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Clare Hollingworth, war reporting and witnessing history

By Ciarán McCabe

Being an eye-witness to historic events is a rare thing for most people. But war correspondents frequently find themselves eye-witnesses to events of international significance, to the ‘first draft of history’. This is owing to the nature of the job. War correspondents – ever since William Howard Russell in the 1850s – have tended to travel from one sphere of conflict to another and have been, inevitably, well placed to witness battles, retreats, genocide and famines.



Among the most prolific, well-travelled and influential correspondents of the past century was Clare Hollingworth, who died in January 2017 aged 105 years. Her career was one of numerous exclusives of international significance, including perhaps the ‘scoop of the century’ when she reported on German mobilisation towards the Polish border in late-August 1939. Posted in Katowice as the Daily Telegraph’s war correspondent, Hollingworth borrowed a diplomatic vehicle to cross over into Germany to buy essentials, such as aspirin and wine, in the knowledge that a war was imminent. Driving back through the border, a hessian partition which had been erected along the roadside was blown open by a gust of wind, revealing (in the journalist’s own words) “scores, if not hundreds of tanks” in the valley below. Four days into her first posting as a war correspondent, Hollingworth had just landed the ‘scoop of the century’: the outbreak of World War II. Her published article of 29 August 1939 was headed: ‘1,000 tanks massed on Polish frontier. Ten Divisions reported ready for swift stroke’. (Thirty years later, she secured another world exclusive, in reporting for the Daily Telegraph on the commencement of secret negotiations to end the Vietnam War, an initiative latter scuppered through the cloak-and-dagger intervention of Richard Nixon).


(Image: Clare Hollingworth’s ‘scoop of the century’ (Daily Telegraph, 29 Aug. 1939))

Later in the war, Hollingworth reported from the North African front, regularly from behind enemy lines. Throughout her career her reporting was bolstered by her skill at developing contacts and networks of confidantes: she was well connected to the left-wing Front de Libération Nationale in Algeria, and in 1941 secured the first interview with the Shah of Iran, who, after his fall in 1979, would only speak to her. Hollingworth’s contacts also aided her in identifying and ‘outing’ the Soviet spy, ‘Kim’ Philby, a prominent war and foreign correspondent who defected to the USSR. (Incidentally, Hollingworth’s death came just four weeks after that of Philip Knightley, who was a member of the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team that investigated Philby’s defection and who also wrote The First Casualty, the multi-edition survey work of the history of war reporting from the Crimean War to the recent Iraq War).


Among the wars Hollingworth reported on first-hand were World War II (1939-45), the French-Algerian War (1954-62), the India-Pakistan War (1965) and Vietnam (1960s), as well as from Maoist China. When the King David Hotel in British Mandate Jerusalem was attacked in 1946 by Irgun, the Zionist terrorist organisation, killing just less than 100 people, mostly British Mandate officials, Hollingworth was on the scene within minutes, having shortly beforehand parked her car around the corner; in 1989 she witnessed the Tiananmen Square massacre from a hotel balcony.


Among the interesting aspects of Hollingworth’s career is her sex. The fact is that the archetypal war reporter is a man – a fact demonstrated in war reporter John Burrowes’s dedication to his 1984 memoirs: ‘To reporters everywhere – and the women who have to suffer them’. Yet, despite the predominance of men among this profession notable women are to be found among the ranks of war correspondents, notable not for their relative novelty (for being women in a heavily gendered profession) but for their innovative reporting of conflict: Irish native Kathleen ‘Kit’ Blake Coleman, Virginia Cowles, Martha Gellhorn, and, right through to Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in 2012. In his illuminating The War Correspondent (2nd ed., 2016), Greg McLaughlin considers various commentators’ views on the significance of rising numbers of women correspondents in recent decades: some see this phenomenon as encouraging ‘a less gung-ho, more human-oriented sensibility’ to reporting, while for others, women reporters are more likely to cover unfashionable stories (the example of the East Timor crisis in 1999 is cited by McLaughlin), in contrast to their male counterparts, who are more likely to be career-driven and to throw themselves into headline-grabbing conflict reporting.


In noting the role of women as correspondents in conflict zones, it is interesting that just last month, the magazine Military Review (an official publication of the US armed forces) published a poignant photograph taken by US Army camerawoman Specialist Hilda Clayton, of the moment she was killed by an accidental mortar explosion during a training exercise in Laghman province, Afghanistan on 2 July 2013. In explaining the publication of the photograph, the magazine was eager to assert that women photographers (in this case, soldier correspondents) were as much a part of the conflict zone as their male colleagues: ‘Not only did Clayton help document activities aimed at shaping and strengthening the partnership but she also shared in the risk by participating in the effort … Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts.’



Useful articles and obituaries can be found online at:




Greg McLaughlin, The War Correspondent (2nd ed., London, 2016).



Irish war correspondents in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries

by Ciarán McCabe


In 1927 the Irish war correspondent Francis McCullagh (1874-1956) was described as follows:


‘Trotsky of Russia knows Francis McCullagh. So does President Calles of Mexico. Peter, the king of Serbia, was McCullagh’s friend. The headhunters of the upper Amazon list Francis McCullagh as one of their principal deities. The warring tribes of Morocco call him blood brother. A room is always ready for him in the imperial palace of Siam. The latchstrings of hundreds of Siberian peasant huts are out in anticipation of his coming.’


