The History Show

The History Show

The History Show Sunday 15 June 2014

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

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and start of World War One

On June 28th 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in the centre of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.  It was the event which triggered World War I.

The Archduke, who was the heir to the Austria- Hungarian throne was on a state visit to the city.   But what was he doing there in the first place? Martina Relihan traced the background to the story.


 Background to the Assassination

by Martina Relihan


The Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia 

The Austro-Hungarian or Habsburg Empire was a great Catholic north European power and after the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 it occupied the two provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina bringing to an end the Ottoman Empire’s four- hundred year long involvement there.

Bosnia-Herzegovina with its complex mix of Muslims, Serbs and Croats was then, as it is now, a tricky part of the world. So why take it on?  

Austria Hungary’s interest in the occupation was purely strategic. As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, it left a power vacuum and it feared that into this power vacuum would step a Yugoslavia- A union of south Slavs -of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and that it would have to contend with this on its doorstep.

So the Austrians thought they could foil this by controlling Bosnia-Herzegovina - by moulding it to their own image and likeness as it were – so stopping Bosnian Serbs from looking to Serbia and Belgrade and Bosnian Croats from looking to Croatia and Zagreb.

But its attempt to do this ended in disaster thirty-six years later with the assassination of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand –triggering World War I and then four years after that- the obliteration of the Habsburg empire.


Gavrilo Princip

The great Hapsburg empire was brought to its knees by the assassin Gavrilo Princip who was a diminutive , impoverished Serb schoolboy.  

Gavrilo Princip was born into a little peasant hovel in Grahovo in Eastern Herzegovina in 1894.  The only light in the building was through a hole in the roof which let out the smoke.  

In 1907 when he was thirteen, he was delivered by his father into the hands of his older brother in Sarajevo to begin his secondary schooling.

In Sarajevo, Princip did the rounds of the government-sponsored schools. He was a bookish little fellow and read everything -Caesar, Dumas and Sherlock Holmes and also socialist and anarchist pamphlets.


Bogdan Zerajic

Student radicalism was developing apace in Sarajevo and the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was being increasingly questioned by cheeky schoolboys.   In 1910 – there was a sort of an eerie dress rehearsal of the 1914 assassination. On the day of the opening of the Bosnian parliament   just one block away from where the Franz Ferdinand assassination happened four years later a young man called Bogdan Zerajic fired five shots at the Governor Varesenin missed with all five and then shot himself with the sixth bullet.  

The event had a huge influence on the Serb schoolboys of the city. Zerajic developed a posthumous cult following amongst them.   Schoolboys doffed their caps as they passed the Emperor’s Bridge where the attempted assassination had occurred. His grave became a shrine. Princp visited it and put flowers on it and on another occasion a handful of Serbian soil.

Zerajic’s last words reputedly were – ‘I leave my revenge to Serbdom.’ And also made statements such as – “He who wants to live has to die. He who is ready to die will live for ever.’

Zerajic’s deed was viewed as an attempt to avenge the defeat of Serbia by the Ottoman army on June 28 1389 at Kosovo. The defeat precipitated the collapse of Serbia’s medieval empire and ushered in five hundred years of Ottoman domination.   The episode has formed a major part of south Slav epic poetry and folklore ever since.     


Build-Up to the Assassination - the Balkan Wars

These developments made a huge impression on Gavrilo Princip who decided to embark on trip to Belgrade in the spring of 1912.  This was just the scenario the authorities were trying to avoid – an impressionable Serb schoolboy in the middle of a hotbed of Serb nationalism.   He actually walked the two hundred miles from Sarajevo. When he arrived he kissed the ground of Serbia. There he socialized with other young Bosnian Serbs and became immersed in Serb nationalism.   He was in the middle of a very febrile political atmosphere.

Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria were in the middle of driving Turkish forces out of Kosovo and Macedonia. Serbia doubled its territory and set its sights on acquiring part of the Albanian coastline. Many young Serbs from all over the Balkans – including Bosnian Serbs jointed the Serb army. It was viewed by many Serbs as avenging the events in Kosovo in 1389. Princip was all set to join but when he presented himself to the Serb General Tankosic he dismissed him with a wave of his hand as being too small and skinny.

In Bosnia matters were very tense. A state of emergency was declared. Civil courts were suspended and schools closed and Serbian newspapers banned. 


