Daniel O’Connell Summer School, 26 -27 August 2016

Report & Contents

Opening remarks

Kerry and 1916

Ireland at Mid-Century

The Daniel O’Connell Lecture

Jack O’Shea remembers

Recording O’Connell and his World

1916: Wider Contexts

Kerry’s Cycling Tradition in History and Fiction

O’Connell’s Kerry

Mass for the deceased members of the O’Connell family

Closing Remarks

The next O’Connell Summer School will take place on 25/26th August 2017

Opening Remarks

The Daniel O’Connell Summer School 2016 took place on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th August in Cahersiveen and Derrynane. At the opening session in the main reading room in the Library in Cahersiveen, Professor Maurice Bric, Director of the School, welcomed everyone, and the members of the O’Connell family in particular,  and hoped that those attending would enjoy and be stimulated by the speakers and the diversity of themes.

The School was opened by John O’Donoghue, former TD, Minister and Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil. He spoke of O’Connell’s empathy with the people, his deep love of nature and of hare hunting in particular and ‘the immense and brutal criticism’ he received at the hands of the British establishment. He said that O’Connell knew himself and could identify himself. He also gave Ireland an identity. He mentioned that it was Sean O’Faolain who reported that when a school boy was asked ‘Who was Daniel O’Connell’, the boy replied ‘O’Connell was the man who discovered Ireland’.

Kerry and 1916


Owen O’Shea, Communications Officer with Kerry County Council and co-author of the recently published Kerry and 1916, introduced the next session of the School which focussed on the contribution of South Kerry to the 1916 Rising. Junior Murphy,Co-Chair of the Organising Committee, summarised the involvement of men such as J F O’Shea, Denis Hanly, Con Keating, Thomas and Patrick O’Donoghue, Eugene and Timothy Riordan, Denis Daly and Danny Casey in the Rising and their subsequent careers.

Professor Bridget Laffan, Director of the Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European Institute in Florence, spoke about her grandfather, Mortimer O’Connell, who was born in Ballinaskelligs in 1894 and whose father was employed in the cable station. A fluent Irish speaker, he was educated in Blackrock College, where he won a Leinster Senior cup medal in 1911, University College Dublin and joined the Customs and Excise service in 1914. He became involved with the Gaelic League and the Irish Volunteers and was sworn into the IRB in 1913. He was a member of F Company, under the leadership of Fionán Lynch. His involvement in the 1916 Rising began on the Saturday when he was ordered to guard Bulmer Hobson who opposed the timing of the rebellion. On Sunday he brought rifles from the Howth gun running from Mountjoy Place to Blackhall Place hidden on a bicycle. F Company was responsible for the area around Smithfield. There was not much fighting until the Thursday of Easter week when they came under intense fire. Retreating to the Four Courts, they surrendered there and were taken as prisoners to Stafford gaol and then to Frongoch in Wales. Following his release, Mortimer was rearrested in Cork and sent to Bearhaven where he became the leader of the prisoners. He escaped in 1920 and according to his sister Annie, came over the Cork and Kerry mountains dressed as a woman. After Independence, O’Connell became a civil servant on the staff of the Oireachtas. He became Clerk of the Dáil in 1948 and died in office in 1956. A keen sportsman, he had a reputation as one of the few men who could successfully arm wrestle Michael Collins! A letter that he wrote to his future wife, Josephine Keating, on the eve of the 1916 Rising, when he was 22 years old, survives. In it he wrote that he was not a coward and that he was prepared to die as ‘the cause must not be lost for want of support’ and he expressed his enduring love for her. Fortunately, he survived and they married in 1923 and had four daughters.

Michael Clifford, a well known commentator and journalist with the Irish Examiner, spoke about his grand-uncle Thomas Clifford who fought with the Irish Citizen Army in 1916. Clifford was born in 1894 at Clahane near Cahersiveen and the family had a farm and a shop in the town. At the age of 19 he went to Dublin and began working in Pimms, one of the largest shops in the city. He played football for Charles J Kickham’s and joined the G Company of the Irish Volunteers. G Company was assigned to Jacob’s Mill but Clifford was sent to Phibsboro to retrieve guns. Under fire, he went into St Stephen’s Green and joined the Citizen’s Army, who were encamped there under the leadership of Michael Mallon. Clifford didn’t know any of his fellow insurgents and did not leave a statement with the Military History Society. He did apply for a pension and his application provides some information about his activities that week. On Thursday, the insurgents retreated to the Royal College of Surgeons and Clifford acted as a sniper and according to his own testimony, ‘with positive results’. He was captured and sent to Stafford gaol and then to Frongoch from where he was released the following August. He received a hero’s welcome at the train station on his return to Cahersiveen. He opened a shop in Tralee and he played a prominent role during the War of Independence. He was arrested three times and went on hunger strike. According to the statement he made in application for a pension, he was responsible for the execution of two spies. He was also involved in the assault on Ballyheigue Castle. He was not involved in the Civil War but his brother Dan fought on the Republican side and was shot with two others as they came out of a house near Carhan.  Tom Clifford subsequently returned to Clahane and was known in the town as ‘Tom 16’. He died in 1970 during a very cold winter – it was so cold that the honorary firing party could not make it to his funeral.

