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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‘Ancient Ireland and the Roman Empire’

Wednesday, 19 February, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Raoul McLaughlin

Summary At its zenith, the Roman Empire incorporated lands on three continents and ruled almost a fifth of the world’s ancient population. On every frontier the Roman Empire expanded until it reached vast desolate territories or further advance was halted by determined native resistance. The Romans conquered Iberia, Gaul and Britain, extending their Empire westward untilthey reached the island called Hibernia. But instead of imperial occupation, Ireland was able to remain on the frontiers of a conquered Europe during almost four centuries of Roman supremacy (AD 43-410). This lecture will discuss the various contacts between Ireland and Rome that took place during this era.

A reconstruction of Ptolemy’s map of Ireland (taken from ‘Ptolemy’s map of Ireland: a modern decoding’ by R. Darcy & William Flynn). Claudius Ptolemy was an Egyptian geographer and mathematician, who lived and worked in Alexandria. He created his map of Ireland around AD140.

Speaker Raoul McLaughlin studied Irish Archeology at Queen’s University Belfast and completed his doctorate in Ancient History in 2006. He published his monograph Rome and the Distant East (2010), The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean (2014) and The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes (2016). He was a Tutor at Queen’s University Belfast until 2014. Raoul is currently an Independent Scholar working in a Clinical Care Home while he completes research on his next book Ancient Ireland and the Roman Empire. He is also co-authoring ‘Rome and China: Points of Contact’ with Dr Hyun Jin Kim and Professor Samuel Lieu.


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Fake News, Forgery and Dirty Tricks: the British Secret Service, Parnell and Ireland, 1885 to 1892

Wednesday, 15 January, at 8.15pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Mr Justice John MacMenamin, Supreme Court

Charles Stewart Parnell

Charles Stewart Parnell (Wikimedia Commons)

Summary Under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish Parliamentary Party achieved unprecedented success in the mid-1880’s. The Party held the balance of power at Westminster. For the first time, Ireland was projected into the forefront of British politics. But, in the eyes of Conservatives, and others, Parnell’s Home Rule policy posed a threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. Ultimately, that threat was not only to the United Kingdom, but the integrity of the entire British empire.

From 1885 onwards, a number of individuals and groups came together determined to destroy Parnell, and to reduce the influence of his Party. This culminated in the publication in the Times Newspaper in 1887 of a series entitled “Parnellism and Crime”. Among other things, the articles purported to contain details of letters said to have been written by Parnell expressing support for agrarian violence and crime, and the Invincibles, who, in 1882, had assassinated Lord Frederick Cavendish, the new Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Under-Secretary, the most senior Irish civil servant in Dublin Castle. As is well known, the letters were shown in the subsequent Parnell Commission to have been forged by Richard Pigott.

The talk focuses on some of the remarkable historical background to the Commission. In particular, it explores the role of two former adversaries, Michael Davitt, the leader of the Land League, and Edward George Jenkinson, the former Under-Secretary for Police & Crime in Dublin Castle, known as “The British Spy Master”. The talk will seek to describe the extent to which the Fenian movement had been penetrated by British informers and intelligence agents, and considers a tacit agreement made between Parnell and his co-accused, including Davitt, on the one hand, and the British Liberal Party administrators, who had held power in Dublin Castle during the Land League campaign from 1881 up to 1885. The paper will also discuss the remarkable role played by the British Conservative government under Lord Salisbury in backing up the Times Newspaper in his campaign against Parnell.

Speaker John MacMenamin is a judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland. He was born in 1952, and educated in Terenure College and U.C.D., where he studied history prior to qualifying as a barrister. He has a particular interest in modern Irish history. He commenced practising as a barrister in 1975, and became a senior counsel in 1991. He was Chairman of the Bar Council from 1997 to 1999. He was appointed to the High Court in 2004, and to his present position in 2012. During his career as a judge, he delivered a number of judgments relating to children at high risk, and disabled people. He is married to Lia O’Hegarty, and they have one child, now aged ten.

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The Late Prehistoric royal site of Rathcroghan – a centre of cult, kingship and cosmos

Wednesday, 4 December, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Joseph Fenwick

Summary Rathcroghan, ancient Crúachu, like the other ‘royal’ sites, features prominently in the literary imagination of early medieval Ireland. These places are presented as royal strongholds, distinguished cemeteries, and the backdrop for great tribal assemblies; a fading memory of the heroic pagan past, which had long been abandoned as Christianity triumphed.


Rathcroghan is one of the major royal sites of Ireland and is known as a place of burial and ritual gatherings. The legendary leader and Warrior Queen of Connacht, Medb, is said to have had her palace here (The Irish Times).

The archaeological evidence, however, suggests a more nuanced picture. Is this a pagan world that had been deliberately obscured in the glare, rather than eclipsed by the light, of Christianity? This talk will describe the importance of Rathcroghan, both in the region and nationally.

Speaker Joe Fenwick is the Archaeological Field Officer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Irish Studies, NUI Galway. In addition to work at Brú na Bóinne, he has a long-standing and active research interest in the late prehistoric ‘royal’ sites of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon and Tara, Co. Meath, about which he has published widely.

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