Call for Papers: Sport History Ireland 10th Annual Conference.

Here on the Dustbin, I have been responsible for a substantial amount of sport history appearing on the blog since we began. So it is with great pleasure that I post today to bring  to your attention a major milestone in the historical study of sport in Ireland.

On 20th September 2014, St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra will host the 10th Annual Conference of Sport History Ireland, the body set up to encourage and foster scholarly research into Ireland’s sporting past. The history of sport has emerged in Ireland in the ten intervening years as a vital and exciting aspect of much of the new social and cultural history that has emerged in the same period. The call for papers is now open, until the 20th June 2014.This is an event not to be missed. For further details, here’s the poster:Image

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Understanding Irish America

'St Patrick' in the 2009 Dublin parade

‘St Patrick’ in the 2009 Dublin parade (photograph by the author)

With the importation of American-style parades, sequined shamrocks, and green beer, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland has come to seem more and more Irish-American. Meanwhile the mass exodus of politicians to the US and other parts of the world for March 17th continues as they court the now-powerful descendents of Irish emigrants. Buried under a landslide of books for my PhD and assailed by news articles and ads on the upcoming holiday, I have realized that few critically question these developments or our assumptions about them – if we say St. Patrick’s Day is Irish-American, then what is Irish America really? Viewed historically this presents less of a problem: successive waves of Irish immigrants settled largely in urban areas where they worked and lived with other Irish people, participated in Irish cultural events, went to the local Catholic Church where there was often an Irish priest, and wrote letters to relatives in Ireland and across the globe. But what about today? Historians speak about ethnic groups in an amorphous sense but few engage with the more ambiguous markers of ethnic identity in the present or only seem to notice those who actively participate in maintenance of that identity, those who take Irish dancing or language classes or, in the case of The Gathering last year, those with enough money to make the trip across the Atlantic to the ‘old country’. What about the rest?

Whatever it is, there is no doubt that Irish America is rooted in history, particularly the Famine of 1845-9. Social anthropologist Reginald Byron’s book, misleadingly titled Irish America (it’s about Albany, New York), attempts to link that history to contemporary identity. While putting the Famine at the centre of the Irish American experience places Byron in good company, his account of Irish history and the history of the Irish in America largely ends with the mid-nineteenth century and he is vague about how many of his informants might actually be descended from famine-era immigrants as opposed to earlier or later generations. After all, while approximately 1 million people left Ireland in the famine decade, emigration had begun before then and 3.5 million left between 1855 and 1921 and in all cases a large proportion ended up in the United States, though sometimes by more circuitous routes. The danger of focusing so intensely on the Famine as to give it a mythic quality is that doing so can ‘obscure the diversity of Irish migration and its changing character over time’.[1] Byron’s repeated emphasis on the ‘famine generation’ belies his otherwise patent goal to ‘dispose’ of ‘pervasive myth’.[2] Irish America was never one homogenous entity, never solely the victims of starvation and oppression; that in itself is a myth. It was and is more akin to a historically grounded, continually negotiated, and multi-faceted idea, aspects of which individuals might choose to accept or reject.[3]

When we say an idea or ethnic identity is rooted in history or a sense of the past, what does that mean exactly? Whose history? What history and where? Byron focused his questions on two areas: Irish history and family history, but found his informants’ knowledge of both lacking when he asked them to name major events in Irish history and why their ancestors left. He concludes, ‘for the great majority of our informants, the links with the past had been broken, and no family traditions of Irish history or stories of the circumstances of their ancestors’ emigration have been passed down to the present generations.’[4] Is it really so surprising that people in the 1990s (when he carried out his research) do not know the exact reasons their ancestors left Ireland a hundred-plus years ago? How many people do know their full family history back five or more generations? Byron seems interested in these ‘links with the past’ only when they pertain to Ireland – why not the experience of the Irish in America?[5] By asking about Irish history and reasons for leaving Ireland he seems to query the authenticity of Irish America in calling itself Irish at all, as opposed to examining what it is in and of itself. Irish immigrants and their descendents worked as everything from miners to mayors, domestic servants to democratic senators, but in the process they often faced discrimination, company exploitation, and poor housing, all of which have shaped the historical narrative.

