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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).



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.


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).

Eisenhower in Wexford, 1962



Headline in the Irish Examiner, 24 August 1924

The south-east tourist industry has reaped great currency out of the visit of an American president in 1963. However, what is perhaps less well known is that the visit of the 35th president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was preceded in 1962 by the visit of the 34th. Dwight D. Eisenhower was no longer a sitting president when he visited Wexford in 1962 but his visit emanated from a gesture of thanksgiving and commemoration during the course of his presidency. In 1956 a gift from the  ‘people of the United States’ was unveiled on Crescent Quay, Wexford  by President of Ireland Seán T. O’Kelly (who himself had married not one but two Wexford women from the nationalist Ryan dynasty, first Mary Kate and then following her death, her sister Phyllis). The bronze statue of Commodore John Barry was designed by William Wheeler and shipped to Ireland on board the U.S.S Charles S. Sperry.  Barry, referred to as the ‘father of the United States navy’, was born in 1745 in Ballysampson, Tacumshane, Co. Wexford. Having gone to see as a child of ten he settled as a merchant sailor in Philadelphia and was a ship’s master by age 21. With the outbreak of the War of Independence, he offered his services to the Continental Army. His ship the Black Prince was outfitted for naval service, renamed the Alfred and became the first ship in the Continental Navy. Commissioned as a captain he led the first American capture of a British ship and received a personal note of gratitude from General Washington. With the foundation of the U.S. Navy in 1794 Barry, though listed as the senior captain of the service, bore the courtesy title of commodore (the position of commodore was not formally created until 1862). He died in 1803.


The visit of JFK to Ireland in June 1963 is considered an iconic event due to the president’s Irish ancestry, his viewing of the ‘Kennedy homestead’ in Dunganstown, New Ross and to the poignancy of his promise to be ‘back in the spring time’ with the shooting in Dealey Plaza a mere five months away. Eisenhower’s visit to Wexford was undertaken at less notice, fanfare and was bedevilled with setbacks. Eisenhower was due to make a tour of Europe in late summer 1962 when a visit to Ireland was discussed with the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. Wexford Corporation had to respond to charges from an aggrieved public and sceptical press that it had declined to receive Eisenhower. In a statement issued to the press, the Corporation claimed that ‘when the matter was first considered, the members genuinely felt that they could not do justice to such a distinguished person in mid-week.’ Eisenhower himself was also perturbed to learn that there was no airport close to Wexford. The Corporation decided to change its mind in response to ‘the wholehearted support they have now been offered from all sections of the community.’ Such support was expressed in erection of ‘We like Ike’ posters on the walls and streets of Wexford town, as reported by a journalist from the Irish Press. At a special meeting of Wexford Corporation on 16 August Alderman K.C. Morris expressed his hope that the visit would ‘clear up all the misunderstandings which had got wide publicity and should prove that Wexford at no time turned down the General’s visit’ and plans were put in place for Eisenhower’s helicopter to land on the G.A.A pitch two miles outside Wexford town. Eisenhower made quite literally a flying visit, arriving first in Dublin to stay in the Gresham Hotel and on the following day enjoying a luncheon with President de Valera. The former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe arrived in Wexford on 23 August by helicopter to a town bedecked by bunting and a higher than average population of American tourists. Cheered on from streets and doorways, Eisenhower arrived to lay a wreath at the Barry Statue. He announced that he has been ‘a dismal failure’, explaining to a crowd soaked through by a torrential downpour that he had previously enjoyed a reputation for bringing fine weather with him. Gardaí and security men reportedly fought a losing battle with photographers. According to the calculations of an Irish Examiner journalist present, Eisenhower’s speech lasted less than two minutes in which he praised Barry as ‘a great patriot’ and then spoke to the Mayor of Wexford for four minutes, the latter also making a short speech. Whisked away for lunch in the Talbot Hotel, Eisenhower was back in his helicopter twenty minutes later. President Kennedy paid his respects to the Barry statue less than a year later giving Wexford Corporation further exposure to the executive branch of the U.S. government. Barry’s statue still stands on Crescent Quay looking out onto the Slaney estuary; other statues were erected in Franklin Square, Washington D.C. and at the entrance to Independence Hall, Philadelphia.

Further Reading

Irish Examiner, Irish Independent, Irish Press, Irish Times, Aug.-Sep. 1963.

David Murphy, ‘John Barry’ Dictionary of Irish Biography.

‘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.


‘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).