Dr Dermot Lynch, medical practitioner, spoke about his father Fionán Lynch who was born in 1889 in Kilmikeran.  An Irish speaker whose parents were both teachers, he was educated in Kilmikeran National School, at St Brendan’s College in Killarney, Rockwell College and Blackrock College, with a view to becoming a medical doctor. However, in 1907 his father died and the family’s circumstances were greatly reduced. Fionán qualified as a teacher, taught in Dublin, joined the Gaelic League and in 1913 joined the Irish Volunteers. He became an officer in 1st company of F battalion, taking over duties from its captain Jack Shouldice when he had to lie low. The authorities were aware of Lynch’s ‘undesirable activities’ and wrote to the Principal of his school. Advised to give up his membership of the Volunteers, he stopped training with F Company for a while but continued to be involved. On the eve of the rebellion, he was a reluctant guard of Bulmer Hobson, who was only to be released when the rising started. He was with F Company in King Street when the Rising began. It was one of the most fiercely contested areas of the city. Following surrender, he was sent to Portland prison and then to Frongoch. Following the general release in August 1916, he returned to Dublin where he played more of a political than a military role. He was arrested in 1917 after speaking at the anniversary of Roger Casement’s execution. In prison with Austin Stack, he went on hunger strike and helped Stack’s escape. Finally released from prison following the ceasefire in 1921, he was a member of the secretariat for the Treaty negotiations. Although a republican, he was also a pragmatist who supported the Treaty and was prepared to bide his time. He successfully stood for the Dáil on a number of occasions. He qualified as a barrister and subsequently became a judge, retiring in 1959. He died in 1966.

Ireland at Mid-Century


Rhona Richman Kenneally, Professor of Design and Computation Art at Concordia University Montreal, spoke about a different Ireland, one that was shaped and changed by the impact of women. She began her presentation quoting from an article by Helen Howard, a columnist with An Grianán, the quarterly publication of the Irish Country Women’s Association (ICA) in the mid 1950s. Howard referred to the housewife as ‘the mainspring of national prosperity’ and described the skills, commitment, disposition and ethics involved in successfully management of a home and family. Among the attributes necessary for the successful housewife, Howard had mentioned the need for efficiency in the home, the importance of keeping up to date and the desirability of spending time outside the family, such as being a member of the ICA. The ICA had been formed in 1910 as a non-sectarian, non-political organisation to support rural women and improve their way of life. By the 1950s it was a national network of thousands of women, organised in local guilds and county federations. Over 80 members regularly attended meetings of the Cahersiveen Guild, which organised, among other things, collections for the poor and musical events.

The ICA took a number of initiatives to improve the lives of rural housewives, employing trained women to help other women. In 1956, it established a Home Advisory Service to improve the design of homes, the preparation of food and develop leadership skills. Margaret Crowley, a trained domestic scientist, was appointed home economics adviser and Eleanor Butler, an architect, was given responsibility for advising on home and kitchen design. They spoke at Guild meetings all over the country and offered one-to-one advice in members’ homes when time permitted. The biggest hurdle many women faced in making changes was the attitude of their husbands, which Professor Richman Kenneally summarised as ‘If it was good enough for my mother, it’s good enough for any woman coming into my house’. Eleanor Butler, aware of the high emigration rates of young women from rural Ireland argued on the other hand that ‘young people should feel that they have something to stay for’.

The ICA also took steps to raise awareness of new kitchen technology, powered by the electricity that the ESB was making available in rural areas. In 1958 the ICA acquired a mobile, fully equipped modern kitchen, funded by the ESB and designed by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. It was displayed at the Spring Show and then toured the country, with 30-40 people attending demonstrations by Margaret Crowley, Eleanor Butler and others in the evening. It visited over 150 venues in the country. Some sessions were ‘men only’, to enable decisions by the financial controller of the household on home improvements to be taken without undue pressure! The ESB also funded a number of model electric kitchens, as show cases for the new technology, including in the house that is now Quinlan’s fish shop in Cahersiveen. The ICA subsequently led on a successful campaign to bring water into the kitchens of rural Ireland to put an end to the widespread practice of women and girls carrying buckets of water.

By espousing a professional approach to house keeping and by helping to disseminate new technology, the ICA in partnership with the ESB and the RIAI, played a key role in transforming the lives of rural women and their families at a time when women’s status was much lower than it is today.

