge on screen. Aiming small stones into the severed skull of the enemy and forcing gold fillings from the dead are Marine acts which fly in the face of the heroic US military rhetoric of 2001. Read more

Review: Part two of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1

11 June 2010

Contributed by Adrian Grant

(Review of part two of The Limits of Liberty, broadcast on RTÉ 1, Tuesday 8 June, 10.15pm.)

The second instalment of The Limits of Liberty started off by looking at the massive project that was the construction of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric dam in County Clare. Here, Ferriter rightly commended Cumann na nGaedheal for what was a great achievement. There was no mention of the striking workers on the scheme though. However, it appears that this second part of the programme had another axe to grind and Ardnacrusha was an excellent way to begin the programme. This was a symbol of a new Ireland, a self-governing Ireland that could compete on the world stage. Ardnacrusha provided the electricity for 87% of the national grid. Ferriter then gave the information that allowed the viewer a glimpse of where the film was going next. The national grid only covered 10% of the population. In 1945, only 2% of rural Ireland had electricity, at a time when Denmark had 85% coverage and the Netherlands 98%. Read More

The launch of the 1901 Census Online

9 June 2010

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

Like the release of the next generation X-Box for historians and genealogists, the 1901 Census on-line was launched at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) on 3 June.  The undoubted success of the 1911 Census project might make the 1901 launch seem less remarkable – but the availability of so much additional material greatly enhances the value of both sets of records.  Both Catríona Crowe, Head of Special Projects at the NAI, and Mary Hanafin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, described how the 1901 data allows researchers to expand their findings from 1911.  Despite some cautious jokes about the website crashing under the strain of launch-day traffic, this reviewer found it only marginally slower than the excellent 1911 Census version – as the numbers level off this will no doubt correct itself.

The addition of the ‘show all information’ function some months ago makes the 1901 and 1911 censuses even more useful as a research tool.  Finding one Mary Byrne out of hundreds is far easier when you can see the occupation, religion and marital status entries at a glance. Read More

Review: The Limits of Liberty on RTE 1

8 June 2010

Contributed by Adrian Grant

(Review of Part 1, broadcast Tuesday, 1 June, 10.15pm)

In a post on this website back in April I questioned the ability of RTE to make a decent historical documentary. However, I held out some hope that The Limits of Liberty would prove me wrong. The prospects for the series were good. Its subject matter is something that will stir the public consciousness at this time and it is co-written and presented by a competent historian. It sets out to show how successive Irish governments in the first decades of independence were preoccupied with the pursuit of centralised power. The first part of the series does not disappoint in this regard. There was no moralistic back slapping of the Cumann na nGaedheal government for its defence of democracy. Instead, Ferriter showed what is often lacking in mainstream historiography. Read more

Pue’s Recommendations for June

7 June 2010

Juliana Adelman: Summer always makes me a bit homesick for the USA, where just about now I would be putting my coat away for the next three months.  I’ve been reading the New Yorkers which arrive at our house more than a few weeks behind, but I can recommend a slightly dated piece on the politics of history which is available online.  By Professor Jill Lepore, it’s about the Boston tea party and the current Tea Party, but has resonances for this country.  I also read a great book over one recent sunny weekend, Still life: adventures in taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom (thank you, Dad).  Ok, so it might not be your usual deck chair reading, but if you have even a slight interest in the history of natural history it is fascinating.  Lightly written but not lightweight.

Lisa-Marie Griffith:I have spent the last week working at the Dublin Writer’s Festival so my main aim this month is to get through the large pile of books I have acquired. I promised to limit myself to three this year and here are my recommendations: The first book I succumbed to is David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet which is about a Dutch Clerk who travels to India in 1799. There is a forum for discussion of the book here. The second book is Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne in which Bakewell has taken the works of Montaigne and used them as a guide to modern living. My final book is Yann Martel’s new book Beatrice and Virgil. I loved The Life of Pi so I am curious to see if this is as good. I learned at the weekend that in order to promote literacy and encourage the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to engage with the arts Martel is sending him a book a fortnight. Any suggestions for where we can post our?

Tina Morin: As I’m writing this, it’s lovely and sunny here and Belfast, and I have every intention of getting out there and enjoying the good weather while it lasts! I plan to bring with me Penelope Lively’s 1979 novel, Treasures of Time. Recently republished by Penguin in its Penguin Decades series, it features a history PhD named Tom Greenway, who, while not busy in the archives, spends his time worrying about his future in a field in which job security isn’t always the name of the game. So familiar!! If that gets all a bit too depressing, I’ll head over to the Ulster Museum to enjoy some of the events they have planned for Archaeology Month 2010. They have various ‘History Hunts’ and meet-and-greets with Vikings planned throughout the month, and I’m particularly looking forward to the Hidden History Walking Tours on 8, 15, 22, and 29 June.  Promising a new perspective on Belfast’s past, this tour sounds too good to miss, especially if the sun holds out!

Kevin O’Sullivan: Long days, sunshine, weekends spent getting as far from the city as possible; love it while it lasts. Not that sunny days can tear your average historian away from the usual vices. This month’s? A book: historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, a persuasive history/state of the world call to re-evaluate our political and social priorities and re-embrace the strengths of social democracy. Two podcasts: Talking History’s recent World Cup special and the return of BBC Radio 4’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. And, finally, a blog that I’d forgotten about until a conversation last week directed me back to it: Spangly Princess, a brilliantly-titled mix of history, culture, and football written by Vanda Wilcox, an English First World War historian working in Rome.