MUSEUM OF THE MONTH: Anne Frank House, Amsterdam


As a historian I always feel a rush of gratitude for those diarists who maintained such painstakingly detailed and regular entries. Some diaries are preserved self-consciously for posterity; others avoid destruction or oblivion through good luck or meticulous care, only for the value of their contents to become apparent through chance investigation, donation or publication. Diaries are not, as few if any historical sources can be, objective, unbiased or comprehensive. Yet just as historical commentary is shaped by the perspective of the historian, diaries provide a fascinating insight into the perspective of one individual on wider historical events: perspectives that can be representative or completely unique. This intersection of the personal with the political lends greater colour to the narrative and reminds us that history is not just something that happened, but something that people actually lived.


In terms of diaries of historical significance, the diary of Anne Frank is arguably the most famous and certainly most widely read. As such I could not pass up on the opportunity to visit a monument to her experience and to the first primary source I had ever read as a child. Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht, Amsterdam) seeks to document Anne’s experience as a microcosm of the persecution of Dutch Jews and (as in the case of Anne’s family) of German Jews whose exodus to other European cities such as Amsterdam did not count on Hitler’s Blitzkrieg of 1940 and the extension of Fortress Europe to the Netherlands. As you enter the exhibition, context is provided on the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam and the anti-Jewish laws introduced after 1940. Documents are put on display in a space renovated in the 1990s to recreate the original front of the building, including the warehouse and offices of Opekta, Otto Frank’s business, licensed to sell pectin, the gelling agent necessary for jam making. The museum documents the gift of Anne’s diary and her cherished ambitions to be a writer. Text from its pages are used to narrate Otto’s decision to hide his family in unused rooms (the ‘secret annex’) in 1942 with the help of office staff while keeping it a secret from warehouse staff. Visitors travel up to the ‘secret annexe’ behind a bookshelf (the original bookshelf is on display) to enter the hiding place. Again excerpts from Anne’s diary are used to evoke the strained atmosphere of the annex with the Franks sharing the small space with another family, the van Pels, and a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. Anne’s own sleeping space has been preserved and on display are copies of her posters of movie stars and the young Princess Elizabeth.

The visitor makes their way into a museum space that provides a sober reflection on the fate of the Franks, whose hiding place was stormed by the Security Police on 4 August 1944. Of the eight people in hiding only Otto Frank survived-he was in Auschwitz for its liberation. Short video clips provide first-hand accounts of the concentration camps, including an interview with a friend of Anne’s who met Anne in Bergen-Belsen only a few short weeks before her death. Another of the museum’s rooms reflects on the impact of Anne’s diary, preserved by Opekta office worker Miep Gies who returned it to Otto for it to be subsequently published in seventy languages. A manuscript version can be viewed in the museum. I was really interested to learn that in the months before the arrests, Anne had been editing and revising her diary and working on a novel The Secret Annex. This certainly prompts me to reflect on how much diarists consider if and how their personal entries will be preserved and received by posterity. The exhibition is a triumph of simplicity, in allowing the force and poignancy of the diary to be presented with the minimal intervention of audio-visual material that so often proliferates and which can, in some cases, distract from the contents and missions of museums. The curators thankfully resisted the urge to include too much material in the secret annex space which allowed them to successfully evoke the stark reality of two years of claustrophic confinement.

In terms of practicalities Anne Frank House is located quite close to the centre of Amsterdam and is easy to find via many of the tram lines. Booking a ticket in advance is strongly recommended as queues can reach epic lengths; however the museum staff do an excellent job of ensuring the small space does not become too crowded.

See: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/Practical-information/

‘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.

Review: Magna Carta exhibition British Library, London


“Link John Magna Charta by Ernest Normand” by Ernest Normand – Project Gutenberg ebook of The Rise of the Democracy , by Joseph Clayton. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Link_John_Magna_Charta_by_Ernest_Normand.jpg#/media/File:Link_John_Magna_Charta_by_Ernest_Normand.jpg

By Adrian James Kirwan

This year is the 800th anniversary of King John’s signing of the Magna Carta or ‘Great Charter’ of 1215. It was famously agreed to by King John of England at Runnymeade to avoid a battle with his rebellious nobles. In the document the king gave certain guarantees; the principal ones being protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to justice and restrictions on payments due to the crown. While the document was annulled within a short period by Pope Innocent III, it was reissued in various forms by subsequent monarchs and has become a symbol of Citizen’s rights throughout the world.

                The British Library is currently housing an impressive exhibition detailing the history of the Magna Carta. The exhibition using historical texts and audio-visual displays is quite successful at explaining the origins of the document to the visitor. In doing so it highlights the evolving relationship not only between the monarch and his most important nobles, but also their relationship to the pope and his role as a legitimising force within the hierarchical structure of the kingdom. Using various historical texts from the British Library’s extensive collections the exhibition traces the life of King John and shows contemporary perceptions of the charter.

