Sunday, November 26, 2017


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One of the great annual outings for amateur local historians is the local history day at the Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse St. (DCLA). It has not only provided us with an outlet for our research but has stimulated us to dig deeper and longer.

In particular the link up between DCLA and Maynooth University (NUIM) has stimulated local research and has given graduates in this relatively new academic discipline an outlet for their work.

Equally, people like myself, who are not connected with any institution and have probably come late in life to this area, are not only given an outlet but they can find themselves in some very exalted company.

If you add in DCLA events outside of this one day, it is clear that this institution is a jewel in the City's crown.

We'll say nothing about the doors being a wee bit late opening on a frozen morning or the automatic doors then getting stuck. This is outside our brief, but my own view is that it is a manifestation of the recently discovered CURSE OF URBUS, a more than century old anomaly.

That, however, is a story for another day.

Enda Leaney

Regular readers of this blog will know that Máire Kennedy who ran this event for many years has retired and I was interested in who might be in charge of this year's event as I don't think Máire's post has yet been filled.

That task fell to Enda Leaney whose line up for the day and whose enthusiasm for the speakers and their subjects reassured us that Máire's baby is in good hands.

I chased up Enda on the internet and had to stop at page n+. He is a serious academic whose qualifications and interests range far and wide.

For the purpose of today's event he is Senior Librarian at DCLA but you could call him by many other academic names and you probably wouldn't go far wrong.

James Scannell

Anyway Enda introduced the day (25/11/2017) and the line-up and we got off to a great start with a puff of steam and a complicated cover-up.

James Scannell seems to be accident prone. I first heard him talk about a ship that ran aground in a storm leading to complicated rescue efforts by the Bray and Dunleary lifeboat crews. On a subsequent outing he entertained us with the story of the 1957 Dundrum Railcar Collision and the blame game that ensued.

Today he was back to Bray but this time it was on the other side of the Head.

In 1867 a train heading north towards Bray came off the rails at the approach to the tunnel and half of it fell thirty feet while the rest of it stayed on the rails more or less.

There were only two fatalities and both inquests found the event to have been an accident. They were both unaware that the "crime scene" had been tampered with immediately after the accident.

It took a later inquiry by a railroad inspector to discover the original negligence which led to the accident and reveal the cover-up which ensued. Because the inquest verdicts were already in at that stage, they could not be changed and the event remained in the State's books as an accident.

Frank Whearity

Earlier this year, at family history day, Frank Whearity recounted the history of the Soho Engineering works in Bridgefoot Street. He kept us enthralled with the history of the Watt family who owned the works. He was able to illustrate much of the history with personal anecdotes as he had spent much of his own life working there himself.

Today he was on a different tack altogether. He was giving us a centenary perspective on Thomas Ashe. Now if you're like me you'll put Ashe into a list of revolutionaries associated with the 1916 Rising. And you'd be right. But Ashe was a Commandant in the Dublin Brigade and the only one still winning the war when Pearse called the surrender. His immediate fate was to see the inside of a number of English jails before his release in 1917.

At that stage he embarked on a tour of the country making speeches. The authorities deemed at least one of these seditious and back to prison he went. He then went on hunger strike and was subjected to a botched forced feeding which landed him in the Mater where he died.

Frank then recounted the standoff with the British Army over plans for Ashe to lie in state in City Hall. At the end of the day the laying in state went ahead and the funeral was huge.

That's just the bones of it and, as usual, Frank spiced it with many anecdotes.

John Dorney

John Dorney is a historian who has been paying particular attention to the revolutionary period for the last ten years. He is the man behind The Irish Story website. He has authored a number of books, his latest and probably most ambitious being The Civil War in Dublin - The Fight for the Irish Capital 1922-1924.

Today he was bringing us the Civil War in Dublin, the bones of his book in 45 minutes. It was a fascinating talk and at the end of it we were in no doubt why nobody wanted to talk about the Civil War. It reflected no credit on anybody and the atrocities committed by both sides were beyond belief.

It is very difficult to see how this period can be commemorated in a way that is not viciously divisive. Not John's fault, to be sure. He has gone out of his way to attempt an objective or neutral account of the war but at the same time leaving nothing out. You can get a flavour from his interview with Cathal Brennan on the Irish History Show, broadcast on NearFM.

Liz Gillis

I first met Liz in Howth when, with Mícheál Ó Doibhilín, she gave a presentation to the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society on the 1921 Custom House Raid. That has since turned into a marvellous book which Enda was recommending to all present.

But that is not what she was at today. Her talk was on her beloved Liberties and her angle The Rebel Liberties. She didn't quite go back into pre-history, though God knows what those folk were up to then. Rather, she started in 1798 and stitched in a load of Liberties-connected United Irishmen.

Skip ahead a few years and we have Robert Emmet hanged, drawn and quartered outside St. Catherine's (Protestant) church in Thomas St. in 1803. There is a well known painting of the scene with the hangman holding Emmet's head aloft.

However, there was more to it than the relatively standard story depicted in the painting. In the first place the hangman didn't bring all his tools and a butcher's cleaver and saw had to be sourced locally for the decapitation.

Liz is not prepared to endorse the popular rumour that the head was dropped and rolled all the way down into the Liffey. Apparently we have a death mask and you need a head for that. However, the remainder of the body parts disappeared, whether to far flung points of the colonies or not is unknown.

Fast forward to 1916 and The Liberties is alive with the sound of gunfire - the South Dublin Union, Marrowbone Lane and so on. Then there is the John's Lane church connection with Patrick Pearse (his daddy sculpted the angels on the steeple, and, no doubt, more besides).

There is no-one more passionately committed to their subject, whatever it may happen to be at the moment, than Liz. She carries you along on a great big wave complete with gesticulations and expressions that would put Marcel Marceau to shame.

I visualise her in the photo above as a sean nós singer with not a pin dropping in the house.

Liam O'Meara

Liam's talk was entitled "Who remembers Keogh Square?" but you can't keep a good historian down and before you can blink we're back in Richmond Barracks which played a significant role in the 1916 Rising. After independence it housed some of the city's poor, and not very adequately we heard.

The Duke of Richmond ceded to Tom Keogh after whom the Barracks was named by the Free State. Tom was a member of Michael Collins's Squad and has a massive warrior's memorial for a headstone in Knockananna in Co. Wicklow. Been there, seen that.

Liam was really giving us the social history of the site with particular reference to its period as Keogh Square when the people were housed in the original barracks buildings. Apparently there was great community spirit but little else, though former inhabitants remember it fondly.

Most of the barracks buildings were eventually demolished and replaced by St. Michael's estate, but that eventually went downhill and, with the exception of a few barracks buildings. the place is now a vast green space.

Liam has written the history of Richmond Barracks and he has now published a book on Keogh Square.

My grandfather worked in the barracks prior to his untimely death by drowning in the Liffey in 1918, but that too is another story.

Taking Liberties - Liz & meself


Frank Whearity said...

Thanks Póló for putting together a great resume of 'Local History Day' on Saturday last where the attendees were provided with interesting insights into aspects of the history of Dublin city and county. I was one of the speakers invited there and I would like to compliment everyone involved for another great day in the Gilbert Library. Póló deserves full credit for putting it all together in this blog where we can all enjoy it, and can remember the event into the future too. Frank Whearity, Skerries.

Póló said...

Thanks Frank. It was a great day. Enjoyed it enormously.