News stories

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1995), News, Volume 3

International Conference on Hunger

An internationalconference on hunger, featuring nearly fifty speakers—including Homi K.Bhabha, Terry Eagleton and Seamus Deane, among many others—willcommemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine on 19 and 20 May1995, at New York University’s Loeb Student Center. Sponsored by theGlucksman Ireland House, a centre for Irish Studies at NYU, theconference is open to the public.
Unprecedented in its size and scope, the conference brings togetherleading thinkers on the question of hunger worldwide, both historicallyand in the present, and will address three concentric themes: Hunger inIreland 1845-53, World hunger and political economy, and Hunger andhistory: comparative perspectives. Under the direction of RobertScally—professor of history, director of Ireland House, and author ofThe End of Hidden Ireland: Emigration and Famine 1830-1848 (Oxford1994)—the conference begins by presenting new research on the Irishfamine, but its ultimate aim is to address hunger in a comparativecontext in both time and geography.
Hunger is an experience both perennial and universal in worldhistory, and the intellectual and ethical issues raised by episodes ofextreme hunger, in which large populations perish from starvation andits attendant diseases, have remained remarkably unchanged for manycenturies. Attribution of famine to divine displeasure and retributionearly on has its counterpart in contemporary discourse about hunger,which is still entangled in essentially moral and cultural values thatassign ‘blame’ to the victims themselves or to other agencies—such aspolitical and economic ‘systems’, or individuals or social classes.
The discussion has been dominated by two themes: that theappearance of extreme want in the midst of relative plenty urgentlyrequires a general explanation and that famine is a definitivecharacteristic of ‘backward’ societies, reflecting cultural,intellectual and moral faults. These perceptions originated in westernEurope at the time of its last subsistence crises, the famine of1845-53 in Ireland.
The food imbalance between plenty and want that characterisedregional differences in European countries in the past now exists on aworld scale, but this debate about its causes, control and implicationsfor prosperous societies often still relies on the precepts appliedmore than a century ago. As in the past, this discussion draws onemotions, ideologies, religion and cultural traditions—that is, theterritory of the humanities disciplines, which are divided on thefundamental issues and research methods involved. No conference on thesubject of hunger as yet has been grounded primarily in the humanitieson a global scale.

Enquiries: Susan Wheeler, New York University, Office of PublicAffairs, 24 West Fourth St., 6th floor, New York, NY 10012-1199. Ph:(212) 9986838, Fax: (212) 9954021.

Ireland’s Historic
Science Centre

Major plans are underway to restore the Great Rosse Telescope in Birr,County Offaly and make it the central attraction in a new venture,Ireland’s Historic Science Centre, based on the major contribution toscience by the Parsons family in the nineteenth century, but which willalso incorporate all important Irish scientists, past and present.
The Parsons came to Birr in the seventeenth century. Sir LawrenceParsons, one of the few members of the Irish House of Commons admiredby Theobald Wolfe Tone, turned his back on politics after the Act ofUnion (1800). He returned to Birr and set about developing andextending his house into a Gothic castle. He also commissioned awrought iron suspension bridge, probably one of the earliest in Irelandor Britain, and laid out Parsonstown, as Birr was then known.
His children were brought up and educated in engineering andscience by European tutors. Thus his eldest son, William, later thirdEarl of Rosse, developed and built the great telescope in the 1840s. Itwas the largest in the world for seventy years. The reflector mirror,made of copper and tin, was six feet wide and weighed four tons. Thewhole structure was supported by two sixty feet high limestone wallsand was operated by a complicated set of chains and pulleys. A feat ofengineering in itself, the telescope could gather more light than everbefore and enabled Rosse to make significant astronomical discoveries.His wife, Mary, was a pioneer photographer in the 1850s. She set up adarkroom in the castle, which is still there, and along with herphotographs, it will form part of the centre.
Lawrence Parsons, the fourth earl, was also an astronomer andaccurately measured the heat of the moon in the 1880s. He alsoestablished a hydro-electric scheme on the river running through hisdemesne, making Birr one of the earliest towns to be electrified.Charles Parsons, his younger brother, invented the steam turbine.
Ireland’s Historic Science Centre plans to open its doors to the public in the spring of 1996.
Enquiries: Brigid Roden, Estate Office, Rosse Row, Birr, Co. Offaly. Ph: (0509) 20336, Fax: (0509) 21583.

The Emergency

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the ending of the SecondWorld War or the ‘emergency’, as it was known in the Irish Free State.What was the state of preparedness of Irish defence forces? Howeffective was the mobilisation effort? What plans were formulated fordefending the state from foreign aggression? How did the governmentmaintain a neutral stance in the biggest armed conflict in Europeanhistory? These are the questions addressed in a special edition (No.75) of The Irish Sword, journal of the Military History Society ofIreland, based on a series of fourteen papers delivered to a seminar inCathal Brugha Barracks in 1992…and all for only £9 (p&p included).

Enquiries: Comdt E. Kiely, ‘C’ House, Officers’ Maried Quarters, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin 6.

A Glimmer of Light

A Glimmer of Light is a booklet  compiled by Don Mullan of ConcernWorldwide outlining events planned for Ireland and overseas tocommemorate the Great Irish Famine. It provides a general introductionto the plans of individuals and various organisations while alsofacilitat­-      ing greater communication and co-ordination betweeninterested groups. While the booklet has been compiled as acontribution to the commemorative activities currently being planned tomark the 150th year since the start of the Great Famine it alsoincludes several reflective pieces aimed at heightening our awarenessnot just of Ireland’s famine but also of contemporary famine.