The changing perception of the charter and what it signifies is an important element of the Magna Carta’s history. While originally a very short-lived document that sought to protect the rights of a few high-level nobles, it has been transformed over many centuries to a foundational document of human rights. The exhibition makes great efforts to highlight not only the origins of the charter but also the evolution of its various reincarnations. Great effort has been made to demonstrate its impact on the shaping of the modern world, the charter being view as one of the most significant documents in the development of citizens’ rights and the social contract. Thus, demonstrating that what we would consider to be the inalienable rights of the citizen, such as habeas corpus, were developed over a significant period of time, with individuals often using Magna Carta, however erroneously, in support of these rights.

On display is a fabulous range of texts displaying the contemporary and subsequent importance of this historical document. Most significant of these on display are two of the four surviving copies of the origin document.

Further reading:

The British Library’s website has extensive resources for those who want to find out more about the document and its history, this is available at:  http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta?ns_campaign=treasures&ns_mchannel=ppc&ns_source=google&ns_linkname=Magna%20carta%20british%20library&ns_fee=0


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.

Exhibition Review: National Museum of Ireland: The Easter Rising, Understanding 1916


The Easter Rising: Understanding 1916 is arguably one of the most popular permanent exhibitions of the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks. What strikes the visitor most about the exhibition is its efforts to create a wide panorama of the origins and aftermath of the violence itself but also its self-conscious commentary on the varied interpretations of the Rising and its dominance of Ireland’s public past. Similar to RTÉ’s Road to the Rising Event in April, the exhibition carefully traces the political evolution of Ireland through the Home Rule crisis and the Dublin Lockout but also progresses to examine the aftermath of the Rising through to the War of Independence and the Civil War. As well as informative commentary boards with additional imagery, the exhibition allows plenty of space for the artefacts and the collection to tell the story. Gaelic League and GAA programmes, advertisements and propaganda reminds us of the political, social and cultural forces from which the Rising emerged. The iconography and nationalistic representations of the Rising in the years that followed successfully convey to the visitor the definitive place of the Rising in the process of independence and nation building. While an original Proclamation of the Irish Republic forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, the personal effects of the rebel leaders are its evocative heart. No history buff could fail to be intrigued by the personal effects of the incarcerated and soon to be executed readers, or failed to be enthralled by their final letters written from Kilmainham Gaol: Pádraig Pearse’s instructions for his personal effects to be conveyed to his mother; Sean Mac Diarmada’s reflections that he and his comrade’s ‘die so that the Irish nation may live’ , granted a ‘soldier’s death’ confident that ‘posterity will judge us right from the effects of our actions’.

And it is its commentary on ‘posterity’ and the impact of the Rising that elevates the exhibition into a responsible and meaningful contribution to public history. The exhibition outlines how the public memory of and academic discourse on 1916 has always been contested and often fraught with ‘opinions sometimes influenced [by] political leanings as by knowledge of the subject’. The exhibition then outlines the various commemorations and anniversaries of the Rising, illustrating how the past was inexplicably bound to the politics of the present, with post 1966 Commemorations overshadowed by the Troubles. While carefully navigating the perception of 1916, the exhibition does not shrink from insisting on the central importance of the Rising to the political development of modern Ireland. With plans to expand the exhibition in time for the centenary and with further public events anticipated, Holinshed Revisited will continue to reflect on the success of various institutions and bodies in engaging responsibly in public history. The NMI’s Understanding 1916 provides the public with an excellent place to start.

Visit: http://www.museum.ie/en/intro/arts-and-history.aspx

T.V. review: Enigma De Blaghd: Ernest Blythe

By David Gahan.

The TG4 documentary Enigma De Blaghd screened on Thursday 16 April provided a revealing insight into Ernest Blythe, a man who played an important role in the foundation of the state and was very influential in its early years, but one who is not widely known, except for being the minister responsible for cutting the old age pension.

In giving an outline of Blythe’s life the programme tried to explore some of the reasons for his lack of prominence today. He was a founding member of Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael and the only Protestant from the six counties to serve as a minister in independent Ireland.

Ernest Blythe

Ernest Blythe

He came from a Unionist background, was born in 1889 at Magheragall, Lisburn. In his early years he became aware of the United Irishmen through his mother’s Presbyterian background. He moved to Dublin in 1905 for work with the Department of Agriculture. He joined the Gaelic League and met Seán O Casey. At his prompting he subsequently joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and later became an organiser for them in the North while ironically working at a Unionist newspaper, the North Down Herald. He did not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising as he had been arrested in March. Blythe’s rank within the Volunteers was examined and it was pointed out that he would have taken part, and probably been in what was termed the second tier leadership, which would have meant imprisonment after the Rising and possibly even a sentence of execution commuted to a prison term as happened others of similar standing. An article ‘Ruthless Warfare’ in 1918 in opposition to conscription showed Blythe’s preparedness to use violence and also brought him more to the attention of the volunteer leadership. He was appointed minister for Trade and Commerce by de Valera in the first Dáil. He had been elected MP for Monaghan North in the 1918 General Election. Blythe supported the Treaty and was part of a committee which recommended that they recognise and not seek to undermine the Northern State, this proposal, which was critical and at variance with Collins view on the North, was implemented in August 1922. He voted for the execution of prisoners during the Civil War which caused some to dislike him, but he defended his decision in later life believing it was necessary.

