The Old Athlone Society – Lecture series, 2018-2019

The Society’s lecture programme for 2018-2019 is as follows. Please note that, unless otherwise stated, lectures start at 8.15pm. Venues for some lectures will be decided at a later date:

October, Tuesday 9th (8.15pm)
‘The Burning of the Custom House, 1921’
 Elizabeth Gillis (RTÉ)
Officer’s Mess, Custume Barracks

October, Tuesday 30th (8.15pm)
‘From Farm to Table: agriculture and diet in Medieval Ireland’
Dr Margaret Murphy (Carlow College)
The Sheraton Hotel

November, Wednesday 14th (8pm)
‘The early diaries (1922-1934) of Athlone journalist, Peter Kilroy (1907-1971)’
Professor John Horgan (DCU)
Lecture Hall, Aidan Heavey Library

 December, Wednesday 5th (8.15pm)
‘The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866’
Dr David Doolin (UCD)
The Sheraton Hotel

January, Tuesday 22nd (8.15pm)
‘A Genomic History of Ireland: how ancient DNA has
revolutionised our understanding of the past’
Dr Lara Cassidy (Smurfit Institute of Genetics, TCD)
The Sheraton Hotel

February, Tuesday 12th (8.15pm)
‘Irish Revolutionary Women and the Wider World’
Dr Kate O’Malley (Royal Irish Academy)
Location – TBC

March, Tue 5th or Wed 6th (8.15pm)
‘From Cult Centre to Royal Centre: monuments, myths
and other revelations at Uisneach’
Dr Roseanne Schot (The Discovery Programme)
Location – TBC

March, Tue 26th or Wed 27th (8.15pm)
‘Rindoon Castle and Deserted Medieval Town’
Dr Kieran O’Conor (NUI, Galway)
Location – TBC

April, Tue 30th or May, Wed 1st (8.30pm)
The Billy English Memorial Lecture
Speaker and Subject to be Confirmed
Wineport Lodge, Athlone

Posted in Lectures

From Farm to Table – Agriculture and Diet in Medieval Ireland

Tuesday, 30 October, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Margaret Murphy

Summary This talk will examine the variety of sources that can be used to reconstruct diet and farming practices in Ireland. Dr Murphy will explore patterns of food production and consumption in early medieval Ireland and will analyse the impact of the Anglo-Normans after their arrival.

Medieval farming and food production in Ireland

Agriculture and Settlement in Ireland

Also, Dr Murphy will show how different farming regimes promoted specific settlement types and how the demands of the market could stimulate agricultural production. The lecture will conclude with a study of the processing and transport of foodstuffs, as well as their preparation for the table.

Speaker Dr Margaret Murphy is a medieval historian, who specialises in the social and economic history of late medieval Ireland.

She is co-author of the book The Dublin Region in the Middle Ages and co-editor of the collection Agriculture and Settlement in Ireland.

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The Burning of the Custom House, 1921

Tuesday, 9 October, at 8.15pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Liz Gillis

Summary On 25 May 1921, the IRA launched one of its largest and most audacious operations when it attacked Dublin’s Custom House, the heart of the British administration in Ireland. Many still view this as a military failure that destroyed the Dublin Brigade of the IRA. But, over the last number of years, historians Liz Gillis and Mícheál Ó Doibhilín have, based on their extensive research, challenged this view. They argue that the operation was, in fact, a success which possibly helped bring about a truce and the subsequent Treaty negotiations. Liz Gillis, historian and author, tells this story in detail, including the planning of the attack and its consequences, using much information that is new, while also incorporating the recollections of those who were there.

The Customs House, Dublin, 25 May 1921

Speaker Historian and author Liz Gillis is from the Liberties. She has a Degree in Irish History and currently works as a Researcher for the History Show on RTÉ Radio, and also runs ‘Revolution in Dublin Walking Tours’. She was a Curatorial Assistant in RTÉ, specialising in researching the Easter Rising and a tour guide for many years in Kilmainham Gaol.

Liz is the author of six books about the Irish Revolution, ‘Ireland Over All’, ‘The Fall of Dublin’, ‘Revolution in Dublin 1913-1923’, ‘Women of the Irish Revolution’‘The Hales brothers and the Irish Revolution’,  and ‘May 25: The Burning of the Custom House 1921’. She co-wrote ‘We Were There: 77 Women of the Easter Rising’. She is currently writing her next book about the Rebel Liberties.

Liz has worked as a researcher on numerous publications, television and radio documentaries covering the period. She has participated in many conferences and lectures focusing the Irish Revolution and is co-organiser of the annual conference on the Burning of the Custom House in 1921. This year Liz was a recipient of the Lord Mayor’s Award for her contribution to history.


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Field Trip to Castletown House, Saturday 29 September 2018

10.00 am – Saturday 29th September, 2018
Field Trip to Castletown House, with a walking tour of Celbridge

On Saturday, 29 September, the Society will travel to Castletown House on its latest field trip. A bus is available, which leaves at 10.00am from the bottom of the Fair Green car park opposite the Sheraton Hotel. To book a place, email

Castletown House

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The 2018 William (Billy) English Memorial Lecture: ‘The Rise of de Valera, 1882-1932: the making of the Chief’

Wednesday, 25 April, at 8.30pm in the Wineport Lodge

Talk by David McCullagh

Summary How did Éamon de Valera emerge from obscurity to become the undisputed leader of Irish nationalism during the War of Independence? How did his background shape him and forge the character that would bring him to the top of Irish politics, and help him recover that position after the disaster of the Civil War? We look at the birth, childhood and youth of the man who became perhaps the most significant, and certainly the most controversial, figures of 20th Century Irish history.

De Valera, Ireland, Civil War, War of Independence, 1916, Politics

De Valera throwing in the ball at Croke Park, 1919 (GAA Archives)

Speaker David McCullagh is an RTÉ broadcaster and author. After 12 years as Political Correspondent with the station, he became a presenter of Prime Time in 2013. He is the author of A Makeshift Majority: A history of the first Inter-Party GovernmentThe Reluctant Taoiseach: A biography of John A. Costello, and, most recently, De Valera, Volume 1: Rise, 1882-1932. The second part of his de Valera biography is due to be published later this year.

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Tara – a special place of kingship

Tuesday, 20 March at 8.15pm in Lough Ree Yacht Club

Talk by Conor Newman

Summary  This lecture will examine the nature and purpose of the earliest chapters of kingship at Tara, when kingship was a religious rather than a monarchical institution. The religious nature of the kingship determined the sorts of buildings and monuments where kingship was enacted, as well as the rituals and ceremonies that were performed. The ‘rules’ bounding the actions and deportment of the early kings of Tara were communicated through myth and metaphor.

Tara, ancient Ireland, history, prehistory

An aerial view of Tara

Speaker Conor Newman was chairperson of the Heritage Council from 2008-2016. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and was awarded a NUI Travelling Studentship 1987, before studying in Italy, France and the UK. Later, he was director of the Discovery Programme Tara Survey, 1992-96 and co-director (with Dr Mark Stansbury – Classics NUIG) of the Columbanus: life and legacy Project (PRTLI4 and Andrew Mellon Foundation), as well as a member of the International Scientific Committee of Making Europe: Columbanus and his legacy. He is the Acting-Director of the Centre for Landscape Studies (NUI Galway) and is co-director of the module SU407 Introduction to Art in Ireland, NUIG Summer School. He was awarded the British Academy’s John Coles Medal for Landscape Archaeology in 2011.
Posted in Lectures

Ireland, the UN and the Congo

Wednesday, 7 February, 8.15pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Dr Michael Kennedy

Ireland, Congo, Katanga, United Nations, UN, Jadotville

Irish soldiers stationed in the Congo as part of a UN mission, 1960 (Irish Defence Forces)

Summary When the Irish Civil War came to an end in 1923, few people would have imagined that it would be over a generation later – in a small central African city – that Irish soldiers would next find themselves in active service. What circumstances led to the Irish Defence Forces 35th Battalion serving with the United Nations’ ONUC peacekeeping mission in the Congo? Why, in the early morning of 13 September 1961, did those soldiers enter combat in Elizabethville, the capital of the secessionist Congolese province of Katanga, as part of what was called Operation Morthor?

Using interviews with veterans and research in the UN’s archives in New York, historian Dr Michael Kennedy and Commandant Art Magennis (ret.), who had served as Second-in-Command of the 35th Battalion’s Armoured Car Section, sought to answer these questions. Following on from that research, Michael Kennedy will discuss the origins of Operation Morthor, assess the conduct of the operation on the ground as seen from contemporary – and secret – UN documents from 1961. The lecture will also explore the subsequent cover-up by the United Nations to redirect blame for initiating Morthor away from UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and towards UN officials on the ground, in particular the Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was then serving as Hammarskjold’s special representative in Katanga.

Speaker Dr Michael Kennedy is the Executive Editor of the Royal Irish Academy’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, volume XI of which, covering the years 1957 to 1961, will be published in 2018. He has written and published widely on modern Irish diplomatic, military, and political history. His most recent book is Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) (with Comdt Art Magennis ret.) and he has recently completed (with Dr Eoin Kinsella) a short study of Irish diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations with Japan.

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