The writer of the above description, quoted in John Horgan’s 2009 article on McCullagh, certainly deployed verbal embroidery in recording the international influence of the Irish correspondent. Hyperbole aside, the description captures the reality that McCullagh, the son of an Omagh publican and who wrote for (among many titles) the New York Herald, the Daily News, the Irish Independent and the Japan Times, was by the early-twentieth century, a war correspondent of significant standing throughout the world. Fluent in (or certainly in possession of a good grasp of) numerous languages, McCullagh negotiated his way into the front-line of battle and into the presence of world leaders. In 1905 his reporting of Japan’s sinking of the Russian fleet was a world exclusive. In the following six years McCullagh reported on the Young Turks’ revolt in Turkey, the revolution in Portugal and the Italian invasion of Libya. He returned to Russia in 1918, in the months following the Bolshevik Revolution and participated in the White Russian inquiry into the execution of the Romanovs. Later assignments included the Mexican revolt of the 1920s and the Spanish Civil War the following decade. As Horgan notes McCullagh’s reporting has its shortcomings, most notably its unashamedly partisan stances in its witness accounts of significant world events. The instance of McCullagh points to the prominence of Irish war correspondents from the mid-nineteenth century.

Philip Knightley rightly commences his First Casualty, still the best general history of war reporting, with the Dubliner, William Howard Russell, whose reporting of the Crimean War of the mid-1850s is seen as laying the foundations of modern war reporting. Russell, whose reporting of woeful military tactics and insufficient supply and medical services in the British army, contributed to the fall of the government in 1855 under the pressure of disillusioned British public opinion. The same war saw the rise of the Wicklow-born journalist, Edwin Lawrence Godkin (1831-1902), who reported from the Crimea for the New York Times and Daily News (London). Later moving to the United States of America, where he founded and edited a number of titles, Godkin campaigned against slavery during the Civil War and the corruption of Tammany Hall-era local government in New York.

William Howard Russell 001

Pic: Sir William Howard Russell

            Other Irish war correspondents included James David Bourchier (1850-1920), who reported from the Balkans in the 1880s for the London Times; Emile Joseph Dillon (1854-1933), the Daily Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent from the 1880s until 1903; George Lynch (b. 1868), who covered the Boer War for the Illustrated London News, as well as reporting on the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, and the 1905 Russian Revolution; Stephen McKenna, who headed the New York World’s Paris office in the 1920s; and David McGowan, Russian correspondent around 1905-6.

While war reporting was, and remains, a largely gendered profession, with men dominating its ranks, a number of women reporters have made significant contributions to the development of this trade, such as Martha Gellhorn (Spanish Civil War) and more recently the Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in a rocket attack in Syria in 2012. However, the pioneering female war reporter was Kathleen Blake Coleman (née Ferguson) (b. c. 1864), a Galway-born woman who moved to Canada in her early-20s and reported on the Spanish-American War in the late-1890s, becoming the first accredited female war correspondent.


Pic: Galway-born Kathleen Blake Coleman

            The prominence of Irish men and women among international war correspondents in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries is striking, yet demands explanation. John Horgan suggests that while no single factor can explain this prominence, ‘it is possible that the nature of journalism, as a career path for which university education was not a necessary qualification, may be part of the explanation’. In his short analysis of Russell, Godkin and Lynch, Daniel Mulhall sees these men as being subsumed into a wider Victorian world: ‘their worlds were those of Fleet Street and the great international crises of the second half of the nineteenth century, in which Irish affairs…were invariably a sideshow’.


Further reading

James Horan, “The great war correspondent’: Francis McCullagh, 1874-1956’ in Irish Historical Studies, 36:144 (Nov. 2009).

Daniel Mulhall, ‘Men at war: nineteenth-century Irish war correspondents from the Crimea to China’ in History Ireland, 15:2 (Mar-Apr 2007).

Philip Knightley, The first casualty: the war correspondent as hero, propagandist and myth maker (1975; rev. ed. 1999; rev. ed. 2003).

‘Enjoyment and great entertainment’ in nineteenth-century Ireland’s institutions

By Ciarán McCabe

The geographic and social landscapes of nineteenth-century Ireland were significantly altered by the establishment of numerous institutions, largely aimed at confining, relieving and treating the deviant, destitute and sick poor. They ranged from prisons and bridewells, to lunatic asylums and medical hospitals; from houses of industry, mendicity societies and Poor Law union workhouses, to Magdalen asylums, industrial schools and reformatories. While numerous establishments (such as prisons and hospitals) dated from earlier periods, a significant upsurge was witnessed in the nineteenth century, reflecting a wider ‘institutional zeal’ (Cox, 2009) throughout the transatlantic world in this period.


Speaking broadly, these institutions are popularly associated with harsh and cruel regimes, untrained and uncaring staff, approaches to illness (especially mental illness) that lacked compassion, and conditions that bred disease and death. Perceptions of these institutions, and life within them, are generally negative. One question which has always fascinated me is the undeniable fact that in these harsh institutions where the lives of residents (staff and patients / prisoners / inmates) were subject to strict disciplinary regimes, there were moments of fun, laughter and joviality. I seem to recall Holocaust survivor Elia Wiesel’s account, in his Night, of a journey on a train to a concentration camp and his recollection of a young couple having sexual intercourse. Even in the direst of circumstances, aspects of life continue as before. Turning to Irish workhouses, asylums and other institutions, surely there were times when jokes were told, games were played by children, and people engaged in small, private acts of generosity and humanity. Of course, our understanding of the past is shaped by the surviving sources; for most of these institutions, the masses of poor patients / prisoners / inmates left behind few records of their experiences and thoughts. As such, what little understanding we can gain of their lives are filtered through the records, and perspectives, of the managers of these institutions.


Scene at work-house during Irish Famine

In my work, on poverty, begging, and charity in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland, I have caught glimpses of this aspect of life for the poor inside institutions. In those instances, the occasion for ‘enjoyment’ was organised by the managing committee / governors – such as a ‘feast’ – rather than a spontaneous experience of frivolity arising from the residents. This is most likely arising from the fact that the sources that provide these all-too-rare glimpses are usually the minutes and reports of the controlling body of the institution: an event was organised and recorded by the managing committee.