As Minister for Finance from 1923-32, Blythe believed in reducing government spending and did so by £10 million from 1923-25; contained in this was the cut of one shilling from the old age pension, for which he was most remembered. Spending cuts continued at a time of widespread poverty in Ireland; four members of one family died of hunger related disease in Cork in March 1927. After the assassination of Kevin O’ Higgins he was appointed vice-president of the executive council of the Free State. When Cumann na nGaedheal were defeated in the 1932 election, Blythe became involved in the Army Comrades Association (ACA) and was the first member of Cosgrave’s government to support the Blueshirts, and when these two merged with the Centre Party to form Fine Gael in 1933, with Eoin O’Duffy as leader, he was appointed to its executive. He later helped to oust O’Duffy from his position. He lost his Dáil seat in 1933.He would not serve as a minister or TD again, but he continued to comment on political issues, one of the more notable being his response to an anti-partition publicity campaign, in a book Briseadh na teorann, (Smashing the border) in which he differed from broad nationalist opinion. He was managing director of the Abbey theatre from 1941-67. He died in February 1975.

The programme carefully examined many aspects of Blythe’s political life, stressing the importance he placed on the Irish language in the make-up of nationalism, his cuts in public spending which he believed necessary, though some questioned his foresight as to the consequences and a lack of feeling for those bearing the brunt of these cuts. While best remembered for the old age pension cut, arguably his most significant action was his role in reshaping the government policy on the North, not only adopted by the government of which he was a member, but by successive Irish governments since, demonstrating his lasting influence.

TG4: Enigma De Blaghd

Further reading: Patrick Buckley ‘Ernest Blythe’ in James McGuire, James Quinn (eds), The Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009), available at (dib.cambridge.org) (23, April 2015)

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:


The Christmas Truce 1914


On Wednesday 17 December 2014 Aldershot Town football club played host to the ‘game of truce’; a  football match between representatives of the German and British armies in commemoration of the match purportedly played on the Western front on Christmas Day 1914. On this occasion the British Army managed a 1-0 win but, according to a report in The Times on the first day of January 1915, it had been the Germans who had emerged as the 3-2 victors, in the, for once, bloodless fixture in No Man’s Land. While the reality of this yuletide game has been disputed for some time, with it more likely to have taken the form of numerous casual kick-abouts, the reports and letters from serving soldiers confirm  the organisation  of informal truce arrangements on the Western Front on 25 December 1914. As per The Times, an officer in the Royal Field Artillery wrote that ‘it has been agreed between the soldiers on both sides that there should be no firing until midnight Christmas Day…….it was all arranged privately by one of our fellows going across! I think he was rather brave to be the first to do it.’ According to this officer, this détente led to personal exchanges and attempts at conversation with the ‘enemy’: ‘We all saluted, shook hands and exchanged cigarettes.’ A member of the London Rifle Brigade as well as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps wrote of the playing of football, with the major claiming that ‘some of our people actually went into their trenches and stayed there for some time, being entertained by the enemy.’ The solider from the London Rifles was quite effusive in his admiration for the Germans in allowing the British regiment time and safety to afford a ‘decent’ burial to their dead on Christmas day:

They were really magnificent in the whole thing and jolly good sorts. I have now a very different opinion of the German. Both sides have started the firing, and are already enemies again. Strange it all seems doesn’t it?

Another major from the Leicestershire Regiment questioned the stereotype of the brutal ‘boches’ and even the necessity of combat, noting friendly conversations and carol singing and observing of the German soldiers: ‘They are jolly cheery fellows for the most part and it seems to silly under the circumstances to be fighting them.’ The Manchester Guardian, by far one of the least militarist publications, recorded the sentiments of a solider from the Front, writing on his experience of the truce: ‘I wouldn’t have missed the experience yesterday for the most gorgeous Christmas dinner in England.’

