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The ‘Time in the Slime’: not quite counting down to the millennium

Time in the slime

Millennium Clock Source: Pinterest

By Adrian James Kirwan

The Millennium Clock was design to be a significant part of the millennium celebrations in Dublin city. The six-ton, £250,000 clock was sponsored by the Irish National Lottery. The clock was placed underwater at O’Connell Street Bridge in March 1996 and its primary function was to countdown to the year 2000. It consisted of a 1.9 meter deep, 7.8 meter-wide steel frame with luminous green rods that displayed the time. It also included a kiosk, located on O’Connell Bridge which recorded the time remaining on the clock on a postcard, thus providing a unique memento.

However, difficulties with the clock and its position in the river were experienced from the onset. Firstly, as anyone who is familiar with the pristine waters of the River Liffey can testify, the placing of a clock underneath its surface was a recipe for disappointment. Hence the granting of its colloquial title by the citizenry of Dublin: ‘the time in the slime.’ Three days after the clock was switched on it was to disappear. Despite reports in a national newspaper that this may have been the work of the magician Paul Daniels, it was in fact removed to facilitate a boat race. Indeed, it was reckoned that this would be a regular feature of the clock’s future.

The clock was to experience a number of mechanical faults over its short life, including displaying the wrong time. In addition to these mechanical difficulties, there were mounting costs associated with keeping the clock clean. It was removed from the river permanently by the end of the year. The Irish difficulty with electronic devices should have perhaps served as a warning to Irish politicians when they embarked on the electronic voting fiasco a few years later. This was to involve spending €54 million on 7,500 electronic voting machines that were widely unpopular among the public and never used! Perhaps the last word on the clock should go to the National Lottery spokesperson: ‘When it’s up and running, we are confident that people will say it was worth it.’ We will leave it up to you to decide if that was the case.

Further reading
‘The Millennium Clock’ in Irish Independent, 2 April 2016, available at (http://www.independent.ie/unsorted/features/the-millennium-clock-26410316.html) (22 May 2017)

‘Liffey clock to be tock of the town in March’ in Irish Times, 26 Jan. 1996, available at (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/liffey-clock-to-be-tock-of-the-town-in-march-1.25327) (22 May 2017).Evening Herald, Wednesday, 1 May 1996

‘Time in the Slime is the Clock in Dry Dock’ in Irish Times, 20 Mar. 1996, available at (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/time-in-the-slime-is-the-clock-in-dry-dock-1.35492) (22 May 2017).

Evening Herald, Wednesday, 1 May 1996

Adrian J. Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited completed a Ph.D. at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in 2017. His research focuses on the interaction between science, technology, and society. He is currently researching the history of early research into radioactivity in Ireland. More about his research can be found here.



‘I personally don’t want to see another Ballymun again’: the lessons of urban planning and regeneration

Ballymun new

Ballymun under construction, still taken from short video see (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O7G8weRc98) (26 May 2016)

By Adrian James Kirwan

On the 10 May the master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, speaking at the new Dáil committee on homelessness highlighted many of the lessons that can be learnt from the rapid construction of social housing projects without detailed planning stating: ‘I personally don’t want to see another Ballymun again’. Honohan was highlighting that the town had become a byword for the mismanagement of urban planning and management. Perhaps it is important as the state appears set on a new phrase of rapid construction of social housing to re-examine the history of Ballymun, to see what lessons we can learn from it and if those lessons are being implemented.

Ballymun was a direct response to a housing crisis which Dublin was experiencing in the 1950s and 60s. Dublin’s housing stock was not only under pressure from a rising population but also, in the city, extremely poorly maintained. Between the summer and end of 1963 tenements across the city collapsed or were evacuated due to safety concerns. House collapses in Bolton Street and Fenian Street led to the death of four people, forcing Dublin Corporation to adopt ‘emergency measures’ to deal with the crisis. These measures included the removal of over 1,000 people from homes deemed to be dangerous, leading to a doubling of the Corporation’s housing list.

