The History Show

The History Show

Sunday, 6pm

The History Show Sunday 8 December 2013

History Books for Christmas

This week, we asked our guests to suggest history books that they reckon would make a good Christmas present for someone in your life.

Our guests were historians, Lisa Marie Griffith and Donal Fallon along with Fiona Ross, director of the National Library and author, Robert O’Byrne who came armed with lots of ideas for those Christmas stockings.    We also heard recommendations from the public as told to James Keating.

Lisa Marie Griffith - Selected Books

Christmas: A Very Peculiar History by Fiona McDonald (Book House, 2010) (Children’s)

Just when you thought it was safe to take a sneak peek into your stocking, it's 'Christmas: A Very Peculiar History'. Taking an unbiased view of the myth and mystery surrounding the origins of the yuletide season, this book introduces mindbending facts about the holiday season and shatters the myths surrounding some of Christmas' most treasured and well-known facets: When exactly was Jesus born? Why is Santa's outfit red and white? Where do we get Christmas trees from? What's the snow in a snowglobe made of? What's Boxing Day all about?

'Christmas: A Very Peculiar History' takes a sideways look at bizarre yuletide customs and stories from around the world, such as Santa's evil sidekick, the terrifying Krampus, and the Scandinavian celebration of Saint Lucy. So leave the mince pies on the mantlepiece if you've been good and block up your chimneys if you've been bad, because 'Christmas: A Very Peculiar History' is here. 

Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction by Tracy Borman (Jonathan Cape, 2013)

In Belvoir Castle, the heir of one of England's great noble families falls suddenly and dangerously ill. His body is 'tormented' with violent convulsions. Within a few short weeks he will suffer an excruciating death. Soon the whole family will be stricken with the same terrifying symptoms. The second son, the last male of the line, will not survive.

It is said witches are to blame. And so the Earl of Rutland's sons will not be the last to die.

Witches traces the dramatic events which unfolded at one of England's oldest and most spectacular castles four hundred years ago. The case is among those which constitute the European witch craze of the 15th-18th centuries, when suspected witches were burned, hanged, or tortured by the thousand. Like those other cases, it is a tale of superstition, the darkest limits of the human imagination and, ultimately, injustice - a reminder of how paranoia and hysteria can create an environment in which nonconformism spells death. But as Tracy Borman reveals here, it is not quite typical. The most powerful and Machiavellian figure of the Jacobean court had a vested interest in events at Belvoir.He would mastermind a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries.


Earth Voices Whispering: An Anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914-1945 by Gerald Dawe (The Blackstaff Press, 2013)

In the first half of the twentieth century, the men and women of Ireland experienced the brutal realities of a succession of wars - from the unrelenting casualties of the First World War, to the domestic upheavals of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War; from the romantic idealism of the Spanish Civil War, to the unimaginable horrors of the Second World War. 

Earth Voices Whispering gathers together, for the very first time, a wide range of poetic voices that chart the human experiences of these wars. Featuring over two hundred and fifty poems by celebrated poets such as Francis Ledwidge, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and including new poems by Derek Mahon and Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, the anthology records the thoughts and experiences of poets as soldiers, patriots, observers, protestors, medics and mourners. From patriotism to anger, passion to compassion, hope to regret, this groundbreaking new anthology embraces the complex reality of a rich, unique and historically overlooked period in Irish poetry. 


Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women by Carol Dyhouse(Zed books, 2013)

Horror, scandal and moral panic! Obsession with the conduct of young women has permeated society for over a hundred years. Be it over flappers, beat girls, dolly birds or ladettes, public outrage at girls' perceived misbehaviour has been a mass-media staple with each changing generation. Eminent social historian Carol Dyhouse examines what it really meant to be a girl growing up in the swirl of twentieth-century social change in this detailed and empathetic history. She draws from a dazzling array of sources to piece together the story of girlhood, clearly demonstrating the value of feminism and other liberating cultural shifts in expanding girls' aspirations and opportunities, in spite of the controversy that has accompanied these freedoms. This is a sparkling, panoramic account of the ever-evolving opportunities and challenges for girls, the new ways they have able to present and speak up for themselves, and the popular hysteria that has frequently accompanied their progress.


Empires of the Dead: How one man’s vision led to the creation of WWI’s war graves by David Crane (William Collins)

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction; the extraordinary and forgotten story behind the building of the First World War cemeteries, due to the efforts of one remarkable and visionary man, Fabian Ware.

