Irish History Students’ Association Annual Conference 2018

Friday the 23 February 2018 saw me on the road to Derry-Londonderry to take part in the 68th Annual Irish History Students’ Association Conference and my first conference presentation.

This year’s IHSA conference was held at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. It began with a reception in what is indeed a Great Hall and all the attendees were given a warm, bi-lingual welcome by the provost, Dr Malachy O’Neill. While slightly intimidating to be on my own, people were friendly and the organising committee members made themselves known to us and were very hospitable. Thank you Kyle, Krysta, and Leanne in particular, friendliness and generosity of spirit and information remained a key theme amongst everybody throughout the conference. It was also remarkable and encouraging that so many people had presented for the first time at this conference previously.

Saturday involved no less than five sessions with two or three panels, an astonishing 39 papers in all. They were on a remarkable array of topics. They ranged from Early Modern Kingship, Identity and Linguistics, Re-evaluating Education in 20th Century Ireland, Women in the Domestic and Public Spheres, Radicalism, Religion and Race, Transnational Connections and Influence, Sexuality in Ireland, Institutionalised Irish Patients, Crime and Criminal Behaviour, Politics, Domesticity and Identity, Manuscripts and Connections (Gaeilge), Revolutionary Ireland: Evolution and Aftermath, The Troubles: Social and Political Impact, Early 20th Century Political and Military Organisation and Political and Cultural Tensions in Troubled Times. The closing keynote lecture was given by Prof Breandán MacSuibhne, author of The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland – recent winner of the Irish Times non-fiction book of the year award. He provided us with some interesting aspects of his research process. This was followed by a Mayoral reception in the Guildhall.  The Conference dinner was held in the Maldron Hotel later that evening.

The panel I presented on was “Politics, Domesticity and Identity”. Laura Mather of Mary Immaculate College Limerick spoke on “Politics and Domesticity: the lives of Pamela Fitzgerald and Lucy Fitzgerald, 1796-1797”. This paper examined their personal letters to each other, which displayed some personal and political aspects to their lives. I spoke on “Anglo-Irish Identity and the Dillon family of Galway: The Clonbrock Photographic Collection”. For this, I used an extract from my BA minor dissertation for Irish Studies on the Dillon family and the Clonbrock Photographic Collection. Thanks to the help of others, I charted a very steep learning curve on presenting prior to the conference. Lessons learnt were (1) while some words work great in text, they may be tongue tripping in speech, (2) there will be nerves, (3) your mouth will dry up and (4) you may pass out if you forget or do not leave time to breathe!

The bottle of water, the text broken up into small portions and liberally sprinkled with the words ‘breathe’, ‘pause’, ‘long pause’, ‘take a drink of water’ and ‘next slide’ worked very well.  The paper was timed precisely, the Powerpoint worked well and the one transition slide that announced the ‘Great Reveal’ functioned well to add to the drama.  Feedback from the Chair, Dr Paul O’Brien of Mary Immaculate College Limerick, was constructive and complimentary.  The paper generated questions surrounding the Anglo-Irish Dillon family, Photography and Lady Augusta Dillon. A discussion took place on the benefits of viewing primary sources in reality, if possible, even if they are available via a database.  I was delighted with the end result.

And so now, I will be one of those people proud to say their first conference paper was at an IHSA conference.

IHSA 2018IHSA 2018 organisers and committee

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

So, thanks again to all on the IHSA committee, for more info on IHSA 2019 to be held in MIC or the prizes on offer see; @IHSA1950 or

Úna Kavanagh, MA student, Department of History NUI Galway

The Making of Maud

Famous for her association with W.B.Yeats, it was the influence of others and a steely individualism that marked out a most unlikely Irish rebel

MAud Gonne

IT WAS, according to Maud Gonne’s biographer Margaret Ward, a moment straight out of ‘the pages of any Victorian melodrama’. After grieving her deceased father, and while still under the guardianship of her genteel Ascot cousins, Maud made for London in a bid to make it as a West End actress. Her uncle William wrote in a frenzy, begging her to take a stage name to save the family from disgrace.

‘The name belongs to me,’ replied Maud, ‘and I thought I was honouring it by earning my bread’. In any case, while her ‘lowly’ career was cut short with severe bronchitis, it was her correspondence with her uncle which marked her out as someone who differed in thoughts and actions from that of her class.

