Douglas Hyde and the making of the Irish Presidency

Wednesday, 17 January, 8.15pm in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Brian Murphy

President of Ireland, 1938, Douglas Hyde

A scene from Douglas Hyde’s inauguration in 1938 (National Library of Ireland)

Summary – Eighty years ago, Douglas Hyde was elected unopposed as Ireland’s first President. He served a full seven year term and retired from office in 1945. As President, Hyde had a considerable impact on the development and public perception of the Irish presidency. But how did a retired academic come to serve in this position?

It has long been widely accepted that Hyde’s transition to the presidency was a seamless process that was pre-ordained from the moment the office was conceptualised in the 1937 constitution. Instead, Brian Murphy will discuss how Hyde’s presidency happened only because of last-minute political compromises in an Ireland still divided by the legacy of the Civil War. In 2018, Ireland faces the prospect of its latest presidential election and Brian Murphy’s timely lecture will trace the twists and turns that, in 1938, propelled Douglas Hyde into Áras an Uachtaráin. His lecture will also explain how Hyde played a formative role in the development of the office.

Speaker Dr Brian Murphy lectures in Communications at the Dublin Institute of Technology. He holds a PhD in Modern Irish History from the School of History and Archives, University College Dublin. Brian’s monograph on Douglas Hyde and the genesis of the Irish Presidency was published in 2016 by the Collins Press. He previously co-edited Brian Lenihan: In Calm and Crisis, the bestselling book on the public career of the former Minister for Finance. Brian was a speechwriter to two Taoisigh and his research interests are in the fields of Irish and American history, political science and political communications. He has been published in a number of peer reviewed journals and he is also a contributor to the Dictionary of Irish Biography, a collaborative project between Cambridge University Press and the Royal Irish Academy.

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Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson – Soldier and Politician

Wednesday, 6 December, 8.15pm in the Officer’s Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by David Cook

Summary Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, a native of Ballinalee, Co Longford, is  a major and controversial figure in Irish and British history. An Irish unionist, he gained a reputation as an intensely ‘political’ soldier, especially during the ‘Curragh crisis’ of 1914.

A sketch of Wilson’s Assassination in London on 22 June 1922

During the First World War, he became Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British army, a post he held until February 1922. After Wilson retired from the army, he became an MP and was chief security adviser to the new Northern Ireland government. David Cook’s lecture will assess Wilson’s career, particularly during the First World War, and after. Despite his high ranking, Wilson’s reputation was left in tatters by his outrageously indiscreet diaries, published not long after he was shot dead in London on 22 June 1922. His life makes for a remarkable story.

Speaker David Cook is a solicitor and former Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. He was Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1978 to 79, and Chairman of the Police Authority of Northern Ireland from 1994 to 1996.

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The role of The Congested Districts Board in post-Famine Ireland

Tuesday 14th November 2017 at 8.15pm in Lough Ree Yacht Club

Talk by James Morrissey

A CDB house-plan

Summary – The lecture will discuss the setting up of the Congested Districts Boards in Ireland in 1891 and the various initiatives it supported with the goal of alleviating poverty and hardship along the Western seaboard. The Congested Districts Board remained in operation until 1923 and its successes and its failures will be described, as will its long-term legacy.

Speaker – James Morrissey is a leading international Corporate Strategy and Business consultant specialising in trade, commerce and communications. He advises leading national and international businesses in Ireland, the United States and the Caribbean. He is a director of several companies including Newstalk FM, Fleishman Hillard International Communications, and Crannog Books. He was a founder director of the Sunday Business Post and is a former Business Journalist of the Year. A native of Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo, he was educated at Kiltimagh Boys NS, St. Joseph’s College, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe and UCD. His books include ‘Inishbofin & Inishark’, ‘On The Verge of Want’, ‘Hot Whiskey’ and ‘A History of the Fastnet Lighthouse’.
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Bombs, bullets and the border- Irish border security 1969-1978

8.15 pm on Wednesday, 25 October – Sheraton Hotel, Athlone

Talk by Dr Patrick Mulroe

 – This talk will cover a traumatic period in Irish history as violence erupted first in the urban centres of Northern Ireland before spreading to the border. The initial outbreak of violence saw the Irish government adopt a confused and haphazard security policy.


Irish soldiers patrolling the border, around 1970

As the conflict evolved, however, the state developed a more nuanced strategy: clamping down hard on republicans domestically but avoiding overt association with British security forces. This talk explores the evolution of this strategy.

Speaker – Patrick Mulroe is author of ‘Bombs, bullets and the border: Irish security policy 1969-1978′ (Irish Academic Press). He holds a PhD from the University of Ulster.

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Erasing our Past – The Plan to Demolish Athlone’s Castle

8.15 pm on Wednesday, 27 September, Officer’s Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Dr Paul Murray

Summary – The plan to demolish Athlone Castle was met with much opposition and little enthusiasm. Those proposing and opposing the plan put forward trenchant and unwavering reasons for advocating their respective standpoints. The plan was opposed by The Old Athlone Society, which resolutely established itself as the guardian of Athlone’s past.

Athlone Castle

Athlone Castle

The personalities on both sides of the conflict generated significant interest and attention from media outlets and Athlonians during the early weeks of 1967. This lecture will focus on whether the efforts to preserve Athlone Castle have endured in serving to promote a greater awareness of Athlone’s heritage, antiquity and past.

Speaker – Dr. Paul Murray was educated at NUI, Galway, Trinity College, Dublin and the King’s Inns. He was an Irish Research Council Scholar from 2000 to 2003. His book, The Irish Boundary Commission and its Origins 1886-1925, is recognised as the authoritative examination of how the prospect of a Boundary Commission aided the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.
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Field Trip to Kilkenny, Saturday 16 September 2017

9.00 am, Saturday, 16th September, 2017
Field Trip to Kilkenny

– including Kilkenny Castle, the Medieval Mile Museum, and a walking tour of the historic town centre

On Saturday, 16 September, the Society will travel to Kilkenny on its latest field trip. A bus is available, which leaves at 9.00am from the bottom of the Fair Green car park opposite the Sheraton Hotel. There are spare seats, so there is no problem accommodating late entries. To book a place, email

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2017 William (Billy) English Memorial Lecture: ‘The Future of the Past: Revival Ireland 1891-1922’

Wineport Lodge – 8.30pm, Wednesday 26th April

Talk by Professor Declan Kiberd

Summary – The talk will explore the sources of the Irish Revival in ideas of ‘self-help‘, many rooted in the Protestant tradition. It will consider the ways in which key thinkers and artists of the period were  futurologists but also people activated by a rediscovered sense of Ireland’s past. The talk will also review our current Decade of Commemorations, looking for continuities and discontinuities.

Speaker – Declan Kiberd is Keough Professor of Irish studies at the University of Notre Dame. He taught for many years at UCD. Among his books are ‘Synge and the Irish Language’ (1979), ‘Idir Dhá Chultúr’ (1991), ‘Inventing Ireland’ (1995), ‘Irish Classics’ (2000), ‘The Irish writer and the World’ (2005) and ‘Ulysses and Us’ (2009). Recently, he co-edited the ‘Handbook of the Irish Revival’ (2014), whose texts are at the core of his talk to the society.
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