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.
‘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
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 William, 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.
A 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 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
It is often said that the Irish educational system has become over-competitive, with a disproportionate emphasis on the points race and so on. This is absolutely true, but the Irish system pales in comparison with the French one. There, for example, as well as the universities, there is a whole range of elite schools (the ‘Grandes Écoles’, dating from the Revolution) to train engineers, administrators, artists, teachers, scientists and even soldiers. These are very difficult to get into, to the extent that there are special secondary schools whose purpose is to prepare students for the entrance exams.
Alongside this, there is a system of national exams, some also dating from the eighteenth century, to become a teacher, a university lecturer or a judge. These are highly competitive, and students usually spend a year or more preparing for them. The best known is probably the agrégation, a teaching licence for universities or higher secondary schools. It is highly competitive – in the history agrégation in 2014, 800 took the exam, but only 100 succeeded.
The curriculum for these competitions changes every two years, and for 2015 and 2016, the agrégation in English (which features the sociology and history of English-speaking countries as well as language and literature) includes an element on the Great Irish Famine. As a result, there has been a series of conferences and events focussing on the Famine and a number of books on the Famine have appeared in French over the last six months.
In December, Cormac Ó Gráda and I spoke at a workshop in Toulouse
and at a conference in Bordeaux.
There was another conference in Paris, also in December.
One of the speakers at the Bordeaux and Paris events was Laurent Colantonio, a scholar of O’Connell and democracy who teaches in the university of Poitiers. He has has co-authored a survey of the Famine with Fabrice Bensimon, a political historian of 19th-century England.
The last book is a collection of essays published by the university press of Rennes. Half of the essays are in French, half are in English.
For an Irish historian, all these books, the first two in particular, are fascinating to read. They are written for a non-Irish audience by non-Irish writers (there is one Irish contributor in the book of essays) and also for readers who are students of English rather than history. They take a thematic and very structured approach, whereas surveys by Irish historians for an English-speaking (largely Irish) audience tend to take a chronological approach. I’ll order them for the NUI Galway library so that you can judge for yourselves!
Niall Ó Ciosáin
This summer I discovered a very unusual book, the autobiography of a self-educated, opinionated and well-travelled Breton man from the second half of the nineteenth century. Mémoires d’un Paysan Bas-Breton was published in 1998, after the discovery of the text in 1995 in forty notebooks. Jean-Marie Déguignet was born on a small farm near Quimper in 1834. His family lost the farm soon after, and they moved to one of the poorest streets in Quimper, where the young Jean-Marie worked, among other things, as a professional beggar. He joined the army and fought in the Crimea, Italy and Mexico and returned to Brittany as a multi-lingual, self-taught, extremely sceptical and anticlerical individual. It’s a wonderful book, and Déguignet is humorous and acerbic both about his fellow Bretons and about the urban intellectuals who were collecting folklore and constructing an idealised picture of a peasant Brittany in the later nineteenth century.
There is one section that might strike a chord with Irish readers. Déguignet tells a few folk tales, one of the longest of which refers to the arrival of potato blight in Brittany in 1845. Some people (though certainly not Déguignet himself) saw it as the work of the devil, following the events recounted in the story. It’s an extraordinary tale, far more elaborate and complex than anything recorded as a popular belief about the Irish Famine. I’ve taken the pages here from an English translation by Linda Asher, published by Seven Stories Press, New York in 2004.
- Niall Ó Ciosáin.
Visiting Buda castle on family holidays last June, Dr Kim LoPrete caught sight of some old stones as the rest of the gang soaked in the panoramic vista of the Danube & Pest below…. ‘Oh no’, they groaned, ‘not more historic rubble…’. Undeterred –or was that totally bored– nephew no. 1 decided to follow her ’round the corner, where she stumbled into the ruins of the 13th-century Dominican church, serving as the atrium of a modern office building, complete with quarter-vaulted steel pillars mimicking the lost Gothic arches of the old nave (now you know why they groaned…).
But who was that cowled campaigner pointing east? Why, none other than brother Julian, with his side-kick Gerard, who had set off c.1235 to find the original Magyar homeland & convert a few Cumans (nomadic Turkic folk) and arrived just in time to meet Russians fleeing from renewed Mongol onslaughts–and even advance envoys of the Mongols themselves.
Those of you taking her Colloquium, ‘European Encounters with the Mongols’ can read about some of brother Julian’s adventures, including the ultimatum, a virtual declaration of war, he transmitted from the Mongol leader Batu to the king of Hungary….
Upcoming conference: Nautical Science, Navigation, and the Exploration of the Atlantic (2-4 Oct 2014)
The conference programme is available to download here.