Gems of Maynooth studies of local history – The Irish Times

The analysis by historians of life at parish and town level, together with long-forgotten names, forms the socially diverse and impressive slice of small books in the Maynooth Studies in Local History. In Rural tensions in 19th century Knock, County Mayo, Frank Mayes discusses the reasons for changes in demographics, housing stock, land tenure and the increase in literacy and the Irish language. An agricultural crisis that hit the country in the late 1870s led to crop failures particularly affecting Mayo.

Large groups of angry tenants gathered in Knock to protest land ownership, shouting, “Well done to the Zulus!

Communal violence was a problem, and the area around Knock was notorious for factional fighting, described in a memoir from the time as “essentially an immensely popular and violent pastime”. Reference is made to the Anglo-Zulu War when Britain invaded Zululand in January 1879. Local newspapers such as the Connaught Telegraph and the Mayo Constitution covered world affairs extensively so that local people were aware of the political situation. In one demonstration, large groups of angry tenants gathered in Knock to protest land ownership, shouting: ‘Three cheers for Zulus!’

The role of a specific owner in other parts of Mayo is explored in The impact of the Great Famine on Sir William Palmer’s estates in Mayo, 1840-1869 by the late David Byrne. An absentee proprietor with residences in Dublin and Wales, Palmer’s property in Mayo was scattered around five baronies: Tirawley, Burrishoole, Gallen, Carra and Murrisk.

Poorly housed farmers were ill-equipped to survive a prolonged poor potato harvest and many tenants, who bore the brunt of the crisis, were unable to pay rents and were consequently evicted from their farms. All of this demonstrated the power of the landlords and in particular of Palmer, who ruled his Mayo estates with an iron fist. Economic recovery in the mid-1850s led to an improvement in the position of famine survivors on his estates, but it was not until the introduction of reforms in the Land Acts of 1870 that the landowner’s power over its tenants has been reduced.

The last 18 years of a large city-based livestock market are depicted in The decline of the Dublin cattle market, 1955-1973 by Declan O’Brien. The book evokes the period when the market reached its peak and was among the largest of any city in Europe. Held every Wednesday for more than 100 years, the market – located between Phibsboro and the Liffey Quays in an area bordered by Prussia Street, Aughrim Street and St Joseph’s Road – has been unable to meet the challenges posed by the markets cattle cooperatives and the emergence of the beef processing industry.

Much of the information in the book is based on oral testimony and includes interviews with cattle auctioneers, farmers, butchers, a senior cooperative organization official and a retired agricultural journalist. In the absence of written documentary sources, this multidisciplinary approach paints a broad picture of a rural business in an urban environment. The author equates it with the national purse representing a meeting of the city and the countryside.

The story behind the colorful political life of a twice imprisoned man is documented in Peader Cowan (1903–1962): Westmeath GAA trustee and political maverick by Tom Hunt. Born in Co Cavan, Cowan became a staunch socialist and republican as well as one of the most individualistic figures in Irish life, but he is largely unknown today.

Cowan demonstrated a highly informed social conscience and concern for the poor and marginalized. Ironically, he died in poverty in 1962, leaving an estate valued at just £5.

Besides his GAA work, his multi-faceted roles included army officer and lawyer. He then joined the Labor Party, becoming director of the organization, and became a founding member of Clann na Poblachta. He was also elected to Dáil Éireann for the Dublin North East constituency and re-elected as an independent MP. Cowan demonstrated a highly informed social conscience and concern for the poor and marginalized. Ironically, he died in poverty in 1962, leaving an estate valued at just £5. In the author’s opinion, he had the courage to pursue his beliefs regardless of the personal cost and describes him as a man of considerable moral courage.

In his study of the Cork Surgeon Denis Brenan Bullen (1802-1866), anatomical inspector for the province of Munster, Michael V Hanna traces the life of a controversial figure in the city’s medical history in the early part of the 19th century. A precocious and opinionated medical student, Bullen grew from a Catholic professional background into a leading surgeon whose career shed light on the development of medical education in Cork.

During his lifetime, he witnessed the discovery of vaccination and anesthesia and was part of the cradle of intellectual, scientific and artistic life in the city. But he fell out of favor following a candidacy for the presidency of Queen’s College Cork, which directly led to the loss of his own professorship and the emigration of his second son to Australia. All books are published by Four Courts Press at €9.99.