One should never prohibit that which one lacks the power to prevent
List of Past Lectures
Below is a list of the previous lectures which have been presented by the society. We are adding summaries of each talk as we go along, click on the title of the talk to be taken to the summary page. We hope to have all summaries completed before too long, so please bear with us.
All talks are by Brian MacGabhann unless otherwise indicated.
The Origins of The Great war
In 1914 the great powers of Europe enthusiastically marched off to war, each confident that victory would be theirs within a few short months. Four years later Europe lay exhausted and over ten million had been killed. Russia had succumbed to a communist revolution, Britain’s global position had been irrevocably weakened, Germany was economically ruined and France was finished as a world superpower. How had they gotten it so wrong? What process led each to so eagerly embrace their own destruction? How could it have happened?
Secret Codes, Holy Grails, and our fascination with the improbable.
This talk, though intended to be light-hearted in its approach, was motivated by a very real concern. In recent years the world has seen a worrying slide towards irrationality and gullibility. Perhaps as a result of the decline of formal religion, a host of strange and unlikely beliefs have arisen and grown in popularity. From homvieopathy to alien abductions, from spoon bending to ‘end times’ predictions, more and more people seem more and more willing to suspend their critical faculties and accept improbable, unlikely and fantastic claims. This talk set out to consider why, using the phenomenon of the bestselling Da Vinci Code as a case study.
The financial logic of the Holocaust
The Holocaust is usually portrayed as an irrational event driven by senseless hatred and unfathomable bigotry, essentially beyond rational explanation and understanding. This lecture argues that this was not the case, and far from being senseless and irrational the Holocaust was in fact driven by a merciless and ruthless logic. It was not the triumph of madness over reason, but the triumph of logic over humanity. It was rational planning taken to its heartless, ruthless extreme.
Renmore Military Barracks was built in 1881 and served as the depot of the Connaught Rangers from then until the Regiment's disbandment in 1922. It is built near the site of an earlier military establishment; a Cromwellian fort built in 1643, the remains of which can still be seen along the shore at the rear of the barracks. This lecture charts the history of the barracks, from its first manifestation as a Cromwellian fort, through its years as the Connaught Ranger's depot, its take-over by the IRA, partial desctruction during the Civil War, and on to the present day.
The Verdun Experiment
At ten months Verdun remains the longest continuous battle of modern times, and at over 800,000 casualties, one of the bloodiest. But it is not this which makes Verdun unique, but rather the thinking that lay behind it, for Verdun was a battle designed not to win territory or seize objectives. It was fought with one purpose, to kill as many people as humanly possible. This talk considers the lead up to, progress and aftermath of World War One’s longest battles, and one of history’s most terrible experiments.
By Gus O'Hara - Foxford Admiral Brown Society
William Brown was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo in 1777. At the age of ten he found himself a penniless orphan on the streets of Philadelphia. He was to go on to become the founder of the Argentinain Navy, one of history's great naval commanders, and is revered today as one of Argentina's national heroes. Yet in his native land he remains relatively unknown. On the 03rd March 2010 Gus O'Hara, of the Admiral Brown Society, travelled to the Renmore History Society to redress that imbalance.
The Origins and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Perhaps one of the most difficult and intractable conflicts of the modern era, one of enormous complexity, and exciting deep passion and emotion on both sides. This talk will attempt to explain the origins of the conflict, beginning in Biblical times and taking the story up to the beginnings of the modern conflict, which it will then go on to look at in more detail. It will try to give listeners an understanding of where we are now, why, and what possible solutions there might be.
The Franco-Prussian War
The War that made Europe
In many ways Europe’s forgotten war, though one that had profound consequences. It led directly to the creation of the state of Germany, left France marginalized and seething for revenge, and set in train a series of events that culminated in the Great War 40 years later. This talk looks at the political background to the war, focusing in particular at the personality and career of Bismarck. It then considers the progress and aftermath of the war, and poses in passing the question; what if the new German state had listened to Bismarck, would the Great War have happened?