The answer to the surge in housing demand quickly came from central government: pre-fabricated buildings. Such building techniques had become popular in Britain and Europe in the 1950s/60s and offered the government a relatively cheap and rapid way to construct homes. For some the use of such modern construction techniques and the introduction of high-rise living also signalled that Ireland was entering the modern age of public housing. Alongside the provision of spacious homes, constructed to high standards, the planners and government would meet the other needs of the new community, these included: shops, schools, green spaces, playgrounds, community halls and meeting rooms, a health clinic, a swimming pool and landscaped parks. It was to be a model of high-rise living, providing families with every amenity they required. However, as highlighted by Robert Somerville-Woodward, by the time construction began, in 1965, states across Europe were already abandoning such developments due to many of the problems that would scourge the new town, including poor maintenance of communal areas and the social isolation of residents.

File:James connolly Tower 2007.JPG

James connolly Tower, available at Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_connolly_Tower_2007.JPG) (26 May 2016).

The first residents began arriving in the new town in 1966 and were delighted by the homes that greeted them. For many coming from inner-city tenements and others after years in cramped conditions on the Corporation’s housing list, the provision of three and four bedroom flats and houses, with central heating and hot water on demand, was warmly welcomed. However, while the homes were deemed adequate, the lack of facilities, many of which were incomplete even in the 1970s, led to the unravelling of the project. In particular, the town centre, to primarily consist of a shopping centre was not completed until after the completion of all the residential units, meaning that some tenants now housed miles from Dublin city-centre were literally years without access to shopping facilities. Added to this, the inclusion, and hence delay, of much of the town’s social facilities and a health centre as part of the new town centre further alienated the residents. Thus, when the town was formally taken over by Dublin Corporation in February 1969 it lacked much basic infrastructure that was essential for a properly functioning urban area.

By the 1970s the socio-economic demographics of the new town changed as more affluent tenants began to leave the area. This problem was exacerbated in 1985 by the introduction of the Surrender Grant Scheme. This scheme gave £5,000 to residents who decided to purchase their house, but as flats were not covered by the scheme many residents seeking to purchase their home sought transfers to houses. The scheme was an un-mitigating disaster for Ballymun, and in 1985 over 1,000 flats contained new tenants. This turnover of residents was to continue into the future and was in a large part responsible for difficulties creating a sense of community within the town. In tangent with this, many offers of housing in the area were declined, leading to the accumulation of a high percent of those from a social-economic deprived background or with substance abuse problems being housed there, by the 1980s the area suffered from a severe drugs problem.

File:MacDermott Implosion.JPG

Demolition of Séan MacDermott tower, available at Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MacDermott_Implosion.JPG#globalusage) (26 May 2016).

Despite, and perhaps because of, the difficulties that the community faced, many groups and organisations were formed to aid in the development of facilities and supports. These ranged from youth groups, to the establishment of a credit union, to other groups pushing for improvements in housing and the built environment. In the 1980s/90s a number of reports were commissioned to seek a way to solve the many difficulties that the town’s population faced. The results of these was the establishment of Ballymun Regeneration Ltd. in 1997, which was responsible for the demolition of all flat complex’s in the estate and their replacement with housing. The planners of the ‘new’ Ballymun would seek to address many of the failures of the original project. As well as the replacement of existing social housing, private housing would also be constructed to change the social-economic demographic of the area; schools would be upgraded; a new, modern shopping centre would also be part of the plans, as would a theatre and other recreational facilities. The area would be provided ample playgrounds and of extreme importance would be an investment in the human as well as the built capital of the area. A renewed focus on educational attainment and training would seek to improve not only the physical environment of the area but also provide greater opportunities to engage in the ‘Celtic tiger’. For this was truly a creation of that tiger, Ireland now had the money to correct the mistakes of the past, indeed break with the past, and what better way to demonstrate that the economic miracle was benefitting everyone than the erasure of those tower blocks that had come to signify the inequality of Irish society?

The regeneration of Ballymun has seen the demolition of all flat complexes and the construction of some of the promised facilities including a new swimming pool and the axis theatre. However, with the economic downturn much of the promised amenities have not been delivered. In particular, with the closure of Tesco’s in 2014, the shopping centre’s anchor tenant and one of the last remaining shops, Ballymun is again without a proper shopping centre. (The site of the new proposed centre remains vacate).

