To set a benchmark

Wow, it has been some time since I’ve committed virtual ink to virtual paper and put something before you readers. It has been quite busy to be fair.


My thesis was accepted and I am now Dr. Gardiner, a truly terrifying prospect. The second edition of my first book was greenlit, which is having mixed progress; a solid idea, though with difficulty finding the time. I had an article published in a military history journal; the paper examined the organisation and training of members of the Irish Volunteers, in the lead-in to the Easter Rising of 1916.


Easter commemorations outside the GPO, 2018.

A busy enough 18 months really when you think about it.


But the blog, and to a lesser extent, the twitter have suffered. The blog has really suffered, so you have my apologies.


I have been on a number of trips around Ireland during this time and what I have found is that our shared heritage is stronger than ever, but more than that, our military history sometimes suffers. In many cases a more oblique presence, such as a monument to the 1916 Easter Rising, often in areas with a tenuous link to the activities of Easter week, may eclipse all other aspects of a martial past.


In the proud military city of Limerick, Ireland, both the British and Irish armies maintained strong garrisons, owing to nodal nature of the river Shannon and the strategic fording point therein. The docks and the military clothing factory and chandlers are mentioned elsewhere in this blog, but it is the social and structural aspects of our history that I would draw your attention to today.


Benchmark Stone at intersection of Roden Street and O’Connell Avenue, Limerick.

I was walking home from a sporting fixture on Easter Sunday evening and was waiting for a local bus. As I waited at the stop, I noticed, probably for the first time ever, a curious stone set into the pavement. The road split into a ‘T’ junction at this point, leading up to the rear gate of the ‘New Barracks’ (Sarsfield Barracks, in modern military parlance). The stone in question was about two feet high and was what was known as a benchmark. Essentially this was a triangulation point (and/or a boundary marker), used by members of the British War Department’s Ordnance Survey, for cartographic and engineering purposes. Deaglan DePaor has a good example of a ‘cut benchmark’ in his own blog,

Here was a prime example of the mark left on the civic and social landscape…and it was literally lying around.


The benchmark is located at the red ‘x’, top right-hand corner. Interestingly, it is not noted on the map, though it may have been added later, c. 1910. A similar notation is visible in the blue circle at the bottom left-hand corner.

Here was a prime example of the mark left on the civic and social landscape by our shared military history, and it was literally lying around at the foot of the British military presence in Ireland and now lies almost totally ignored by passers-by. This datum was used to build the city that those people lived in; it is literally a part of the social fabric of society. The author Frank McCourt probably passed this iconography every day, as he wound his way about the streets of his home by the mighty Shannon river.

For the remainder of 2018, I will endeavour to present similar stories to you, the reader. With this I hope to not only encourage myself to write about objects which have traditionally been overlooked but also to engage with the quotidian and the sublime.


UPDATE 17/04/2018: My colleague and #twitterstorian, EamonnF at @GalwayPens, has kindly pointed out that this may also have been a boundary marker, delineating the physical footprint of the military installation.

Posted in 19h century, 20th century, Archive, Battlefield Archaeology, Britain, Built Environment, decolonisation, Empire, First World War, Historian, Historiography, Ireland, Learning, Logistics, Social History, The Historian, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Author Amanda Mininger on Coming Back to Writing

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The trouble with writing is…

The trouble with writing is….the trouble with writing is….the trouble with writing a blog is, what do you write about? Especially as a post-thesis blogger? As a former PhD student, I can tell you that those 220,000+ words did not just fire themselves down on to the page! Nor were they dragged out either. The writing tended to flow, like a river. 
However the real problem with this issue is the fact that writing is a difficult process. I’m ashamed to say that it has taken me months tow write just this much in a cohesive fashion. To have it make sense enough to be put to paper! And even still this entry will probably not suit most of my followers, who were probably expecting something which would bear a close r association to military affairs!
So what could I have/should I have written about instead? The psychological fallout from the Falklands/Northern Ireland is always a popular, though contentious topic. The use of IEDs as a psychological weapon during the Iraq/Afghan wars is a topical issue. As is the use of violence by state sponsored security forces during the nineteenth-twentieth centuries. All of these are perfectly valid topics and probably will be covered in due course. 
However they won’t be elaborated upon here, because this post is mostly about failure! This is my failure to put pen to paper! But no more! The thing about writing a doctoral thesis, is that the stress which the process imposes on you (late nights, not a lot of sleep, constant revisions), means that once the work was completed, all interest in writing had ebbed and a break was needed! 
Still the break has passed and now at least I feel comfortable enough to be able to start writing again and confident enough to be able to engage in some solid research and present interesting snippets to you, my loyal and long-suffering readers! Thanks so much for reading my first blog in over a year! E Pluribus Unum – One of  Many.

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On Corrections

The Corrections “Bible”

I am convinced that noone actually likes to correct their work. In over a decade working in the field of historical research, I have yet to encounter any scholar who revels in the idea, who insists on going home early after dinner, or on a night out in a conspiratorial fashion, with a gleeful smile, that they have corrections to be about in the morning. Surely everyone knows the joy of corrections, they confide with scarcely contained emotion, I think not. 

Rather it is often a case of “God (Gods, for my polytheistic readership, don’t say I never look after you!), have to get up early and be about these b***dy things for the day now!” The pedanticism with editing is the very definition of tedium itself. To ‘add the half pence to the pence’, as William Butler Yeats put it. 

The dreaded ‘red ink’ massacre!

Yet it is this process, on mature reflection, which is often key to the historian’s trade and professional development. We are so often critical of the work of others (who hasn’t ‘tsked’ at a misplaced comma, or incorrect use of a dangling modifier), so critical, that we sometimes lose sight of the need for constructive self-criticism. It is perhaps through this medium, that we ourselves can best view our own work. 
I for one am glad (grudgingly I must admit), to be given the chance to revisit my recent work and make changes. The absence of a few weeks makes a tremendous difference! What I had thought of as being THE finished, endlessly redrafted article, was in fact merely the first draft. It was awaiting review by a peer and that is a most valuable process. Little slips in punctuation in references, spelling and pagination errors are churned up in the passing of the editor’s red ink!

The pause offered by the editing process has allowed me the chance to expand upon some niche aspects, which I felt could have been broadened out somewhat

But what is most helpful about this process, at least from my own point of view, is the chance to revisit ideas. I am at present able to return to some concepts, which I had only been able to pencil in to my work, briefly address for fear of word count and overly complicating matters. Now, armed with a peer review, I feel far greater confidence to engage in further scholarship, incorporating some fresh ideas into my extant canon. 

So really, those souls sneaking away from the bar are not to be pitied, not fully at least! Perhaps they’re just slightly ahead of the curve. 

Posted in discussion, Historian, Historiography, Learning, Narrative, Research, Revisionism, The Historian, Thesis, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Urbi et Orbi: Apologia

Dear Readers (both loyal and disloyal!),


Firstly, please allow me to apologise to you.


I have been unfaithful! I have engaged with the Twitter machine (@constantg2222) and have neglected this site for some time no! And I won’t tell you all that it has ended, but I do feel that there is more room now for a parity of sorts.


