Cumann Seandalaiochta agus Staire Phort Lairge

Monday, November 23, 2020

Nurse Mary Anna Davis By James Doherty


As the Boer War ground on into the summer of 1900, the Illustrated London News disdainfully commented on female volunteers for the nursing service whose ‘capacity for nursing consisted mainly of their goodwill’. The Illustrated News however was happy to report that Ireland in particular had ‘yielded a large company of efficient ladies’ for service in the conflict.[1] The ladies referred to were professional nurses and the paper ran a studio portrait of a Mary Anna Davis of Waterford.

From the Illustrated London News

When Mary Davis became one of a handful of Irish nurses sent to South Africa in 1899, it was reported that she already had six years’ service in various Irish hospitals,[2] and was a member of the Army Nursing Service Reserve.

Whether or not Nurse Davis thought that she might be called to the colours we will never know, but she had joined the Army Nursing Service Reserve in 1894.[3] Early Boer successes in their campaign caused a huge mobilization of British troops and a subsequent demand for professional nurses. Nurse Davis with a Mary Talbot and a Sarah J. Caldwell started their journey to Africa from the North Wall in Dublin on the 29th December 1899.[4]

Nurse Davis’ war file offers little information on her service in Africa other than a departure and a return date from the continent. Awards or citations (which sometimes offer more information) are filed separately; this search was initially frustrated as none were apparently issued. This discrepancy was explained by a typographical error – the recipient’s medal roll had mistakenly been filed under Nurse Anne Mary Davies on the list of Boer War nurses. On the actual record the details match and show that Nurse Davis was awarded the Queen’s South Africa (QSA) Medal and the King’s South Africa (KSA) Medal [5].  

The medal roll shows the place of issue, with Nurse Davis’s QSA being issued at Wynberg General Hospital in 1901.[6] Wynberg General Hospital was a mixture of canvas and huts and split into three sections numbering over a thousand beds. Situated on the Cape, Wynberg was near British Headquarters and was a well-equipped field hospital. The large number of beds would all be needed as large numbers of the wounded, from battles such as Belmont and Magersfontein, were brought in through the course of 1900.

The KSA medal was issued at the general hospital in Kronstad, which was a remote location adjacent to a contested railway line a world away from Wynberg. The general hospital here was established in an old Dutch convent with most of the casualties kept under canvas. In addition to the railway line and field hospital, a Boer displacement camp was set up at the rail depot. One commentator who would later succumb to disease himself said there was nothing at Kronstad ‘except Enteric and Dysentery’.[7] Another visitor to Kronstad, Lucy Deane, a member of the Boer War Concentration Camp Commission, stated that Kronstad:

 wasn’t a ‘place’, merely a railway centre and storage depot for military supplies, with acres of bags of meal etc. covered with sail-cloth’. ‘The rest is wide dusty tracks with spotty camps of various “Corps” of sorts, a tent hospital, tin shanties, a few seedy bungalows and Wesleyan-Church-looking place, a native location built entirely out of tin biscuit boxes flattened out and riveted together, the whole enveloped in a permanent cloud of dust made worse by the incessant galloping to and fro of men on horse-back[8]

Nurse Davis would serve as a member of the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Reserve in Africa until 1909. This organisation had been disbanded in 1907 and upon her return from Africa applied to join its successor, the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNS). One of the questions on the application asked had she any experience of dealing with Enteric Fever. Her reply simply stated ‘9 years South Africa’.[9]

On her return to Britain, Nurse Davis’ would have been awarded the 1914 Star for her service from the early days of the conflict, she would have also received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Unfortunately her  status as a reservist would see her instantly dismissed from military service after receiving a modest gratuity for her service. The war records show her living with a cousin in Essex who was previously listed as her next of kin. Whether she worked in public nursing during this period is unknown but likely; her military service resumed as a reservist at Aldershot in February 1914.

