Documents on Irish Foreign Policy and 1960s America: what Irish diplomats saw and heard

Tuesday 29 November at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Dr John Gibney

Summary Documents on Irish Foreign Policy publishes archival records relating to Ireland’s foreign relations since 1919. Established as a partnership between the Royal Irish Academy, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Archives, since 1998 it has provided a perspective on Irish and international history through the eyes of Irish diplomats and with the imminent publication of Vol.XIII it has reached 1969. But how do we edit these volumes, what do we include and why do we include it, and what do the documents reveal? This lecture will answer these questions by exploring what the series reveals about the upheaval of the 1960s in the United States as seen and experienced by Irish diplomats.

Robert Kennedy

Speaker John Gibney is Assistant Editor with the Royal Irish Academy’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) series. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin (BA, PhD), and was formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame and at NUI Galway. He has worked extensively in tourism and in the heritage and publishing sectors, and has written widely on modern and early modern Irish history and historiography. His books include A short history of Ireland, 1500-2000 (Yale University Press, 2017).

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Colony to March: the borderlands of the lordship of Meath in medieval Ireland

Wednesday 2 November at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Rory Masterson

Summary – The talk will focus on the political and religious settlement of the western edges of the Anglo-Norman lordship of Meath. The talk examines the nature and extent of Anglo-Norman colonisation of the baronies of Moycashel, Clonlonan, Brawny, Kilkenny West and Rathconrath, examining to whom these lands were granted and the extent of Anglo-Norman settlement that took place. The nature and purpose of the new religious organisational structures set up by the new colonists is also examined, forming as it did an integral part of the colonial process. The second part of the talk shall focus on the subsequent fortunes of the Anglo-Norman settlement, which by the early fifteenth century was either destroyed or where it survived, did so by adaptation to the conditions of life in a frontier zone. Finally the changes brought about in the Anglo-Norman religious settlement are examined as the new Gaelic lords modified the original religious organisation to fit the changed political realities of the Gaelic revival.

Two photos: the old church and Motte and bailey at Ballyloughloe-Mount Temple (Rory Masterson)

Speaker – A native of Castletown-Finnea, Co. Westmeath, Rory Masterson received a degree in History and Geography from Maynooth University and in 1998 he was awarded a Ph.D. for his study of the barony of Fore in late medieval times. He has recently retired after over forty years teaching at Colaiste Choilm, Tullamore.

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Margaret Thatcher and Ireland: 

The Story of the Negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985

Wednesday 5 October at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Frank Sheridan

William English Memorial Lecture: 2020-2022

Summary – The Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) signed by Garret FitzGerald and Margaret Thatcher on 15 November 1985 was unique in providing a treaty-based arrangement for the government of a territory disputed between two states. In effect, it gave the Irish Government an intrusive role in the processes of the government of Northern Ireland. Frank Sheridan was Private Secretary to Foreign Minister, Peter Barry, during the later stages of the negotiation of the Agreement. In 2021, Frank’s edited account of the memoir of Sir David Goodall, formerly Deputy Head of both the Foreign and Cabinet Offices, was published by Four Courts Press. Goodall kept a personal journal throughout the negotiations from September 1983 to December 1985, which he later transformed into a single narrative account which has, until its recent publication, remained under personal and official embargo. Given that source-material and Frank Sheridan’s personal experience, this talk will provide a gripping account of the negotiation between the two sides as the prospect of an agreement tottered continuously between collapse and survival.

Edited by Frank Sheridan and published by
Four Courts Press in 2021

Speaker – Frank Sheridan is a retired Irish diplomat and, at the time of his retirement in 2014, was Irish Ambassador to Brazil. Earlier in his career he had served in the office of Dr Garret FitzGerald when he was Foreign Minister and as Private Secretary to Foreign Minister, Peter Barry, during the later stages of the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Following retirement, he completed a Master’s degree in Trinity College Dublin in contemporary Irish history, focusing on the New Ireland Forum and the period covered by the memoir of Sir David Goodall. He worked as a researcher on the film documentary John Hume in America and did research too for the late Seamus Mallon, former Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, for his memoir (written with Andy Pollak) A Shared Home Place.

