Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A History of the Humble Pumpkin Pie

21 November 2011

By Christina Morin

With the US celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday, I thought I might take the opportunity to extol my favourite Thanksgiving Day food: pumpkin pie. As far as I’m concerned, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a sliver – however small (or large!) – of pumpkin pie, eaten plain or topped with a dollop of whipped cream. There are, of course, a multitude of variations for pumpkin pie, but the one I’ve always known and loved is the recipe on the back of the Libby’s tin (yes, you can buy pumpkin – already cooked and mashed – in a tin. Such a time saver!). The resulting pie is gorgeously custardy, sophisticatedly spicy and, yes, decidedly orange. I’ve made it a few times for friends and family here in Ireland and have been extremely disappointed at the negative reception it has received. If you didn’t grow up with it, it seems, you don’t understand it… pumpkin? In a pie? for dessert? Impossible!

Be that as it may, I plan to eat some pumpkin pie this Thursday in celebration, fully acknowledging that it, like most of the dishes gracing the average, twenty-first century Thanksgiving Day table, is a far cry from what the Pilgrims ate at that first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621. Read more

Field notes

1 November 2011

By Juliana Adelman

My dad recently sent me a kind of odd little book entitled Field Notes on Science and Nature.  The book is a compilation of essays on the form, history and importance of field notes to which are added several examples of field notes.  As the title suggest, the field notes in question are of those of scientific naturalists.  The arrival was timely, since I am today beginning my participation in the Mass Observation Dublin 2011 project.  The book got me thinking about the obvious ways in which our recording of information has changed dramatically, not only in form but in substance.  The substance of what we record is affected by the forms we use to record it.  The contributors to Field Notes argued for the importance of recording by hand, of making drawings as a part of observation and of keeping records of information in an open-minded way.  They suggested that natural history students should try to be a bit more like Darwin and a bit less reliant on digital media.  It made me stop to wonder what a historian’s field note book might look like?  How many of you still take notes on paper or do you take them all on laptops?  What kinds of notes do you take on paper and what kinds on computers?  Archaeologists, geographers and art historians might find that they still use visual means of recording from sketches to digital photographs.  I know that I often take photographs to record texts for later transcription, or occasionally to remember visual aspects of a manuscript or book.  But on the whole, I don’t see too many historians with sketchbooks. Read more

Strokestown Famine Museum Project

24 August 2011

Contributed by Joanne McEntee

‘Twas the black potatoes the scattered
our people
Facing the poorhouse or overseas
And in the mountain cemetery do they
in hundreds lie …’

The above verse, taken from Amhrán na bPrátaí Dubha (The Song of the Black Potatoes), starkly reveals the immense impact of the Great Famine 1845-50. While it is easy to get lost in figures with the 1851 census revealing how at a national level some 2,400,000 or more than a quarter of the population were lost through death or emigration, one can only imagine the effect of such losses at a local level.

Various museums exist across the country that exploring different aspects of the famine from a local perspective. From Doagh to Donaghmore, and from St. Mary’s Church, to the Jeanie Johnston to mention but a few, such local sites act as significant reminders in their vicinities and beyond of both the suffering and immense endurance of man. Although billed as the Irish national famine museum, the Strokestown Park museum, Roscommon appears to remain outside of the consciousness of many. Read more

Most popular tourist attractions

23 August 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

As a tour guide I am always interested in what history attractions  people visit while they are visiting Ireland. If you thought Dublin’s most popular attraction was the Guinness storehouse you were wrong. It may be well visited but it’s not what people talk about when they go home. It may also surprise you favourite tourist sites change year in year out and depending on weather, advertising, revamping and of course new sites opening up. Here are what the top-rated and most popular attractions in and about Irish cities  according to contributors to

Dublin: 1. An evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies at the Brazen Head (quite a few of my tourists have mentioned this one to me and it is definitely a visitor favourite), 2. Glasnevin cemetery, Read more

The Tenements on TV3

22 August 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I am currently watching the Tenements on TV3, presented by actor Brian Murray. If you haven’t been watching (you can catch up online), the programme is exploring tenements in Dublin by focusing on the tenements in Henrietta Street. Shockingly, there were tenements in Henrietta Street right up until the 1970s. The show features one brave family, the Winstons, who were born and raised in one of the Henrietta Street tenements who then return with their children to spend 3 nights in cramped conditions of a 1911 tenement not an easy- task they stayed last winter during the snow! While some of the introductory history in programme was a bit over simplistic, and so not necessarily accurate, the programme has maintained my interest.

An Explorer’s Guide to the Football Programme

3 August 2011

Contributed by David Garreth Toms

Recently, I have begun to collect old football programmes. This is perhaps one of the more unusual hobbies in which one can engage, no doubt the kind likely to attract derision in some quarters. Of course, when I say that I have begun to collect football programmes, I mean I have been willing to pay money for programmes dating from long before I was born. I have been “collecting” – i.e. hoarding – programmes since I was quite young.