Manchester Guardian, 31 Dec. 1914

Manchester Guardian, 31 Dec. 1914

As many historians have pointed out, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was not universal with fighting continuing in many sections of the Front, with resulting casualties. Nor were such truces unique to Christmas. However these truces became rarer with the escalation of the conflict in the aftermath of the huge casualty tolls of Verdun, the Somme and Passchendale. There has been much commentary in the media on the style and tone of the commemoration of the First World War. Many were left uncomfortable at the sentiments expressed by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, whom, in the build-up to the centenary of the outbreak,  expressed the hope for ‘a commemoration that, like the diamond jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations.’  While many historians are moving away from the perception of the First World War as a senseless undertaking, commemoration of the Christmas Truce strikes a resonance with those who value it as a moment of sanity in an insane conflict; a brief respite for humanity in the industrialised machine of war. How we, as individuals and as a society choose to commemorate and the divisive response to such orchestrated acts of remembrance, reveals much about the evolution of historiography and the organic relationship between the practice of history and the contemporary political climate.


Manchester Guardian, 31 Dec. 1914

The Guardian, 8 Oct. 2013

The Times, 1 Jan. 1915

Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Christmas truce: the Western Front December 1914 (London, 2011).

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).

Tips for Conducting Archival Research Overseas


Budding researchers and students embarking on history projects with an international dimension will at some point have to confront the challenge of research in archives abroad. I know for this historian that the first trip to a foreign archive was quite nerve-wrecking. What if the archive did not have the documents I was looking for? What if I was denied access to certain documents? A research trip abroad can incur considerable expense if self-funded and even if the researcher is supported by a grant or scholarship that researcher is often obliged to justify such financial support with an outline of what was achieved during the trip. The following tips may help reduce the anxiety induced by a research trip abroad to transform a daunting challenge into positive professional development.

1. Put careful consideration into selecting the most appropriate dates to visit the archive. Archives are usually opened 5-6 days a week but not all operate by traditional Monday-Friday hours. For example the National Archives in Kew opens Tuesday-Saturday. Opt to make the journey on the day on which the archive is closed to ensure that you do not waste any research time. Bear in mind that many archives close down to the public at certain times of the year – these times do not necessarily correspond to traditional holidays. Avoid travelling at peak times e.g. on dates on which a major international conference is held in the vicinity as reading space may be already booked out. Take special care to let the archive know that you intend to visit on certain dates and remind personnel that you are coming around a week in advance of a trip so that they know to expect a new reader.

2. Make sure that you have the correct documentation to obtain a reader’s ticket to the archive. For example, as well as a valid form of photo ID a letter from your thesis supervisor, proof of your affiliation with a university or research institute, or proof of address may be required. This will vary from archive to archive. For example, the British Library will not provide a valid reader’s card unless a valid proof of address (from an official source) is provided. The Archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs will expect the submission of your passport for every visit (even following provision of a reader’s ticket) and will hold your passport for the duration of your visit. Ensure that you have fully read and complied with the documentation requirements of the archive concerned to avoid the frustration of a wasted or stalled excursion.

3. Do a comprehensive list of all the files you would like to peruse in advance of the trip.

copyright: Baloocartoons.com

copyright: Baloocartoons.com

Verify that these documents will be available when you need them (e.g. that they have not been removed from the collection for preservation work). Inquire as to whether you need special written permission from a senior archivist to access certain restricted files. Order these files in advance if you can, in order to make the most of your time. Some archives will not permit this action unless the researcher is already in possession of a reader’s ticket but it is still a good idea to register your intention to order certain documents with the archivists so that any restrictions may be flagged in advance of your trip.

4. Familiarise yourself with the regulations of the reading room in the archive. Standard rules regarding the prohibition of pens and bags apply to most archives but others may apply further restrictions e.g. having to submit to a security check.

5. Ask whether you can use a camera to take digital copies of files. This will make the most of valuable time by saving you the effort of transcribing and the expense of photocopying. Ensure that your camera has good battery life and take care to bring a charger or even a spare battery. A good camera is a better investment than a hand-held scanner as many archives prohibit the use of the latter devices.

6. Do not forget to bring adapters for your laptop and camera charger. This is easily overlooked, bringing what might be a fruitful day of research to a premature end.

7. Make an effort to forge good relations with the archivists and to keep them informed on the progress of your project. This is obviously essential for any researcher as archivists are encyclopaedias of knowledge on the collections and this knowledge is an additional asset for a researcher whose time in a foreign archive may be short. This historian has benefitted from keeping in contact with archivists abroad who have often brought pertinent files to my attention and who have even kindly acquiesced to posting copies of certain files to save me the expense of a trip.

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.

The London Beer Flood of 1814



By Adrian James Kirwan

The recent boom in micro-brewing was emphasised recently when I was introduced to a close friend’s new home-brewing equipment. Without even producing a single batch plans are afoot for the rapid expansion of this private enterprise and I have no doubts that the directors at St. James’ Gate are already getting worried. However as the old adage goes if we don’t learn the mistakes of history we are destined to repeat them. With this in mind, as a word of warning, those expanding private and commercial breweries should make themselves aware of an event that happened 200 years ago which came to be known as the ‘London Beer Flood of 1814’.