Thus, have we learnt the lessons of Ballymun? Like Edmund Honohan, the state has no desire to build large-scale social housing estates again. Rather the ideal for urban planners is a social mix, which house’s tenants from a range of social and economic backgrounds. This type of housing means that those engaged in anti-social behaviour will not become an overarching feature of any area; that amenities for the whole community can be funded by the community; that commercial enterprises, such as shops, will see the benefits of serving such communities. It is these lessons that the government and local authorities seem to have taken from the experience of Ballymun. But for residents of such large-scale social housing projects many of these lessons have been ignored during the recession. As can be seen in Ballymun, the lack of a shopping centre was deemed one of the central concerns of tenants arriving in the 1960s, and yet the same problem exists in 2016. Throughout the town’s existence external financial factors and economic downturn have affect the provision of services. This should be the primary lesson that we take from this case study: that short-term savings lead to long-term problems that are also much costlier to resolve.

Further reading
Robert Somerville-Woodward, Ballymun, a history (2 vol., Dublin, 2002) i & ii; see also Robert Somerville-Woodward, Ballymun, a history, Synopsis (Dublin, 2002), available at Ballymun Regeneration Ltd. (http://www.brl.ie/pdf/ballymun_a_history_1600_1997_synopsis.pdf) (20 May 2016).

Boyle M and Rogerson R J (2006) ‘“Third Way” urban policy and the new moral politics of community: A comparative analysis of Ballymun in Dublin and the Gorbals in Glasgow’ in Urban Geography, xxvii, pp 201-227, available at (http://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/681/1/strathprints000681.pdf) (20 May 2016).

Ballymun regeneration Ltd., Sustaining regeneration: a social plan for Ballymun, available at Ballymun Regeneration Ltd. (http://www.brl.ie/pdf/SRBallymunLowRes_FA.pdf) (23 May 2016).

And for a look at the community’s view of the regeneration:
Ballymun Community Action Program (CAP), On the Balcony of a new millennium, regenerating Ballymun: Building on 30 years of community experience, expertise and energy (Dublin, 2000), available at (https://uniteyouthdublin.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/on-the-balcony-regenerating-ballymun.pdf) (20 May 2016).


Adrian James Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, is an Irish Research Council funded Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His research focuses on the interaction between society and technology, more about his research can be found here.


Resources for Historians: Catholic Parish Registers at the National Library of Ireland

Parish register

The National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) digitalisation of Catholic Parish Registers is an encouraging example of how technology can both stimulate and satisfy the genealogical interests of the Irish public. Populating the branches of the family tree that stretch further back than the 1901 Census can often prove to be a challenging and onerous task. The first full government census of Ireland was carried out in 1821, followed by censuses every ten years thereafter. It is a tragedy for Irish genealogy that the pre-1901 records of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages have been decimated by the intervention of various unfortunate events and decisions. While the returns for 1861 and 1871 were never preserved for posterity, the census data for 1881 and 1891 was obliterated when the records were pulped during the First World War, possibly due to a shortage in paper. The returns from 1821-1851 were, famously, almost completely destroyed in the fire that engulfed the Public Record’s Office in 1922 in the early stages of the Civil War.

Consequently, arguably one of the best, if not the best, source of general data on individuals living in nineteenth century Ireland is the Catholic Parish Registers. The NLI holds a vast microfilm collection of Catholic parish registers on microfilm and has recently completed the project of digitalisation whereby the microfilm pages were scanned and uploaded as images to be perused on the NLI’s website. In fact the project is arguably the continuation of efforts that began as far back as 1949 when the NLI offered its services to the Catholic hierarchy to ensure the permanent preservation of parish registers. An NLI staff member was duly dispatched to every diocese and over a period of twenty years (with additional filming of some Dublin registers in the 1990s) the NLI developed microfilm copies of over 3,500 registers from 1,086 parishes in Ireland (North and South) with some records stretching back  as early as the seventeenth century. Now, approximately 373,000 digital images have been uploaded to the NLI’s website.

To search the records, the NLI has provided a user-friendly format, whereby the researcher reviews a map of Ireland, divided by county. Simply click on the county you are interested in, e.g. Wexford, and you will be immediately presented with the various parishes (in this example, from the Diocese of Ferns). Select your parish, e.g. Wexford (town) and you will be brought to the various digitalised microfilm copies of the original registers. The microfilm is arranged by time period and you can peruse records of births or marriages. Some of the very early registers can be that more difficult to decipher and appear to be a little damaged and perhaps watermarked, thus justifying the timely intervention of the NLI over sixty years ago in making permanent copies of the registers before their details were lost forever.  However as researchers and historians the digitalised microfilmed images can allow us to experience that evocative thrill of studying our ancestors, in the handwriting of a near contemporary who preserved, for posterity, the beginnings and the most significant moments in their lives.