The spectre of post-Famine Fenian revolution ‘haunted the age into which Maud was born’ noted another biographer, Nancy Cardoza, with Maud’s father ‘Captain Tommie’ summoned to Ireland with the Crown’s expectation of separatist rebellion.

Living in a Dublin ‘enclave of Empire’, with friends like the whiskey Jamesons, the Gonnes became established members of the Anglo-Irish set. Before his untimely death, however, and perhaps influenced by his Celtic lineage, the Captain would declare his support for the Home Rule campaign.

Maud’s own unalterable awakening came at a hunt ball in the midlands when she was nineteen. Her landlord host spat insults at the Land League for ‘laying waste the countryside and interfering with the hunt’. Maud then questioned him for ignoring one of his tenants, who lay starving on the side of the road. ‘Let her die …’ he snapped. ‘These people must be taught a lesson.’ It was this moment that redirected Maud on the road from regal belle to Irish rebel.

While recuperating from her bronchitis in France her new cause was strengthened. Here, during a July thunderstorm, she met Lucien Millevoye. A man of fierce patriotism for his own country, obsessing over its lost territory, and future glory, he was to become the next great influence in Maud’s life.

‘I will help you to free Ireland,’ he later told her ‘You will help me regain Alsace-Lorraine.’

Her belief that such lofty ambitions could become a reality was buttressed by what her father had called ‘the Will’. It was, he said, ‘a strange incalculable force’. If he had willed himself to be Pope, he once told Maud, it would have been so.

With his memory inspiring her, a new love supporting her, and a natural force propelling her, anything seemed possible for Maud in those early summer days.

Jody Moylan

Jody is a BA History student at NUI Galway.



Cardozo, N. (1978). Lucky Eyes and a High Heart. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

Levenson, S. (1977). Maud Gonne. London: Cassell.

Ward, M. (1993). Maud Gonne. London: Pandora.

Dictionary of Irish Biography. (2009). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

The Scottish Sniper that fought and nearly died for Ireland during the 1916 Rising

Margaret Skinnider was born and raised in Coatsbridge, Glasgow, in an immigrant community to Irish Parents James Skinnider from Co. Monaghan and Jane Dowd from Co. Meath. Margaret was a qualified maths teacher and a passionate equal rights activist for women which lead to her becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow under Anne Devlin. Ironically Margaret along with the other members of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow received military training in British rifle clubs where Margaret quickly became a formidable markswoman.

Margaret Skinnider 1

(1916 Societies 2017)   

It seemed inevitable that once Margaret heard of the conflict in Ireland she felt compelled to “do her bit” (Skinnider, 1917) and fight for Ireland’s independence and the chance to endorse and promote equality. With a keen interest in politics and being an active member of Cumann na mBan it was not long before she encountered Countess Markievicz or Madam as she fondly referred to her. Margaret’s commitment was so absolute that she once smuggled materials for bomb assembly on her person while travelling to Ireland via boat to meet with countess Markievicz “In my hat I was carrying to Ireland detonators for bombs, and wires were wrapped around me under my coat.” (Skinnider, 1917).

Having received word from Countess Markievicz on the proposed date of the rising, Margaret arrived in Surrey House, Rathmines, residence of Countess Markievicz on Holy Thursday, just five days before the beginning of the rising on Easter Monday 24th April 1916 and joined the citizens army. During the rising Margaret assumed her position beside the Countess Markievicz and Michael Mallin. Dressed in ordinary clothing so not to arouse the suspicion of the British troops during her comings and goings on a bike that she had borrowed from Nora Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter. Margaret delivered military dispatches to and from Connolly, Pearse and Clarke, as well as updates on the movements of the British troops and ammunition.

That Monday night the revolutionaries camped out in St. Stephen’s Green, Margaret alongside some hundred men and fourteen women didn’t realise that the British troops had taken control of the Shelbourne hotel and with machine guns opened fire from the rooftop on the Irish men and women that had camped out in St. Stephen’s Green early Tuesday morning. Left with no alternative the Irish revolutionaries fled to the College of Surgeons for shelter from the hail of bullets where Margaret assumed a sniping position on the top floor and although Margaret never revealed how many British soldiers she shot she did indicate a few “I could look across the tops of trees and see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne. I could also hear their shot hailing against the roof and wall of our fortress, for in truth this building was just that. More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.” (Skinnider, 1917).