The Henry Meux and Co. Brewery had been in operation at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street since 1764. Continually expanding the owners had built a vat in 1804 that held 610,000 litres of porter. On the 17 October 1814 a hoop on the vat gave way; this had happened numerous times before with no ill effect. However at half-past five that evening before the hoop could be replaced this vat ruptured sending 7,664 barrels of porter rushing into the surrounding buildings. Most of these were tenements and within minutes the flood had killed a mother and daughter and destroyed the wall of a nearby public house trapping and killing a young girl. Finally reaching a nearby wake the flood killed five of the mourners, bringing a whole new meaning to the term drowning your sorrows.

Indeed this was not the only time the Meux brewery came to the attention of the public for the wrong reasons. An 1818 Report from the Committee on Public Breweries highlighted the poor brewing practises at the brewery which lead to a £100 fine. However despite these setbacks the brewery was to continue in business for many years.

So for all those budding brewers please remember: safety first.



Further Reading

Liverpool Mercury, 28 Oct. 1814.


Culture Night highlights for history enthusiasts, Friday 19 September 2014

National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland, Source: National Library of Ireland, at Flickr Commons, available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/


By Adrian James Kirwan

While there is much more culture than history on offer this night does have some great events for those with an historical leaning in their recreational pursuits. There will be several historical tours of Dublin city (including tours of the historic quarter, museum quarter, the north Georgian area, TCD and the Docklands, and Temple Bar, all require booking thought the Culture Night website and some are already booked out, so hurry!).

Some fine buildings and museums are also opening for the night. In addition to the main national museums, these include the Custom House (open 5-11pm), Dublin Castle (open 6-10pm), Dublin Civic Trust (open 5-9.30pm), Dunsink Observatory (open 7-11pm), Dublin Writers Museum (open 5-9pm), the Freemasons’ Hall ( 5-10pm) and the Irish Architectural Archive (open 5-11pm) to name but a few. The night however is not restricted to Dublin with events taking place throughout the island. Galway City Museum, for example, will host ‘Sketches of Galway’s Cultural History’, in Limerick city the Hunt Museum is opening for the night and Belfast has an array of events.

While Holinshed is focused on history it mightn’t hurt to acquire a little bit of culture. Remember there is plenty on offer including a vast selection of traditional music, for example guided tours of Na Píobairí Uilleann’s premises on Henrietta Street (worth a visit to see the building alone) which will of course include some fabulous pipers. In addition, some of our other cultural delights will be on offer with the opening of the National Gallery of Ireland, the Contemporary Music Centre, the National Concert Hall and a Public Art Walking tour. Visitors to the Culture Night website would be forgiven for thinking that this event should last a week not a night and with all these excellent events on offer the hardest part (at least for myself) will be choosing which one to attend.


All details on the above events and many more are available on the Culture Night website http://www.culturenight.ie/

We would be delighted to hear if our readership knows of any particularly good events, so please tell us via the comments section below or email holinshedrevisited@gmail.com and we will post them for you.


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.

Dracula and Vampire tourism in Romania

Bran castle 1

By Adrian James Kirwan

A recent trip to Romania brought with it the chance to visit Bran Castle, located outside the city of Brasov in Transylvania. As well as being an historic fortress the site is also advertised as the home of Dracula. While there were multiple sites of historical interest in the locality, as a large group of historians the chance to visit the fictional home, of a fictional character, from a fiction book, written by a man who had never visited the place, was too good an opportunity to pass on. So off we set in full hope of coffins, plastic bats and perhaps a few damsels with perforated necks.

Bran castle 2Construction of the castle itself was originally started by the Teutonic Knights; it was completed in 1388 and was used as a customs post by the citizens of Brasov. It is ideally situated for this task, controlling a valley cutting through the mountains. Ownership of the castle changed many times in the following centuries, with many structural alterations taking place. It underwent substantial renovations in the 1920s when it was used as a residence for the Romanian royal family. However its links to the historic figure Vlad the Impaler are slender to say the least. He was ruler of the neighbouring Principality of Wallachia and his only connection with Bran Castle was his supposed incarceration there for a short period.

