Co-Editing a Book: Some Reflections

A thick stack of papers sits on my desk: visible evidence of a process that has been both enjoyable and frustrating.  It is the manuscript for the tentatively titled A Formative Decade — an edited collection of essays that examines 1920s Ireland. An electronic version has been sent to the publisher, Irish Academic Press (IAP). And although the process is not yet complete — the manuscript has yet to go through peer review — I thought it worth reflecting on what I’ve learnt so far.

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A Formative Decade


I’ve published two single-authored monographs in the last four years, but editing a collection is a completely different challenge. Thankfully, I’ve had two great co-editors to share the workload with.

I contacted Mel Farrell (NUIM) and Jason Knirck (Central Washington University) around December of 2012 initially with the idea of doing an edited collection to mark the 90th anniversary of the foundation of Cumann na nGaedheal. Mel had recently completed a PhD thesis that examined Cumann na nGaedheal’s organisation, and Jason’s now published monograph on Cumann na nGaedheal was in its final stages. Given our overlapping research interests, a collaboration between the three of us seemed logical. The idea soon transformed — for reasons outlined below — and we subsequently widened the scope to look at various aspects of the island of Ireland during the first decade of independence.

As an edited collection is one of the planned outcomes from the Perceptions of Pregnancy conference that Jennifer Evans and I are running this coming July, I’ve been thinking a lot about what lessons could be learned from my recent experience as a first time editor.  (As a postgraduate I co-edited History Matters II, but that was a collection of papers from a graduate conference and it naturally didn’t require the same level of involvement as this project).

Be realistic about the time-scale

December 2012 was far too late to initiate a project that would commemorate Cumann na nGaedheal’s 90th anniversary in 2013.  We thought we had devised a time-scale that would just about allow us to achieve that, but we hadn’t factored in contributors withdrawing, delayed responses to queries, and — perhaps most importantly of all — a publisher’s schedule. Even if a miracle had happened and we had somehow managed to produce the manuscript in the tight time-frame we had anticipated, IAP would not have had space for us in the publishing programme for 2013. This is also worth bearing in mind for anyone considering a special edition journal; a quick turnaround is highly unlikely as a queue system operates with such publications also.

Expect delays

Even after revising our time-frame with IAP and putting a more realistic one in place, we were still on a very strict schedule. Anyone who has ever published will know that the majority of the time, no matter how good intentions are, the deadline is usually over-shot. For an edited collection, factoring in the various work schedules of all the contributors made it inevitable that there would be a delay. And, as we have a very international panel of contributors, we also had to think about time-differences, which meant that emails could not always be answered during local working hours.

Expect withdrawals

We lost contributors at both proposal and writing stage, and from speaking to colleagues with more experience of producing edited collections, this is to be expected. The time that a contributor had anticipated to write during gets taken up with other, often more pressing work or with family commitments, or just simply by events out of their control. If that person is writing about a particularly niche area, it can be difficult to find a replacement and can result in a gap in the themes covered by the book. We’ve agreed that addressing this in the introduction is probably the most sensible approach. On reflection, it’s best to set an absolute deadline, after which the proposal or manuscript has to move on without that person. It might seem ruthless, but the project will drift otherwise.

Editorial communication

As the three editors are in three different countries (Mel in Ireland, me in the UK and Jason in America), all of our correspondence has been done by email. Some days, several went back and forward. With so many communications being exchanged, it’s easy for things to get missed. Numbering queries / tasks in every email helps ensure that each point is responded to.

Also, with three editors, we felt it necessary to create a separate email account for correspondence with the contributors. This meant that we had all emails in the one place, and all three editors had access to the same information.

Agree a style-guide

An obvious point now, looking back, but we never specified a particular style-guide to our contributors at the outset. With eleven different authors from various backgrounds working from an array of citation styles, the footnotes of the collated manuscript looked far from uniform. I volunteered to standardise them, and almost lost the will to live in the process! It was definitely a rookie error!


On the whole, occasional frustrations aside, it’s been an enjoyable experience — not least because of the good humour and patience shown by my co-editors, and by the usually prompt responses from our contributors. I’ll follow up this post after we’ve had the external readers’ comments back and we’ve delivered the final manuscript. In the meantime, if readers have any other tips or observations to add on the editing process, they’d be most welcome.

Updated, 12/05/14, 11pm

Some further advice that came in via twitter:

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Virginity, Chastity and Purity: Defining Women Past and Present

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘unmarried mothers’* recently: I gave a paper on perceptions of these women in Ireland in the second half of the twentieth century to the University of Hertfordshire’s History Lab, and I’m currently reviewing Pat Thane’s and Tanya Evans’s Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth Century England. Virginity, chastity, purity are all themes interwoven through the narrative. So when my colleague Jennifer Evans spotted this piece by Jessica Valenti in The Guardian newspaper on American Purity Balls earlier this week, she forwarded it to me.

Maintaining Purity 

Briefly put, Purity Balls are father-daughter dances, described as ‘Christ-centred evenings’. According to the FAQ section of the Purity Ball website,

The Purity Ball brings fathers and daughters together for an elegant evening of dining, discussion, and decision. Fathers commit to their daughters that they will remain pure, and ask their daughters for the same commitment. The fathers also commit to pursue the hearts of their daughters by working on strengthening their relationships and letting them know how much they love and care for them.

Essentially — though not explicitly stated on the website — the teenage girls take a pledge to abstain from sex until marriage.

Credit: Symphony999 via Wikimedia Commons

While I was in the States recently at a conference on representations of unwanted pregnancy in popular culture, I had lunch with one of the delegates who had actually attended a purity ball as part of her research. She suggested that few of the girls there truly comprehended what the event was about, and that, for most, it was actually another form of prom: an opportunity to wear a pretty dress and have fun with friends.  But I digress, somewhat.

What fascinates me about Purity Balls, is the message that they promote. If purity is equated with virginity, then — to echo Jessica Valenti’s piece in The Guardian — the implication is that without their virginity, these girls are damaged goods.[1]  

This was essentially the language of an Ireland in the not too distant past.

Unmarried Mothers

Reading the files in the Department of the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) relating to the introduction of Unmarried Mothers Allowance in 1973, I came across a stack of letters from Irish citizens criticising the payment.  The language is telling.  One woman was critical of the government for showing concern for the unmarried mother: the woman ‘who has sinned’ (emphasis added). [2]  The woman who became pregnant outside of marriage was treated with suspicion, viewed with disdain.

In 1972, along with six other women, Maura O’Dea founded Cherish, an organisation to support unmarried mothers.  Revealingly, though, they chose to use a different term in their aims: ‘to make the single mother and child accepted members of society’ (emphasis added). The following year, Woman’s Way published a frank article on the problems confronting unmarried mothers. As the magazine bluntly put it, ‘The single pregnant woman is a reality. Her baby is a person. Why should either of them suffer so because we chose not to accept a fact of life?’[3] 

‘Damaged Goods’

The advice column of that magazine is filled throughout the 1970s and 1980s with anguished letters from women who had become pregnant outside of marriage. Some worried that they would be asked to leave their family home, for others this had already happened. One mother expressed concern for her daughter’s reputation after the married man for whom she had become pregnant had offered to leave his wife and set up a new home with her. So far the pregnancy had been ‘hushed up’, concealed by sending her to live with her aunt, but if she lived openly as a family with the father of the child ‘everyone will know they’re not married and that the child is illegitimate’.[4]  Although she was chastised by the advice columnist for putting the opinions of others ahead of her daughter, the letter revealed much about how society perceived (or were assumed to perceive) unmarried mothers. This concern for reputation could also be found in a letter from the neighbour of an elderly couple. As the couple approached their fiftieth wedding anniversary, their grown-up children wanted to plan a party. The couple were reluctant, fearful that the event might somehow lead to the revelation that they were only forty-nine years married and that their first child had been conceived outside wedlock. Even after all those years, the neighbour explained, ‘They’ll never live it down if their family find out now’.[5]

An angry and heartfelt letter, published in 1985, offered the ultimate commentary on society’s treatment of unmarried mothers. In it, the woman wrote of her regret of giving her child up for adoption, and how she wished she still had her baby girl with her. But she had been compelled to place the child for adoption because of ‘so-called friends and neighbours, gossiping and looking at me as if I had the plague or worse’.[6]

The idea of women as ‘damaged goods’ clearly echoes across the pages of such publications.