During the course of her duties Margaret was shot three times “they found I had been shot in three places, my right side under the arm, my right arm, and in the back of my right side.” (Skinnider, 1917).  Amazingly Margaret being a young woman of 23 years of age was less concerned about the bullets lodged in her body and more bothered that she did not manage to bomb the Shelbourne hotel “the probing did not hurt as much as I expected it would. My disappointment at not being able to bomb the Hotel Shelbourne was what made me unhappy.” (Skinnider, 1917).

For three days Margaret refused to leave the College of Surgeons and stayed on a cot until she was transferred to St. Vincent’s hospital where she remained for five weeks. Once released from hospital she fled to America. Upon her return she was captured and imprisoned. Margaret in an interview recorded in 1955 said “We did not win a military victory in 1916 but we roused the people and all over the country. Men joined in the fight for independence and rid at least part of our country of the foreign army that had held us in bondage for hundreds of years.” ( 2016).

Upon her release from prison Margaret continued to fight for independence in the IRA and sided with the anti-treaty side during the civil war, after the war Margaret returned to teaching and became a spokesperson for women’s rights in the INTO campaigning for equal pay for women. She became president of the union in 1956.Margaret died in October 1971 at the age of 79. Margaret’s story is one that can be echoed through countless untold stories regarding the brave women that stood beside the men that fought and died for their country’s independence, her story is an inspirational one that highlights the cultural and social history from the perspective of a woman fighting for her adopted country and equality.

Martin O’Sullivan

Martin is a student in the History Diploma, NUI Galway.


Further reading (2016) Margaret Skinnider dressed as a man [image online], available: [accessed 11 October 2017]. (2016) ‘Listen to Stories from 1916’, Margaret Skinnider, the Rebels’ sniper [podcast], 2016, available: [accessed 8 October 2017].

RTE Radio 1 (1971) ‘Documentary on one’, Women of the Revolution [podcast],2017, available: [accessed 8 October 2017].

RTE (2012) ‘Reabhloid episode 3’, Margaret Skinnider a woman of calibre , available: [accessed 7 October 2017].

Skinnider, M., 1917. Doing My Bit For Ireland, New York: The Century Co.

Wikipedia (2017) Markievicz in uniform with a gun, 1915. [image online], available: [accessed 10 October 2017]. (2017) Cumann na mBan. [image online], available: [accessed 10 October 2017].




Possible Cannibalism in Connemara during the Great Famine

I initially wrote this as part of a History assignment. I decided I would write the blog on an event that occurred locally during the famine. Hailing from Kilkerrain (Cill Chiaráin), a small village in Connemara, I decided to focus on the issue of cannibalism, a topic that has been addressed by Cormac Ó Gráda in particular.

In 1841, the Irish census recorded 8,175,124 people in Ireland compared to 40 years later when the national figure had fallen by over three million to 5,174,836. These numbers are attributed to death but also emigration. Before the famine hit, emigration in 1845 was at approximately 50,000 a year. In 1846 this figure doubled as the famine hit. The following year these figures hit their highest with over 250,000 emigrating and on average 200,000 a year for the subsequent five years before falling again.


(Anon, 1999)

As emigration was not a possibility for the vast majority suffering through the great famine, most tried to persevere the impossible conditions that they faced. One such account is recorded by Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill.

Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill is an Irish historical writer who was born and raised in Clifden, County Galway. During the famine, Clifden was the location for a new workhouse that occupied a four-acre site, it opened its doors in 1845 and could accommodate 300.

Famine pic 2

(Higginbotham, 2000)

One of the many accounts that Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill writes about took place in Cill Chiaráin. Bart Flaherty, his wife and children had resided at the Clifden workhouse but were discharged on 9 December 1848. The family then had no alternative but to move back to Cill Chiaráin where they were all struck with fever killing three of their four children. Driven to desperation Mr. Flaherty and his wife stole a calf but were caught, arrested and transported to Clifden jail by horse and cart on the famine path, some twelve hours travel. En route Bart Flaherty’s wife died due to her frail condition and the severe conditions under which they were travelling. Upon reaching Clifden jail, the jail keeper felt pity for Mr. Flaherty and spoke to him that night. Mr. Flaherty confided his story to the jailkeeper who was shocked by the husbands claims that his wife was so desperately hungry that she had cut the feet of one of their dead children and eaten them.

