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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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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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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