I have also recently finished my PhD thesis, which means that my return to this site will be both more fulsome and prolonged than recent bursts (which coincided with finishing off chapters of same and papers!). My research looks at possible connections between PTSD and British ex-servicemen soldiering in the Empire after the Great War. I would expect to see  more than a few passing references to this also.


I would like to possibly undertake a prolonged research project, or series of blog essays exploring a particular sub genre of military/policing/organisational history, over the enxt few months, so please subscribers, if you have any interesting ideas, don’t be backwards about coming forward!


Thanks  so much for reading this and again thanks for bearing with me over the last few years. A return to normal programming has recommenced!

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The Observer view on Pope Francis’s comments on a world at war

The Observer view on Pope Francis’s comments on a world at war

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Are we re-living the 1930s?


British Fascist Leader, Oswald Mosley


With the rise in protectionism and isolationism,  a rise in authoritarianism, the question must be asked; Are we living through another 1930s?

Posted in 20th century, discussion, Empire, France, Memory, Narrative, United States, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Woman’s Work is Never Done

Women veterans in Vietnam

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As British as the Irish themselves

Recently, in conversation with a colleague, I remarked upon a concept which I felt was pretty straightforward. Cut and dry even. That as part of the British home islands, pre-independence Ireland was disproportionally policed. Now it was, there is no other way of looking at it really. The mainland police forces were not routinely armed, though if an officer on night patrol in major metropolitan areas (e.g. London) felt it necessary, he could carry a ‘comforter’ (small revolver). But that wasn’t the sticking point. Rather the issue was that of identifying Ireland as a constituent part of the British homeland, as opposed to the British Empire! Controversial indeed! And why shy away from controversial!

The Palace of Westminster, home of the Houses of Parliament (

Let’s examine the facts. Firstly, Ireland was part of the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Which made the Irish legislature, by definition, Westminster. Irish MPs and peers sat there with their colleagues from the mainland. Laws were enacted there which bound Ireland and issues raised. On more than one occasion Lord Kenworthy rose to tackle/heckle the Lloyd George administration on one of the many disastrous decisions made on Irish policy.

Irish Home Rule MP, Charles Stewart Parnell, being escorted out of the British (and Irish) House of Commons, c. 1881.

Point number two. Administratively, although Ireland had a Viceroy, the Lord Lieutenant, it also had a cabinet secretary, as did Scotland and Wales. India, a colonial possession, did not. Indian concerns went through the Colonial Office. The Irish vice-regality can be traced back to the era of the Norman invasion of Ireland and as the Monarch’s personal representative, the holders of that office enjoyed a largely ceremonial role. During the 19th century, the Chief Secretary for Ireland assumed a more executive role, essentially superseding the Viceroy. The Secretary still reported daily to the Prime Minister and when the Cabinet met regularly, held a seat there. So Ireland had an administratively detached unit of the British government and some different laws, but on the whole, was it drastically any more different than say Wales or Scotland?

Richmond Barracks Dublin (pic credit

The New Barracks, Fermoy (pic credit 

But let’s examine the opposing points; the British military presence in Ireland, Coercive Legislation used in Ireland; Ireland came under a separate command (Irish command) reporting to Commander in Chief Ireland. The military presence in Ireland, ostensibly as integral a part of the UK as Wales, or Kent, was beyond substantial. Every single town of even moderate size, boasted a barracks of some description, replete with a detachment of foot or cavalry. Every Irish city (and most large towns) boasted more than one barracks, with more than one arm of the military. Fermoy, on the banks of the Blackwater River, in North East Cork, was home to two large barracks, in an otherwise moderately sized town.


RIC constable, with carbine (

The forces of law and order were another case in point. Unlike mainland Britain (a term which has raised eyebrows in recent usage), Ireland maintained a national police force, after the decision was reached in 1836 to amalgamate the existing provincial police commands (formed in 1822). The ‘Constabulary of Ireland’, or ‘Irish Constabulary’ as it was more popularly known, assumed control of policing functions in the majority of the countryside of Ireland, with the exception of some specialist areas of customs and excise, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (formed at the same time). The force was formed along paramilitary, or gendarmerie lines, with the Constabulary using both long arms (carbines and rifles) and side arms (revolvers), which clashed directly with the tradition of non-armed police on the mainland. The reason given was that Ireland was considered wilder and more dangerous, however it is possible that the Castle administration felt that by associating the Constabulary with arms on a daily basis, the Irish would become overawed and fearful of upsetting the apple cart.

Police on foot patrol (possibly in Ahascragh, Co. Galway; pic credit

The use of coercion as a central plank of British rule in Ireland cannot be overstate, and should not be oversimplified. Though in most cases, a citizenry will continue on with their lives and livelihoods, there remains a miasma of oppression with regard to the forces of control which a government imposes on its citizens.  The RIC would later shun its status as an armed force, in an attempt to bridge the gap between itself and the community it had been appointed to look after/over, which would in turn lead to its downfall at the hands of the IRA. The Irish were without a doubt, subjected to disproportionate levels of policing, with the forces of law and order occupying roles which the Army and militia would traditionally have filled. Ireland’s proximity to the centre of British power in London and its ancestral link with the United Kingdom, meant that this island was often subjected to a quasi-colonial type of rule by the mainland; Britain could not afford to treat Ireland as a rebellious colony, like South Africa, but instead more like a wayward province, one which required more of a ‘mailed fist’ than a steadying hand.

Posted in 1916, 19h century, 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Auxiliary Division, Black and Tans, Britain, Commemoration, Conflict, decolonisation, Empire, First World War, Insurgency, Ireland, Memory, Northern Ireland, Policing, Revisionism, revolutionary, Royal Irish Constabulary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Twitter killing my Blog?

Writer’s Block is a real illness. It is! That feeling when you want to punch a wall and hopefully the words will flow, with the blood and plaster flakes and swearing! But it doesn’t really work that way…poor knuckles could have done with that information up front! If only the thesis subject were a little more accessible, but then again that’s why I chose to break ground by talking about the Auxiliaries!

So if violence doesn’t bring forth the creativity, what does? Other creativity? I’ve almost finished the garage tool racks. The spuds, beetroot and onions are all taking care of themselves. The lawn is mowed….hmmm. Painting or Photography? I feel guilty for taking time away from the frustration! That’s irony for you now!

Writing for me is like exercise; the more you do, the more likely you are to do. So then armed with this information I d decided to attend a social media workshop given by the Irish Association of Professional Historians (IAPH). The speakers made an awful lot of sense really. The gist I came away with was that one should use the shorter messaging/less heavy sites to direct interest to your more detailed research activities, e.g. using Twitter or Instagram to direct attention to musings and papers on WordPress, or LinkedIn.

Or so the theory goes at least. What I am finding out is that the short tweets, 140 characters long, are quite time consuming. Or rather, to maintain the frequency (once a day) and avoid repetition, my tweeting (I still ruefully shake my head at such language) habits take a considerable bite out of my waking hours!

Even with the use of a tweet scheduler like Hootsuite, that allows me to plan and pre-schedule my tweets for the week or month in advance, I am finding that the constant need for publicity, dare I say adulation, is quite tiring! This over use of one medium, ironically to promote another, seems to be reducing my inclination to write my blog, which was the reason twitter came onto the scene in the first place!