Famine pic 3

(Kinealy, 2009)

The magistrate not believing Flaherty’s claims decided to investigate and sent a Doctor Suffield to the cottage where the family had lived. Dr. Suffield discovered a shallow grave near the entrance to the cottage which contained the remains of two children. The bodies were so decomposed and deteriorated that Dr. Suffield could not determine whether the skin had been torn or cut off the remains of the children. No definitive verdict was reached however one must question why a husband/father would possibly invent such a story and to what end.

Cannibalism isn’t recorded highly during the famine in Ireland and one can completely understand why, but as one becomes more familiar with the plight of our ancestors and the unbearable hopelessness that they endured then surely desperate times called for desperate measures. I am not suggesting that this was common practice of course but perhaps isolated incidents may have been buried in shallow graves rather than recorded.

Martin O’Sullivan
Martin is a student in the History diploma at NUI Galway.

Further reading

Anon., 1999. Ireland’s Population in the mid 1800’s. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 19 September 2017].

Dungan, S. (2013). “Blighted Nation: Episode One – The Famine Arrives in Ireland”. Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2017).

Gráda, C. Ó., 2015. Eating people is wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and its Future.. Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Higginbotham, P., 2000. Clifden Co Galway. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 September 2017].

Kinealy, C., 2009. International Relief Efforts During the Famine. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Villiers-Tuthill, K., 1997. Patient Endurance: the Famine in Connemara. Clifden: Connemara Publications.










Charles Diamond, the Catholic Herald and the Defence of the Realm Act, 1914-1920 – TODAY

Allen_Diamond_nA reminder that Dr. Joan Allen (Newcastle University) will give a lecture on the topic ‘Charles Diamond, the Catholic Herald and the Defence of the Realm Act,1914–1920’ in room GO11 of the Hardiman Research Building, this afternoon (Thursday, 19 February), at 4.00pm. Joan is Senior Lecturer in Modern British History at Newcastle University, and currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Moore Institute. The lecture is jointly hosted by the Moore Institute and Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland.

Christmas dinner for Seán T. O’Kelly, 1920

Sean T card

In 1920, Sean T O’Kelly was in Paris as the envoy of Dáil Éireann in its unsuccessful attempt to participate in the post-World War 1 peace conference. Here is the menu, beautifully handwritten,  of the Christmas dinner he hosted in the Grand Hotel, Paris, as the ‘Délégué du Gouvernement Élu de la République Irlandaise’.

The turkey was stuffed with chestnuts and truffles, and was preceded by some oysters, a chicken soup and trout.

Sean T in Paris B


Irishmen in Connemara, Indians in Manhattan.

‘Soon, a Celtic Irishman will be as rare in Connemara as is the Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.’

This is one of the most frequently cited quotations in books about the Great Famine, and is used to illustrate the attitude of a large section of British public opinion to the Irish. It is said to be part of an editorial in the Times during the Famine which recommended that English and Scottish farmers be allowed to take up land in the west of Ireland, and it is often glossed with the observation that the newspaper was ‘exultant’ about this.

I was researching a paper recently and decided to find the original context of the quotation. After all, it was possible (though not very likely) that the Times was lamenting this state of affairs. However, none of the books gave a reference to the Times itself – they always referred to other books. The Times has been fully digitised and is available through the NUIG library. It should have been the work of a minute to track down the editorial.

Instead, I discovered that the quotation doesn’t exist anywhere in the entire history of the Times, from 1785 to the present. I tried variations of the wording, of the spellings (Connemara, Conemara, Connamara etc.), but to no avail. Between 1846 and 1850, for example, ‘Manhattan’ occurs four times, each time in the shipping news. There were fifty results in the same period for Connemara, but none of them resembled in any way the quotation.

At this point, I decided to investigate further, and I soon found that my discovery was not a new one. There is a very elegant and comprehensive account of the origins of the phrase here. It’s a website that annotates the work of Joyce, since a similar phrase is quoted in Ulysses. Highly recommended.


 – Niall Ó Ciosáin




‘Colossal impudence?’ Funding a Political Party

At a recent press conference to announce the launch of a new party, Lucinda Creighton set herself the target of raising €1million to help fund an election campaign. Such a move would seem essential given that a lack of sufficient resources has been among the myriad reasons new parties have failed to break the ‘two and a half party system’ in Ireland.

While the most successful party of the last century, Fianna Fáil, launched itself in the 1920s from those who had left Sinn Féin, at least one other example from the same period highlights how inadequate funding makes it impossible to sustain a party. Launched in September 1926, the National League led by John Redmond’s son RODWilliam, sought to appeal to the Irish Parliamentary Party’s old supporters. (The photograph shows Redmond with Tom O’Donnell, another of the founders of the League.) Similarly to Creighton’s proposed party, the League had approximately a year to prepare for a general election amid a crowded field of new parties.

