Introduction and opening remarks by Jack Holmes

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m delighted to welcome you to our first lecture in a series for which we have great plans and ambitions. My name is Jack Holmes, and I’m a member of the Ashbourne Historical Society, and my role tonight is primarily to introduce the speaker, and to moderate a question and answer session if time permits. But as this is the inaugural lecture, I want to say a few words on what the series is about, what we hope to achieve, and how at this early stage we see ourselves achieving it.

Before I do that, a few word on safety matters……..

We are under strict time constraints tonight. We need to vacate the premises by 8:30.

Also, we are filming tonight’s proceedings, and we will be making this video available on our website. So if you’ve told anyone that you’re somewhere else tonight, or if for any other reason you’d rather not have your image flashed across the web, then I suggest that you hide from the cameras.

So why did we decide to organize the lecture series?

As those of you who have attended here tonight are aware, the decade which started 1912, the centenary of which is underway, was in many ways the seminal or formative decade for this country and indeed in a wider European sense in the last 100 years. If the economist Joseph Schumpeter was right when he spoke of history consisting of long periods of calm punctuated by short cataclysmic period of change, then this indeed was a Schumpeterian decade, both for Ireland and for most European countries. A long period of relative peace followed the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – (a battle incidentally won by a Meath man, Arthur Wellesley from over in Trim).  This long peace ended abruptly when underlying tensions erupted in a spate of unprecedented violence in 1914. When the dust settled, the political map of Europe and Ireland was redrawn in a way that few would have envisioned at the start of the decade. Many of the outcomes from this time connect directly to our situation today, nowhere more so than in our own country. As we commemorate these events, we should be conscious that how we remember them copper fastens what will be accepted as History by future generations. If we don’t avoid the simplistic view, if we focus on a single perspective or stream of events, then History becomes propaganda and loses its power to inform how we deal with current challenges. There are, in my view at least four strands here worthy of study and reflection. There is:

  • the constitutional nationalist strand (tonight’s talk is primarily in this category),
  • the physical force nationalist strand,
  • the Armageddon-like experience of WW1, and
  • the major changes in society and social systems that accelerated about this time.

But the emphasis has been almost totally on a single strand. I believe that the extent to which the role of 250,000 Irishmen who participated in WW1 has been airbrushed out of history is positively Orwellian. Our aim in this series is to do our small bit to ensure that the full story is told and that by telling the story in a comprehensive way our listeners and readers will be better able to put the various commemorations that occur in a more objective context.

You might judge from what I have said that I believe we have not avoided the simplistic view, and you would be correct. But I believe that the decade of centenaries gives us a golden opportunity, perhaps a once-off opportunity, to put this right, and that is what motivates us to do this.

In summary then, our goal is (a) to make sure that the full story gets told, not just the highlights, and (b) to assist our audience in developing a better-informed memory, so they can participate in the conversations around the commemorations from a well-informed position. I stress that we seek to inform opinion, not to form opinion, and to allow each to draw his or her own conclusions based on the evidence.

So, how do we propose to go about doing this?

Our overall strategy will be what the business academics describe as ’emergent’, more commonly known as ‘suck it and see’. However, we do have some ‘first thoughts’ which I’ll share with you briefly. (Slide showing list of initiatives)

This slide lists possibilities currently being considered:

  • Lecture series – some possible themes mentioned – any suggestions welcome
  • Video of each lecture, made available through our website and our Facebook page
  • A Blog for each lecture, allowing the discussion to continue and related discussion threads to emerge
  • A ‘Timeline’ that illustrates the temporal relationship of the main events, and links to sources of information on these events – to be accessible through our website
  • A news feed drawing on contemporary news reports, available through website

We welcome any suggestions on other approaches or topics. Also, some of these ideas will be resource intensive, so anybody who would like to help out is more than welcome to volunteer.

Moving swiftly to the subject of tonight’s lecture, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our speaker Dermot Meleady. Dermot’s was born in Dublin in 1949, he attended St Vincent’s Christian Brother’s School in Glasnevin, and later studied Science in UCD and Trinity. He taught Science and Mathematics for over three decades. In mid-career he returned to his first enthusiasm to study history at the University of London, where he obtained a first in 1995. His chief interest is in the interactions of land, nationality and religion in Irish and Middle-Eastern history. He published Volume 1 of a biography of John Redmond in 2008, and Volume 2 will appear later this year.

I know all this because I read it on the flyleaf of his book, but my connection with Dermot goes back to when we used to walk home from school together back in the early sixties. He dropped off at Finglas Bridge and I turned right up the Old Finglas Road heading for Ballygall. The conversation was always about history, Vikings and ancient Irish heroes. St Vincent’s School at that time was in a Victorian building that abutted the Brian Boru pub, with its picture of Brian and his armies before the battle of Clontarf. That painting engendered, at least in me, a fascination with Vikings and battles and all things ancient and historic, and I can state without hesitation that at least one public house had a formative, positive and lasting influence on my life!!!

Dermot’s subject tonight is the Home Rule bill of 1912 It’s importance in the public mind and indeed in our school curriculum has been eclipsed by later events, yet an understanding of it is fundamental to an understanding of how events played out during that decade and down to our own time.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to commend to your attention Dermot Meleady.

LINK: 1912 Home Rule Bill Lecture Transcript by Dermot Meleady

If you would like to discuss The 1912 Home Rule Bill, feel free to leave a comment on the main 1912 Home Rule Bill page.

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