My blog is the bread and butter. It showcases my thinking and interesting tidbits of information that I hope will keep those of you interested in policing, mil-social history and the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, interested and up to date with my research activities. It allows me to test out ideas for chapters and essays and is a great forum to engage. But by posting links to ideas and stories on twitter, I often find that some of my best longer concepts and areas that could do with some accompanying discussion, are often short changed and you the reader loses out as well.

So in short, this is an announcement. I resolve to leave the thesis a little, to leave the tweets take care of themselves a bit and to blog a lot more! Life was good to me with the blog, bringing me followers and work and its time to return some love to the blogosphere!

Posted in Auxiliary Division, discussion, Historian, Historiography, Learning, Narrative, Social Media, Thesis, twitter, WordPress, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

‘The Write Stuff’

Military Great Coat.19141918

A receipt for a gratuity paid to soldiers when they returned their military issue overcoats. As many soldiers were in need of money at that time, the scheme was well subscribed. Despite this, many men were forced to chose between keeping warm and eating.

The difficult part of blogging is not in the writing. Believe it or not having something to say has never been a hard thing for me to do! Rather it is to find (a) the time and (b) the right thing to say to you, my readers and followers.


Military history is an interesting area. Some historians see the word ‘military’ and immediately get turned off by the genre as a whole, as (personally, I believe) they remember their secondary/high-school education of battles and death and killing. And dates! The amount of times I have heard the ‘man/woman-in-the-street’ bemoan the abundance of dates in history and how they’d love to have studied it, only for all those numbers! Anyway I digress…


Military history is not just about battles and wars. Indeed from my vantage point, the battles and wars are quite often secondary to the main themes, perhaps even irrelevant, or only of tertiary importance. Rather for me, perhaps the genre should be renamed ‘social military history.’ Through my own area I am examining a relatively small organisation, which had a disproportionate effect on the course of a country’s history and exploring how the men who served in said unit, interacted with each other and their wider society. That sounds like social history to me! There are battles and fights, but they are secondary to the effects and behaviour which they produced and provoked in the men themselves.


As historians, we should allow ourselves some time for detachment from the bigger questions in our field. I have research questions, which act as a guide for me as I write my thesis (hence the title of this reflective piece). Yet I sometimes wonder am I being too restrictive in my scope? Am I becoming shackled by my (necessarily) narrow interpretation of the facts, in an effort to create my narrative. I realise that my 120,000 words (and counting) thesis cannot address everything, nor can it go on forever, yet I still feel like I am cutting out on some important characteristics of society and societal changes at that time. The men I’m investigating were not all a bad bunch and though I try to make that point, I wonder will anyone who has not invested time and effort into detailed research, ever really fully understand that point. It doesn’t keep me up nights (that would be the fact-checking), but it does make me pause and consider.


I sometimes speculate, would I be better off by exploring British and Irish society as a whole at this time, rather than having adopted (and adapted) a chronologically linear approach to mapping out the corps’ interactions with the society. The latter approach is somewhat more ‘user-friendly’, in that it presents events and occurrences as ‘this happened, then this happened, which resulted in THIS happening’, the classic tropic ‘lightbulb’ moment. However, is that a bit twee? Is it a bit patronizing for the reader and intended audience, especially after my self-avowed penchant for presenting the social-military aspect to the reader?


Thematically, military behaviour could be expected to produce profound changes and interaction with any civilized society. The British postwar society had begun to embrace the counterculture poetry and literature expounded by men such as Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, etc. and had begun the inexorable move away from the staid Victorian and Edwardian values it had so prized just a a few short years before. Yet many of the veterans of the Great war who sought to express the continued mental torment which they suffered (some on a daily and nightly basis) as a result of their wartime service, often found their home to be a cold house for them. It is curious that the society which so values a soldier’s contribution at the time of war, then shuns their need for support after the event, and yet thinks nothing of asking for that support again when the soldier is needed again.


Perhaps as historians and scholars we have been approaching matters in a contrary fashion. Perhaps instead of focusing on military matters influence their society, rather we should focus on society and how that influences the military?

Posted in Anglo-Irish War, Auxiliary Division, Battlefield Archaeology, Conflict, discussion, First World War, Historian, Historiography, Ireland, Learning, Memory, Narrative, Post Traumatic Stress, Revisionism, Thesis, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Invictus Games: I am the Captain of my Fate, I am the Master of my Soul

Take a look at @constantg2222’s Tweet:

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BBC News: Last Treblinka death camp survivor Samuel Willenberg dies

Last Treblinka death camp survivor Samuel Willenberg dies –

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BBC News: How the British and Americans started listening in

How the British and Americans started listening in –

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BBC News: Pub pictures saved from London skip displayed online

Pub pictures saved from London skip displayed online –

Posted in 20th century, Archive, Art, Britain, Built Environment, Historiography, Memory, Place | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That’s a wrap!

I cannot tell you of the sheer unbridled joy (and yawns) that flow from a Call for Papers ending friends! You should never, ever offer a conference!

To that end, normal (ish) service will resume here in.about a month, once the other conference is over. But updates will flow all the time. There are some great papers on offer to the military/political historian there, including one on the humble bicycle’s role in revolutionary warfare!

Watch this sleepy space!


Posted in 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Commemoration, Historian, Historiography, Insurgency, Learning, Logistics, revolutionary, Social History, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: Medicine in its Place

I’ve given a paper previously with these people. Consummate professionals. Would strongly recommend

HSTM Network Ireland

Medicine in its Place: Situating Medicine in Historical Contexts Society for the Social History of Medicine Conference

7 – 10 July 2016 Canterbury, England, United Kingdom

Hosted by the Centre for the History of Medicine, Ethics and Medical Humanities, University of Kent

The Society for the Social History of Medicine hosts a major, biennial, international, and interdisciplinary conference. In 2016 it will explore the theme of place. The committee conceives ‘place’ in its broadest sense – from political, spatial, and cultural spaces, to the narrow confines of a patient’s hospital bed. The biennial conference is not exclusive in terms of its theme, and reflects the diversity of the discipline of the social history of medicine. Call for Papers Proposals that consider all topics relevant to the history of medicine broadly conceived are invited, but the 2016 committee encourages proposals for papers, sessions, and round-tables that examine, challenge, and refine the…

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Grade Inflation




In academia there’s a term which is spoken of in hushed tones: Grade Inflation. It refers to the alleged slow, but steady, increase in grades by students across all sectors and abilities. It appears from some data as well as from anecdotal evidence, that it is becoming significantly more difficult to fail a student. It appears that all that matters is increasing the maximum number of maximum number of students passing each year, in an effort to bolster academic achievement and reflect positively on an institution’s record and rating in league tables.


In many ways the military is approaching their organizational superstructure with the same theory. Units that were once considered unusual, distinctive and élite, are now coming under pressure to justify that separateness which they have cultivated for so long. The US Army Rangers this past year admitted women to their training cadre and after the first wave of candidates had failed, they readmitted trainees (as is permissible under training guidelines for both sexes) and then passed two women.


