The History Show

The History Show

Sunday, 6pm

The History Show Sunday 17 November 2013

The History Show

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

Centenary of Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army

Centenary of Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army

One hundred years ago this week, on 19 November 1913, the Irish Citizen Army was launched to defend locked out workers in clashes with the police. 

A week later, on the 25th of November, another military organisation, the Irish Volunteers was formed to safeguard the granting of Home Rule. The Ulster Volunteers had been formed the previous January to oppose it.

The Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army went on to take part in the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.   But one hundred years on, what questions need to be asked about commemorating the place of private armies in our history?

Historians Conor Mulvagh of UCD and Roisin Higgins of Teesside University teased out this issue and talked about the roots of these organisations.

November 1913, Volunteers, violence, and commemoration

by Conor Mulvagh

As we move away from the lockout and into a different phase in the ‘decade of the centenaries’ we are faced with some very difficult questions:

How can Ireland appropriately and accurately commemorate the foundation of three private armies, all established to oppose the rule of law in one way or another?

Was the lockout more ‘commemoration-lite’? Were difficult questions regarding class and the outcome/legacy of the lockout ignored?

The lockout was a unifying narrative (once all difficult questions of class in contemporary Ireland are swept aside). Meanwhile, commemorating volunteering and paramilitarism brings with it issues of sectarianism, violence, and illegality. In remembering these events, we must be conscious of the fact that Ireland was brought to the brink of a bloody civil conflict by the summer of 1914. 

The ethnic and sectarian conflict that almost came into being at that point was only averted by the outbreak of the First World War. If these events are worth remembering, then they should be remembered as sobering lessons, not as moralistic tales or foundation narratives worthy of emulation. In short, Irish society very nearly hit the self-destruct button in 1914 and that should be the starting point for any historical commemoration of these events. 

  •          Does commemorating the foundation of the Irish and Ulster Volunteers not bring with it the inevitable commemoration of terrorism?
  •          We are entering an uncomfortable phase in the commemorative calendar where paramilitarism is central to the history of 100 years ago.

The foundation of the Irish Volunteers, November 1913

With the sole exception of the British Army, every military organisation on the island of Ireland today, legal and illegal, can trace its lineage back to the year 1913. There are some really interesting complexities in this topic that are worth exploring. Firstly, the idea that it was the loyalists of Ulster who first proposed to step outside of the bounds of law to oppose Home Rule is an important one. More than three years before the occupation of the GPO, Edward Carson and his allies were talking about ‘provisional governments’, resistance, and using military force to challenge the British government. That modern Irish republicanism traces its origins back to Carsonism is one of the unexpected truths of this period.

Eoin MacNeill’s famous article, ‘The North Began’ (An Claidheamh Soluis, 1 Nov. 1913) began a discussion about grassroots nationalist policy and the prospects of emulating the actions of the Ulster Volunteers. Whereas the Ulster Volunteer Force developed along centralised lines and was officially sanctioned from a very early point, the Irish (Nationalist) Volunteers developed chaotically and did not receive John Redmond’s blessing until the middle of 1914. Additionally, whereas the Ulster Volunteers were extremely well funded and backed by business and landed interests, the Irish Volunteers had much less financial backing and far less equipment despite surpassing the UVF in terms of manpower at relatively early stage.

There is a host of other topics to discuss in relation to the later history of the volunteer movements, especially regarding the period March-July 1914. This witnessed the threatened mutiny of elements of the British Army in Ireland, the importation of arms – first in Ulster and subsequently at Howth and Kilcoole – and, finally, the shooting dead of unarmed civilians in Dublin city centre. This last incident, at Bachelors’ Walk on 26 July 1914, placed Ireland on the brink of civil war just days before the outbreak of the European conflict unexpectedly diverted attention from the darkening situation in Dublin and defused a potential all-island war. As the title of Ronan Fanning’s latest book suggests, Ireland stood at the beginning of a ‘fatal path’ in 1913, something that cannot be forgotten as we move away into the controversial phase of Ireland’s centenary commemorations.

History Ireland Hedge School

History Ireland Hedge School Belfast City Hall

6pm Tuesday 10 December 2013

Volunteers 1913: two traditions or one?

A century ago the imminence of Home Rule provoked the founding of two private armies in Ireland: the Ulster Volunteers (January) to oppose it and the Irish Volunteers (November) to defend it. 

Both went on to become part of their respective communities’ subsequent ‘narratives’: the UVF in the 36th (Ulster Division) at the Battle of the Somme and after 1920 in the Ulster Special Constabulary; and the Irish Volunteers in the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent War of Independence. But do these divergent paths obscure certain commonalities—in inspiration (the Volunteers of the eighteenth century?) and in the day-to-day experiences of the rank-and-file. Was the volunteering phenomenon unique to Ireland or were there parallels elsewhere in Europe? To discuss these and related questions, join Hedge School ‘master’ Tommy Graham (History Ireland editor) and the panel—Lar Joye (National Museum of Ireland), Michael Laffan (University College Dublin), Timothy Bowman (University of Kent) and Philip Orr (New Perspectives—Politics, Religion and Conflict in Mid-Antrim, 1911-1914).


Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's death

Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's death

Shortly after noon on the 22nd of November, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas , Texas.   It was five months after his hugely successful vist to Ireland.   Below see letters of thanks he sent to Taoiseach Sean Lemass following his visit.


Television and radio stations suspended their regular programs to carry uninterrupted coverage of the President's assassination. 

Lorcan Clancy trawled through the archives to find out how the news spread, and how the world reacted to the death of a President and compiled a report which was played on the programme. 

In the days that followed the President’s death, Official Ireland had to find a formula of words that would properly convey to Mrs. Kennedy the grief and sympathy of the Irish people.  

Catriona Crowe from the National Archives and Michael Kennedy from the Royal Irish Academy talked about the behind the scenes drafting of official telegrams of condolence.

Account of drafting telegram of condolence by Michael Kennedy 

Taoiseach Sean Lemass’s Private Secretary Ronan O’Foghlú found it difficult to draft the telegram of condolence Lemass wished to send to Jackie Kennedy.  Through the dark winter evening in Government Buildings, with news from Dallas still coming in, O’Foghlú composed draft after draft.  He tried to find the words to convey the loss the United States had suffered. 

O’Foghlú’s first draft, written as President Johnson and Jackie Kennedy flew in Air Force One back to Washington with Kennedy’s body on board, caught in full the immediate horror of the assassination:

‘I am unable to find words adequate to express describe the shock (horror) with which I heard the news of the President’s death.  My colleagues and I in the Irish government are shattered by this terrible event.’

It was not enough; O’Foghlú redrafted:

‘I am unable to find words adequate to describe the horror with which I heard the news of the President’s outrage which caused the President his life.  My colleagues in the Irish government and I are shattered’.

These drafts capture the atmosphere of these bewildering hours.  The words O’Foghlú scored out – ‘shock’; ‘horror’; ‘shattered’ - convey the raw emotion of the moment.  

After much redrafting, this telegram from Lemass was sent to the President’s grieving widow:

‘It was with profound shock that I learned of the tragic death of the President. The world has today lost a great statesman and leader and the USA its finest citizen.

During his visit to Ireland last June, and my very recent visit with him in Washington I had the privilege of getting to know personally his great qualities, his courage, his integrity and his sense of high purpose.

My colleagues in the Irish government and I, extend to you and to your family our most heartfelt sympathy in your recent tragic bereavement.

Sean F. Lemass



President Eamonn de Valera - Sympathy Telegram




 Letter to President Eamonn de Valera from Jackie Kennedy

Credit: UCD-OFM Partnership, P150 2841

Dear Mr President

I do wish to thank you with all my heart for coming to my husband’s funeral – and for bringing with you the Irish cadets – who had moved him so a few months before in Ireland – and who then moved the world at his grave.

I am only grateful for one thing in these sad days –that he did have the chance to return to Ireland as President of the United States last summer. That trip meant more to him than any other in his life. He called me every night of it and would tell me all that had passed in the day.

He would never have been President had he not been Irish. All the history of your people is a long one of overcoming obstacles.   He felt that burden on him as a young Irishman in Boston and he had so many obstacles n his path – his religion, his health, his youth. He fought against each from the time he was a boy, and by always striving, he ended as President.

He was so conscious of his heritage – and so proud of it – and Ireland can be proudn that they gave the United States its greatest President.

Now these words may sound the words of a bereaved wife – but in a generation that is what they will be teaching to school children.

I know your country mourned him as much as his own country did – and through you I thank them for that.

I will bring up my children to be as proud of being Irish as he was. Already, our house is named Wexford – and they play with those beautiful animals – the Connemara pony and the deer.

Whenever they see anything beautiful or good they say “that must be Irish” – and when they are old enough I will bring them there.

Please thank Mrs. De Valera for me for her most touching letter which you gave me. She taught him poetry which he remembered and often said to me – and tried to teach his daughter.

All the most moving things I have read about his death have been Irish poetry – “who to console us now, Sean of the Gael” – and so many others.

I send to you and to Mrs de Valera two cards. One was how he looked during the campaign, the youngest one – and the other as President . How it aged him in less than three years.

I know we were all so blessed to have him as long as we did but I will never understand why God had to take him now.

I send you my deepest gratitude.


Jacqueline Kennedy


Jackie Kennedy arrived in Shannon Airport on 15 June, 1967 with her children John and Caroline and her friend Peggy Murray McDonald. They spent 6 weeks based at Woodstown House in Co. Waterford. 