For me, the more interesting questions are related to why individuals today want to have an ethnic identity and how and why those of mixed ancestry end up emphasizing one branch of the family over another.[6] What does it mean to be Irish-American or ‘of Irish extraction’ today? How does drinking green beer have anything to do with it? Is being ‘ethnic’ in America anything more than a fad, a by-product of embracing multiculturalism? The commonly quoted statistic is that roughly 40 million Americans write ‘Irish’ in the ethnic section of the census form, but what this means may differ between individuals. For some, it may simply be a fact of ancestry. For others, it surfaces in the form of participation in St Patrick’s Day celebrations or a holiday in Ireland. For others, it may be more a part of everyday life.[7] When Humans of New York published this photo and caption, the comments zeroed in on questioning the man’s Irishness, not the central lesson of tolerance.[8] Both Ireland and Irish America may have a lot to learn about each other and about the value of accepting diversity in what it means to be Irish.


[1] Kevin Kenny, Diaspora: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), p.29.

[2] Reginald Byron, Irish America (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999), p.54.

[3] Kathleen Neils Conzen, et al., ‘The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States’, in Jon Gjerde (ed.), Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History (Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1998), pp.22-9.

[4] Byron, Irish America, p.82.

[5] This is despite the fact that he realizes, ‘by and large, our informants’ recollections of their family histories do not extend back to Ireland, but begin only in America’ (emphasis added). Bryon, Irish America, p.80.

[6] For a more thorough assessment of these issues see: Mary Waters, Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America (University of California Press, 1990).

[7] Christine Legrand examines the implications of ‘being of Irish extraction’ and argues that it is ‘a matter of personal choice’ influenced by family and the feeling of shared history or values. ‘Nation, Migration, and Identities in Late Twentieth Century Ireland’, Narodna Umjetnost: Croatian Journal of Ethnology and Folklore Research, vol.42, no.1 (June 2005), p.51.

[8] Sheila Langan, ‘A Black Irishman in New York Gets the Internet Buzzing’, Irish Central, 21 January 2014, http://www.irishcentral.com/news/A-black-Irishman-in-New-York-gets-the-Internet-buzzing.html

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Jewish Waterford, 1893-1940

Cormac Ó’Gráda’s book Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce, was a ground-breaking work for looking at religious and ethnic minorities in Ireland historically. I recently heard Ó’Gráda speaking as part of the UCC Historical Society’s History Week. Ó’Gráda spoke about the potential of the 1901 and 1911 census, especially in relation to the study of minorities in Irish life from that period. With that in mind, and following on from some tentative work which I had done for my PhD thesis, I’ve decided to sketch a portrait of Waterford’s Jewish community from the end of nineteenth century up to the beginning of the Second World War.

The Beginnings of the Jewish Community in Waterford

According to Louis Hyman, in his history of Irish Jewry up to 1910, ‘At the close of the seventeenth century, the Council of the Waterford Corporation encouraged the settlement of foreign merchants.’ One man who applied to trade freely in the city was Jacob Nunes who was given the freedom of the city to conduct trade in 1701.[1] Thus Nunes has a fair claim to being Waterford’s first Jewish settler. Again, Hyman notes that ‘individual Jews resided in Waterford in the eighteenth century, and some were there in 1805, one of them, surely Josias Jacob, registered with the Dublin Goldsmith’s Company in 1809. About the middle of the nineteenth century, the grandparents of the late Professor James Desmond Bernal settled in the town.’[2] According to the census of 1871, there was still only a solitary Jew in Waterford, however that was all about to change. With the introduction of what are popularly known as the May Laws, many Jews in Tsarist Russia made their way to Britain and Ireland. As Hyman notes, this movement of Jews from what was sometimes called Russian Poland, and Lithuania, had the effect ultimately of strengthening the communities of Jewish settlers in places other than in Dublin and Belfast.[3]

One of the earliest mentions of the new Jewish community in Waterford comes from 1893 with the death of Joseph Diamond at the age of 68, who lived on 8 Manor Street in the city centre, a street in Waterford that would in time form a central part of the Jewish community in the city.[4] Many of the Jews then settled in Waterford were Welsh, and were part of the Jewish community in Britain that were middle-class emigrants from Central Europe, what were known in Ireland as “English Jews”. The lives of these Jewish people were in stark contrast to those who would come to make up the bulk of Britain, Ireland, and Waterford’s Jewish communities in time, those fleeing pogroms and persecution in Russia.