* Note on language: Although ‘single parent’ is the correct and accepted term today, I have deliberately used the expression ‘unmarried mothers’ as it would be anachronistic to use a modern term when speaking of an earlier period.

[1] The Guardian, 5 May 2014.

[2]  2004/21/54, Department of the Taoiseach, National Archives of Ireland.

[3] Woman’s Way, 19 January 1973.

[4] Woman’s Way, 14 June 1985.

[5] Woman’s Way, 31 May 1985.

[6] Woman’s Way, 4 October 1985.

Gerry Adams & Boston College: A Fresh Challenge for Oral History

(Image author's own)
(Image author’s own)

‘Don’t do a Duffy on me’, a senior politician once remarked when I interviewed him for my research. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a quip.  And while it was meant as a joke, the very fact that the remark was even passed — more than two decades after the event — was revealing.  I’d almost forgotten about it until Gerry Adams was questioned this week by the PSNI about the murder of Jean McConville in 1972, and questions were raised about the already controversial Northern Ireland Peace Process oral history project conducted under the auspices of Boston College.  The episode has produced a fresh challenge for oral history.

For those who are unfamiliar, the ‘Duffy’ in question is Jim Duffy whose recorded interviews with Brian Lenihan scuppered Lenihan’s chances of becoming president of Ireland.  Duffy had conducted an interview with the then Tánaiste as part of the research for his MA thesis, being undertaken at the politics department of University College Dublin.  The 1990 presidential election afforded him the opportunity to publicise his research on the powers of the Irish presidency, and he approached the Irish Times with a proposal to write a series of ‘historical context’ columns.

For anyone unfamiliar, during the presidential campaign, Brian Lenihan was questioned about what happened the night Garret FitzGerald’s Fine Gael-Labour government collapsed in January 1982 and Lenihan denied having any knowledge of phone calls placed by or on behalf of Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey to the then president, Patrick Hillery, requesting time for Haughey to form an alternative government without recourse to a general election.  But Duffy had also asked Lenihan the same question — and received a different answer.  As the archives have officially confirmed, not only did Lenihan know of the phone calls, but he actually made several himself.  (The phone log from Áras an Uachtaráin [the president’s residence], now stored at UCD Archives, is available to view on

Duffy was faced with a dilemma: release the tapes or remain quiet.  Had he taken the latter option, his MA dissertation in which he had written about the interview would have been publicly accessible via UCD library once the standard embargo of two years, which authors can request, had expired.  Lenihan, who appeared to have been on course to win the election, would have been president by the time the dissertation entered the public domain.

Emily O’Reilly has recorded in Candidate: the Truth Behind the Presidential Campaign (1991) that Duffy sought advice from UCD academics, who, in accordance with academic practice, advised him not to release the content of the tapes.  But, under pressure, he did the opposite.

In doing so, he created difficulties for future generations of researchers hoping to conduct elite interviews as part of their work.

But that was twenty-four years ago, and while some might still joke about it and certain figures are cautious of interviews (for reasons beyond the Duffy tape scandal), it’s hardly likely to still present problems for researchers today.

So why bring it up?

Coverage of Gerry Adams’ questioning this week has been accompanied by reference to Boston College’s oral history project.  See Irish Times,  The Guardian and New York Times, for example. Reading the commentary, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Duffy case.  Only this time, the implications are far greater.

Oral testimonies are typically sought in an attempt to capture a flavour of what life was like at a particular time in history, to get a sense of what people felt or to understand why they acted as they did. We as historians are not aiming to create sensational headlines, or to cause embarrassment. The ability to secure a research interview — whether it is with public figures or non-elites — depends on our ability as researchers to offer certain assurances to our interviewees. This can vary from agreeing to show them how their words will be used before any work is published or made public, to guaranteeing that information provided ‘off the record’ remains strictly between the interviewer, the interviewee and the sound recording.

Ed Moloney, one of the lead researchers and author of Voices from the Grave, which emerged from the Boston College project, has distanced himself from Boston College, which was forced by court order to hand over the recordings and transcripts of interviews with paramilitaries from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. Quoted in the New York Times, he was critical of the University’s handling of the legalities of the oral history project:

It was on the basis of assurances from Boston College that their lawyers had vetted the contracts to be signed by the interviewees that said the final say in disclosure of any of this material was in the hands of the interviewees.

The controversy that has surrounded the Boston College project — for more information, see this piece from History Ireland magazine — along with the public criticisms of it, particularly from Sinn Féin in recent days, has much greater ramifications for the practice of oral history. Sensitive interviews have always been difficult to secure, but it is probable that they will become even more so now. And while ethics approval for such projects has always been challenging — and rightly so — the process is also likely to become more stringent.

Historians have been discussing the matter for the last few days on twitter. There are definite lessons to be learned, but it is possibly too early to fully comprehend the true impact that the Boston College / Gerry Adams saga will have for academics and oral history.


Round-Up: Social History Society Conference #northumbria2014

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Pulling into Newcastle Train Station

This is the first chance I’ve had since last week’s Social History Society conference to sit down and record my thoughts on the gathering — although I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about the event, which was held at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle.

The programme had much to offer: I mostly attended the sessions in the ‘Narratives, Emotions and the Self’ strand, although I heard some papers also from the ‘Life-cycles and Life-styles’ strand. Given my current work on first person narratives, I was keen to hear how other historians were approaching emotions and the individual in history.

There were numerous papers I thoroughly enjoyed, including a presentation by Sian Pooley (Lancaster University) on child writers and adult journalists in the British popular press, 1870-1918. I’ve previously written about Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin newspaper (published in Ireland between 1906 and 1914).  Although the newspaper featured a dedicated children’s column, my research was more concerned with Griffith’s political agenda. At the time, I gave passing thought to what Griffith might have been attempting to achieve with the children’s column, but listening to Sian Pooley’s account of the British popular press has made me re-evaluate Griffith’s endeavours.  There’s clearly a lot more at play than simply providing a space for children’s views and offering a sense of identity and belonging to the nationalists of the future.  

While completely unrelated to anything I work on, my favourite paper of the conference was the presentation by Helen Parr (Keele University) on women’s recollections of the Falklands War. Particularly touching was the story she told of one mother who had preserved her son’s room (where an unopened Easter egg still sat) as a shrine to his memory, so that his presence could still be felt in the house long after he had died in service.  

In terms of my current research, I learnt the most from Steven Fielding’s (University of Nottingham) paper on fiction and politics in 1970s television dramas in Britain — this offered interesting parallels for my own research on The Riordans, which I recently presented on at the Pill and Pen conference —  and Rachel Rich’s (Leeds Metropolitan University) paper on women’s diaries and the passage of time in France and England between 1850 and 1905. Although the latter is outside my timeframe and geographical focus, the concept of how time is recorded and, arguably more important, how time is defined is relevant to any historian working with diaries.