Ranger School,


However some whistleblowers claim that the women attending these courses received favourable treatment, in some occasions for months prior to the commencement of the course itself (Was It Fixed? Army General Told Subordinates: ‘A Woman Will Graduate Ranger School,’ Sources Say, ). This would raise the questions about (a) whether or not the school’s tough attitude was ever attainable for the majority of fine soldiers who attend every year anyway, (b) was the school’s ethos cheapened by the behaviour of senior officers who had come under pressure to graduate women and (c) was it even fair to allow the women to enter the course in the first place, knowing that they had received special treatment and that any success which they had would be tainted as ‘fruit of the poisoned tree.’


Heartfelt congratulations to Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, but unfortunate questions about standards and fairness remain.


I’m not for one second suggesting that women (or any ethnic/sexual group) shouldn’t be entitled to enter selection processes, just that the same standard should apply to all. I recently took GREAT umbrage at an article which described how the USAF considered a security force which travels with some of their flight crews, to be an “élite” force. ‘Verbal Judo’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back on that one; being able to speak coherently is now considered a skill. In a past life I guarded escorts and small facilities; I even managed to tell people to go away every now and then too. As a result, I’m off to collect my RANGER tab tomorrow, will I pick one up for you guys too?


USAF ‘Phoenix Raven’,


This grade inflation of sorts, will bring nothing but hardship for not only the special forces community, but also for the wider military. In the 1920s in Ireland, the British government chose to recruit for and employ a mercenary force of ex-British officers. The Auxiliaries as they were known were employed in Ireland and remain the subject of great controversy and indignation to this day. They were branded a ‘corps d’élite’, yet successive scholarship has yet to find any reason for this. Another good example perhaps of the dilution of the SF concept?


The Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary,


I personally support the idea of an organised, codified, volunteer-only military. I believe that national service has its place, but that it should not replace a well-organised and trained professional military. I believe firmly in equality of rights and responsibilities and that all may serve (regardless of sex, orientation, creed or colour), but that all must measure up. this is the reason the SAS is not 1,000,000 strong, despite what the nameless, faceless internet would have you believe!



Pastor George Hunley, USA, falsely claimed to have been a Navy SEAL and received the Navy Cross.


I would never have qualified to be in the Special Forces, hence why I did not attempt to join, nor did I claim a title I was probably not rightly entitled to, if the true meaning of the word élite was employed! What I do not support is this dilution of élite to a format whereby anyone who picked up a weapon is considered a warrior. It is unfortunately a fact that as the good book declares, many are called, but few are chosen.



For further reading please see:




Posted in 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Auxiliary Division, Élite, Cold War, Conflict, Counter-Factual, Memory, Middle East, Navy SEAL, Organisational History, Special Forces, United States, US Armed Forces, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The hardest part

What you don’t realise is that waiting is the hardest part. I don’t sleep anymore. Not really.

I wait.

Granted its in a bed and at night. It’s dark and quiet. The world has slipped to slumber. But it eludes me nonetheless.

My eyes grow heavy. I can feel them tremble and droop. I can sense my consciousness sap and begin to tumble into the un-consciousness. But this isn’t sleep. Not really.

I wait for the black, the nadir. Then the light and the next day. Or is it a continuation of this day? This long never-ending day?

My writing pauses, but my planning doesn’t. I am committed. I am a warrior of words. My battles stop momentarily, but my war continues unabated. I plan for the next attack of vowels and synonyms while I wait for “sleep.”

The writing is easy. The waiting is the hardest part.

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There’s an awful cost to getting a PhD that no one talks about

Your mental health is important. You only get one. And you better take every step to make sure it’s ok.

Take care of yourselves guys and girls.

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Beware the Horns, when running with the Bulls

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - JULY 09: A reveller eludes a Valdefresno's ranch fighting bull's horn at Calle Estafeta during the fourth day of the San Fermin Running Of The Bulls festival, on July 9, 2013 in Pamplona, Spain. The annual Fiesta de San Fermin, made famous by the 1926 novel of US writer Ernest Hemmingway 'The Sun Also Rises', involves the running of the bulls through the historic heart of Pamplona, this year for nine days from July 6-14. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Eamonn T. Gardiner, Lead Organiser of the Irish History Students Association.


Sounds fancy right? Well in truth, its a lot of work, but isn’t massively interfering with college or non-college (I’ve resigned myself to not having much of an extra-course life at this stage). But as an (aspiring) academic, I can see the need to have planned one of these for my career prospects!

But I will say this; don’t ever volunteer for something when you’re mad as hell! Bad timing in extremis! When you decide to run with the bulls, you should be aware of the possibility of finding out what those pointy things on their heads are really for!

(c) Katya Radovanova

(c) Katya Radovanova

SO the conference is taking place in February 2016, but myself and the committee have been hard at work since March 2015. I know what you’re going to say, that its not that big a deal. Its only three days. there doesn’t need to be this level of detail involved in matters. But I beg to differ. Perhaps its merely the way I approach these things, with minute planning and redundancy, but I feel more comfortable when I do something, if I know I have redundancy and contingencies built in as standard.

It’s probably driving my colleagues on the committee bonkers though!

(Benevolent) Dictator on the Committee

(Benevolent) Dictator on the Committee

That’s partly the reason why the aul’ blog has taken a nosedive off the edge of the cliff in recent times. I’m writing another one at IHSA 2016, note the subtle plug. Subtle like a brick to the puss. That’s how I’ve started rolling these days. So perhaps taking on the conference in final year of the PhD wasn’t the smartest idea, but see the above point about anger and not doing important things…

It is however all in hand, reams of paperwork notwithstanding! And there are reams! Thankfully we’re managing to keep most of it as e-paper and just word docs we fire over and back across cyberspace. The ‘i’s’ are being dotted and the ‘t’s’ are being crossed and its slowly coming together for us. we’re slowly getting sponsors and we’re definitely gaining momentum; its hard to describe, its kind of like a restless giant, stirring from its slumber. You know you’re going to get critical mass at some point soon, you’re just not entirely sure when! I never thought that a cup of (lets face it, pretty crappy catering) coffee would cost so much. To say that its extortion, is to do Don Falcone a disservice!

You will pay through the nose for inferior caffeine!

You will pay through the nose for inferior caffeine!

I suppose I’ve never been involved in a conference before to this extent. Yes I’ve given a lot of papers, and yes I’ve chaired a few rooms and have been at a few run by friends. But its only when you get stuck into it, when you take full responsibility for the financing and the planning of one, that’s when you realise all the little things which you take for granted, like rooms being opened and WiFi and projectors…SOMEONE has to make sure those things are ready for you. Its like taking the step from being a child to an adult. You know the basics, its just the implementation that’s key.


Our Call for Papers goes live today and I will freely admit, its kind of an emotional time. It’s gone through more than a few hours discussion and well over half a dozen drafts and major edits. It has ideas and concepts that are revolutionary for this conference’s history and hopefully they’ll bring us into the twenty-first century! The irony of a history conference looking to the future, to maintain its place in contemporary culture, is not for a second lost on me! But as my train speeds to Galway and as I look across the greying dawn-lit landscape, I am moved by this thought. This, this now, this is history being made. And both I (benevolent dictator) and the committee (banana republic) are part of that change.

And to paraphrase Robert Frost, ‘and that has made all the difference.

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Size matters….

Hand in


Apparently its not the size of the ship; its the motion of the ocean!


