The History Show

    Sunday, 6pm

    The History Show Wednesday 27 May 2015


    The History Show

    Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past

    Full Programme

    Bunán Heritage Park

    Ronan Kelly reports from Bunán Heritage Park near Kenmare in Kerry where history is helping them to prosper and plan for the future.

    Holidays for History Buffs

    Eoghan Corry recommends holidays for people wirh an interest in history

    Songs from the Swans at Coole

    Excerpt from Songs from the Swans of Coole by Michael Scott to mark 150th anniversay of WB Yeats.

    Irish Famine Summer School

    Historian Ciaran Reilly talks about the extensive archive at Strokestown Park in Roscommon.  It is one of the largest estate collections in existence with more than 50,000 documents. which gives a great insight into famine life.   Caroline Callery gives details on the upcoming Irish Famine Summer School.

    Our Irish Heritage

    Excerpt from, a website which gives a voice to personal and local histories.

    What did we eat in Ancient times?

    Liam Downey, former director of Teagasc and an Honorary Professor of Archaeology at UCD looks back at the variety of food consumed by our ancient forebears. 

    In Flanders Fields

    100 years ago this month, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote his famous war poem In Flanders Fields.  To mark this anniversary, we tell the story of In Flanders Fields, the poem that immortalised the poppy.


    The History Show - Full Programme Podcast - 31st May 2015

    Bunán Heritage Park, Holidays for History Buffs, Songs from the Swans at Coole, Irish Famine Summer School, Our Irish Heritage, What did we eat in Ancient times?, In Flanders Fields


    Bunán Heritage Park

    Many of those who talk to us on this show about history projects talk about making history “come alive” - to resurrect history.  

    But for one village in Kerry, history is quite present – they're using it to help them prosper. But, not only that, they're also using history to help them plan for the future.  Ronan Kelly reported from the Bunán Heritage Park near Kenmare where he talked to Stevie O'Sullivan and Danny O'Connor.


    Holidays for History Buffs

    Travel writer and history graduate, Eoghan Corry joined Myles to discuss some recent trends in historic holidays.   

    Battlefields are big business this year and next. France and Belgium are in the front line, while Gallipoli is also making a big pitch for Irish tourists. 

    Eoghan recommends that local history groups should seize the opportunity of the centenary of WW1 to organise group trips to see the battlefields.   Mainstream group tours are not going to be good at this, despite their efforts to cash in on the battlefield boom.   Go to an agent and supply your own guide and they will do the rest.

    Turkish Airlines is especially interested in bringing as many Irish to Gallipoli as can be managed.

    Also consider:

    The trails of Irish saints are all over Europe.

    Dun Scotus burial place is walking distance from the more famous Cologne cathedral

    St Brigid's relics are next door to Lisbon airport

    Daniel O'Connell's house is walking distance from the cruise ship berths in Genoa

    The historic sites of Tasmania are full of William Smith O'Brien.



    Irish Famine Summer School

    The 1840s marked perhaps the darkest time in our country’s history when the Great Famine swept through the country and decimated our population.

    Myles was joined by Ciarán Reilly, the author of Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine. The book gives a detailed insight into the many varied experiences of the Great Hunger for those who inhabited a Roscommon estate in the 1840s.

    Ciarán’s research is based on the Strokestown Park House Archive, one of the largest estate collections in existence with more than 50,000 documents. which gives a great insight into famine life,

    Strokestown Park – Background

    Strokestown Park is a visitor attraction, including Strokestown Park House, a Georgian mansion preserved with original furnishings and fabrics, as well as the Irish National Famine Museum.

    Strokestown Park house was the family home of the Pakenham Mahon family, built on the site of a 16th century castle

    Its archive covers about 300 years of the estate's history, from their arrival as Cromwellian soldiers in the 1650s right up to 1979 when the estate was sold. About half of the material though relates to the famine period, this is valuable, in a lot of other estate archives, documents have been lost.

    There's official documentation - food and relief - correspondence between the landlord and his agent - correspondence during the famine years - most unique thing are letters concerning ordinary people - nearly 1000 petitions from people looking for work / relief.

    The estate was just over 11,000 acres. The subdivision was great with families of 8-10 people trying to survive on very small plots. On one particular townland there were 44 families eking out an existence on 60 acres.


    The archive at Strokestown gives an insight into individual circumstances and how people were affected by the famine.