Seasonal treats were common in many institutions. In the premises of the Dublin Mendicity Society, a charity founded in 1818 to clear the streets of beggars, paupers were usually treated to a Christmas feast, in one instance being fed ‘roast beef and plum pudding’. The same Dublin charity also organised trips for its pauper children to the Zoological Gardens in the Phoenix Park, for ‘advantages of improvement and recreation’. Significant public events were also the occasions for treating the inmates of such institutions. In June 1838, the coronation of Queen Victoria was marked by Limerick Corporation ordering the first public illumination since Waterloo, as well as providing money to the city’s Mendicity Society and House of Industry ‘to provide the pauper inmates of these places the enjoyment of a comfortable breakfast and dinner, in commemoration of this event’. Two years later, to mark the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Ebrington, subsidised ‘an abundant dinner of prime ox beef’ for the ‘numerous mendicant poor’ in the Dublin Mendicity Society’s premises. This feast was complemented by the distribution of ‘180 saffron cakes…amongst the children of the [society’s] schools, being the gift of a member of the committee’. The royal marriage was also honoured in Clonmel, where the town’s mendicants ‘were supplied by subscription with 300 loaves of bread and 300lbs. of beef’. In March 1863 the Prince of Wales’s marriage was marked by ‘entertainment’ and ‘great enjoyment’ for 350 patients at the Richmond District Lunatic Asylum (Grangegorman) on Dublin city’s north-side. A rare insight from a patient’s viewpoint comes in a letter of complaint, composed by a patient of the Cork Street Fever Hospital, Dublin in 1816, wherein the patient (William McLoughlin of Wood Street) alleged that other patients bribed the ward nurses for the privilege of staying up late, drinking tea and singing.


1830s newspaper notice, Mendo and Zoo

Image: An 1830s newspaper notice, recording the visit to the Dublin Zoological Gardens of child paupers from the city’s Mendicity Institution


Contrary to the quip of a colleague who read this article, I am not suggesting that life in workhouses was fun! I believe that to highlight these (admittedly few) recorded instances is not to deny the level of suffering in such institutions, but, rather, to deepen our understanding of the varied experiences of those who lived within their walls, as well as the actions and motivations of those in control of these institutions.


Further reading:

John O’Connor, The workhouses of Ireland : the fate of Ireland’s poor (1995).

Audrey Woods, Dublin outsiders: a history of the Mendicity Institution, 1818-1998 (1998).

For a wider discussion of institutions in this period, see Catherine Cox, ‘Institutionalisation in Irish history and society’ in Mary McAuliffe et al (eds), Palgrave advances in Irish history (2009).



‘Zealous friends’: challenges for historians of the language of charity

By Ciarán McCabe

Negotiating changes in the meaning of words is a frequent challenge for historians. When consulting primary sources, one is reading, interpreting and transcribing words as they were used in a given period from the past; it is in the context of that period that the words must be understood. Yet, the historian may then use the same words in his/her own analysis (that is, in the secondary source). This can present a challenge for the reader of the historian’s subsequent published work.

This was demonstrated to me recently at a session at the annual conference of the Irish History Students’ Association in NUI Galway. The session focused on ‘Shades of Roman Catholicism in Ireland, 1844-1950’. One speaker presented an excellent paper on Catholic charity in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Dublin and, not surprisingly, the word ‘zeal’ was regularly referenced, in quotations from primary sources. It struck me as interesting because just moments later, in another excellent paper, the next speaker, in her interpretation of Catholic missionary work, described some historical figure as being ‘over-zealous’, which implied some manner of negative connotations.

This linguistic irregularity caught my attention as ‘zeal’ is a word that I have had to negotiate in my own research into charity and philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland. Charitable works in this period were driven by religious influence and defined by confessional identity. This was a period of spiritual and devotional revival in both Catholic and Protestant Europe, and the Irish manifestations of these revivals were marked by localised nuances. Much of my research in recent years has focused on the responses of charitable societies and denominations to poverty and beggary, and the word ‘zeal’ commonly appears in the primary sources. However, where it does appear, ‘zeal’ had positive connotations; for instance, a person’s obituary would note the individual’s ‘zeal’ to undertake philanthropic work, set against the ever-constant backdrop of religious inspiration. ‘Zeal’ was used to describe a person’s dedication to furthering the spiritual well-being of others, particularly the distressed, marginalised and irreligious. Any study of the language of charity – the best Irish example being the work of Margaret Preston – will inevitably come upon the use of ‘zeal’ in contemporaneous sources. For instance, in the evangelical Christian Examiner magazine in 1829, the rector of Powerscourt, Rev Robert Daly, a fascinating figure for his views on poverty and poor relief as much as for his influence during the ‘Second Reformation’, praised the evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland as follows: ‘To their zeal, devotedness, piety, and practical usefulness, I believe the church is indebted for the place it now holds in public opinion…’ The praising of one’s ‘zeal’ was cross-denominational and, in my own research, appeared most frequently in sources pertaining to Catholic female religious communities, particularly in obituaries for deceased members of orders and congregations. One Presentation Sister was remembered after her death as exerting ‘a most persevering zeal for the instruction of poor children’, while following the death in 1818 of Sister Mary Teresa (Catherine Lynch), the Sisters of Charity lamented that ‘the poor have lost a zealous friend, and the community a striking example of religious virtues’.

On Zeal, from Methodist Magazine (1798) 001

(‘On Zeal’ in Methodist Magazine, vol. 21 (May 1798))

The significance of this is that in today’s parlance ‘zeal’ often carries negative connotations. Religious zeal is associated with fundamentalism and intolerance, and is regularly used in an accusatory sense. Yet, among charity workers and philanthropists in the nineteenth century ‘zeal’ was a benevolent motivating force, as captured in an evangelical Methodist publication from 1798:  ‘It is the SPIRIT of CHRIST infused, with a sense of his love, into the heart; it is a generous philanthropy and benevolence, which, like the light of the Sun, diffuses itself to every object, and longs to be the instrument of good, if possible, to the whole race to mankind.’ Historians negotiating words such as ‘zeal’ must be cognisant of what these terms meant to those who used them in the past (in the primary sources) and what they mean to readers of their own work (secondary sources).

