Early Norman Ireland – Summer Series 2023

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recordings available via this link

(Daniel Maclise: The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife picture in the National Gallery of Ireland)

The 2023 Summer Series of lectures had the theme Early Norman Ireland. We explored various consequences of the invasion of 1169, particularly in the century that followed. The five lectures covered the introduction of new legal and administrative frameworks, the new institutions and architecture and women’s roles and status.

The lectures took place at 8pm on the five evenings Mon 21st – Fri 25th August in Rathmichael National School on Stonebridge Road (map).

The recordings of the five lectures in the August Summer Series are now available to members only via this link

21John MarshallThe Division of Anglo-Norman Leinster, 1247
22Adrian EmpeyThe Anglo-Norman Legacy
23Michael PottertonCastles in the Air: The Leo Swan Memorial Lecture 2023
Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland, c.1170 – c.1320
24Rachel MossChurch building in Early Norman Ireland
25Sparky BookerThe Status and Rôles of Women in Late Medieval Ireland

Castles in the Air: The Leo Swan Memorial Lecture 2023
Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland, c.1170–c.1320

Dr Michael Potterton (Maynooth University)

This paper will look at the role played by the Anglo-Normans in the development of castle-building in Ireland in the 150-year period from c.1170 to c.1320. Were there castles in Ireland before this time? What were the major types of castle built after 1170? Where were they? What were their roles? Who built them? Why? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this virtual tour of Ireland’s major fortifications of the ‘long’ thirteenth century. We will also look at castles in their wider landscape, how they evolved over time, what overseas influences were at play, and what precipitated a major fall-off in castle-building in Ireland in the early fourteenth century. The talk will be illustrated with photographs – some taken by Leo Swan – of surviving castles as well as reconstruction drawings and the results of archaeological and historical investigation. 

The Division of Anglo-Norman Leinster, 1247
John Marshall, TCD

This lecture explores the partition of the lordship of Leinster in 1247, after the five sons of William Marshal the elder (d.1219) died without producing an heir. The talk will discuss the ramifications of this pivotal moment for English Ireland, in addition to providing an insight into the rich primary source documentation of the partition itself.

The Anglo-Norman Legacy
Adrian Empey

The popular image of the Normans generally features earnest-looking gentlemen in chain-mail suits, castle-builders and and introducers of Gothic architecture, all of which is true enough. Less acknowledged is their institutional legacy in law and governance. We still use common law and the county system that they created. They decisively changed the demographic shape of Ireland. They left a profound impact on the institutions of the church all the way down to the parochial system. They founded most of the towns and villages of eastern, southern and western Ireland. They left a profound influence on the English language. All these consequences flowed from small, isolated bands of Norman adventurers who had no plan whatsoever to conquer Ireland.

Pucks Castle Visit

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The Society was guided on a very informative visit to Pucks Castle by Peter Pearson on June 17th, 2023. In spite of a bad forecast, the weather remained dry and we were able to view the castle with Peter pointing out the (often contradictory) architectural features. The castle has been successfully repaired by the current owner with government assistance from the Community Monuments Fund administered by the National Monuments Service.

A detailed archaeological report about the castle has been prepared and it is hoped that it may be published. A notice will be put on this site if it is published.

Liberties Walk

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On 27th May 2023, RHS members were superbly guided on a tour of the Dublin Liberties by Arran Henderson of Dublin Decoded.

The map (Open Street Map/QGIS) shows our approximate route, starting in the park beside St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Our group outside St Luke’s Church (now offices).

Our guide, Arran Henderson, at the junction of Ardee St and Cork Street. The house was part of Watkins’ Brewery which occupied the area bounded by Cork St, Ardee St, Brabazon Lane and Newmarket.

At the 1929 Statue of Christ in the Liberties on Gray Street. This shrine commemorates Catholic emancipation in 1829, It is situated in the middle of one of the extensive developments of the Dublin Artisan Dwelling Company.

New Ross Outing

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The members of the Society enjoyed a wonderful weekend of history for four days at the end of April in the welcoming town of New Ross, Co.Wexford.

The scene was set for us by historian Linda Doran who described the over-riding importance of William Marshall in the development of New Ross and the surrounding area after the Norman invasion. This was followed by a very informative walking tour of New Ross led by local guide, Myles Courtney.

Another local guide, Joe Moylan, showed us the attractive multi-period site of St. Mullins.

On the following day, we visited the massive ruins of Dunbrody Abbey, Baginbun Head (site of the Normans’ second landing), the dramatic Hook Lighthouse (the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the world) and ending with Tintern Abbey and the adjoining Colclough Gardens.