Nurse Davis was dismissed from service on the 8th of May 1914 but rehired again in a temporary or a reserve function on the 6th of August just a few weeks after the outbreak of WW1 and by the 17th of the same month was stationed at a field hospital in France.[10] Poison gas was introduced onto the Western Front in April 1915 and the Allied Forces responded quickly to this new threat; by September 1915 Nurse Davis was serving at a gas clearing station aiding gas victims.[11]

The last recorded station of Nurse Davis in France was at Villa Tino, which was part of General Hospital No. 24. Villa Tino was a convalescent unit for sick nursing sisters and Nurse Davis was stationed here as nurse here rather than a patient. October 1917 would see Nurse Davis transferred back to Ireland for service in the George V Military Hospital in Dublin.[12]

Once again Nurse Davis’ status as a reservist would impact her personal life and her file contains a brief letter from the head of the QAIMNS stating that she wouldn’t be entitled to a pension but was owed a gratuity. Her service however was extended and she agreed to stay on to 1920 and eventual demobilisation.  

Nurse Davis encountered personal issues on her return to Ireland after she was transferred to Limerick. While in Limerick she penned a letter to the matron of the QAIMNS complaining that she felt bullied in Limerick by ‘Sinn Feiners’. The letter also queried her pensionable status and stated that she was intending to claim disability due to rheumatism. The matron of the QAIMNS  sent Nurse Davis  a polite but non-committal reply to her plea for help. 

Even years after demobilisation, Nurse Davis’ records contain another brush with the bureaucracy of the War Office. Now a civilian, Ms Davis and a Ms Ritchie Thompson travelled to attend the Royal Jubilee in 1935. Upon her return to Dunmore East where she was now living, she contacted the War Office under the impression that she could reclaim travel expenses. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. This unexpected cost must have been a disappointment to a lady living on limited means.[13]   

After WW1 Nurse Davis had lived with a cousin in England. When this lady became a widow she came to live with Nurse Davis in Dunmore East until her death in 1940. From local knowledge in Dunmore East it would seem that Nurse Davis was always happy to lend her medical skills in the community and was very much to the fore in 1942 when forty-seven survivors from the torpedoed SS Empire Breeze were landed in Dunmore East.

Mary Anna Davis
Image from War Records

However, the bureaucracy of the War office wasn’t finished with the nurse. Her war records contain a flurry of letters from the War Disabled Help Department trying to clarify her status as a military veteran. These letters begin in the winter of 1958 and into the next year. The purpose of these letters is unknown but they become increasingly more urgent in nature. It is likely that the committee was trying to get the elderly Nurse Davis into a military hospital.  The attempt would appear to have been unsuccessful and Nurse Mary Anna Davis died in early 1959.[14]






[1] Illustrated London News, 10 Feb 1900.

[2] Waterford Standard, 30 Dec 1899.

[3] United Kingdom, National Archives, WO/399/2098  (Military file of Nurse Mary Anna Davis). 

[4] Irish Times, 30 December 1899.

[5] National Archives, WO/100/229.

[6] Ibid.

[7] John White Aldred, physician, 1876–1901, J.W. Aldred, Boer War diary, 1900. University of Manchester Library. GB 133 ENG MS 1544.

[8] Papers of Lucy Anne Evelyn Streatfeild (née Deane), factory inspector and social worker, 1893–1919. Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick. GB 152 LAS.

[9] National Archives, WO/399/2098.

[10] National Archives, WO/399/2098.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The exact date of death is unknown, and unusually is not marked on the headstone.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Gold Medal Daffodils of the Richardsons

 Autumn, time to plant some bulbs. Did you know Waterford had its very own Gold Medal daffodils ? 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Back-to-school... over 200 years ago! by Béatrice Payet

Before the establishment of organised schooling as we know it, which in Ireland started to appear in the second half of the 19th century through the religious orders and the National School system, education was a luxury mostly reserved to the children of those who could afford it, by hiring the services of private tutors. I am not going to delve into the politics of it all, I was only interested in finding out how education was organised in Waterford City at the beginning of the 19th century, based on the information on Public Schools in the newspapers of the time. 

Before the formal establishment of schools, various 'Academies' as they called themselves, run privately by a single or several teachers, offered tuition in a variety of subjects for a set fee, paid yearly or quarterly. Some also offered full board. They had to advertise in the local newspapers to get the attention of parents, and sell their skills. 

They were located mostly in the city centre, and it is interesting to follow their re-location as better premises become available. 