Begin researching:


Further reading




Documentary review: Churchill – when Britain said no


In the wake of the recent general election in Britain, criticisms of what the Conservative Party perceived as a pronounced Labour bias within the corridors of the British national broadcaster are not likely to abate with the airing of the documentary Churchill: when Britain said no. Reviewing one of the most significant electoral defeats of the twentieth century, the documentary is a conscious, though thoroughly empirical effort to de-mythologise the wartime leader. With contributions from historians such as Professors Richard Overy Richard Toye and  John Charmley the documentary painstakingly accounts for the crushing defeat for Churchill and his Conservative party in 1945. It also attempts to disabuse viewers of the notion that Churchill’s wartime leadership enjoyed universal support and goodwill. Excerpts from contemporary sources such as the diaries of Lord Moran (Churchill’s personal physician), newspaper reports, interviews with members of the public and the personal correspondence of both Labour and Conservative politicians paint a more complex and less halcyon picture of the man who saw Britain through its ‘finest hour’.

Conservative Election Poster 1945

Conservative Election Poster 1945

Though most historians would be well aware of Churchill’s inglorious pre-war political record (as Chancellor of the Exchequer presiding over economic collapse in the 1920s) not many would question the popularity of his wartime leadership. The documentary reminds us that reactions to Churchill’s now mythic wartime orations were often mixed, with many critical and some even downright suspicious of his often slurred delivery. Indeed fewer people heard Churchill speak than is generally supposed. His famous ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech of June 1940 was delivered to the House of Commons rather than broadcast via wireless. In fact Churchill did not make a recording of his oratory on this speech until nine years later, sitting in his bed in Chartwell. Professor Overy argues in the documentary that history is not only kind to Churchill because he wrote so much of it himself but also because he is ‘immensely quotable’. The documentary reminds us that throughout his life Churchill had failed to set the polls alight and became prime minister, not on the groundswell of electoral support, but through default with the resignation of Chamberlain. Churchill was clearly completely unprepared to fight an election in 1945 and was dramatically out of step with popular opinion. War had led to a new impetus of political radicalism in the working class and Churchill had failed to recognise that the war effort had already introduced a form of collectivism and socialism into everyday life. The patrician Churchill who had only been on the underground once in his lifetime was not prepared to shed his Victorian conceptions of British society to create the kind of domestic reforms sought by an increasingly vocal working class. Conservative election posters were stuck in wartime rhetoric with a portrait of an austere Churchill emblazoned with the words ‘Let him finish the job’. The Labour party meanwhile had tapped into the public mood with their posters of an amiable Clement Atlee sporting the more optimistic slogan of ‘Let’s face the future’ and recognising that a war weary public wanted an end to both wartime sacrifice and the entire economic privations of the previous decades. Churchill blundered through the election campaign, disgusting huge sections of the public by predicting that a Labour government would inaugurate a socialist ‘Gestapo’, embarrassing younger Conservatives with his diehard imperialism in the face of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement in India and failing to impress voters with his lacklustre efforts at post-war planning.

All this and the documentary’s observation Churchill was a man of the nineteenth century trying to win a twentieth-century election contains few new or groundbreaking observations. What is interesting is its argument that there was a significant section of the working class who had never admired Churchill’s wartime leadership, never forgiving the enemy of the 1926 General Strike. While the historians featured do concede that Churchill rose to the challenge of wartime leadership, the documentary insists that the electorate’s rejection of Churchill represented a complete and utter disillusionment with the nineteenth century values for which he stood. As such the documentary itself is an incomplete effort at both political and social commentary for the reality was not such a straight line with such a neat endpoint. The documentary ends with a brief sentence acknowledging Churchill’s re-election in 1951, thus failing to explain why when Britain said such a firm ‘no’ in 1945, it was prepared to say ‘yes’ six years later.

Review event: RTÉ Road to the Rising


How we choose to commemorate historical events can provoke both impassioned debate and cynical dismissal. If a sense of occasion is lacking or if balance, accuracy and nuance is completely shed in favour of emotive myth making then the event has failed to serve as a commemoration: an act of remembrance implies that the memory is rooted in a factual reality that has been faithfully recorded. The 1916 Rising represents both the real military battleground and the later polemical battleground of interpretation between nationalists and historians of different motivations and hues. As we head towards the centenary it is reasonable to expect that debate will deepen but we can hope that differing forums can accommodate and acknowledge the competing interpretations and by doing so create a broader understanding and appreciation of the implications of 1916 for Irish history.