Hitler’s Rise to Power
Hitler’s rise from a down and out on the streets of Vienna to absolute ruler of Germany is one that everyone knows of, but few actually know about. How was it possible? How could a sophisticated, cosmopolitan country like Germany allow itself to come under the rule of such a man? This is not as simple a process as often assumed, but one that contains lessons for us all. ‘Never again’ was the universal vow after 1945, but if we don’t understand how it happened the first time, how can we prevent it a second?
Infantry Weapons & Tactics
Mutual development from Napoleon to World War One
All infantry tactics essentially consists of maneuvering so as bring greater firepower to bear on the enemy then he on you. The tactics adopted at any given historical point are based primarily on the capabilities and limitations of the main infantry weapons of the day. However, when this is not the case, disaster ensues. This talk considers the growing gap that began to emerge between tactics, and what weapons were capable of, a gap that was left unaddressed and which led directly to the senseless slaughter of the Great War.
The Challenge of Remembering
The Great Famine in Ireland
In terms of deaths per head of population there has never been a famine in all of recorded history as destructive as the Great Famine in Ireland. That this famine occurred at a time when Britain was enjoying unparalleled economic strength and wealth still shocks us today. This talk will explain the causes and progress of the famine, its economic and social effects, and try to explain the reasons for the inadequacy of the response. It will also look at how we represent and respond to famine today, and ask if in 200 years time our response will be seen as equally inadequate.
From the Crimea to CNN
A History of War Correspondence
Thankfully, very few of us will ever experience a war, and there are now few people alive with a memory of World War Two, much less earlier conflicts. Thus for most of us our understandings and images of conflicts current and historical depend very heavily on the accuracy, impartiality and objectivity of those who report them first hand. But just how impartial or accurate is this reporting? Have conflicts always been accurately reported, or are there patterns of deception and misrepresentation discernible in the ways in which conflicts were reported in the past, and are those misrepresentations still with us today?
The Hammer of Heresy
A History of the Holy Inquisition.
From its earliest days combating heresy to later years prosecuting witchcraft, the Holy Inquisition has been one of the most controversial institutions of the church, and one which still arouses debate and disagreement today. This talk charts the origins and development of the Inquisition through its various phases; persecution of the Cathars, suppression of witchcraft, the Spanish Inquisition and its evolution into the organization that still exists today, (the last head of which was Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope). It considers some high profile events in its history, including the trial of Joan of Arc and of the Templars.
‘God Wills This!’
A History of the First Crusade
It was not today or yesterday that western powers embarked on ill-advised military adventures in the middle east. This talk considers the background to, progress and aftermath of the campaign that in many ways marked the beginning of the long and tangled conflict between east and west, the First Crusade. Then, as now, the motives of the participants and justifications for conflict were often misrepresented and remain widely misunderstood.
The First Entrepreneurs
In many ways the spirit and mind-set that motivated and guided early pirates is not too dissimilar from that which influences those operating in the ruthless world of business today. Whether with cutlass or fountain pen, men were driven by the imperatives of profit and plunder. This talk looks at the golden era of piracy; the high seas, the Spanish Main, pieces of eight, and will suggest that the real story of pirates may have been even more bizarre and dramatic than the Hollywood version we are familiar with.
Short History of Islam
There are some 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, about 20% of the global population. Islam is now the world’s second largest religion, and in terms of the demographics of adherents, the world’s most youthful religion. Today however, it is widely misunderstood, frequently misrepresented and often misreported. This talk sets out to chart the history of Islam, from the birth of Muhammad in 570, through the foundation of the Caliphate, the vicissitudes of the crusades, Mongol invasion and European colonization, through to the situation today. In the process it will consider the core values and beliefs of Islam, and chart its evolution and development down through the centuries.
The Nuremburg War-Crimes Tribunal
The War Crimes tribunal that followed the ending of World War Two is now so engrained in our collective history that we sometimes forget how radical and ground-breaking the idea was. The victorious European powers set out not just to punish the evil of Nazism, but also to reassert liberal democratic values, so bruised from six years of bloody warfare. This talk will look at the background to the most famous series of trials in modern history, consider what they tried to achieve, and ask if the values and principles laid down at Nuremburg are still relevant today.
