Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Catríona Crowe and Cécile Gordon
Click on any image for a larger version

Two of my heroes, responsible between them for the release and digitisation of a massive amount of data directly relevant to the decade of commemorations and to wider areas of research, including my own family history.

Catríona is responsible for the digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses as well as majorly responsible for the release from bondage of the military witness statements and pension records. The statements have been digitised by the Bureau of Military History and Cécile is in charge of the digitising and release of the military pensions records.

But I am getting ahead of myself in my excitement at capturing these two women in the one photo.

The occasion was the DCU School of History and Geography's Public Symposium entitled 1919: The Birth of a Counter State held in St. Pat's campus on 26/1/2019.

So let's take it in order from here.

But first an apology to Jimmy Kelly and Mary McAuliff. I don't have photos of them speaking, as my camera conked at the beginning of the first session and I had only managed to partly restore it by the end of that session. This is all the more embarrassing as both of them were following up a particular inquiry of mine about Constance Markievicz. I swear I'll make it up to them sometime.

And a further remark about the use of titles. I generally adopt a practice of simply referring to people by their names and mention their qualifications only when relevant. It is not intended as a slight on hard earned qualifications but it makes the tone that bit more intimate and engaging. At least I think so. In this case I will simply remark that there were enough doctors on the panel to cope with an outbreak of Spanish Flu in the audience.

James Kelly

Jimmy Kelly is the head of DCU School of History and Geography, the people who are running the symposium. I first met Jimmy at the launch of his book on Food Rioting just over a year ago.

He was here today to welcome everybody and to chair the first session of the symposium.

Daithí Ó Corráin

Contributions kicked off with Daithí's very interesting account of the first Dáil itself. He took us through the first private meeting of the Dáil, of which there are no photographs, and the second, public meeting of which there are many. We had a holding-Dáil with a temporary Ceann Comhairle and Ministers untill Dev returned from prison to take over the reins and rejig the Cabinet. Eoin MacNeil was demoted from Finance to make way for Michael Collins and Constance Markievicz was appointed Minister for Labour.

At least MacNeill's short innings allows me to claim to be related to a former Minister for Finance. Also Daithí Ó Donnchadha's role allows me to claim a common interest with the grandson of the Dáil Treasurer.

The first Dáil was significant as the constitutional/legislative underpinning of the War of Independence and the setting up of the Counter State with its various departments and the Sinn Féin courts.

Mary McAuliffe

Mary went straight in hard in defence of Constance Markievicz who is frequently accused of having done little or nothing in her role as Minister at the time. Examination of the record shows that Markievicz was beavering away on many projects both within and without her Ministry. And you mustn't lose sight of the fact that this was a counter state on the run for much of the time.

I think Mary is well on the way to getting Markievicz written back into her proper place in history.

Marnie Haye

Marnie gave us a rundown on Na Fianna Éireann which was effectively the junior branch of the volunteers. It was founded by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz.

Trusted members were involved in Volunteer operations, acting as scouts and courriers, for example. There was also a girls branch which was a bit of an outlier and was absorbed into Cumann na mBan when that organisation came into being.

William Murphy

William chaired the second session.

Catríona gave us a graphic account of her war of attrition with the powers that be to get the military witness statements and pension records released into the public domain. There was a lot of theological discussion involved, principally with the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance. What appears to have swung it in the end was a plea for the records to be released in sufficient time for them to be got into shape for the decade of commemorations.

Catríona is not a lady to be trifled with. She was a union rep in the National Archives and she organised the digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses in the teeth of adversity and having hired the cheapest and best external team on the market.

Cécile is the Project Manager of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection Project in the Military Archives of Ireland. She has been working on this project for the last ten years and the digital releases are now coming fast and furious. It is a magnificently conceived and meticulously implemented project and, taken in tandem with the witness statements, opens up a whole new dimension in researching the revolutionary period.

I have nibbled at these two sources myself in the course of my family history research and I'm sure there remains a vast treasure trove to be further exploited if I ever get the time and have the inclination.

I don't have a soundtrack with this post, so this photo will have to do in place of the trumpets for the keynote speaker.