British social reformers in nineteenth-century Ireland

By Ciarán McCabe

In researching the history of poverty and charity in pre-Famine Ireland, I have been struck by the constant flow throughout Europe and the Atlantic world of ideas of moral and material improvement. Philanthropists and social reformers, either acting in an individual capacity or as part of a corporate entity (such as a charitable or intellectual society), regularly exchanged correspondence with colleagues in other countries, in which they shared their experiences and ideas of poor relief, medical treatment and education initiatives, to name but a few areas of interest.

Furthermore, many individuals travelled abroad extensively, gaining a first-hand insight into the work of other philanthropists. Many of the leading British social reformers in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries travelled to Ireland, visiting various institutions and meeting contacts among the philanthropic urban middle classes. The value of travellers’ writings has long been appreciated by historians, from Constantia Maxwell’s work in the 1940s and 1950s, to Christopher Woods’s recent guide to travellers’ accounts as source material (published in the Maynooth Research Guides to Local History series). What attracted many of these social reformers to this island was the impression that Ireland was a distinctive place on the fringes of Europe, singularly afflicted by poverty and moral decay. As Niall Ó Ciosáin has argued in his most recent work (Ireland in official print culture), the tropes of social conditions in Ireland being indescribable and unimaginable, and worse than those anywhere else, were well established in contemporary discourse. These motifs are to be found in the reported proceedings of parliamentary debates and inquiries, public sermons, and reports of social reformers. Having noted this trend, it is useful to briefly identify just some of these individuals, whose influence was international and who visited Ireland at some point in this period:


Elizabeth Fry (née) Gurney (1780-1845), penal reformer and philanthropist. By the time she travelled to Ireland in 1827, Fry was already a noted campaigner for prison reform, particularly in the incarceration of women and children. During her three-month visit to Ireland in 1827, Fry and her brother (Joseph John Gurney) visited around forty welfare and custodial institutions throughout the country – prisons, lunatic asylums, mendicity asylums, houses of industry. They co-authored a report to the Lord Lieutenant on their inspections of these institutions.

Elz Fry

Caption: Quaker Elizabeth Fry, who drove prison reform in early-nineteenth-century Britain and Ireland


Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), educationist in London. The Lancaster model of education was based on the monitoring system, whereby older pupils (monitors) taught the younger pupils, overseen by an adult master. His educational reforms proved influential and were adopted by the Kildare Place Society, whose founding meeting in Dublin in 1811 was attended by Lancaster. Lancaster visited Ireland on a number of occasions and was a popular public speaker; a lecture in Drogheda in 1815 was attended by a reported 1,500 people.


Robert Owen (1771-1858), philanthropist and industrialist. Owen is best known for establishing the town of New Lanark in Scotland, centred around his cotton mill enterprise. His enterprise was marked by reduced working hours and improved housing for employees, and the provision of infant education. Owen’s tour of Ireland lasted from October 1822 to April 1823, a period of famine in western Ireland and during his visit, Owen visited many distressed areas. Throughout the country, he held public meetings, at which he promoted his ideas for planned communities. Two years later, Owen gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into poverty in Ireland and his New Lanark model was implemented at Ralahine, County Clare in the early-1830s.

Caption:  Robert Owen, whose planned industrial town at New Lanark (right) inspired a similar experiment at Ralahine, County Clare.


Rev. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), Church of Scotland minister and social reformer. Chalmers was perhaps the most well-known and influential public intellectual in the first half of the nineteenth century. In St John’s parish in Glasgow, he pioneered a poor relief scheme based on house-to-house visiting of the poor and voluntarism in the provision of assistance. Chalmers travelled to Ireland on a number of occasions, being regularly invited by Irish ministers to deliver charity sermons, in the knowledge that Chalmers would attract large crowds of donors. In advance of his sermon at the opening of the Fisherwick Place meeting house in Belfast in 1827, members of the public were advised that only ticket-holders would be admitted, given the demand for places.

Tercentenary of the birth of first Methodist preacher in Ireland

By Ciarán McCabe

Last month marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Whitefield (1714-1770), the mid-eighteenth-century preacher who introduced Methodism into Ireland. While John Wesley’s 21 visits between 1747 and 1789 drove the growth of Irish Methodism in these early decades, Whitefield’s arrival in 1738 marked the beginning of the Methodist mission to the Irish.

Whitefield was a member of the Oxford ‘Holy Club’, an informal gathering of early evangelists among the Oxford student body, centred on Wesley and his brother Charles. The activities of the ‘Holy Club’ included prayer meetings and Bible reading sessions, as well as the provision of assistance to the elderly and sick. When the Wesleys departed for Georgia in the British Colonies circa 1736, Whitefield assumed the leadership of the ‘Holy Club’. His later theological disputes with Wesley (on the subject of predestination) created a rift, from which Whitefield established Calvinist Methodism, which was particularly popular in Wales and throughout America.

Geo Whitefield

As with Wesley, Whitefield was an Anglican clergyman who spearheaded a transatlantic religious revival; indeed, in this period Whitefield was among the most well-known figures in America. They enjoyed camaraderie in the early years of their evangelising careers. Indeed, Wesley’s system of itinerant field-preaching, which became a characteristic of early Methodism, was based on the successful modern deployed by Whitefield. By removing the service and sermon from the (Established) church to fields and highways, and by encouraging revival and ‘enthusiasm’ among the laity, this generation of itinerant preachers was perceived as a threat to the Established Church. Their practices were seen as unbecoming of a man of God, and this sentiment was captured in Wesley’s journal entry recording his first foray into field preaching at Bristol, inspired by Whitefield: ‘At four in the afternoon I submitted to “be more vile”, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.’

