December 2015

History Selection

Peg Woffington, 18th century actress
Peg Woffington
George Anne Bellamy, actress
George Anne Bellamy
Maud Gonne, actress and political activist
Maud Gonne
Ada Dyas, actress
Ada Dyas
Una Connor, actress
Una Connor
Patricia Collinge, actress
Patricia Collinge

Ireland in 1966

January 25th: Birth of investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre.

February 13th: The Bishop of Clonfert protested over the content of The Late Late Show after a woman said that she didn't wear a nightie on her wedding night.

February 15th: The novelist John McGahern lost his job at Clontarf National School because of 'indecencies' in his book The Dark.

February 28th: The first English-language production of Samuel Beckett's Come and Go was put on at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin.

March 6th: A memorial was opened at Kilmichael, County Cork, to commemorate the 1920 ambush.

John McGahern

John McGahern

Nelson's Pillar in 1965

Nelson's Pillar in 1965

March 8th: Nelson's Pillar in O'Connell Street was blown up by IRA volunteers marking the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

March 8th: Radio Éireann and Radio Éireann together became RTÉ.

March 10th: Death of Frank O'Connor, short story writer and memoirist.

March 31st: The tricolour flag that had been flown over the Dublin GPO in 1916 was handed back by the British.

April 1st: Death of Brian O'Nolan, satirist and humorist.

April 6th: The re-established Ulster Volunteer Force launched its campaign in Belfast.

April 10th: Celebrations took pace to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

April 11th: Éamon de Valera opened the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin's Parnell Square.

May 4th: Germany beat Ireland 4-0 at football.

May 7th: The UVF carried out a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic owned bar in the Shankill Road area.

June 2nd: Éamon de Valera re-elected president, defeating Tom O'Higgins by less than 1% of the vote.

June 26th: The UVF shot three Catholic civilians in Malvern Street in the Shankill areas. One died at the scene.

Easter Rising commemoration

Easter Rising commemoration

Donogh O'Malley

Donogh O'Malley

June 27th: The UVF shot a Catholic civilian in the Clonard area of west Belfast.

June 27th: Civilian Matilda Gould died as a result of injuries suffered in the UVF attack in May.

June 28th: The UVF was declared illegal.

July 7th: The Minister for Education, Donogh O'Malley, announced details for his free secondary education scheme.

July 18th: The new Abbey Theatre opened in Dublin, fifteen years after it had been burnt down.

July 26th: Death of Maura Laverty, writer.

August: The first tenants moved in to Ballymun flats in Dublin.

September: Joe Dolan's Pretty Brown Eyes topped the chart for three weeks straight.

September 25th: Galway beat Meath in the All Ireland Senior Football Championship.

October: First Castlebar Song Contest took place.

Joe Dolan

Joe Dolan

Lynch immediately after being voted Taoiseach

Lynch immediately after being voted Taoiseach

October 21st: An anti-apartheid demonstration took place in response to the South African Amateur Boxing Team visit.

November 8th: Seán Lemass announced his resignation as Taoiseach.

Novembr 10th: The new Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, received his seal of office along with his ministers.

November 23rd: Death of Seán T. O'Kelly, second President of Ireland.

December 13th: The Irish Independent reported that the number of Christmas trees sold in Ireland had reached 100,000, against 5 million in England.