Or so goes the old adage from snickering childlike men who should know better. But when it comes to academic writing, how big is too big? As a current doctoral student, I find myself in somewhat of a popular conundrum. My thesis should be about eighty-thousand words There or thereabouts. wit about 200 typed words to a page (single-spaced), that would work out at about 400 pages, give or take, probably a bit more when one takes into account referencing, covers, etc.


In the last few months there have been a marked upsurge in the numbers of peers who have been submitting their own works for final viva voce examinations in universities and colleges throughout the land. And without fail, these have all exceeded the nominal eighty K mark! One stood at 104-thousand, while another weighed in at a staggering 108!


Seriously it was like being a featherweight at a sumo wrestling match!


Now both of these theses dealt with periods of history that were significantly longer than my own. The former was a multi-generational local history study, while the other examined a decade-long policy of counter-terrorism under successive Irish governments. But still, quite impressive in terms of length! Does this mean that there’s now an upwardly mobile trend emerging in terms of academic writing? Is more and more simply becoming the accepted order of the day? Or do people want to read more about a topic. One wonders is there a danger of regressive behaviour emerging concerning the Secondary School desire to show work done and knowledge, as opposed to relevant knowledge only? A case of ‘well I had to read it, so its going in!’


Hard Cover Thesis


A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a conference dinner. There was an after dinner speaker and traditionally they were always quite looked forward to, as a little controversy is the perfect sauce to accompany a creme brulée! But this gentleman had apparently grasped the wrong end of the stick and instead of a light hearted story telling, his captive audience was subjected to about a 90 minute excerpt of his latest book. I wont mention the subject matter, but let’s say it was it was not intended for light-hearted discussion. The room was bored to tears. several people left. Some of us used our phones and tweeted about it. More than one person fell asleep, head on the table and thrown back in chairs. And it was a SMALL dinner room, maybe 50 guests,


Sometimes, less is definitely more!

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Life on the Ocean Wave

Why is the US still using a Nazi tall ship? –

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What’s the Point of a Professor?

As a Postgraduate student (PhD in UNI Galway, Ireland), I spend a lot of time travelling. Most of it I spend at as I jokingly refer to, my mobile office! My laptop, a book and my smartphone! 3G really is the saviour these days!

And as a mobile student, living away from the campus (about 80km and a good rail line, but not perfect), with most of my source material between 160 and 500km away (Dublin and London), a good chunk of my work is conducted on the hoof, so to speak. This very entry is being written on my phone, based on an article I read on my cloud storage, all being conducted on an intercity bus! But such is modern life!

A point whichhas grown to concern me is grade inflation. I used to work in another third level institution as a representative officer for students rights. One course failed an exam spectacularly as the lecturer had asked questions which hadn’t actually been set on the course and thus had not been covered in classes. So 350+ students had suffered in the exam. The answer? Multiply ALL the scripts by a factor of .2 or thereabouts to account for the defecit in marks…..marking on the curve writ large.

I feel still to this day that such practices are counterproductive. That as an educator we have a duty like doctors, to first do no harm. When as an undergrad I had an amazing experience with a lecturer who gave me a bad mark for a historiography assignment. Now I was invited to attend with classmates for individual feedback and I did and had it out with the lecturer over the (I felt) ill deserved poor grade.

It was one of the most seminal moments of my career. The engagement with the field opened my eyes and greatly encouraged my scholarship and my attention to detail. It is something I try to emulate in my own classes, where I might have the reputation of a hard marker, but I still try to give an extra hour or two, outside core teaching hours to my students for feedback and essay/topical help.

This referenes my earlier point about travelling, which makes it difficult to provide extra hrs for students, but is nonetheless a vital investment and well worh it in the long run. A little extra help, I find, greatly enhances work and engagement with material and the field as a whole. Which surely is the whole point?

The concept which is emerging of no child must be allowed to fail, is givig rise to a worry trend. While we as educators should strive to encourage as many of our students to pass as possible, this should be accomplished at an earlier stage by providing supports before submission and after in the form of critical feedback in a constructive manner. This will allow for the best possible work being submitted and having such mistakes as exist to be corrected and thus removed from the equation for subsequent submissions.

This will generate an upward progression trend in students work naturally. The ‘no failure’ trend encourages ‘soft’ marking of less than exact scholarship and, in my opinion, rewards the student who then is no better off scholastically. At least by failing we learn empirically and have something to show for our efforts.

The contact with your leaders (professors) is some of the most important you will ever have as a student. It places a profound mark on your future scholarship and encourages the emergence of a positive learning feedback loop in the student

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The Tan War: Rebel art puts revolutionaries in the picture

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Slave 1

Primary source: Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship.

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Is the US president really an elected monarch?

Is the US president really an elected monarch?

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Planning & Booking!


Galway-Harbour Galway Harbour at Night

Hello followers!

Just to keep you all up to date on developments since we last spoke. We have set the date; the IHSA will take place on the weekend of the 19th – 21st February 2016. So SAVE THE DATE! The city based campus of the National University of Ireland, Galway will play host to most of the formal events on the Friday and Saturday (venue TBC). The University has a fine tradition of historical research and scholarship dating back to its foundation to the tumultous years of An Gorta Mór – The Great Famine. History was one of the first disciplines to be taught in the emerging University and 170 years on we are going from strength to strength, with over 800 students at Under and Postgraduate levels across a range of interests in the greater field.

image005 NUI Galway

1850056-A-Statue-on-NUIG-Campus-0 Mind the Unicorns!

10483091_10152402302739079_1148370808704462712_o Nice and Welcoming!

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How male and female bathing suits got smaller and smaller

How male and female bathing suits got smaller and then bigger again goes to highlight what I believe to be the cyclical nature of human history. Simply put old ideas that were once seen as practical and popular go out of fashion and then after thirty years or so return to fashionability.

Of course tonight simply be the cyclical nature of fashion!

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October 1920: British Murder Gang brings terror to Manor Street RTE One have acquired the rights to broadcast the ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ episode with the great Irish Comedian Brendan O’Carroll. I have worked on the historical research on this episode and can heartily recommend it to my readers. This is a great article by another blogger regarding the murder and those suspected of involvement, as background information for those interested in watching. The programme airs on RTE ONE, Sunday 3 May, 2015, at 09:30 p.m.


At 1.50am on Saturday 16th October 1920 Peter O’Carroll and his wife Annie were awoken by a heavy and ominous knock on the front door of their home at 92 Manor Street. Mr. O’Carroll rose from his bed and reached for his trousers and stockings. A night-time military curfew was in place in Dublin and the family was becoming accustomed to such late night intrusions.

Peter O'Carroll Peter O’Carroll

The O’Carroll home was a target of British army raids over the preceding weeks as the war between the British state and the IRA intensified. Two of the O’Carroll’s seven children were members of the IRA: Liam was Adjutant of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, while Peter Jnr was a member of ‘A’ Company of the same Battalion.

Days previously, on 11th October, at ‘Fernside’ in Drumcondra two renowned IRA volunteers from Tipperary, Dan Breen and Seán Treacy, had shot their…

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A Lasting Impression

From earliest times man has sought to leave his/her mark on the eternal world. For many this has taken the route of children, achievements, success, monuments. But for others, men and women of more modest circumstances this has taken a different path toward immortality.

