Tag Archives: Diarmaid Ferriter

Irish film celebrates archives & ordinary lives

I  got to watch “Keepers of the Flame,” a 2018 documentary about some of the more than 85,000 people who in the 1920s applied for state pensions based on their actions in the 1916 Easter Rising, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, and Irish Civil War. Only 18,000 received any money.

The Irish Military Service Pensions Archive became public in 2017. Most of the massive collection of government forms, personal letters, and related materials is available online.

“We need those archives, not just in Ireland, but everywhere. And we need those archives in order to come to some sort of an approximation of who we are are,” Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter says in the film. He co-wrote the script with director Nuala O’Connor.

Read the Irish Independent‘s 2018 interview for more of Ferriter’s views about the project.

The Irish pension archive, like the similar American Civil War archives that Damian Shiels has expertly mined for Irish immigrant stories, is remarkable because it contains fragments of so many lives forgotten in most historical accounts. Such stories “humanize and enrich history by reminding us that the study of the past should include the study of the lives of ordinary people, their attitudes, beliefs, motives, experiences and actions,” Bill McDowell wrote in “Historical Research: A Guide for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, Articles and Books.”

Among some of my own works in this effort:

I leave debates about the “archival sliver” versus “total archives” to others. If you love exploring archives, as I do, you must see this film. As someone said after the screening I attended: panning shots of shelves of boxes in temperature-controlled rooms never looked so good.

Below, the official trailer for “Keepers of the Flame.”

Debate heats up over separation of church, state and schools

Debate in Ireland is heating up about the role of religion in managing school admissions. The Humanist Association of Ireland is calling for a ban on baptism certificates or other proof of a child’s religious affiliation.

Brian Whiteside, an official with the secularist group, told The Irish Times:

There is a new reality that has to be addressed. One third of couples are getting married in non-religious ceremonies. It’s reasonable to ask what sort of schools they want for their children.

The HAI says it “promotes the ideals and values of Humanism, working for people who choose to live an ethical life without religion.” The organization has made strong inroads in Ireland’s marriage ceremony business, as the Irish Independent reported last summer.

About 257,000 of 4.5 million living in the Republic in 2011, or just under 6 percent, said they had no religion. Catholics remained the majority at about 85 percent, according to the Central Statistics Office, and the church controls about 90 percent of Ireland’s primary schools.

The schools debate is more than just the usual separation of church and state struggle. It also brings full circle a vision for the Irish education system that began in the first half of the 19th century, long before independence.

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter writes this opinion column in the Times about Thomas Davis, a Young Irelander, poet and journalist, who argued for a state-endowed secular system of third-level education based on national colleges. Davis believed a “mixed education” was a vital component of an inclusive form of nationality in Ireland.

Buying history at “independence sales” in Ireland

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter is calling on wealth collectors to buy up artifacts from Ireland’s revolutionary period and donate them to the Republic.

In an opinion piece for the Irish Times, he writes:

Auction houses have been gleefully trumpeting their “independence sales” in recent times, as they seek to drum up business selling Irish historical memorabilia from the 1916-1923 period. … There is something unseemly about this kind of historical artifact being traded in this way, but it is equally a pity that those who have the wealth to buy them do not see fit to donate them to the State, thereby bringing significant pieces of our heritage into public ownership.

Ferriter is a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, which is focused on recognizing the historical events of 1912 to 1922. Lots of great stuff on the website linked above.