The Summer Talks series at the National Library of Ireland ran for seven consecutive weeks, from July 26 to September 8.
At the start, we promised you in joyous Joycean terms, to deliver a glorious gallimaufry of guest speakers exploring aspects of Irish Family History. The speakers this summer included some of the leading creative artists, scholars and activists in Ireland, discussing how their work intersects with Irish Family History. The enthusiastic feedback we received from our audience, signals we got the balance right.
Our first speaker, Sinead McCoole is an author & broadcaster, and a member of the Government of Ireland’s 2016 Commemorative team. McCoole discussed the role of Irish women in the Revolutionary era 1913-23. In a wonderfully erudite talk, McCoole disclosed that many local and family historians had for over a century preserved the history of the Revolutionary generation and only now opened their private collections to public view in 2016.
Our second speaker, Dermot Bolger, is one of Ireland’s more notable writers. Since the 1980s Bolger has written about contemporary Ireland, focusing often on a sense of place, and sometimes of feeling displaced – by urbanisation, by events, by history. Bolger spoke about how he drew inspiration for his most recent book, Lonely Sea & Sky, from his family history. In WWII Bolger’s father was a merchant seaman in Wexford, who recounted memorable stories of life-at-sea, including the rescue of 160 German sailors by an Irish vessel and the dangerous journey home to a neutral Irish port.
In week Two, Paul McCotter, spoke on Territory, maps and genealogy. In Irish history boundaries, territories and loyalties have changed over time. Records are often archived and stored by old territorial names and divisions no longer in use. McCotter showed how to pin down a family or person of interest to a place at a given time – as many people will attest, one of the most difficult things to achieve in genealogical research.
Our next talk was given by this writer who spoke about how collaboration between family historians and researchers from different disciplines (archaeology, medical genetics) can unlock the full potential of each discipline. Citing a recent case-study, I demonstrated the real-world application of genealogy research skills, and how it facilitated greater precision in a medical study; and averted shutting down a building site on a difficult restoration project, which would have had huge cost implications for all involved. So it’s true! Family history can save your sanity, and your bank-balance!
One of the great themes of the 2016 Summer talks, was that family history allows us to recover the personal stories of families and communities. Damian Shiels, spoke about researching Famine Irish immigrants to America, particularly those who subsequently fought in the American Civil War. Shiels held the floor with good old-fashioned story-telling, and revealed a few stories from his new book – The Forgotten Irish. It was easy to see why music icon Cher name-checked Shiel’s The Irish in the American Civil War, in The Grauniad as an essential book.
Next up was Eleanor Fitzsimons, speaking on Oscar Wilde. Fitzsimons’s talk reiterated our central theme of recovering the stories of individuals, through research.
We all think we know Oscar Wilde. He achieved fame as a writer, playwright, editor, journalist, public wit and society figure. He lived his life publicly and was publicly disgraced when his sexuality was exposed in Victorian Britain. Fitzsimons has achieved something extraordinary, in that she has recovered an aspect of Oscar Wilde’s personality, that has been publicly forgotten as we focus, perhaps overmuch on his sexuality. Wilde was hugely influenced by his own mother Speranza, and throughout his life he had strong friendships and relationships of trust with many women. The women Wilde chose to surround himself with were educated, cultured, talented, many of them artists, writers, actresses, and free-thinkers. It’s lovely to find something new, about a figure we all think we know so well!
Check back in with us, as more podcasts become available online.