In a lively response to Professor Richman Kenneally’s presentation, a number of speakers testified to the reluctance of heads of households to connect to the electricity grid (thereby holding up connections to others) and the important role played by daughters who had spent time aboard as emigrants in persuading their fathers to make the change.

The Daniel O’Connell Lecture


The highlight of this year’s School was an interview with former President Mary McAleese. Frank Lewis of Kerry Radio took the chair and in front of audience of over 300, introduced Dr McAleese and outlined the highlights of her career to date – her two terms as President of Ireland, her academic appointments at Trinity College and Queen’s University, where she was the first female Vice Chancellor, her undertaking of a PhD in canon law at the Gregorian College in Rome and her role as a public intellectual, contributing to debate on contemporary issues, such as the marriage equality referendum.

Frank asked Dr McAleese about the influence Daniel O’Connell had had on her life and political thought. She said that Daniel O’Connell had had a profound impact on her political development. She and Martin had started dating in Ardoyne in June 1969, just as it became a place of civil war and the highest incidence of sectarian attacks. The Troubles dominated their adolescence and young adulthood. Her family – her parents and nine children – had been forced to leave the Ardoyne. She and Martin married seven years later and came to Kerry on their honeymoon and on a very particular pilgrimage. During their honeymoon, they spent a day in Derrynane House learning more about O’Connell, his political ideas and his achievements. The conflict in the North had forced everyone involved to take a position on violence as a means of achieving political ends. It was O’Connell that had given Martin and her the answers to some of the difficult decisions they had to make. O’Connell had lived through the French Revolution and Tone and Emmett’s rebellions and that experience of violence had shaped his commitment to constitutional politics and the power of peaceful persuasion. She said that both her parents were O’Connellites, as were Martin’s parents. However, in her large and extended family, there were those who took the other route. One cousin was a hunger striker and was only released from prison following the Belfast Agreement.

She mentioned that a dark cloud had hung over her wedding day. Two wedding guests – brothers Tony and Myles O’Reilly – were assassinated by loyalists but that she and Martin did not know of their deaths until later in the day. She said that she had subsequently met a unionist couple in the USA who had lost a relative to the IRA in retaliation for the O’Reilly murders. She said that she had placed a picture of the brothers on her desk in Árus an Úachtarain and made a promise that she would do all she could to ensure such violence would never happen again.

She said that because she came from Ardoyne, it had been assumed by the media that she was an IRA supporter. She said that such an attitude was ‘a sound bite for ignorance of the North’. She had opposed section 31 which prevented RTE from broadcasting interviews with members of proscribed organisations as it excluded voices that needed to be heard in this State. She said that it was no accident that there was peace in Northern Ireland. It would not have happened without a dialogue with the men of violence. She referred to the work on terrorism of Professor Louise Richardson, the current Chancellor of Oxford University, who had demonstrated that despite what they say publically, all governments talk to terrorists, either directly or through back channels.

She had been involved in private talks between John Hume and Gerry Adams, talks which had been suggested by Father Alex Reid. These talks continued over a long period of time and brought the IRA from a war footing to decommissioning. Adams had great respect for John Hume, whom she described, to loud applause, as the Daniel O’Connell of our time. Hume had used arguments of value and utility, similar to those of O’Connell, to make his case, arguments which Adams in turn used with his own people. O’Connell may have failed to resolve the division on the island between Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist but his thinking and approach was at the core of the Hume- Adams talks. She had seen it in action and the outcome of the talks had proved its worth to her.

Asked if the peace process was in danger of unravelling, Dr McAleese responded emphatically that it was in good shape and that its continuation was in the interests of the majority. She said that the Good Friday Agreement is very cleverly constructed. Parties who said they would never work together are working together. People in Northern Ireland value the peace, own the Belfast Agreement with a passion and are determined not to let the dissidents put the clock back.

She said that it was an honour for her and Martin at a personal level that their daughter had married into the O’Connell family – to the son of Mick O’Connell (who was in the audience) and with whom they shared two grandsons.

She said that O’Connell died believing he was a failure. We know that this is not the case as the seed he’d sown fell on fertile ground. Do you end the story with his death or his legacy? She said that is it surprising that there is no statue, bust or picture of him in Westminster as he was responsible for the concept of popular democracy. He was the Nelson Mandela of his day.

Asked by Frank about her battles with the Catholic Church and if there were parallels with O’Connell’s attitude to the Church, Dr McAleese referred to her obligation and duty under canon law to speak about things which demand attention. She believed in the innate dignity of human beings and their equal worth and value in God’s eyes. It was not so long ago that the Church was monarchic and feudal – Pope Pius IX   who died in 1878, believed that it was divine law that he should be Pope and ruler of the world. He excommunicated people who believed in the separation of church and state. By 1929 the temporal remit of the Vatican was reduced to 144 acres around the Vatican! She said that the Church was not an institution that moved rapidly. If you wanted to change something, you should use the law but first you have to learn it. She was studying canon law to understand the Church more and to nudge it a little in the direction of greater respect for human rights and the vision of a church led by lay people as espoused by the Second Vatican Council.