My panel — ‘In Their Own Words: Constructing Everyday Lives’ — presented on Wednesday. It featured papers from Christian Bailey (The Open University) on strategies for reading diaries and memoirs, Niamh Cullen (University College Dublin) on gender and emotion in Italian men’s first person accounts of courtship between 1945 and 1965, and Julie Hipperson (King’s College London) on integrating the personal back into the history of professional women.  My own paper explored how the changing language of advice columns in women’s magazines reflected social change in Ireland between 1950s and 1980s.

All too often at conferences, papers run over or a speaker from the floor monopolises the discussion time so there is little opportunity for questions and answers. Happily, we did not have that problem and there was plenty of time for a lively exchange between the panellists and audience. There were some very helpful questions and comments regarding methodology and useful comparative sources. A discussion also emerged about the extent to which the study of the history of emotions has focussed on love at the expense of jealousy, pain, suffering, regret, etc. It was agreed that difficult emotions are more problematic to research, and often the historian will have to work with what isn’t being said to tease out such emotions.

I’ve come away with lots to think about after the Q&A session, including readership strategies and the agenda of the advice columnists themselves. One particularly interesting question I received was the extent to which the public line of the columnists reflected their private views. Angela Macnamara (probably Ireland’s most famous advice columnist) recorded in her own memoir, Yours Sincerely how she had hoped that the Catholic Church would relax its attitude towards artificial contraception, and when it didn’t — despite privately thinking it should have — she continued to give advice informed by religious teaching in her columns. The identity of the columnists is fascinating, and something I will certainly have to explore more. 

I’m particularly grateful to Rosa Medina Doménech who told me of her work on Spanish advice columns (and subsequently sent me her fascinating article ‘”Who were the experts?” The science of love vs women’s knowledge of love during the Spanish dictatorship’, which was recently published in the Science as Culture journal).


In addition to hearing some great papers and getting to know new people, I also had the opportunity to catch up with old friends and former colleagues, as well as to finally meet other historians I had only previously ‘known’ through twitter. All in all, a productive trip to Newcastle.

For more on the conference, check out the Social History Society’s Storify of the twitter feed.



The New Irish in Britain (Radio Contribution)


Ireland Flag

This week Michael D Higgins became the first Irish president to make an official state visit to Britain. With extensive coverage and commentary offered by the Irish media, RTÉ’s Drivetime opted to approach the occasion from a slightly different angle with a slot on the new Irish in Britain. I was invited on to comment briefly in my capacity as a historian on the historical significance of Higgins’s visit, but more particularly to discuss my experience of being an Irish person in Britain. We were joined on-air by writer Paddy Duffy, who has been in the UK somewhat longer than me. Both of us spoke of our positive experiences.

I moved to Britain last August to take up a new post at the University of Hertfordshire. My decision to leave Ireland was based on the fact that I had a a good job offer that brings with it great opportunities. I don’t feel that I had to emigrate, and I’m fortunate that the decision to move was mine (rather than one necessitate by a job search). Ireland will always be my home, but I’m very comfortable and happy in Britain. It seems, listening to Paddy’s contribution to Drivetime, that his experience has been very similar.


You can listen to the full conversation below.



Click to Listen
Click to Listen

First Person Narratives #northumbria2014

Next week I’m attending the annual Social History Society conference, which is being held at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. It is my first opportunity to test out a new research project, which in part explores the representation of women in the media. I’ll be focussing on what letters to Woman’s Way magazine reveals about social change in Ireland as the country experienced a period of transition.

This is part of a broader panel, which I co-organised with Dr Niamh Cullen (University College Dublin), that draws on first person writing and narratives as historical sources:





The full programme is available here.

A follow-up post will be posted after the conference.

Round-Up: Pill & Pen – Unwanted Pregnancy in Popular Culture

I arrived in snowy Iowa via Chicago (which has a rather funky tunnel linking different parts of the airport)
The conference was held in Iowa where the snow is beginning to clear. I arrived via Chicago (which has a rather funky tunnel — pictured right — linking different parts of the airport) on Thursday.

I’ve just arrived back from the Pill and Pen conference at the University of Iowa, where delegates spent the weekend presenting on and discussing the representation of contraception and unwanted pregnancy in popular culture. It is rare to find a conference at which every paper is of interest and relates in some way to your own research. This is easily the most fascinating and beneficial conference that I have attended.

Professor Djessari's talk was delivered in the beautiful senate chamber of the Old Capitol, a former seat of government.
Professor Djessari’s talk was delivered in the beautiful senate chamber of the Old Capitol, the former seat of government in Iowa.

The End of the Pill?

The highlight of the weekend was the keynote address on Saturday evening by Carl Djessari, chemist turned play-write. Often described as the father of the oral contraceptive pill, he prefers to consider himself the mother. He opened his paper with a breakdown of reproduction in the present world of 7 billion people. On a daily basis, there are 130 million acts of sexual intercourse, of which 1.2 million result in conception.  Of those, 50% are unplanned and 25% are unwanted, leading to an estimated 200,000 abortions (with around 60,000 being carried out illegally).  In the course of his paper, he referred to his 1989 article in the journal Science, in which he created a priority list of six new contraceptive methods, which included the male pill. However, in 2014 — despite recent reports that scientific advances have brought a male contraceptive pill one step closer — he is now adamant that there will not be a male pill. Ever. In fact, his paper, provocatively entitled ‘The Rise and Demise of the Pill’, went as far as to suggest that with advances in artificial insemination and banks for the freezing of sperm and eggs, a trend could emerge in which women opt for sterilisation, reducing the need for other forms of contraception. As he pointed out, between the late 1980s and today, five million people have been born without intercourse. It’s a fascinating argument…

The Influence of the Catholic Church

My own paper focussed on two major story-lines from the RTÉ rural drama, The Riordans, one of which played out behind the scenes. When script-writer Wesley Burrowes proposed to turn eighteen year old Maggie Riordan into an unmarried mother, he was met with opposition by the RTÉ authorities and he only managed to salvage the story-line by changing the identity of the girl in question to the previously unseen Protestant niece of supporting character, Miss Nesbitt. Listening to the range of papers over the course of the three day event, I was struck (though unsurprised) by the number of times that the Catholic Church was mentioned for either having restricted the choices open to women or having exerted an influence over the manner in which information was imparted. Jessica Borge of the University of London, for example, gave an excellent paper on the appearance (or otherwise) of the pill on 1960s British screens. As she explained, the BBC Ulster questioned the advisability of airing one particular documentary early in the decade, concerned that it would offend the 40% Catholic population in the region.

Especially fascinating was Kirsten Kumpf Baele’s paper on Patrice Toye’s 2012 film Little Black Spiders. Briefly: the film is based on the real experience of teenage girls who fell pregnant and were hidden away in the attic of a hospital in Belgium in 1978. Although the girls had far greater freedom and were not subjected to the intensive work undertaken by the Magdalene women in Ireland, the idea of moving accidental or unwanted pregnancy away from society and behind closed doors is strongly reminiscent of the Magdalene experience. Kirsten later mentioned the Irish context, drawing parallels between Little Black Spiders and The Magdalene Sisters (2002).  Unlike the latter, the former focussed more on the lighter side of life hidden-away, and as such drew less criticism of the Church than the Irish production.

Most of the papers were presented at Schaeffer Hall.
Most of the papers were presented at Schaeffer Hall.