One of the first events to wet the public’s appetite for the centenary was RTÉ’s Road to the Rising, a public event, inviting people to ‘step into history’ on a pedestrianised O’Connell Street (or Sackville Street as it was fondly referred to for the occasion). This was a very impressive affair, encompassing academic talks, broadcasts and exhibits. It was an entertaining and commendable effort to contextualise the Rising for the public, giving attendees the opportunity to immerse themselves in recreated scenes of Dublin life in Easter 1915. There were music hall acts showcasing material popular in the period, stalls displaying period wares (including tailors, milliners and a barbershop), a period wedding and funeral with Liberty Hall hosting a broadcast of Insurrection, the documentary made by RTÉ for the 50th anniversary of the Rising. RTÉ also provided access to sound booths for the recording of family history and genealogists, Dublin Public Libraries and an army of actors and volunteers worked hard to ensure public engagement with events. Talks from historians and authors on such diverse topics as wives, mothers and revolutionaries, the twilight of empire, law and order in Ireland, the Irish language and the cultural revolution, family members of the volunteers, living and dying in 1915 and ordinary life in 1915, acknowledged the broad vagaries of Irish politics and society in the lead up to Easter 1916.

The efforts of all those involved in Monday’s public history event has set an inclusive and stimulating tone for the coming centenary commemorations which will hopefully continue to provide an opportunity for wider historical engagement and debate.

The old St. Canice’s Church, Finglas (Church of Ireland)

St Canices

The old St Canices Church, Finglas (Church of Ireland)

By Adrian James Kirwan

The old church of St. Canice’s, Finglas, is accessed through a small gateway off the Wellmount Road, located across the dual carriageway from Finglas village. Originally the residents of Finglas village would have gained accessed to the church via Church Street by crossing the Finglas bridge (both river and bridge are now gone). It was in existence by 1657 however it is obvious from the records that it was standing much earlier than this. This church according to tradition was built on the site of St Canice’s monastery. Saint Canice, born c. 516, having originally trained at Clonard, moved to this site from a monastic settlement located in Glasnevin. Robert Walsh gave a brief description of the church in his Fingal and its churches (Dublin, 1888):

[the] church is situated in the north-west corner of the burying-ground. No record exists of when it was built. It consists of a nave, 48 feet long, divided into two aisles, that to the north being 28 feet wide, while that to the south is 16 feet wide. At the east end of the north there is a chancel 34 feet long by 22 wide, separated by two large semi-circular arches, and each aisle had its own roof and gables. The west gable of the larger aisle was surmounted by a bell-turret, which has disappeared. The church is entered through a stone-roofed porch, opening into the north-west end of this aisle, which is 15 feet wide by 8 feet long. The nave is lighted by 2 west, 1 east and 1 north windows. The walls are very thick, and of plain rubble masonry. In the churchyard many celebrated people have been buried from ancient times.

In addition the grounds of the church contained the supposed cross of Nethercross (from where the Barony that Finglas parish is located in gets its name). According to legend this cross –that still stands in the church grounds- was buried by the parishioners upon the approach of Cromwellian forces and was to remain buried until rediscovered by Rev. Robert Walsh (father of the author of the above extract) early in the nineteenth century.

The history of the parish is well documented with the parish vestry records extant from 1657 to the present. Such records give an insight into the running and maintenance of the church and its grounds. However they are also a valuable resource for the study of the wider history of the parish. This is because the parish vestry was the smallest unit of government and thus the vestry records give much insight into how local government operated in Finglas, particularly prior to the passing of the poor laws in 1838.

As early as 1758 problems with damp appeared to be creating difficulties for the parishioners and by 1840 the church was in poor repair. Following consultation with an architect, the parish decided to seek funds from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to build a new church. This new church, the current Church of Ireland, St Canice’s, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Dublin on the 20 April 1843. However the older church was to retain some usefulness to the parish. As the newer church did not contain a vestry the old church was to remain in use for vestry meetings until the 1870s as the parishioners felt that ‘improper it would be to permit the crowded & mixed meeting who now assemble at vestries to come into the body of the Church for common purposes & not only materially injure but desecrate in varies [sic] ways a sacred edifice.’