Ireland in Snow

Snow on St Stephens Green 1910

Snow on St Stephens Green 1910

Snow near the Docklands

Snow near the Docklands

Snow in Mountjoy Square title=

Snow in Mountjoy Square

Old film

Americans visit Ireland, 1947

Dublin in the 1970s and 80s

The Irish Literary Society, London

In July, 1892, and June 1893

The Hon. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy

Charles Gavan Duffy

The famine of 1846 paralysed many forces in Ireland, and none more disastrously than our growing literature. How little has been done in the region of mind since that calamity, and by what isolated and spasmodic efforts? The era on which the famine fell was intellectually a singularly fruitful one. A group of young men, among the most generous and disinterested in our annals, were busy digging up the buried relics of our history, to enlighten the present by a knowledge of the past, setting up on their pedestals anew the overthrown statues of Irish worthies, assailing wrongs which under long impunity had become unquestioned and even venerable, and warming as with strong wine the heart of the people, by songs of valour and hope; and happily not standing isolated in their pious work, but encouraged and sustained by just such an army of students and sympathisers as I see here to-day. The famine swept away their labours; and their passionate attempts to arrest and redress the destruction which the famine inflicted, delivered them over to imprisonment and penal exile. Their incomplete work, produced amid the tumult and conflict of a great political struggle, has been a treasure to two generations of Irishmen; and it supplied the impulse of work which rivalled their own. The publisher of Petrie’s “Round Towers,” and John O’Donovan’s translation of “The Four Masters,” assured me that he could not have ventured to issue books so costly, but for the enthusiasm kindled in the public mind by the young nationalists, and Butt and Lefanu, who at that time were strict Conservatives, confessed that while writing “The Gap of Barnesmore” and “The Cock and Anchor,” they constantly thought how welcome such works would be to Young Irelanders. The patriot’s library has not been burthensome in latter times. But Moore’s melodies, Griffin’s and Banim’s novels, the histories of MacGeoghegan and Curry, and the writings of these young men have been a constant cordial to the sorely-tried spirit of our people. Since their day, individual writers have done useful work from the unquenchable desire God has planted in men’s heart to serve their own race, but there has been no organised attempt to raise the mind of the country to higher and more generous ideals of life and duty, or to quicken its interest in things which it behoves us to know. No nation can with impunity neglect the mind of the growing generation, the generation which after a little time will guide its counsels and guard its interests. The thought which has long haunted my reveries, and which I desire to speak out to-day, is this—that the young men of your generation might and should take up anew the unfinished work of their predecessors, and carry it another stage towards the end which they aimed to reach. Why should they not? Every generation of men furnishes its own tale of thinkers and workers. The mind of Ireland has not grown barren, nor can I believe that it has grown indifferent, though public cares have diverted it away from intellectual pursuits. There are men, I do not doubt, fit and worthy and willing to undertake such a task.

Have you reflected on all we have lost, and are losing by the subsidence of the intellectual enthusiasm of half a century ago? It is not alone that we are deficient in knowledge essential to equip us for the battle of life by an acquaintance with the character, capacities, and history of our own country; but, far worse than that, the mind of the generation destined some day to fill our place, the youthful mind which used to be kindled and purified by the poetry and legends of Ireland, runs serious risks of becoming debased, perhaps depraved, by battening on literary garbage.

I have made inquiries, and I am assured that the books chiefly read by the young in Ireland are detective or other sensational stories from England and America, and vile translations from the French of vile originals. It is for the moralist, and indeed for all of us who love Ireland, to consider whether the virtues for which our people were distinguished, purity, piety, and simplicity, are not endangered by such intellectual diet. I have been vehemently warned that these detestable books can only be driven out by books more attractive, and I will not dispute the proposition. There are histories and biographies that delight the student, there is a poetry that is an inspiration and a solace to healthy minds, which it would be useless, I admit, to offer to young men accustomed to the dram-drinking of sensational literature. To them, at any rate, you must bring books which will excite and gratify the love of the wonderful, and carry them away from the commonplace world to regions of romance. And why may not this be done? Why may there not be opened to them a nobler world of wonder, the story of transcendent achievements, the romance of history, the “fairy tales of science”? In the dominion of intellectual wonders there are many fair fields, and only one corner which is a stagnant fen. To the student, using that word in the wide sense which covers all who study, you must bring solider and more attractive offerings than the things you ask him to reject, and, again I ask, why should you not?

It may be demanded: where are the writers to supply these captivating books? Let me ask, Where, in 1840, were the writers who were exciting universal enthusiasm in 1843? Like them, the men of the future are consciously or unconsciously preparing for their task; they are waiting the occasion—occasion which is the stage where alone great achievements are performed. I could name, if it were needful, a few writers not unworthy to succeed the men of ’43, but their work will speak for them. I prefer to say that if there were not one man of genius left of the Irish race, there are already materials sufficient to furnish useful and delightful books for half-a-dozen years.

With a memory running back over six decades of reading, I confidently affirm that there are scattered in magazines and annuals, in luckless books neglected in the hurry of our political march, in publications the very names of which are forgotten by the present generation, Irish stories of surpassing interest, fit to win and fascinate young Irish readers, which would not degrade or debase them, but make them better men and better Irishmen. And in the other domains of intellect, Irish writers living in or belonging to a country where unhappily there was no market for books, carried their work to periodicals where it has lain interred for generations. How many rare and interesting books there are of which we have lost all trace and memory! I put lately into the hands of a friend of large intellectual appetite half-a-dozen little volumes of which he had never heard. “This,” I said, pointing to the first, “was written by a Presbyterian minister, who describes with infinite humour the relations between the squire and the peasant a hundred years ago, and it is almost as true to-day as it was then. The writer was hanged as a rebel in ’98 by the very squire whom he had depicted, but his little book is read with enthusiasm to this day by northern farmers who call themselves Orangemen and Unionists. This second volume, I said, is the first poem written by Bulwer Lytton, and the hero is an O’Neill who rallied his nation against England. Here’s a brochure on the Land Question, published in America fifty years ago by a poor exiled Irishman, which anticipates the alarming proclamation of first principles by Fintan Lalor and Henry George, and it is as unknown in Ireland as the lost books of Livy.” I do not suggest that you should publish these books or any of them, but surely they are finger-posts pointing to an unexplored territory. While I am speaking of the resources for a popular library, which we have in hand, I may say that one-third of the writings of Thomas Davis or Clarence Mangan has not been collected in volumes. Davis’s most remarkable achievement as an historian, “The Patriot Parliament” he calls it—not the Parliament of Grattan, but the Parliament of Tyrconnell, was prepared for publication by his own hand, and it has remained without a publisher for two generations. Nothing of the miscellaneous writings of John Blake Dillon, John O’Hagan, Thomas Meagher, or Charles Kickham, have been gathered into books. And how much of the wealth of our ancient Gaelic literature still lies buried in untranslated MSS., or in the transactions of learned societies.

