‘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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Casement’s Irish Brigade and U-boats around Ireland

Wednesday, 13 November, at 8.00pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talks by Dr Pat McCarthy and Guy Warner

Some of those who joined Casement’s Brigade, pictured in Germany (National Museum of Ireland)

Summary In October 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, Roger Casement travelled to Germany with two objectives: to obtain an agreement that, in the event of a German victory in the war, Germany would fully recognise Ireland’s independence; and to recruit an Irish Brigade from among captured British troops to fight for Irish freedom. He was successful in the first endeavour but not in the second, although 56 men did join his ‘Irish Brigade’. Pat McCarthy’s lecture will tell the fascinating story of how these men were recruited and their experiences in Germany. Pat will also explain what happened to those men after the war.

Speaker Pat McCarthy, a native of Waterford city, holds a PhD and an MBA from UCD. He worked for many years in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. He is the author of The Irish Revolution 1912-23, Waterford (Four Courts Press, 2015), Waterford and the 1916 Rising (Waterford city and county council, 2016), and The Redmonds and Waterford, a political dynasty 1891-1952 (Four Courts Press, 2018). He is currently a Research Associate in the School of History and Geography, Dublin City University and is working on a history of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Ireland.

Summary Guy Warner’s talk is based on his book U-Boats Around Ireland. In 1914 Ireland was a naval backwater with only one base of any size – Queenstown (Cobh) in Co Cork. However, by the end of the First World War, there were eighteen naval bases in Ireland, with thousands of personnel, hundreds of ships of all sizes and dozens of aircraft. Ireland had become a crucial theatre of the war, fundamental to the campaign against the deadly menace that was Germany’s fleet of U-boats. If Germany had stopped or even seriously disrupted the flow of merchant vessels, then Britain’s ability to wage war or feed its population would have been seriously, perhaps completely, undermined. As well as examining the growth in Royal Navy anti-submarine activities and the roles of key personnel, Guy also examines the importantance of rapidly developing technology during the war.

Speaker Guy Warner is a historian and author living in Carrickfergus. He has written over 30 books and several hundred articles for magazines in Ireland, the UK and the USA. He has featured in TV and radio broadcasts and acted as a consultant to the RAF, as well as a range of museums, universities and other public bodies.

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Athlone – a Revolution and its Legacy

Saturday, 26 October, at 11.30am in the Prince of Wales Hotel, Athlone

A series of talks as part of the official Decade of Centenaries programme

There is no admission charge and all are welcome

Athlone: a Revolution and its Legacy

The event forms part of the official Decade of Centenaries programme

Summary On Saturday 26 October, the Prince of Wales Hotel will host ‘Athlone: a revolution and its legacy’, a series of short talks that will explore the history of the town and the country during the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. The event, which begins at 11.30am, is being organised by the Old Athlone Society and part-funded by Westmeath County Council.

Speakers and Schedule

John Burke – ‘Down with England. Up with the Republic’: Athlone and the Irish War of Independence, 1919-21

Ian Kenneally – ‘Fake News and Irish Freedom’: the media, censorship and propaganda, 1919-1923

1.00pm – 2.10pm:

2.10pm (Keynote):
Donnacha O Beacháin – ‘The Irish Border: from partition to Brexit’

Sinéad McCoole – ‘The eyes and ears’: women’s role in the campaign of independence

John Gibney – ‘Revolutionary diplomats’: Dáil Éireann’s ‘foreign service’ in the War of Independence and Civil War, 1919-1923

Questions and close

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From the epic poems of Ossian to Athlone’s new statue: over 250 years of cultural misappropriation

Wednesday, 2 October, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Prof Ralph Kenna

Ossian plays a harp and sings of Fingal in this 1810 painting by Johann Peter Krafft.

Ossian plays a harp and sings of Fingal in this 1810 painting by Johann Peter Krafft.

Summary Cultural misappropriation is a major issue in Athlone right now, as an 11ft neo-classical statue has been selected by the council to represent the town – a decision that has caused widespread debate and much media attention. The iconography of that statue can be traced to the 18th century Custom House in Dublin, where it represents the flow of commerce from Ireland to the British Empire. In representing Athlone’s river as a male deity, the new piece overwrites authentic Irish mythology, in which the Shannon is named after Sionann, a goddess replete with story.

