Frank Hynes, Peter Wallace and Liam Corcoran at last Thursday night's launch. Photo: John McCauley

Historical society launches its second ‘Iarmhí’ journal

In the Greville Arms Hotel, Mullingar on Wednesday night last, Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society launched the second edition of its journal, ‘Iarmhí’, edited by Seamus O’Brien.

A lot has happened since the first edition of the journal in 2017 – the Covid-19 pandemic, and the publication of the ‘Westmeath: history and society’ compendium of essays, edited by Seamus – and for these and other reasons, a second edition has taken a while to gestate.

However, all who picked up their copy on Wednesday night agreed that the wait was worth it.

The launch was opened by Myles Cosgrave, chairman of Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society, who paid tribute to Seamus for the “huge volume of work” the former teacher and principal of Garbally College, Ballinasloe, has taken on in recent years.

Seamus, meanwhile, said that the society had laid the foundations for an annual journal going forward.

“I think a journal is an important part of the identity of a county,” he told the gathered crowd, which was large despite the adverse weather conditions. “It’s a rewarding experience to see archaeological artefacts or go to places where events took place and see them, but a journal elucidates those events and artefacts. It’s an important part of a county’s sense of itself.”

The publication of both ‘Iarmhí’ and the ‘Westmeath: history and society’ book highlighted how Westmeath is a “hugely diverse county”, Seamus added.

The journal, which runs to 164 pages, is generously sponsored by businesses in the county, and Seamus paid tribute to them for their support.

Joining the society on launch night was Michael Stanley of Transport Infrastructure Ireland. One of the major contributions to this edition were two articles detailing archaeological discoveries at Turin, which were uncovered during the realignment of the Cloghan to Billistown (Delvin) N52 some years ago.

From there, the journal deals with literary history, numismatic history (coins), archaeology, folklore, music, family history, medical history and religious history. Gary Delaney contributes a fascinating account of a digital recreation of the Mayne Bog trackway near Coole, while Michael Kenny has written about the Tithe War-era massacre in Castlepollard (1831).

The Decade of Centenaries is dealt with amply. There are contributions from both of Westmeath County Council’s Historians in Residence, Paul Hughes and Ian Kenneally, on the establishment of the Civic Guard (1922-23) and violence in Athlone during the War of Independence (1920-21).

Fr Paul Connell, author of a forthcoming book on the Irish Revolution in Westmeath, writes about Westmeath’s dead of the First World War, while there Dr Jennifer Redmond (Maynooth University) explains the various objections and alternatives presented to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Ruth Illingworth has a piece on life in Mullingar in 1922, and Patrick Casey looks at Westmeath connections to the flags of the 1916 rising.

Importantly, international connections with Westmeath are explored. Frank Nugent presents a detailed history of Charles Howard Bury’s reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest in 1921 (‘From Mullingar to Rongbuk’), while Peter Wallace has written two pieces about local connections to Argentina.

Fore native Dr Rory Masterson, former principal of Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore and an occasional lecturer in medieval history at Maynooth University, officially launched the journal in the absence of Professor Willie Nolan of Irish Geography Publications, who was unable to attend.

“Local history and archaeological journals are not simply records of particular places and time; they are that, and more than that,” said Dr Masterson. “They are rather like pieces of a jigsaw. Each piece in itself is unique, as each county is unique.

“But when fitted with the other unique pieces, they give an overall picture of what has happened in the country.

“The journal, along with the one that precedes it and the hopefully many that will follow, provides a means by which the county’s story can be told, and its part in the overall pattern of Irish history included.”

Dr Masterson paid tribute to Seamus O’Brien, who he said “deserved a tremendous amount of gratitude” for his work with Irish Geography Publications in delivering ‘Westmeath: history and society’, as well as working to get ‘Iarmhí’ off the ground.

After the launch, Seamus O’Brien gave advance notice of the society’s 2023 Decade of Centenaries conference, which will focus on the civil war. Among the speakers will be broadcaster Myles Dungan of RTÉ’s History Show, and the Finnish ambassador to Ireland, Ms Raili Lahnalampi, who will discuss Finland’s civil war, which was contemporaneous to the events in Ireland.

The second edition of ‘Iarmhí’ is available locally at €20.