Forty years of Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society will be celebrated at the Greville Arms Hotel, Mullingar on Wednesday night next, October 17.
The society, which started life as the Mullingar Archaeological and Historical Society in April 1978, will welcome former Taoiseach, Fine Gael leader and EU ambassador to the United States, John Bruton, as its guest of honour.
Mr Bruton, a former finance minister who headed the Fine Gael-led ‘rainbow coalition’ government between 1994 and 1997, will join society members and guests for dinner (6pm) before speaking about the life and career of John Redmond, the leader of the pre-independence Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 until his death in March 1918. The lecture commences at 8pm.
With a renewed focus on Redmond in this the centenary of year of his death, Mr Bruton has spoken extensively on the architect of the pre-World War I push for Irish Home Rule since the beginning of commemorations. On March 6, the 100th anniversary of Redmond’s death, the Meath native chaired a session of a National University of Ireland symposium on Redmond’s life and legacy.
Famously and controversially, on becoming Taoiseach in 1994, Mr Bruton hung a portrait of Redmond in his office, in preference to one of republican figures like Patrick Pearse or Michael Collins.
Mr Bruton has, in the past, spoken of Redmond as a model democrat and reconciliationist whose achievements in negotiating Irish legislative independence were “obscured” by the turn to violent rebellion and republicanism after 1916 – events which, the former Taoiseach maintains, were wholly unnecessary.
His views have courted opposition not only from Irish republicans, but also from historians, who – while acknowledging Redmond’s achievements and his often reduced stature in Irish history – have argued that his proposed path to negotiated Irish self-government was not necessarily a guaranteed one.
For example, the late Professor Ronan Fanning (UCD) stated in 2014 that British politicians had betrayed Redmond through “pusillanimous and inept behaviour”, a betrayal made all the more bitter by Redmond’s decision to back the British war effort in 1914 as a gesture to unionists and policymakers in London.
Encouraged by Redmond, over 200,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British military during World War I, with an estimated 49,000 killed at the front – blood sacrifice of a scale which wildly exceeded that of the Rising.
It’s now over 40 years since what was formerly Mullingar Archaeological and Historical Society held its inaugural meeting at St Mary’s College, with the late Leo Daly as its first chairman.
At the meeting, the main topic of discussion was moves to provide Mullingar with its own museum, which opened in Market House in 1981.
The society has worked hard to keep alive the history and heritage of the county with monthly lectures, outings, publications, conferences and research projects such as the Westmeath barrows project, pioneered by the late Professor Michael Herity.
The society’s first outing, held in June 1978, was to the historic Mullingar sites of Frewin Hill and Portloman, and its first lecture was delivered on November 29 of that year by Moate’s Jeremiah Sheehan, on the history of the O’Daly sept in Westmeath.
The inaugural committee comprised Leo Daly (chairman), Tom Fanning (vice-chairman), Dick Hogan (secretary), A M Casey (assistant secretary), Ann Waldron (treasurer), Anne Rylands, James Daly, Micheál Ó Conláin (Castlepollard) and Madeline Shaw (committee).
2018 also marks one hundred years since the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society held its first meeting in Mullingar.
On Sunday October 28 (3pm), Mullingar-based historian Dr Paul Hughes will speak to the Meath society in the Annebrook House Hotel, Mullingar, on the subject of Laurence Ginnell’s impact on political life in Ireland and beyond during World War I.