We find Miss Daly in Lady Lane, Mrs Monserrat in Cook Lane, Mr Bacon at the Widow's Apartments, Mr Holden in Peter Street, Mr Cole in Beau Street, The Misses Brown in High Street, Mr Maher in George's Street. Mr Willis starts on Hennessy's Road but soon moves to New Street, etc. 

Relocation was sometimes to a more central position, but not always. They have the welfare of their boarders at heart: Mr Frazer having been an assistant at Mr Waters' Grammar school starts his own business and relocates to Stephen Street in January 1792, in a house of 

dry and healthy situation, ‘receiving an addition consisting of a large school-room and dormitories in the rear of which there will be an extensive play-ground’

Miss Terresse Lonergan relocates to Great Bridge Street 

which situation for Health, Air and Beauty cannot be exceeded, added to the beautiful outlets and the new bridge for the young ladies daily to resort.

The young Masters and Ladies were taught a variety of subjects; for 'a crown per quarter, and a crown entrance'  at Mrs Monserrat's 

children of 5 years old and upwards will be taught French and English, correctly

Mr Maher specialises in Classical, Mercantile & Mathematics, to which he adds French by 1810. 

Given the nature of the accommodation, groups were small, between 8 and 14 pupils maximum. 

What about holidays? Mrs Daly leaves it at the discretion of the parents, but most of the others had the vacation time in the month of July or August, again the dates were published by each school in the newspapers. 

However that wasn't all. 

Examinations took place in December and May, and the results, too were published!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

How the Cannon Got to Waterford by Pat Deegan

           The Russian Cannons in the People’s Park 

Over the years, many visitors to the People’s Park of Waterford have curiously wandered over to the pair of cannons situated near the bandstand. Generations of Waterford people have had their photo taken sitting on or beside the cannons – but what exactly do we know about these familiar landmarks? The plaque beside them tells us they were ‘captured in Sebastapol in 1856’ and they have certainly come a long way from the Aleksandrovsk Cannon factory in Russia, where they were made 163 years ago. This is their story.

Every year on Good Friday, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the ancient ritual of Holy Fire takes place. Unlit candles suddenly burst into flame – some call it a miracle caused by a column of fire coming from Jesus’ tomb, others say it is symbolic instead and white phosphorous is used to create the flames. During the ceremony in 1834, a riot broke out between the Latin Christians and the Eastern Orthodox Christians, which ended with the death of a substantial amount of people. This sparked a debate with the Ottoman Turkish sultan on who should have the keys of the Holy Sepulchre church. Russia, which had been active for years in Jerusalem, was annoyed when Sultan Abdulmejid I gave the keys to the French in 1852 (after a 64 gun French man-of-war warship had sailed to the city of Istanbul). Russia gave the sultan an ultimatum: give the Holy Sepulchre to the true Eastern Orthodox Church, or risk being invaded.

There was a lot more to these rising tensions than one sacred building. The once mighty Ottoman Empire, ruled by Turkey, was losing its grip on power, with the Russian Tsar, Nicholas I calling the empire ‘the sick man of Europe’. France and Britain (though sworn enemies at the time) allied with the Ottoman Empire because they were worried that Russian expansion would damage their trade routes. In July 1853, Russia invaded the part of the Ottoman Empire which today is Romania. As Austrian troops advanced, the Russian troops withdrew and so French and British troops were sent to fight the Russians on the Crimean peninsula and take the city of Sevastopol, home of the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet, which was seen as a threat to the British Navy.  There was some irony in this, since the ship yard and docks there were built by a British company.

British soldiers serving in Crimea 

The allies landed about thirty miles north of Sevastopol and fought the Battle of Alma shortly after arriving. The Russians were routed totally, but the French troops, unwilling to follow through, let the Russian army escape back to Sevastopol. The fall of the city itself would take another long year and many lives before it did capitulate. East Sevastopol would fall in late 1855 but the war would not end until a peace treat was signed in Paris in 1856.

