The History Show Sunday 5 January 2014
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
As Waterford celebrates a very special birthday, Orla Rapple took a trip around Ireland’s oldest city to find out some of the historical events it experienced in its 1,100 year history.
Historian Eamonn McEneaney, director of the Waterford Museum of Treasures and Dermot Power, a man passionate about the city’s history joined Myles in studio to discuss Waterford's long history.
Random Waterford History, a day by day miscellany of Waterford History is written by Colm Long.
The play This is Waterford will be performed later this year in the Medieval Museum in Waterford city.
Some firsts for Waterford through history:
Ireland’s first female counsellors were elected in Waterford in 1912.
First post reformation church in Ireland – Waterford Cathedral
Edmund Rice – founder of Christian Brothers. First group in Waterford.
John Leslie - founder of Methodism in Waterford 1762.
The last leper in Ireland was in the leper hospital in Waterford. Building still stands.
The first fever hospital was in Waterford.
Margaret Elwood – founded sisters of the holy faith in 1857.
1878/79 – first public houses scheme.
Brother Mathias Barrett born in Waterford (1900). Founded a number of homes to help serve the needy and homeless throughout North America. He is also the founder of The Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd.
Waterford 1100 Year - 2014
Waterford1100 will be showcase for Waterford in 2014 with several events planned over the next eight months.
In preparation for Waterford1100, Waterford’s historic city centre, the Viking Triangle, has been transformed. Now the cultural and historical quarter of Waterford city, the Viking Triangle offers seven national monuments aligned chronologically and is home to three world-class museums – collectively known as the Waterford Treasures Museums. They are: the iconic Reginald’s Tower; The Bishop’s Palace which displays the largest collection of historic Waterford glass in the world and the Medieval Museum which is currently ranked as the number one visitor attraction in Waterford on Tripadvisor.com.
Charity and the Great Irish Famine
The Great Irish Famine was one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters of the nineteenth century. In a period of only five years, Ireland lost approximately 25% of its population through a combination of death and emigration. How could such a tragedy have occurred at the heart of the vast, and resource-rich, British Empire?
You’re probably aware that we received charitable aid from countries like Britain and America – but in fact, it extended a lot further than this as Christine Kinealy told Louise Denvir.
Christine Kinealy’s new book, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland explores this question by focusing on a particular, and lesser-known, aspect of the Famine: that being the extent to which people throughout the world mobilized to provide money, food and clothing to assist the starving Irish.
Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland considers how, helped by developments in transport and communications, newspapers throughout the world reported on the suffering in Ireland, prompting funds to be raised globally on an unprecedented scale. Donations came from as far away as Australia, China, India and South America and contributors emerged from across the various religious, ethnic, social and gender divides.
Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers by Christine Kinealy (Bloomsbury Academic).
'12 Years a Slave' review
A new historical drama, 12 Years A Slave opens in cinemas this Friday. It’s an adaptation of an 1853 autobiography written by Solomon Northup who was born in New York State as a free-negro but was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Historians have validated his memoir as being remarkably accurate – and film lecturer, Steven Benedict came in to tell us about the film.
Steven Benedict's verdict on 12 Years a Slave:
A superb film that, given its brutal subject matter, is remarkably restrained. You can’t sugar coat the story but it would be very easy to run an assault on the audience in order to convey the inhumanity of the practice. The film avoids that dangerous trap, but it is nonetheless an enormously distressing and upsetting film. I saw it the day of Mandela’s Memorial Service, and McQueen’s telling of the story rings so true. It is not exclusively about slavery. It is about dignity and the denial of it.
Other Slave Movies released over the Years
by Steven Benedict
The film focuses on the parliamentary campaign to end the slave trade in the British Empire. The thing about films that focus on slavery is that they are very noble in intent but sometimes, their noble aspirations result in films that fail to gain dramatic traction. It was made to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament’s ban on the slave trade. Ioan Gruffudd stars as William Wilberforce who led the campaign. Gruffudd holds the centre of the story very well but of course is aided and abetted by an issue that comes loaded with big speeches and the weight of history on its side.