Abortion in Film: Just a Sub-Plot to a Fairytale Ending?

In addition to the representation of contraception in various television programmes, including Desperate Housewives and Mad Men, and films, such as Prudence and the Pill and The Girl, The Body and The Pill, several papers also addressed the representation of abortion in film. Reference was made to such productions as Juno and Knocked Up, in which abortion is only ever a minor part of the story-line and the theme of an initially unwanted pregnancy is ultimately resolved with a ‘happy ending’.  The film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — the subject of Alexandra Cordes presentation — stands in stark contrast. With its focus on the efforts to secure an abortion, it is not a comedy nor is there the traditional happy ending.  With an issue as emotive as abortion, it is hardly surprising that it has not been the focus of more films — serving instead as a sub-plot to what ultimately becomes a fairytale ending.

These are just some of the papers presented over the course of the weekend. Others looked at reality TV as ‘risk tutorials’; how medical advertising of contraception used feminine colouring and — in the case of one company that packaged the pill in a lipstick-style holder — imagery to normalise sexuality; and how the comedic treatment of contraception in film and literature creates a safe distance to deal with a sensitive issue.  Shelley W. Chan gave a really fascinating keynote talk on the first evening on  China’s one-parent policy and what the writings of nobel winner Mo Yan reveals about abandoned children.

It’s been a thoroughly stimulating and enjoyable weekend, and I’ve come away with an extensive list of books and plays I now want to read, as well as films to watch. I’m especially looking forward to re-visiting some of the weekend’s themes at the Perceptions of Pregnancy conference that I’ve organised with Jennifer Evans for July.

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Perceptions of Pregnancy: Provisional Conference Programme



Please note, the programme is subject to change. For further details, visit the conference blog or email conference organisers: Ciara Meehan, c.meehan2[at] or Jennifer Evans j.evans5[at]


Day 1

9:00- 9:30: Registration

9:30-11:00: Session One

Panel A

Male discourses of contraception, pregnancy and fatherhood
Chris Orchard (Indiana State University)’Masculine appropriations: the gendered discourse of pregnancy and childbirth in Early Modern England’
Katarzyna Bronk (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland) ‘”Both arms full of children”: William Cobbett’s lessons on parenthood, motherhood and maternity’
Ben Mechen (UCL) ‘”Bringing you closer together”: Durex condoms, men and contraception in 1970s Britain’

Panel B

Religion, Pregnancy and Birth
Shaima Hassan (Liverpool John Moores University) ‘A longitudinal study exploring Muslim Women’s Transition to Motherhood within the NHS’
Magdalena Ohaja (Trinity College Dublin) ‘Co-existing belief systems of pregnancy and birth in South-eastern Nigeria and their influence on women’s health-seeking behaviour’
Ailish Veale (Trinity College Dublin) ‘For it is by example above all that the nuns influence these girls’: Contradictions and Tensions in 20th Century Catholic Missionary Maternities

 11:00-11:15: Coffee

11:15-12:45: Session Two

Panel A

Perceptions of the female body in Literature
Abigail Boucher (University of Glasgow) ‘The Monk and the Menopause’
Olivia Gunn (Pacific Lutheran University) ‘Babies, Artworks, Executioners: Bourgeois Perceptions of Pregnancy in Ibsen and Sandel’
Francesca Chiappini (University of Milan) ‘“I shall die this time”: Motherhood as sin in Djuna Barnes’ Ryder’

Panel B

Infertility in medieval and early modern England (Chair Jennifer Evans, University of Hertfordshire)
Catherine Rider (University of Exeter) ‘Defining and Perceiving in Medieval England’
Amanda Capern (University of Hull) and Judith Spicksley (University of York) ‘”The most severe Affliction that can attend a Family”: infertility and its consequences for perceptions of the female body, 1650-1750’
Sarah Toulalan (University of Exeter) – tbc

 12:45- 1:45: Lunch

1:45-3:15: Session Three

Panel A

Pregnancy Loss and Miscarriage
Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire) ‘“before midnight she had miscarried”: Women, Men and Miscarriage in early modern England’
Sara Read (Loughborough University) ‘“I did not think I had bine with childe”: Perceptions of Miscarriage and God’s Will’
Ortal Slobodin (Duivendrecht, The Netherlands) ‘The aborted time: a temporal view on the trauma of pregnancy loss’.

Panel B

Medical Developments and Frameworks
Laura Neff (Royal Holloway) ‘The Surgical Exploration of Maternal Medicine 1860-1890’
Olivia Ekman (Umeå University Sweden) ‘Preventing the Unexpected: The Role of Eclampsia in the Formation of Prophylactic Care in the 20th Century’
Małgorzata Stach (Trinity College Dublin) ‘The technological imperative as a continuing preoccupation in relation to childbirth’

 3:15-3:30: Coffee

3:30- 5:00: Plenary 1

5pm: Exhibition by Liz Burns from The Burns Archive, New York on Victorian Post-mortem Infant Photography

Wine Reception

 Day 2

9:30-11:00: Session One

Panel A

Early Modern Pregnancy and Childbirth
Anna Andreeva (University of Heidelberg) ‘Pregnancy and childbirth in early and medieval Japan’
Anna French (University of Birmingham) ‘The godly counsaile of a gentle-woman’: fear, pregnancy and early motherhood in Reformation England’.
Sanner Garofalo (University of Birmingham) ‘”Feminine Vilification and the Politics of the Birthing Chamber on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage’

Panel B

Infanticide and Neonaticide
Julia Allison (Independent Scholar) ‘Illegal pregnancy in Tudor, Rural East Anglia: Perception, Consequences and Outcomes’
Silvia Chiletti (Max Planck Institute) ‘Ignored Pregnancies: Dissimulations, Doubts and Errors in Medical and Medico-legal Knowledge about Pregnancy in 19th century France’
Sylvia Murphy Tighe (Trinity College Dublin) and Joan Lalor (Trinity College Dublin) ‘Concealed pregnancy and Neonaticide: A changing knowledge base.’

11:00-11:15: Coffee

11:15- 12:45: Session Two

Panel A

Visualising Pregnancy and the Unborn Child
Sarah Griffin (Independent Scholar)  ‘The Anatomy of Creation: A Thirteenth-Century Schematic Uterus Diagram of MS Ashmole 399 in the Bodlian Library, Oxford’
Leah Astbury (University of Cambridge) ‘”For all children are not bred alike”: Visualising the unborn child in seventeenth-century England’
Lucy van de Wiel (Univeristy of Amsterdam) ‘Ageing in the Egg: A Visual Analysis of Time-lapse Embryo Imaging’

Panel B

Pain, Pregnancy and Childbirth
Paula Michaels, (Monash University) ‘”Primitive” Childbirth and “Natural” Childbirth: Race and Class in Twentieth-Century discourse on Childbirth Pain
Whitney Wood (Wilfrid Laurier University) ‘”Bound to be a troublesome time”: Anxieties surrounding Pregnancy, Parturition and Pain in English Canada, 1860-1920’
Gwenith Siobhan Cross (Wilfrid Laurier University)’ “a Great help to all mothers”: The efficacy and availability of analgesics in the 1940s’

 12:45-1:45: Lunch

1:45-3:45: Session Three

Panel A

Access to Hospitals and care
Megan Webber (University of Hertfordshire) ‘“Impatient of Controul”: The Beneficiaries of London’s Outpatient Lying-in Charities, c. 1800-1834.’
Philomena Gorey (University College Dublin) ‘Mothers and their Midwives: The Development of Maternity Care in Irish Dispensaries 1852-1898’
George Campbell Gosling (University of Liverpool) ‘The Pregnant Patient-consumer in Interwar England’
Ewelina Szpak, ‘Pregnancy and motherhood in Poland after World War II 1945 – 1960’

Panel B

Abortion (Chair Claire McGing NUIM)
Fran Bigman (University of Cambridge) ‘A Bit of Himself: British Male-authored Abortion Narratives from Waste to Alfie
Laura Kelly (University College Dublin) ‘The invisible export: Irish Women’s Abortion Narratives, c.1970s –present’
Hannah Charnock (University of Exeter)  ‘”This Haunting Sadness”: Defending abortion in the British News-media, 1979-1985’
Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire) Perceptions of Abortion in 20th century Ireland.

