Contemplating our past
Published on 9th October 2014
The Dublin Festival of History has just come to a close, after a very successful run. It covered a huge variety of topics, ranging from the Battle of Clontarf to the Spanish Civil War, and hopefully the festival will have whetted your appetite for more exploration of our past. Public libraries offer plenty to read on all of the subjects covered in the festival, and plenty of other historical topics besides.
The medieval period of Ireland is not well known, with very little research available on it, and this book goes a long way in filling the gap. Written in a chatty style, it explores a violent and precarious time, describing the conflict between Gaelic-Irish and Anglo-Norman, where family feuds would easily rival the Hatfields and Mccoys. It encompasses dentistry, transport, the empowerment of the peasantry, the first Irishman to visit China (1320s: who knew!), the Black Death, fire laws, and football. The only issue with this book is the lack of an index, otherwise a great read.
Written in the style of a modern travel guide, this accessible and witty book brings to life the expression ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, covering all aspects of ancient Roman life: where to stay, what to eat, tourist attractions, nightlife, shopping. Very evocative, and proof that history doesn’t have to be dusty and dry.
A collection of lectures given by historians, including David Norris, which first aired on RTÉ Radio 1. The premise is simple: each picks a deceased person from Irish history, whose sainted reputation irritates them, and invites us to look at these people from another angle. Termed ‘counter-hagiography’, it’s all done in a refreshing spirit of non-bias and redressing the balance, and covers a range of people from the famous to the obscure. Best quote: ‘Maud Gonne – always the reliable eejit…’
One of the talks in the festival saw Diarmaid Ferriter discussing counterfactualism with Richard J. Evans. Otherwise known as ‘what-if’, it explores the different roads we could have gone down if such and such an event had played out differently. This book examines possible scenarios for us had World War One never happened: for example, without WWI, Lebow reckons we would have had neither WW2 nor the Holocaust; and that poverty would have been eliminated in the developed world. Balancing this, the American civil rights movement could not have taken place and Rosa Parks would have been firmly kicked off the bus. A very thought-provoking read.
A local history gem, this is the story of the Mount Street Club, set up as a philanthropic society in the 1930s to combat Dublin’s widespread unemployment of the time. At its peak it had hundreds of members, who were enabled to find dignity through self-sufficiency, gaining international recognition for the club’s ideals. It includes lots of fascinating photos of Dublin from the 30s onwards.