Before WWI, little provision was made for the burial of the war dead. Soldiers were often unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave; officers shipped home for burial.

The great cemeteries of WWI came about as a result of the efforts of one inspired visionary. In 1914, Fabian Ware joined the Red Cross, working on the frontline in France. Horrified by the hasty burials, he recorded the identity and position of the graves. His work was officially recognised, with a Graves Registration Commission being set up. As reports of their work became public, the Commission was flooded with letters from grieving relatives around the world.

Critically acclaimed author David Crane gives a profoundly moving account of the creation of the great citadels to the dead, which involved leading figures of the day, including Rudyard Kipling. It is the story of cynical politicking, as governments sought to justify the sacrifice, as well as the grief of nations, following the ‘war to end all wars’.



Vintage Values - Classic Pamphlet Cover Design from 20th Century Ireland By Lir MacCarthaig ( Veritas, 2013)

This selection of cover art from the Veritas archive of Catholic Truth Society (CTS) pamphlets is nothing short of a revelation. This gift book showcases over one hundred high-quality pamphlet covers from the archives of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland.

The collection unearths striking designs and illustrations by some of Ireland’s most inventive commercial artists from the 1920s to the 1960s, and offers a unique insight into Irish culture in the middle years of the twentieth century. Featuring works by artists such as George Altendorf, Karl Uhlemann and George Monks, this 128 page book is packed with eye-popping design. Titles featured include Don t Marry a Catholic!, Shall I Be a Nun?, Shall I Start to Drink?, Sister Felicitas Wins a Bicycle and many more.


Folktales of Waterford by Anne Farrell (Irish History Press, 2013)

Irish History Press have a fantastic folktales series that focuses on the folk stories of particular counties. They have about 12 counties covered including Waterford and Dublin.

The mountains and spectacular coastline of County Waterford are rich in traditional stories. Even in the modern world, old legends dating as far back as the days of the ancient Gaelic tribes, the carvers of the ogham stones, retain their power and resonance, and in this book they are gathered together in a collection of tales from across the county. Included are the tales of the legendary figures of Aoife and Strongbow, St Declan and the three river goddesses, together with stories of some of the less well-known characters such as Petticoat Loose, whose ghost is said to still roam the county, and the Republican Pig, who was unfortunate enough to become caught up in the siege of Waterford. In this vivid journey through Waterfords folklore, local storyteller Anne Farrell takes the reader to a place where legend and landscape intertwine.

Fiona Ross - Selected Books

Terror and discord: the Shemus cartoons in the Freeman's Journal, 1920-1924 by Felix M. Larkin (A & A Farmar)

This book introduces us to Ernest Forbes, author of the Shemus cartoons published in the Freeman's Journal between 1920 and 1924. While the cartoons are only part of Ernest's total output, they provide a neat take on the political state of Ireland in those years. Felix M Larkin provides us with a valuable analysis of both the man and this portion of his work. We not only have the cartoons as they appeared on newsprint in the paper; we also have the original artworks thanks to the vision of the National Library in acquiring them. The selection in the book includes not only political cartoons but also some of Shemus's caricature portraits. One political cartoon which Felix describes as "troubling" is of the Grim Reaper reporting success to Sir Henry Wilson, following a "Belfast orgy of sabotage and slaughter" for which the Freemans's Journal (and Shemus) held Wilson responsible. Wilson was shot in London just a fortnight after the cartoon was published.


Ireland, 1641: contexts and reactions /edited by Micheál Ó Siochrú & Jane Ohlmeyer (Manchester University Press)

The 1641 rebellion is one of the seminal events in Early Modern Irish and British history. Its divisive legacy, based primarily on the sharply contested allegation that the rebellion began with a general massacre of Protestant settlers, is still evident in Ireland today. Indeed, the 1641 'massacres', like the battles at the Boyne (1690) and Somme (1916), played a key role in creating and sustaining a collective Protestant/ British identity in Ulster, in much the same way that the subsequent Cromwellian conquest in the 1650s helped forge a new Irish Catholic national identity.

The original and wide-ranging themes chosen by leading international scholars for this volume will ensure that this edited collection becomes required reading for all those interested in the history of early modern Europe. It will also appeal to those engaged in early colonial studies in the Atlantic world and beyond, as the volume adopts a genuinely comparative approach throughout, examining developments in a broad global context.