 3:45-4:00: Coffee

4:00-5:30: Session Four

Panel A

Contested Relationships: age, seduction and rape (Chair Whitney Wood, Wilfrid Laurier University)
Victoria Bates (Bristol University) ‘”Early Ripe, Early Rotten”: Precocious Pregnancy in Victorian and Edwardian England’
Jillian Slaight (University of Wisconsin-Madison) ‘”Despite her Resistance and Screams”: Narratives of Seduction in Eighteenth-century France’
Justin Dolan Stover (Idaho State University) ‘Pregnancy, Parenthood and the Irish Revolution: Violence and Vulnerability, 1916-1923′

Panel B

Pregnancy and the Pregnant Body in the 18th/ 19th Centuries
Anna Niiranen (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) ‘The Concept of Natural Pregnancy in Victorian Guide Book Literature for the use of women, 1830-1902)
Emily Blewitt (Cardiff University) ‘Percy Shelley’s Labouring Reader and Mary Shelley’s other mothers: rereading Frankenstein’

 5:30-6:30: Plenary 2

7:00 Conference Dinner


 Day 3

10:00-11:30: Session One

Panel A

Expectations of and Limits on Mothers
Chelsea Phillips (Ohio State University) ‘Carrying All Before Her: Pregnancy, Repertory, and Reputation in the Career of Sarah Siddons (1755-1831)
Claire McGing (NUIM) and Fiona Buckley (University College Cork) ‘Gendered Institutionalism: Reconceptualising the Irish Parliament to facilitate parenting.’
Sarah Crook (QMUL) ‘Mothers are people who are reasonable for half the time: Mental Health and Feminism in Late Twentieth Century Britain’

Panel B

From Pill to Birth in the modern era.
Natasha Szuhan (University of Melbourne) ‘Health And Dis-Ease on the Pill: How did the Concept of Normalcy Impact the Early Debates About Side Effects?’
María Jesús Santesmases (Instituto de Filosofía) ‘Chromosomes, prenatal diagnosis, and the reconfiguration of pregnancy: Cytogenetics in Madrid, 1962-1975’
Anija Dokter (University of Cambridge) ‘The Sounds of Childbirth: Perceptions and Imagineries in the Digital Age’

 11:30-1:00: Exhibition by Ellen Dupont on images of pregnancy


 1:00-2:00: Session Two

Portraiture and Dress
Karen Hearn (UCL) ‘Representing Pregnancy in Van Dyke’s British Portraits’ 
Emma O’Toole (National College of Art & Design, Dublin) ‘Tight Stays & Compressed Waists: Dressing the Expectant Mother in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries’

2:00-3:30: Session Three

Folklore, Beliefs and Traditions
Ceri Houlbrook (University of Manchester) ‘ Fairies, Trolls and Changelings: What to expect when you’re expecting’
Tatiana Novikova () ‘Hushaby, quickly die’
Martina Hynan (University College Dublin) ‘Birth Rites and Rituals in Ireland: A Visual Cultural Reading of Sheela-na-gig,  St. Brigid and St. Gobnait’

3:30-3:45: Concluding Remarks

A Just Society for Ireland? mentioned in Vincent Browne’s Irish Times column

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Prompted by my book, Vincent Browne writes about his recollections of Declan Costello’s Just Society and offers his views on the documents legacy to Fine Gael in today’s Irish Times:

Fifty years ago a politician published a manifesto which, if implemented, would have changed the nature of Irish society, would have defied the ethos of contemporary political culture and would have spared us so much of the misery caused by the recent crisis…

… Equality is regarded either as impractical in the modern world or as a crankish obsession with an “outmoded” ideology.

This column has been prompted by the recently published A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987 by Ciara Meehan, which tells the story of how the “Just Society” project came into being and how it was defeated.

You can read the column in full here.

Keep the Conversation Going #TimeToTalk

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Image credit: Time to Change Blog

This week the University of Hertfordshire (UH) participated in the national ‘Time To Talk’ campaign led by Time to Change, England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. UH staff and students were asked to tweet using the hashtag #TimeToTalk and UH Student Wellbeing Services re-tweeted us throughout the day. Although Thursday, 6 February, was the official date, the aim is to keep the conversation going.

I was delighted — though not at all surprised: in the short time I’ve been here, I have been impressed by the genuine care expressed for the welfare of staff and students —  that the University took part in the national event.

I have battled with depression on and off for years (though thankfully things are good right now). Some bouts have been worse than others. At no point has it impeded my ability to do my job (in fact, I’ve often described my work as the one bright spot on the horizon). But the idea of ‘high-functioning depression’ is hard to comprehend for those who have not experienced or who have little understanding of depression.

I welcome campaigns like ‘Time to Talk’ because of the openness they can encourage. And with that openness hopefully brings a better understanding of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, helping to undermine stigma and counter mis-conceptions.  As I wrote in my own tweet for 6 February:

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And while talking is so important, I know from experience that a person will only open up if there’s someone they can talk to. Someone who isn’t going to tell them ‘snap out of it’ or ‘there are bigger problems in the world’. Even when said with the best of intentions, these expressions are not only useless, they’re also damaging.  And being brutally honest, the response of ‘I don’t know what to say’ is an utter cop-out. With mental health awareness sites growing rapidly on the internet, there is no excuse not to learn more about how to support and interact with a colleague, friend or loved-one who is suffering. One in four of us will be affected by mental illness each year.

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Let’s keep the conversation going.

Perceptions of Pregnancy: From the Medieval to the Modern

Network is temporarily off-line.

We are currently redesigning, but you can expect to see us back up and running in early August.

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In the meantime, if you have a news item, call for papers, details of a new publication or an idea for a blog post that will be of interest to the community of researchers working on the broad field of fertility, pregnancy and childbirth, you can reach us at We’ll add it to the website and it will appear once we’re live again.

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You can also contact us at that address if you would like to join our mailing list: we promise not to spam you and will send emails only once a week.

Ciara & Jennifer,

29 July 2014

Perceptions of Pregnancy Conference: Call for Papers Closing Soon

Perceptions of Pregnancy: From the Medieval to the Modern is a three-day conference that I am co-organising with my colleague, Dr Jennifer Evans. It will be held at the University of Hertfordshire between 16 and 18 July. The response to our call for papers so far has been fantastic, and with abstracts coming from places like Finland, Poland and America, we are on target to hold an international discussion on perceptions of pregnancy throughout history.  Our confirmed key-note speakers are Professor Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University and Dr Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University Belfast. The deadline for receipt of proposals is this coming Saturday, 1 February 2014.  See the call for papers below, or visit our blog where we’ve also been posting columns that address some of the conference themes. After July, our aim is to continue the conversation via the blog.