The Crimean War is perhaps best known for the Lady with the Lamp, the nurse Florence Nightingale, who brought order to the deplorable conditions that the British army allowed war wounded soldiers to be hospitalised in. Less well-known until recent years, but just as tireless and heroic was the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, who nursed the wounded men on the battlefield.  The two women did meet but they never worked together. The war is also famous for the Charge of the Light Brigade. This was made out to be a heroic sacrifice made by the British cavalry in order to hide the incompetence of the officers in charge: Lord Raglan, Lord Cardigan, Lord Lucan and the French general Armand de Saint-Arnaud (both Lord Raglan and the French Armand de Saint-Arnaud would die in the Crimean). Their incompetent lack of military strategy was very apparent and it brought an end to the nobility’s practice of buying commissions in the army, especially in cavalry regiments. The writing was on the wall for the gallant cavalry charge. A line of troops, facing a cavalry charge, could fire on them with their new 1853 rifle muskets (which had an improved firing rate), devastating the Calvary ranks. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 the limitations of the cavalry would become very apparent but this lesson was forgotten until WWI, when the great losses were witnessed in cavalry charges against the new modern machine guns in the fields of France in early 1914. 

Artillery at Sevastopol

The British and French captured hundreds of cannons in the the southern part of Sevastopol; the Russian were never in a crisis when it came to the replenishment of cannons. The Allies were not going to leave these cannons behind for the Russians, for the terms of the Paris Treaty stated that French, British and Sardinians troop would leave Sevastopol, and return Crimean lands to the Russians. However, the Treaty did allow the victors to take Russian cannons as war trophies. The cost to both the British and French exchequer was a very hard burden for these countries to carry. As for Russia, the cost of the conflict would in time lead Tsar Alexander II to sell the lands of Alaska in October 1867 to the United States for $7.2 million. The British Army shipped  all the cannons to the Woolwich arsenal in London. Their haul consisted of 10 bells, about 875 iron cannons, and 177 brass or bronze cannons (the British 89 and the French got 88 respectively). The iron cannons were of no monitory value. Now that they had these cannons, what to do with them?

The French were going to make a Boulevard de Sebastopol and line it with their cannons, like the Moscow Boulevard of 1812 that commemorated Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the Russian Army (Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 overture was also written to celebrate this Russian victory). However, most of the Russian cannons in French hands were instead used to make the 22.7m high statue of the Virgin Mary, known as ‘Notre Dame de France’, at Le Puy‐en‐Velay, Auvergne, completed in 1860. Meanwhile the British used the cannons in various projects, most notably John Bell's London Crimean War Memorial, located on Waterloo Place, near Piccadilly, unveiled in 1861. William Theed's 1858 statue of Isaac Newton in the town of Grantham also used melted-down cannons, as did the bronze bell of St Mary's Church, Catherston Lewiston, Dorset, in 1858. The cannons also provided metal for the new Victoria Cross medals. Now the highest award of the British Army, it was created on the orders of Queen Victoria to commemorate outstanding acts of bravery shown by soldiers in the Crimean War.

The British government came out with another way of disposing of this war trophy: a small number of iron ordnance were granted to cities or towns in Great Britain and Ireland that had proper public places to put them in. Waterford city was quick to take up this offer. In May 1857, the then Mayor of Waterford, John Aloysius Blake, wrote to the War Department, requesting cannons from the Crimean War to decorate the city’s new park. Two cannons were sent over on the steamer ‘Citizen’, but they didn’t have gun carriages, only an accompanying price list for different types of gun carriages. The Mayor, who was also the MP for Waterford and was in England, made a visit to the arsenal at Woolwich, found two he thought suitable, and got permission from the War Office to ship them over to Waterford. 

The Waterford cannons are 24–pound (152 mm) short 1804 cannon. These guns were made in 1828 at the Aleksandrovsk cannon factory (which is now the Russian city of Petrozavodsk). The plant was founded in 1703 at the direction of Emperor Peter I and was engaged in the production of cast-iron naval cannons. On one side of the trunnions of the Waterford cannons is the name of the plant’s director for that period, Alexander Andreevich Fullon (he ran the plant from 1819 to 1833). On the other side of the trunnions, is the serial number (21192), its weight (120 pounds, approximately 1960 kilograms).  The letters ‘MA’ on the Waterford cannons denote the term ‘naval artillery’. Such stamps were placed on the guns that armed the warships. Being naval guns, could these cannons have been on a Russian warship during the Battle of Sinope in 1853? This cannot be confirmed but the cannons would have been removed from their ship to firstly, protect the fortress at Sevastopol and secondly, to stop them from being sunk along with their ship by the powerful British Navy. As for the damage on the trunk of one of the Waterford cannons, without a special analysis, it cannot be said with certainty that this damage is from the splinters of shells or bullets.   