The Visit of Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand’s visit was planned for 28 June 1914 on Vidovdan Day- the day on which the Kosovo battle of 1398 is celebrated. The authorities maintained it was an inadvertent choice of date but it is difficult to imagine that its provocative implications for local Serbs were not envisaged.   During the visit the Austrian army was to repel imaginary battalions of Serb troops.

The local population was in the main well disposed to Franz Ferdinand’s visit. The situation was somewhat analogous to the reception which George V got in Dublin three years earlier.  But Franz Ferdinand was a tempting target for belligerent Bosnian Serb schoolboys and so Princip, together with two other Bosnian Serb friends Cabrinovic and Grabez planned the assassination from Belgrade.

The assassins were supplied with weapons by the Black Hand – Crna Ruka – a Serb underground organization –four browning revolvers, six bombs and cyanide capsules which they were instructed to take if they succeeded in doing the deed.

Princip left Belgrade with his co-conspirators on 28th May, 1914. They had been trained in the use of their weapons. The bombs were strapped around their waists and the revolvers were in their pockets. They took a very circuitous route involving a boat trip and a lot of walking through fields and getting wet so the journey took a week. They practiced their shooting skills en route.


The Assassination and Trial

On the fateful day – June 28 1914-Princip and five other conspirators – ( all but one of them were under 20 years of age) placed themselves at various stages along the route of Franz Ferdinand’s procession of limousines. One of them Cabrinovic threw a bomb which bounced off the back of the Archduke’s car and wounded people in the car behind.   At this stage the authorities decided to change the Archduke’s route avoiding the narrow streets of the old city which they then regarded as too risky. Nobody told the Archduke’s driver who followed the original plan and turned into Franz Josef Street. When he was alerted to the change he reversed back right to the corner of the street where Princip was standing. Princip fired two shots killing both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The cynanide capsules didn’t work and Princip and his co-conspirators were dragged into custody.   

Princip was on the face of it an unlikely assassin. The investigating judge said of him at his trial that ‘It was difficult to imagine so frail-looking an individual could have committed so serious a deed. Even his clear blue eyes, burning and piercing had nothing cruel or criminal in their expression.’ He was sentenced to twenty years hard labour in Terezin in Northern Bohemia.

Gavrilo Princip died in the military hospital in Terezin on 28th April, 1918. His remains were exhumed after the war and buried in Sarajevo in a common grave together with his co-conspirators.


The Legacy of Princip

The Sarajevo assassins have been described as ‘the most disorganized and inexperienced squadron of assassins ever assembled’. The miracle is that they succeeded. Yet it would be difficult to choose a political assassination in recent history with such huge implications.

Princip certainly did not go quietly into the night. On his cell wall was scrawled the words - “Our ghosts will walk through Vienna, And roam through the palace frightening the lords.’ This isn’t as hubristic as it sounds. His ghost still roams certainly in the Balkans ,whatever about Vienna.

The legacy of Princip has proved remarkably enduring. All sorts of figures from Osama Bin Laden to Padraig Pearse have been compared to him.    His ideas were half-baked and politically untested. Probably for that very reason they are malleable and have been moulded to fit Sarajevo’s eventful and frequently tragic twentieth century. Nowhere is this more striking than at the site of the assassination itself which has endured a lot of vicissitude.

A Yugoslav polity was established after World War 1 under the King of Serbia. A plaque commemorating Princip’s deed was duly erected. The German army occupied Sarajevo in April 1941. One of its first deeds was to remove the plaque and send it to Adolf Hitler as a birthday present.

Just three years later the victorious Partisans under Tito entered the city to mass public jubilation. Almost immediately a new plaque was unveiled at the site. Princip’s Pan-Slavic ideas were liberally adapted to suit the communist regime. A museum was opened dedicated to the deed and grandly entitled – ‘Muzej Gavrila Principa I Mlade Bosne.’ – The Mueum of Gavrilo Princip and Young Bosnia and the bridge across the road from it was renamed Most Gavrila Principa. A piece of sculpture representing the footsteps of Princip was installed on the spot where he fired the fatal shot.

The 1990s war tore apart the multi-confessional fabric of Sarajevo.     Princip was redefined as a Serb nationalist in this context. Accordingly Sarajevo no longer walked in the footsteps of Princip either literally or metaphorically.   The sculptor was removed by a Bosniak paramilitary group.