    For instance, the widow Kilmartin buried her husband in 1848 and petitioned for help from the Mahons, saying her father in law has moved in and she now has to leave the house. It just shows the callousness of some people at the height of the famine. People are looking after their own patch as the famine worsens. This archive document poses a question about the value of women in society - were they seen as worthless once their husbands had died?

    Denis Mahon, landlord of the estate

    For 9 years before Denis Mahon became landlord,, the estate was without a manager after Reverend Morris Mahon had been declared a lunatic.

    Denis Mahon was engaged in a court battle for years with a cousin to see who would be given the ownership of the estate.

    He inherited the estate in Nov 1845 a few weeks after the famine began. The tenants hadn't paid their rent in years due to bad harvests so were in debt when Denis Mahon took over. (A local agent kept record of debts but didn't press tenants very hard).

    Denis Mahon is generally depicted in local memory as this arch evictor and depopulator. But the archive shows a benevolent side - he tries valiantly in 1846 to relieve people / give them food. A lot of other landlords made the argument that these people were not in fact their tenants, but Mahon took responsibility. The efforts that he went to are surprising - he's depicted as being absentee or living in London but he's actually on the ground.

    The Landlord Major Denis Mahon was assassinated in November 1847 at the height of The Great Famine of Ireland. Two days before his death, the parish priest denounced Mahon from the pulpit.

    Three men were hung for the crime, but it's widely believed that the perpetrators got away. In the months that followed several members of his family were threatened, there are letters in the archive substantiating this.

    After the murder of Mahon, his son-in -law took over and decided to evict almost 2000 people from 1848-1849.

    The strange thing about these evictions is there's no popular backlash / community action / people seem to accept it. The ones left behind and left on the land keep quiet and say very little.

    Population Decline

    Almost 40% of the Strokestown population had gone by 1851. It was a scene of desolation. Up to 5000 people emigrated from the Strokestown area alone.

    Inaugural Irish Famine Summer School

    From Wednesday the 17th until Sunday the 21st June, Strokestown Park will be open to the public for the inaugural 'Irish Famine Summer School'. Carolin Callery, director of the event, joined Myles to talk about it.

    There will be lectures, workshops, drama and music relating to the Great Irish Famine

    In the afternoons on Wednesday to Friday there'll be old craft displays. The whole town is involved. There's Irish music in the town, two theatre performances, tour options to go to local workhouses and medieval villages, plus session in the library to learn a few lines of Irish.

    On Saturday and Sunday, there will be talks by local historians.

    Click this link for more information about Strokestown Park and the Irish Famine Summer School:


    Our Irish Heritage

    On The History Show, we are acutely aware of the value of people’s own personal histories and their eyewitness accounts to help build a picture of what a particular time was like.   We’ve come across a website which does just that.  Log onto Irish Community Archive Network and you’ll find a variety of stories and  recollections relating to local heritage, places and people.   In this piece called Before I Forget, Gerry O’Mahony vividly recalls a family tragedy in October, 1972.   We asked 12 year old Matthew Vachet from Ballincollig to read it for us.

    Before I Forget...By Gerry O'Mahony

    Late 1967 in Monatrea, the author is seen on the extreme right. Also included are his mother holding baby Catherine O'Mahony, and Angela and Maurice, siblings of author Gerry O'Mahony

    Gerry O'Mahony

    October 27th 1972

    The Day After

    We, the children, slept last night but really it was no more than resting our eyes and bodies.

    But there was one less body sleeping in our house.

    I don’t think my mother or father slept at all though, they are still trying to carry on the normal morning duties and make it seem like nothing has changed.

    Things have changed though. We have changed in the blink of a small child’s eye.

    Mam calls us up to get some breakfast and out of pure habit she calls her name without thinking.    And then she bursts into tears, as does my father.    I feel close to getting sick, ‘womiting’ as my godmother May calls it.  A rumbling feeling in the pit of my stomach: probably just hunger pangs from the night’s sleep.

    As children, we are used to playing games and we try to see if we can make things change just by pretending that what happened wasn’t real. But it has happened and it is real.

    My sister Angela is sitting at the table crying her eyes out and my brother Maurice is close to doing the same; it's as if we are all trying to vent our anger and sorrow through our eyes.

    I can't seem to cry, just a feeling of dizziness in my head, and I don’t speak for hours that day.  I can't pretend, it does no good.

    The morning moves on, a constant flow of people coming knocking to our door to follow the rituals of events such as this one. Maybe if enough people call we will reach a time where we can turn back the clock.

    We carry on trying not to look at each other, we keep looking around at the slightest sound from her room.  I wish she would make some noise and show herself.    I really do.