To create these cannons, first a three-dimensional mould of the cannon would be made from wood. This would have been put in a steel clay box and moulding clay would be added to make the shape of the cannon. Molten iron would be poured in to these vertical moulds, to form the solid iron cannon (vertical line of cannon mould would be place below the smelter; when smelter was untapped the molten iron would have flowed directly into the moulds). The mould would be broken open and the casted cannon would be cleaned for the next process: lathing. It would be set up on the lathe, the cannon would be drilled out, then, using a boring bar, it would be bored the right size for the cannon ball, in this case 6 inches. The machine tools used to rifle bores (that is, to create spiral grooves inside the barrel, which spin the bullet or ball, and make the aim accurate for a longer distance) made all front-loaded muzzled smoothbore guns (without spirals) obsolete; this happened around 1860 with the introduction of the breach-loaded gun. Unlike front-loaded guns, breech-loaded guns had their bullets inserted from the back of the gun. Barrel rifling was invented in Augsburg, Germany in 1498. In 1520 August Kotter, an armourer from Nuremberg, improved upon this work. Though true rifling dates from the mid-sixteenth century, it did not become commonplace until the nineteenth century. 


These cannons are not Waterford’s sole connection to the Crimean War: Irish soldiers fought and lost their lives in the war as well. The Irish Garrison Towns blog tells the tale of one Waterford man who survived the war but ended his days in Waterford’s workhouse. When Patrick Hanlon died aged 83 in 1909, his coffin was placed on a gun carriage and buried with military honours in St Mary’s churchyard. Hanlon was a veteran of the Crimean War, so the Veteran’s Relief Fund paid for the funeral after the workhouse master, Mr Cosgrave, notified the War Office of his death. ‘Thus an elderly man who died a pauper was buried as a soldier.’

So, the cannon that we all love and have kind memories of have great memories of their own. These wonderful pieces of war memorabilia will be with us for many years to come and no doubt plenty of pictures will still be taken next to the guns.



Sunday, August 16, 2020

Booby Traps at the Barracks by James Doherty

The entrance to the Artillery Barracks (Poole Collection NLI )

As is often the case when researching history, sometimes you find something of interest rather than what you were actually looking for. On a trip to the National Archives in Dublin I asked to see files relating to the history of the military barracks in Waterford. There were two large barracks in the city: an infantry and a cavalry (later artillery) barracks. The time period I was interested in was the early 19th century, but a helpful archivist mentioned there was a record relating to the artillery barracks in declassified Garda files dating from 1938. 

The archivist had my interest at “declassified”, but the date was also interesting. By 1938 the artillery barracks had lain in ruins for over a decade since the Civil War and I wondered what had attracted the attention of An Garda Síochána. The document was brief (only two pages) and it concerned a query from Messrs Hamilton & Co., builders at Thomas Street, stating that they had been awarded the contract for building public housing there and the builder was concerned about the possibility of munitions left on the site. 

Commandant James McGrath of Portebello barracks, a veteran of the Civil War was interviewed and stated that he had removed land mines left at the barracks by retreating Anti-Treaty forces. Commandant McGrath stated that he couldn’t be sure that all were retrieved and the army arranged an inspection of the site. The all-clear was given and building work commenced. 

Free state forces pose in the bar of the Granville hotel with captured explosives, 1922
(Poole Collection NLI)

Often when you read historical documents you can’t help but put yourself in the shoes, or in this case the work boots, of someone else. Joseph O Shea was a builder’s labourer who, on the morning of 10 November 1938, made an alarming discovery. While digging a drain near the old barracks entrance, O Shea unearthed an artillery shell with a wire running from it. The builders alerted the Garda at the Barrack Street station and the scene was immediately sealed off. 

An ordinance officer from the Curragh was dispatched and in total eleven artillery shells and a landmine were discovered buried near the front gate of the barracks. Not all the shells were live, but there were enough to present a considerable threat to the advancing Free State troops in 1922 and to Joseph O Shea the builder sixteen years later. In modern military parlance these shells wired together with a landmine as detonator would be known as Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs for short. The intention was clear: once the occupying Free State soldiers entered the barracks, quite a substantial explosion would occur. 