Turning to the role of women and children in the Catholic Church, she referred to the slow dismantling in the past century of the old Roman law which gave the head of household the right of life and death over its members.  Only in the past hundred years have women had the right to vote, of equal rights at work and an end to the legality of marital rape. Pope Pius XI was a great social thinker but he did not ‘get’ women. On the one hand he was in favour of human rights but in relation to women he condoned inequality. In relation to child sexual abuse, she said in no case of abuse investigated by the Murphy commission, had a child been helped by canon law.

She defended her intervention in the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015. The fact that her son was gay had given her an insight into the pressures on young people coming to terms with their sexuality. She referred to research from Trinity College that found that gay young men were at most risk of depression and suicide. She was critical of church teaching on homosexuality which still considered homosexuality to be an ‘intrinsic disorder’ and homosexual acts to be evil. Some of those responsible for the formation of priests assumed that the world was heterosexual and that those with homosexual tendencies could be ‘turned back’ to their true nature.  She said that this attitude was evident in the apostolic visit to Ireland where its leaders wanted to be reassured that no seminary was ‘gay friendly’. She asked what kind of message did this send out to young men who were gay and coming to terms with their sexuality? She suggested that the recent controversy about homosexual activity in Maynooth concentrated on the wrong things. The young people involved had not taken a vow of celibacy but were being policed without reference to the law of defamation and privacy and respect for their personhood. She suggested that the seminaries in Maynooth, Belfast and Rome provided an outdated professional formation, all funded by a passive laity whose opinions have not been asked. She asked why is the profession of a priest so singularly unattractive to young men? Not to mention the exclusion of women!

On the challenge of Brexit, Dr McAleese said that the UK is one of 28 member states of the European Union and that there is a queue to join. Many people value the EU as an underpinning value system for an egalitarian and peaceful Europe. She said that the Brexit vote had drawn attention to the alienation of forgotten areas of post industrial, ‘rust-bucket’ Britain. She suggested that the institutions of the EU had become arrogant and had lost touch ‘with the street’ and that they could do more to reconnect with the real concerns of people.

A lively questions and answers session followed the interview. 

Jack O’Shea remembers


Later that afternoon at St Mary’s GAA Club, former TD and all-Ireland medal winner, Jimmy Deenihan introduced Jack O’Shea, a football prodigy from the age of 14, who played senior football for Kerry between 1976 and 1992, won seven All-Ireland medals and six All-Star awards between 1980 and 1986 and was Footballer of the Year on four occasions. He also represented Ireland in nine test series against Australia. Jimmy complimented not only Jack’s skill as a footballer but his confidence under the pressure of big matches. In response, Jack O’Shea referred to the inspiration and encouragement that players such as Jimmy had given him as he began his All-Ireland career. He said he had had a tough but fantastic upbringing and paid tribute to the support he had received throughout his football career from so many people in Cahersiveen and St Mary’s Club in particular. Mick O’Dwyer and Mick O’Connell had been role models for him. From an early age he and his fellow players in the Club had been competitive and determined to win and that had been important to their success.

He recalled winning the under 14 club title in Listowel in a replay and the unforgettable celebration in the town on their return with the bonfires lighting. He referred to the natural fitness that he had developed beagling and drag hunting with his father on the slopes of Cnoc an Tobair. He had had very few injuries in his career as a player and in particular, his hamstrings had never given him any problem, all of which he attributed to the level of fitness he developed running up and down the mountain as a child. From the audience, Maurice Fitzgerald paid tribute to Jack’s achievements and to his temperament as a player. Jack, he said, had had no need for a psychologist. He was always the optimist, no matter what challenge presented.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a town like Cahersiveen to raise a Jack O’Shea.

Remembrance Mass

A mass in remembrance of those who participated in the 1916 Rising was celebrated by Fr Larry Kelly PP in the O’Connell Memorial Church.

Saturday 27th August Derrynane House, Caherdaniel

Ruth Barrington informed those attending the second day of the Summer School of the sad news of the death the previous night of Mrs Margaret Healy, the mother of Mary O’Conner, Chairperson of the Organising Committee. On behalf of all those associated with the Summer School, she offered her deepest condolences to Mary and her family on their sad loss.

Recording O’Connell and his World


Ruth introduced Professor John Horgan, Professor Emeritus of Journalism at Dublin City University, Ireland’s first Press Ombudsman and former Senator, TD and MEP.

Professor Horgan spoke about Daniel O’Connell and the Press.  He referred to a masterly essay on O’Connell and the press by the distinguished Irish Times journalist, Brian Inglis in 1952. It was his starting point and he hoped to add some detail to Inglis’s account, reassess some of his conclusions and reflect on the continuing tensions between politicians and the press.