Shortly after the death notice of Joseph Diamond, the Jewish Chronicle noted that a congregation had been established in the city, with Mr R Smullian as president, and so prayers were held for the  Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, for probably the first time in Waterford’s history.[5] A year later, the Jewish Chronicle again mentioned the new congregation noting that:

Mr and Mrs Goldring presented a Scroll of the Law to the newly-established congregation. In the evening they gave a party to which every Jewish resident of Waterford was invited. Mr M. Simon presided  and great satisfaction was expressed by the Chairman, Mr Hanasan[sic], President of the congregation, Mr R. Smullian, Mr Levy, Mr Diamond and others at the formation of the congregation.[6]

With the congregation up and running in Waterford city, the Jewish community there could do perform rites of their faith in their new home, rather than travelling to other cities in Ireland with synagogues. The development of the congregation breathed life into the city’s Jewish community and it wasn’t long before the city saw its first Jewish wedding, something which attracted a great deal of interest from Waterford people generally:

On Wednesday 14th inst the first Jewish wedding that has been solemnised in Waterford took place in the synagogue 88 the Manor. The couple were Miss Fanny Diamond and Mr Jack Lappin. The ceremony was performed by Rev J. E. Myers of Cork assisted by the local minister Rev Simon Aarons. The wedding created a great deal of interest  in Waterford and the synagogue was filled with Christians. Rev J. E. Myers  preached on Sabbath morning and also at a special service on Sunday evening, the latter attended by several Christians. Mr Goldring, President, and his wife have made handsome presents to the synagogue. Mr Robinson is Treasurer and Mr J. Levy is Hon Sec.[7]

The development of the community was of interest in particular to JE Myers, who ministered to the Cork congregation, and who visited Waterford on a number of occasions.[8] The community was growing in strength and in no time, there was a plan to open a Hebrew School in the city.[9] As the Jewish community grew and developed, children were born into families in Waterford, like the Sherowitz family. The progress of the community in Waterford was followed closely by the Jewish Chronicle, and many notices, no matter how small, relating to the city’s community, appeared throughout its pages. And so we know that some of the members of Waterford’s Jewish community got involved in politics, like Harris Sherowitz who sent a letter to John Redmond MP on the Aliens Act in 1905, signed by many, in the hopes that he would seek amendments to it. There was a significant difference between the size of the community in 1901 and by 1911. The interwar period was the peak of the Jewish community in Waterford, built as it was by the community that had developed and was captured in the census of 1911. Waterford’s Jewish community was at its most numerous in the city then: there were around 62 Jewish people in Waterford at that date. It was never bigger, before or since. While these numbers obviously pale in their significance when placed next to the Jewish communities of Dublin, Cork or Limerick, nevertheless the Jewish community in Waterford left their mark on the city. These maps show where Waterford’s Jewish community settled in the city (click images to enlarge them):

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

As you can see from Fig. 1 above, the very small community that existed in 1901, was centred in the main around John Street and Manor Street. This concentration would remain in 1911, as you can see from Fig.2, below:

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

To get the full effect, Fig.3 below shows both the 1901 and 1911 settlements overlaid on each other:

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

These few streets then, encompassed Waterford’s Jewish community until the beginning of the Second World War.

The Figure of the ‘Jewman’ in Popular Imagination and Memory in Waterford

Once the community strengthened, and became a more visible presence in the city, centred as it was around John Street and Manor Street, the figure of the ‘Jewman’, in that peculiar Irish turn of phrase, was a figure of curiosity and later, folk memory. In Waterford a song was sung called ‘The Jewman’, and according to Dermot Power was popular at one time with workers in Denny’s Bacon curing factory back in the late 1920s and 1930s, when the community was at its height. If as Hyman’s history of the Jews in Ireland has it ‘they knew no trade but peddling’, a fact contested in Ó’Gráda’s work, then this aspect of Irish Jewry is well summed up in the opening verses of ‘The Jewman’:

 At the top of town, Anne Street, a lady does dwell,

Her name I won’t mention, I dare not tell,

One cold winter’s morning the Jewman did call,

And unslung his bag outside of the hall.

He knocked at the door with his usual grin,

Saying good morning, missus, is your husband within

Says she no he’s not I want nothing today,

Ah take something said the Jewman don’t send me away.[10]

In the song, the woman takes some blankets on the promise of payment the following week, and duly the following week no payment is forthcoming, so the Jewman makes a grab for his goods, is hit over the head with a can by the woman before both are brought before a court, the song finishing with the testimony of ‘a big red nosed Bobby’ and a suitably amdmonished Jewman:

Said the Jew oh your Worship my poor head is sore,

And I’ll never go look for me wool anymore.[11]

As Cormac Ó’Gráda notes of such songs, and this particular one seems to have existed in a variety of versions Dublin as well, were indicative of views among Irish people that were ‘more xenophobic than strictly Anti-Semitic.’ Indeed, he contends that ‘the outlook of most Irish people of all persuasions was blinkered, parochial, and prejudiced by today’s standards.’[12] Such was the power over the local imagination of this figure, the ‘Jewman’, that one of Waterford’s lanes, Kneeff’s Lane, was popularly known as ‘Jewman’s Lane’. Indeed, the popular folk memory of the ‘Jewman’ and ‘Jewman’s Lane’ were revisited in a recent documentary about the Barrack Street area in the heart of Waterford city (the relevant segment is from 36:00 to 38:45):