    The mortuary building at Youghal Hospital is a place people only go when someone they know is dead.

    I hate it.   It gives us a last look at someone who has only been with us for a short time before she has been taken away.

    I want to take her out of the ugly timber box and carry her home to Piltown.

    But I can’t.

    She died yesterday.

    On her way home for lunch from school.

    That piece by Gerry O’Mahony, written more than 4 decades after that tragic event is as vivid as if it just happened yesterday. 

    If you’re interested in having a look at a wide variety of local and family histories, check out



    What did we eat in Ancient times?

    Have you ever wondered – what did our ancestors eat? And how did their diet change from the Bronze Age, through the medieval period and right up to Famine times?

    Liam Downey is a former director of Teagasc and an Honorary Professor of Archaeology at University College Dublin.  He’s been looking back at the variety of food consumed by our ancient forebears, and he joined Myles to talk about it.Liam Downey is a former director of Teagasc and an Honorary Professor of Archaeology at University College Dublin.  He’s been looking back at the variety of food consumed by our ancient forebears, and he joined Myles to talk about it.

    In his research, one thing Liam found is that despite all the cattle that existed in Ireland, right up until the end of the seventeenth century, the ordinary person didn’t eat much beef.

    The documentary sources are quite clear that the amount of beef the ordinary person ate was quite small. They didn’t rear the male animals too much except for breeding, or to pull weights.

    Beef was eaten by the elite. Ordinary people ate principally milk and dairy products. Milk, butter, cheese, curds and whey.

    However, there is a contradiction between documentary and archaeological evidence – documentary sources say that ordinary people didn’t eat much meat, but on the other hand a lot of cattle bones have been excavated. 

    We did eat lots of other types of meat such as pig meat.

    Believe it or not, in the very old records of Ireland the eating of horse meat was banned, taboo, prohibited, if caught eating it you had to do penance for 3 and a half years.

    Butter in bog.  May be 2,500 years old.

    Bog Butter

    Butter appears to have been an important part of the Irish diet from prehistoric times.

    Over the past 300 years or more, finds of butter have been recovered from bogs in Ireland. 

    In the Bronze Age, Ireland was densely populated, by the Iron Age it was much less so – perhaps because of a plague. It could be that The Druids made offerings to the Gods – it could be that they did this with butter. It was seen as a valuable product, they put it in containers. Some of these containers are almost identical to the McCarthy Hurling cup.   

    The bog digested the butter over the years, in exactly the same way as your stomach does.  The enzyme Lipase digests the fat in your stomach – and that same enzyme is in the bog.  If you leave the butter long enough in the bog, it is no longer butter. The bog converts the butter into a soap.

    Cereal Products

    Cereal food products, like bread and porridge, were also part of the diet.

    This could cause problems – starch deposited on teeth caused serious rotting of teeth.  Acids in cereals also removed Iron from your system, causing anaemia. 

    Nuts like hazelnuts were also grown, they were very nutritious, but would also drain Iron from the system like cereals.


    Not only was Ireland teeming with cows, the rivers and lakes were teeming with fish. However, the ordinary people don’t eat a lot of fish.

    Certain fish like salmon was very prominent on the tables of the elite. The ordinary people ate herrings and shellfish. 

    The main fish that were available around the Irish coast were pilchards. They cured fish in “fish palaces” along the south west coast.  They cured them with salt, washed them, put them into barrels. 

    The Potato

    The potato played a very valuable role during the hungry months of spring. The potato never replaced butter, dairy products or cereal products in the Irish diet.


    Ale and beer  was brewed – they were much safer drinks than the often unhygienic water.

    Ancient monastic sites had their own brewer. 


    In Flanders Fields

    100 years ago this month, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote his famous war poem In Flanders Fields.  To mark this anniversary, we tell the story of In Flanders Fields, the poem that immortalised the poppy

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.


    We'll be back in the Autumn

    The History Show is taking a break for the summer.  

    We'll be back in September for another season.

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    About The Show

    Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past.

    We want to help explain ourselves to ourselves. We will search out fresh angles on familiar topics, seek out the unfamiliar and will not shy away from bizarre or controversial issues. Our ultimate goal is to make The History Show the primary port of call for those with an intense or even a modest interest in the subject. We want to entice the casual and the curious to join us in celebrating the past.

    Our aim is to create informative, reflective, stimulating and above all, entertaining radio.

    Join us on Sundays from 6.05pm for The History Show with Myles Dungan on RTÉ Radio 1.

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