Irish Revolutionary Women and the Wider World

Tuesday, 12 February, at 8.15pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Dr Kate O’Malley

Ireland, India and Empire

Summary In the aftermath of the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution, the Irish struggle for independence was watched closely by nationalists in other parts of the British Empire, most notably India. Indian nationalists such as Gandhi, Nehru and Bose took an interest in Ireland, and nationalists in Ireland took an interest in India. This lecture will look at three revolutionary women, all friends, all veterans of the post-1916 independence struggle: Maud Gonne MacBride, Charlotte Despard and Mollie Woods. These women encouraged Indo-Irish collaboration in the hope that each side could learn from their respective experiences. They were agitators who attempted to add an aspect of global finesse to local nationalist politics and they successfully established their own tailor-made organisation in the shape of the Indian Irish Independence League. This talk will shed light on some lesser known aspects of Irish and Indian history between the World Wars, and on the significance of the Irish revolution within the wider history of the British Empire.

Speaker Dr Kate O’Malley is a historian with the Royal Irish Academy and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin (BA, PhD). She has written extensively on Indo-Irish relations and her book ‘Ireland, India and Empire’ was published by Manchester University Press in 2008. Her research interests encompass Irish diplomatic and political history, twentieth century Indian history, British imperial history and British decolonisation. She is an occasional lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin and Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy’s Standing Committee on International Affairs. She is also a member of the Social Sciences Committee.

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A Genomic Compendium of an Island

Tuesday, 22 January, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Lara Cassidy

Summary Over the past six years the emerging field of ancient genomics has revolutionized our understanding of human prehistory. Novel DNA sequencing technologies have rendered the genomes of ancient humans as accessible as those from modern individuals, providing researchers with an unprecedented view of the genetic profiles of prehistoric populations.

Excavated near Belfast in 1855, the bones of this farmer had lain in a Neolithic tomb chamber for 5,000 years. Her DNA has now been sequenced. (Daniel Bradley, TCD)

The similarities and differences between these groups and their modern day counterparts have allowed geneticists to build a new demographic scaffold of European history, within which Ireland provides a key reference point. It is now understood that the island was a geographical terminus for two mass migrations into Europe. The first marks the beginning of the Neolithic period, where older hunter-gatherer groups were replaced by new farming societies, whose genetic origins lie in Anatolia, a major cradle of agriculture. These first farmers were the builders of many famous megalithic monuments still visible across Ireland today. The second major population influx occurred during the Copper and Early Bronze Ages, when a distinct genetic ancestry appears on the island, whose homeland lies in the Pontic-Caspian steppe region. This migration is linked to the appearance of new technologies, burial cultures and Indo-European languages in both Europe and Ireland. Dense genomic sampling across these periods of demographic flux allows us to examine the complex interplay between geography and culture in the assimilation of new peoples to the island.

Speaker Dr Cassidy attended secondary school at Our Lady’s Bower and went on to complete an undergraduate degree in Human Genetics at the Smurfit Institute, Trinity College Dublin. She was subsequently awarded a postgraduate scholarship by the Irish Research Council to undertake a PhD in palaeogenomics in the Bradley Lab at the same institute. The main focus of her project was the sequencing and analysis of ancient human genomes from all periods of Ireland’s prehistory in order to study the island’s demographic evolution. The first publication of this work (Cassidy et al. 2016) presented a new demographic scaffold for Ireland, demonstrating that at least three ancestrally distinct Irish populations have existed on the island, whose inhabitation corresponds closely to the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic/Bronze Age eras, with strong population continuity observed from the Bronze Age onwards. Dr Cassidy completed her PhD last year and is now continuing to expand on this project as a postdoctoral researcher in the Bradley lab.

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The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866

Wednesday, 5 December, at 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr David Doolin

Fenians and Canada

A contemporary, albeit heavily romanticised, version of the ‘Battle of Ridgeway’ in 1866 (Us Library of Congress)

Summary This talk will focus on the 1866 Fenian Brotherhood’s incursions into British North America. It will show that this relatively little known and often derided episode is of greater importance than historians have previously allowed. The Fenian invasion of Canada was a seminal event that exposed the international dimension of the Fenian Brotherhood and the interests of Irish migrants, while it shows how Ireland’s revolutionary past was inextricably tied to American global history and, indeed, U.S. imperial competition with Britain in the North Atlantic. This exploration of the Fenian invasion offers an innovative look at a forgotten past, which challenges many ideas about Irish immigrant assimilation in America, and the international dimensions of Irish revolutionary nationalistism in the 19th Century.

Speaker Dr. David Doolin’s research and teaching covers both Ireland and North America with a focus on the Irish in America, the Fenian Brotherhood, stories of American immigration, as well as aspects of American Empire and America at war. His book Transnational Revolutionaries: The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866 was published in 2016, to coincide with the 150th year anniversary of that event and the book was launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, in the presence of the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, at Dublin’s Mansion House. Dr. Doolin has taught courses in American, European, and Irish history at University College Dublin (UCD), Maynooth University, and currently for the Arts programme at the Dublin Business School. He previously lived, studied and worked in the United States from 2004 to 2014. He is currently working on a book chapter for a forthcoming anthology to be published towards the end of 2019; his chapter looks at the continuity of Irish American transnational revolutionary intrigue, by exploring connections between the Fenian leadership from the 1860s up through the 1910s.

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The early diaries (1922-1934) of Athlone journalist, Peter Kilroy (1907-1971)

Wednesday, 14 November, at 8pm in Athlone Public Library

Talk by Prof John Horgan


by Sr Anne Kilroy

Summary Prof Horgan will discuss the life and career of Peter Kilroy, an Athlone journalist. Kilroy was a journalist for nearly fifty years, beginning in 1923 until his death in 1971, at the age of 63.

Peter Kilroy, journalist and editor

Peter Kilroy (thanks to Anne Kilroy for photo)

The eldest of eight children, he had to leave formal education after his father’s sudden death in 1922. He joined the Westmeath Independent, reporting on Court proceedings all over the county as well as on church, political, social and sporting events. Five years later, he moved to Dublin to join the staff of a new short-lived Government paper, the Star, before working with the Manchester Herald, Irish Press, and Catholic Standard. At the same time he remained the Irish Correspondent for several agencies and papers abroad: the international News Agency, the New York Journal American and the Melbourne Advocate.

John Horgan will concentrate on Kilroy’s early career as a journalist in newly-independent Ireland. Peter Kilroy kept extensive diaries, which offer a wealth of information on his life and times. These diaries, which will form the basis of the lecture, have recently been transcribed by Peter’s daughter, Anne Kilroy. After the lecture, Anne Kilroy will formally present the diaries to Athlone Public Library.

Speaker Prof John Horgan is emeritus Professor of Journalism at the School of Communications, Dublin City University, and is the author of many books on the media and Irish history, including biographies of Noel Browne, Mary Robinson, and Seán Lemass. Between 2007 and 2014, he was Ireland’s first Press Ombudsman, having earlier worked as a journalist with the Irish Times and the Evening Press, among other publications. In 1977, he was elected to Dáil Éireann for the Labour Party in Dublin County South, a seat he held until 1981. He was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1969 to 1977.

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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

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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.
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