Irish History

You are currently browsing articles tagged Irish History.

Congrats to the European Space Agency, who successfully landed a probe on a comet yesterday!  The plan was actually to harpoon the comet in order to anchor the spacecraft. Oddly enough, the ESA scientists are not the first to think of employing seafaring tactics to snare astral bodies.

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats (Photo credit: Tavistock Books)

The painter Jack B. Yeats’ short career as a children’s author has been largely overshadowed by his brother’s Noble Prize-winning poetry, but deep in the archives of a few libraries and antiquarian book shops it is possible to find copies of his children’s book The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet.

At least one contemporary critic predicted great things for Yeats’ “quaint and uncommon story” (The Bookseller, 1904) — however, to my eyes this review looks more like pre-publication puffery, than an honest critical opinion. While modern academics praise the “exuberant drawing with their superbly rhythmical use of line and masterly compositions,” they tend to dismiss Jack B. Yeats’ plays and books for children for “manipulation of all the cliches of childhood adventure” and “a disturbing juxtaposition of the ebullient and the macabre” (when they’re aware of them at all). So, it’s no surprise that the books have not stood the test of time. (Quotes from Robin Skelton’s 1990 book Celtic Contraries.)

The central plot of The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet concerns a sailor who encounters a “playful comet,” contrives to capture and tether himself to it, then go for a ride. Inspiration for the ESA’s comet capture? Thanks to Villanova University’s digital library, you can judge for yourselves…  Read the rest of this entry »

On an unassuming road between Ballymoney and Ballycastle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, you’ll come upon the tiny community of Armoy, which contains a slightly unusual round tower.

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

At first glance, the only unusual thing about the meticulously kept graveyard of St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Armoy is the fish decorating its weather vane, but as you come around the bend in the road that wraps around the church you’ll see the tiny round tower that stands beside the church’s more-modern (1869) bell tower. Read the rest of this entry »

Vanishing Ireland is a series of books that combines revealing interviews with some of Ireland’s oldest residents with striking photographs of the subjects.

Vanishing Ireland cover

Vanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community by James Fennell & Turtle Bunbury

There’s often not much to review in a coffee table book; featuring lots of large glossy pictures of beautiful places, things, or people, they’re only really good for daydreaming. I prefer my coffee table books to have a strong textual element, to marry striking photographs or illustrations to interesting arguments or well-structured stories. Vanishing Ireland: Friendship & Community, photographs by James Fennell and words by Turtle Bunbury, succeeds on both counts.  Read the rest of this entry »

The best illustrated histories and coffee table books about Ireland and the Irish.

It’s no secret that Ireland is a photogenic country, so there are many glossy coffee table books published every year showcasing our gilded country houses, unbelievably tall cliffs, crumbling castles, and scenic vistas. Here are a few of the ones you’ll find on my coffee table, and that visitors are always drawn towards.

Vanishing IrelandVanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community by James Fennell & Turtle Bunbury

The Vanishing Ireland series focuses on interviewing the oldest and most-experienced members of the Irish community. The reminiscences they unlock are a fascinating chronicle of how the country has changed multiple times over the last century, and the wonderful photography reminds us that a vital generation with first-hand memories of rebellion, independence, emigration, the arrival of automobiles, phones, televisions, and computers are still alive and well, and are a vibrant part of their communities.  Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Boru began life as the son of a minor regional king, but he ended it as the first High King of Ireland from outside the Uí Néill dynasty. 2014 marks the 1000th anniversary of his death, and a great many events and exhibitions are planned to commemorate the battle.

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as nationalistic propaganda. (source: wikipedia commons)

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as national propaganda. (Source: wikipedia commons)

 

Fin Dwyer, creator of the excellent Irish History Podcast, calls the Battle of Clontarf “the most-famous and most-misunderstood battle in Irish history.” It’s easy to see why. During the many centuries of rebellion and resentment against the English occupiers, the Battle of Clontarf was held up as a great example of the Irish throwing off their occupiers (in this reading, the sole enemy was the Vikings) — indeed, while I was at national school in the 1980’s it was very much the official line. (Witness High Frazier’s romantic depiction of the struggle above.) Modern historians have largely rejected this simplified interpretation. The Battle of Clontarf was fought to put down a rebellion against Brian’s authority, not expel invaders.  Read the rest of this entry »

There’s an intriguing event taking place in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, Monday, March 17, and it’s being live-streamed around the world.