He provided details of three incidents involving O’Connell and the press. The first was his defence of John Magee, owner of the Dublin evening Post against the charge of seditious libel against the Dublin administration in 1813-14. His speech in defence of Magee lasted four hours, the printed version sold 10,000 copies and was translated into French. However, the biting combination of law and politics in his defence speeches not only failed to secure Magee’s acquittal but the jury was persuaded to fine him the equivalent of €100.000 in today’s money. O’Connell was fortunate not to be prosecuted for the incendiary comments he had made during the trial.

O’Connell had his battles with the press too. He was unhappy with the way journalists reported his speeches. In a famous spat in 1839, the newspapers capitulated to O’Connell after he threatened not to place advertisements with them. While this may appear to our eyes as an unjustified interference with the freedom of the press, it should be remembered that the in the nineteenth century, Irish newspapers were ‘the shock troops’ on both sides of the political struggle between Irish nationalism and the British administration, which had the resources of the Treasury at its disposal to bribe or intimidate newspapers. Since Independence, there had been a number of instances, in which governments had used their resources to influence the press. In 1966, for example, when C J Haughey was Minister for Agriculture, all government advertising was withdrawn from the Farmers’ Journal during a confrontation with the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Brian Inglis argued that O’Connell did not understand the press and only believed in the freedom of the press so long as it served his ends.  Professor Horgan suggested that O’Connell’s relationship with the press was more nuanced and reflected the politicised view of newspapers at a time when the freedom of the press was not widely valued as it is now. He pointed out that despite the savage attacks on him by Irish and British newspapers, O’Connell pointedly refrained from taking libel actions.

The full text of Professor Horgan’s paper can be read HERE

Asenath Nicholson and Derrynane


Maureen O’Rourke Murphy, Professor of Teaching and Curriculum Studies at Hofstra University in New York and the author of ‘Compassionate Stranger: Asenath Nicholson and the Great Irish Famine’, spoke about Asenath Nicholson’s first visit to Ireland in 1844-5. Nicholson was an American teacher, reformer, abolitionist and evangelicist. Moved by the plight of so many Irish emigrants to the United States, she was inspired to visit Ireland to see at first hand the conditions in which people lived and to improve them where she could. Aged 52, she toured the country on foot for 15 months, distributing bibles, staying the cabins of the poor and meeting influential people. She published an account of her travels which gives a vivid account of the country on the brink of the Great Famine.  She noted in particular the heavy and difficult work undertaken by women, including carrying turf and collecting seaweed under water. She was a friend and admirer of Fr Theobald Mathew, the apostle of temperance, and visited him in Cork during the winter of 1845.

She spent Easter in Cahersiveen and then visited Valentia and was impressed by the slate quarries. Her plan was to walk to Derrynane and visit the home of Daniel O’Connell, where she expected to experience the legendary hospitality associated with the family home. While sceptical of O’Connell’s repeal movement, she was a great admirer of his stance on the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, O’Connell was not at home when she arrived, as he was taking issue with the new university bill providing for the ‘Godless’ Queen’s Colleges in Cork, Galway and Belfast. Had he or his son Maurice been there, she would certainly have been welcomed as a friend of Fr Mathew and a fellow abolitionist. However, she had a cool reception from the O’Connell’s housekeeper and had to return to Waterville the same day by foot over the five miles of mountain paths in the teeth of a storm. She continued her travels, visiting Killarney and missionary colonies at Ventry and Achill, from where she returned to Dublin and the US. She returned in 1848 to assist with famine relief efforts and left another account of her visit. While her efforts to improve the conditions of the Irish poor may not have had much success, she did come to realise how Irish people valued the opportunity to emigrate to the US.

The full text of Professor O’Rourke Murphy’s paper is available HERE

Paula Murphy, Associate Professor of Art History and Sculpture at UCD, spoke about the efforts to erect a statue of O’Connell in the centre of Dublin in the decades following his death. It was a century of ‘statue mania’ throughout Europe with the construction of statues, columns, mausoleums and shrines reflecting the triumphs and tragedies of the nation, in which the public took a great interest. The first statue of O’Connell had been erected in Limerick in 1856 and construction of a second commenced in Ennis in 1861.  The O’Connell Monument Committee was formed in the early 1860s to raise money by public subscription for a statue of O’Connell in Dublin. The foundation stone for the statue was laid in Sackville Street in 1864 and a competition was organised to select a suitable monument. The competition proved to be highly controversial. John Henry Foley, a prominent Irish sculptor based in London, was approached with a view to his taking on the commission. However, there was intense opposition to the contract for the monument being awarded to anyone other than an Irish based sculptor. The competition went ahead and 60 designs were put on public display. All were rejected by the Committee, as were the 20 entries to a second competition. Eventually, following negotiations, the commission was awarded to Foley who planned to have the monument completed by 1875 for the centenary of O’Connell’s birth. However, Foley died in 1874 and the monument was not completed until 1882.

