Talk like a pirate day – Ann Bonny

Ann Bonny

To mark International Talk Like  a Pirate Day, here is Ann Bonny, a famous pirate (or PYRATE!) in the early eighteenth-century Caribbean. She was Irish, thought to have been born in Kinsale. Her life is known mainly through her appearance in a hugely successful collection of pirate lives published in London in 1724. This was Charles Johnson’s General History of the Pyrates, which established a lot of the standard motifs of the classic pirate, eye patches, wooden legs, buried treasure, the Jolly Roger etc. Arr me hearties!

– Niall Ó Ciosáin

Johnson 1724 cover

History at Galway on the radio

ireland-africa-cover-abstractA quick heads up for those of you who might have missed it: NUI Galway’s Kevin O’Sullivan was on Newstalk’s Talking History programme on Sunday night (15 September) chatting to Patrick Geoghegan about his new book, Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire: Small State Identity in the Cold War (Manchester University Press). The book is out now in hardback, with a paperback edition to follow early in the new year.  You can listen back to the interview here (it starts at around the 28:00 mark).

Culture Night in Galway

Culturenight2013It’s a big dilemma isn’t it? Every year Culture Night rolls around and every year you make that resolution to plan your night a little better, to make sure you get to see all the places, things and talks that you want to see.

Good citizens that we are, let us help in planning your itinerary by making a couple of history-related suggestions to include in your evening’s travels. On campus, Archives and Special Collections is hosting a talk by Felicity Hayes-McCoy on ‘Staging Ireland: Irish culture at home and abroad – from An Tóstal to the Gathering’. In tandem, the Archives will be organising a special showcase of digitised material from the archive of Felicity’s father (and former Chair of History at UCG), Professor Gerard Anthony Hayes-McCoy. Doors open at 17.30 in the new Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Building (adjacent to the library). The lecture is free, but with the warning that ‘booking is essential’.

If you fancy a walk downtown, there’s plenty of other great stuff happening – from ‘readings and radio’ in Charlie Byrne’s, to puppet workshops and the intriguingly titled ‘Space Invaders in the Cornstore’ – and plenty more history-related fun. Following on the success of last year’s ‘Incomplete History of Galway’, my colleague John Cunningham is organising another evening of short introductions to a big topic at the Galway City Museum. ‘Social conflict, war & revolution in Co. Galway, 1913-1923’ runs from 17.30 to 20.00. Admission is free, so you can stay for the evening or dip in and out on your Culture Night travels through the city.


– Kevin O’Sullivan

The Conundrum of the Senate


The Government’s recent proposal to delete Seanad Éireann from the Constitution has seen numerous voices arguing for abolition or reform of the state’s upper house. Never hugely popular in any of its forms, a review of the chamber’s history reveals its peculiar place in the lexicon of Irish political life.


While the 1922 senate was put together by W.T. Cosgrave and the Dáil as a safeguard against unionist fears of discrimination, provision was made for popular election of one quarter of senators every three years under a PR single constituency system for the entire country. However this was scrapped when the 1925 election proved a debacle.  Instead, senators and TDs nominated candidates who were then voted on by TDs.

Though it had no power of absolute veto,  the Senate could delay ‘Money Bills’ by 21 days, refer other bills back to the Dáil and delay non-Money Bills from becoming law for nine months (extended to twenty months post-1925). With the backing of three fifths of the House, it could also exercise power of referendum though this was never invoked and was abolished with the end of popular election in 1925.

The increasing conflict between the chamber and de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government of the 1930s then led to its demise as it blocked constitutional reforms. When considering the future of second house, this was hardly a ringing endorsement of its place in Irish political life!

The formation of current Seanad two year later saw 43 of its senators elected from vocational panels which owed much to the vogue for vocationalist teaching at the time. Depending on the theorist, the place of party politics was not always clear.  It must be said such a scheme appears to make little sense to twenty first century observers; hence the condemnation of the lack of democracy in university representation. Ironically, the NUI and TCD seats are actually the most democratic part of the current electoral system since they are the only ones neither elected nor selected by politicians.

In terms of powers, the current Seanad created in the 1930s retained the same power of delay for ’Money Bills’ while it was reduced to 180 days for others. However, from the point of view of constitutional lawyer and former senator J. M. Kelly, it was ‘nearly as subservient… as second house can be.’


In spite of the muddled ideological basis of its composition, house exchanges reveal that some senators have actually behaved on vocational lines since 1938. However, Basil Chubb judged that this was in spite of rather than because of the House’s structure and  a Labour Party member serving on the Labour Panel discussing labour issues would be one example where attempts to approve or disprove this could reach a veritable cul-de-sac.

That said, the House did provide an alternative forum for debate. Though the ‘Tailor and Ansty’ debate on literary censorship is perhaps most famous, the Seanad also allowed for examination of the Government’s wartime censorship in the 1940s without running the risk of jeopardising the policy itself.

However, in the contemporary case, it seems the issue is no easier to solve than it was in 1922 or 1936.  Any perusal of the literature on bicameralism internationally will reveal the staggering number of books, journals and columns devoted to providing answers to a conundrum that is easier to theorise on than solve in a practical sense. Even abolishing the upper house has not proved enough to preserve New Zealanders from such debates in recent years as some have suggested a return to a two-chamber system!

Any reformed senate would have to gain the public legitimacy that Seanad Éireann has sorely lacked for some time. One recent suggestion drew on the vocational ideal but adapt it to a more recent effort at employer-employee co-operation in the form of social partnership.

Nonetheless, questions still remain regardless of approach. Some writers in the 1930s wanted a house free of politicians; would this be attractive now in 2013? How much power would we wish to give to social partners? Ultimately, the argument depends on preference for a strong senate, a mere revisory body or whether one feels there is simply no need for one at all.  Perhaps all parties might reflect ruefully on the advice of Abbe Sieyès when he reflected that a weak senate is unnecessary and a strong one a nuisance.

– Martin O’Donoghue

Further Reading

Basil Chubb, ‘Vocational representation and the Irish Senate’, Political Studies Vol. 2, No. 2, 1954,

John M. Kelly, The Irish Constitution, (Dublin: Butterworth Ireland, 1994).

Peter Stafford, ‘The Seanad needs a sense of purpose, not abolition’

Charlie Byrne’s: Bookshop of the Year

IMG_20130105_154657It’s great that the Irish Times has recognised Charlie Byrne’s bookshop as the Bookshop of the Year. With its excellent selection of new and used books, covering history, literature, politics, art and many other topics, Charlie’s is haunted by NUI Galway historians. The reader-friendly layout and the knowledgeable staff are of great assistance to the browser.

But if Galway is now well provided with bookshops, it wasn’t always so. Henry Inglis, who visited in 1834, complained as follows:

‘Literature is at a low ebb in Galway. No regular bookshop is to be found… there are shops indeed where books may be ordered and where some books may be purchased; but the demand is not sufficient to support a shop which sells books solely. I need scarcely say that the town contains no public or circulating library, and I could not learn that in the town, or its neighbourhood, any private book society existed.’

The novelist William Thackeray, who passed through in 1842, commented:

‘A man who sells hunting whips, gunpowder, guns, fishing tackle, and brass and iron-ware, has a few books on his counter, and a lady in a by-street, who carries on the profession of a milliner ekes out her stock in a similar way, but there were no regular book-shops that I saw…’

 – John Cunningham