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 history of Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes

SAB book coverThose of you wishing to find out more about the historical background to the current controversy about Ireland’s mother and baby homes should tune into comments made by NUI Galway’s own Sarah-Anne Buckley on the subject last week. You can catch Sarah-Anne’s contributions on the RTÉ Six One News here (starts at 22:34) and on Newstalk’s Breakfast Show here (starts at 11:36). Sarah-Anne has also recently published a book, The Cruelty Man: Child Welfare, the NSPCC and the State in Ireland, 1889-1956 (Manchester University Press, 2014), documenting the history of child welfare in Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

‘Purging nations with blood’ – Next week’s seminar


The NUI Galway History Seminar meets every Wednesday at 16.00 in Room G010 in the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Building (adjacent to the library). Next week (19 February) we are delighted to have a seminar from our own Enrico Dal Lago, who will speak about ‘”Purging Nations with Blood”: John Brown, Pisacane, and 19th-century guerrilla warfare’. The seminar will be followed by the launch of his new book, William Lloyd Garrison and Giuseppe Mazzini: Abolition, Democracy and Radical Reform (LSU Press, 2013).

Speaker: Dr Enrico Dal Lago
Title: ‘”Purging nations with blood”: John Brown, Pisacane, and 19th-century guerrilla warfare’
Time & Date: 16.00, 19 February 2014
Venue: Room G010, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Building, NUI Galway

All are welcome!

Rethinking Ireland on RTE Radio 1

RTE dialogueEarlier this week we published a piece by our colleague Tomás Finn on his new book, Tuairim, Intellectual Debate and Policy Formulation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975 (Manchester University Press). On 4 January Tomás was interviewed by Andy O’Mahony of the RTÉ Radio 1 programme, Dialogue. You can stream the programme in full here, or download the podcast from the usual outlets.

Rethinking Ireland


Our colleague Tomás Finn published a new book – Tuairim, Intellectual Debate and Policy Formulation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975 (Manchester University Press) – earlier this year, for which he won an NUI Galway School of Humanities prize. In this post he tells us what the book is all about.

This book argues that the 1950s and 1960s were a transformative phase in modern Irish history. In these years a conservative society dominated by the Catholic Church, and a state which was inward-looking and distrustful of novelty, gradually opened up to fresh ideas about politics, the economy, society and religion. The book considers this change. It explores how from its formation in 1954 the intellectual movement Tuairim (‘opinion’ in Irish) was at the vanguard of the challenge to orthodoxy and conservatism.

Tuairim initiated and contributed to debates on issues as diverse as Northern Ireland, administrative and political reform, education, childcare and censorship. The society established branches throughout Ireland, including Belfast, and in London. Tuairim produced frequent critical publications on burning issues and boasted a roster of members who would go on to become luminaries in Irish and British public life; Dr Garret FitzGerald, the future Taoiseach, Donal Barrington, later a Supreme Court Judge, John Boland, the future head of the Public Trustee Office in London, Miriam Hederman O’Brien, subsequently a Chancellor in the University of Limerick and David Thornley, who became a distinguished television presenter and a Labour party TD. Until its disbandment in 1975, Tuairim occupied a unique position within contemporary debates on Ireland’s present and future. This book is concerned with the role that the society played in the modernisation of Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s. In so doing it also addresses topics of continued relevance for the Ireland of today, including the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the institutional care of children.

Broadly, this and my other work consider the role of ideas and the influence of intellectuals on the modernisation of Ireland. My next project, The influence of intellectuals in post WWII Ireland: Patrick Lynch and the Commonweal examines how the Irish state’s policy approach and the nature of public debate were transformed in the post WWII period. Specifically, it is concerned with the influence of intellectuals and the role of ideas in this, a crucial period in Ireland’s development. It examines public intellectuals such as Patrick Lynch, a civil servant and an academic. A deep thinker on the relationship between economic and social development, Lynch was involved in many policy formulation bodies and civil society organisations which led to the transformation of Ireland.

The interaction between individuals such as Lynch and civil society and the political and religious establishments is the focus of this project. It explores the extent to which ideas crossed the political spectrum and how they were disseminated. Broadly it is concerned with ideas, intellectuals and their influence in persuading governmental institutions to adopt new policies. In so doing, this project seeks to develop a greater understanding of the process by which Ireland was modernised. Using Lynch and his public career (c. 1940-1980) as a vehicle, it examines how Ireland moved from autarky and a conservative consensus of church and state to an open economy and more liberal social attitudes. It was an era when public intellectuals such as Lynch, and others like T. K. Whitaker, the pre-eminent public servant, challenged orthodox thinking and conservative attitudes. This project is concerned with the consideration such individuals gave to the ways Ireland was governed, socially, politically and economically. It seeks to ascertain the extent to which new ideas were accepted by the public and the political establishment. This, the market for ideas, how this develops, and its influence on the nature of state policy, is the subject matter with which my work is concerned.

– Tomás Finn

From the mouth of the whale


I’m not really into historical novels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t particularly love them or ever really let them into my reading life.

The first time I realised this I was in England, sitting amongst a group of academic colleagues, shooting the breeze in the aftermath of a reading group whose topic I can’t remember. When the talk turned to historical fiction, we slowly moved around the room (the conversation, that this – we, being historians, were perfectly happy sitting right where we were), discussing the merits of a whole raft of novels, most of which I’d never heard of, and many of which I can’t remember. (In my defence, the group included at least one historian of West Africa, a historian of the Middle East, and others working on a range of equally unusual topics, with equally exotic choices.) So I began to panic. What will I say when my turn comes? That I don’t have a favourite? That I don’t find them particularly inspiring? I couldn’t lie because my mind had drawn a blank and I couldn’t even think of a suitable answer. But could I tell the truth in the face of such admirable enthusiasm and risk bursting the bubble of a perfectly pleasant evening?