Although the Garda document is brief, it shows the extent that Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War were prepared to use scorched earth tactics and it also shows it pays to keep an open mind when visiting the archives. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 6. ‘We can’t all be kings and queens’

     6. About People 

     I’ve been very fortunate over the course of my studies from secondary school to third level to have met so many great people interested in the subject of history. When sitting my Leaving Cert in Mount Sion, there were only 5 students to take the Higher-Level paper. Two of those are friends of mine to this day. Bogdan Chaus from the Ukraine had a passion for young men in search of power such as Napoleon and Michael Collins.
He always sought to be precise and pursued perfection which has stood him in good stead as he now plays in a band Deep Foxy Glow with Ailise O’Neill. Now known as Dan, it would be fair to say he loves Irish history far more than anyone I’ve ever come across. The other stalwart of Billy Doherty’s class was Michael Murphy, whose love of history led him to pursue criminal justice. He was always interested in the injustices of society and how law worked and was intrigued by cases of the past. Michael is a hard man to defeat in a debate as he is eloquent in making his points and has the facts retained to back it up. I hope one day he becomes a history teacher. 

     My greatest friend through a shared passion for history is a man named David Robson. Members of the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society would know David for his excellent talk on the making of Barry Lyndon a few years ago. The Limerick Junction native is a warm and kind spirit, and there is no friendlier person in the world. David’s passion is Irish history during the years 1912-22 and he consumed it like people watch soccer or the Kardashians. His enthusiasm for the subject is being utilised in Kilmainham Gaol as David enlightens visitors from all over the world and of all ages about one of our country’s most historic and to some scared places. Though we both disagree on a wide array of issues from De Valera to Mel Gibson, I’ve always enjoyed listening to him over a pint. 

      From people we have special moments too. I’ve been fortunate to work with Bartek Gozdur in the King of the Vikings virtual reality experience in the Viking Triangle. Bartek is a heavy metal obsessed Polish marauder who brings the story of these Norsemen to life. He doesn’t "work as a re-enactor"; he is a Viking. Anyone who has talked to Bartek for even 10 minutes would know he loves Norse mythology and scaring people as a Viking.

A couple of years ago we were invited by Dara Cunningham’s teacher to visit St. Mary’s National School where Bartek would tell nearly 60 primary school students the history of Waterford and the Vikings. The kids were engrossed in this living, breathing Viking talking of daily life making combs from cow bone and various battles he survived. 

     The best moment was when a young girl asked him the last question of the day. It was like something from the cornflakes Christmas ad, this little girl asked the Viking did children back then have toys with particular reference to teddy bears. If John Mullane was a wreck after the 2004 Munster final, I wasn’t too far behind him after witnessing a really special moment. The child asked a really pertinent question to her because she was captivated by the subject. If we were able to get one child interested in history, that hour in Ballygunner was more than worth the effort. That moment was priceless to Bartek as he was encouraging the students to see history as it related to them. 

     We’ll all have ups and downs in life. We can’t all be kings and queens. But we have to try and appreciate our experiences and the people we meet. This is where the stories begin and our love for history starts. It has been a subject that has been good to me. I hope more people will fall in love with it. 

The end... or is it?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 5. Writing History

5. ‘Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know’

 Writing can be one of the most solitary pursuits in the world.
If I was to liken it to a sport it probably would be golf. Arnold Palmer said that "Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears." The same can be said of writing regardless of whether you have to write 500 words or 5,000, a lot is based on how your mind works. 

     For writing history, one of the most important exercises is research. Research is the training for writing like you would practice drills for golf. Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it certainly helps. Research skills are something that can be developed over time and this is particularly relevant when the way we can access information is continually changing. Take for example local newspapers, before you would have to go to your local library and go through the arduous task of exploring microfilm. Now with Irish Newspaper Archives with a few search terms we can find something that may have taken months in a lot faster time. However, rather than viewing this as making research simpler we should see it as allowing us more time to look at other resources. The more information we have, allows us to write with more authority while leading us to more material to distil into an interesting story. 