Enquiries: Concern Worldwide, Camden St., Dublin 2.

Matilda Tone’s grave

‘Action needed to restore the grave of Matilda Tone’ ran a notice inlast autumn’s newsletter of the New York Irish History Roundtable.
Matilda Tone was widow of Theobald Wolfe Tone and a significantpolitical figure in her own right. She was at the centre of thepolitical life of the United Irish exile community in America from 1815until her death in the late 1840s. She was a frequent contributor tothe Irish-American press of that era. Her maiden name was Witherington.At the age of fifteen she eloped from her grandfather’s house inGrafton Street, Dublin, with the young Trinity law student, TheobaldWolfe Tone. As Tone put it in his autobiography: ‘One beautiful morningin July we ran off together and were married’. Matilda accompanied Toneto America in 1795 and after his death she married a man named Wilson.Both Tone’s name and Wilson’s are on her tombstone.
She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brookyln, New York (plot22757, section 42). The grave is overgrown and the inscription badlyweathered and nearly illegible. There is a now a project afoot in theUSA to restore the grave and anyone interested in donating towards itshould get in touch with Joe Jamison or Bill Lenihan of theIrish-American Labour Coalition (212) 254 9271 or write to the New YorkIrish History Roundtable, PO Box 1087, Church Street Station, New York100089-2087.

The Norman Connection ‘95

Following the success of last year’s event, the fourth annual NormanConnection conference will be held in Fethard-on-sea, County Wexford,on 22-24 September 1995. The conference will continue to focus, throughlectures and field trips, on aspects of settlement and society inmedieval Ireland. This year’s programme will include a visit to theTower of Hook to view recently exposed thirteenth century features.

Enquiries: Billy Colfer, Ph: (051) 397442, Fax: (051) 397101.

Birr Thirteen Hundred 697-1997

Kings, abbots and bishops from Scotland, England and Ireland assembledat a great convention or mór-dhail on the plains of Birr in AD 697 andaccepted the Cain Adamnain (Law of Adamnan) for the protection ofwomen, children and other non-combatants. Abbot of Iona and born intothe same royal family as St Columba, Adamnan was a writer, diplomat andpeacemaker, respected for his wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures.His mother Ronnat turned his thoughts towards the plight of women inthe seventh century. But it was not until he was nearly seventy, thatat Birr he finally succeeded in fulfilling his promise to her. He hadbeen instructed by an angel to make ‘a law in Ireland and Britain forthe sake of the mother of each one, because a mother has borne eachone, and for the sake of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ’.
Cain Adamnain, also known as the Law of the Innocents, was writtenin Irish and it is believed to be one of the earliest surviving worksin a European vernacular language. Two copies are extant dating fromthe seventeenth century, one in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and theother in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels. Both probably go back toa certain old book in the monastery of Raphoe, a foundation associatedwith Adamnan. The cathedrals in Raphoe and Letterkenny are dedicated toSt Eunan, the name by which he was known in Donegal.
In these times of strife we are challenged by the initiative ofAdamnan in responding to the needs of his time. In its own way, theadoption of Cain Adamnain was as important a monument to thecivilisation of Early Christian Ireland as the wonderful works of artwhich that society produced. A committee has been established tocelebrate the 1300th anniversary of Cain Adamnain in Birr in the summerof 1997 through a programme of lectures, seminars and other activities.

Enquiries: Revd. Irene Morrow, Hon. Sec., Birr Thirteen Hundred Committee, Ardagh, Cappaneale, Birr, Co. Offaly.

A castle weekend in Ballyvaughan

As dawn broke over a Burren valley on Saturday 4 February, early risersin Ballyvaughan must have been amazed to see a large number of figuressilhouetted against the grey morning sky on Aillwee Mountain. Not aBurren invasion but participants on an archaeological weekend followingnoted environmentalist, John Feehan, on a pre-dawn walk.
The fifth Ballyvaughan archaeological conference on Castles in thelandscape with particular reference to the Burren was officially openedon Friday evening by Michael Houlihan of Shannon Development who spokeof the initiatives and energies of the Ballyvaughan group and of thedesire to involve the community in the proper development of the Burren.
Over 100 participated in a weekend of illustrated lectures, at bothBallyvaughan and the Burren College of Art, and field trips to thecoast of Pollsallagh and to the towerhouses of Newtown, Ballinalackanand Dún Guaire. In three talks, conference co-ordinator GeorgeCunningham, author of the Burren Journey guides, dealt with theevolution of the castle from its simple ringwork and motte form down tothe mock castles of today. He also conducted a light-hearted butcomprehensive visual and written Burren question time on Saturdayevening, following the conference dinner. John Feehan  tried to uncoverthe medieval mind of towerhouse days and place that society in itsrelevant context. Paul Gosling, in both lecture room and field trip,dealt with the make-up and diversity of south Galway and north Clarecastles. Paul McMahon made a case for an integrated conservationstrategy for the historic sites and monuments throughout the Burreninvolving the statutory bodies, the local community and touristinterests. The urgent need to provide specialised training in theconservation of early stonework, especially drystonewalling, wasemphasised. Sean White brought the capacity audience on a mind’sjourney with W.B. Yeats in his ‘We the great gazebos built; ancestraltowers and houses’.
The 1996 conference will take place in the first weekend of February at the same venues.

Enquiries: Ciara Cronin or Mary Hawkes-Greene, Burren College of Art,Newtown Castle, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. Ph: (065) 77200, Fax: (065)77201.


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