Long Walk to Freedom – the autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Abacus)

The famously taciturn South African president reveals much of himself in Long Walk to Freedom.

A good deal of this autobiography was written secretly while Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island by South Africa's apartheid regime. Among the book's interesting revelations is Mandela's ambivalence toward his lifetime of devotion to public works.   It cost him two marriages and kept him distant from a family life he might otherwise have cherished. 

Long Walk to Freedom also discloses a strong and generous spirit that refused to be broken under the most trying circumstances--a spirit in which just about everybody can find something to admire.


Small lives: photographs of Irish childhood, 1860-1970 edited by Aoife O'Connor (Gill & MacMillan)

 Small Lives presents a photographic portrait of Irish childhood in the decades between 1860 and 1970. Drawn from the collections of the National Library of Ireland, and based on their extremely successful exhibition of the same name, Small Lives offers an eclectic survey of Irish childhood as captured by the camera. Many of the images are previously unpublished and provide an added dimension to the written records, revealing how children were perceived and presented visually. In part it is also a history of the craft of photography; the ways in which children are portrayed change as much with the mechanics of cameras as they do with the mores of the society in which they live. Formal studio portraits are set alongside family albums and photo-journalism, revealing a variety of experiences over the century and across the island. This glimpse into Irish childhood is joyful, nostalgic and, at times, affecting.


The Irish Revolution 1912-25: an illustrated history by Fergal Tobin (Gill & MacMillan)

This generously illustrated popular history looks backward and forward from the Rising and surveys the entire period of the Irish Revolution. Beginning with the Ulster crisis of 1912, it traces the turbulent events of the following years down to the final report of the Boundary Commission in 1925 which stabilised the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Naturally, the Easter Rising of 1916 is the central event. It is often thought of as a foundation event, but it was not. It was transformative, however. Irish nationalism had been a potent force since the 1790s but the Rising and its consequences raised the stakes to new and previously unimagined heights. The more the stakes were raised by nationalist Ireland, however, the more likely it became that the unionists of Ulster could not be accommodated, so that republicanism and partition marched hand in hand. This is one of the tragic ironies of the whole story. The Ireland that emerged from the revolutionary period is the Ireland with which we are all so familiar. The series of events, so vividly described in this book and so generously illustrated with photographs and maps, have made the island that we know.


Transforming 1916: meaning, memory and the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising by Roisín Higgins (Cork University Press)

Transforming 1916 explores the meaning and memory of the Easter Rising in 1966 and the way in which history operated in Ireland at a moment of rapid change. Transforming 1916 looks at the commemorative process through parades, statues, pageants, television programmes, exhibitions and documentary film; and considers the tensions present north and south of the border. It argues that the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising was not, in fact, an unrestrained celebration of Ireland's past but represented instead an attempt by the Irish government to convey a message of modernisation and economic progress. Transforming 1916 casts light on what 1916 means in Ireland and illuminates the politics of commemoration as the centenary of the Rising approaches.

Donal Fallon - Selected Books

Peadar O'Donnell - The Gates Flew Upon (Mercier Press). A classic memoir just back in print)

Peadar O'Donnell became involved in Irish Republicanism through his initial involvement in socialism, as an organiser for the ITGWU. When he was unsuccessful in establishing a branch of the Irish Citizen Army in Derry he joined the IRA and led Guerilla activities in Donegal and Derry during the War of Independence.

He was firmly opposed to the treaty signed at the end of the war and wrote 'The middle class was getting all they wanted, namely the transfer of patronage from Dublin Castle to the Irish parliament. The mere control of patronage did not seem to me sufficient reason for the struggle we had been through.' He was a member of the executive of the anti-treaty IRA, and was in the Four Courts when it was attacked by the Free State forces. He was arrested shortly afterwards and was involved in organising a hunger strike among the anti-treaty Republicans which lasted 41 days. It was while in prison that he began writing 'to escape the bare walls of the prison cell' and this is a story of prison life in the midst of Civil War in Ireland that combines glimpses of humour with moments of tragic poignancy as he describes games of handball and bridge with men who faced the firing squad withing twenty-four hours.

O'Donnell was one of the last survivors of the Independece struggle in Ireland, retaining his radicalism and idealism right up to his death in 1986 at the age of 93.

