Upcoming Talks


Between the end of January and the end of March I get to talk about Maps, Markets, Museums & Convents.

On 26 January I’m discussing growth and change in Dublin from 1202 to 1847. Using information drawn from the Irish Historic Towns Atlas and with assistance from an excellent transition year student on work experience we plotted the location of all markets in the city from 1202 to 1847. The complete map reveals a lot about the growth and transformation of the city over the centuries.

At the beginning of March I’ll be talking about museums and heritage sites at the Irish Museums Association Annual Conference in Cork and at the end of March Jessie Castle and I will be in Dublin to discuss some of the first Presentation Convents in Ireland – we’ll be talking about the geographic spread of the convents and also looking at the architectural significance of some of the convents themselves.

More information about all the talks and conferences are below:

Saturday 26 January: ‘Mapping the Markets: Using the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series to trace market locations in Dublin across the centuries’, Buying and Selling: Dublin’s Markets 1500 to the Present, Dublin History Research Network Conference, Wood Quay Venue, Civic Office, Dublin. More information available here: Buying & Selling 

1-2 March: Irish Museums Association Annual Conference, Cork. Conference Programme is available here: IMA Conference

29-31 March: ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Presentation Convents in Ireland from Penal Era to Catholic Emancipation’ (with Jessie Castle). Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement Conference, Dublin.


A Top Ten of Irish Sites to Visit in 2019

Processed with MOLDIV

So, a new year begins. I’ve begun it by filing my notes on the sites I visited over the Christmas break…and by starting a list of those I’ve to see in 2019. Since last May I’ve visited more than 70 museums, heritage sites, churches, cemeteries, national parks, galleries, workhouses, prisons, forts, convents and clock towers….to see how the tales about our past are being told. It’s been fantastic. I’ve learnt a lot (but also seen some howling errors) along the way.

The photos show a selection of the sites I’ve visited over the last year – if anyone can identify them all I’ll be very impressed!

Processed with MOLDIV

If you’re making plans to get out and about here are some of the trips I really enjoyed. For the most part I’ve been in search of sites that deal with tragedy and misery so don’t expect too many uplifting stories along the way!

This list highlights some of the sites that I really enjoyed. They are all site-specific and tell the story associated with the place rather than a broad sweep of Irish history. Some are free, others are relatively cheap (I’ve deliberately omitted the more expensive sites for this list). Most of these are slightly off the beaten track (and I’ve gone for a geographic spread) So, in alphabetical order:

  • Athlone Castle, Co. Westmeath – There are excellent displays to see with interesting information on the 1690 & 1691 Sieges of Athlone & more generally on Athlone history (and some of the best mannequins I’ve seen (& I’ve seen a lot!)). There are also lots of costumes for kids to try on!
  • Camden Fort Meagher, Crosshaven, Co. Cork – The location is stunning  Go on a good day where you can have tea in the cafe which has one of the finest views in Ireland. The panel text and exhibitions are a mixed bag (there’s a rather incongruous display about 9/11).
  • Carromore Megalithic Tombs, Co. Sligo – A megalithic site that’s older than Newgrange (as you will be told several times!) Take a tour if you can – the tour I was on included a great mix of history, mythology and archaeology.
  • Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, Co. Wexford – A well-oiled machine. This is a very well put together package with a guide, some video and panel text to prepare visitors before they climb aboard the replica famine ship and meet several of those who sailed to America from Waterford in the 1840s.
  • Dunmore Caves, Co. Kilkenny  – A great mix of geology and history, with an intriguing mystery at its core. How did hundreds of people come to die in the cave and how much treasure is yet to be uncovered?
  • Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal – Glorious landscape and an interesting hunting lodge – a dark tale lies behind the pristine natural beauty.
  • Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna, Co Galway
  • Well worth doing a tour of the Workhouse. Learn about life in the workhouse as you travel from the Boardroom through the schoolroom and the yards to the dormitories. There are fascinating stories and the site itself is well worth seeing.
  • Kilkenny Famine Experience, MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre, Kilkenny
  • A unique and fascinating experience. Be guided through the Kilkenny Workhouse through audio and video while you walk around the shops and food court in the shopping centre. It’s well worth your time.
  • St Michan’s Church, Dublin – Long a favourite of mine – though not for the faint-hearted. Visit the vaults under the church to see ornate coffins, the last resting place of some United Irishmen, some skulls and some mummified corpses who have broken free of their coffins.
  • Youghal Clock Gate Tower, Co. Cork – It’s a tiny museum, but it tells a myriad of stories. Learn about the history of Youghal and the Clock Gate Tower itself. There are stories of trade, of imprisonment and what it was like to grow up living in the tower. And on a clear day the view from the top is marvelous.

Just click on the name of site and it will bring you to the relevant web-page.