As we’ve seen, the first Jewish marriages and other occasions were of deep interest to many locals, and something of this interest first present in the 1890s remained in the 1930s, as when the Munster Express carried a small notice relating to the Jewish Day of Atonement in September 1931.[13] Members of Waterford’s Jewish community found themselves in court on occasion, and in a rare display of anti-Semitism, a local District Court judge told a member of the family that he should count himself lucky, given what was happening to his people in Hitler’s Germany, though many rushed to defend the judge saying his comments were not meant in such a way.[14] There was also this joke which appeared in the pages of the Munster Express:

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Still, whether this properly reflects the relationship between the Jewish community and their hosts is difficult to ascertain for certain, perhaps like the figure of the ‘Jewman’ this was more parochial than anti-Semitic. One of the more unusual stories involving Ireland’s Jewish community and Waterford comes from the late 1930s as well. Frank Edwards, a member of the Communist Party of Ireland and rugby player with Waterford City RFC and teacher in Mount Sion, took a leave of absence from his teaching duties in the school to join the International Brigade  to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. Upon returning, Edwards was refused his old job and barred from teaching in any Catholic school. Rev. Herzog, the Chief Rabbi in Ireland, gave Edwards a job teaching in Zion Schools, recently established on Bloomfield Avenue in Dublin, where Edwards would work for the next thirty years.[15]

The legacy of Waterford’s Jewish Community

Ray Rivlin’s Jewish Ireland: A Social History, contains a chapter on sport and entertainment.[16] The chapter opens with the story of Maurice Woolfson, a Jewish Waterford man who led local club Evergreen, when they achieved great victory on the field in the 1930s. The Woolfson name is an important one in the early history of Waterford soccer. Isaac Woolfson, was in the 1930s, chairman of the Waterford and District Association Football League and a key figure in establishing the first Employer’s League in 1931, forerunner to the factory leagues. Like many of the figures explored in Anthony Clavane’s Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?, men like Isaac, Maurice and later ‘Duffy’ Woolfson, emigrant Jews from the poor edges of Russia, who were not of the middle-class “English Jew” origins of earlier Jews in Waterford, used sport, and soccer in particular as a means of integration and acceptance. Cormac Ó’Gráda, discussing the wide variety of sporting and other bodies established by Ireland’s Jewish community noted that success in the sporting arena ‘fostered communal pride’ but he also noted that it wasn’t long before many Irish Jews, and the membership of their sports clubs, moved beyond the community itself. [17]In 1938, with Maurice Woolfson as chairman, Evergreen won the FAI Minor Cup, beating Sligo United 2-1 in a game held at Kilcohan Park in the city. On his leaving for Dublin 1940, the loss was lamented by all involved in the club.

The Woolfson family dispersed from Waterford but returned in 1971 for the inauguration of the Maurice Woolfson Perpetual Challenge Trophy for the local Schoolboy League at half time during a League of Ireland game between Waterford and Finn Harps. However, as was noted by a journalist at the time, the contribution of the Woolfson family to Waterford soccer amounted to a lot more than just a silver trophy, ‘no matter how magnificent’.[18] The same might be said of the entire Jewish community, who breathed life into the streets on which they lived in Waterford, leaving a long lasting impression on the city and its people.


[1] Hyman, Louis, The Jews of Ireland: From Earliest Times to the year 1910, Shannon: Irish University Press 1972, p.22

[2] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p.79

[3] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p156 and 161

[4] Jewish Chronicle, 1 September 1893

[5] Jewish Chronicle, 22 September 1893

[6] Jewish Chronicle, 20 October 1894

[7] Jewish Chronicle, 23 November 1894

[8] Jewish Chronicle, 27 March; 17 July 1896

[9] Jewish Chronicle, 6 November 1896

[10] Power, Dermot, The Ballads and Songs of Waterford from 1487, Waterford: Munster Express 1992, pp.10-11

[11] Power, Ballads and Songs of Waterford, p.11

[12] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Socio-economic history, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2006, p.180

[13] Munster Express, September 25 1931

[14] Munster Express, Septembr 27 1935

[15] Rivlin, Ray, Ireland: A Social History, Dublin: The History Press Ireland, 2011, p.110

[16] Rivlin, Ray, Jewish Ireland, pp.209-210

[17] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland, pp.186-187

[18] Munster Express, April 23 1971

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My house in history, 1882-1945

For the past number of years, I have lived on Friar Street in Cork. The row of houses, according to a foundation stone near my door, were built in 1882. Inspired a little by the MyHomesPast project in Britain, I decided to take a look at the history of my particular house since it was first built. Using old street directories and the online censuses of 1901 and 1911, I found an interesting story of several different families.