Revolution in Dublin: A Photographic HIstory 1913-1923 by Liz Gillis (Mercier Press) 

The period 1913-23 in Dublin encompassed the Lockout, the Home Rule debates, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. These iconic events not only created the Ireland we live in today, but also helped generate change around the world. In these years Ireland went from being a loyal dominion of Great Britain to being the country that would initiate the demise of her Empire. The period has generated intrigue, excitement, inspiration and anger among generations of people and interest in the period shows no sign of waning. Much has been written on the iconic events and key figures of the period, but this book shows through fascinating photographs the story of the thousands of ordinary people who were involved in all these events, either as active participants, or those just trying to live through the upheaval. It gives a fascinating insight into the Dublin of the day and the lives of the people who lived there.


Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome: Life in Medieval Ireland by Finbar Dwyer (New Island)

The history of the Middle Ages [in Ireland] is so neglected that the only figure of renown is Strongbow, the man who led the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the twelfth century ... There is little written about the lives of majority of men, who held no title or land, and even less about women ... Indeed, so neglected are these people in history that many of the stories and people recounted ... haven’t been heard of in centuries.” In a society born of conquest, beset with famines and plagues, and where the staples of life were everything from spies and corruption to witch trials and warfare, life in medieval Ireland was seldom dull. In Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome, Finbar Dwyer offers a unique portrait of life as it was lived in medieval Ireland. Against the backdrop of what was often a violent and chaotic period of history, Dwyer explores the personal stories of those whose recollections have been preserved, finding in them continual relevance and human interest. Finbar Dwyer is a Dublin-based historian, archaeologist and blogger. He is the founder of the successful, which focuses primarily on medieval Irish history. He organises specialist tours of medieval Dublin and Ireland, while continuing to research and write about our medieval past.

A Portrait of Dublin in Maps by Muiris deBuitléir (Gill & McMillan)

A Portrait of Dublin in Maps is a unique piece of work. Most countries produce large, comprehensive national atlases, but no similar atlas has been produced for any major city. Each map covers a single view of the whole city at a relatively small scale, covering a single theme or subject, so that patterns and interrelationships can be appreciated and the structure and working of the city can be better understood. The atlas deals with intangible things, such as social class, economic status, politics and religion, and also hidden things, such as the city s geology, drainage, water and electricity supply. It also deals with the past, providing a comprehensible picture of how Dublin developed over time.

The internet provides access to a massive amount of information relating to the city of Dublin, but most of it is diffuse and difficult to locate, handle and compare. By contrast, this atlas contains between its covers a vast array of information which is clear and whose parts are directly comparable because of the standard form and scale of each map and the comprehensive range of themes covered. This ground-breaking book will delight native Dubliners and visitors to the city alike. Every major city in Europe should have one.


Dublin Cinemas: A Pictorial Selection' by Jim Keenan (Picture House Publications)

Dublin Cinemas: A Pictorial Selection features forty-three of Dublin?s oldest and best-loved cinemas. The images evoke memories of an earlier pre-television era when each suburb had its own local cinema, and eight cinemas graced O?Connell Street. Most of these old cinemas have long since vanished, but this pictorial compilation records a selection of them for posterity. It includes not only the luxurious downtown venues, but also some of the city?s notorious ?flea pits?. While most of the photographs are of cinema facades, some show the ornately-decorated interiors. The magnificent, original auditoria of two Super Cinemas, the Theatre Royal and the Savoy, are particularly well illustrated. Although the book is mainly devoted to cinema buildings, it is also illustrated with maps, advertisements, and photographs of cinema staff. Augmented with short commentaries, it provides a varied and valuable record of some of Dublin?s most memorable cinemas.


Blasphemers and Blackguards: The Irish Hellfire Clubs by David Ryan (Merrion)

Prostitutes, pimps, cutpurses, murderers and bawdy houses…. What were the hellfire clubs of 18th-century Ireland? Were they really élite groups who engaged in obscene orgies, devil worship and the ritual murder of servants? These questions have intrigued virtually everyone who has visited the supposed hellfire club meeting place in the Dublin Mountains, or heard the lurid stories that are associated with it. Cutting through this veil of myth and legend, Blasphemers & Blackguards: The Irish Hellfire Clubs reveals the truth about these mysterious societies.

Robert O'Byrne - Selected Books

Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon, 1710-1715: The Bastards Triumphant by Lucy Norton (1500 Books LLC)

The Duc de Saint-Simon was at the very centre of Louis XIV's court at Versailles, a hotbed of intrigue, passion, jealousy, and political skullduggery. He was a genuinely pious and honest man whose unblinking record of the court -- his eye-witness testimony of wars, intrigues, and royal visits -- make this a supreme work of art. These memoirs were the literary inspiration for Marcel Proust's own masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.