Steven Spielberg’s account of the true story of the Mende slaves who mutineed aboard the ship, Amistad in 1839. An international legal battle ensued over who ‘owned the cargo’. It resulted a United States Supreme Court case in 1841. The film is uneven, but has some very good moments in it, not least of which is the utterly shocking sequence that depicts the middle-passage, where the captives are held in chains below deck, and then, when it becomes too difficult for the crew to hold them there, they simply hurl them off the ship and into the ocean. In that moment, I think the film conveyed the complete indifference to human life that lies at the heart of slavery.
Interesting if unsuccessful adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, a slave who fled to free state Ohio. Slave owners arrived to recapture her but she killed her two-year old daughter rather than be taken back. This was produced by Oprah Winfrey and directed by Johnathan Demme who was on a very hot streak at the time having won an Oscar for directing Silence of the Lambs and then guiding Tom Hanks to an Oscar in Philadelphia.
Demme is a great humanist and Thandie Newton delivers a very strong performance, but for some reason the story does not ignite on the screen and consequently the theme of psychological repression never solidify. What Morrison was addressing was that most slaves repressed their memories in an attempt to forget the past and so, while descendents of white slave owners would have denied their ancestry, so too were the memories of slaves themselves wiped away. So what you have is collective social, cultural and historical amnesia. It is ghostly in the book; terrifying to think that such atrocities can be so blithely denied, but the movie doesn’t capture the… spirit.
The Birth of a Nation made in 1915
This is one of the most important films ever made. It is also regrettably a notoriously racist one. D.W. Griffith’s US Civil War epic does many things that are, on a technical level, quite extraordinary. The battle scenes are enormous, the family relationships very well drawn and he cross cuts between several scenes to create intense dramatic tension. The thing is that the film is avowedly in favor of the Ku Klux Klan and such was the film’s success at the box-office (est. $50m… back in the days when tickets were $2) its popularity helped revived the membership of the Ku Klux Klan. By the 1920s, they were the third biggest party in the US.
It has long been claimed that when Woodrow Wilson, the US President at the time said of the film… ‘it is like writing history with lightening. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.’ But in all likelihood, the quote was made up by Thomas J. Dixon, the author of the book from which the film is adapted.
Slavery’s long and brutal silhouette held sway over every aspect of American society, its politics, religion, economy and culture. That slavery was criminalized at all is without doubt one of the most momentous global shifts in the last thousand years.
The abolition of slavery redefined not one but two entire continents of people. And yet, when it comes to Django Unchained, the entire issue serves as a mere backdrop for Tarantino, a canvas onto which he can project and impose, not his view of history, but about Quentin Tarantino. Admittedly, as a piece of cinema it is alluring if not beguiling.
But in a wider context it is reckless post-modern trash. Because Tarantino’s films are so loaded with pop-culture references, everything comes with quotation marks and everything is flattened out with irony. No matter which way you look at it, it is NOT about slavery. He doesn’t so much dramatize the past as trivialize it. The slave owners are depicted as ignorant if charming, buffoons. They were anything but. The uncomfortable truth is, such people were not stupid; ignorant, bigoted and sadistic yes, but not stupid. They were clever enough to know how to manipulate and oppress others. But by presenting the villains as a set of buffoons dilutes their brutality, makes light of their crimes and by partaking in the fun, by laughing at the jokes, we the audience, further mock the victims who were so brutalized.
12 Years A Slave is a brilliant antidote to Tarantino’s ego trip. As indeed is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It reverential but, it so marginalizes the black characters that they are rendered all but invisible and silent. In other words, it is once again the story about white people. Yes. But it’s a noble picture.
Going further back into history, we have Spartacus, Stanley Kubrick’s telling of the slave who took on the might of the Roman Empire. Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis and Jean Simmons star in a film that works best in the early sequences when you see Spartacus as a slave.
Then there is the animated story of Moses, The Prince of Egypt that was released by DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg’s company. It’s a very good movie, told with flair and invention and interestingly, the filmmakers there consulted quite closely with religious leaders of the Abrahamic faiths; Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Something that Mel Gibson singularly did not do when he made The Passion of the Christ… but that’s a whole other story.
And speaking of Moses… The Ten Commandments, the 1956 blockbusting epic from kitch-meister, C.B. DeMille? The only thing that is worth keeping from that film are the special effects. Parting the Red Sea is still a great spectacle. And it makes you wonder how Ridley Scott will visualize it next year in his film, Exodus that stars The Dark Knight himself, Christian Bale.