Yet such incidents are not a new phenomenon. This talk addresses an infamous act of cultural misappropriation from the 18th Century. In the 1760s, James Macpherson, a Scottish writer and poet, published the first volume of a series of epic poems, which he claimed to have translated into English from ancient Scottish-Gaelic sources. The poems, supposedly composed by a third-century bard named Ossian, quickly achieved international acclaim. They invited comparisons with major works of the epic tradition, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and they had a profound influence on the emerging Romantic period in literature and the arts.

However, the work also provoked one of the most famous literary controversies of all time. The authenticity of the Ossian writings was questioned and Irish scholars protested that the poems misappropriated material from Irish mythological sources. Ossian – ‘an illiterate Bard of an illiterate Age’  according to Macpherson – was identified as Oisín, the warrior poet of the Fenian Cycle in Irish mythology. Fingal – a third century Scottish king according to Macpherson – was created from Fionn mac Cumhaill, leader of the heroic band, Fianna Éireann.

In this talk, the story of the defence of Ireland’s heritage is told from a very novel perspective – that of network science (no knowledge of mathematics is required to understand the presentation). It starts by describing how a local scientist from the 18th century helped transform our understanding of the physical world and ends with an explanation of why this is so important for the mythological one too. Along the way, you will meet our goddess Sionann and learn how her story provides a warning of the perils of knowledge incorrectly handled.

Speaker Professor Ralph Kenna was born and raised in Athlone, son of Pat and Irene (of the Arden Bar and St Brigid’s Tce). He was educated in the local Marist College and Trinity College Dublin, after which he obtained a Ph.D. from the Karl-Franzens Universität, Graz, Austria in 1993. After posts in the University of Liverpool and Trinity College, he settled in Coventry, where he established, and now leads, one of the UK’s strongest statistical physics groups. He has been a visiting scientist at universities in Armenia, France, Germany, Spain and Ukraine. His pioneering mathematical investigations into mythological narratives led to Fellowship of the Institute of Mathematics and membership of other acclaimed bodies, such as the Institute of Physics and the International Association for Comparative Mythology. He has authored over 100 academic papers and his book, Maths meets Myths, instigated a series called ‘Simulating the Past’. In October 2019, he will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

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Field Trip to Boyle, Saturday 21 September 2019

9.45 am – Saturday 21st September, 2019
Field Trip to King House and Boyle Abbey

On Saturday, 21 September, the Society will travel to Boyle on its latest field trip. A bus is available, which leaves at 9.45am from the Fair Green car park opposite the Sheraton Hotel. To book a place, email athlonehistory@gmail.com.

King House in Boyle, County Roscommon

King House Boyle

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The Billy English Memorial Lecture, 2019 – ‘Unlocking the Myths of the 1970 Arms Crisis’

Tuesday, 30 April, at 8.30pm in the Wineport Lodge, Athlone

Talk by Dr Michael Heney

Key figures in the Arms Crisis

Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney in 1970 (photograph from RTÉ Archives)

Summary The lecture will explain how new research on the 1970 Arms Crisis challenges the conventional view of events in 1969-70. In a revisionist approach, it will suggest that the roles played by Jack Lynch and Charles Haughey, in particular, have been poorly understood in the literature and often misrepresented. It will indicate how freshly discovered documentation supports an alternative take on both the general Arms Crisis and the arms trials. It will consider whether Jack Lynch was an innocent victim or a culprit in 1970 and will also consider why the evidence supports the theory that the arms trials should never have taken place as they did, if at all.

Speaker A former investigative journalist and television producer with RTÉ, Michael Heney recently completed a Ph.D. programme at University College Dublin under the supervision of Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History. His thesis is entitled ‘Unresolved Aspects of the 1970 Arms Crisis: Revisiting the Roles Played by Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey and James Gibbons’. It was preceded in 2014 by a Masters dissertation, ‘Colonel Michael Hefferon and the 1970 Arms Crisis’, also under Professor Ferriter. A book based on his research – described by those familiar with it as ‘ground-breaking and important’ – is due to be published, probably next Spring to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Arms Crisis, under the title: ‘Arms Crisis: Unlocking the Myths of 1970’.

