A reflection on the Dynamite War


This was prompted by Fintan O’Toole’s article ‘Fake Birmingham apology is part of IRA’s twisting of history’. O’Toole’s article was partly in response to an interview Michael Hayes had given the BBC. Hayes, an active member of the IRA, was involved in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974, claimed in the BBC interview that the IRA ‘had no intention of hurting anybody’ This seems disingenuous. As O’Toole points out

‘The first obvious question is: if the IRA had no intention of hurting anybody, what did it intend to do that night? The only other possible goal would be simply to destroy the two pubs. The logical time to do this would be in the dark of night, when the buildings were empty. Instead, the bombers chose a Thursday night – pay night in working-class communities in the 1970s. (Some of the dead could be identified only by the names on their pay packets.) They chose a time, 8.17pm, when the pubs were certain to be packed.’

Hayes claims that the bombers tried to give enough warning so the pubs could be evacuated but one of the payphones they tried was broken, the other was occupied. It defies belief that men who were prepared to blow innocent people up were too polite to use their influence to ensure that phone-call finished in a timely fashion.

Hayes’ excuses reminded me of discussions the surrounded Clan na Gael’s dynamite campaign of the 1880s and of research I’ve been doing which examines both the Dynamite War and American reaction to it. Between 1881 and 1885 Irish American republicans carried out a series of bombings in Britain. The first batch in 1881 and early 1883 were part of the skirmishing campaign, the second, between October 1883 and January 1885 became known as the Dynamite War. Both campaigns were carried out by members of the Fenians and its successor organisation, Clan na Gael. Continue reading

Musings on Public History


A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to win an ‘Impact Award’ for ‘delivering research which has a demonstrable impact on society, culture and people’. The award was for my Public History work, and specifically for several museum and heritage projects I’ve been involved with.

The award, alongside Andrew Adonis’ ill-informed comments implying that academics luxuriate in a three month summer holiday (if only!) set me thinking about why I got involved with Public History. The ever-present REF is certainly one reason. For academics in the UK the REF has ensured that we all think a lot about impact and engagement. In addition to teaching, researching, grading, administering and writing, we are now supposed to be actively involved in public engagement and have a meaningful and (most importantly) measurable impact on society. It’s a tall order (and doesn’t leave much time for swanning around during the summer ‘break’!)

Public History is a very vague term, and one that has been subject to much debate. Robert Weible has concluded that ‘the discipline’s practitioners are educators who neither deny their expertise nor keep it to themselves’ . That, combined with Lucy Worsley’s take on it which is ‘if history is “finding what happened in the past”, then, public history is “telling lots of people about it”’ seems a pretty good definition to me. Continue reading