One of the earliest mentions I can find of my current house comes from the Guy’s Cork Directory for 1893, which lists a man by the name of John Driscoll as the occupant, making him more than likely the first resident of the house. It is difficult to be sure just who John Driscoll was, since by 1901, he had moved, and in the immediate vicinity there were three John Driscolls living on James Square, St. Finbarr’s Terrace and Tower Street.

1901

According to the 1901 census the family living in my house were the Pollocks. The head of the family, William, was then 40 years old. Originally from Newry, Co. Antrim, William was a book binder by trade and at that time he was one of about roughly forty or so  people plying their trade with the bookbinders in the city. He was a member of the Cork Typographical Society and later the Cork Trades Council.

His wife, Kate, who was nine years younger than her husband, was originally from London. They married some time in 1892.There were then four children in the family – one girl and three boys. Jane, the eldest of the children was then 6; William, the next child was 4, with the two younger boys, John and James, aged just 2 and 1 years old respectively. William’s religion was listed as being Church of Ireland, although his wife Kate was listed as being a Catholic. As a result, all four children were also being raised as Catholics, as was the custom then in Ireland.

1911

Ten years later, there were new residents in the house.  This time, the residents were the Hawkes family. In 1901, the Hawkes had been the next door neighbours of the Pollock family. In 1901, Richard Hawke, an iron moulder, was forty-three, just three years older than his neighbour William Pollock. The changeover had taken place some time between 1901 and 1907, since according to the Guy’s Cork Directory for 1907, Richard Hawkes and his family had already made the move next door. Richard’s wife was Catherine, then 36 years old. They had two children, two daughters: Annie who was twelve and Gertrude who was just six, the same age as neighbouring Jane Pollock. Some time in the interim, tragedy struck the Hawkes family, and Catherine had passed away. Interestingly, in the new segment on Return Form ‘A’, where the details of the length of the marriage and the details of the children produced by the marriage could be entered, the figures seem to have been entered initially, only to have then been scratched over so as to be illegible.

Richard’s two daughters still lived with him and Annie, now 22, was apparently unemployed, although her younger sister Gertrude was working as a dress maker, while Richard (now apparently 56 – possibly to avail sooner of the new pension which had been introduced in 1908) was still working as an iron moulder.

The Pollock family had moved only a number of streets away, to a house on Mary Street. Intriguingly, William Pollock was now listed not as a member of the Church of Ireland, but rather as a Presbyterian. By 1911, their had been an addition to the Pollock family, four-year-old Gerard. The two eldest children, Jane and William, were working by then. Jane, 16, is listed as being a draper’s shop girl, while young William, just 14, was also apprenticed to a draper.

Future Years

Richard Hawkes was still living in the house on Friar Street in 1925, according to Guy’s Cork Directory for that year, and the house was valued at £6. His old neighbour, William Pollock, was also still living at his house in Mary Street, a house according to the same directory valued at some £19, although this house was in fact one house split into two, an early sign of its later life as a tenement building in the 1940s. By 1930, however the house on Friar Street was in the hands of one of Richard Hawkes’ daughters, since Guy’s Cork Directory for that year lists the occupant as Mrs. Hawkes, who was still residing in the house by 1945. As for the house in Mary Street, William was still listed as the principal occupant in 1930 although the house was in the hands of William’s daughter Jane by 1935, suggesting that like his old neighbour Richard, he too had passed away and a chapter of the history of my house on Friar Street had come to an end.

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The Cork International Car Race, May 1937

I have posted here before about early motor racing in Tramore, Waterford, but today I am going to take a quick look at the Cork Car Race, an international motor racing contest that took place in Cork in May 1937.

My interest on this occasion is less to do with the races themselves or how they came about but rather their popular reception and the way in which they were reported on. I encountered this motor race while doing other research in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room. I was trawling through the microfilm of the Evening Echo, Cork’s long-running evening daily, when I happened upon the Cork Car Race and the extensive coverage afforded it by the Echo. Two things in particular struck me about the coverage of the race. One was the employment in the newspaper of photographs, cartoons and even the advertisements in the issue of the paper covering the Race.

Photographs of the racers in their cars abounded, but more strikingly, there was a cartoon and one particular advertisement that showed perfectly the cross-section between major sporting events of this kind, commercialism and popular entertainment at that time. And so, first to the cartoon:

 

The cartoon depicts a disgruntled fisherman whose weekend leisure has been disrupted by the noise and pageantry of the big event, the Cork Car Race. Clearly, such novel sporting events were not to everyone’s taste!

