Cumann Seandalaiochta agus Staire Phort Lairge

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


  1. What a lovely piece, well done Cian for sticking at it, having heard your delivery at the book launch I have to say I was full of admiration and respect. Its even higher now, knowing what you overcame.

  2. Well said! A good presentation is one that expresses, rather than impresses.


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