The Old Athlone Society: Lecture Series, 2016-2017

The Society’s programme of events for 2015-2016 has recently ended. The programme for 2016-2017 is as follows (please note that all lectures start at 8pm and venues will be decided at a later date):


September 2016
Field trip to Battle of the Boyne site and Monasterboice, Co Louth
Dr Harman Murtagh as Tour Guide (Saturday, 17 September)

October 2016
‘The Trial of Roger Casement’
Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, Supreme Court (Tuesday, 4 October)

‘Eamon de Valera and the Catholic Church’
Prof Ronan Fanning  (Wednesday, 19 October)

‘General Eoin O’Duffy’
Dr Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University (Tuesday, 22 November)

‘The Hill of Gathering: Assembly Places and Practices in Gaelic Ireland’
Prof Elizabeth Fitzpatrick (Wednesday, 7 December)

January 2017
‘Reflections on the Revolution’
Dr Brian Hanley (Wednesday, 25 January)

Showmen and the RFC: Early Aviation in Ireland 1909-14
Guy Warner (Wednesday, 15 February)

‘Irish as a Vernacular Language in Athlone and its hinterland, 1600-c.1970’
Dr Aengus Finnegan (Wednesday, 1 March)

 ‘The Pope’s Irish Battalion and the Papal War of 1860’
Robert Doyle (Wednesday, 29 March)

Billy English Memorial Lecture
‘The Future of the Past: Revival Ireland, 1891-1922’
Prof Declan Kiberd (Wednesday, 26 April)

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The Billy English Memorial Lecture, 2016: The Houses and Landed Families of Westmeath

Wineport Lodge, Wednesday, 20 April at 8.00 pm

– Talk by Donal O’Brien

Waterstown House, Westmeath

Wedding of Dita Harris Temple and Ingoldsby Philip Massy, November 1920 (Note the number of military uniforms) – Photo courtesy of Martin Coghill and taken from Donal O’Brien’s book: ‘The Houses and Landed Families of Westmeath’.

Speaker – Donal’s recent book ‘The Houses and Landed Families of Westmeath’ is a valuable contribution to the heritage of County Westmeath and contains over 700 photographs with 250 in colour. It is an indispensable work of reference and a most useful guide for anyone studying the social and architectural history of the county. The lecture, while covering the whole county, will have its emphasis on the Athlone area.

Summary – Donal O’Brien is a native of Athlone and attended school in the town before going to live in South Africa, returning after twenty years. He has a passion for Georgian Architecture and is a member of the Irish Georgian Society. Donal is a past president of The Old Athlone Society. He previously published ‘A Visitors Guide to Athlone ‘(2003). He is a Tour Guide and an advisor with Failte Ireland.

A pre lecture supper starting at 6.00 pm will be available in Wineport €20 for one course and €25 for two courses, to include tea or coffee.
Booking by e-mail to – Richard Collins, Secretary TOAS –

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Athlone and the Easter Rising

The Sheraton Hotel, Athlone, Saturday, 2 April, 2016

First speaker on-stage at 10.15 am: admission price, €5

On Saturday 2 April 2016, The Old Athlone Society will host ‘Paths to Freedom’, a day of talks that will explore the history of the Easter Rising from both a national and local perspective. The event, to be held in the Sheraton Hotel, is part of Westmeath County Council’s 1916-2016 programme of events.

The Easter Rising, Athlone

Paths to Freedom, 2 April, Sheraton Hotel, Athlone. The event begins at 10.15 am.

The varied talks will explain aspects of the Rising that are less well-known, while also highlighting some of the surprising links between Westmeath and the events of Easter 1916.

The speakers include:

  • Dr Myles Dungan, of RTE’s ‘The History Show’ will describe how the leaders of the Rising were tried by court martial and the consequences of the subsequent executions.
  • Turtle Bunbury will talk about the lives and personalities of many of those, both famous and forgotten, whose memories are intertwined with Easter 1916.
  • Dr Liz Gillis will discuss the vital role that women played in the Easter Rising. They were educationalists, socialists, community workers, radicals, and feminists with one common goal; independence for Ireland.
  • Ian Kenneally will demonstrate the war of words, and the war of images, that preceded and followed the Rising, a time when censorship meant that no newspaper was safe. Many of the key figures of Easter Week were journalists.
  • Gearoid O’Brien’s talk will bring to life the relatively unknown stories of many men and women from Athlone and Westmeath whose lives were changed by the Rising.
  • Dr John Burke will explore the history and myths of the Midland Volunteer Force, an often mentioned but poorly understood event in our local history.

The Schedule is detailed below:

10.15-Introduction by Dr John Keane
10.20-Dr John Burke: The Midland Volunteers Force, Athlone
11.05 – Tea Break
11.15-Dr Liz Gillis: ‘What did the women do anyway’; Women and the Rising
12.00-Ian Kenneally: ‘We kill all our own’; Media, Propaganda, and the Rising
12.45 – Lunch Break
2.00-Dr Myles Dungan: How to Lose a Country in 16 Executions
2.45-Turtle Bunbury: Easter Dawn; Personalities of the Rising
3.30-Gearoid O’Brien: The 1916 Rising; Some Westmeath Connections
4.15 – Conclusion

For further information contact us at

Westmeath Co Co

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In Memory of Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman

Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman

Since our last meeting, this society lost a great friend in Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman of the Supreme Court, who was always on-hand to help us in whatever way he could, whether by writing for our journal, launching a conference, or speaking at one of our events, as he did as recently as November 2015. He was a renowned jurist, Joycean Scholar, and historian. His participation in the Society will always be remembered fondly by our members.