The monument is in three parts – the statue of O’Connell on the top, a frieze in the middle with the Maid of Erin pointing to O’Connell surrounded by nearly thirty figures (all male) symbolising the Church, the professions, the arts, the trades and the peasantry and a base consisting of four winged victories, each of which represents the virtues attributed to O’Connell – patriotism, courage, eloquence and fidelity. Professor Murphy suggested that it is a fine example of monumental sculpture, which at the time it was completed, fitted well with the architecture and monuments in Sackville Street. She suggested that those who had selected the Spire as the centre piece of O’Connell Street had not paid sufficient attention to its visual impact as a backdrop to the O’Connell monument.

1916: The Wider Contexts


Dr Pat Cooke, Director of the MA in Cultural policy and Arts Management in UCD and former director of the Pearse Museum and Kilmainham Gaol, spoke about the Pádraig Pearse as a ‘Victorian Gael’, a term coined by Samuel Beckett.  He described Pearse as one of the most complex characters in modern Irish history and a formidable biographical challenge. Pearse himself referred to the ‘strange thing that I am’. The son of an English stone mason who developed a prosperous business servicing the boom in Catholic church building after 1850 and a mother from an Irish speaking part of Meath, Pearse was exposed to a most unusual home life and education as a child and adolescent. His father, who perhaps influenced him more than he acknowledged, was a bibliophile who converted to Catholicism but remained an admirer of the free thinker John Bright. From his mother’s family, he learned a love of the Irish language and of Gaelic traditions.

Pearse exhibited some of the classic traits of the middle-class Victorian sensibility: philosophical doubt associated with Darwinism; an obsession with respectability; the cult of childhood; the belief in action and hard work as a panacea; and the longing for a cause worthy enough to sweep away the pettiness of everyday life in a mission characterised by chivalry, honour, nobility, and self-sacrifice. Dr Cooke suggested that Pearse shared all these traits not only with contemporary Irishmen but with Englishmen, and more widely with Europeans, of his generation.

The surviving photographs of Pearse provide evidence of his obsession with respectability. He always dressed in the fashion of a gentleman, even when in Connemara to learn Irish.  He was steeped in the Victorian literature of childhood and the belief in the importance of educating the young – St Enda’s was to be for Ireland what Eton was to England. He was extraordinarily hard working, disciplined and productive during his short life. He came to see Irish freedom as a mission for which he was prepared to sacrifice his life and persuaded others that it was a noble cause – and in so doing became, in his own words, the ‘most dangerous revolutionary of the whole lot of them’. Ironically, the extent to which Pearse represented the highest values of his age was recognised by General Blackader, the man who sentenced Pearse to death. Blackader confided to a friend that he had just condemned to death ‘one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like that a rebel.”

The full text of Dr Cooke’s paper can be read HERE

Dr Richard McElligott, who lectures in Modern Irish history at UCD and is the author of Forging a Kingdom: The GAA in Kerry 1884-1934  spoke of the contribution of GAA members to the 1916 Rising. He said that by 1916, the GAA was the largest organisation in the country with 500 affiliated clubs. It was a diverse organisation reflecting many strands of Irish life. However, its nationalist mission aroused the suspicion of the British authorities and there many RIC reports linking members with the IRB. The stories of many involved in the Rising show how they progressed from membership of the GAA to the Gaelic League to Sinn Fein and to the Volunteers.

In 1915, Austin Stack, Chairman of the Kerry GAA and an all Ireland medal winner, had used the All-Ireland match between Kerry and Wexford as a screen to smuggle guns to Kerry. GAA members were stationed as Volunteers or members of the Citizens Army in all the major armed centres during the Rising, of which 18 lost their lives. They included Padraig Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Sean MacDermott, Michael O’Hanrahan and Con Colbert who were executed. The GAA was a target of the British authorities after the Rising. The Royal Commission of investigation into the Rising found that the GAA was directly involved. In the weeks that followed the Rising and Marshall law, over 3,000 men and women were arrested and deported to internment camps. Some had no involvement with the IRB but the experience of internment radicalised them. Frongoch camp was described as a ‘school of revolution’. GAA games were used at Frongoch and other camps to keep fit and to develop a sense of identity.

The GAA as an organisation was not involved in the Rising and was as surprised as most elements of Irish life by the rebellion. The vast majority of members initially censured the action of the rebels. However, opinion changed as the British authorities crushed the rebellion with great force, executed the leaders, interned large numbers of young men and prohibited GAA matches. The change in mood in GAA membership reflected the change in the national mood.