French historians have recently (re)discovered a chalk quarry located about 50 miles from the site of the Battle of the Somme, in France. The site located near Naours, dates back hundreds of years, but was abandoned for long stretches of time.

Soldiers stationed in the region carved their names and addresses into the soft rock in the mines and created a lasting impression of their presence in a conflict which was to obliterate all traces of individuality from combatants. The loss of over a million men at the adjacent Somme throughout 1916 only served to reinforce this absence.

Whilst volumes have been written regarding the battles which took place above ground, comparatively little attention has been paid to the actions of those working behind the scenes and literally underground. Both the Allied and Central powers sought an advantage in the increasingly attritional conflict. Whilst some sought their answers in technological advances such as conquering the skies or the creation of the tank, others turned to the earth favoured an approach as old as warfare itself. As time went on efforts were mounted by both sides to attempt to tunnel under the battlefield (and the enemy’s lines), alternately emerging to wreak havoc or to detonate explosives (Messines) and allow conventional infantry to exploit the weakness created.

Recently this Combat Engineer role has been demonstrated on popular television programmes such as Time Team and Peaky Blinders. The extreme stressors which these men faced and the resulting post-stress symptoms which manifested themselves speak volumes about the difficulties encountered in the subterranean warfare. For those interested, a more modern comparrison would be the conflict between the Viet Cong tunnelers and U.S./Australian Army in Vietnam, most notably ‘Operation Crimp’ or the Battle of Ho Bo Woods.’

Posted in 1916, Art, Battlefield Archaeology, Britain, Empire, First World War, France, Historian, Logistics, Memory, Messines Ridge, Organisational History, Post Traumatic Stress, PTSD, Siege Warfare, United States, US Armed Forces, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Broad Church too far?

British soldiers shelter behind an improvised barricade during Easter Week, 1916.

British soldiers shelter behind an improvised barricade during Easter Week, 1916.

Last week I wrote about the ‘bandwagoneering’ of the Easter Rising. This week’s blog is in a similar vein. The Commanding Officer of the Sherwood Forresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment), some of the soldiers who helped suppress the Rising, has called on the Irish Government to honour the sacrifice of those soldiers and to commemorate their deaths during the Rising also. As I forecasted in last week’s post, opening up the commemoration of the Rising to the broad spectrum which the government seems to favour, throw up its own difficulties;

How do you mark an event that was illegal (Home Rule was coming), led to large loss of life (especially civilians and sickeningly, children), pointless (the rebels knew they were doomed) and ultimately could be classed beside the Munich Putsch. And despite all the detractors, support for and remembrance of the Rising has never been higher.

So the government is now in the unenviable position of having to comment on whether or not the sacrifices of British soldiers who died during the First World War should be commemorated as part of the 1916 events. What we’re going to wind up with eventually is the farce that it is historically OK to have been a British soldier during the Great War, to have fought and died for your country, as long as it wasn’t fighting against the Irish, who were actually claiming to have had ‘Gallant Allies in Europe.’ Just to be clear.

By making the church of commemoration as broad as possible, with the very lofty aims of encompassing all the various traditions of Ireland, we run the risk of having the roof collapse on us. Simply put the Rising should be marked for what it was; in the Irish language it is known as Eirí Amach na Cásca or the Uprising of Easter. An uprising, an illegal event, brought about by the illegal drilling and illegal importation of arms by the Irish Volunteers, in response to the illegal drilling and illegal importation of arms by the Ulster Volunteer Force. An uprising in contravention of (questionable) law and order practices and ordinances enforced by the British state on the soon to be Home Ruled Irish state. An uprising which sought to subvert the very real arrival of Home Rule, but which the British themselves felt unable to fully implement as their own British Army had signalled their intention to mutiny if they were tasked with suppressing UVF opposition to the creation of a Dominion Parliament in Dublin.

Fine and complicated isn’t it. Perhaps we, the current Irish, should just commemorate the British soldiers who sought to suppress the then Anti-British uprising, undertaken by Irish separatists, who were technically still British subjects, though allied with Germans, but not allowed the status of belligerents, despite wearing uniforms……this could go on and on. And probably will.


For further information about the exploits of the Sherwood Forresters during Easter Week, please see the following link to the Mercian Regimental History site

For further information about the Ulster Volunteer Force’s capabilities, please see the following link to History Ireland

Posted in 1916, 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Britain, Commemoration, Conflict, decolonisation, Empire, First World War, Ireland, Memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questionable Memories and Bandwagoneers

Memorial to British in 1916 centenary


Scene from 'Blood Upon the Rose' written and illustrated by Gerry Hunt

The difficult thing about Irish history is memory. Well perhaps memory and the bandwagon. Little know fact but the GPO was like the Tardis; it’s garrison during the 1916 Rising held thousands of men and women! Even quite a few children by all accounts! With everyone’s grandfathers claiming a revolutionary role, it’s amazing the building held them all, let alone they were defeated by the British Army!

So you see the daoistic problems beseting irish historical commemoration. How do you mark an event that was illegal (Home Rule was coming), led to large loss of life (especially civilians and sickeningly, children), pointless (the rebels knew they were doomed) and ultimately could be classed beside the Munich Putsch. And despite all the detractors, support for and remembrance of the Rising has never been higher.

With such revolutionary fervour running rampant, one dares to speak and ask is it right/wrong to speak now about the killing of policemen and soldiers during not only this particular event, but also the larger ‘struggle.’ Hundreds of British soldiers and policemen (regulars and auxiliaries) were killed by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Army. What do we do with those memories? Those men had families, wives, children and parents.

In my maternal home town of Listowel in North Kerry, two of my great uncles were killed in the Great War: their memories were subsequently excised from memory due to a very real fear of republican reprisals. In that town my grandfather was a political republican, a gentle man by all accounts, but a man who wished Ireland to be the master of its own destiny. Other militant republicans murdered a police inspector, paid by Dublin Castle, while he was holding his six year-old son’s hand whilst walking along the street. What is to become of his (conveniently excised) memory.

The Great Reimagining of the Rising which has been recently announced with great aplomb and fanfare by the Taoiseach may uncover some unsettling truths for the Irish people. It may yet become the Great Revision of the Rising! And one wonders would that be any harm to a nation of children reared on questionable memories and bandwagoneers!

Posted in 1916, 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Auxiliary Division, Britain, Commemoration, Conflict, decolonisation, Empire, First World War, Historiography, Ireland, Memory, Oglaigh na hEireann, Revisionism, revolutionary, Royal Irish Constabulary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A baby called Somme

A baby called Somme

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Inside the Kremlin’s ‘troll army’

Inside the Kremlin’s ‘troll army’

A concept that could be concerning for historians in the future.

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A Mutual Fascination: Indians in Brighton During the First World War

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Geddes Axe Mk. 2

During the First World War, the British National Debt rose by over 1100% from £37.3 million to £359.8 million! Post war there was a concerted drive to rein in spending in public areas, especially defence spending.

Sir Eric Geddes headed a committee which reported on the cost cutting measures. His report came to be known as the ‘Geddes Axe.’ The government had asked for savings of £175 million; the Geddes Committee report recommended that expenditure could conservatively be reduced by £87 million p.a.