Whitefield’s diary of his visit to County Clare in 1738 reveals much of interest. Firstly, his account mirrors those of other travellers to Ireland in this period in commenting on the extraordinary poverty of the people: ‘As I rode along, and observed the meanness of the poor people’s living in these parts, I said, if my parishioners at Georgia complain to me of hardships, I must tell them how the Irish live; for their habitations are far more despicable, and their living as hard, I believe, as to food; and yet, no doubt, content dwells in many of these low huts.’ More significantly, Whitefield was an early proponent of missionary strategies deployed by evangelicals around the turn of the nineteenth century – namely, the use of the Irish language as a means of effectively communicating with the impoverished Irish peasantry (‘I can think of no likelier means to convert them from their erroneous principles, than to get the Bible translated into their own native language, to have it put in their houses’) and the establishment of ‘charity schools erected for their children’.

Further reading:

Boyd Stanley Schlenther, ‘Whitefield, George’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography          (Oxford, 2004).

For more on Whitefield, see the dedicated section on the University of Manchester Rylands Library’s website:


Transnationalism and history: some initial thoughts

by Ciarán McCabe

The Irish History Online database (www.iho.ie), which provides a searchable bibliography of Irish history, lists seventeen works (books, chapters and articles) with the term ‘transnational’ in the title. Of these seventeen, sixteen have been published since 2003. This simple exercise reflects the increasing trend among historians of Ireland to adopt a transnational approach in their study of this country’s past. Ireland’s historic experience must not be viewed in a vacuum, as a stand-alone process, but, instead, as part a broader transnational context which influenced (and in turn was influenced by) developments on this island.

In recently considering this methodology, I had reason to return to a book that I first read two years ago. The book in question is Richard Bell’s We shall be no more: suicide and self-government in the newly United States, published by Harvard University Press in 2012. I had first become aware of this monograph while taking a postgraduate reading course at Maynooth University. While constituting a study of suicide in American society from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, We shall be no more uses suicide as a vehicle with which to drive an analysis of a broad crisis of moral authority witnessed in the early United States. This is not merely a study of suicide, but rather an insight into wider social, cultural, ideological and political developments in the United States during these formative decades. In a nutshell, I found this to be a remarkable book by an exciting scholar, drawing on a decade of research to contribute new concepts and approaches to our understanding of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history.

Bell, We shall be no more, cover pic

Bell’s touching upon transnationalism in We shall be no more had relevance to my own research field of nineteenth-century Ireland. My PhD thesis, which examines begging and alms-giving in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland, touched on various aspects of transnational history and this is something I hope to engage with in more detail in coming years. During the course of my PhD research, a constant realisation has been that social questions in Ireland, such as the poor law debates, the multiplication of charitable societies and reforming ideas pertaining to the running of welfare and custodial institutions, cannot be viewed in a vacuum, as we sometimes tend to do in this country. Rather than being singular to Ireland, many of these ideas and processes were shaped in a transnational context. The influence of Britain and Europe was ever-present.

This theme is touched upon in Bell’s We shall be no more in his consideration of the emergence of humane societies in late-eighteenth-century America. Humane societies were charitable societies, founded and run largely by volunteers, which encouraged the investigation and implementation of pioneering life-saving techniques, particularly regarding drowning (either accidental or attempted suicides). The use of new methods in resuscitation and the use of modern life-saving equipment characterised these humane societies. It is no surprise that humane societies were largely found in coastal towns and cities, or urban centres with large rivers and canals. For instance, the first humane society was founded in Amsterdam in 1767. Bell is correct to place the development of this movement within the context of the wider humane society movement arising from Europe in this period, but I felt that he could have made more of this context. Similarly, in his analysis of the moral panic felt by American middle classes in the 1790s, more emphasis could also have been placed on the wave of panic felt throughout the transatlantic world at the events occurring in revolutionary France.

The transnational aspect of the humane society movement is truly fascinating and Bell is correct to use the term ‘movement’ to describe this network of charities. These were not individual, unconnected entities merely carrying out similar work at the same time as other bodies. Rather, these groups were formed under comparable conditions, by persons from comparable social backgrounds and with almost identical reasons for doing so. Yet, crucially, there was an exchange of information between sister societies from across Europe, Britain and the United States. Societies exchanged printed materials (such as rules and regulations, and annual reports), suggestions and advice based on precedent and experience. The term ‘movement’ can similarly be applied to the proliferation of fever hospitals, Strangers’ Friend Societies and mendicity societies throughout Ireland and Britain in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Among other things, examples of co-operation and the exchange of mutual advice between societies from Ireland and Britain, as well as the clear sentiment that these bodies shared mutual interests, underpin the transnational element of these philanthropic movements.

Further reading

Richard Bell, We shall be no more: suicide and self-government in the newly United States (Cambridge, MS, and London, 2012).

For a bibliography of works on transnational history, see the website of Transnational Ireland (http://transnationalireland.com/).

Simon Macdonald, ‘Transnational history: a review of past and present scholarship’, available at UCL Centre for Transnational History website (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/cth/objectives/simon_macdonald_tns_review).

The Scullabogue Memorial : difficult to find, difficult to fathom

by Ciarán McCabe

On a recent trip to New Ross in County Wexford, I took a diversion through Old Ross where I observed a signpost pointing towards the ‘Scullabogue Memorial’. This was, as far as I could see, the only signpost on any public road to an especially significant and poignant memorial. Yet, after two hours of driving around the rural hinterland of New Ross, my wife and I still could not find the memorial and only upon searching Google using an iPhone did we discover that the memorial is located in the picturesque graveyard of St Mary’s Church of Ireland church in Old Ross. (Frustratingly, this was located merely a stone’s throw from the ‘Scullabogue Memorial’ signpost which we drove past numerous times on this search!) In a county covered with numerous monuments pertaining to the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion, the poor signage to the Scullabogue Memorial was striking. A read through the memoir of UCC Professor Emeritus Tom Dunne, Rebellions: memoir, memory and 1798 (2004; new ed. 2010), provides an insight into this relatively hidden memorial.