The full text of Dr McElligott’s paper is available HERE

Kerry’s Cycling Tradition – History and Fiction


This session was chaired by Professor Michael Kenneally, Honorary Consul of Ireland, Quebec Canada and Director of Irish Studies, Concordia University, Montreal. He introduced Dr Paul Rouse, lecturer in the history of sport in UCD and author of Sport and Ireland a History (2015), who spoke about the impact of cycling on rural Ireland. The introduction of the bicycle transformed transport and social mores in rural Ireland. It was described by contemporaries as ‘this freedom machine’. For example, it contributed to the emancipation of those women who learnt to cycle and who enjoyed a freedom of movement their mothers never knew. Women cyclists provoked reaction, sometimes violent, form those who thought cycling was an indecent behaviour for a woman. The 1890s to the 1920s was the golden age of the bicycle. There was no shame attached to owning a bike and cyclists were not seen as eccentric. Michael Collins, Eamonn de Valera and Padraig Pearse were cyclists. Cycling also thrived as a sport in those years. Newspapers, magazines and novels featured cycling as a glamorous activity. Cycling contributed to the modernisation of Ireland, enabling people to travel distances to cinemas and dance halls. The position of the bicycle in Irish life in the first half of the century is reflected in Flann O’Brien’s novel, The Third Policeman, in which one of the characters is described as being ‘halfway to being a bicycle himself’.

During the Emergency years cycling reached its peak in Ireland. In particular, many people travelled long distances by bike to see hurling and football matches. In 1944, 80,000 people attended the All-Ireland final between Roscommon and Kerry and the streams of bicycles converging on Croke Park were compared to tributaries of a river. Those who made the long journey to attend spoke about it nostalgically but did not repeat the journey as they found it easier to use the train, bus or car once the War was over. Motor cars grew rapidly in numbers, from 250,000 in the 1950s, to 1.1 million in the 1970s to 2.2 million today.

The first Rás Tailtean took place in 1953 and quickly touched the imagination of the nation. The passage of stages through an area was a great event and the winners were the superstars of their day. Well known Kerry cyclists included Terry Carmody, who won a Tralee stage, Gene Mangan of Killorglin who won the race in 1955 and Mick Murphy of Cahersiveen who won in 1958. The Rás prospered until the 1970s. By then the bicycle had gone out of fashion and become the preserve of the child, the student, the poor and the hopelessly eccentric. The car, by contrast, had become the symbol of wealth and prosperity. There were some signs that the bicycle is coming back into fashion, judging by the ‘panzer divisions of cyclists in lycra’ to be seen on the Ring of Kerry and the growing popularity of cycling greenways. The full text of Dr Rouse’s paper is available HERE.

Jane Urquhart, one of Canada’s leading writers and novelists, introduced her novel The Night Stages (2015) which was inspired by the success of the legendary cyclist Mick Murphy in the Rás Tailteann. She said that she had bought a cottage behind Cahersiveen on her first visit to Ireland over 20 years ago. Although she was of Irish stock on her mother’s side, she had never been to Ireland until that trip. She had written many of her novels in that cottage but it had taken her 20 years to write The Night Stages. She remembers being told that ‘the man in the blue house won the Rás in the 1950s’ and she was fascinated by Tom Daly’s book The Rás: The Story of Ireland’s Unique Bike Race (Collins Press, 2012). However, it had taken awhile before she appreciated the significance of Mick Murphy’s achievement in 1958 and for her imagination to get to work on a novel about him and the Rás. She then read two passages from her novel. 

O’Connell’s Kerry


Joseph Lynch, retired Principal and resident of Valentia, spoke about Tomás Rua O Suilleabhán, known as the poet of South Kerry. Born in 1785 under a rock in the townland of Fearann Iarthach, possible due to the eviction of his family, he was a contemporary of O’Connell. He was a precocious child with great verbal ability from an early age. Red headed as his nickname implies, he was small of stature but full of self esteem with a strong line in sarcasm. He was a song writer as much as a poet, and many of his songs, which were written to commemorate special events, have survived, thanks to the work of collectors and the Folklore Commission. His songs about Daniel O’Connell not only praise him as a man of South Kerry but also record what local people thought of him. He was compared with Moses leading his people out of bondage and depicted with a sword in his hand spilling Saxon blood.

Tomás Rua worked on the O’Connell estate in his youth, went as a spalpín to East Munster to dig potatoes, was employed as a postman and became a hedge school teacher in Caherdaniel. As a teacher and poet, he saw himself as a guardian of the faith, nationalism and Gaelic culture. He lost his teaching position with the introduction of the National School in the 1830s and the requirement for formal qualifications. He moved to Port Magee, sending his precious books, which had been handed down to him by generations of teachers, by boat. Unfortunately, his boat sank and his precious books, which included the Psalter of Cashel and over 30 precious volumes, were lost. He commemorated this disaster in a famous lament for his books. To compound his misfortunes, his house went on fire and he lost his suit.