I have to admit as a tour group consisting of a coach-full of historians there was an inordinate amount of disappointment when we discovered that the castle has, in the last few years, begun to concentrate on its historic origins and the period of royal habitation rather than on its dubious links to Bram Stokers Dracula. Talk of Stoker himself brings out a hidden duality in the local population. One moment, the Dublin-born, Stoker is a near national hero who has done wonders for the local economy. Perhaps the tour guide’s talk of individuals arriving with garlic chains is an exaggeration, perhaps not; what is certain is the steady stream of tourist descending on the castle throughout the day. Indeed, the idea of ‘Dracula tourism’ has produced at least one Ph.D. on the topic (see further reading). However the fact that Stoker has managed to turn a popular folk hero (a Romanian Robin Hood), known to the rest of the world as Vlad the Impaler, into a mystical monster cannot be anything but bothersome to national pride. Indeed the few information posters at the castle relating to Dracula are quick to highlight the national perception of Vlad as a good ruler.

Bran castle 3Romania is not alone in realising that sometimes the best ‘heritage’ is invented heritage. While Dublin has much to offer in terms of historical sites, events like Bloom’s Day are some of the capital’s biggest attractions. ‘Dracula tourism’ is big business in Romania and the move to highlight the castle’s authentic history is tempered by this. As one local pointed out to me when asked why they continue to advertise the site as the home of Dracula: ‘I don’t know if you know many Romanians, but we are not stupid’.







 Further reading:

Bran Castle website, available at http://www.bran-castle.com/index.html

Hovi, Tuomas, Heritage through Fiction: Dracula Tourism in Romania (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ph.D. Thesis, 2014), available at http://www.doria.fi/handle/10024/98458



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


IMG_1521 IMG_1515IMG_1507

Conference Review: The British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), St. Andrews, Scotland, 3-6 July.

By Adrian James Kirwan

The British Society for the History of Science was founded in 1947 and is the largest society dedicated to the history of science, technology and medicine on the British Isles. It aims to stimulate and facilitate research into the history of science, technology and medicine and to promote these disciplines within the wider research and teaching communities.
This year’s annual conference was another great success with a high academic standard on display at presentations covering a wide range of topics and subject areas. In addition, as anyone who has attended a BSHS event before can testify, a highly enjoyable time was had by all.
The variety of session themes included: Colonial and Imperial Science; Images of the Sciences; Interdisciplinary Approaches to Early Science and Medicine; and ‘Race,’ ‘Ethnicity’ and Research on Human Genetic Variation, 1930s-Present. The first session for example produced an excellent paper from James Poskett (University of Cambridge) entitled “‘The minds of men are on the move”: phrenology in Bengali print culture, 1845-1850’. This explored the transmission of phrenology to a colonial setting and how Bengalis used it to assert their own cultural and scientific objectives.
For historians of technology –such as myself- there was also plenty of scope. Session themes included two sessions on technology and communication, covering the nineteenth and twentieth century respectively. Highlights of these sessions included a fascinating paper, by Ales Materna (University of Ostrava) on the Vitkovice Ironworks of Austrian-Hungary and the role of the Rothschild family. Using this main theme the paper opened up a broad range of topics covering technological development, Austrian naval improvements in the lead up to the First World War and the wider political factors that saw Vitkovice employ the patents of Krupps in the production of their iron. The second session covering technology and communication in the twentieth century was also quite enjoyable, with a paper by Thomas Lean (British Library) using material from an oral history project to trace the factors that influenced the development of the British electricity supply system from nationalisation to privatisation. This was very successful at portraying the sense of public service that drove much of this development.
The conference which was spread out over four days –unfortunately I was unable to attend the whole event- combined a good mix of traditional presentations, round-table discussions, workshops for postgraduates, tours and social events.
What was most encouraging was the wide range of topics and the obvious interest in the history of science, technology and medicine that was on display. While the history of medicine in Ireland has been thriving in recent years one would have to wonder why the same interest has not been taken in the history of science and technology. There are few historians who would argue that both areas did not play a large part in shaping the history of this country but there seems, in comparison to Britain, to be little research in these areas. A look at the BSHS’s website http://www.bshs.org.uk/ and conference page will alert those with an interest to the many areas of research currently being undertaken and perhaps help those hoping to pursue research in the field. The next BSHS meeting will be the annual postgraduate conference to be held at University College, London, in January, 2015. For those interested in submitting a paper keep an eye on Holinshed’s events guide or the BSHS website for the call for papers.