Although defence spending rose from £111 million (1922-1923) to £114 million (1925), it still did not reflect the increased nature of British post war responsibilities. Although the shooting war had stopped after the 1918 Armistice with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. The post war world was a markedly more dangerous and dynamic place than in 1914. Although the British Empire was approaching its terminal phase, in the 1920s it still had quite a large volume of obligations. Mandate Palestine, Mesopotamia, India, the North West Frontier with Russia…all these had to be garrisoned. And with markedly fewer resources.

Today with a reduced British Army (102,000 – 82,000 by 2020), a stagnant Royal Air Force (losing personnel and capabilities) and a diminished Royal Navy, the world is at least as dangerous as in 1919. Russian bombers prowl outside the Cornish coast, Argentinean rhetoric about Las Malvinas (the Flakland Islands) has been increasing stedaily (amid a troubled domestic situation) and the Royal Navy…..well the Navy is just a mess.

The Army is 20-30,000 men light. Realistically it needs another brigade or two for expeditionary warfare and overseas garrisoning (and another Royal Marines Commando Brigade). The RAF needs to sort out the disastrous F-22 situation; seriously what is happening there? How much is the per-unit cost moving toward now? Helicopters are another area that is severely lacking  (as Afghanistan highlighted). The Royal Navy needs carriers. Not in 5 years…now, it needs them now. The Flaklands cannot remain intact with outclassed air defence assets and a small garrison. The navy needs over a dozen smaller vessels as well as more missile submarines and hunters. And the Fleet Air Arm needs the F-35 NOW! And not just the CATOBAR option!

Under successive Ten Year plans, the British government almost lost the Second World War without firing a shot. This modern financial retrenchment is quite reminiscent of the Geddes period. While cutting the MoD might seem better than trimming benefits or rationalizing the NHS might seem like a softer option,  in reality its a dangerous game to play; despite what the song says, the first cut is not the deepest!

Concern at UK defence cuts

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How to spot a Russian bomber

Posted in 20th century, Britain, Cold War, Conflict, Soviet, spying, United States, US Armed Forces | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Put Down a Marker


 was an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary, a proud Tipperary man and an international rugby player (he played the Irish rugby team which met Wales in 1881; the Welsh won their first ever international match that day, 2 Goals and 4 Tries to Nil! But less than sixty years after this event McCarthy was buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave in Deansgrange Cemetary, Dublin.

Thmas St. George McCarthy's gravestone, after 70 years.

Thmas St. George McCarthy’s gravestone, after 70 years.

Why is this person’s story important? Well, despite several articles to the contrary in recent years, few realise that DI McCarthy was actually a founding member of the Gaelic Athletic Association. On the 1st of November, 1884, McCarthy, Michael Cusack, Maurice Davin, John Wyse Power, John McKay, Joseph Bracken and Joseph O’Ryan assembled in Hayes’ Hotel, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. McCarthy was at the time a serving officer in the RIC, based in Templemore and was known to Cusack through their mutual involvement in sporting circles in Dublin.

An RIC sports team pictured at  Oughterard, Co. Galway, c.1920:  picture from PaulOFarrell,

An RIC sports team pictured at Oughterard, Co. Galway, c.1920:
picture from PaulOFarrell,

McCarthy did not continue on with the nascent organisation; it is possible that he attended another meeting, but that is speculative. The reasons for this Irishman’s omission from the annals of history are also speculative. Well let’s call them speculative; it is pretty common, if unspoken, knowledge as to why this happened. The GAA and by extension, Irish cultural memory, have a unique gift of filtering. Banished are those inconvenient little details which obscure a good story, or which make our heroes and their heroic deeds seem less heroic. The fact that St. Patrick was actually Welsh and was kidnapped by the Irish is rarely brought to bear on March 17th. Michael Collins was probably rather stupid/arrogant to travel the way he did to West Cork. Dustin the Turkey (ask someone Irish!) isn’t funny and one of Bosco’s crew was a gay man; not a fact that’s really highlighted for some strange reason.

The RIC are viewed by mainstream Irish society (in the rearview mirror) as British spies, informers and enforcers. And to a certain extent they were; they took the King’s/Queen’s shilling, reported the happenings in the locality and when push came to shove they had to stand with the wishes of the Castle, their paymaster. But so does any policeman; the Gardaí are currently coming under a not inconsiderable (and not wholly undeserved) amount of flak over their handling of water protests, which the Government directs to them. But the common Irishman and woman generally fails to look beyond the veil and examine life in the RIC before the advent of “popular” republicanism. The constabulary was a safe, pensionable job for sons who were not going to get the farm or unlikely to apprentice. So when Thomas McCarthy entered the RIC, it was unlikely that he was thinking about anything further than the ability to earn a living, serve his community and perhaps play some sport along the way.

The McCarthy Cup

The McCarthy Cup

In recent years there has been a gradual warming of opinion toward the RIC; there is even talk of a commemorative ceremony being held in Dublin to mark the service of thousands of Irishmen in the first national police force. In the case of Thomas St. George McCarthy, although it came almost 70 years late, there is now a gravestone marking his final resting place. The GAA have also honoured this great man by naming the cup awarded to the winners of the annual Garda-PSNI football match after him; judging by his great love for sport, one can be certain that DI McCarthy would have approved.

Posted in 20th century, Anglo-Irish War, Britain, Commemoration, Conflict, decolonisation, Empire, Historiography, Memory, Organisational History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memento Mori – Morior Invictus


Being a historian is difficult.

There’s the slog work as I call it; the readings, the theories, the whiteboard sessions, the late nights and early mornings, the travel (and travel food and budgets and not having a proper workspace on trains etc).


There’s the archives and libraries; most are fine, but some….some would try the patience of a saint. ID, more ID, that’s out of date by 4 minutes, you need to leave, go home, repent your sins, say 1,000,000 hail mary’s, flagellate yourself with barbed wire (á la Christy Moore) and return having completed the journey on your knees, unworthy one! Those kind of archives! We all know them!


Add to that the general lack of cash and wow factor associated with the field (sometimes) and then you’d really wonder why people like us bother with it at all? Is it an ego stroke? Maybe a bit being brutally honest. Do we think we’re Indiana Jones? Maybe a little bit too; ongoing debate in this household over my suitability to a Borsalino hat…. But mainly, I think anyway (my working thesis if you’ll permit), is that we poor souls undertake historical research in order to advance the store of human knowledge, to peel back the layers of dust and doubt and then to allow some light filter in. I think that’s why I do it.

Now I don’t ask for much (I’m not getting it regardless); maybe a liveable wage at some stage in the future and some intelligent questions. And the knowledge that all of our slog work is recognised in the form of a citation, or a reference in other work. The knowledge that we have transcended death and have entered the pantheon of historiography. Morior Invictus – In Death I remain Undefeated.


So when you see your work (as a colleague recently did), quoted in a certain West of Ireland based newspaper, without any references, that is pretty heartbreaking. The guy in question is a superstar, but he’s no Mick Jagger; he’s the chap who taught Jagger everything he knows and probably invented Rock and Roll as well. That’s just how good his research is, that’s just how solid his YEARS and YEARS of painstaking research have been. Honestly folks, this guy’s effort rate makes me shudder when I think of people reading my own work.