Catriona Crowe (National Archives), Michael Kennedy (RIA) and Elaine Power (documentary film maker) discussed what she did during her visit, the surrounding security and media coverage of her stay.  


Tar Abhaile

Tar Abhaile

A new series on TG4 starting tonight, tells the stories of 12 different people who travelled to Ireland from many parts of the world on a historical mission.

With surnames ranging from Brosnahan to Feerick, they came in search of their family links with Ireland ….and RTÉ Radio 1 broadcaster Evelyn O’Rourke guided them through the series called ‘Tar Abhaile’.

Evelyn shared her thoughts on the experience of meeting these determined descendants.

Information about the Series

Hosted by broadcaster Evelyn O’Rourke, Tar Abhaile is a new six part series on TG4 that follows local Irish communities as they welcome people from across the globe in search of their Irish ancestors.

Instead of waiting for people of Irish origin to trace their roots, groups of community volunteers tirelessly work together under the auspice of Ireland Reaching Out (or: Ireland XO) to trace those individuals and families who left their local area throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s. Once they have gathered enough tangible information, they then track down their living descendents and reach out, inviting them back to their spiritual home, to share local knowledge, walk the land of their ancestors, show them their final resting places and where possible, introduce them to long-lost living relatives.

Over six weeks, the audience will be introduced to 12 different Irish descendants and their families, scattered all over the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, as they travel to Ireland to reconnect with their Irish roots. But first we visit each of them to see where and how they live in their respective homelands, but, more importantly, to find out what motivates them to visit Ireland, their ancestral home. Once they travel over and meet the volunteers who helped them unearth the story of their ancestors, their emotional journey begins.

For the descendants, it proves time and time again to be an extremely moving and humbling experience: as the stories of their forefathers are revealed to them; they walk in the footsteps of their ancestors, visit the homesteads where they lived or bow their heads at their graves… and it often brings a tear to the eye as they gain new insight into their ancestors and they become so much more than just a name on a page. But nothing beats the experience of meeting living relatives, very often cousins they never knew they even had.

What really sets Tar Abhaile apart is that it deals with 'living genealogy', bringing it out of the past and giving it a living present as local communities turn 'sleuth', with emotional family reunions taking place and long-lost relatives discoverd and uncovered.

Ultimately, Tar Abhaile is about real people and their unique stories, their unique journey and their unique connection with Ireland. It pivots on Reconnection, Reunion and Homecoming.

Tar Abhaile airs from November 17 @ 9.30pm, for 6 weeks, on TG4 and via


Ep 1: Marsha Thomas from Chicago discovers that her feisty ancestors courageously stood up to their British landlords and Bryan Lynch from Ayr in Australia meets Tony, a family member he never knew he had, but who has some unique information about the ancestors they have in common.

Ep 2: Brenda Cavillin from Ontario, Canada is overcome with emotion when she returns to the home of her ancestors in Tulla, Co. Clare and Blake Dickie, a Chicago native who was adopted as a baby, goes in search of blood relatives.

Ep 3: We meet Julie Evans from Sydney as she discovers how her grandmother’s grandmother ended up on a ship to Australia as a 16-year old girl in 1849 and Angie Mihalicz from Beauval in Canada, who after a long search finds and gets to walk on the land of her Irish ancestors.

Ep 4: Gayle Brosnan from Chandler, Arizona searches to understand why her ancestors fled from Castleisland, Co.Kerry in the early 1800’s and Tom Brosnahan from Auckland, New Zealand explores his dual Maori-Irish heritage as he makes his special ‘hokinga mai’…his return home to the land his grandfather left.

Ep 5: Mike Kelly from Detroit retraces his grandfathers’ steps to his old homestead, surprised to see that the past is still very much in the living present and Bill Corcoran from Tucson, Arizona connects with the relatives he discovered through DNA testing and discovers his ancestors were closely connected with the River Shannon.

Ep 6: Pat Sanderson from Yorkshire comes to Mayo for the first time and gets to know both sides of her ancestors’ family better than she had expected and Chuck Feerick Snr from Virginia, Washington introduces his son Chuck Jnr to his Irish Feerick heritage, as well as to his new Irish cousins.


The Civil War in the Midlands

A Conference on the Civil War in the Midlands is being held on Saturday, 23 November at Custume Barracks, Athlone.

The conference is being organised by the Old Athlone Society.  

For further details, email:


Coming up on next week's programme....

We focus on two new oral history collections focussing on the 1913 Lockout

And the 1916 Easter Rising



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.

A Pegasus production for RTÉ. 

Music Played on the Show

Marcia Funebre - Adagio Assai

Marcia Funebre - Adagio Assai

The Cleveland Orchestra




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Presenter: Myles Dungan

Producer: Lorcan Clancy


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