NUI Galway summer internship leads to Teddy Boys radio interview and more!

Cool TedOne of the many excellent opportunities for NUI Galway Arts students is the chance to apply for a summer internship in Second Year under the supervision of a staff member. This year, one of my students Annika Stendebach was awarded the internship, and conducted excellent research into the history of youth culture in Ireland – from digitizing the student magazine Unity, to conducting research in the National Archives and recording the this radio interview on Flirt Fm.

Annika wasn’t the only successful History student: Gary Hussey also received an internship under the supervision of John Cunningham, while Siobhán Peters worked on her internship with Kevin O’Sullivan.

In her post for this blog Annika gives her reflections on the Teddy Boys – a group of ‘youths’ as they were known in Edwardian suits that we still have a lot to learn about.

– Sarah-Anne Buckley

Irish Teddy Boys: Scoundrels or the Scapegoats of the Nation?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the famous American Sitcom How I Met Your Mother the Canadian protagonist states that ‘the eighties didn’t come to Canada until ‘93’. A comparable delay can be observed when looking at the Teddy Boys movement in Ireland. Whereas the first indices of the Teds were reported as early as 1948 in London, the trend did not seem to catch Ireland before 1954. The first Teddy Boys-related incidents occurred in Belfast, which might be explained by its stronger political and cultural connection to the United Kingdom than the rest of the island. Up to that point (and even beyond) the Irish news coverage on this matter almost exclusively dealt with portraying the situation in Greater London, which was – albeit with some delay – joined by reports by the Connacht Sentinel’s special correspondent in Dublin.

The name ‘Teddy Boys’ derives from their reference to the Edwardian Period, and was shortened from 1954 onwards. The youth of the early fifties picked up the fashion of their (grand-) fathers’ generation. Although it was initially limited to the upper classes, it was soon picked up by the working population thus creating the first lower class youth movement. This shift simultaneously implied a decline of reputation, as after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II no self-respecting gentleman would risk to be spotted in ‘Ted regalia’.

The Teddy Boys were by no means innocent, as they are some reports on fights between their gangs, for example in Limerick. However, they were blamed or used as an excuse for crimes that they most likely had no connection to. In March 1962 the actress Maureen Toal (famous for her role in Glenroe) was accused of being a hit-and-run-driver while under the influence of alcohol. She testified that she was attacked by Teddy Boys and was too afraid to leave her car. Keeping in mind that the Teds hardly ever got involved with outsiders, her account seems highly unlikely. About a year later the Connacht Sentinel announced the end of the movement.

– Annika Stendebach

The Humanities are good for you


We’ve known it was true all along. But since we’re historians, it’s always good to dig up some evidence to prove it. Last week’s edition of the Times Higher Education magazine distills the findings of a recently published report by the University of Oxford into the careers pursued by its humanities graduates (Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact). The results are simple, but striking:

Oxford has tracked the fortunes of around 11,000 alumni who joined the university between 1960 and 1989 and concludes that they have played a growing role in emerging UK industrial sectors, particularly finance and law …

Shearer West, head of humanities at Oxford, said that there was a worrying belief among the public that students should take only vocational subjects at university and that humanities degrees would not lead to high salaries.

“I get very concerned when I see pupils in schools being advised not to study humanities because they won’t get a job. It’s the cultural perception and it gets embedded without any evidence,” she added.

Yep, that’s right. Humanities graduates can be found everywhere in Britain, from the classroom to the City – and do pretty well for themselves in the process. And while we wait for a similar body of evidence to appear from this island, it is probably safe to assume that the pattern is relatively similar. Not that everything can be boiled down to earnings, of course, but at least this is a good response to the never-ending question of what you can do with a humanities degree. Answer: anything you want.

– Kevin O’Sullivan

Another Festschrift

MacNeill B cropped

A few weeks ago I put up a short post about the centenary of the first book of essays (festschrift) dedicated to an Irish academic. Here is a follow up about the first such book for an Irish academic working in Ireland. I’m going to hang it very tenuously on the peg of a centenary by pointing out that the most influential piece of writing by this second person was published in 1913 – this was ‘The North Began’ by Eoin MacNeill, which appeared in An Claidheamh Soluis in November.

