Canadians of my generation learned their key moments in Canadian history via short television commercial segments produced by what is now Historica Canada. Known as Heritage Minutes, these short films were sent to schools, made available on tape, DVD, and online, and played during commercial breaks. They taught students and television viewers of all ages what was important in the history of our nation. The segments produced memorable catch phrases (such as the classic, ‘Doctor, I smell burnt toast!’) and have sparked numerous parodies over the years (the Rick Mercer Report‘s are always a favourite). Continue reading
Last fall, I wrote a series of posts discussing US Presidential visits to Ireland, and one thing that I found striking was the use of history in the Presidents’ speeches. What did they choose to focus on in Irish history, and what historical connections between Ireland and the United States did they call upon?
The most famous visit of an American president to Ireland was that of John F. Kennedy from 26 to 29 June 1963. Find my overview of his trip here.
The Cold War was a clear backdrop to Kennedy’s words, as he referenced Ireland’s past, present, and future role as a beacon of freedom in the world. Other frequent themes included the role of the Irish diaspora, the life of De Valera, and the Irish participation in the American Civil War. A breakdown of his speeches follows.
In this opening speech, Kennedy set out many of the themes for the speeches he would make throughout his visit.
As you said, eight of my grandparents left these shores in the space, almost, of months, and came to the United States. No country in the world, in the history of the world, has endured the hemorrhage which this island endured over a period of a few years for so many of her sons and daughters. These sons and daughters are scattered throughout the world, and they give this small island a family of millions upon millions who are scattered all over the globe, who have been among the best and most loyal citizens of the countries that they have gone to, but have also kept a special place in their memories, in many cases their ancestral memory, of this green and misty island. So, in a sense, all of them who visit Ireland come home.
In addition, Mr. President, I am proud to visit here because of you–an old and valued friend of my father–who has served his country with so much distinction, spreading over the period of a half-century; who has expressed in his own life and in the things that he stood for the very best of Western thought and, equally important, Western action.
And then I am glad to be here because this island still fulfills a historic assignment. There are Irishmen buried many thousands of miles from here who went on missions of peace, either as soldiers or as churchmen, who traveled throughout the world, carrying the gospel as so many Irish have done for so many hundreds of years.
Kennedy fittingly recounted his own family history as emigrants from Ireland.
Kennedy remembered the role of John Barry in the American Revolutionary War and the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.
It seems to me that in these dangerous days when the struggle for freedom is worldwide against an armed doctrine, that Ireland and its experience has one special significance, and that is that the people’s fight, which John Boyle O’Reilly said outlived a thousand years, that it was possible for a people over hundreds of years of foreign domination and religious persecution–it was possible for that people to maintain their national identity and their strong faith. And therefore those who may feel that in these difficult times, who may believe that freedom may be on the run, or that some nations may be permanently subjugated and eventually wiped out, would do well to remember Ireland.
I would like to ask how many people here have relatives in the United States. Perhaps they could hold up their hands, if they do.
… Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people. They have gone all over the United States, and the United States has been generous to them. And I think it not unfair to say that they have been generous themselves and with their sons and daughters to the United States.
… And I come to this island which has been identified with that effort for a thousand years, which was the first country in the 20th century to lead what is the most powerful tide of the 20th century–the desire for national independence, the desire to be free. And I come here in 1963 and find that strong tide still beats, still runs. And I drive from where we arrived to here and am greeted by an honor guard on the way down, nearly half of whom wear the Blue Ribbon which indicates service in the Congo. So Ireland is still old Ireland, but it has found a new mission in the 1960’s, and that is to lead the free world to join with other countries of the free world to do in the sixties what Ireland did in the early part of this century and, indeed, has done for the last 800 years–and that is associate intimately with independence and freedom.
Earlier in the day, Kennedy laid a wreath at the graves of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising, at Arbour Hill.
He then became the first foreign leader to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. In this important speech, Kennedy began by calling upon links between Ireland and the United States through recounting the role of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.
…I am proud to be the first American President to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and proud of the welcome you have given me. My presence and your welcome, however, only symbolize the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days.
Benjamin Franklin–the envoy of the American Revolution who was also born in Boston–was received by the Irish Parliament in 1772. It was neither independent nor free from discrimination at the time, but Franklin reported its members “disposed to be friends of America.” “By joining our interest with theirs,” he said, “a more equitable treatment … might be obtained for both nations.”
Our interests have been joined ever since. Franklin sent leaflets to Irish freedom fighters. O’Connell was influenced by Washington, and Emmet influenced Lincoln. Irish volunteers played so predominant a role in the American army that Lord Mountjoy lamented in the British Parliament that “we have lost America through the Irish.” John Barry, whose statue we honored yesterday and whose sword is in my office, was only one who fought for liberty in America to set an example for liberty in Ireland. Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell–whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America-and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country,” he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland …. ” And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America.
And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears. And an earlier poet wrote, “They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay.”
He then called upon the words of Yeats, of Henry Grattan, of John Boyle O’Reilly, of George Bernard Shaw.
To conclude, he quoted poet George William Russell (Æ):
A great Irish poet once wrote: “I believe profoundly … in the future of Ireland … that this is an isle of destiny, that that destiny will be glorious… and that when our hour is come, we will have something to give to the world.” My friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world–and that is a future of peace with freedom.
Kennedy praised Ireland for its educational traditions, serving as a beacon for Europe during the Dark Ages. He compared Ireland to the United States, in its establishment of schools through the Northwest Ordinance and Land Grant colleges.
If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay, and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Mass. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.
I wonder if you could perhaps let me know how many of you here have a relative in America, who you would admit to–if you would hold up your hand? I don’t know what it is about you that causes me to think that nearly everybody in Boston comes from Galway. They are not shy about it, at all.