But this paper, did they give him a mention? Did they hell! They published the story, large chunks ripped from his work online with no citation. Now I’m not saying it would be easy to track him down. I’m not using his name here deliberately as it took me weeks to track him through IP addresses, site registry etc. So I can respect his anonymity; but what you can do at least is to cite the page the work came from. Do the decent thing. But never fear, the rag trade remains in the gutter on this one.


So I say this in conclusion. We’ve all omitted citations at various stages (including myself and I was pulled on it by another chap and he was right and I was wrong!), but we should acknowledge others work. It doesn’t devalue ours, it shows we’re committed to furthering the store of human knowledge by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants!’ David (I’ll give this much of your ID here only), David you deserve the credit they didn’t give you. You work on the Auxiliaries and Irish policing is first rate sir.

Cite folks, its polite, professional and appreciated.

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Not even Nostradamus was this good…..Philip Gordon and the End of War?

….If Philip H. Gordon had tonight’s lottery numbers, I would be looking over his shoulder as he filled in his ticket….and advising everyone I know to be doing exactly the same. It’s not that I would be certain he’s win, nor that I’m convinced that the chap has a lucky rabbit’s foot (obviously not too lucky for poor Mr Bunny; sorry Bugs!), but if you take the time to read his article, you’ll see why.

In his article he describes how he sees the unilateral ‘Global War on Terror’ as declared and envisaged by the more hawkish members of both sides of the House as being largely un-winnable. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no dove on this front; some wars are unavoidable, regrettable indeed, but generally unavoidable. You can fight (and get bloodied) or you can abstain and get bloodied anyway. The world is the kind of place that doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to non-belligerent status. Terrorism is a concept that doesn’t recognise borders, that has no fear of treaties or accords, a concept that only has one aim; to terrorise, to instil fear. At least that was traditional terrorism. Modern, or New, Terrorism as practiced Al Qaeda and its affiliates, has a duology of central tenets. In addition to seeking to sow terror among its enemies (a neat reversal of Bush’s ‘You’re with us or against us’ approach really), New Terrorism also seeks mass casualties. Simply put, Foreign Internal Defence may just be coming back into fashion again.

But I digress, wonderfully I know, but still back on track.

Gordon’s article has it all really. Its brutal, its blunt, it addresses the caliphate in the Middle East, the futility of foreign wars, the lack of coherent strategies, the curbing of civil liberties and of course balancing the budgets. Seriously this guy is on fire. And what’s more impressive? It’s not that the article is good, lots of articles are good, its that he saw this all coming down the line in 2007, EIGHT YEARS AGO!

An end to the GWoT is coming, but as Gordon points out the Muslim backlash is also coming; we saw that clearly in the Sydney Siege, in the Charlie Hebdo and Dutch attacks, in the July 2006 bombings in London, in Canada at the War Memorial and Parliament and countless other places. The frontline on terror is now in our communities. The thing is, although the Western ideology is probably better (not fully sold myself on that one), the Middle East is a difficult place to sell it. One look at Europe and the US will tell you just how angry the average citizen is with their elected officials. Cockroaches have a higher approval rating than the US Congress; Obama is quite simply useless and effectively neutered by partisanship; Anglea Merkel is destroying any goodwill the German people have built up since the end of the World War, with ‘colourful’ (read distasteful) comparisons between her and Adolph Hitler continuing to gain ground. Turkey, one of the few US allies is hopelessly corrupt, being run by a man who was Prime Minister and is now President (one wonders will his terms in that office be extended…), in a fashion similar to Mr Hitler and also further afield to the Soviet Union, sorry I mean the Russian Federation, where the Prime Minister/President/Czar holds sway over everything….although apparently not over his armed forces who ‘volunteer’ in Ukraine quite a lot…

Even though the Muslim world, like China and other semi-repressive states, are full of journalists and thinkers, the West needs to see this. In South Africa, the Boers killed and maimed thousands of Blacks, but for the rest of the world it had little connection really. it took the sacrifices of men like Mandela for us to reconcile that Sharpeville could not be condoned or excused away, that African men and women of colour too had inalienable rights. In Islamic countries, their philosophers and leaders need to stand up to their peers and be counted. And instead of bombing (lets face it bombs are sexy and a powerful way to convince your country you’re doing something) countries with a 12th century political system, back into the 11th century, why not engage with moderates and try to make a difference? yes there will be knocks, there will be pitfalls and you will have setbacks, but surely it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness?

In short Gordon’s article is quite good. It does lack any worthwhile addressing of the imbalance in Europe though, as well as shortcomings in the armed forces (German’s military is decrepit, NATO needs a serious wake up call, the US/UK need to figure out the transition to majority volunteer led forces sooner rather than later, the EU is tearing itself apart and no-one in Germany will ‘roll the hard six’ and spend their way out of the recession!).But over all its a very good paper. And he’s spot on.

Wars end…people start them and people choose to end them.

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‘Colossal impudence?’ Funding a Political Party | History at Galway

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No jobs for the Old Boys!

A nice and controversial plan to arrive at a streamlined force for the UK looks set to run into some opposition!

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The Still Unknown Soldier

Search fails to trace Irish relatives of WW1 soldier

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There can be only One

The unkillable soldier

The image that comes to most people’s mind when they imagine veterans, is that of venerable old men (and increasingly women), sitting with their medals showing, usually in a quiet room. Generally they are alone…

The story lasts a few minutes and then the news cycle moves onwards in its relentless attempt to keep us engaged.

Leaving the old men alone again.

Veterans are generally alone, as their friends have passed away. Some died in combat, in pain and suffering; some have died in the comfort of their homes surrounded by their families. We as a society venerate survivors, those who have passed through the crucible and have emerged unscathed.

At least physically. Mentally is often a very different story.

Some veterans can live their lives in inner turmoil for decades, with their families often bearing the brunt of their implacable angst. Really the only people who can really understand are those who have experienced the rigours of battle themselves. And with their comrades all aging at the same rate, our veteran is in an ever shrinking pool of people to whom he can turn to for support. The analogy of the Vietnam Veteran responding angrily to an uncomphrending questioner with the tropic line ‘YOU don’t know man, YOU weren’t there!’, has been rolled out time and again as a metaphor for the, sometimes surly, unreachable Veteran. Quite often there is truth in this; colleagues have described veterans from the First World War and the Ango-Irish War as being extremely reticent about recalling exploits to the uniniated civilian, often only doing so when their guard is lowered and also with the abuse of one or more substance.

So the next time you see a story about the last veteran from some conflict being described as “unkillable” perhaps take a moment to fully comprehend the ramifications of immortality and what you lose to achieve it

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Afghanistan conflict: Taliban declares ‘defeat’ of Nato – BBC News

One would be hard pressed to disagree with this statement from the Taliban.

After beating the British Empire, the Soviet Union and now the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is Afghanistan unconquerable?

A statement which range true in the 80s, rings true today. When asked about Soviet superiority, a Mujhadeen Commander stated that he didn’t ‘…fear the Soviets, he feared their helicopters!’ Could the Allies have done more with fewer Warthogs, Hummers and tracked vehicles and instead bought more rotary flying machines???

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What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?

What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?

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The most important battle you’ve probably never heard of

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Moment of Truth for Brazil’s military past

Moment of Truth for Brazil’s military past

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