Processed with MOLDIV


From Stretcher to Railing

benhill road - g

Former World War II stretchers now in use as railings on Benhill Road, Camberwell, London

On a walk to Ruskin Park at the weekend I wandered along Benhill Road in Camberwell and noticed that the railings were made out of old stretchers. During World War II about 600,000 steel stretchers were manufactured for use in the Blitz. They were used by ARP (Air Raid Precaution) wardens after bombing raids.

stretcher in use

After the war many of these stretchers were re-purposed as railings and used in lots of estates in South London. Most people pass them by without a second glace. They are a secret and silent memorial to a tragic past. They also prove that recycling isn’t a new phenomenon!

The stretchers were made from steel so that they could be easily washed down after use and used again when necessary. They had a wire mesh within the frame and two indents either side so that they were raised slightly off the ground if they had to be set down while an injured person was being transported. Most were painted green when used as stretchers, but are black in their recycled life as railings.

stretcher - museum of st john

Photo from the Museum of the Order of St John

Many are in poor condition now (and many have been replaced). In recent years a campaign has begun (led by the Stretcher Railing Society)  to raise awareness of these stretcher railings in the hope that they will be protected and treasured as an important part of London history.

benhill road

Benhill Road with Stretcher Railings (from Google Maps)

More on History & Education


Sticking with an education theme this week.

On Sunday evening RTE Radio 1 broadcast the third episode of ‘Brainstorm’. I was a guest (alongside Maria Murphy of Maynooth University, Vittorio Bufacchi and Frank Crowley (both of UCC). Topics covered included fake news, post truth and the housing crisis, while I talked about the importance of learning history (generally) & of making sure that history is core for the Junior Cycle.

You can listen to the show here: Brainstorm – 16 December 2018

For a more detailed piece on the teaching and learning of history in schools, museums & heritage sites here’s a link to my IAPH keynote: A Rag-Bag of Pointless Information

It’s heartening to see more letters in the paper in support of restoring History as a core subject & to hear Diarmuid Ferriter give another sterling performance supporting a reversal of the decision on the Ryan Tubridy Show. Here’s hoping the decision makers listen.








‘A Rag-Bag of Pointless Information’? – The Value of Teaching History

rag bag.JPG

The Irish Association of Professional Historians  held a workshop in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick earlier this month.

The workshop discussed the teaching of History at primary, secondary, and third level, as well as outside the formal education system. Over the course of the day I heard a series of really engaging and thought-provoking papers which examined policy and curriculum developments over the history of the state and also looked at ways in which public history, material culture, and the digital space can inform History teaching today. The programme for the day is available here

I gave the keynote lecture at the workshop. My paper was prompted by the recent removal of history as a core subject for the new Junior Cycle, but also examined the importance of both teaching and learning history more broadly. I also considered how museums and heritage sites engage with teaching history in both formal and informal settings.

Given the fact that Minister Joe McHugh has decided to review the decision to remove history as a core subject for the Junior Cycle it seemed like a good idea to make my lecture publicly available for anyone who might be interested in reading why I (and many others) feel very strongly that history must be reinstated as a core subject.

You will find a PDF version of the lecture (along with some of the slides I used) by clicking on this link: ‘A Rag-Bag of Pointless Information?: The Value of Teaching History

‘Teaching History’ Workshop – IAPH – Limerick, 6 December 2018

IAPH posterI’m delighted to be speaking at the Irish Association of Professional Historian’s ‘Teaching History’ Workshop which will be held at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick on 6 December 2018. Continue reading

St Martin’s Eve – the story of a Chicken


The yard in Swords

The 11th of November is the Feast of St Martin. On St Martin’s Eve or the night of the feast itself it was traditional in many parts of Ireland (particularly along the west coast) to kill a cock or a goose or a duck and sprinkle the blood in all four corners of the kitchen, across the threshold and around the yard to protect the house and land from evil. The fowl (usually a chicken) was then cooked and eaten. The scattering of blood and the meal in honour of St Martin was said to ward off evil for the year. Continue reading

A Toilet Trip: Courthouse, Cells, Coffee, Toilets!


St Albans Town Hall, c.1911

I visited St Albans in Hertfordshire this week. It’s a very attractive small city with a superb Cathedral. I did a very quick run around the Cathedral, but the real purpose of my trip was to visit some toilets. Continue reading

A farcical race to the Áras

Exit poll

RTÉ Presidential Election Exit Poll

So that’s over for another seven years.

What an awful Presidential election. Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted that Michael D gets to serve another term. He’s been an excellent President.

But the circus surrounding the election has been shambolic. None of the other candidates were fit to be president. Whatever about Joan Freeman and Liadh Ní Riada, the three dragons appeared to be there just to satisfy their own egos. Continue reading

Nineteenth-Century Terrorism: from the ‘Dynamite War’ of the 1880s to the IRA


It’s always a treat to get a new book, and yesterday’s post was particularly pleasing as the new book that arrived has a chapter I’ve written in it. Academic publishing is a very slow moving machine and so by the time a book, a chapter or an article is published I’ve almost forgotten about it. Continue reading