The final day was spent in Ferns enjoying the Medieval Ferns Experience and visiting the very impressive Ferns Castle. A presentation on the archaeology of Ferns and a guided tour of Ferns medieval sites wound up the trip. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to committee member and Shankill resident, Adrienne Hume, who organised the weekend for the Society.

The trip links up very neatly with this year’s Summer Lecture Series on the theme of Early Norman Ireland which will be held from 21st to 25th August.

Rathmichael members on the steps of St Mary’s church in New Ross with our guide Myles Courtney

Programme Change 1st Mar 2023

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Please note that the talk scheduled for Wed 1st March by Finola Finlay on Stained Glass has been swapped with the talk by Thérèse Hicks on the Kennedys of Newtown Mount Kennedy.

The revised programme:

Wed 1st March 2023 8pm    Thérèse Hicks    “No Mere Irish – The Kennedys of Mount Kennedy”

Wed 5th  April  2023  8pm    Finola Finlay      “The Story of Stained Glass in Ireland: Beyond Harry Clarke”

Fifty years of the Rathmichael Historical Society

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Written by Rob Goodbody

This year the Rathmichael Historical Society celebrates its first half century and during the summer members repeated the outings of that first season of 1972, to the ancient church of Rathmichael, the Rathmichael Hill Fort and the Ballycorus lead mines and chimney.

The main focus of the celebrations took place in Rathmichael School on Wednesday 5th October when a large number of past and present members gathered, along with representatives of families of early committee members. The focus of the evening was a talk by Rob Goodbody on the history of the historical society, reflecting on how wonderful it is when a historical society becomes historical itself.

Rob Goodbody

The Rathmichael Historical Society was founded at a meeting of like-minded people in the conservatory of Llanmawr, Corbawn Lane, the home of Mrs Kathleen Turner, in April 1972. Besides Mrs Turner the group included Joan Delany, Joanna Bonar Law, Ian Booth and Rev Ernan Perdue. The name Rathmichael was chosen as it is the site of one of the most important ancient churches in the area and also the name of the medieval parish in which Shankill is located. The name is also distinctive.

The society quickly attracted members from around the Shankill area and began running outings during the summer and evening lectures in the winter.

In 1975 the society added a new attraction to its activities, when it began the Rathmichael Summer School, organised by Joan Delany and designed to teach archaeology to anyone interested in the topic, including surveying archaeological monuments. Joan managed to attract enthusiastic support from many of the brightest stars in professional archaeology to teach on the courses and to deliver lectures.

The Rathmichael Summer School became all the more involved with archaeology from 1979, when the society began an archaeological excavation at Ballyman on the Dublin-Wicklow border. The excavation was fully licensed and one of the society’s members, Betty O’Brien, was the archaeologist. This site was near the ancient church of Ballyman, and the dig uncovered evidence for metal working as well as a corn-drying kiln dating from the fifth century.

After eight summers excavating at Ballyman the society’s excavation moved to Dundrum Castle, again with Betty O’Brien as the licensed archaeologist. This excavation at a fifteenth-century castle quickly discovered that there were extensive remains of a thirteenth-century castle below ground. This included a deep moat that had been backfilled with medieval rubbish. The moat had been spanned by a drawbridge and the excavation also discovered the very first drawbridge structure ever identified at an Irish castle.

In the mid-1990s, after the excavation at Dundrum was complete, the society moved its excavation to Drimnagh Castle, where the licensed archaeologist was Clare Mullins. This excavation kept going through two seasons within the area surrounded by the castle’s moat.

Alongside these archaeological excavations the Rathmichael Summer School continued to run courses in archaeology, with two courses a year run and about thirty participants on each course. In addition, the society began another course, entitled Art and Archaeology, again organised by Joan Delany. After the Drimnagh Castle excavation was completed, the society decided that the complexities of running archaeological excavations by a local historical society became too much and the courses ran for a while without the excavation. Two new courses were added to the Rathmichael Summer School in the late 1990s, run by Rob Goodbody and Seamas Ó Maitiu, one entitled How and Where to Source your Local History, and the other called Visual Courses for Local History. Both courses were located in Dublin city centre and brought the participants to local libraries and other sources of information.

Throughout almost a quarter century of the daytime courses run as the Rathmichael Summer School there was also a week-long series of evening lectures in archaeology and this part of the Summer School is still running, after forty-eight years. Over that time the lectures have been delivered by a veritable who’s who of Irish professional archaeologists and historians.