CFP (updated)

A Just Society for Ireland? featured on Talking History, Newstalk

Click to view on Amazon (Kindle version available)
Click to view on Amazon
(Kindle version available)


I joined Patrick Geoghegan of Newstalk’s Talking History on Sunday, 26 January to talk about my new book.  We discussed the reasons why Declan Costello formulated his proposals when he did; the effect his policies had on Fine Gael and wider society; and the extent to which Garret FitzGerald was a progressive figure. We also discussed the weekend’s Reform Alliance meeting in the context of past Fine Gael tensions.



Click to Listen
Click to Listen
(starts [18.27])

A Just Society for Ireland? featured on The History Show, RTÉ Radio 1

Click to view on Amazon (Kindle version available)
Click to view on Amazon
(Kindle version available)

I joined Myles Dungan of RTÉ’s The History Show on Sunday, 5 January to talk about my new book.  We discussed the reasons why Declan Costello formulated his proposals when he did; the extent to which he influenced Garret FitzGerald; and the nature of Fine Gael’s mixed fortunes.

Listen back to the interview below.


Click to Listen
Click to Listen

Ballymagash & the Fall of the Fine Gael-Labour Government, 1977

A variation of this post first appeared on

31 December 2013

With advanced publicity for Oliver Callan’s New Year’s Eve special promising sketches that would sail close to the wind in their depiction of President Michael D. Higgins and his aide Kevin McCarthy, RTÉ reportedly asked that the satirist tone down his portrayal of  the President and his right-hand man. The political effectiveness — or, perhaps more accurately, impact — of satire has been questioned by politicians on numerous occasions in the past. Perhaps most notable is the association of Hall’s Pictorial Weekly with the defeat of the National Coalition government at the 1977 general election.

Continue reading “Ballymagash & the Fall of the Fine Gael-Labour Government, 1977”

This year I read…

By the time 2013 came around, research for my own book was complete. With only proofs to check and an index to compile, it was time to start new projects and finally get around to some more general reading that had been neglected while I’d been writing. The following are just three of the books I most enjoyed in 2013:



Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls trilogy is a set of novels that I have returned to many times over the years.  Beautifully written, they remain a joy to read.  When her aptly-entitled memoir Country Girl was published, it immediately skipped to the top of my ‘must-buy/must-read’ list — and I was delighted to pick up a copy in Hodges Figgis signed by the author. The book is a fascinating account of the search for her own identity, and, for me, it brought new meaning to her best-known novels.


I had the privilege of reading a couple of draft chapters of Kevin O’Sullivan’s Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire when the manuscript was being prepared. Brilliantly written, they were the product of wide-ranging research.  Though the topic was somewhat outside my own research interests, I thoroughly enjoyed those chapters so that when the book was published, I looked forward to reading the rest.  It’s a stimulating account of Ireland’s relationship with Africa, in which familiar names and events — including the Irish anti-apartheid protest — feature prominently.


Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary is a classic, rather than a new publication. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years, but never got around to it until this summer. With the feel of a fast-paced murder mystery, it is an exploration of the mysterious circumstances that led to Bridget Cleary’s burnt body being discovered in a shallow grave. Bourke attempts to unpick the events, rumours, tales of fairies and magic that surrounded Cleary’s tragic death in late nineteenth-century Ireland.

Happy Christmas


Thanks to Everyone Who Visited This Blog in 2013!

The CLR Political Quiz… Bumper Christmas ‘Prize’ Edition !!

The Cedar Lounge Revolution blog is currently hosting a competition to win a copy of my new book, A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-87. Closing date for entries is 3 January 2014.


The Cedar Lounge Revolution

Reposting this as its the last day for entries….. and even if you don’t know all the answers please enter as I’ve no correct answers yet.

A prize?…… Yes a prize….
The prize being a copy of Ciara Meehans book ‘A JUST SOCIETY FOR IRELAND? 1964-1987’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Send your entries to
The Closing date for entries is the 3rd of January 2014

1. Who is this Councillor and what office does he currently hold?

2. Which TD sent this Christmas Card?

3. Which of these never stood for Fianna Fail at Local Elections, Sonny Knowles, Mick Flavin or PJ Mara ?

4 Finally name these present or former TDs?


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Launch by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, of ‘A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-87’

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My latest book, A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-87, was launched by An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 at the National University of Ireland. I was honoured that the Taoiseach and members of the Costello family, including the late Declan Costello’s wife Joan, were in attendance. I am also extremely grateful to Dr Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, for making the venue available to me, and for also speaking at the event.  It was a great success, and the book sold out! Many thanks to the Hodges Figgis staff who manned the sales table for the evening.  Copies of the book are still available to purchase direct from Palgrave Macmillan; there is also a kindle edition.

meehan_ 3Fine Gael’s demise has been periodically predicted since 1933.  Yet it has survived, becoming the largest party in the state after the 2011 general election.  Drawing on interviews with key players and previously unused archival sources, this book offers a fascinating account of a critical period in Fine Gael’s history when the party was challenged to define its place in Irish politics.  The central role played by Declan Costello is disclosed for the first time.  Although he was never party leader, his Just Society proposals transformed Fine Gael by encouraging a new generation of socially-minded politicians, while his agenda for change paved the way for Garret FitzGerald.  Exploring the continuities and discontinuities between Costello’s Just Society and FitzGerald’s Constitutional Crusade, the book documents how the internal debate shaped the party and provides an insight into the origins of an identity crisis with which Fine Gael continues to struggle.  It also offers a commentary on Irish society, and explores the difficulties faced by an older generation as it sought to locate itself in a changing Ireland.

With An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, at the launch, 10 December 2013. Photo Credit: Deirdre McGing (
With An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, at the launch, 10 December 2013.
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with Joan Gleeson, daughter of the late Declan Costello, and Mrs Joan Costello, wife of Mr Costello. It was a privilege to have members of the Costello family in attendance.
An Taoiseach formally launching the book
An Taoiseach formally launching the book
with Kevin O'Sullivan (NUIG), Niamh Cullen (UCD) & Patrick Walsh (UCD); former colleagues and members of the affectionately known 'Fishbowl'.
with Dr Kevin O’Sullivan (NUIG), Dr Niamh Cullen (UCD) & Dr Patrick Walsh (UCD); former colleagues and members of the affectionately known ‘Fishbowl’.  I was very fortunate to share an office with them between 2009 and 2011, and I am particularly grateful that the support we offered each other in those years has continued ever since.
with Claire McGing (NUIM) who has been unfailingly generous with sharing her research.
with Claire McGing (NUIM) who has been unfailingly generous with sharing her research.
with Eucharia Meehan of the Irish Research Council, which funded the Postdoctoral Fellowship project that led to the book.
with Eucharia Meehan of the Irish Research Council, which funded the Postdoctoral Fellowship project that led to the book.

All photographs were taken by Deirdre McGing.  For more information about Deirdre’s work, visit her website.

A Just Society for Ireland? featured on Bowman: Sunday, RTÉ Radio 1

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Click to view on Amazon
(Available for Kindle)

My recently published book, A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-87, was featured on John Bowman’s RTÉ Radio 1 programme, Bowman: Sunday, this morning. Declan Costello’s influence on Fine Gael’s development in general and Garret FitzGerald in particular, as well as the reasons for Liam Cosgrave’s support for the Just Society, were among the book’s themes that were highlighted.

Click to Listen
Click to Listen

To listen to the programme (available worldwide), which included wonderful clips from the RTÉ sound archive, click the icon above.