A perfectly honest and respectable blockhead asked me recently, “What is the use of books for men working for their daily bread, or for young fellows whose first business in life is to make some way in the world?” From the highest class in the nation to the humblest, good books are the salt of life. They make us wiser, manlier, more honest, and what is less than any of these, more prosperous. It is not the least of their merits that good books make manly men and patriotic citizens. Robert Burns declared that reading the “Life of William Wallace” poured a tide of Scottish sentiment into his veins, which would boil till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest. A man who has done and suffered much for Ireland during the last forty years, has often avowed that he was made a patriot by reading the Poems of Thomas Davis; and how many other Irishmen have confessed the same debt to him and his associates? The great Dominican, Father Burke, and Professor Tyndall of Belfast, the fierce Unionist, are equally warm in their acknowledgment of the effect produced upon them in their youth by the writings of the Young Irelanders. The late Judge O’Hagan, one of the most upright and gifted of Irishmen, used to declare that the evening when he first read the address of John Blake Dillon to the College Historical Society, he was a Whig, but the next day, and ever after, he was a Nationalist. To how many of us is that Address still inaccessible? Would it not be a beneficent work to republish it? Surely there is no Irishman of any political persuasion who would not welcome the opportunity of reading a work which produced such an effect on such a man.

But the discipline of education is not for ornament merely, but for practical use. Without it men and nations miss their path in life, and see not at all, or only with purblind eyes, open roads to national prosperity. In Australia I have known a generation of shepherds and sheep-farmers, who long trod a soil seamed with gold, knowing nothing of the treasures beneath their feet. Is not the Irish farmer often as ignorant of the wealth which other nations draw from the earth, or from the enterprise born of the leisure and security which the possession of the soil creates? The domestic industries which help to make French farms prosperous are just as suitable to our own country, and just as feasible in it. London is supplied from Normandy with farm produce which would come more naturally from Munster, and the French make their households pleasant with dainty preparations of vegetables which the Irish fling away with contempt; Switzerland is more destitute of coal than Ireland, but Switzerland competes successfully with England in her own markets with manufactures for which she does not possess even the raw material. When I met in France, Italy, and Egypt the marmalade manufactured at Dundee, I felt it like a silent reproach. Oranges do not grow in Dundee, and sugar is not manufactured there, but enterprise and industrial education are native to the soil. Is not this a department in which there is something to be taught to the people by useful books? Ideas are the root of action, and books are the cabinets of ideas. If work of a practical and patriotic spirit is to be done in any country, books must be the beginning of that work; and why should we not have such books?

What do we hope to make of Ireland?—this is the fundamental question on which the character of education ought to depend. In Switzerland the bulk of the people live on their own farms, not needing or desiring great wealth, but enjoying free, simple lives, ennobled by the perfect liberty which the poet declares is a child of the mountains. In Belgium there are many husbandmen thriving on the benign industries cultivated at home, which rear a nobler class of men than the stricken legions who serve the steam-engine and the water-wheel. It is not for me to dogmatise on the proper development of Ireland, but assuredly to be wise and successful it must harmonise with the nature of the people, and correct it where correction is needful. Education is far stronger than nature, and there is no doubt the deficiencies in national character may be repaired by discipline. The highest teaching of a people is to accustom them to have a strict regard for the rights of others, to be prudent and temperate in action, and to regard the whole nation as members of a common household. To make our people politically free, yet leave them bond-slaves of some debasing social system like that which crowds the mines and factories of England with squalid victims, or make the artisans of France so often godless scoffers, would be a poor result of all Ireland’s labours and sacrifices.

Liberty will do much for a nation, but it will not do everything. Among a people who do not know and reverence their own ancestors, who do not submit cheerfully to lawful authority, and do not love the eternal principles of justice, it will do little. But moral sentiments, generous impulses, religious feelings still survive in the Irish race, and they give assurance that in that mystic clime on the verge of the Western Ocean, where the more debasing currents of European civilisation only reach it at high tide, there is place for a great experiment for humanity. There within our circling seas we may rear a race in which the fine qualities of the Celtic family, fortified by the sterner strength of the North, and disciplined by the Norman genius of Munster may at last have fair play; where, at lowest a pious and gallant race may after long struggles and nameless sufferings possess their own soil and their own souls in peace.