In 1828, Tomás Rua was with a great crowd at the top of the hill at Coomaciste to greet O’Connell after his victory in the Clare by-election. His song commemorating the event speaks of O’Connell as an oak tree, of his power and ability and of the expectation that he will banish the ‘greedy people’ from Ireland and that the Irish would be relieved of rents and tithes. He also envisages the seas flecked with fleets from Spain and France coming to Ireland’s defence.

Breandán O Cíobháin, former Placenames Officer with the Ordinance Survey of Ireland and author of acclaimed papers on Irish placenames, spoke about the placenames of South Kerry.  Most of the placenames of South Kerry go back at least 1,500 years and he had spent 54 years trying to make sense of the names he had collected. The oldest written reference to the name of this part of the world is in a map of Ptolemy, in which the name ‘gangani’ is mentioned, the plural of the name of the people who then lived here. He had been able to link Ptolemy’s reference with the placename Dún Gangain in Ballinaskelligs.

Breandán said that research on placenames in South Kerry was hampered by the absence of written records. These historical sources developed only in the East, North East and on the island of Iona. The Annals of Innisfallen are the first written record, dating from 1160. Many placenames are associated with the Corca Duibhne, the people who inhabited the two peninsulas and joined in one kingdom until the Normans arrived. The Eoghanaght Loch Léinn, a strong tribe up to the sixth century also left their mark. It was during their time that the landscape of South Kerry was dotted with dry stone churches and huts for hermits, with the earliest Christian iconography in Ireland.

Breandán recalled how, as a Placenames Officer for the Ordinance Survey, in 1970-1 he was on the Iveragh peninsula recording placenames. He had spoken to over 300 people to find the 200 or so knowledgeable ones who could help him with his work. He worked long days talking to people about the names they knew, sometimes conducting interviews in the most difficult and comical circumstances. He said that the density of placenames had greatly diminished – he reckoned that three  million names had disappeared from the landscape as machines flattened fences and features. By 1975 he had 10 volumes of placenames in typescript but shortage of funds meant that it was 1978 before the first volume was published. Most interest in the volumes came from aboard – the Canadian Atomic Agency, who controlled Tina Mines, purchased a complete set as they were looking for evidence of metals in Ireland! One of the volumes covers the placenames of South Kerry.

He said that several efforts to put the collected placenames on line had come to nothing, which was a great disappointment to him. He emphasised the importance of digitised records, such as the record of Papal Taxation of 1317, the list of the confiscated lands of McCarthy Mór and the Down Survey, could be to accessing and interpreting placenames.

He spoke about the place in Glencar where hostages – or bride – of kings were held. There is a significant stone alignment in that pivotal central part of Kerry. An analysis of pollen had shown that it was once good farmland and that there was evidence that beech and walnut trees had grown there in medieval times. Until then, the academic consensus was that there was no beech in Ireland before 1700 and certainly no walnut. He suggested that the pollen provided evidence that the Normans had taken control of the area.

Placenames also record the disruption of the Norman invasion. On the Dingle peninsula there were dozens of examples of placenames with the word ‘Baile’ (meaning homestead or townhouse) followed by a Norman name. There were only three such examples on the Iveragh peninsula. The Normans emphasised individual property rights where they settled while Brehon law continued to shape land holding on the Iveragh peninsula to the 17th century.

The most dominant feature of both peninsulas, however, is the presence of so many early Christian buildings. What is the meaning of the density of ecclesiastical buildings and so much iconography? Did the church develop a structure that was supported by kin groups who supplied the personnel and buildings? For example there are five ecclesiastical sites north of Derrynane that are linked to kin groups – Cill and the name of the kin group. The unique collection of Ogham script in South Kerry provides evidence of the earliest genealogies in Europe. By painstakingly comparing the ogham evidence with the information in the annals it may be possible learn more about the dominant septs and the individuals associated with particular sites. He had spread out his index cards placenames of Iveragh (derived from ‘Rathach’) in his house for a year and a half until before he began to see a picture emerge. He found references to one family with five sons embedded in placenames in Iveragh. One member of this family was called Maol and his name is embedded in Tiranmaol, which was the townland in which Daniel O’Connell was fostered as a child.

Closing Remarks


Professor Maurice Bric, Director of the O’Connell School, drawing proceedings to a close, thanked all those who had contributed to the 2016 School, including the speakers, chairs, sponsors, the staff of the Library in Cahersiveen, the OPW and his fellow members of the Organising committee. He paid a particular tribute to Mary O’Connor, Chair of the Organising Committee, who had done much to prepare for the School but who was unable to attend. He added his condolences to her and her family on the death of her mother. He thanked everyone for attending and hoped to see all again at the School in 2017.

Memorial Mass


The memorial mass for the O’Connell family took place in St Crohan’s Church in Caherdaniel on Sunday 28th August at 9.30. The celebrant was the Most Reverend Dr Ray Browne, Bishop of Kerry. It was followed by a reception in the Caherdaniel Community Centre.