Further Reading

Robinson, Theo, The pure stream, the story of St Canice’s parish church Finglas (Kildare, 1993).

Walsh, Robert, Fingal and its churches (Dublin, 1888).


Conference Review: The Economic and Social History Society of Ireland (ESHI) 21-22 November 2014, St. Patricks College, Drumcondra, Dublin.

By David Gahan

The Economic and Social History Society of Ireland formed in 1970, promotes the study of economic and social history in Ireland. It publishes a peer reviewed academic journal, Economic and Social History, a pamphlet series and organises an annual conference.

Prof. James Raven gave the Connell lecture, ‘Publishing business in eighteenth-century Ireland’ which looked at the role of jobbing printers whose numbers saw an increase in Dublin from three in 1690 to fifty-three in 1787.

In keeping with the economic theme there was a very interesting session on ‘Policy and economic development in the twentieth and twenty first centuries’, in which three of the papers dealt with relatively contemporary issues. Niall Curran (UCD) gave a very informative paper on the Kenny Report and the question of development land in Ireland 1963-75. Measures taken by governments to stem price inflation of development land which resulted in the Kenny Report of 1974, which recommended limited price control for development land and why this report was not implemented, were outlined. Ciarán Casey (Oxford) provided a very interesting paper on what domestic organisations, the Central Bank and the ESRI published about the economy from 2000 to 2006. Both organisations were concerned about the over reliance of the economy on construction, but both underestimated what a ‘collapse’ would entail, suggesting a drop to between 40,000 and 50,000 housing units being built, while in reality it fell to 8,500. Despite some warnings, the Central Bank continued to argue that the financial system was inherently stable. The monetary policy of the Irish Central Bank under successive governors Joseph Brennan 1943-53, James J. McElligott 1953-60 and Maurice Moynihan 1961-8, was thoroughly examined by Dr. Ella Kavanagh (UCC). Rebecca Stuart of the Central Bank finished this session with a paper on ‘Stock returns in Ireland, the UK, and the US, 1864-1930.

An excellent paper by Dr. Daithí Ó Corrian (SPD), ‘loss and compensation in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising’ looked at an aspect of a period not often considered. He outlined the work of the Property Losses Committee 1916, which was established in June to access compensation claims. The British government admitted liability and paid out £1.8 m on claims ranging from destruction of buildings, loss of tools, jewellery and a consignment of butter. Brian Casey (UCD) delivered an informative paper on the struggles between the Fenians and the Catholic Church, centring around the candidature and election to Westminster of the Fenian John O’Connor Power, for Mayo in 1874. Declan O’Keeffe (Clongowes) gave a paper on Jesuit publications in Ireland, 1873-1912, detailing how they promoted the Jesuit mission.

There were two papers on the Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery Project in Limerick from Matthew Potter (Limerick Corporation) and Helene Bradley Davies (MIC).

Robyn Atcheson (QUB) gave a paper on charity in pre-Poor Law Belfast which looked at various charitable organisations from poorhouses to self-help schemes set up in the city before 1838. Prof. Thomas Callahan (Rider U. New Jersey) detailed the arrival of the famine Irish in New York; how many ended up in the Five Points area with its cheap accommodation and that by 1850 there were more Irish in New York than in Dublin. Also explored was some of the less well known history of their unhappy experiences in Liverpool while awaiting embarkation to the US. The conference finished on the Famine theme, Ciarán Reilly (Maynooth) gave a very informative paper about the often undocumented role of land agents attempts to improve agriculture prior to the famine. He outlined examples of this in Offaly, of improvements at Tullamore and the introduction of new cattle breeds such as Ayrshires, but also that many landlords were reluctant to make improvements. ‘Who ate Ireland’s food during the Famine?’ by Charles Read (Cambridge) was an interesting paper suggesting that the responsibility for high food prices during the famine came not from domestic demand, but from imported high prices, influenced by demand in France for corn.

Further reading:

The Economic and Social History of Ireland Society website, available at http://www.eshsi.org/


My main research is in political and socio-economic developments in twentieth century Ireland and the wider world. I have a BA in History and English from 2012, from St. Patricks College, Drumcondra. I am currently a PhD student at the Department of History at NUI Maynooth. My thesis which is being supervised by Prof. Terence Dooley, examines the agitation surrounding the land annuities 1926-32. It aims to look at the economic effect of annuities on farmers and on political developments, particularly the positions adopted by the various political parties and how this impacted on the wider Irish political context.