It never came to that. But neither did I ever come any closer to a favourite. And for nearly two years I lived a happy reading life, bouncing through everything from H. G. Wells to The Flame Alphabet. And then I found one. Or at least one that I love: Sjón’s brilliant novel, From the Mouth of the Whale. I came across it in the best way possible: completely by accident. I have a bit of an annual ritual, you see; buy a few new books, bring them on holidays, and make sure they’re to do with anything but history. Which, of course, only causes more stress, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll have failed to bring the list of ‘novels to read’ that you’ve collected over the year at just the time when you could do with it, because you’ve invariably left yourself too little time to decide and, well, the plane leaves tomorrow and you’re going to need something to read.

So there I was, browsing through the fiction section of Hodges Figgis, beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by the gravity of my task. And there it sat, in the middle of one of those ‘best books of…’ displays that screams ‘we can’t think of a more obscure way to highlight some books we love, but damn it, we’ll try’. What did I know, except that I was (a) fascinated by whales; (b) enamoured by the cover; (c) on my way to Scandinavia on what the Dubs call ‘me holliers’ and could do with a book that fitted that vibe; and (d) running out of time because I had a train to catch and had – as usual – spent too long browsing and too little time making my way home?

Of course, this book is not really about whales. It has little to do with Scandinavia – Iceland is Nordic, you see. And, well, you should never judge a book by its fancy cover. But what a book! Set in seventeenth century Iceland, it follows the life of Jónas Palmason the Elder, his tribulations in exile, and his incredibly complex (and slightly odd) worldview. Along the way poltergeists are banished, Basque fishermen are murdered (brutally), and myths are demolished. But it’s the writing (and, obviously, the translation) that makes it. Not only has Sjón done his research, he manages to make us feel the history by dispensing with the rigidity of narrative and embracing the fascination with the fantastical that was at the heart of Icelandic society.

After studying this vision for a while, Jónas blinked, at which the man lowered his arm and pointed to the surface of the sea. In an instant the sea became as clear as a cool autumn evening and the boat appeared to be hanging in thin air rather than floating on water, for the ocean had grown so translucent that its bed could be seen far and wide, even to the horizon. Jónas saw now that the island was like a tapering peak; he sat not on a rock on the beach but on the edge of a precipice. Then the glassy sea began to boil, the deeps churned and now the fish came swimming with rapid flaps of their tails, from south and east, from the shallows to the shore and the trenches beyond (118-119).

A. S. Byatt makes a wonderful observation about Sjón’s work in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books:

Iceland is a place of fierce contrasts, fire and ice. It is a land where real people believe in a matter-of-fact way that our visible world is interwoven with magic–a country in which the places are known where elves live and work. I have seen marked boulders where the doors to the other world are known to be. Sjón’s great variety of figures, simultaneously very sold and shape-changing and vanishing, are Icelandic, and beyond that European. He has changed the way I see things.

Her words hit me like a tonne of bricks. Maybe that is what I’ve been missing all along. Note to self: when it comes to historical fiction, the more fantastical, the less historical, and the more about feeling, about empathy, the better? Ok, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far. But at least the next time I’m in a room full of historians chatting about historical fiction – one of life’s regular occurrences, you’ll agree – I’ll have something to say.

– Kevin O’Sullivan

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).

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

Book launch- Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire

For anyone who is in the Dublin area this week, I will be launching my new book, Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire: Small State Identity in the Cold War, 1955-75 (Manchester University Press), on Wednesday 12 June in Hodges Figgis Bookstore, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, at 18.30. All are welcome to come along – there will be plenty of refreshments to go around! You can download the invite in pdf format here, or click the image below to enlarge.

Ireland, Africa and the end of empire launch- jpeg version

– Kevin O’Sullivan

The disarmament of hatred – France and Germany between the two world wars

Gearoid Barry Book launch Photograph by Aengus McMahon

In case you missed it, you can listen back here to our very own Gearóid Barry being interviewed by Patrick Geoghegan of Newstalk on the station’s Talking History show on 19 May 2013. The piece begins about 15 minutes in.

Gearóid is pictured above with John Horne, professor of Modern European History at Trinity College Dublin, who performed the  launch of his new book The Disarmament of Hatred: Marc Sangnier, French Catholicism and the Legacy of the First World War, 1914-45 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) at the Moore Institute last autumn. Professor Horne, formerly Gearóid’s doctoral supervisor, spoke of his pleasure in returning to visit NUI Galway and said of the book that it illuminated a remarkable Franco-German peace movement instigated in 1921 by war veteran and French Catholic politician Marc Sangnier. Barry’s transnational study examines the European resonance of Sangnier’s Peace Congresses in the interwar period. Advocating the ‘disarmament of hatred’, this movement – with its staged reconciliation and crossing of borders – aroused both hope and hostility in the aftermath of the First World War.  Mining a variety of sources, both known and new, this book considers the Peace Congresses’ surprising appeal and its political ecumenism (embracing Quakers, secularists, socialists and the pope) while reconfiguring the transnational histories of youth movements, women’s peace activism and Christian Democracy.  Examining also the excruciating new choices between peace and appeasement in the France and Europe of the 1930s, this story casts new light on key questions in European history in the era of two World Wars.