Sarajevo in the post-Dayton Agreement context presents a rather truncated version of Princip’s legacy. The bridge has reverted to its earlier title – The Latin Bridge. The museum is simply Muzej Sarajevo 1878-1918. Both the title and contents are bland and deal mainly with the period of Austro-Hungarian occupation in Bosnia. The part that pertains to Princip is contained in one glass-case – his gun and the clothes he wore on the fateful day.  

A copy of the footprints sculpture is placed inside the museum. The museum does however display a comprehensive range of photographs of the assassination, trial, and its aftermath on its outside windows. This has become the focal point of attraction for tourists.


The pistol used to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The ‘Causes’ of World War 1

Where to place the Sarajevo assassination in relation to World War I?

It was undoubtedly the major contingent factor in the lead-up to the war. Historians vary in the weighting which they ascribe to it some taking the view that it merely lit the fuse of an inexorable build-up of other factors.   Others don’t subscribe to the- ‘It would have happened anyway’- school of thought.

Otto von Hapsburg

Otto van Hapsburg - Last Holy Roman Emperor

by Mary Banotti

When Otto Von Habsburg died in 2011 he was 98 and bore the oldest and most eminent dynastic name in European history. He could trace his ancestry back to the 6th century and was at one stage the pretender to the thrones of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia.

Born in Austria, he was a distinguished member of the European Parliament until 2004. A slim, energetic, charming man always addressed by the German members as Excellency despite having renounced all his titles.

I first met Otto in 1984. At that stage the Parliament had several famous names amongst the members. Von Habsburg and Von Stauffenburg and Spinelli, were probably the most famous. The presence of these colleagues were a constant reminder of why the Union was such a vital part of our future.

Otto’s first public appearance had been in 1914 when as a beautiful little boy dressed in white he walked behind the funeral of his great uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination would trigger the First World War. Otto’s father Charles succeeded Franz Joseph in 1916 whereupon Otto became the Crown Prince. His father shortly after took the family into exile.   In 1919 Austria finally deposed the Habsburgs though they kept their private fortunes and Otto’s father died in Maderia in 1922 where he at the age of 9 became head of the House of Habsbourg, the titular Duke of Lorraine and pretender to four thrones. By that stage these titles conferred no privileges in what were now four republics, but Germany continued to recognise them.

Otto as a young boy

In 1938 he still believed in his right to the throne of Austria but opposed the country’s absorption by Hitler into the Third Reich and was sentenced to death by the Nazis. He then fled to France and on to Washington DC in 1940, just before the Germans took Paris. After the war he lived in France and Spain and in 1961 finally renounced his claim to the Austrian throne.   He was allowed back to Austria in 1966. As he was also a German citizen he joined the Christian Social Union in Germany and was elected to the European Parliament in 1979. As the oldest member he was considered the father of the house.

I always enjoyed Otto because whatever issues he raised always seemed to have a faint whiff of the old Austro/Hungarian dynasty though he was unfailingly modest, elegant and polite. His notable contretemps with Ian Paisley was one of the high points of his career in Parliament. A devout Catholic he strongly objected to Paisley offending Pope John Paul II on his visit and to the appalled fascination of both the Pope and the Parliament they got into a tussle at the back of the chamber. By this stage Otto was 85 years of age and Paisley, who registered a formal complaint about an attack by another member in the house, was greeted with hoots of laughter at the thought of the elderly Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire giving him a good thump at the back of the chamber.

During one of the environmental debates about the conservation of fresh water pearls, for which we in Ireland are lucky to have a significant amount, Otto contributed to the debate remarking that the crowns of the Habsbourg dynasty were liberally adorned with fresh water pearls and they should be preserved. Not something anyone else in the Parliament could lay claim to.

Indeed we will never see his like again.

Another time at lunch we were discussing development aid of which he did not approve when he casually said, “my family have always been hugely supportive and involved with Africa, in fact my sister on her death bed said to me, Otto I am leaving you Rhodesia”. I had serious difficulty in keeping a straight face.

When he died he had three funerals which took place in Vienna, Bavaria and Budapest over a 13 day period of mourning.   There were over 1000 invited guests from all the crowned heads of Europe and over 100,000 people attended the funeral in Vienna.   His wife had predeceased him a year before. 

World War One Road Show

World War One Road Show

Trinity College Dublin on Saturday 12 July

 10am - 5pm

 Family Memorabilia Collection

Do you have a story to tell about a family member who was involved in World War One?

