“One of the ghastliest and most curious crimes”: The Murder of Dr Cronin – 4 May 1889


Today is the 130th anniversary of the murder of Dr Patrick Cronin. On 4 May 1889 an anxious young man ran in a doctor’s surgery in north Chicago. He was agitated and desperate for help. A man had been seriously injured and needed immediate attention. The doctor packed his medical case, hopped into a waiting carriage and was never seen alive again.
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Talks & Travels


Taking the slow and very scenic road from Doagh Famine Village to Fort Dunree, Donegal

I’ve been busy visiting Dark Tourism sites, teaching and talking about convents & nuns at conferences so haven’t had time to blog recently…but I’ve seen lots of great sites in Sligo, Donegal, Derry & Tyrone and I will get round to writing something about them soon.  I’m back on the road again in a couple of weeks so if anyone has suggestions for Dark Tourism places in Tipperary, Westmeath, Kilkenny & Limerick do let me know either here or via twitter (@gillianmobrien) or instagram (gillianmobrien) or email (g.p.obrien@ljmu.ac.uk). Continue reading

In Praise of New Voices

RTE Brainstorm recently published a version of my recent blog post about my Dark Tourism trip around Ireland, or ‘Ireland in the Shadows’. You can find it here: How my Grandmother inspired a fascination with Dark Tourism. The blog version is here.

RTE Brainstorm is a great resource – full of interesting and accessible reports, opinion pieces and articles written by academics and researchers. The thing I enjoy most about it is that it has introduced me to a whole range of new perspectives on topics that very often are discussed by non-experts in print and on air. It provides an insight into fascinating research that’s being conducted by academics in Ireland and beyond. In a world of ‘fake news’ and the same old voices it’s a very refreshing addition.

Jim Carroll (the editor of Brainstorm) had a piece explaining the rationale behind Brainstorm in the Irish Times on Saturday. You can find the article here.

(I’m not praising the website just because one of my pieces was one of the ‘Editor’s Picks’…but you can read that one here!)

RTE Brainstorm IT articles.JPG

A Victorian Guide to Dublin

Queen Anne Window.PNG

Last week at the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland I gave a speech to help launch an online exhibition based around The Dictionary of Dublin: A Guidebook to the city – for visitors and locals which was first published in 1895. Hopefully this online exhibition will introduce many people to both the images and content of this wonderful resource.

The book, written by Ephraim MacDowel Cosgrave & Leonard Strangeways, is lavishly illustrated with wonderful photographs and illustrations. Continue reading

Dark Tourism, Dime Museums, Statues – Memory & Commemoration

I had a hectic few days in Dublin last week where I helped launch an exhibition, spoke at the Royal Society of Antiquaries, spent a day in a convent archive, heard three fascinating papers at the National Museum of Ireland, saw three exhibitions and had a really nice chat with Neil Delamere about Dark Tourism on Neil’s Sunday Best on TodayFM

We did a very quick (and very partial) world tour of Dark Tourism sites, but mostly focused on sites in Ireland. My interest in Dark Tourism has grown out of a number of separate projects that have allowed me to look at Dark Tourism from several angles. My involvement in the development of sites such as Spike Island has has strong impact on developing my interest in Dark Tourism but so too has my research for books and articles on nineteenth-century America. One aspect of Gilded Age America that fascinated me was the growth of Dime Museums which were often complete with Chambers of Horror. Continue reading

A Fictional History: Ireland’s Past in 5 Novels

book covers

A Fictional History: Ireland’s Past in 5 Novels

As a historian I’m interested in facts. What really happened? But that’s impossible to know. The information left behind by previous generations is only partial. Depending on the period, we have a myriad of sources – letters, photographs, newspapers, government records. We can see the houses people lived in, the schools they attended, the transportation they used. But how can we ever know how people felt, why they made the decisions they did? What life was really life for those living it? Historians, like detectives, try to reconstruct and understand the past. I think we generally do a good job, but so too do novelists. In many ways the absences, the gaps, the lack of knowledge can be filled in by the fiction writer who understands the past, but isn’t a slave to facts.

In Irish history, some of the best fictional accounts of the past are those that give a flavour of the time in which they are set. These are some of my favourites.


Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Days Without End

Choosing this book is a little bit of a cheat, for it is more about the American past, than it is about the Irish. But then so much of American history intersects with Irish history, particularly from the mid-nineteenth century. Death, be it by war or famine, is always close to hand. Thomas McNulty, the narrator of the story, left famine-ridden Ireland and stowed away on a ship to Canada. Unwelcome there he ends up in the United States, a soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. McNulty’s relationship with John Cole, both personal and as a comrade in arms, is beautifully drawn. In part the book is about acceptance in many different guises. The Irish in America often struggled with dual allegiance, though McNulty doesn’t romanticise his compatriots: ‘Don’t tell me a Irish is an example of civilised humanity. He may be an angel in the clothes of the devil or the devil in the clothes of an angel but either way you’re talking to two when you talk to one Irishman’. In focussing on one of those who left Ireland, Barry expertly and compellingly tells the story of millions of Irish who created their own history far from Irish shores.

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Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor
Star of the Sea

Another novel focused on that most Irish of tropes – the emigrant experience – Star of the Sea is an epic tale set in the winter of 1847 and straddling the Atlantic Ocean. The Star of the Sea is a ship laden with passengers escaping famine in Ireland for imagined safety (and possibly wealth) in the United States. The ship itself is a microcosm of society, with class struggle being played out across the floors. O’Connor mixes fact and fiction with aplomb and includes snippets from letters, newspaper and cartoons from the period. The result is a complex, compelling story leaving the reader – and the historian – wondering where the imagined ends and the reality begins.

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The Mill for Grinding Old People Young by Glenn Patterson
The Mill for Grinding Old People Young

Patterson’s book brings nineteenth-century industrial Belfast to life as it roves through the bustling streets of the 1830s. To Gilbert Rice, a young clerk in the Ballast Office, Belfast seems a place where his ambitions could take flight, were it not for the resistance of the decadent and powerful Lord Donegall to a deep-water port. The city of Rice’s youth is one in which the shadows cast by Wolfe Tone and other radicals from the 1790s are long. Through the novel, real and fictitious characters walk the streets side by side (indeed, Rice’s best friend is the real architect John Millar). In many ways the book is a love story about Gilbert Rice and Polish exile, Maria, but it is also a love letter to Patterson’s native city.

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The Red and the Green by Iris Murdoch
The Red and the Green

Murdoch’s only historical novel is set in Dublin in the week before the Easter Rising of 1916. Within one somewhat fractured family of Kinnards and Dumays, there are Catholics and Protestants, members of the Irish Volunteers, the Citizen Army and the British Army. Tensions abound. Tragedy is just around the corner, but comedy is evident too. The eccentric Millie Kinnard is a marvellously feisty character, though in some ways her rather complex and scandalous love life overshadows the political and military drama that is brewing. Despite this The Red and the Greenoffers a beautifully written and reflective insight into liberal Anglo-Irish perspectives on Ireland on the eve of the 1916 Rebellion.

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Troubles by J.G. Farrell

First published in 1970, Troubles was awarded the ‘Lost’ Man Booker Prize in 2010 and deservedly so. The book is set in a grand, but down-at-heel hotel in Co. Wicklow during the Irish War of Independence. The protagonist, Major Brendan Archer, is an English veteran of the First World War who comes to Ireland determined to marry Angela Spencer, the daughter of the owner of the Majestic Hotel. The relationship collapses as does Britain’s grip on Ireland. It’s bleak and comic by turns. Despite rarely straying outside the confines of the shambling hotel, Farrell’s novel is a brilliant indirect reflection on a period of immense upheaval in Irish history.

Buy the Book

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Fortress Spike Island


I returned to Cobh on Friday and took a boat out to Spike Island for the launch of the Spike Island guidebook. My co-authors Simon Hill and Gerry Moore were also along for the event.


The island has been transformed since my first visit there about 18 months ago. Then it was hard to imagine the changes that were to take place. The before and after images below give some idea of the work that was undertaken. Continue reading

Podcasts, reddit, blogs & an Arts Festival

Farside 1

Just as I began this blog entry I discovered that the Financial Times included Blood Runs Green in its list of Books of the Year. I’m really delighted about this. The murder of Cronin is, according to Tony Barber (who is obviously very discerning!), recounted ‘with enormous verve’.