However, the National League suffered financially from its inception. The League sought to organise by reconnecting with old IPP supporters and received numerous small donations from individuals but, even with support from vintners, it failed to attract major financial backers.

In spite of running a loss at the June 1927 general election, the party still won eight seats. However, the League’s failed attempt to enter coalition with Labour and Fianna Fáil in August (one of their TDs defected while another John Jinks was famously absent on the day of a no confidence motion in the Government) sent the League into a tailspin.

Costs had to be met and the League still owed money for the hire of trains and bands from its launch the previous September. Beaten June candidates also began looking for their £100 deposits to be reimbursed but with a debt in the region of £500 by July, the League was in no position to do so. A newspaper appeal for funds cost £160 but yielded little in return while rent on its O’Connell Street office was heavily in arrears. As Thomas Lawler, himself employed as a full time secretary at £400 per annum, admitted to one beaten candidate they were ‘faced with a serious adverse bank balance due entirely to the fact that outside Dublin we received no financial help from the constituencies. In point of fact, if the actual truth were published, we could be rightfully accused of colossal impudence in entering the general election on the resources at our disposal’.

As a result, the struggling party fielded only six candidates in another election in September and were reduced to two seats. By late 1927, the League was forced to write supplicant letters to supporters asking for £10 each with the aim that 100 such donations would provide them with a fund to start again. Although one councillor promised to fundraise to ensure no son of John Redmond would personally go bankrupt, the League itself would suffer that very fate in 1928 before being eventually wound up three years later.

Amid the botched attempt at coalition and a number of other problems, it would be stretching credulity to attribute the National League’s demise solely to financial concerns. Nevertheless, failure to cover debts was deeply embarrassing. If the National League’s example proves anything, it is the enduring value of a fund to any Irish political party.

-Martin O’Donoghue

Book launch and lecture: The Shadow of Colonialism on Europe’s Modern Past

HealyDal LagoBookLaunch28January2015A double cause for celebration at NUI Galway in the coming weeks. First, we are delighted to welcome Professor Susanne Lachenicht from the University of Bayreuth to deliver a paper to our weekly History seminar at 16.00 on 28 January 2015, in Room G010 G011, Hardiman Building. The title of her paper will be ‘Negotiating Asylum in Europe and the Atlantic World in the 17th and 18th Centuries’. And that talk will be followed by the launch of a new book, The Shadow of Colonialism on Europe’s Modern Past (Palgrave Macmillan), edited by our colleagues Róisín Healy and Enrico Dal Lago. All are welcome!

[UPDATE: Please note the change in room number – the launch will take place in Room G010 rather than G011 as first advertised.]

The rebel priest and his goggles

Goggles cropped B

The phrase ‘rebel priest’ could have been invented for Michael O’Flanagan (1876-1942). Although he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1900, he was suspended from his duties in 1918-19 for his participation in the Sinn Fein general election campaign, and again from 1925 to 1939. His career took in many of the radical and nationalist causes of the day – he supported the Sligo dockers’ strike in 1913; he preached in favour of the redistribution of land in 1914 and against war taxation in 1916; he was prominently involved in the Roscommon by-election campaign of 1917 and was effectively the head of Sinn Féin in the second half of 1918 (as a priest, he was not arrested along with the rest of the leadership); he was the chaplain of the first Dáil in 1919; he took the anti-treaty side in the civil war and later opposed entry into the Dáil; and perhaps most remarkably, he toured the United States as a supporter of the Republican side in the Spanish civil war.

There was even more to O’Flanagan than this. Historians and archaeologists are in his debt for getting John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey letters transcribed between 1927 and 1934, and these were the copies that were used for decades (the library in NUI Galway has the complete set). He was active in the co-operative movement and in the language revival movement, serving as vice-president of both the IOAS and the Gaelic League.

Finally, he was an inventor, and had several patents in his name. The advertisement above for his swimming goggles appeared in the Catholic Bulletin for 1928.

[I downloaded the Catholic Bulletin from the blog Lux Occulta, which scans and posts Catholic material, mostly Irish, from the 20th century. It’s a tremendous historical resource, documenting a cultural formation that seemed hegemonic sixty or seventy years ago, but seems neglected in current historiography.]

Niall Ó Ciosáin