Firstly, a quick note is necessary on the Scullabogue Massacre, which occurred on the same day as the Battle of New Ross. On 5 June 1798 in the townland of Scullabogue, which lies just six miles from New Ross, a barn which was used by rebels to detain men, woman and children, mostly local Protestants who were considered loyalists, was set on fire, killing all those inside. In his account of the massacre, its wider context and its aftermath, Tom Dunne provides a listing of the names, residence, sex, occupation and religious affiliation of 126 known victims. 116 of the 126 were identified as Protestants, and of the men who were killed, they were typically tenant farmers, servants, labourers and artisans. Dunne suggests that traditional sectarianism, which became acutely heightened at that time, combined with local agrarian grievances to influence those who carried out the massacre. Many of the victims were believed to have been buried in a mass grave in the churchyard of St Mary’s, where the memorial now stands.

Cruikshank Scullabogue

Caption: George Cruikshank’s infamous and sensationalised portrayal of the Scullabogue Massacre.

Dunne’s memoir paints a critique of the manner in which the bicentenary was marked in his native County Wexford, where, he argues, contemporary political agendas resulted in the promotion of particular historical interpretations of the rebellion. It is in this light that Dunne examines the decision to erect a memorial to the Scullabogue Massacre during the bicentenary commemorations in 1998.

The inscription on the memorial reads:


In this place the people of Wexford

remember the victims of Scullabogue Barn

interred here and at Templeshelin,

used to detain some one hundred

men, women and children.

The barn was set on fire on 5 June 1798,

the day of the Battle of Ross.

The remorse of the United Irish

at this outrage, a tragic departure

from their ideals, is shared

by the people of Ireland.


photo 4

The ‘men, women and children’ were, in an earlier version of the text, referred to as ‘prisoners’ but this wording was subsequently dropped. According to Dunne, the inscription suggests that the real trauma of the Scullabogue Massacre was experienced by the United Irishmen and not those persons killed. The emphasis is on the ‘remorse’ and ‘ideals’ of the United Irishmen and not the suffering of the victims.

The Scullabogue Massacre sits uneasily within the nationalist version of Irish history. In a rebellion supposedly driven by the ideals of uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, and which played a large role in shaping modern Irish nationalism and republicanism, the Scullabogue Memorial – ‘this modest stone, hidden away in a quiet corner of the little Church of Ireland churchyard’, as Dunne writes – serves as an uncomfortable, and regrettably lonely, reminder of this tragic and ugly event. The failure to satisfactorily commemorate the killing of more than 100 men, women and children in a massacre in which sectarian hatred played a part says as much about modern attitudes as it does about events more than two centuries ago. As we progress through the Decade of Commemorations, the case of the Scullabogue Memorial reminds us to be cautious in how we mark significant events in Irish history which are open to contentious and varied interpretations, and the influence of modern agendas.

Further reading:

Tom Dunne, Rebellions: memoir, memory and 1798 (2004; new ed. Dublin, 2010): this book contains Dunne’s analysis of the massacre as well as an outline of his subsequent debate with local historians as to the manner in which the massacre has been remembered.

Daniel Gahan, ‘The Scullabogue Massacre, 1798’ in History Ireland, iv, no. 3 (Autumn 1996), pp 27-31 (http://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/the-scullabogue-massacre-1798/).

Daniel Gahan, ‘New Ross, Scullabogue and the 1798 Rebellion in south-western Wexford’ in The Past: the Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society, no. 21 (1998), pp 3-33.

Heritage Week 2014: the First World War, poverty and welfare, and urban history

By Ciarán McCabe

With Heritage Week 2014 fast approaching, I have been wondering how best to compose a post which took in a few interesting things to do but did not mirror our regular listing of events (updated weekly!) that we at Holinshed already provide. To negotiate this, I have decided to look at a few themes which are addressed by various lectures, walking tours and related events across the country during Heritage Week (23-31 August).

The First World War, needless to say, is generously covered and many communities throughout Ireland are hosting events addressing a local angle to this aspect of Irish history. In Kilkenny a commemorative brochure detailing the city’s history on the eve of the Great War is being launched (23 August, John’s Green House), while a walking tour of the city (28 August, beginning at St Canice’s Cathedral) will outline the stories of local people who fought in the war. The Hunt Museum in Limerick is hosting lectures by Dr Tadgh Moloney, Dr Deirdre McMahon and Dr Jerome ann de Wiel (25, 27 and 29 August respectively) on various aspects of the Irish and Limerick experience of the war. Anyone in Waterford city on 30 August can avail of a particular treat in this year’s programme, with Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter (UCD) speaking on ‘Ireland in 1914: liberty, loyalty, living and longing’. This lecture, examining the generation of 1914 and the potential for political change as well as wider social threats and possibilities, is being held in the city’s Central Library. Other events are being held in, to name but a few places, Portlaw (Co. Waterford), Swords (Co. Dublin), Longford town, Douglas (Co. Cork), Celbridge (Co. Kildare), Virginia (Co. Cavan) and Monagear (Co. Wexford).


For those interested in the history of poverty and welfare in Ireland, there are a number of events. Margaret Hickey, who is currently writing a book on the history of Irish food and drink, will present a talk on the potato and the Great Famine in the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna on 31 August. A guided walking tour from the workhouse in Callan, Co. Kilkenny to a pauper burial ground at Cherryfield (two kilometres away) is taking place on 27 August. A lecture entitled ‘Cootehill and the Great Famine’ will provide a valuable local insight into the Famine of the late-1840s. This event is being held in Cootehill Library and Arts Centre, Co. Cavan on 26 August.