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The Last Ice Age in Westmeath

Tuesday 17 May at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Dr Robert Meehan

Summary – The last ice age set in about 120,000 years ago and was at its peak by about 29,000 years ago. Such was the extent of ice – up to 1km – that Ireland would have seemed to be multiples of its size today, occupying space out as far as the end of the continental shelf. Robert Meehan’s studies have shown that only 107sq km of Ireland’s 85,000sq km land mass remained above the ice sheet that blanketed us. All of the ice was flowing and it scoured the landscape. The flat midland boglands were sculpted by the ice and there was a glacial lake where the peat bogs are now. The talk will focus on the Westmeath landscape and its Ice Age history, as well as examining how humans use and have used, and interact with, the landscape and its resources in Westmeath.

Simplified Geological Map of County Westmeath – taken from ‘The Geological Heritage of County Westmeath: an audit of County Geological Sites in County Westmeath 2019’ by
Robert Meehan, Ronan Hennessy, Matthew Parkes and Siobhán Power

Speaker – Robert Meehan is one of Ireland’s foremost authorities in applied Quaternary geology and the last Ice Age. Robert began mapping Quaternary sediments in 1993 on behalf of Geological Survey Ireland and was awarded a PhD in 1998 for his work on the genesis of Quaternary Sediments in northwest County Meath and adjacent areas (including much of Westmeath). Robert then mapped the subsoils across the entire landmass of Ireland as part of the EPA Soils and Subsoils Mapping project from 1998 to 2006. Since then, he has worked as a consultant geologist on a wide variety of projects and publications, bringing his unparalleled knowledge of Ireland’s Quaternary sediments and geomorphology to bear on a wide range of regional and national projects.

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Westmeath: History and Society

You may be interested in the launch of the following publication,
which was part-sponsored by the Old Athlone Society:

Westmeath: history and society
Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county
– edited by Seamus O’Brien

The publication will be launched by: 

Dr. Harman Murtagh of the Old Athlone Society
on Thursday, 31 March 2022, at 6.30pm in Athlone Library

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Glasson: a settlement history, 1600-1900

Wednesday 22 March at 8.15pm in the Prince of Wales Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Aengus Finnegan

Summary – This lecture will discuss the development of settlement in Glasson and the surrounding area from the year 1600 to around 1900. Glasson is commonly thought to be an estate village developed by the owners of nearby Waterstown House, but this is not the whole story. In the nineteenth century, Glasson was famous for its mills, and the first settlement in the area may have developed around the mill on the Tullaghan river, a short distance to the east of the present bridge. This mill was in existence as early as 1630, and was known as Mollinglassen or Muileann Ghlasáin ‘the mill of Glasson’.

Speaker – Dr Aengus Ó Fionnagáin is a lecturer in Irish at the University of Limerick. He studied Irish and Geography at NUI Galway (BA 2007) and completed a PhD in Modern Irish (NUI Galway 2012). From 2013-15 he worked on projects such as (placenames database of Ireland) and Dú (digitisation of the national folklore collection). He has a keen interest in Irish placenames and surnames, and all aspects of Irish literature and language from 1600 to the present. Of local interest he has published articles on the island names of Lough Ree (2015) and on the sociolinguistic history of the Irish language in Co. Westmeath (2022). He is currently working on a book on the placenames of the Athlone area, and on a more long-term project on the townland names of Co. Westmeath. He is also the coordinator of the Westmeath Field Names Project (2018-22). This is his first talk on another of his areas of interest – local history.

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The Handover of Custume Barracks

Lectures to mark the handover of Custume Barracks from British to Irish forces. That day, 28 February 1922, was one of the most remarkable days in Athlone’s long history. It was a day of marches and speeches, music and singing, cheering and laughter. It was a day when thousands of people crowded into the centre of Athlone to witness the beginning of a new era in Irish history. It was the day when the British army departed Athlone and handed control of the military barracks to the soldiers of the new Irish state. Ian Kenneally will provide an introductory talk, highlighting local reaction to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and discussing the handover in Athlone. Dr John Gibney of the Royal Irish Academy, will provide a wider context, discussing the handover of power at a national level, with a focus on the handover of Dublin Castle, which had long been the centre of British power in Ireland.