Michael, while with RTÉ Television, produced and presented two Prime Time documentaries on the Arms Crisis: ‘Evidence of the Colonel’; and ‘Secret Orders’ based on the State Papers for 1970, which were released in January 2001 to the National Archives. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Irish Times (1967-72), where he wrote mainly on education, and for RTÉ Radio (1972-77) as presenter of ‘The News at 1.30’, ‘This Week’  and ‘World Report’. His work for television from 1977 to 2010 involved a number of award-winning investigations for ‘Today Tonight’, ‘Wednesday Report’ ‘Tuesday File’ and ‘Prime Time Investigates’.

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The Deserted Anglo-Norman Town and Castle of Rindoon

Wednesday, 27 March, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Kieran O’Conor

Rindoon Castle (Roscommon County Council)

Summary The elements that make up the archaeological complex at Rindoon, Co. Roscommon, consist of a hospital, town wall, house platforms, church, castle, quays, windmill, fishponds and a possible deer-park, all mostly dating to the thirteenth century. The remains there are considered one of the finest examples of a deserted medieval town in Ireland or Britain. Dr O’Conor’s lecture tells the story of Rindoon, examining its origin, heyday and decline, by analysing the archaeological and historical evidence for the site.

Speaker Kieran O’Conor is a graduate of University College, Dublin (UCD) and has a PhD from University College Cardiff, Wales. He worked for much of the 1990s with the Archaeological Survey Branch of the National Monuments Service (Dúchas – The Heritage Service) in Counties Roscommon, Sligo, Longford, Westmeath and Wexford. In 1996, he excavated Carlow Castle as part of his work for the latter institution. He has taken part in excavations and field surveys in England, Wales, mainland Greece and Crete. He was appointed a research fellow at the Discovery Programme in 1997 and was then made director of Medieval Rural Settlement project there in early 1999.

Dr O’Conor joined the staff of NUI, Galway in September 2000. His research interests include castles, medieval rural settlement, high medieval Gaelic Ireland and medieval landscapes. He has published widely on these subjects and is also English-language editor of the international peer-reviewed journal Chateau Gaillard. He served as a Council member on the Heritage Council between 2012 and 2016. Dr O’Conor has been very successful in linking his research to heritage tourism initiatives in County Roscommon.

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Uisneach – from cult centre to royal centre

Wednesday, 6 March, at 8.15pm in Lough Ree Yacht Club

Talk by Dr Roseanne Schot

Ireland, Bealtaine, Hill of Uisneach, Uisneach, Fire Celebration

A scene from the modern ‘Fire Celebration’ held each May on Uisneach (copyright Dr Ciarán McDonnell)

Summary The Hill of Uisneach, Co. Westmeath, is celebrated as the sacred ‘centre’ of Ireland and meeting place of the ancient provinces and is often ranked in early Irish literature with great royal centres like Tara. Uisneach was a place of gathering, ceremony and burial from early prehistory (c. 3000BC) and its sacral significance endured long after the introduction of Christianity, when it became the seat of power of one of early medieval Ireland’s most illustrious royal dynasties, the Clann Cholmáin of Mide. This lecture will explore the history and evolving role of Uisneach through the prism of its landscape, archaeology, associated mythology and early literature, charting the transformation of the hill from pagan sanctuary to seat of Christian kingship during the first millennium AD.

Speaker Dr Roseanne Schot is an archaeologist and director of the Tara Research Project in The Discovery Programme, Dublin. She is a graduate of NUI Galway, where her PhD research as an Irish Research Council scholar focused on the cultic and royal landscape of Uisneach, on which she has written extensively. She has maintained an active role in research and fieldwork at Uisneach and recently completed the first phase of a conservation plan for the hill, funded by the Heritage Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. She is a former research associate and part-time lecturer in archaeology at NUI Galway and has collaborated on a wide range of research projects in Ireland and Europe. She is co-editor of the book Landscapes of cult and kingship (2011) and is currently working on a book detailing the important discoveries and insights generated by archaeological survey and scholarship at Tara over the past two decades.

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