On Sunday October 10th 1869, Dublin heaved with excitement and trepidation. Political banners hung from houses while the city’s trade union offices buzzed with excitement. Despite a police ban on a planned procession through the city tens of thousands of people turned out. They were joined by thousands more who flooded into the city from across Ireland to participate in what was destined to be the largest demonstration in a generation.
Amid the clamour of marching bands and singing, over one hundred thousand people converged on Cabra, a sleepy village north west of Victorian Dublin, to demand an amnesty for Fenian prisoners. Now a sprawling suburb home to tens of thousands of people, in 1869 Cabra was a quiet village surrounded by farmland. But on October 10th that year these fields hosted the greatest demonstration Ireland had seen since the famine.
This demonstration was the culmination of one of the most impressive campaigns in later 19th century Ireland which saw one provincial newspaper proclaim ‘political demonstrations are becoming as fashionable in ‘the island of Saints and Scholars’ as the Bull fights in Spain‘1. The remarkable story of the Amnesty campaign of 1869 began two years earlier in Manchester, England, with the accidental killing of a policeman, an incident that led to the famous case of the Manchester Martyrs.
Medieval life has fascinated those interested in history for generations. Our curiosity is stimulated by a macabre interest in the harshness of daily life – the casual murder rate was twenty times higher than it is today, people died from curable diseases on a daily basis and you were old at forty. While this may seem tough, daily life reached unprecedented harshness in medieval Ireland after 1270. Amid war and famine vast tracts of territory became known to the Normans as Terra Guerre – The land of war. The following article contains the stories of people who lived in what was a land of war when you were lucky to live to forty or survive to die of disease…
In a remote valley, a mile east of the village of Annamoe in east Wicklow lies the long forgotten ruins of medieval Castlekevin. Camouflaged by undergrowth, this Norman castle and town was once the key Norman site in the region. The walls and earthworks of this ruin witnessed some of the most bloody events in the remarkable story of the fall of Norman society in the inhospitable mountains of eastern Wicklow.
Life at Castlekevin was not always shrouded in war and violence, indeed over seven centuries ago this fortified settlement was a thriving town dominating the neighbouring valleys of Glendalough and Glenmalure. However following a century of relentless war, famine, plague and massacres reminiscent of ‘A Game of Thrones‘ the site declined into the picturesque ruin we see today. This article is the story of eastern Wicklow in the later medieval period when it was torn apart by one of the worst crises recorded in human history. Although the region is famous for its associations with the early christian monastery at Glendalough its later medieval history is often neglected. Far from its pious origins of Glendalough the area became the centre of a bitter violent struggle for control of eastern Wicklow in a period of frequent famine.
Episode 15 is a story of murder and injustice, set in 19th century Ireland. In a country struggling to recover from the famine tenants despised landlords and their agents who had treated them brutally during the famine. When an agent John Ellis was assassinated in north Tipperary in 1857 almost everyone in the area became a suspect. Find out what happened next…..
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Medieval warfare was traditionally thought to be the preserve of men. However 14th century records illustrate gaelic Irish women participated in warfare acting as spies moving between the Anglo Norman colony and Gaelic Ireland.
Through the course of the late 13th century, society in Ireland became increasingly violent. Wicklow and the surrounding regions were one of the places worst affected. High in the mountains gaelic society had survived the norman invasion relatively intact. From the 1270′s onwards the Gaelic Irish O Tooles, O Byrnes and Mc Murroughs were driven to raiding the Norman colony by frequent famines. In the following decades the Norman Colony in the Vale of Dublin, Kildare and the Barrow Valley were often decimated by raiding. Accounts of settlements on the fringes of Wicklow at the time are reminiscent of Deadwood.
In the 14th century Europe experienced one of the worst crises in recorded human history which saw war, famine and plague decimate the population. In Ireland this crisis developed in a society already wracked by deep divisions and political upheaval.
Although brewing for decades this crisis began in earnest in 1315 when one of the worst famines of medieval history gripped Ireland.This was followed by a period of extreme violence between the resurgent Gaelic Irish and the Norman Barons. The crisis reached its zenith when the Black Death struck Ireland killing between 30% and 50% of the population in 1348 and early 1349.
This 14th century crisis is the subject of an upcoming audiobook I am writing at the moment and here’s a taste of what to expect!
Kilkenny workhouse like so many workhouses has a dark history. During the great famine (1845-51) over 1,000 people died from the horrific conditions, 800 of whom were buried in the grounds of the workhouse.
Bizarrely however, in 2007 a €300 million shopping centre was opened in the workhouse. Claiming to have “sensitively and beautifully” restored the workhouse, the shopping centre perversely built a food court in the plaza surrounded by the workhouse called “workhouse square”. The fact that a mass grave of 800 famine victims was found during construction of the shopping centre seems to have been lost along the way.
Episode 12. This episode looks at the fascinating story of Dennis Doherty. Born in Derry in 1814, Doherty would spend most of his life in Australian prisons or trying to break out of them. His story is remarkable – he was flogged 3,000 times and spent years in solitary confinement but yet he continually struggled for freedom.
This podcast journeys through the life of Dennis Doherty from a poverty stricken childhood in Ireland in the early 19th century to his time in the British Army and then his horrific life of incarceration in Australia.
Its almost impossible to comprehend how much Ireland has changed in the last 150 years. This selection of photos from a National Library collection released in 1981 give a rare glimpse into Ireland between 1860-1880.
Many of these pictures are of tourists. The late 19th century had seen tourism take off in Ireland (exclusivley among the wealthy) with the expansion of rail lines into the west.
Unfortunately because of the focus on wealthy tourists, the vast majority of the people of Ireland are not represented in these photos. Ordinary Irish peasants only feature when they interact with the tourists.
All the photo’s were taken between 1860-1880. To put them in context many of the people in these photos were survivors of The Great Famine (1845-51)
As the 18th century drew to a close the catholic church in Ireland was optimistic about its future. It had survived a century of repression emerging relatively intact and as the century drew to a close full catholic emancipation was on the horizon. Through the following century the Catholic Church in Ireland enjoyed a meteoric rise in power. This rise in fortunes is reflected closely in one of Dublin’s most famous churches – St Peter’s, Phibsboro (left), now one of the most famous landmarks on the north side of Dublin. It dominates the skyline with a 200ft tall spire but just like Catholicism in the 19th century it began in far more humble conditions. (more…)
I was researching the Great Irish Famine (1845-51) when I came across this bleak report written in Clifden workhouse on Christmas day 1847. Thesituation in Ireland was desperate by 1847 when famine related diseases started to ravage an already weakened population. The workhouse was what the 19th century offered up as state welfare. Orphans, the old and the destitute were admitted and in return for food they were subjected to a horrendous regime. The desperate situation in Ireland during the famine meant that these institutions were completely overwhelmed leading to massive levels of disease and mortality in the workhouses. Needless to say Christmas day 1847 was just another day of misery, disease and death for the people in Clifden workhouse.
1741, “The Year of Slaughter” (Bliadhain an Air) was one of the most tragic events in post-medieval Irish history. Although this famine has been overshadowed by the famine of 1845-1851 it was equally destructive. In fact it killed a greater percentage of the population in a shorter period of time. Although often attributed to “natural causes” a closer look reveals the suffering could have been alleviated.
I am 32 year old historian, archaeologist and blogger. I have published a book on life in medieval Ireland entitled 'Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome, life in Medieval Ireland'. I also organise tours of medieval Dublin, available on request.