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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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

King House in Boyle, County Roscommon

King House Boyle

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