Documentary review: One Million Dubliners


Once in a while a historical documentary will achieve the status of instant classic-a documentary that provides as much of an insight into contemporary ideas about history and the present state of the nation as it does into the historical significance of past events. Aoife Kelleher’s One Million Dubliners explores the story and legacy of Dublin’s necropolis, Glasnevin/Prospect Cemetery. Glasnevin is not Ireland’s national cemetery but as the documentary reminds us, it occupies an important place at the heart of the national experience, a conscious memorial and marker to the process of state building and to the cultural invention of the Irish nation. The documentary recounted Glasnevin’s origins from the lobbying of its most famous occupant, Daniel O’Connell for a graveyard for those of every or no religion with the astonishingly detailed records of the 1.5 million people interred since 1832 arising from the Victorian mania for record keeping. It was the story of how the living interact with the dead; of people’s interpretation and remembrances of the lives of figures both documented and undocumented by history. We had a French woman whose interest in the life of Michael Collins was fanned into a long-term devotion with frequent pilgrimages made to his graveside. We were also fortunate to witness a young man’s moving homage to the cultural impact of Luke Kelly. Our more enlightened attitudes to once contentious aspects of Irish history were also discussed with the documented scenes of Glasnevin’s Armistice Day service. We were also exposed to the stories and rituals arising from the passing of ordinary Dubliners and the delicate line to tread in maintaining a heritage site that remains a functioning place of burial and cremation.

Glasnevin/Prospect Cemetery

Glasnevin/Prospect Cemetery

However the most stirring part of the documentary was the masterful way in which Glasnevin Trust maintains and shares the history and heritage of the graveyard with its many and varied visitors. The dedication and devotion of its staff shone through with some sage yet compassionate reflection on the place of death in the Irish psyche. Most poignantly of all, the documentary became a much deserved tribute to the man who did the most to cherish and share the story of graveyard with the Irish public-Glasnevin’s late resident historian and guide, Shane MacThomais. The passion, empathy and dedication MacThomais brought to the history of Glasnevin and to its tours was wonderfully captured-whether he was seamlessly breaking down the complexities of Irish history for foreign visitors or lapsing into his natural storyteller mode, making history come alive for a cohort of rapt schoolchildren. This, above all, is the lasting value and legacy of One Million Dubliners: as a fitting celebration of the role one Dubliner played in the preservation and democratisation of local and national heritage.


One Million Dubliners: An Underground Films production in association with RTÉ, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Shoot for the Moon and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board

Museum of the Month: Johnstown Castle and the Irish Agricultural Museum, Wexford


Suitably situated in the old farm buildings of Johnstown Castle estate, Wexford, the Irish Agricultural Museum offers a fascinating insight into the history of rural Ireland. Making superb use of the character and history of the estate, the permanent and temporary exhibitions provide an engaging and visceral social history. The museum has much to offer, with displays to excite the interest of anyone with a passion for local and rural social history as well as those with a grá for the history of technology. Visitors are exposed to the evolution of farm machinery and practises as well as to the everyday realities of rural living, with a particularly charming exhibition of an Irish country kitchen. A new exhibition in the museum traces the importance of farming to Dublin, reminding visitors of the expertise and practices that sprung from Dublin county which was once, long before it became the model of an industrial and then tertiary economy, as dependent upon farming as the rest of the country.

Johnstown Castle

Johnstown Castle

However the lasting impression that visitors will take from the museum is its sublime location. The often turbulent history of Johnstown Castle alone as well as the beauty of the lovingly maintained grounds provides more than enough diversion for anyone with a passion for neo-gothic architecture and Victorian landscaping. Gifted to the nation in 1945, the history of the estate dates back to the twelfth century with its association with the old Anglo-Norman Esmonde family. After changing hands several times during the Cromwellian period, the Grogan family eventually took possession of the house and sprawling grounds. Cornelius Grogan, the best remembered Grogan scion, was a member of the United Irishmen and a supposedly ‘reluctant rebel’ during the 1798 rebellion in Wexford. According to Grogan, he was forced to assume leadership of local United Irishmen but was not guilty of any overt act of treason. Despite this professed reluctance, Grogan was hanged and beheaded on Wexford bridge with his body flung ignominiously into the Slaney from where it was later recovered by his friends and buried in secret proximity to his ancestral estate.