Taking the Longer View: Fine Gael’s Commitment to Youth

The Young Fine Gael National Conference was held in Waterford this weekend (22-24 November). National Youth Officer Sarah O’Connor invited me to give the pre-dinner speech on Saturday evening. Drawing on research from my new book, I spoke about a commitment by certain elements of Fine Gael to encouraging young members and formulating youth policies that pre-dated the formation of Young Fine Gael by Garret FitzGerald.

Picture Credit: Seán McKiernan
Picture Credit: Seán McKiernan

Taking the Longer View: Fine Gael’s Commitment to Youth

My recent book covers a fascinating, if sometimes turbulent, period in Fine Gael history – the period between 1964 and 1987.  Going into the project I was well aware of the relationship between Garret FitzGerald and Young Fine Gael, and having worked at UCD, of the existence of a youth branch there that pre-dated YFG.  But as I began researching the earlier years covered by the book, I was struck by the awareness among certain people of the need to incorporate youth more fully in the party.  It was former Taoiseach John A. Costello who suggested in 1961 that ‘if the Fine Gael party is to survive it can only do so by attracting the younger people in the country’.


Over the next two decades in the party’s development, there was a conscious effort to attract and appeal to younger members (eventually culminating in the formation of Young Fine Gael).  It is hardly coincidental that one of the most influential and inspiring Fine Gael figures at this time was John A. Costello’s son, Declan.  Elected to the Dáil in 1951 at the age of 25, he penned his Just Society proposals just over a decade later.  The content captured the spirit of the 1960s: not only was there a generational shift in Ireland, as those of the revolutionary period were replaced by new TDs with no connection to the independence struggle, but also internationally there seemed to be a culture of youth.  Of course, in the last few days we’ve heard much about the person who arguably best encapsulated that image: the late John F Kennedy.  I need not dwell on the image that he projected.


Youth policy received greater attention from policy makers in the 1960s.  During that decade the National Federation of Youth Clubs and the National Youth Council of Ireland were established in 1961 and 1967 respectively.  Ireland’s youth population was expanding during that decade at a rate that could not be ignored.  Between 1961 and 1971 census figures for the age category fifteen to twenty-four show an increase of just over 23%.  Declan Costello’s signature document, Towards a Just Society, contained a section outlining a national programme for youth, the longer-term impact of which I’ll come back to momentarily.


But it wasn’t just that Costello had incorporated youth policies into his document, but also that the document itself seemed to promise so much.  Change appeared to be on the agenda in a very real way.  In the introduction, Costello acknowledged the importance of 1916 and subsequent events, but – much like message Frank Flannery would communicate to a demoralised Fine Gael after the devastating 2002 general election – Costello emphasised the importance of looking forward.  And in his original proposal circulated to the parliamentary party, he had argued that the adoption of his policies would allow Fine Gael to claim its place in the party system.  What he offered was a defined set of policies, presenting the party was an opportunity to step out of the shadows of Fianna Fáil.  And with minimal references to Fianna Fáil in the document, it provided the substance for Fine Gael to define itself as something other than Fianna Fáil’s main opposition.


It was this type of approach that John A Costello had in mind in 1961.  Declan Costello’s proposals cleverly labelled ‘A Just Society’ – echoing the language of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in America – inspired a new, young generation, bringing people like John Bruton, Gay Mitchell and Alan Dukes into the party.  And when Costello announced his decision to retire from politics in 1967 – a decision subsequently reversed in 1973 – the extent to which he was admired by the party’s youth was reflected in a statement urging him to reconsider that was signed by many of those new members he had inspired.


To step back a year: the 1966 presidential election also showed the influence of Costello.  As we all know, Fine Gael came tantalisingly close to defeating the incumbent Eamon de Valera in that election.  Part of the reason why was that Fine Gael offered a new type of candidate.  Tom O’Higgins was the youngest yet to contest the presidential yet, and his campaign was built around the theme of youth and vitality.  The results, in the words of Colonel PF Dineen, the party’s then General Secretary, ‘narrowed the gap so drastically’ that it ‘astonish[ed] many of our own supporters and confound[ed] the opposition’.  It built on the momentum of Costello’s appeal, and Fine Gael appeared to be the party of youth.


Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing and I don’t want to create the impression that value of youth was always warmly embraced.  As many of you will know, Declan Costello had to fight hard to convince the leadership to adopt his policies in 1964, and the then party leader James Dillon denigrated what he called ‘young men in a hurry’ in his leader’s speech at that year’s Ard Fheis.  The label of ‘young tigers’ so frequently attached to Costello and his supporters is actually misattributed.  The man Dillon actually had in mind was Gerry Sweetman – Costello’s great rival and the man who did the most to prevent Fine Gael from adopting the Just Society.


The Just Society remained an untested document as Fine Gael stayed on the opposition benches after both the 1965 and 1969 general elections.  By 1973, the Labour Party had reversed its anti-coalition stance that had been in place since the end of the Second Inter-Party government in 1957.  Together with Fine Gael in 1973, it formed the National Coalition government in which John Bruton was appointed parliamentary secretary, as junior ministers were then called, to the Minister for Education.  He was responsible for researching and piloting a youth policy that had much in common with what Costello had outlined in the 1960s.  Bruton’s proposals marked the first serious attempt to frame youth work within the broader educational and community structure.  The spending power of the National Coalition, which was in government between 1973 and 1977, was severely affected by the oil crisis resulting from the Arab-Israeli War that occurred shortly after they took office and the global economic downturn that followed.  In attempting to convince the Department of Finance to sanction the spending necessary for his programme, Bruton argued that such a youth policy – approved by the National Youth Council – was sure to attract votes from that demographic.  The coalition lost power, however, before it could be implemented.  Intriguingly, while the incoming Fianna Fáil government commissioned its own research, the ultimate findings had much in common with the Bruton report.


Thus by the time that Garret FitzGerald succeeded Liam Cosgrave as party leader in 1977 and subsequently set the wheels in motion to create Young Fine Gael, there had clearly been a keen awareness within Fine Gael that the country’s youth needed to be encouraged into politics and that specific policies needed to be formulated that would appeal to them.  I’ll finish with a very apt observation from Jim O’Keeffee: Declan Costello was a ‘John the Baptist as far as Garret was concerned’.


The political contribution of Declan Costello and Garret FitzGerald is explored more fully in my new book recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.  (Click image to purchase via Amazon).
The political contribution of Declan Costello and Garret FitzGerald is explored more fully in my new book recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. (Click image to purchase via Amazon).

NEW BOOK: The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics

Irish Politics Forum


Although the office of President of Ireland has attracted a great deal of public attention, especially since the election of Mary Robinson in 1990, the presidency has been the subject of little analysis. This gap in our knowledge of Irish politics is filled by this timely collection, which brings together a set of studies that explore the political role of the Irish presidency from a comparative perspective.

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Conference Updates: Perceptions of Pregnancy

I previously posted the Call for Papers for the Perceptions of Pregnancy conference that I am organising with my colleague, Dr Jennifer Evans.

Those who are interested in the conference should keep an eye on our blog for conference updates; you can also sign up for email updates.

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We’ll also be posting columns on issues related to the conference themes.  Already up there is ‘Babies in the Bathwater‘, which is actually the post that led to Jennifer and I collaborating!

We’ve also joined twitter: come and join the conversation there.

“Change The Law -Give Him An Equal Chance” 1980 Young Fine Gael campaign to give rights to ‘illegitimate’ children

Irish Election Literature

From April 1980 “Change The Law -Give Him An Equal Chance” a Young Fine Gael campaign to give rights to ‘illegitimate’ children.
Many thanks to the sender.