As I trawled through research on soccer over the past few months, it occurred to me that there might be programmes from around, or just after, the period in which I was interested. Sure enough, eBay has answered that question affirmatively. Thus far I have acquired six programmes. This is one of the two (the other is pictured above) for which I began this entire quest:

There is an entire world of programme collecting out there, and it doesn’t occur just online. There are fairs, exhibitions, collectors’ magazines and even a history of the football programme. According to an article published a decade ago in The Guardian, the trend for collecting match-day programmes was on the up. Read more

The capstan

20 July 2011

Contributed by Brian J. Goggin

A capstan is used for winding in a rope with a large load on the end. It has a vertical axle, allowing many people to throw their weight on the bars.

There is a capstan just upstream of the bridge crossing the Shannon at O’Briensbridge in Co Clare. From the late eighteenth century until Ardnacrusha power station was built in the 1920s, the Limerick Navigation ran under the bridge, linking the Shannon Estuary to Lough Derg. There was a three-knot current through the bridge, very difficult for boats (which were poled, rowed or sailed) to get through. Horses could not help because the navigation arch, the one that boats had to go through, was the fourth out from the bank.

That was why a capstan was installed. A rope was floated down through the navigation arch; boats coming upstream secured the rope and were hauled through the arch.

This makeshift arrangement, and other deficiencies in the navigation, did not matter very much at first. Like most Irish waterways, the navigation carried little traffic: perhaps only ten small boats were using it in 1800, carrying low-value cargoes (turf, sand, lime, stone, dung) as well as more valuable slates and corn downstream, coal and timber upstream. Read More

A piece of meat

5 July 2011

By Juliana Adelman

Today I sat down to an unexpectedly exciting read.  In 1891 Daniel Tallerman published a slim volume entitled “Railway abattoirs” and other papers relating to meat distribution.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, but Tallerman was a gold mine for me.  Finally here was someone who wrote about the livestock and meat trade as though the reader would know NOTHING!  Frustratingly, it wasn’t just the primary source literature on meat that assumed levels of knowledge I did not have.  Even historians seemed to think that I would know something beyond the fact that beef and pork come from different animals.  I was beginning to think I would have to apprentice myself to a butcher for a week (although that’s probably not a bad idea either).

But why oh why should I care about a piece of meat?  By the 1890s, Ireland was exporting over one million animals annually to feed booming British towns and most of them passed through Dublin.  Meanwhile, in Chicago, refrigeration and the disassembly line had turned a cattle distribution centre into a ‘dead meat’ one almost overnight.  American meat was even shipped to Britain.  [The image is from the Chicago stockyards]. Read More

Stalking People in the Past

8 June 2011

Contributed by Marnie Hay

I used to feel like a stalker. I suspect that anyone who has researched and written a biography or a study of someone’s career feels the same way. You doggedly unearth and scrutinise various sources to uncover the most intimate and mundane details of your subject’s life. It becomes an obsession.

My quarry was Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969). He was that rare combination of a Belfast Protestant (a Quaker no less) and an ardent Irish nationalist who played a leading role in the advanced nationalist movement until 1916 when he was sidelined as a result of his opposition to the Easter Rising. In researching my PhD thesis on his nationalist career, I reconstructed Hobson’s life in the early twentieth century through a combination of letters, newspaper articles, and police reports. I realised that I was turning into a stalker when I created a database to track his nationalist activities. I was able to chart everything from public speaking engagements to yuletide visits to his parents’ home. Read more

Garda Museum and Archive

18 May 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Last week I took a guided trip around the Garda Museum and Archive which resides in a two hundred year old Record Tower at Dublin Castle. The safe above is just one of the treasures which the museum holds. It is the safe from which the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen. The jewels were commissioned to be worn by the monarch when bestowing the Knighthood of St Patrick (the Irish equivalent of the Order of the Garter) on Irish figures. They were held in Dublin Castle and in 1903 a new strong room was built to protect.  The door in ths new strong room was too narrow, however, and the safe was too big to get in though the door. New precautions had to be taken by the Officer of Arms of Dublin Castle, Arthur Vicars to protect the jewels. The keys to the safe were held by Vicars and the safe itself was hidden behind 7 locked doors. The precautions were not enough and on 6 July 1907, just four days before a visit from Edward VII to Ireland, the jewels were discovered to have been stolen from the safe- notice the thief proof guarantee on the door!)

The museum is filled with treasures of this kind and nuggets about policing in the capital and the National Police Force at large. Some of the wonderful items on display include full nineteenth-century uniforms for senior and junior ranking police members, early photographs of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, caricatures and sketches of the force, handbooks provided to DMP officers, medals and honours and other police memorabilia. The record tower itself formerly held prisoners which adds a further eerie element to the museum. Read more