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From Westmeath to Mount Everest: the 1921 reconnaissance expedition

Wednesday 17 November at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Frank Nugent

Summary – In September 1921, a small group of mountaineers reached a ridge high in the Tibetan Himalayas. Rising before them was the greatest mountain of them all: Chomolungma to the Tibetans, Sagarmatha to the neighbouring Nepalese and Mount Everest to those explorers. Leading that small group was an Irishman, Charles Howard-Bury, who grew up in Offaly’s Charleville Castle but who spent most of his life in Westmeath’s Belvedere House. In September 2021, a new digital exhibition – – was launched in Belvedere House by Frank Nugent. The exhibition, created by Ian Kenneally who visited Tibet in 2007, commemorates Howard-Bury’s role in leading the 1921 mission to Mount Everest. At that time, Everest was unmapped and almost nothing was known about the mountain and the surrounding region. Howard-Bury’s team, which was given special permission to enter Tibet by the 13th Dalai Lama, was the first to map Mount Everest. In this lecture, Frank Nugent will trace the journey undertaken by Howard-Bury’s team, using his own vast experience as a mountaineer on Everest and other Himalayan peaks.

Speaker – Frank Nugent is an experienced mountaineer, explorer and expedition leader. He was the deputy leader of the first (and successful) Irish Everest expedition in 1993 (led by Dawson Stelfox). Frank has followed in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton across the Island of South Georgia (South Arís Expedition 1997); sailed the Northwest Passage in the wake of Crozier and McClintock (Northabout Expedition 2001); and made many first ascents during the Irish expedition to the Lemon Mountains in Greenland during 2003. A former Chairperson of Mountaineering Council of Ireland (1997-2000) and a member of the James Caird and Tom Crean Societies, he is author of Seek the Frozen Lands: Irish Polar Explorers 1740-1922, which starts with the involvement of Aurthur Dobbs (1689-1765) in exploration of the Arctic and ends with the death of Ernest Shackleton in 1922. He is also the author of In Search of Peaks Passes & Glaciers: Irish Alpine Pioneers. Frank is a retired expert in occupational training and accreditation.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Tuesday 26 October at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel

Talk by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Supreme Court

Summary – This lecture, including images, sound and video, is about the event which came closest in human history to starting a nuclear war: the secret placement by the Soviet Union of tactical and intermediate range nuclear weapons in Cuba. Those weapons were capable of destroying Chicago, Washington and New York. Their discovery by a U2 surveillance jet and the response of John F. Kennedy and the US administration will be assessed in the lecture. Peter Charleton was then a small boy but he still remembers the sense of horror pervading that time. Among the questions which will be considered during the talk are: Firstly, what actually happened in 1962? – Secondly, how close did we come to disaster, meaning the world? – Thirdly, how was disaster avoided? – Fourthly, could it happen again?

Speaker – Peter Charleton studied History and English in Trinity College Dublin but graduated in law in 1980, becoming a High Court Judge in 2006. He has been a Supreme Court judge since 2014 and he headed the Disclosures Tribunal during 2017-2018. As a barrister, he was best known as a criminal lawyer, prosecuting Catherine Nevin, John Gilligan and Colm Murphy, among many others. He is the co-author of the leading textbook, Charleton & McDermott’s Criminal Law and Evidence (2020) principally written with his friend, the late Paul McDermott. His interest in the dark side of human nature led to his book Lies in a Mirror: An Essay on Evil and Deceit, published in 2006. His interest in history has resulted in the publication of several articles, most recently with Dr Conor Daly on the nature of heroism, focusing on the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague in 1942,,-patriotism-and-the-heroic-narrative-the-case-of-operation-anthropoid. He has also given lectures on historical topics such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, As chairman of the National Archives, he was chosen by the government to give the commemorative oration at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on the 100th anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising:

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Future Lectures

All forthcoming lectures have been cancelled, including: ‘Ireland during the Renaissance’ by Prof Patricia Palmer and ‘Margaret Thatcher and Ireland: the story of the negotiation of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement’ by Frank Sheridan.

We hope to reschedule some of these lectures and we will inform you of future events.

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