The Origins of World War Two
The 03rd Sept 2009 was the 70th Anniversary of the declaration that started World War Two, the most destructive war in human history. The events following that date are well known, but the events leading up to it far less so. This is partly because these events reflect glory on no one, and involve a catalogue of mistakes, abdications of responsibility and missed opportunities.
This talk will examine the events that led from the optimistic promise following ‘war to end all wars’, to the outbreak of a conflict that was to put the carnage of the Great War in the shade. Could it have been prevented? Could Hitler have been stopped? What lessons can we learn?
The Space Race, Star Trek, and the influence of 60’s science fiction on today’s technologies.
Thurs 08th March 2012
In Apr 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human ever to leave the confines of the earth, ushering in the space age, and in 1968 the Americans landed a man on the moon, capturing popular imagination and leading to an explosion in interest in science fiction; books, movies and above all, TV. The teenagers who grew up with such seminal programs went on to develop and invent the amazing technologies that surround us today.
Brendan Smith is from the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway, and is the founder of the recently-opened Communications and Computer Museum. In this talk he will give a fascinating insight into how science fiction, and in particular the original American 'Star Trek' series, inspired modern gadgetry from medical scanners to mobile telephones.
“The Irish Pimpernel”
Fr. Hugh O’Flaherty and the Vatican Escape Route.
Thurs 19th April 2012
Hugh O’Flaherty was born to an ordinary catholic family in Cork in 1898. While serving as a Monsignor in Rome he masterminded what became a huge operation from within the Vatican, plucking allied soldiers and Jewish families from under the noses of Rome’s German masters, and spiriting them away to safety.
Often described as the Irish Oscar Schindler, he became the centre of a secret network which ended up saving the lives of thousands. During the course of his work he had to evade numerous kidnap and assassination attempts, but despite the constant threat frequented the streets of Rome in a variety of disguises, including that of a nun, despite being over six feet tall!
This talk tells the story of this humble but extraordinary Irishman, his courageous exploits, and his personal battle with Rome’s Nazi master, the ruthless SS Colonel Herbert Kapler.
‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ The reality of life for the ordinary soldier, from Waterloo to WW2.
Only recently has the voice of the ordinary soldier been heard, and their experiences recorded. For centuries they have been silent; their experiences interpreted and reported on by others. But this has led to some significant misunderstandings of what actually happens in battle, both among historians and among the public at large.
This talk looks at the reality of life for the ordinary soldier in battle, and seeks to record and report their actual experience of it. In doing so it throws up some remarkable facts, such as that in even the fiercest battle, nearly half of those in the thick of it never fired their weapon, or the fact that there is no recorded instance of an actual bayonet charge, or that Napoleonic cavalry charges never actually came into contact with each other. The talk makes use of history, psychology, movies, and even a bit of poetry.
Foreign volunteers in the Boer War. 1899-1902
Professor Fransjohan Pretorius.
Thurs 06th Oct 2011
Fransjohan Pretorius is professor of history at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He is regarded as one of the leading experts on the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. He is the author of six books and editor and co-editor of two others on the subject. Both his Master’s dissertation and doctoral thesis have been published in Afrikaans as well as in English.
The professor is on a speaking tour of Ireland, and has very kindly agreed to deliver a lecture to our society. His talk looks at the foreign volunteers who fought with the Boers against the British, where volunteers from Ireland played a major role.
Lady Gregory 1852 – 1932
Thurs 24th Nov 2011
George Bernard Shaw once described Lady Augusta Gregory as "the greatest living Irishwoman". She was born at Roxborough, near Loughrea, into a powerful Protestant ascendancy family. She married Sir William Gregory, and on his death, began her extraordinary personal journey where she became a nationalist in her political views, and the catalyst for the great Irish Literary Revival at the beginning of the last century.
With WB Yeats, and Edward Martyn she co-founded the Abbey Theatre, and managed its affairs for most of her adult life. She wrote numerous plays and short stories, several volumes of folk lore, and translated from the Irish the ancient legends of Ireland.
Ronnie O'Gorman is a journalist, chairman of the Galway Advertiser group, a keen student of Lady Gregory, and is currently promoting of the Lady Gregory centre at Coole. In this talk he examines the life and times of this remarkable Irishwoman.