Seventy Years Young: Memories of Elizabeth, Countess of Fingall (originally published 1937) (Lilliput Press)

“Justifiably described as one of the great Anglo-Irish memoirs." - The Irish Times.

First published in 1937, it's Daisy Fingall's own story, welcoming you to a world long gone. With all the power of first-class fiction, in Kileen Castle, County Meath, we meet the leading figures of Daisy's time - Parnell, Edward VII, AE, Shaw, Moore, Yeats, and so many more


Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 (Vintage)

These fascinating early diaries of Count Harry Kessler—patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, soldier, secret agent, and diplomat—present a sweeping panorama of the arts and politics of Belle Époque Europe, a glittering world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War. Kessler’s immersion in the new art and literature of Paris, London, and Berlin unfolds in the first part of the diaries. This refined world gives way to vivid descriptions of the horrific fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts of World War I, the intriguing private discussions among the German political and military elite about the progress of the war, as well as Kessler’s account of his role as a diplomat with a secret mission in Switzerland. Profoundly modern and often prescient, Kessler was an erudite cultural impresario and catalyst who as a cofounder of the avant-garde journal Pan met and contributed articles about many of the leading artists and writers of the day. In 1903 he became director of the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, determined to make it a center of aesthetic modernism together with his friend the architect Henry van de Velde, whose school of design would eventually become the Bauhaus. When a public scandal forced his resignation in 1906, Kessler turned to other projects, including collaborating with the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the German composer Richard Strauss on the opera Der Rosenkavalier and the ballet The Legend of Joseph, which was performed in 1914 by the Ballets Russes in London and Paris. In 1913 he founded the Cranach-Presse in Weimar, one of the most important private presses of the twentieth century.

James Lees-Milne: Diaries – 1942-54 (Several publishers)

James Lees-Milne (1908-97) made his name as the country house expert of the National Trust and for being a versatile author. But he is now best known for the remarkable diary he kept for most of his adult life, which has been compared with that of Samuel Pepys and hailed as 'a treasure of contemporary English literature'.


The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman 1939-1993 (Knoph Publishing Group)

A remarkable life and a remarkable voice emerge from the journals, letters, and memoirs of Leo Lerman: writer, critic, editor at Condé Nast, and man about town at the center of New York’s artistic and social circles from the 1940s until his death in 1994. Lerman’s contributions to the world of the arts were large and varied: he wrote on theater, dance, music, art, books, and movies for publications as diverse as Mademoiselle and The New York Times. He was features editor at Vogue and editor in chief of Vanity Fair. He launched careers and trends, exposing the American public to new talents, fashions, and ideas.

+ He was a legendary party host as well, counting Marlene Dietrich, Maria Callas, and Truman Capote among his intimates, and celebrities like Cary Grant, Jackie Onassis, Isak Dinesen, and Margot Fonteyn as part of his larger circle. But his personal accounts and correspondence reveal him also as having an unusually rich and complex private life, mourning the cultivated émigré world of 1930s and 1940s New York City, reflecting on being Jewish and an openly homosexual man, and intimately evoking his two most important lifelong relationships. From a man whose literary icon was Marcel Proust comes an unparalleled social and emotional history. With eloquence, insight, and wit, he filled his journals and letters with acute assessments, gossip, and priceless anecdotes while inimitably recording both our larger cultural history and his own moving private story.


Sir Jonah Barrington: Personal Sketches of His Own Times (originally published 1827-32)

Sir Jonah Barrington (born at Knapton, Abbeyleix 1760; died at Versailles, France on 8 April 1834), was one of no fewer than sixteen children; six at least, and probably seven, were sonsof John Barrington, a landowner in County Laois.  

An Irish lawyer, judge and politician, he is most notable for his amusing and popular memoirs of life in late 18th-century Ireland; for his opposition to the Act of Union in 1800; and for his removal from the judiciary by both Houses of the Parliament in 1830, still a unique event.

Coming Up on Next Week's Programme

With the season of nostalgia nearly upon us, we explore the appeal of the past.




Wolfe Tone and the culture of suicide in 18th century Ireland


January Book Club

Our book club choice for January is:

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.

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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