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Column: Past Concerns Over Ireland’s Abortion Laws Foreshadowed Today’s Reality

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On Saturday 2 November, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Britain’s largest provider of abortion services) placed the above advertisement in Irish newspapers.  Yesterday (6 November 2013), I contributed a column to setting the issue of Irish abortion in its historical context:

Continue reading “Column: Past Concerns Over Ireland’s Abortion Laws Foreshadowed Today’s Reality”

Guest Post – Writing History: Bias and Credibility

(Image author's own)
(Image author’s own)

I primarily see my blog as a space to test ideas.  Often what readers find here is not the finished product, but rather my thought process as I work through aspects of my research.  Occasionally I stray into general interest subjects that have grabbed my attention.  Recently, I wrote a post about historians and bias, which touched on their credentials.  As a result of an interesting exchange that I had with Jason Warren of the University of Kentucky on twitter, I invited him to contribute a guest post that further explores the work of the historian and the issues of bias and credibility.  Happily, he agreed.  Thanks, Jason, for a thought-provoking post.


I wish to extend my thanks to Ciara Meehan who offered me the opportunity to present some thoughts in response to her insightful essay.


Bias in historical writing is, quite understandably, an uncomfortable subject to approach.  Unfortunately, it is also almost impossible to ignore.  The question of how a historian is supposed to reconcile the idealization of academic study with his or her own insights on a particular topic makes the task seem almost impossible.  Edward H. Carr described history as “a process of interaction, a dialogue between the historian in the present and the facts of the past.”[1]  This dialogue is always present, and in many ways necessary, to the work of a historian because the process is what transforms a series of facts into a narrative that becomes relevant to the audience.


This does not mean that historical writing is fiction or that the historian is nothing more than a storyteller.  Instead, historical writing is the result of a necessary process by which the historian has evaluated data and offered some conclusions.  There are often disagreements, however, about what the data reveals about a particular topic and this is where historiography becomes essential.


Simply put, historiography is the history of history.  As history is written, there are a series of academic debates that play out over time where conclusions are challenged and new ideas are presented.  These new ideas and conclusions may be adopted and replace older paradigms or they may be found lacking and be rejected.  But, once again, it is the process that is important.  Bias is essential to these conversations because, without it, there would be no disagreement and therefore no debate.


For these reasons, bias is essential to the process of history and no historian should feel as though they can or should transcend it.  But there is another subject that always seems to creep into the conversation when we begin to address bias in historical writing, and that is the concept of academic credibility.  Can a historian be biased – especially if it is unavoidable – and still be credible? 


Ciara pointed out the fiasco this summer between a Fox News anchor and Reza Aslan which subsequently blew up all over the internet.  There is no need to review the entire war here but there are plenty of examples where Aslan was defended and criticizedThere are also links to Storify archives of tweets and a Reddit AMA with the author.  Whether or not Aslan is determined to be credible, the intriguing aspect of the incident is the debate which followed.  The book may hold up to scrutiny over time or it may not but the fact that so many people, academics and non-academics alike, have engaged in a debate about the work suggests that it is worthy of discussion.  This, in and of itself gives the author some degree of credibility regardless of what degrees and position he currently holds.  What is also interesting to note is that, had the Fox News anchor questioned the author’s credentials instead of his bias, the larger debate which followed might never have happened and Aslan’s sales figures may very well have been different.


Credibility and bias are certainly linked but the latter does not negate the former.  R. G. Collingwood proposed that “All history is the history of thought.”[2]  If this is true then the job of the historian is to present his or her thoughts to a larger audience and to let them decide the merit of the work.  Poorly researched or written history is very easy to find but it rarely stands the test of time.  History that is well researched and articulated, on the other hand, often remains in academic conversations even after its conclusions are challenged or proven to be outdated by newer information.  Many of these older books are still studied so that historians can trace the trajectory of those ideas.  They become snapshots of the time in which they were written and, even if they are challenged by newer scholarship, their credibility holds up in the context of their own time.


In her essay, Ciara asks if “historians should ‘declare themselves’ in the introduction to their books.”  I believe that this is entirely up to the historian but that it is rarely needed.  Time usually reveals any predispositions held by an author even if it is not evident to him or her as the work is produced.  The continuing process of history ensures that any significant bias will be revealed and that credibility will be assigned appropriately.  Such is the nature of history.


Jason Warren is a PhD student at the University of Kentucky focusing on U.S. International History / U.S. and the World.  His website is and he can be found on twitter @lostinhistory.

[1]    Edward H. Carr, What is History? (New York:  Random House, 1961), 42.

[2]    R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History:  With Lectures 1924-1928, Edited with an Introduction by Jan Van Der Dussen (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 215.

Historians: Who do We Think They Are?

Do we need to know?

A specialism in a particular area of history is a funny old thing. Certain fields appear to exempt the researcher from any potential accusations of vested interest, while others appear to invite the observation that the author must be a sympathiser.

I am now the author of two books on Fine Gael history: one exploring the ‘parent years’ of Cumann na nGaedheal, the other examining the party’s experience from the 1950s through to the ’80s.


It certainly wasn’t a case of writing what I know.  Though I grew up in a very political household and my parents favoured different parties, Fine Gael was not one of them.  In fact, I came to the history of the party’s antecedents in my early twenties largely due to the advice of my PhD supervisor who pointed out a gap in the historiography.  I subsequently became fascinated by the party’s later development after watching the RTÉ three-part series Fine Gael: a Family at War.  For those unfamiliar, the mini-series hardly offered a glowing account.  As the subtitle suggests, it was instead a detailed look at the internal disagreements and leadership struggles that convulsed the party in the years after the FitzGerald era (1977-87).  I was hooked, but the point is my interest came from a very negative place.

When I revealed to a friend recently the identity of the person who will launch my new book, he laughed and good-humourdely joked that I’m at risk of being labelled a Fine Gael apologist.  The content of the book suggests otherwise (see here, for example).  It was a timely remark, because in recent days I’d be talking with a colleague in work about such attitudes, albeit in the context of wider historical writing.

I am intrigued that some historians are more naturally linked with certain topics than others.  The criteria for that association is an interesting one.  Choosing to write about a moderate political party seems to imply to some that the author must be a sympathiser, perhaps even a member or maybe even that the book was written for rather than about the party.  This isn’t necessarily assumed of those who write about extremist parties or the paramilitary organisations sometimes associated with them.  Or to take an extreme example: the idea that there must be some motive for those who research the history of child abuse would not be countenanced.

How I vote is between me and the ballot box, but isn’t there always an element of bias, regardless of our topics? The very act of choosing to research and write about one area, rather than another, is selective.  I’ve often wondered whether historians should ‘declare themselves’ in the introduction to their books.  It’s an idea I’ve heard discussed at conferences on several occasions, but ultimately the conversation always comes back to the same question: surely it’s what we do with the material, rather than our backgrounds, that is of greater relevance?  And on that note, I’ll leave you with the following video that left many of the students of the Writing the Past module I co-teach somewhat speechless.  Within seconds, you’ll understand why…

‘To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the new testament and fluency in biblical Greek who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades’ ~ Resa Aslan explaining why his religious background is irrelevant to his ability to write on the life of Jesus.

Hat-tip to my colleague, Dr Jennifer Evans, for pointing this one out. 


Fresh off the Printing Presses!

This arrived in my office a little while ago…


Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the content…


I’m really happy with the end result…


To purchase your copy of A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987, visit the Palgrave Macmillan website.