Do you have letters from the War, a medal, posters or other memorabilia?

Would you like these materials to be catalogued for posterity?

Families are invited to bring along World War One memorabilia to be catalogued, digitised and uploaded to an online European archive. NLI experts will be on hand to review and record your family’s memorabilia. 

Anyone who would like to participate in this event needs to register in advance.




Free events at the World War One Road Show will include:


Pop Up talks every 15 minutes throughout the day on different aspects of WW1

Academic led tours of the Trinity campus related to the period of WW1.

Last Cricket Match of Peace

The Food of World War One with Domini Kemp and Catherine Cleary - RTÉ’s Historyon a Pate team. Cookery demonstration with commentary.

Special recording of Sunday Miscellany World War One programme

Gnealogy Advice

Story telling for children

World War 1 performance directed by RTE Drama Department

 “March Away My Brothers”. The story of a young Dublin lad who enlists in the British Army at the start of WW1 – told in song and story by Brendan MacQuaile.

Closing ceremony, including 'The Last Post' and 'Reveille'

RTÉ Radio One is delighted to partner with The National Library of Ireland and Trinity College for this free event.

Howth Gun Running - Mary Spring Rice Diaries

On the 26th of July 1914, a shipment of arms landed at Howth harbour in Co. Dublin. They had been smuggled from Germany on board the Asgard, a pleasure yacht owned by Erskine Childers. The operation was organised to equip the newly-formed nationalist military organisation, the Irish Volunteers.

This summer marks the centenary of the Howth Gun Running, an important episode in the struggle for Irish independence.

One of the people involved was Mary Spring Rice, a nationalist activist. The diary that she kept on board the Asgard is a vivid account of the voyage, and offers a unique perspective on the gun running operation.

Mary Spring Rice's diary is an important historical document, as she chronicles the entire voyage of the Asgard - avoiding the British authorities, collecting the arms from a German tugboat just off the Belgian coast, and finally unloading them at Howth harbour.

Conor Mulvagh, lecturer in Irish History at University College Dublin. Tommy Graham, the editor of History Ireland magazine discussed the Howth Gun Runnng.

The person wearing the white jumper is Mary Spring Rice and facing her to the right is Erskine Childers.

Other useful links:

1950 World Cup

Eoghan Corry talked about the last time Brazil hosted the World Cup in 1950.  

Ireland was invited to participate but declined because of cost and that it would interfere with the players' holidays.


National Museum Centenary of Howth Gun Running

The National Museum at Collins Barracks is holding a day of talks at Collins Barracks on the 26th July on the anniversary of the Howth Gun-Running.

The speakers, include Michael Laffan, Padraig Yeates, Rory Childers and Theo Dorgan. 

The Asgard 

Check out the National Museum's website nearer the time for more details.

The conserved 1914 Howth gun running vessel is on display at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks

750th anniversary of first Irish Parliament

Wednesday June 18, 2014 marks the 750th anniversary of the first documented sitting of an administrative gathering to call itself a parliament in Ireland of which an original contemporaneous manuscript record remains accessible.

First parliament Alani Registerum - Tristledermord 1264

The historic meeting took place in Tristledermod – modern day Castldermot, Co.Kildare.

This month’s History Ireland carries a feature article about the topic written by Paul Horan.

Next Wednesday, 18 July from 11.45-1.15pm to mark the 750th anniversary of the first Irish parliament, the Seanad will hold a special debate!!

Check out this Youtube footage of Paul Horan's presentation at History Ireland Festival 2014 in Huntington Castle on Castledermot 750 and Carlow 650 - two very important towns administratively in Plantagenet Ireland (Seat of First Parliament 1264 and Administrative Capital 1364 – 1394).  Click here for Paul Horan's presentation on You Tube

First parliament Liber Niger Folio Image

Sligo World War One Exhibition

Sligo World War 1 Project Challenges Official County Death Figures

Almost a 50% Difference Between Official Figure & New List

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Scott of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rangers was the first person to sign a book of condolences that was opened at the launch of the “News from the Past” World War 1 Exhibition in Sligo this week. 

The book of condolences is in honour the 550 men and women from Sligo that lost their lives in World War 1. 