When you feel you have enough information gathered
then is a good time to start writing up your research. Some people like to write as they’re researching so it is whichever suits you best. What works for one person mightn’t work for someone else. A lot of people would say write what you know about but I like to find out things that I don’t know anything at all about. Such an idea is promoted by the Irish novelist Colum McCann who states that ‘Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.’ I think the great historians be it political, social, military, etc spheres are curious individuals. They are people that thrive for knowledge and understanding. They allow their research to dictate rather than manipulate a story. 

      Some of the subjects that have interested me included Nigerian medical students playing soccer for UCD; a Pakistani squash player who wanted to play for Ireland and a prize-winning daffodil grower living in Kilcohan. I can’t say I had any firm footing in knowing anything about UCD, squash or horticulture but my thirst for learning more helped form the pieces I wrote. Let your curiosity guide your writing. Your research will help piece the story together. One’s enthusiasm will put it across. The latter trait is infectious, when you see someone enjoying themselves or displaying their love of something; you’re caught up in their affection for their subject. 

     You’ve probably noticed that this piece on writing history has more to do with research and preparation than the actual act of writing itself. The reason for this is; there is no advice I can give because everyone is different. Practice is very important and is beneficial to learn your likes and dislikes. 

The best thing to do is to start, once you do that you’ll probably never stop. 

To be continued...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 4. Reading

     4.  Reading: ‘never judge a book by its cover’  


 The Irish wit and playwright Oscar Wilde once said: 

‘It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.’ 
The things we take an interest in during our youth can have a great impact on how we live the rest of our lives. One of the greatest gifts my parents imparted in me was the joy of reading. Our house was always filled with plenty of books as my brother Olin and I grew up with stories by Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling. Adventures and tales capture everyone’s attention at any age, be it murder mysteries to great explorations. Often times the truth is stranger than fiction and that is what makes history so enjoyable, sometimes you just can’t make up what real events occurred in the past. 

Add caption
     One of the various books I read as a child was by the author Michael Smith noted for his various studies of polar exploration. Every year on World Book Day there would be a book sale held in the Mount Sion Hall on Barrack Street. I can remember seeing the blue cover with a sketch of Tom Crean on the front and immediately wanted it. I didn’t know anything else about it. The old adage is ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Smith’s book for children on the Kerryman was titled Tom Crean – Iceman and would later be included in the national school curriculum. Those of the same vintage as myself have read that book and it is definitely the work which got me interested in history. The beauty of Michael Smith is that he has written for children and adults and my interests were further fertilized the older I got with his Great Endeavour – Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers. Both of these books could be used as signposts in my own learning and the development of my interests. 

     When I was in 6th class it coincided with the  90th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and there was no shortage of books to whet my appetite. My uncle Raymond Murphy (who introduced me to the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society) bought me Dan Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom which got me obsessed with the tumultuous events of what we now term the Revolutionary Decade. When released in 1924, Breen’s book was advertised for boys as a raucous adventure story through the War of Independence. This would be later reflected by the book being re-published by Kilkenny woman Rena Dardis and Anvil Press. It certainly captured my attention when I was 12 as I wanted to learn more and more about the period. This would shape my interests in secondary school and university. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 3. Mentors


      In all walks of life be it music or sport, the musician or athlete can usually recount the support and guidance of a mentor. We can trace the word ‘mentor’ as we know it today to the mid-18th century, via French and Latin from the Greek Mentór, the name of the adviser to the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. If you’re stuck for reading over the summer Homer’s story should do the trick, it’s divided up into 24 books. Even if you prefer to stick with the Matt Groening Homer Simpson, the Odyssey has inspired countless books and films such as the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which has something for everyone, country music, prison breaks and George Clooney. 

     A mentor is a trusted advisor, someone you feel you can learn from and who will impart some of their wisdom and knowledge to you. In your lifetime you will have many people you will seek guidance from be it teachers in school, coaches with teams you’re involved with to college lecturers and supervisors. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was by my MA supervisor Dr. Gabriel Doherty of University College Cork whose mantra was “a little bit of good will goes a long way”. Always try to be kind and patient whether you’re looking for or giving help as it will stand you in good stead down the line. 