May he rest in peace

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Travels on the Shannon with Jane W. Shackleton

Lough Ree Yacht Club on Wednesday, 30th March a8.00 pm

– Talk by Jonathan Shackleton, FRGS

Shackleton, Photography, and Ireland

A photo of Bridget Mullins, as taken by Jane W. Shackleton in 1895 (The Journal, 25 October 2015)

Summary  – Jane W.  Shackleton (1842-1909) was one of the pioneers of photography in Ireland and during her lifetime amassed an enormous and important collection of photographs, over 1,000 on lantern glass slides and thousands of prints in 44 albums, which she developed in her laboratory in Lucan Co. Dublin. A selection of her work was compiled by Christian Corlett and published recently: Jane Shackleton’s Ireland, a book which would grace any collection. The talk will be illustrated with Jane’s photographs, as well as her written accounts, and will show changes that have taken place since her visits.

Speaker – Jonathan Shackleton who is the great grandson of Jane Shackleton has a keen interest in family history, especially his Shackleton ancestors. This has led him on 40 voyages to Antarctica but also up and down the River Shannon on his early 20th century motor yacht ‘Seagull’ revisiting places that his great grandmother visited with her camera and family starting in 1889. Jonathan is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London; was recently elected member of BAS (British Antarctic Survey) Club; and is a member of the James Caird Society.

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Fianna Fáil, Irish Republicanism and the Northern Ireland Question 1926-1973

The Sheraton Hotel, Tuesday 15 March, 2016

– Talk by Dr. Donnacha Ó Beacháin

Sean Lemass, Terence O'Neill

In 2015, An Post released a stamp commemorating the meeting in 1965 between Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill

Summary – This presentation focuses on the ideological evolution of the Fianna Fáil party from its origins in the 1920s until the 1970s, when the conflagration in Northern Ireland was at its most intense. The early development of Fianna Fáil is assessed, as is the struggle between its ideology and its organization, as well as the party’s evolving attitudes towards the Northern Ireland question and the IRA. Much of the presentation will be devoted to examining Fianna Fáil’s approach to achieving the primary purpose for which it was established, the unification of Ireland.

This talk will put Fianna Fáil’s political odyssey in a comparative and theoretical context. It will argue that radical parties, if they endure and prosper, generally undergo a process of goal displacement whereby the organization reverses its priorities so that the means (gaining power) becomes the goal and the ideological goals becomes a means of cementing party loyalty and winning power. In the case of Fianna Fáil, this divergence between stated purpose and actual political priorities crystallised when the Stormont regime in Northern Ireland came under sustained pressure and ultimately collapsed.

Speaker – Donnacha Ó Beacháin is a Director of Research at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University (DCU). He is a lead researcher in the €3.6 million FP7/Marie Curie Initial Training Network in Post-Soviet Tensions (2013-2017). He is also lead researcher and project coordinator in the €3.8 million Horizon2020 project on the Caspian region, which involves 19 partner institutions. During 2011-12 he was awarded a major grant by Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs Conflict Resolution Unit to lead a research team to examine the role of the OSCE and EU in the post-Soviet “frozen conflicts”. The project was designed to assist the Irish Government as it chaired the OSCE in 2012 and hosted the EU Presidency in 2013. In January 2012 Dr Ó Beacháin also received an additional commission from the IRCHSS/Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct field research in Abkhazia and Transnistria and write two reports evaluating electoral politics in these unrecognised states. Dr Ó Beacháin held a three year (2008-11) Marie Curie Fellowship awarded by the European Commission to conduct research on the post-Soviet colour revolution phenomenon. Previously, between 2000 and 2005, Dr. Ó Beacháin held visiting fellowships in Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Recent and forthcoming books include The Colour Revolutions in the Former Soviet Republics: Successes and Failures (with Abel Polese, Routledge, 2010), Destiny of the Soldiers: Fianna Fáil, Irish Republicanism and the IRA 1926-1973, (Gill and Macmillan, 2010), Life in Post-Communist Eastern Europe after EU Membership (with Vera Sheridan and Sabina Stan, Routledge, 2012), Political Communication in Ireland (with Mark O’Brien, Liverpool University Press 2014) and The Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Conflict: The Politics of Partition (Manchester University Press, forthcoming).

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Secrets of the Bog Bodies

Lough Ree Yacht Club on Wednesday, 17th February, at 8.00 pm

– Talk by Dr. Eamonn P. Kelly

Cashel Bog Body

Dr Eamonn Kelly at the site of ‘Cashel Man’s’ discovery – bog land in Cashel, Co. Laois (National Museum of Ireland).

Summary – Bog bodies are rare survivals of human remains from earlier times. The properties of bogs are such that, occasionally, bodies are preserved to an exceptional degree with hair, skin, hands, internal organs and other soft tissue intact. Prehistoric bog bodies found recently in Ireland have provided important new insights into pagan Celtic times. The killings were ritual in nature and related to ancient sovereignty rites. The talk will present some of the results of the forensic analysis of the Irish bog bodies to see what insights they provide into the ritual killings. The wider archaeological context of the finds will be examined, including historical, mythological and folklore material, to provide insights into the secrets of the bog bodies.

Speaker  Eamonn P. Kelly is the former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland where he worked extensively on diverse aspects of Irish archaeology. His radical theory to explain the phenomena of Irish bog bodies inspired a popular exhibition in the museum entitled ‘Kingship and Sacrifice’.

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