While participants on the Rathmichael Summer School courses paid a fee for attendance, this was not sufficient to cover the significant costs of archaeological excavations. From the mid-1980s into the 1990s the Rathmichael Historical Society ran a number of fund-raising events of high calibre. Aravon School relocated from Novara Road in Bray to a Victorian mansion at Old Conna Hill at that time and offered the historical society the use of its fine hall as the venue for social evenings that were held on five occasions between 1985 and 1990. These included performances by choirs and chamber ensembles, recitals, exhibitions, displays of finds from the archaeological excavations and various other attractions.

Researching history is an important activity, but its results are lost if they are not passed on. Some of the work carried out by members of the society formed the subject matter for lectures delivered, while other members published their work in books or magazines. The Rathmichael Historical Society itself published a journal between 1973 and 2003 but is probably better known for the small volume called If You Seek Monuments, that was written by founder-member Kathleen Turner and published by the Society in 1983. This is a guide to the historic monuments in the area and still very useful after all these years.

In that same year the society was responsible for rescuing the twelfth-century Kiltuck Cross and having it erected in the grounds of St Anne’s Church, Shankill.

50th Anniversary Cake

That the Rathmichael Historical Society is still lively and active after all these years was evident at the event on 5th October. The highlight of the evening, after the lecture, was the cutting of the birthday cake. This cake was specially made for the occasion by Bakelicious in Shankill and featured the society’s logo. In a wonderful climax to the evening the cake was cut by Ian Booth who, fifty years before, had been one of the first committee members of the society.

Winter/Spring Lecture Series 2022/2023

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Rathmichael Historical Society is delighted to announce that this year’s Winter/Spring Lecture Series 2022/2023 will start on Wednesday 5th October 2022.

Guest speakers will include Rob Goodbody, Pól Ó Duibher, Colum Kenny, Catherine Scuffil, Paul Gosling, Finola Finlay (more to be announced).

All lectures will take place at 8pm in Rathmichael School Hall, Stonebridge Road, Shankill, Co. Dublin. Doors open at 7pm. Lectures will also be available online via Zoom.

Admission fee:
RHS Members – free.
Non-members – €5 per lecture.

Tea, coffee and biscuits after each lecture.

Guided tour at the National Museum of Ireland

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Rathmichael Historical Society has organised, for it’s members, a guided tour at the National Museum of Ireland in July.

The tour will cover ‘Colmcille: Sacred objects of a Saint – 1500 years of devotion‘.

This exhibition celebrates of one of Ireland’s three patron saints on the 1500th anniversary of his birth, through a selection of famous artefacts associated with him.

This guided tour is now fully booked.


The ‘Rath’ in Rathmichael

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On Saturday, 23rd April 2022, Rob Goodbody was leading a walk for members of Rathmichael Historical Society to the ‘Rath’ in Rathmichael and even though our membership had lapsed, we were tempted back by this intriguing prospect.

We had only ever gone to talks at the school house, just a turn off the long and syncopatedly red-lighted N11 so that the hidden countryside beyond was a new and total wonder to us.

Here we were, in glorious blue-sky sunshine, on a shady little boreen full of flowers and birdsong which, Rob told us, was a still-surviving part of an ancient roadway – now truncated by Rathmichael Road – that used to link the Rathmichael Monastic Site with the other early Christian-era monasteries of the area. 

Rathmichael Monastic Site, with its remains of a round tower and beautifully decorated grave slabs had evidently been a very important monastery. It was founded by St Comgall of Bangor in the 6th century but its later history and even its name has been obscured under layers of Viking and Anglo-Norman occupation. Part of the old cashel wall still survives.

Our boreen stopped at the locked gate of a farm and, despite the ‘beware of the bull’ sign, we followed Rob and climbed over. Luckily we were wearing hiking boots as it was about to get even more adventurous when we had to go through a short but very wet and swampy area. However, nobody got stuck in the mud and needed a piggy-back and we continued onward and upward to the Rath itself.

This is a really big Rath with a marvellous panoramic view over a vast area – out to sea over Dalkey Island and Killiney Hill to the north and Bray Head and the Little Sugar Loaf and sweeping around to the Dublin Mountains to the south and west. To our surprise, Tony and I found ourselves just below the Ballycorus Lead Mines with which we are very familiar, but we get to it from the other side.

We came down by a different pathway and came to the 12th century granite cross which has a crucified Christ figure on both sides. This is the Fassore Cross which used to be the Tarmon Cross at the entrance to the Rathmichael Monastic Site.

From start to finish, this was a delightful and very pleasurably sociable tour – so very welcome as we emerge from Covid isolation. Rob, as ever, enriched us all by generously sharing his extensive knowledge and lore. And, we discovered (shhh, don’t tell) that we can get home to Rathgar by a shorter and much more pleasant route via Kilternan.

Written by Mary McCarrick       

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