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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The Pope’s Irish Battalion

Officer’s Mess, Custume Barracks – 8.15pm, Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Talk by Robert Doyle

Ireland and the Papal army

The Company of Saint Patrick in the Papal Army, 1860

Summary – For a nation that cherishes its history, it is remarkable how little is known in Ireland about Irish involvement in the Papal War of 1860. Although identifiable Irish units existed within the British army, this was a unique situation for that era, as fledgling Irish recruits fought with bravery and aplomb in Italy alongside men from Europe’s military super-powers.

They garnered praise from all, friend and foe, who witnessed their actions. However, to the victors the spoils, and, understandably, surviving statues and memorials in Italy only honour those who achieved Italian reunification. Although treated like heroes on their return to Ireland, the deeds of the Battalion of St. Patrick have dissipated with the passing of time. However, as American historian, Brian C. Pohanka, once insightfully remarked, ‘Without memory, we have no deeds’.

Speaker – A public health official by necessity and historian by vocation, Robert Doyle is a native of Baltinglass, Co Wicklow. He has studied the life and career of Myles Keogh for many years and is the co-creator of He is also a frequent speaker on military history, has written for popular history periodicals including, Military Illustrated and History Ireland and is a contributing editor for the Irish heritage website,

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Irish as a vernacular language in Athlone and its hinterland, 1600-c.1970

Sheraton Hotel, Athlone – 8.15pm, Wednesday, 8 March, 2017

Talk by Dr Aengus Finnegan

Ireland, Language, Gaelic, History

Map drawn by former Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, detailing rates of pre-famine Irish speaking

Summary – The Irish language survived as a natively spoken language in the Athlone area as recently as the 1960s – something which will no doubt surprise many. And yet the story of the Irish language in Athlone, and the midlands in general, is very much a neglected one. This lecture will trace the changing fortunes of the Irish and English languages in and around Athlone from the early 17th century to the present day.

Speaker – Aengus Finnegan, a native of Glassan, is a lecturer in Irish at the University of Limerick. He completed a PhD on townland names in Co. Westmeath at the Department of Modern Irish, NUI Galway, in 2012. From 2013 to 2015 he was employed in Fiontar, the Irish-language unit of Dublin City University. While there, he worked as a Research Editor on a number of Irish-language digitisation projects, including over a year as Project Coordinator of, The Placenames Database of Ireland. His interests include: Irish placenames, surnames, and personal names; Modern and Early Modern Irish-language literature; folklore; and the historical dialectology and sociolinguistic heritage of the Irish language in central Ireland.

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‘Showmen and the RFC: Early Aviation in Ireland 1909-14’

Lough Ree Yacht Club, Athlone – 8.15pm, Wednesday, 22 February, 2017

Talk by Guy Warner

Summary – “Few people nowadays are able to visualise the difficulties and dangers of learning to fly in 1910…flying was in the experimental stage, it was impossible to predict how the frail and flimsy structure would behave in the air.”  – Captain Frederick Sykes, writing in 1940.

Guy Warner, Aviation, Ireland

The cover of Guy’s latest publication

This lecture will be based on Guy Warner’s brand new, fully illustrated, account of early aviation in Ireland. He will describe and examine the key events in the field of aviation during the years between Harry Ferguson’s first flight and the outbreak of the First World War. The lecture will cover the people, the aircraft and the places involved, and will make much use of contemporary sources to reveal the story through the eyes of those who witnessed these exciting times. All the main personalities will be covered, as well as new research on several hitherto lesser known pioneers.
Speaker – Guy Warner is a retired schoolteacher and former MOD civil servant, who grew up in Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland, attending Abbots Cross Primary School and Belfast High School before going to Leicester University and later Stranmillis College. He now lives in Greenisland, County Antrim with his wife Lynda. He also has two grown up daughters and three grandchildren. He is the author of 28 books and booklets on aviation past and present and has written hundreds of articles for magazines in the UK, Ireland and the USA. He also reviews books for several publications, gives talks to local history societies etc and has appeared on TV and radio programmes, discussing aspects of aviation history.
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‘Reflections on the Centenaries’

Sheraton Hotel, Athlone – 8pm, Wednesday, 25 January, 2017

Talk by Dr Brian Hanley


Summary  There is a sense of almost universal relief that the 2016 Centenary was an outstanding success. But what politics underpinned the commemorations and will we see more dissension when we reach 2019 or 2022? This talk will look at the politics and controversies of the current decade of centenaries, from the First World War to the Easter Rising and will look forward to War of Independence and the Civil War. How will the Irish state and the Irish public react to those centenaries and what can the commemorations tell us about modern Irish life and politics?

Speaker – Dr Brian Hanley is a historian who has written extensively on Irish republicanism and radicalism. He is the author of the ‘IRA, 1926-36’ and co-author of ‘The Lost Revolution: the story of the Official IRA and the Workers Party’ (Penguin, 2009), which was awarded the Political Studies Association of Ireland Brian Farrell award in 2010. He is a regular contributor on TV and radio and, during the the course of 2016, has spoken on various aspects of the Irish revolution to audiences across Ireland, in Bradford and Edinburgh, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Montreal.
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