The events of the decade between 1913 and 1923 were momentous and defining ones. It was the decade that influenced relationships for a generation and was a period which saw the achievement of Irish independence and the foundation of our State.
It was also a period of transformation and cultural renewal in Irish society, following on electoral reform, land reform, education reform and migration. The demand for constitutional change was in parallel with the assertion of workers’ rights and women’s rights.
The decade was one of the most momentous of modern Irish history and justifies a comprehensive commemorative programme that recognises its importance, acknowledges the achievements of its generation and enhances the understanding today of the events that shaped our society.
As part of the Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries programme, applications were invited for two four-month residencies under the Historian in Residence Grant Scheme 2022, supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Media, and the Gaeltacht.
The aim of the programme in Westmeath is to mark the centenaries within the county in the most appropriate fashion. The intention is to create a legacy of research and/or cultural material for future generations which can be accessed online and may be complimented by print material.
Dr Paul Hughes has been appointed as Westmeath County Council Historian in Residence for the period April to July 2022. Paul, a native of Delvin who lives in Mullingar, holds a masters degree from Maynooth University, and a PhD in history from Queen’s University, Belfast. His PhD thesis dealt with the later career and activism of Laurence Ginnell (1852-1923), the maverick Irish nationalist MP and later TD. He is currently working on a biography of Ginnell.
Last year, Paul was appointed to the initial residency (March – July), and oversaw the production of two mini-documentaries pertaining to events in Westmeath during the height of the War of Independence (see; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrxd-f9yh3Y3giv4U9-kEtA) and produced a series of podcasts, which can be found here: https://anchor.fm/wcchistorian He also initiated and contributed to a Transatlantic conference to mark the centenary of Laurence Ginnell’s Dáil mission in Buenos Aires.
During the 2021 residency, Paul wrote a chapter for the recently-published Westmeath: history and society volume. Using new source material, he charted the military and community experiences of 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment during their stay at Mullingar military barracks from 1919 to 1922.
“The focus of the residency is to reflect national policy on the Decade of Commemorations at a local level, and to accurately and creatively bring 1922 to life for people in Westmeath through a variety of media,” says Paul. The first half of 1922 was dominated by debates over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the departure of British forces from Ireland, barrack handovers, elections and, as all of this played out, the emergence of a rupture in Irish society which culminated in the outbreak of civil war. “In April 1922, Westmeath was very much at the centre of the slide towards communal strife. There was the famous second, and contested, handover of the military barracks on April 18; this was followed by the murder of National Army officer George Adamson in Athlone on April 25, and two days later, the eruption of violence in Mullingar which led to the deaths of a pro-Treaty officer, Patrick Columb, and an anti-Treaty republican, Joe Leavy. The town of Mullingar in particular was a real hotspot of escalation on the road to civil war.” Another important milestone which will be looked at during the residency, apart from the outbreak of the civil war and its conventional phase, will be the ‘pact’ election in Longford-Westmeath (June 1922), which Paul studied as part of his PhD thesis.
Paul will be providing more multimedia content in the coming months, and now that Covid-19 restrictions have eased, hopes to engage more with schools and community groups during his residency. He can be contacted at email@example.com and invites people to follow the Westmeath Decade of Centenaries account on Twitter; @WestmeathDoC and on Instagram; @WCCHistorian
Westmeath County Council, with funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media’s Decade of Centenaries Programme, invites submissions for a special residency which will explore, in a creative way (be that music, performance, film, writing or another form), the themes and events of the Decade of Centenaries. Apply by 18th May. For details see: Creative Practitioner in Residence Call Out
Follow the Decade of Centenaries blog, which has been running since 2020 and contains a wealth of articles and videos about Westmeath during the years 1919-1922 here: https://www.westmeathcoco.ie/en/ourservices/planning/conservationheritage/decadeofcentenariesblog/