Holinshed continued

By David Collins

Even before Holinshed’s death in 1580 the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland had become embroiled in controversy. The authors of the Chronicles may well have been genuine in their attempt to write an objective history but the political realities of Elizabeth I’s reign would have a significant impact. Religious, factional, international and sometimes personal concerns would all take their toll. The section on Ireland written by Richard Stanihurst was deemed too hostile towards Gerald Fitz Gerald, the 9th earl of Kildare (1487-1534) and John Alen, Archbishop of Dublin (1476 – 1534). In December 1577 at the behest of the privy council, John Aylmer, bishop of London placed a stay on sales of the Chronicles.  Kildare’s grandson, the eleventh earl, brought Stanihurst before the council where he agreed to make appropriate revisions. In 1587 a substantially revised and expanded edition of the Chronicles was published with Abraham Fleming taking over Holinshed’s role as general editor. The second edition was expanded to three volumes and included new contributions from Thomas Churchyard, John Hooker, Francis Thynne and John Stow. The second edition brought its history of England right up to 1586 and even included parliament’s calls for the execution of Mary, queen of Scots. As with the 1577 first edition, a stay was placed on sales of the Chronicles in February 1587 by JohnWhitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury. This time however external reviewers, John Hammond, Henry Killigrew and Thomas Randolph were appointed to make it acceptable to the privy council.  The result was that the second edition was heavily censored with controversial passages removed or ‘castrated’ in a series of revisions. The sections that were removed were mainly those that posed an obstacle to Anglo-Scottish relations, particularly those relating to English involvement in those intrigues and interventions which led to Queen Mary’s abdication and eventual imprisonment. Offence of Dutch sensibilities was also avoided as England was at this time seeking to reach a political settlement in the United Provinces through the Earl of Leicester. Efforts were also made to portray the English legal system in a favourable light while the accounts of the pre-reformation archbishops of Canterbury were removed. The speed and thoroughness with which the reviewers acted suggests that success of the first edition was expected to be replicated by the new edition. It is for their impact on English literature rather than their value as a work of history that Holinshed’s Chronicles are perhaps better recognised. The Chronicles were the major source for many of Shakespeare’s plays, not only his English history plays but also for portions of Cymbeline and King Lear and the plot of Macbeth.

Further reading: Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland(1577); Annabel Patterson, Reading Holinshed’s chronicles (Chicago, 1994). Cyndia Susan Clegg, ‘Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1525 – 1580?)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford, 2004),Paulina Kewes, Ian W. Archer, and Felicity Heal (eds), The Oxford handbook of Holinshed’s Chronicles (Oxford, 2012).

Who was Holinshed?

By David Collins
Raphael Holinshed was an English historian known for his involvement in the creation of the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland of 1577. Of Holinshed himself rather little is known and he remains a rather enigmatic figure to this day. He was born around 1525 most likely in Chesire where his father lived and he died probably in 1580. His education has always been something of a puzzle with some suggestion that he was educated at Cambridge, attending Trinity. It has even been suggested that he graduated with an M. A. in 1544 but this seems to be a matter of confusion with his cousin Ottiwell Holinshed, who is said to have later gone on to become a fellow of the college.
Whatever his educational background Holinshed found employment as a translator with Reyner Wolfe, a London printer. Wolfe was a man with a singular vision who planned to produce a monumental ‘universal cosmgraphie of the whole world’. This vast project was to consist of a geographic and historic account ‘of every known nation’ from the time of the Flood right up to the reign of Elizabeth I. It was also to have been illustrated with a series of maps. It was for this undertaking that Wolfe employed Holinshed as editor and chief compiler. It was always something of a team effort with William Harrison, John Hooker and Richard Stanyhurst all making substantial contributions.
With hindsight it is easy to see the difficulties that such a vast undertaking would present. This was not helped by the death of Wolfe in 1573 and his ‘Polychronicon’, perhaps understandably, was never completed. The entire venture was not however abandoned entirely and a consortium of Wolfe’s son in law John Hun and prominent London printers, John Harrison, Lucas Harison and George Bishop would continue the project albeit in a truncated form. This consortium along with Henry Bynneman would eventually publish those sections that had been finished in 1577 as the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Although the completed project failed to match Wolfe’s original vision it still comprised a formidable 2,835 folio pages in two printed volumes. Despite his own efforts and those of the other authors Holinshed felt the Chronicles, or Holinshed’s Chronicles as they became known, fell short of the standard which had originally been envisaged. Harrison too was concerned that the speed of completion of his own contribution might lead to inaccuracies. Despite these misgivings the Chronicles were a commercial success. How much Holinshed personally benefited from the venture is a matter of conjecture. The following year in 1578 Holinshed was employed as a steward in Warwickshire by Thomas Burdet to whom he would leave his papers and books on his death two years later.
The story of the Chronicles after Holinshed’s death is one of censorship, multiple revisions, (rather worryingly) castrations and its impact on Shakespeare and other literary figures. This all requires further explanation and my next post will look at the evolution of Holinshed’s Chronicles.

Further reading:
Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577); Annabel Patterson, Reading Holinshed’s chronicles (Chicago, 1994). Cyndia Susan Clegg, ‘Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1525 – 1580?)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford, 2004).

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