MacNeill was of course a distinguished academic first of all, and was professor of medieval history in University College Dublin from 1909 until 1941. His festschrift was produced to celebrate his 60th birthday in 1938, and was published in 1940. The list of contributors is formidable and international, showing MacNeill’s worldwide reputation as a scholar – there are papers from Rudolf Thurneysen of the University of Bonn, Hiolger Pedersen of Copenhagen and Carl Wilhelm Von Sydow of Lund, and many more.

What really stands out in Mac Neill’s festschrift, however, is the standard of production of the book itself. It was produced by Colm O Lochlainn, the foremost publisher and printer of the time in Dublin. O Lochlainn was a scholar of substance as well, a lecturer in Irish at UCD and one of the main authorities on the history of the book in Ireland. Some of the articles in the festschrift are in Irish, and O Lochlainn used a typeface that he had designed during the 1930s in cooperation with the Monotype Corporation, the world’s main producer of printers’ fonts, and their chief designer Stanley Morison, creator of Times New Roman. O Lochlainn called the new type Colum Cille, and this festschrift is (as far as I know) the first book that used it. It is a very elegant typeface indeed. You can find out more about it in Dermot McGuinne’s wonderful book Irish Type Design, which has recently been reissued. Here is the first page of the article by ‘Torna’, Tadhg O Donnchadha, about an elegy on Daniel O’Connell (click to enlarge):

Mac Neill A

O Lochlainn himself also contributed an article (in English) on ‘Roadways in Ancient Ireland’, and he drew a wonderful map to accompany it. This is a foldout at the end of the book:

O Lochlainn cropped

What other university could bring you this?

photo 4Ok, ok, so I know I said that my post yesterday afternoon was our history-related something for the weekend, but can I just add one more thing?  Here’s a challenge for you: in what other university in Ireland – nay, Europe – nay, the world – could I sit in my office on a Friday afternoon with the window open, 29 degrees outside, and have a Grizzly Bear soundcheck – one that’s taking place just a few hundred metres from our building – be the soundtrack to an hour of emailing and workshop organising? And then, when it’s cooled down for the evening (just a little), where else could I go and meet my colleague Sarah-Anne Buckley and listen to a great gig, in a giant tent, while still within view of my office window? Not too many places, if you will permit me to hazard a guess.

A frivolous post, you say? Not history-related, you cry? (You’re definitely wrong on the second count – see this week’s interview about the Herosongs series and the connections it makes between history and music.) Well, let me tell you something. I’ve lived and worked in Galway for a little over ten months now and this, for me, is exactly what this city is all about. It’s a university that’s woven into the fabric of its locale, where the lines between the three-week Galway Arts Festival and the boundaries of academia are blurred. It’s also a place that knows its history, as our strong connections to the local community and to the history of this region testify. See the Landed Estates project, for example, or talk to the students who take the local history module on our MA. Either that or drop in to Charlie Byrne’s or Kenny’s on a Saturday afternoon and spy any one of us or our undergrads rooting through shelves of books, searching for that elusive bargain.

(Disclaimer: I’m also a bit of a Grizzly Bear fan, of course. My third time, and third city, seeing them. Great stuff.)

– Kevin O’Sullivan

The history of food

History-on-a-Plate-Programme-1-CatheringClearyJulianaAdelmanA quick post before the weekend. In case you’ve missed it, Lyric FM has been running a new series called History on a Plate for the past couple of weeks. The third of six parts airs tonight at 19.00, but you can always catch up on the ones you’ve missed here. Disclaimer: one of the show’s presenters, Juliana Adelman, and I were co-editors of Pue’s Occurrences, my previous blogging home. Which, of course, should just be an excuse for you to go and read more of her brilliant musings on food, animals, and much more besides…

Edit: I should also have mentioned, of course, that Juliana is a graduate of NUI Galway, where she completed her PhD in 2006.

– Kevin O’Sullivan

Herosongs! Where history and song meet


It seems very fitting that I am meeting Thérèse McIntyre for ice cream in Galway to discuss her new RTÉ Radio 1 series Herosongs. The premise of the show is to explore where history and song meet – so too could that description be afforded to our lovely city! Thérèse has been telling me about her idea for this show for a long time and to finally see it in fruition is very exciting. I couldn’t wait to hear about the inspiration behind the show, the historical figures, and if there is anyone in particular we should be listening out for in the series.

Aisling: So, Herosongs – how did that come about?