This project which has been funded by the PEACE III Programme through the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund and managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Sligo County Council on behalf of Sligo Peace & Reconciliation Partnership Committee is all about the men and women from Sligo who were caught up in the conflict of World War 1 and their families.

One of the most central elements of this project is the publication of a  list of Sligo Fatalities in the war.  Brian Scanlon, a member of the Sligo Peace & Reconciliation Partnership Committee and also a member of the Sligo Military History Association has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years collating and verifying the list of people from Sligo who were killed in combat during the First World War. 

As a result of his work it has been found that the official figure of 370 WW1 fatalities from Sligo is actually far higher - it is in fact 548. Speaking about his research, Scanlon said;     “I have dedicated 20 years of research into creating a list of Sligo Fatalities from World War 1.  Over the years different families have contacted me with names of their loved ones, however, only when it could be proved that death 370*2occurred as a result of their participation during the war, were names added to the list.” In light of this, there is surely a question over the accuracy of the official World War 1 Irish Death toll figure of 49,000. The News From the Past exhibition is packed full of World War 1 memorabilia including – photos, medals, widows pennies, uniforms, press clippings as well as stories from people from all over Sligo who were caught up in the conflict. The exhibition is a fine tribute to the people of Sligo and contains some never before seen memorabilia such as:

  • the Military Cross awarded to Captain John Ritty (23.6.1916) plus campaign medals
  • an original German Pickelhuabe Prussian Officers leather helmet
  • an original German military helmet
  • an original French military helmet
  • an original English military officers trench cap with insignia from the Intelligence Corp.
  • an original English military officers trench-coat
  • an original English military jerkin as used by the personnel for carrying four 'live' artillery shells
  • a replica Webley revolver plus handbook for use
  • a replica Lee-Enfield rifle
  • an original English artillery wood saw with scabbard plus an original trench wire cutters as used in the trenches
  • the last Will and Testament of Captain Thomas Crofton
  • the original Roll of Honor from Henry Lyons shop, O'Connell Street, Sligo
  • a number of original glass negatives from the Kilgannon studios
  • Eighteen exhibition panels featuring;
    • the names of the 547 Sligo men and 1 woman killed in combat
    • the insignia badges of all 18 Irish Regiments which served in the British army during WW1
    • stories of Sligo men from different backgrounds who fought during WW1
    • the role played by the women of Sligo during WW1
    • over 100+ newspaper clippings of articles relating to Sligo during WW1
    • numerous photographs, some from private collections
    • original postcards
    • original personal papers
    • original artillery shells
  • a multi media presentation of the Foley Collection

The exhibition runs until the beginning of September. 

For more information see

Ecumenical Service for Ireland's WW1 Veterans

Ecumenical Service for Ireland's World War 1 Veterans 1914-1918 - Time to remember

Sunday 29th June 2014 @ 2.30pm

St. Laurence's Church, Upper Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co Dublin

Welcome Home

This ecumenical service is to honour, acknowledge and remember Ireland's World War 1 veterans. The theme of the service is "Welcome Home".

This is a public event and those attending are being asked to bring a single stem flower of their choice to remember a World War 1 Veteran. WW1 medals may also be worn. The music is being provided by St. George's Brass Band. School children will participate in the service by acknowledging the vital role of women and also the animals in the war.

The participants in the service are the relatives of WW1 veterans which includes the adult children of Ireland's WW1 veterans. There will be readings by WW1 veterans’ relatives which will give a sense of the experience of those who enlisted and/or volunteered from Ireland.

The service will also remember those who were killed and/or went missing with the participation of the British Legion.


The ecumenical service is part of a fully voluntary project to list Ireland's World War 1 veterans who for many years were either forgotten and/or ignored.

It seemed History did not allow it but the time has come to remember them. There are thirty thousand names listed on a web based database - and the names come from all over Ireland.

Research was carried out in which it was discovered there was no one comprehensive list of those who returned home following the end of the war.

This is an island of Ireland project and it is hoped the names from the project will be used as the basis for a memorial wall located in Dublin and in Belfast.

Sabina Purcell email:


World War One programmes.....

The History Show is now finished its Spring season we will be back on air in September.

In the meantime, look out for our special programmes about the Irish and World War One which will be broadcast in August as follows:

4 August:  1.30-3pm

10 August: 10-11am

17 August: 10-11am

24 August: 10-11am

30 August: 10-11am


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. 



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Presenter: Myles Dungan

Producer: Lorcan Clancy

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