Professor Eugenio Biagini
Our first seminar generated an enormous amount of interest and discussion, with Fintan O’Toole presenting his perceptive analysis of how globalisation and international investments have transformed Irish society and culture since the 1960s. We had a large number of graduate students who raised important questions about the impact globalisation has had on the country’s religious and civic culture, and the ongoing transformation of a society within which immigration and minorities have become aspects of the national identity.
We were also fortunate to welcome Tom Bartlett and Briona Nic Dhiarmada to lead us in a panel discussion following the screening of ‘1916 Irish Rebellion’, the RTE/PBS/ BBC documentary, followed by a panel discussion with Briona Nic Dhiarmada, Tom Bartlett. We reflected on the enormous success of this documentary when shown both in the US and in Ireland, and the very favourable public response in the UK as well. The documentary has been produced at a very significant stage in the relations between Ireland and Britain. Issues which emerged from the discussion included the multi-layered approach to the Rising proposed by the documentary and the shift in the debate on 1916 from the old anti-British dimension, to an emphasis on the wider democratic significance of the Rising in European, trans-Atlantic and indeed global history, and the key role played by the diaspora in planning and supporting the revolution.
Our third and last meeting this term was addressed by Lyndsey Earner-Byrne from University College Dublin, on the theme ‘Artefacts of Poverty: letters oft he Irish Catholic Poor’. This was a most fascinating, innovative and exciting paper, and gave us a pre-view of a book which will soon be published by Cambridge University Press. Through the analysis of a unique collection of 4,361 letters sent by Dublin people to Archbishop Byrne, Lindsey reconstructed the mental world and the social strategy of a cross-section of Irish society. many were really poor, as the title of the paper said, but some were middle-class people whose livelihood had suddenly been affected by tragedy or economic downturn. The literary sophistication of some of these letters, as much as the social strategies which they suggested shed a totally new light on the life of the people in the early decades of democracy in Ireland.
On 8-9 December I shall take seven PhD students in Irish history to Edinburgh for a two-day joint graduate conference. The trip is largely sponsored by a private benefactor and by the faculty of History of the University of Cambridge, We are very grateful to both, and indeed to all of you for your support over the years.