Secondly, there was this advertisement:

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Anyone who knows Cork, knows that Tanora holds a special place in the hearts of many Cork people. Here we see the company cleverly employing ad copy to capitalise on the novelty of the Cork Car Race. This shows brilliantly the intersection between sport and commercialism that had become so developed in the interwar period (the Evening Echo of this period is equally full of cigarette and drink advertisements showing hurlers, footballers, tennis players and jockeys among other things).[1] It may be the case that the ad was used before or since, but the timing of the ad in this particular edition of the Evening Echo in which about a quarter of the paper was given over to the Cork Car Race is especially remarkable.

As with the races that had taken place earlier in the decade in Tramore, the speed and excitement was the main draw for the many spectators, and the Evening Echo reported crashes and even stories of cars catching fire in great depth, the crash of Bira (Birabongse Bhanudej), Prince of Siam, being of special interest. Most of the scrapes were fairly tame in reality, however one driver from England, Cyril Mervyn White, who only weeks previously had come inside the top 10 in a race in Britain in his Bugatti, ended up in the Mercy Hospital following a crash during a time trial and later died from his injuries.[2]

The race was a major international event, the second of its kind in Cork, even  being the subject of a British Pathé newsreel. The race would only run one more year, in 1938, but as can be seen from these images of 1937, the Cork International Car Race was not just an exciting (or if you fancied a quiet spot of fishing, excruciating) experience, but was ripe too for commercial exploitation by local firms such as mineral water bottlers like John Daly.


[1] For a discussion of the various aspects of sport and commercialism see Collins, Tony, Sport in Capitalist Society: A Short History, London, New York: Routledge 2013; see also Collins, Tony, and Vamplew, Wray, Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol, Oxford: Berg, 2002

[2] Evening Echo, May 22 1937; May 26 1937

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Revisiting E.H. Carr’s What Is History?

Carr What Is HistoryMy first introduction to historiography came in the shape of E.H. Carr’s 1961 text What Is History? in a European History course in my final year of high school. I had long been interested in history and had the benefit of excellent teachers but had never read anything specifically on what it meant to do or to write history. Carr’s book, based on a series of lectures delivered at Cambridge but aimed at a much wider audience, is clear and thought provoking and its central ideas have stayed with me ever since. (I still have the original essay I wrote about it for the high school class so that provides accurate evidence of my perspective at the time!) I recently bought a newer edition of the book and decided to revisit it, to see if my training as a historian has altered my perspective. The purpose of this piece is not to evaluate him in relation to contemporary thinking but to reflect on his core ideas, many of which have remained the subject of historiographical debate in the subsequent decades, though the language we use to discuss them may have changed.

On the first encounter, at the tender age of sixteen, What Is History? provoked two main reactions in me: First, it reinforced some ideas about history that I had only picked up subconsciously before – that how history is written depends on when it is written and who writes it and that the narratives created are not objective because they involve the selection of facts or evidence. Second, I remember being frustrated by its somewhat theoretical or abstract nature – even though Carr uses examples, they were probably more familiar and current to his audience at the time and left me still wanting to know more about the application of his ideas.

Over fifty years have passed since Carr first delivered his ‘broadside on history’[1] and in any analysis of it we cannot escape the statement he made at the beginning: ‘When we attempt to answer the question, What is History?, our answer, consciously or unconsciously, reflects our own position in time, and forms part of our answer to the broader question what view we take of the society in which we live.’[2] This principle applies not only to texts on historical subjects, but also his own, which does indeed reflect his position in time – the atmosphere of post-war Britain and the Cold War. Certainly it’s now unacceptable to refer to the historian consistently using the male pronoun, but I’ll excuse Carr on that point given his generation! Many of the examples he uses to illustrate his points also come from the realm of political history, though there are occasional hints at the emergence of social history: ‘People do not cease to be people, or individuals individuals, because we do not know their names,’ even if he only attaches significance to these nameless individuals when they act en masse.[3]