     We can’t all be ruthless and (sometimes) mean like Michael Jordan who had the mentality and ability to back it up. We should never set a standard for others which we wouldn’t follow for ourselves. This is very applicable to History where you come into contract with various librarians, archivists, historians, etc who have different personalities and ways of working. The vast majority will always help when asked. 

     The mentor (aside from my parents) that I have known the longest is a man named Donnchadh Ó Ceallachain. Most people with an interest in Waterford History will know Donnchadh really well. He describes himself as a ‘blow-in’ hailing from Cork but we in Waterford can count ourselves very fortunate to have someone like Donnchadh to research and promote the history of our city. I know him since I was a teenager attending lectures held by the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society. He showed confidence in me to become the editor of the group’s journal Decies in 2016 when I was 22-years old (granted he had been editor for 12-years) and was always available for my numerous questions and rather naïve ideas. If I asked his advice on something mad I had planned and he responded with a quick laugh and “Jeesus…” I knew t’was best to pack it away for another time. 

     The greatest things I’ve learned from Donnchadh is patience, kindness and to be generous with one’s time to others. I would say easily that he is one of the most put upon people I know but always is there to help. If I could ever achieve half the things Donnchadh has I would be delighted with my lot. The best way to sum up how important Donnchadh is, it’s probably best to dip into the world of modern celebrity. When someone is at the height of their powers or reached a level of fame we often refer to them only by their first name like Elvis, Meryl or Adele. In Waterford History we have Donnchadh! 

To be continued

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 2. 'It's the Way I Tell 'em...'

2. It’s the way I tell em

     A lot of what makes History come to life is the way the story is told. Like anything in life if you can see someone put across their words with enthusiasm and pure passion it sucks you in. The Belfast-born comedian Frank Carson use to say “it’s the way I tell em” which I often think is an idea that is misinterpreted as having to be incredibly polished with a cigar smokers voice (don’t smoke, kids!). 

     I can remember giving a talk to the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society on the MPs of Waterford city, tracing over a century of history, which to say the least didn’t go well. I was wracked with nerves and couldn’t even eat before the lecture. At this stage I was 21 years of age and had given numerous presentations in college but this was like playing on your own turf, your home crowd, this meant more. Unfortunately even after all the preparation I had made (80 pages of notes no less) the anxiousness got the better of me and I spoke like Roadrunner on Red Bull (now there’s an interesting children’s cartoon). This wasn’t helped when a noted history buff proceeded to talk during my lecture by criticising my delivery. The criticism was valid, however I think a little bit of encouragement never goes astray. Practice makes perfect, and in the subsequent years I’ve improved. Speaking in public is an on-going thing and it's superb to see Primary School kids given a platform to practice. Future 21-year-olds will be far more adept at giving a talk than I was which is a really positive move. 

First lecture 'on home turf', 2015

     One of the great speeches I’ve seen in recent times was at the grounds of Abbeyside at the under-13s Gaelic Football final. Gaultier entered the game as underdogs with my buddy Grace Cunningham lining out in the backs. It was a mighty comeback by the girls of Gaultier to win the cup in an impressive display of determination to never give up. This was exemplified by their captain, Ali Ferguson, who gave one of the most gracious, thankful and positive speeches upon winning the match. She was genuine in the words she spoke; she was being herself. The reason why I failed in my first talk in Waterford was because I was being my unconfident, 21-year old self, but the key is to learn and try to improve the best you can. 

NUI Galway

     My next presentation was a month later at the NUIG staged conference titled A Peculiar Society where I was reading my paper on the environmental movement in the 1970s and protest concerts at Carnsore Point. Needless to say the experience in St. Patrick’s Gateway hadn’t left the confidence in good stead but it was 15 minutes which went by in a flash. A week later I was in touch with Kevin Ryan of the School of Political Science & Sociology at NUI Galway who e-mailed about my paper, ‘As an aside, I also enjoyed your speaking voice – I grew up in Waterford, and my memories of the Carnsore festivals are very much bound up with the cultural “peculiarities” of the city.’ 

       T’was a great boost to my confidence and has always stayed with me. Like anything in life you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but always remember what blend of leaves you are, it’s more important in the long run. 

To be continued

The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society, Ireland.
Website By: Deise Design