Children in Workhouse

 (Courtesy of the Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna)

Urban history also figures prominently in this year’s programme, particularly in terms of the history of urban development and planning. Architectural historian Louise Harrington is presenting an illustrated talk on one of Cork city’s most famous thoroughfares, ‘Washington Street: an architectural history’. This is taking place in Cork City Library on 25 August. A walking tour of some of Cork’s oldest streets is being held on 23 August.

The most important project in transforming our understanding of urban history, the Irish Historic Towns Atlas initiative which is linked to European partner projects (www.ria.ie/research/ihta), is represented in this year’s schedule of events. John Martin, who has been commissioned to compile the Towns Atlas on Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, is speaking on his ongoing research in the Town Hall Theatre, Dungarvan on 25 August. The work of the Wide Street Commissioners between 1757 and 1849, who played such an important role in shaping the streetscape of modern Dublin, is the subject of a lecture by Dr John Montague in Dublin City Library and Archive on 25 August. The commercial history of County Carlow will be the subject of three short lectures in Cobden Hall, Carlow College on 27 August. Mark Shaw, Michael Johnson and Robert Duffy will each present a twenty-minute lecture on Shaw’s of Carlow, Johnson’s Tailors of Tullow, and Duffy’s of Hacketstown respectively. Held under the auspices of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society, this event will provide an insight into the interesting topic of the commercial history of a provincial town.

Before finishing, I want to highlight what sounds like a truly fascinating event and one which I would love to attend if I was anywhere near Carrick-on-Suir. A re-enactment of a traditional Irish wake is being held in Nell’s Farm House on 31 August, from 8-11pm. Admission is €10. The re-enactment will include an explanation of the customs and practices surrounding death in previous generations. Music and story-telling will add to the event, and audience participation is encouraged.

An Irish Wake painting

 ‘An Irish Wake’, sketch by M. Woolf (n.d.).

The details of all the above events are taken from the Heritage Week 2014 website (www.heritageweek.ie), from which further information (such as times and contact details) are available.

Museum of the month: Kilkenny Castle

By Ciarán McCabe

A recent trip to Kilkenny offered the opportunity to tour Kilkenny Castle, which I had long heard about but had never visited. The Anglo-Norman castle was built for William Marshall, 4th Earl of Pembroke, in the early-1200s. From the late-fourteenth century, the castle was the principal Irish residence of the Butler family (the Dukes of Ormonde) and in 1967 the Sixth Marquess of Ormonde presented the castle to the people of Kilkenny for the token sum of £50. Since then, it has been managed and restored by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public for tours.



The castle is located on a prominent site in the middle of the city, overlooking the River Nore, and is, therefore, easily accessible for anyone staying, or travelling through, Kilkenny.

The most surprising feature of the entire visit was the view immediately upon coming through the entrance courtyard: turning to the right, one is met by far-reaching parklands, as far as the eye can see, and utterly (yet refreshingly!) out of place in a castle setting in a modern city centre. As with so many medieval castles and early-modern ‘big houses’, Kilkenny Castle underwent extensive renovation in the nineteenth century. The entrance hall is one part of the complex that was remodelled in this period, and today is dominated by a marble table which was spared from auction in 1935 (like many landed familes’ houses, Kilkenny Castle was subjected to a clear-out sale, as the family could no longer the upkeep of the building) due to the fact that it was simply too heavy to move! A notable feature of the library is a wooden table specially commissioned to mark the passing of the Act of Union (1800) and which is emblazoned with the shamrock, rose and thistle of Ireland, England and Scotland. (I cannot recall whether the Welsh were represented by the leek). The picture gallery is a highlight of the visit, from the hammer-beam roof to the Carrara marble fireplace, which carries depictions of various events from the building’s history, such as the purchase of the castle by the earl of Ormonde in 1391 and the triumphant return to Dublin of the Duke of Ormonde in 1662. (The late architectural historian Maurice Craig famously wrote that this event marked the Renaissance’s eventual arrival in Ireland). A favourite engraving of mine is a depiction of a lady from the Ormonde family dispensing alms to the poor, emphasising the family’s self-image of itself as exerting a paternalistic duty of care to their tenants.

Kilkenny Castle is certainly one of the most significant sites, and the home to one of the most important families, in Irish history. A visit, which takes approximately two hours, is highly recommended, particularly if you are in Kilkenny during the forthcoming Arts Festival (8-17 August 2014).

(As photos are not allowed inside the castle, these pictures are all from the exterior. But, we hope that you enjoy them all the same!)

Visit: http://www.kilkennycastle.ie


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Cork Street Fever Hospital records deposited at RCPI archives

By Ciarán McCabe

The news that a collection of hitherto largely-unused manuscripts have been acquired by an archive is to be welcomed by any history enthusiast. Recently, such news emerged from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) when that body launched a cataloguing and preservation project on the records of the Cork Street Fever Hospital, which were donated to the RCPI in 2013. The Wellcome Trust-funded project is scheduled to last twelve months and will facilitate the records being made accessible to researchers. Upon reading about the project on the RCPI Heritage Centre’s blog (http://rcpilibrary.blogspot.ie), I felt some excitement, as I had worked closely with the Cork Street Fever Hospital records for the duration of a one-year Masters in the Social and Cultural History of Medicine (in the School of History and Archives at UCD) and had always hoped for their depositing in an archive. Every Friday for a year, I visited Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin, where the Cork Street records were stored, and was consistently amazed at the wealth of material in this collection long neglected by researchers.