How Dubliners celebrated New Year’s
With New Years eve just gone, we’re all settling into 2014. If you live in the capital, a great tradition has been to ring in the New Year with the bells of Christchurch Cathedral. Historian, Donal Fallon explored what else people did through the decades to celebrate New Year's Eve.
New Year's Eve in the Capital
by Donal Fallon
New Years Eve is a night of great traditions in Dublin, and for many of us the streets around Christchurch are still the perfect location every December 31st, to hear the bells that herald a new year. But what of the history of New Years Eve in the capital?
The Irish Times complained in 1917 that that thanks to “the younger element of both sexes”, the night was moving away from its more traditional hues, as the focus became more and more about the party on the streets. Certainly, from the early twentieth century, a party atmosphere seems to have become more apparent at New Years celebrations in Dublin. In 1922 for example, the place to be seems to have been the Metropole Ballroom, where people danced away until 3.30 a.m, far from the old religious traditions associated with the night. Such dances remained popular for decades, as crowds filled the Gresham, the Metropole Ballroom and other such venues to celebrate.
New Years Eve was often a time to say goodbye to old traditions, and in 1932 the Dublin and Blessington Steam Tram made its final journey, packed with Dubliners seeking one final trip on that great Dublin mode of transport. Frank Hopkins has noted that during the First World War era, this service was so busy, a wise Dubliner quipped that “The battle of Ypres was only a sham, compared to the rush for the Blessington Tram.”
Migrant communities often marked New Years Eve in their own special ways. The area around Chancery Lane was once known to Dubliners as ‘Little Italy’, being heavily populated by families from that country. It became something of a tradition to gather there and hear the sound of barrel-organs on New Years Eve, but The Irish Times complained in 1904 that that tradition, which had by then been on the wane for some years, appeared to be dying out.
Reports on the crowds who gather to celebrate events give us a good idea of styles and fashions at different moments in history. In 1956, Teddy Boys were blamed with spoiling the fun of New Years Eve, according to one paper, using the opportunity to break windows around Christchurch Place and to throw what a journalist described as “flash bangs” into the crowd. Gardaí drew batons and the well attired but poorly behaved youngsters were driven onto Thomas Street, where rowdyism continued.
Of more recent times, one wonders how future historians or Dubliners will view the attempts of the city to mark the turning of the year, and the millenium, in 1999. The Millenium Clock will always be remembered in Dublin as ‘the time in the slime’, but back in the 1990s it seemed a good idea on paper. Chosen in 1994, and eventually turned on in March 1996, there was much initial optimism for the idea. In a 1994 newspaper report on the clock for The Irish Times, it was noted that:
“Surrounding the clock, which will start ticking at midnight next New Years Eve, will be ‘reeds’ of metallic-coloured carbon fibre, fixed on buoys from which loudspeakers will send out, at 30 second intervals, recorded sounds of Dublin life- the clank of Guinness barrels on pavements, foghorns, seagulls cries and the calls of Moore Street traders.”
Of course, all this would have been wonderful - had the clock been properly waterproof. By December 1996, it was evident the problems with the clock could not be fixed at any reasonable cost, and the six ton clock was removed to a warehouse. Dublin had to ring in the New Millenium without her Liffey clock. The Bells of Christchurch though have stood the test of the time, remaining a huge draw for locals and visitors alike.
'A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987'
‘I think there can be no doubt that there is a spirit of lethargy in the party and amongst the supporters in the country’.
Remarkably perhaps, that quote dates back to 1960 – written by John A Costello.
Fine Gael’s demise has been periodically predicted since the party was formed in 1933. Yet it has survived 80 years of mixed fortunes - and it became the largest party in the State after the 2011 election.
A new book, “A Just Society for Ireland?” examines the years from 1964 to 1987 - a critical period in the party’s history when Fine Gael was challenged to define its place in Irish politics.
Ciara Meehan, history lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire joined Myles to talk about her book.
Ciara Meehan’;s book “A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987” is published by Palgrave McMillan.
Coming Up on Next Week's Programme....
Our January book club will be discussing
“Dublin Burning – The Easter Rising from Behind the Barricades” by Commandant WJ Brennan-Whitmore.
This book claims to be the only eye witness account of the Easter Rising written by a senior participant. It’s published by Gill & McMillan.