Today’s castle was constructed between 1810 and 1855 and local historians believe that it was Kilkenny architect Daniel Robertson who designed this neo-gothic turreted edifice as well as the grounds and gardens. Two additional lakes, home to the estate’s many swans, were also dug into the grounds sheltered by an impressive assortment of redwood, cypress, fir, beech and ancient oaks. A walled garden, meandering walkways which lead you to the ruins of an older castle, shrubberies and wandering peacocks add to the character and timelessness of the demesne. One of the finest examples of a Victorian estate in Ireland.

In the winter months the museum opens from 9am-4.30pm on weekdays and from 11am-4pm on weekends and bank holidays. Run by Teagasc, the grounds and gardens are opened from 9am -4.30pm every day. See:  http://www.irishagrimuseum.ie

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.

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.

Irish workhouse conference throws light on neglected aspects of Irish history

By Ciarán McCabe

The Great Famine and the Irish workhouse system are surely among the most comprehensively researched areas of the vast swathes of Irish history. Localised case studies for townlands, villages, towns, cities, counties and regions throughout the country have been subjected to detailed historical research and analysis. Yet, as with all subjects, much remains to be done. This was clear from an important conference held at the recent Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna, County Galway. Located in the former Portumna workhouse (which was one of the post-Famine workhouses erected in the 1850s), the centre has been conserved and re-developed by a non-profit community development initiative which has undertaken this admirable work over the past fifteen years.
The range of subjects – whether widely examined or still neglected – pertaining to the Irish workhouses were discussed at the conference. For instance, the urban experience of the Famine remains neglected. While Belfast and Cork have been examined in Christine Kinealy and Gerard MacAtasney’s Hidden Famine: poverty, hunger and sectarianism in Belfast, 1840-50 (2000) and Michelle O’Mahony’s Famine in Cork city (2005), there is surprisingly still no comprehensive history of Dublin during the Great Famine, although a chapter in Cormac Ó Gráda’s Black ’47 and beyond: the Great Irish Famine in history, economy and memory (1999) is a notable exception to this historiographical lacunae.
We still know little about the experience of those who entered the workhouses, particularly during the Famine years. It would be fascinating to know how the process of entering the workhouse was experienced by paupers. How and when was the decision made to enter the workhouse? What was the ‘breaking point’ for the family or individual? Are there accounts of the actual moment when the family members were separated and sent off into their respective parts of the workhouse – men, women and children accommodated in separated parts of the building. Was this moment experienced with resignation or resistance? What were the paupers’ perceptions of the workhouse before and after admission? We will, most likely, never have satisfactory answers to these questions, but they must nevertheless be asked, and asked by each generation of historians.
One example wherein we have an account of the paupers entering the workhouse is contained in an RTE Radio One documentary entitled ‘Children in the Workhouse’, first broadcast in 1982 and featuring contributions from Joseph Robins, author of The Lost Children (1980). The programme was played at the workhouse conference in Portumna. Among the most notable vignettes from the 40-minute-long documentary was an account of a pauper family saying goodbye to each other as they entered a workhouse, an all too rare insight into the experiences of the poor as they utilised the Poor Law system. (This documentary can be accessed at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/lostchildren.html).
Among the most fascinating papers were two – on the Irish workhouse system and the poorhouses of Scotland – by Peter Higginbotham, whose comprehensive website (http://www.workhouses.org.uk) is required reading for those with an interest in any aspect of the history of poverty, welfare and institutionalisation; Dr Laurence Geary’s exploration of health care provision under the Irish Poor Law; and Dr Gerard Moran’s study of the role of women in workhouses riots during the Famine years. Papers by Dr Georgina Laragy and Dr Sean Lucey looked at regional perspectives on poor relief in post-Famine Ireland and poor law reform post-1920 respectively. Dr Laragy and Dr Lucey are both attached to the ‘Poverty and public health in Belfast’ research project at Queen’s University Belfast, which, in examining welfare and public health in Belfast and its hinterland between 1800 and 1973, is greatly adding to our understanding of how individuals negotiated poverty and relief mechanisms in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Ireland. For more on this project, see http://www.belfastpovhist.com/.

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