The idea that a historian’s writings reflects his/her own era is related to Carr’s more general ideas about bias and interpretation. The term bias is often taken to have a negative connotation, but in this case it means something closer to perspective that effects interpretation. These ideas largely come through in the first chapter, ‘The Historian and His Facts.’ Carr’s argument gets a bit bogged down by his attempt to define what a ‘fact’ is and how it becomes a ‘historical fact’, but for the purpose of examining his ideas they can be viewed essentially as the raw materials of history or, the term most commonly used today, evidence. History, then, is written through selection of facts/evidence and this process is an act of interpretation. (I have found this idea one of the most difficult to instil in students, who, coming straight out of secondary school still seem to think books equal unquestionable truth.) Based on Collingwood’s ideas, Carr states three main points: ‘history means interpretation’ (historians tend to find what they’re looking for); the historian needs an ‘imaginative understanding’ of the mindset of the people he/she studies; and we can only look at the past ‘through the eyes of the present’ as even the language we use embodies that perspective.[4] However, he recognizes the dangers of complete skepticism, subjectivity, post-modernism, and all the other post-isms that this view might seem to suggest, that we could be left with either with a history that has no meaning or an infinity of meanings.[5] The way he seeks to resolve this apparent contradiction is through the idea of ‘reciprocal action’ on two levels, ‘between the historian and his facts’ and ‘between the present and the past’.[6] And thus we have the idea of historiography! For example, I don’t think any scholar of American immigration history today sees Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted and its narrative of assimilation / Americanization as the definitive text on the subject, and yet they still read it and reference it because of its place in the development of the field and to show the distance between it and contemporary work. We are in the business of constantly revising the past.

Much has changed in the world and in historiography since Carr’s time and from the standpoint of the present we recognize his shortcomings: his somewhat elitist view on the eve of the revolution brought by social history, his focus on the political and on history as a ‘science’, his belief in ‘progress’. Nonetheless, I think his ideas about the working process of the historian, with its subjectivity and continual series of revisions, remain central our discipline at all levels – teaching, research, and writing.

—————

This post is dedicated to Dr. Christian Nøkkentved, affectionately known to generations of students as ‘Doc Nok’, a member of the history faculty at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy who retired this year. I am forever grateful to him and the other members of the department for their time and enthusiasm, which continue to inspire me today. I first read Carr’s book in his class and he is in many ways responsible for my interest in social history.


[1] E.H. Carr letter to Isaac Deutscher, March 1960, in Richard J. Evans, introduction to E.H. Carr, What is History?, 2nd ed. (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2001), p.xix.

[2] Carr, What is History?, p.2.

[3] Carr, What is History?, p.44.

[4] Carr, What is History?, pp.18-20.

[5] Carr, What is History?, pp.20-21.

[6] Carr, What is History?, p.24.

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First World War Commemoration in Waterford, 1918-1930

This coming weekend, a memorial to those who died during the First World War will be officially unveiled in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. In recent years there has been a greater engagement by academic historians and the general public with the role of Irish men and women and their experience of the First World War. Publications like the Royal Irish Academy’s Our War and A Great Sacrifice have helped to bring the history of Irish involvement in the conflict to the fore of public consciousness.[1] In part this is driven by a revision of that period of Irish history, a desire to place the history of Ireland into a broader framework of the rest of what then constituted the United Kingdom, but to also bring Irish history into closer contact with the narratives of wider European history.

First World War Memorial, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to be unveiled this weekend. Source: Waterford County Museum facebook page

First World War Memorial, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to be unveiled this weekend. Source: Waterford County Museum facebook page

Waterford had a proportionately quite high number of men join up to fight in the First World War. Unsurprisingly then, the tradition of marking Armistice Day took on important significance in Waterford, in both city and the county. This memorialising began almost immediately, with Armistice Day being marked in the city and county immediately. Given the domestic upheavals of the period the act of remembering was often complicated. In Dungarvan in 1920 for instance, there was some concern about whether or not shops would close as a mark of respect during the procession in the town and it appears that the local British forces stationed in the town ensured that businesses did indeed close by marching, fixed bayonets in hand, through the main street just after 11 o’clock in the morning, which prompted most businesses to shut their doors. In Dan Fraher’s store, two of his shop assistants were compelled to leave the shop and marched to remove a Sinn Féin (that’s to say the Irish tricolour) flag from a position on the castle in the town and were both then brought to the barracks followed by a group of waggish young lads who whistled Wrap the Green Flag Around Me. The tricolour was replaced with a Union Jack, and although a lorryload of Black and Tans apparently arrived on the scene, the tense incident ended without any physical harm coming to anyone.[2]