Thérèse: Like all great Galway stories it started with a chat in a pub with Jack L about a previous Athena Media production for Lyric FM, ‘High Fidelity: a history of recorded song’. He suggested that with my research interest I should look to the broadcasting world as the two would be a great pair. One conversation later, and Helen Shaw of Athena Media had pitched to RTÉ and suddenly we were looking to the BAI for funding for a show called Herosongs!

Aisling: Where history and song meet… There is something very special for both music scholars and historians where this cross over happens. When looking at songs, the historical context is essential to understand place, people and time. How important was it for you to have this crossover?

Thérèse: With my academic background being so interdisciplinary and my own personal research coming from the traditional spectrum it was vitally important to have the two cross in the show. Ultimately I want to bring songs into the field of academics, an area in which they have been greatly overlooked. Most people wouldn’t realise how much historical value there is in a song!!

Aisling: It is very evident that you have a grá for Irish music – and I know you well enough to know of the other research pursuits and interests you have – but for those who will be new to the show, and you, where did this passion come from?

Thérèse: Oh God. This is tough. Probably when I was in New York in the 1990’s and I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Karan Casey and Niamh Parsons and John Doyle and others like that who were teaching workshops. There was a huge flourish in Irish singing at that time. Karan was actually my voice coach when I was competing in the Fleadh Cheol and I suppose I have been singing ever since.

Aisling: Are there any of the songs and historical figures/moments in the series which had a particular resonance with you?

Thérèse: Kevin Barry. He is where it all started with my MA thesis. It was very appropriate that the last episode I recorded ended with him. Can’t seem to get rid of him!

Aisling: Are there any names or voices we will recognise in the series?

Thérèse: From the academic side, Niall Ó Cíosáin and Lillis Ó Laoire from here in NUI Galway, and Mike Cronin from Boston College. On the traditional side Iarla Ó Líonáird, Frances Black, Eric Bogle (who wrote ‘Willie McBride’). There is a good mix of academic and traditional. Something for everyone no matter which side of the spectrum you are listening from…

And with melting ice creams to finish and more music chat and catch up we ended the discussion. I left our conversation thinking about Ireland and her musicians and the songs that have stood the test of time. It is often perceived that Ireland has a special and unique relationship with music and its musicians. Often linked with our identity, this music as a cultural practice varies and the expansive tradition that exists right up to the modern day can be explored through many avenues. With such a rich and diverse history, looking at the changing nature of the times though the music that sprang from it and recorded it provides an interesting avenue to examine identity and context. The hero takes many forms in Ireland and looking at this through song Thérèse delves into the historical, social and political happenings of this island.

The first episode of Herosongs aired on RTÉ Radio 1 on 14 July (click the play button below to listen). The series continues every Sunday evening at 7pm for a further seven weeks.

[audio|titles=Herosongs Episode 1, 14 July 2013]

– Aisling Nolan

Aisling Nolan recently completed a BA Connect with Irish Studies at NUI Galway, where she took English and History to degree level. She is preparing to begin a Masters degree in the Social Anthropology of Irish Music and Ethnomusicology at Queens University Belfast.

Thérèse McIntyre is in the final furlong of her PhD at the Centre for Irish Studies NUI Galway, where she previously completed her Masters in Irish Studies. Prior to that Thérèse completed a BA English and History here at NUIG and was part of the first graduating class of the diploma in Irish Studies in the Centre. This radio series is her first, and hopefully the first of many with Athena Media and RTÉ.

Irish Women in Medicine


The launch of Laura Kelly’s book, Irish women in medicine, c.1880s-1920s: origins, education and careers (Manchester University Press, 2013) took place at the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies at NUI Galway in April. The book, which is based on research conducted by Laura for her PhD thesis at the Department of History, NUI Galway (2007-2010), is the first comprehensive history of Irish women in medicine. The PhD thesis was supervised by Dr. Aileen Fyfe and funded by the IRCHSS.

The book focuses on the debates surrounding women’s admission to Irish medical schools, the geographical and social backgrounds of early women medical students, their educational experiences and subsequent careers. It is the first collective biography of the 760 women who studied medicine at Irish institutions in the period and, in contrast to previous histories, puts forward the idea that women medical students and doctors were treated fairly and often favourably by the Irish medical hierarchy. It highlights the distinctiveness of Irish medical education in contrast with that in Britain and is also unique in terms of the combination of rich sources it draws upon, such as official university records from Irish universities, medical journals, Irish newspapers, Irish student magazines, the memoirs of Irish women doctors, and oral history accounts.