Leeann Lane

Leeann organised the symposium and took a chance on inviting David McCullagh to give the keynote address. She was both surprised and thrilled when he accepted.

She chaired this session which meant introducing David and directing the Q&A.

Incidentally I loved Leeann's Twitter handle when I got round to it later. If you want a smile you'll have to go and find it for yourself.

David McCullagh

The title of David's contribution was: "A sublime step": de Valera's 1919, The sublime step involved was from Lincoln Jail to the Waldorf Astoria in New York - from the penury of a prison cell (where he had a typewriter and gramophone), to the luxury of a posh hotel.

David painted an interesting picture of Dev as a man more than aware of his own worth. When those left in town were reluctant for him to return from his American tour, it was not clear whether this was because of his success in raising funds there or what he might do when he got back.

Did Dev have a nervous breakdown in Boland's Mills in 1916?

Well, in the first place, he wasn't in the Mill but in the Bakery. And, in the second place, it was not a nervous breakdown in the understood sense of the term but a burnout from lack of sleep.

Susan Hegarty

Susan chaired the final session

Ronan McGreevy

Purely through a fluke I found myself sitting beside Ronan, or more correctly him beside me as I was there first. I don't think he recognised me from our earlier Twitter exchanges as my avatar there is my RIC great-grandfather.

I greatly admire Ronan's work. He has put in a huge effort researching and writing up aspects of Irish participation in WWI. His writing is a pleasure to read as he writes well and you know he has put in the work.

His talk was on what happened to Irishmen when they came home from the war. The conventional wisdom in my day was that they were shunned and forgotten when they came back, and certainly I never heard a good word about them when I was growing up. In fact I heard little or nothing about them. The idea of Irishmen fighting for the British while the Rising was happening all over Dublin was an abomination.

However, at that time I didn't realise I had an uncle who died on the Somme and a grand-uncle who returned home wounded. Nor did I realise I had a clatter of RIC in my family tree. So chasing up my family history put a different complexion on things.

But what was the attitude to ex-servicemen just after the war? Well, Ronan has shown that they were not shunned and there were massive crowds at Remembrance Day commemorations for years afterwards. There may have been difficulty finding employment but there wasn't a lot of that to go around.

Ronan brought along copies of the impressive Irish Time 1919 supplement which he had put together and which had appeared earlier in the week. There weren't quite enough for everyone in the audience but some, like me, had probably already got copies and he undertook to leave copies for others at reception in the Irish Times.

Anne Dolan

Anne and William (below) gave us an insight into Michael Collins in all his complexity. A much more interesting character than I had thought. I must get round to reading their recently published book at some stage - Michael Collins: the man and the revolution.

So all in all a most thought-provoking and well worthwhile day.

Some additional personal remarks.

In his presentation William Murphy used this cartoon from George Belton. Now, I am taking an interest in George since one of his relatives contacted me about his cartoons. Some of them had been mis-credited to Gordon Brewster, in whom I already have an interest.

Ronan has used another of George's cartoons in the supplement I mentioned above. So he is getting increasing exposure as time goes on. There is a small collection of his cartoons in the National Library, of which you can see the odd one here.

When it comes to Markievicz I have a family story which I have been trying to authenticate. My cousin told me that my grand-uncle PJ Medlar asked to have a glass panel in his coffin in imitation of Markievicz. I'm sure he knew what he was at, him being an undertaker and all, but I haven't been able to confirm the Markievicz end of it yet. Mary McAuliffe hadn't heard of it and said she'd check it out and Jimmy Kelly made some unsuccessful inquiries among his otherwise knowledgeable colleagues at lunchtime.

And, speaking of Medlar, there I was checking out links to the Bureau of Military History when I came across another picture of the Medlar Bridge, this time by the Air Corps no less. You can read up the background to this bridge on my website.

Finally, I had never before been to Pats, but my uncle Jimmy had. This is the Erin's Hope team (St Pat's Drumcondra) which won the Dublin Junior Championship in 1929. Uncle Jimmy O'Dwyer, my father's youngest brother, and captain of the team, is in the middle of the front row holding the ball.

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