I wonder, before I go, if I could find out how many citizens here have relations in the United States? Do you think you could hold up your hand, if you do? No wonder there are so many of them over there.
Well, I will tell you, they have been among the best citizens and they behave themselves very well, and you would be proud of them. And they are proud of you. Even though a good many years have passed since most of them left, they still remain and retain the strongest sentiments of affection for this country. And I hope that this visit that we have been able to make on this occasion has reminded them not only of their past, but also that here in Ireland the word ‘freedom,’ the word ‘independence,’ the whole sentiment of a nation is perhaps stronger than it is almost any place in the world.
He then referenced the role of De Valera:
To see your President, who has played such a distinguished part, whose life is so tied up with the life of this island in this century – all this has made the past very real, and has made the present very hopeful.
In his final remarks in Ireland, Kennedy emphasized the role of history in Irish culture, and the historic connections between Ireland and America through the diaspora:
Ireland is an unusual place. What happened 500 or 1000 years ago is yesterday; where we on the other side of the Atlantic 3000 miles away, we are next door. While there may be those removed by two or three generations from Ireland, they may have left 100 years ago their people, and yet when I ask how many people may have relatives in America nearly everybody holds up their hands.
Canada is turning 150 this year!!! We’ll be celebrating with a number of posts devoted to Canadian history and culture as well as sharing information on some of the planned programmes and activities that will be taking place across the country in honour of the country’s sesquicentennial.
Canada is a young nation. In secondary school-level Canadian history classes, students are taught that Canada began to assert itself as an independent nation at the dawn of the Second World War. Continue reading
This semester, I’ve been taking a class in (American) Historic Preservation at the University of Colorado Denver. Learning about the ways in which historic preservation works in the United States has made me even more appreciative of our historic sites and public history efforts. Public outreach is such an important part of the history field, and it is up to us as historians to communicate what makes the study of history important today. Given the current political climate, knowledge of history, civics, and global connections over time seems ever more vital. The built heritage that surrounds us is a large part of that – it brings character and identity to our communities, and helps to bring history to life for the public.
I’ll be taking a look at different ways in which historic preservation is practiced in Ireland, starting with the highest level a historic site can reach – the World Heritage Sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. These are sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
Ireland has two sites recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Sceilg Mhichíl (or Skellig Michael) is a monastic complex perched on a rocky island about seven miles off the coast of County Kerry. The site is extremely remote and, as the World Heritage listing highlights, it “illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians.” It is considered an exceptional and in many ways unique example of an early religious settlement, preserved because of its relative inaccessibility.
The rock was home to a small group of ascetic monks who withdrew from civilization to found their monastery. Buildings constructed include the monastery itself, a hermitage, and, later, two lighthouses. The monastic community appears to have moved to the mainland by the 13th century.
The Office of Public Works has held the monastic remains in state guardianship since 1880.
Sceilg Mhichíl is also renowned as one of the most important sites in Ireland for breeding seabirds. It is designated as a Statutory Nature Reserve and Special Protection Area.
Brú na Bóinne
Designated in 1993, Brú na Bóinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne is a complex of Neolithic mounds, tombs, standing stones, and other prehistoric structures. Human settlement at the site dates to at least 6,000 years ago, with built heritage dating from about 5,000 years ago.
At Brú na Bóinne, three large passage tombs known as Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth dominate the landscape alongside an additional 90 monuments. The tombs contain the largest group of megalithic art in Western Europe. The tombs fell into disuse around 2900 BC, but the area continued to be the site of activity including the building of large earthen embanked circles, pit circles, and pit and wooden post circles (henges).
In popular culture, I think there’s a tendency to shrug off the study of history as the memorisation of dates and facts. This ignores a fundamental element of history: it’s open to interpretation. Not only that, but ‘history’ tends to have been interpreted by the time it reaches its audience.
This doesn’t mean, however, that historians can say whatever they want and it will be considered ‘fact’. Continue reading
Back with more historic maps which may be useful for generating class discussion on how such sources illustrate perceptions and views of the British and Irish in the wider world.
Today we’re highlighting the first atlas to cover the British Isles as a whole, as well as the first work to make comprehensive plans of many English and Welsh towns available in print. English historian and geographer John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was published in 1611/1612, with a print run of approximately 500 copies. Each of the English and Welsh counties and the four provinces of Ireland was separately depicted, along with a larger view of Scotland.
Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his Theatre, but he made the maps and other elements himself. The maps are rich with details of local history, fashions, and features, all of which would be useful in the classroom to provide a view of life in the Tudor and Jacobean eras.
With the publication of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, Speed was well on his way to becoming the best-known mapmaker of his era.
Cambridge University Library has a remarkable digital resource utilizing one of their five proof copies of Speed’s atlas. It can be found here.
Last week I wrote a bit about the digitisation of historical documents and how the addition of indexes, transcriptions, and metadata can turn a pile of images into a findable, searchable, valuable resource. This week I’d like to write a bit about one of the methods organisations are employing to sort through digitised documents and add this vital information: crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing history allows organisations to tap into a worldwide base of potential volunteers with interests in family history, military history, and so on. Continue reading
Up Helly Aa, the festival celebrating Shetland’s history and Norse roots, culminated in Lerwick earlier this week with a procession, lit by 1000 torches, and burning of a galley boat. Other local festivities will be held throughout Shetland until March.
First records date the winter festival to 1824 when a visiting minister wrote: ‘The whole town was in an uproar: from twelve o’clock last night until late this night blowing of horns, beating of drums, tinkling of old tin kettles, firing of guns, shouting, bawling, fiddling, fifeing, drinking, fighting.’
– Up Helly Aa Committee
The modern form of Up Helly Aa, with the galley burning, dates to about 130 years ago.