For more information on the book, please click here.

Below:  Dr. Caitriona Clear, Dr. Laura Kelly, and Prof. Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, who launched the book.


Blame Trotsky

0001tsky002Editor’s note: The article that follows, written by Karen McDonnell, is the winner of our recent competition for our final year students to write a short piece on the history topic that meant the most to them in the course of their degree. Karen was a BA Connect with Writing (History and Classics) student who also blogs at Read Write Here.

I can remember my first history lesson at primary school: the ‘why didn’t I know this before?’ feeling. It’s never left me, a curiosity about the past; the need to picture it. During secondary school, I had my special seat at the local library. I would pore over books about the World Wars. I stared at medieval scenes, imagining lives beyond the illustrations.

When my teacher concentrated on Lenin, I was reading about Trotsky. Both featured in the Inter Cert exam. Imagine the perplexity of the person correcting papers from my school: answer after answer about Lenin, then this kid writing about Trotsky. I lingered over his assassination, noting the murder weapon (an ice-pick), including the depth that it penetrated Trotsky’s skull.

Reader, I was a ghoulish child.

The excitement created by wandering down historical lanes and cul-de-sacs never left me. As a student of History at NUIG, what I have loved most – choice of modules aside – is having access to so many primary and secondary sources. I am a JSTOR addict. Don’t get me started on 17th and 18th Century Collections Online. I cherish old books and documents for their smudged print-and- papery selves; not solely as academic references.

A tiny detail in a primary source can move me, or clarify an academic position. I will never fully recall the military details of The Somme, but give me a journal written by a soldier and I’m hooked. Importantly though, I now recognise the co-dependency of primary sources and existing scholarship; how that functions in the academic world. Learning about the battle improves the enjoyment of the soldier’s journal.

Now, back to my favourite Menshevik. Did you know that Trotsky kept rabbits? Fact. Stalin didn’t give a hoot about those rabbits. Neither, I suspect, does Academia. But Trotsky did, obviously.

Although I enjoy rabbit-hunting in the Fields of Primary Sources, I have some advice for the student of History: Enjoy the wonderful side-roads the sources send you down, but pick and choose what you find there.

When writing academic essays – Step. Away. From. The. Bunnies.

– Karen McDonnell

James Lydon (1928-2013)

Interview-with-Professor-James-Lydon-1Jim Lydon, Lecky professor of History at Trinity College Dublin until his retirement in 1993, began his academic career here in University College Galway where he served as lecturer for three years from 1956 before moving to TCD. He read English and History for his BA, began research for a Master’s on Ireland’s contribution to the military activities of the English crown in the 13th century, and then completed his doctoral dissertation at the Institute of Historical Research in London in 1955. Lydon’s appointment to Trinity in 1959 began an academic partnership with ‘the Ot’ (Professor A.J. Otway-Ruthven) which transformed our understanding of the later medieval lordship and attracted a succession of young research students to medieval Irish history. He succeeded her in the Lecky chair in 1980.

When I arrived in Galway in 1976, Lydon was long gone but fondly remembered. On his occasional return visit, to address An Cumann Staire for instance, his lecturing skills were very evident; but as a research student in Belfast I already knew the inside of his rooms in Trinity from trips to work in Dublin archives, and I found him utterly inspiring. He had time for young scholars, was encouraging of their research and would debate with them, and he knew how medieval English government worked. At a time when research and writing was still an occasional activity for many established academics, Jim Lydon was an imaginative and prolific scholar.  Not only could he hold an undergraduate audience while lecturing on the medieval exchequer (I tried and failed!), but his enthusiasm for administrative and political history was also very evident in his writings.

His best-known book, The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages (Dublin, 1972; revised ed. Dublin, 2003), is the perfect foil for the institutional approach of the Ot’s History of Medieval Ireland (London, 1968). The central themes of his research mostly appear in the four chapters on English Ireland 1215-1327 which he wrote for the medieval volume of The New History of Ireland, but he taught and published far more widely than this, offering a Special Subject on Ireland and the English crown, 1460-1541 shortly before his retirement, and then publishing a single volume history of Ireland to the present. In many ways, however, a scholar’s reputation reflects the range of imaginative new ideas he brings to his subject. Lydon will be long remembered for his seminal essay on the problem of the frontier in medieval Ireland and for his exploration of colonial identity and the concept of the ‘middle nation’.

– Steven G. Ellis