The Cork Street Fever Hospital opened on 14 May 1804 following a public campaign by a group of philanthropic Dublin men to establish a specialised hospital to cater for the fever-stricken poor of Dublin city. The timing of the initiative was significant. The turn of the century had seen a particularly acute fever epidemic across Dublin, which impacted greatly on the poorer classes of the city. The establishment of this institution is not to be as a stand-alone development. Fever hospitals had been emerging across Britain and Ireland since the mid-1780s as part of a wider move away from ‘general’ hospitals and towards specialisation in institutional care. The historian M.C. Buer referred to a ‘fever hospital movement’ in this period and it is in this light that the establishment of the Cork Street hospital is to be understood. These early fever hospitals – Limerick (1780), Chester (1784), Belfast (1790s), Manchester (1796), Waterford (1799), Cork (1802), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1804), Leeds (1804), Cork Street, Dublin (1804), Liverpool (1806) – were established in a context wherein information pertaining to the activities of the founders and managing committees were exchanged between these institutions. For example, the design of the Cork Street hospital was carried out in consultation with fever hospital doctors from Manchester and Liverpool, and it appears that the Manchester hospital served as an administrative model for that in Cork Street.

Cork Street Fever Hospital and House of Recovery

The location of the new hospital on Cork Street was also significant. Cork Street is located in the Liberties, which lie to the south-west of the medieval city core and where the city’s textile industries were concentrated. The Liberties were largely populated by artisans, small manufacturers and various other categories of the poor and it was for this population, who were susceptible to illness from the city’s regular fever outbreaks, that the Cork Street Fever Hospital was built. The fever hospital remained open until around 1953, when it was moved out to Cherry Orchard (just west of Ballyfermot) and the buildings on Cork Street were retained for use as a welfare home for elderly people. The buildings are still standing and the HSE today operate Bru Chaoimhin care centre at the Cork Street site.


The Cork Street Fever Hospital is an institution of critical importance to the history of modern Dublin. The wealth and range of material in the manuscript sources, now held by the RCPI, is rare for an Irish institution, but a notable absence in the early-nineteenth-century records is (as far as I could see) any patient’s register. Nonetheless, the records of this hospital will provide an insight into so many aspects of Dublin’s history: medical practice; how the poor experienced illness and disease; the role of philanthropy; the evolving role of the state in providing, or at least funding, welfare services.

Further reading:

Jacinta Prunty, Dublin slums, 1800-1925: a study in urban geography (Dublin, 1998); Laurence M. Geary, Medicine and charity in Ireland, 1714-1851 (Dublin, 2004); Eugene Dudley, ‘A silent witness – Cork Street Fever Hospital’ in Dublin Historical Record, lxii, no. 1 (Spring 2009), pp 103-26.

‘Resources for Historians’: The Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, National Archives of Ireland

By Ciarán McCabe

An 1818 petition from prisoners in Cork City Gaol to the Lord Lieutenant, asking for a regular allowance of tobacco, which the petitioners claimed had ‘become an absolute necessity of life’, provides an opening into one of the most important bodies of source material for historians of modern Ireland. For anyone interested in nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish history, the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSORP) in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) is an indispensable collection of source material. These papers, contained in 3,770 cartons, reveal practically all aspects of British administration in Ireland between 1818 and the foundation of the Irish Free State in minute detail. Despite their undoubted significance, the CSORP are notoriously difficult to use. This difficulty arises from a number of factors, largely due to a change in referencing and cataloguing during the nineteenth century but more significantly, the destruction of the public record office at the Four Courts in 1922 has made researchers’ efforts daunting, to say the least. It is a common experience for researchers to identify items in the 337 registers and index books that line the walls of the NAI’s Reading Room, only to be told that the item cannot be found, usually arising from the source’s destruction in 1922.

Fortunately, the challenge of searching and negotiating the CSORP has been considerably alleviated by an ongoing project launched in 2008 by the NAI. On foot of a bequest from the late Professor Francis J. Crowley of California, the detailed entries for the CSORP material for the years 1818-22 have been made available online. The website could not be easier to use. By inserting your keyword into the ‘Search’ box, every appearance that word makes in the catalogue entries appears on screen. For my own research into street begging in early-nineteenth-century Ireland, this has (somewhat!) removed the intimidating spectre that hovered over the CSORP as a body of source material. For instance, the word ‘beggars’ appears thirteen times; there are twelve mentions of ‘mendicity’; ‘vagrancy’ and derivative terms appear twenty-one times; and there are 219 matches for ‘House of Industry’. Each one of these searches reveals sources of potential interest and relevance which I may otherwise have missed if I had been reliant on the index books. As with all websites reviewed under our ‘Resources for Historians’ feature, the use of the NAI CSORP site is free of charge and open to all.

Many of the sources have been photographed and digitised, and the visitor to the site can access a wide range of images not only of letters and hand-writing, but of close-up images of postal marks and a number of fascinating maps, one of a proposed new penitentiary in Waterford city. The context in which any source was created is crucial to the historian’s understanding of that source and in this regard, the CSORP website provides useful commentary on each year for the subject period (1818-22). Events and developments of significant social, cultural, economic, and political importance are outlined, and the weaving of select items from the CSORP into this narrative enhances the reader’s understanding. Those with an interest in archives are also catered, as the conservation methodology is also outlined using photographs and step-by-step guides through the conservation process. Articles on the use of wax and wafer seals, and watermarks on the CSORP are particular gems!


(Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland)

This website is accessible at: http://www.csorp.nationalarchives.ie/index.html

Cataloguing for the years 1823 and 1824 is on-going. The petition from the smoking lobby of Cork city prisoners is available at NAI, Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, CSO/RP/1818/116.

Further reading: Brian Griffin, Sources for the study of crime in Ireland, 1801-1921, Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History, no. 9 (Dublin, 2005); Tom Quinlan, ‘The registered papers of the Chief Secretary’s Office’ in Irish Archives, i, no. 2 (1994), pp 5-21.

‘Resources for Historians’ will be a monthly post reviewing a free, internet-based resource for historians and history enthusiasts. Potential contributors or alerts about possible sites for review are most welcome and should be sent to the editors at holinshedrevisited@gmail.com

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