Financial Times’ Books of the Year

I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences this year while promoting Blood Runs Green. I made my TV debut, did a lot of radio interviews, wrote some articles for publications including the Irish Times, History Ireland, TIME.com and HNN. I also did an ‘Ask Me Anything’ for reddit (I’ll confess to never having heard of reddit before I was asked to be involved). I enjoyed the experience though remembering to keep checking in was quite a challenge!

Ask Me Anything – reddit

I’ve spoken at a lot of conferences over the years, but in September I was involved for the first time with an arts festival – the inaugural Farside Festival in Athlone. It was lots of fun. I went along to a wonderful gig by The Driftwood Manor in the Methodist Church and braved a historical walking tour of the town which, despite the torrential rain (and fact that the guide failed to mention the house my father was born in – Dad rectified that by posing outside), was really interesting. I hadn’t known that Harry Clarke studios were responsible for the wonderful stained glass windows in Church of St Peter and St Paul in the town.

Instead of a talk I was interviewed by Seamus Dooley, the Secretary of the NUJ. I really enjoyed it. Seamus had clearly read the book very closely and asked really interesting questions. His own experience as a journalist and his familiarity with more recent versions of secret Irish republican organizations made for a lively discussion.


I also did a few podcasts during the year. – a recent one was with Dan Zupansky for his True Murder podcast hosted by BlogTalkRadio. I think it’s by far the longest interview I’ve done about the book. It was all a bit hair-raising at the start as my online connection didn’t work so I had to phone in which means that the first few minutes of the recording are a bit frantic and the sound quality isn’t great, but it was fun to be allowed to talk about the Cronin murder and the investigation at great length!

True Murder-BlogTalkRadio


Reviews, Radio & Research Days


The view from our friend’s apartment in Berlin

This week’s been pretty hectic. I spent two days in Berlin seeing friends and checking out how Berlin museums deal with a complicated past, then had a couple of days in Dublin looking at various artefacts in Kilmainham Gaol before returning to Liverpool for a Postgraduate Open Day and a Faculty Research Day. No rest for the wicked!

The trip to Kilmainham was interesting and I got a sneak peak at the work that’s been done on the East Wing which will reopen to to public very soon. The new glass in the roof allows remarkable light into the chamber and recreates what it would have been like to have been in the East Wing when it first opened in

Kilmainham Gaol KG2 KG3 KG4

I did an interview for KSCJ radio in Sioux City, Iowa which was fun. The sound quality isn’t top notch which is a bit of a shame.

Faculty Research Day

Faculty Research Day

Yesterday I attended a Faculty Research Day at Liverpool John Moores University where I gave the keynote address. There was a big crowd and it was fun to talk about both my museum work and the Blood Runs Green book. It was an invigorating day with a lot of postgraduate students showcasing their work in talks and on posters. I was one of the judges for the poster competition and it was very stimulating talking to the students about their research. The range of work (and the high quality) that’s being undertaken by the postgraduates is remarkable and it was great to have an opportunity to meet with students and colleagues working on all sorts of different projects from a wide-range of disciplines.

There was a nice review of Blood Runs Green in the most recent edition of the ‘New Hibernia Review’. It might be behind a paywall for some of you but the reviewer’s conclusion is:

‘Thoroughly researched, overall Blood Runs Green brings together the many and varied angles of this sinister story in a compelling narrative—one that affords the suspense we associate with the best of the True Crime genre, and with the care and discrimination we expect to find in good historical writing’.

I’m really delighted with the review as it’s the first in an academic journal and I found it a difficult balancing act trying to ensure that book was both academic and accessible so it’s nice to see that Jack Morgan (who reviewed the book) thinks that it works.

Writing, talking and planning ahead.

I had a chat with Emma from the Modern Notion website the other day. You can listen back to the podcast. It’s quite a lengthy and detailed chat (starts at about 13mins and goes to 45mins in). If you don’t want any spoilers stop when it gets to the first break…otherwise there might be a few secrets revealed! Continue reading