Meanwhile in 1922, Waterford saw its biggest such gathering yet. The memorials which had been taking place each November in Waterford city were organised by the local Legion of Ex-Service Men’s Club. On this, the fourth such marking of Armistice Day, the crowds attending was said to be very large, and indeed the largest yet seen for the occasion.[3] The procession headed by the Legion Clubs banner, included both the Barrack Street Brass and Reed Band and the Erin’s Hope Band. Although the Barrack Street Band led the procession, and Erin’s Hope Band were the back marker, interspersed between the various Legion members, including the Portlaw branch, widows and other family members were also the Thomas Francis Meagher Band and the Legion’s own band. When the procession along the Barrack Street and the Mayor’s Walk ended at Ballybricken all four bands played the “Dead March” from Saul, each in turn.[4] The role of music, and the juxtaposition of musical strains with the two-minutes silence that accompanied the marking of the Armistice was a crucial part of memorialising the First World War generally and the impact of it in Waterford is palpable from the newspaper reports.[5]

Capt. Willie Redmond gave a rousing speech to the people assembled on Ballybricken saying that he hoped that in time to come that Irish ex-servicemen would also see the benefits that were sure to accrue to Ireland in the future. He finished his speech by saying he hoped that the Legion would “in each succeeding year, as has been the case in the past… will find a still greater manifestation of devotion and reverence for the memories of our comrades of the days gone by.”[6]

The following years the numbers attending the memorial in Waterford apparently increased again. This fifth anniversary also mentions that the sale of the Flanders poppy was on sale and “worn by many” throughout the day.[7] The report also made note that the memorial services were held across religious denominations, but the one in Christ Church was noted especially for the tolling of its bells in memory of the dead. The assembly of the marchers began at 2.30, with the procession again headed by the Legion Club’s banner and the Barrack Street Band beginning at 3pm. The report in the Munster Express noted that one of the most splendid banners was that of the Waterford branch of the Sailors and Firemen’s Union. The circuit of the procession, which began in Ballybricken went from  Morgan Street, through Thomas Street, , The Quay, The Mall, Parnell Street, Johnstown, Ballytruckle and back to Ballybricken via Bunker’s Hill, Barrack Street and the Mayor’s Walk. The solemnity of the occasion at the end of the march is remarkable, the banner of the Legion and the Unions were placed in the centre of a circle when four lone buglers played the Last Post, led by Trumpeter Fox, bringing the procession to an end.[8]

The Route taken by those who marked Armistice Day in Waterford, 1923.

The Route taken by those who marked Armistice Day in Waterford, 1923.

The same procession took place the following year, with the circle being formed and all banners and placards with the names of the dead being placed in the centre as music was played. It was estimated that some 11,000 turned out in 1924 for the Armistice celebration in 1924 in Waterford.[9] Again we see the important role of music had to play in the proceedings, with all four of the city bands taking part each year. The 1926 procession saw special notice being given to 80 plus Waterford men who perished with SS Formby and SS Coningbeg, two ships owned by the Clyde Shipping Company, with a specific memorialisation for those men taking place at 11.40am that day on the Waterford Bridge. That year as well their being the usual four city bands, they were also joined by a band from New Ross, Co. Wexford and the Welsh Miner’s Band from Maesteg, a part of Wales with deep Irish connections.[10] The favour was returned by the Waterford Legion band the following year, with a large crowd travelling for Remembrance Sunday celebrations by train to New Ross.[11]

On the tenth anniversary of the Armistice, we are told that crowds were not what they had been though apparently inclement weather had militated against the celebrations somewhat on that occasion. The procession was much the same as in previous years, and there were commemorations in both Waterford and Tramore separately.[12] The eleventh anniversary was well-marked again but after this, there seems to be a drop off in the scale and coverage of the Armistice Day memorials happening in Waterford. The reports of 1930 in the local press recognise as much though notice again the sale and wearing of poppies in the city on the Saturday and Sunday around the Armistice, which the Munster Express claimed reckoned £91 the previous year, raising an almost identical sum of £90 in 1930.[13] With the unveiling of the new memorial in Dungarvan, a more permanent memorial to those from the city and county who died can stand in the stead of the hundreds and thousands of those who throughout the 1920s stood on Ballybricken green, Legion and Union banners fluttering as the Last Post emanated from the trumpets and bugles of locals.


[1] Dooley, Thomas P., Irishmen or English Soldiers? the times and world of a southern Catholic Irish man (1876-1916) enlisting in the British army during the First World War, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995 for a good history of Waterford enlistment

[2] Munster Express, 20 November 1920

[3] Munster Express, 18 November 1922

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Dyer, Geoff, The Missing of the Somme, Edinburgh: Cannongate, 2012 edn.

[6] Munster Express, 18 November 1922

[7] Munster Express, 17 November 1923

[8] Ibid.

[9] Munster Express, 16 November 1924

[10] Munster Express, 19 November 1926

[11] Munster Express, 25 November 1927

[12] Munster Express, 16 November 1928

[13] Munster Express, 14 November 1930

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Filed under Irish History, Memory, Social History, Twentieth Century