Trailblaze: We need to talk about Ireland

“We Need To Talk About Ireland” is billed as a “90 minute creative celebration of Ireland’s past, present and future,” exploring “what it means to be Irish in 2014.” The event — which sounds like a TED-type mix of performance and talks — is organized by Trailblazery, a collective who create community events designed to spur debate and create change. “We Need to Talk About Ireland” will take place in front of a live audience in The Round Room at Dublin’s historically significant Mansion House.  Read the rest of this entry »

While Ireland has a wealth of round towers surviving in various states of disrepair, only two can be climbed, and Kildare is the best of these. 

Kildare Round Tower

Kildare Round Tower
(Photo: atriptoireland.com)

The second tallest tower in the country (108 feet/33 meters), it is thought that the original round tower was constructed on the site in the 6th century. At some point, the upper two thirds of this tower seems to have collapsed — either as a consequence of assault or the forces of nature. The tower was rebuilt on the original base in the 12th century. You can see where the size and type of stones used changes as you examine the exterior of the tower. The elaborate doorway and windows are all from the 12th century. The doorway is constructed of red sandstone in the romanesque style, and is ornately carved (as always, some of the carvings are a bit weathered after 800 plus years) in four receding “steps.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Lynch’s ambitious debut novel, Red Sky in Morning, aims to examine the current historical moment through a mythic lens.

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch (US cover: Little, Brown)

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch
(US cover: Little, Brown)

Beginning in 1832, we watch as a young Irishman, Coll Coyle, tries to prevent his family from being evicted by a brutal landlord. A fight ensues, and the landlord is killed. Our young hero is forced on the run across the mountains and bogs of Donegal, to the bustling port of Derry, and thence to America. He’s pursued by Faller, the landlord’s brutal enforcer, who opts not to involve the constabulary (as he puts it), but to track down and kill Coll himself (along with almost everyone Coll comes in contact with).  Read the rest of this entry »

There are several stories and rumors concerning the death of Hugh de Lacy, the first Norman Lord of Meath. 

ibayeux001p4

Norman view of warfare (from the Bayeux Tapestry)

The less-colorful tale holds that he died in 1186 after being hit by falling masonry while inspecting work at Durrow. The more-colorful and nationalistic version credits a young stone mason with an opportunistic ambush. While inspecting work on the former abbey at Durrow — once the foremost early Irish university in the early days of the Brehon laws — de Lacy was distracted and bending over to peer at some stonework. A young stone mason, a local man, pulled a battle ax from beneath his tunic and quickly cut the lord’s head from his body. The mason then escaped into nearby woods, and presumably was a hero to the native Irish.

De Lacy’s body then became a literal bone of contention between the natives and the Norman forces, and it was almost a decade later, 1195, before the Normans finally secured his remains and removed them to Bective Abbey, where his body was finally laid to rest. His head was later brought to Dublin and interred with his wife in the Abbey of St. Thomas.

But things still may not be as simple as they appear. Hugh was rumored to have ordered a crown and been making plans to declare himself King of Ireland at the time of his death — introducing the possibility that his assassin may not have been an Irish rebel at all, but was possibly acting on Henry II‘s orders.

With this rumor in mind, King John’s alarm at seeing Hugh’s son Walter harboring enemies of the crown in 1210, which motivated John’s marching on Trim at the head of his army, is a little more understandable. You can read John’s action as decisively moving against a potential rival, and less as the act of an insecure king. John may have felt the possibility of a rival Norman king setting himself up in Ireland was once again in danger of becoming reality, and acted quickly to nip that eventuality in the bud.

Two decades after his death, the specter of Hugh de Lacy still seems to have cast a long shadow across the Irish Sea.

 

 

The stories of the goddess Brigid and the later St. Bridget are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. The ancient feis of Imbolc was co-opted as St. Bridget’s Day, one of the most-popular saints days in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

Saint Bridget  (Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Saint Bridget
(Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Bridget’s Early Life

Born c.451 near Faughart in Co. Louth, Bridget was the daughter of Dubtacht, a druid, and Brocca, who was either his wife or a slave, and possibly a Christian.  Bridget eventually became a Christian (probably after absorbing druidic teaching from her father) and founded a number of monasteries, including the famous one at Kildare. It’s possible she entered religious life after losing the sight in one eye (although some stories hold that she put her own eye out rather than enter into an unwelcome marriage, and once the marriage had been called off — Celtic tradition would not allow one to marry somebody disfigured — she put it back in and was miraculously healed).  Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries