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Remembering the Year of the French

Irish Folk History and Social Memory

Guy Beiner

Publication Year: 2007

     Remembering the Year of the French is a model of historical achievement, moving deftly between the study of historical events—the failed French invasion of the West of Ireland in 1798—and folkloric representationsof those events. Delving into the folk history found in Ireland’s rich oral traditions, Guy Beiner reveals alternate visions of the Irish past and brings into focus the vernacular histories, folk commemorative practices, and negotiations of memory that have gone largely unnoticed by historians.
     Beiner analyzes hundreds of hitherto unstudied historical, literary, and ethnographic sources. Though his focus is on 1798, his work is also a comprehensive study of Irish folk history and grass-roots social memory in Ireland. Investigating how communities in the West of Ireland remembered, well into the mid-twentieth century, an episode in the late eighteenth century, this is a “history from below” that gives serious attention to the perspectives of those who have been previously ignored or discounted. Beiner brilliantly captures the stories, ceremonies, and other popular traditions through which local communities narrated, remembered, and commemorated the past. Demonstrating the unique value of folklore as a historical source, Remembering the Year of the French offers a fresh perspective on collective memory and modern Irish history.

Winner, Wayland Hand Competition for outstanding publication in folklore and history, American Folklore Society
Finalist, award for the best book published about or growing out of public history, National Council on Public History
Winner, Michaelis-Jena Ratcliff Prize for the best study of folklore or folk life in Great Britain and Ireland


“An important and beautifully produced work. Guy Beiner here shows himself to be a historian of unusual talent.”—Marianne Elliott, Times Literary Supplement

“Thoroughly researched and scholarly. . . . Beiner’s work is full of empathy and sympathy for the human remains, memorials, and commemorations of past lives and the multiple ways in which they actually continue to live.”—Stiofán Ó Cadhla, Journal of British Studies

“A major contribution to Irish historiography.”—Maureen Murphy, Irish Literary Supplement

"A remarkable piece of scholarship . . . . Accessible, full of intriguing detail, and eminently teachable.”?—Ray Casman, New Hibernia Review

 “The most important monograph on Irish history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to be published in recent years.”—Matthew Kelly, English Historical Review

“A strikingly ambitious work . . . . Elegantly constructed, lucidly written and inspired, and displaying an inexhaustible capacity for research”—Ciarán Brady, History IRELAND

“A closely argued, meticulously detailed and rich analysis  . . . . providing such innovative treatment of a wide array of sources, his work will resonate with the concerns of many cultural and historical geographers working on social memory in quite different geographical settings and historical contexts.”—Yvonne Whelan, Journal of Historical Geography

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

One dreary day, in the autumn of 1997, I stepped out of the Modern Irish History Department at University College Dublin, to which I had recently arrived, walked down the corridors of the Arts Faculty and opened a door into Aladdin's cave. Inside I found not only a thousand and one tales, but also many more—each waiting to take me on a magic carpet ride and show me ...

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pp. xiii-xvii

This book was written with the help of numerous people. It originated in an interdisciplinary program directed by Angela Bourke at the Faculty of Arts in UCD. The reearch was thoughtfully supervised by Thomas Bartlett at the Department of Modern Irish History in UCD, whose guidance was invaluable. Throughout my studies, S

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xviii-xx

Phonetic Note

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pp. xix-xx

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Introduction: To speak of Ninety-Eight

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pp. 5-14

Go where you ought to go, into the dustbin of history!:"1 Within a few years, the man who said these famous words was himself airbrushed out of official history books, The "dustbin of history" is a treasure trove that has amassed a wealth of neglected historical wonders and curiosities waiting to be retrieved. ...

Part 1. Collecting Memory

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1. Oral History and Social Memory

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pp. 17-33

Since folklore is by and large gathered through oral interviews, it follows that historical study of folklore sources requires an understanding of oral history. Though Ireland is renowned for its vibrant oral culture, surprisingly, the field of oral history has not been at the fore of Irish historical studies. A preliminary report on oral archives in Ireland compiled in 1997 concluded ...

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2. Irish Folklore Collections

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pp. 34-61

The study of folklore in Ireland and its use as a historical source has a long history that dates at least as far back as Foras Feasa a Éirinn, the monumental work of seventeenth-century Gaelic historiography written by Geoffery Keating ([Seathrún Céitinn], ca. 1570-ca. 1644), who referred to “béaloideas na sean”—oral instruction of the ancients—as a primary source.1...

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3. Richard Hayes and The Last Invasion of Ireland

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pp. 62-68

In the summers of 1935 and '36, around the same time as the Irish Folklore Commission began to send out collectors to document oral traditions in rural Ireland, and while preparations were underway for collecting folklore in national schools, the maverick historian D. Richard Hayes was also engaged in collecting traditions of Ninety-Eight: ...

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4. Ancillary Folk History Sources

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pp. 69-78

The main collections of folklore of the Year of the French were mostly compiled in the first half of the twentieth century: the bulk of 1798 traditions documented by the collectors of the Irish Folklore Commission was taken down in the 1930s–’50s, the Schools' Scheme took place in 1937/389, and Richard Hayes's fieldwork was conducted in 1935/36. Collectively they offer ...

Part 2. Folk History

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5. History-Telling

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pp. 81-114

Outside the academy, the historical past has always been a topic of conversation and remembrance. In his mid-nineteenth-century voluminous history of the French Revolution, Jules Michelet (1798–1874) advocated the importance of "popular belief" (croyance populaire), maintaining that legends constituted an alternative history of "the heart of the people and their ...

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6. Practitioners of Folk History

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pp. 115-123

Perceptions of storytellers change over time and the passing away of the revered seanchai, defined either as a custodian of tradition or as a traditional storyteller,1 is a trope that echoes the lament for the death of folklore.2 Despite the demise of the Gaelic Order, in the late eighteenth century the Munster poet Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1748–84) alluded to the prevalence ...

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7. Time and Calendar

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pp. 124-136

Modern historians, who are particularly concerned with time—"the date being regarded by us not as an accidental property of an event but as an essential feature,"2—have been baffled by the way perceptions of time in folk history do not comply with standard historical conventions. The American historian Richard White was confounded by the storytelling of his Irish-born ...

Part 3. Democratic History

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8. Who Were the Men of the West?

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pp. 139-167

At a ceremony to unveil a Ninety-Eight memorial in Castlebar, Richard Hayes lauded the anonymous heroes of the Rebellion: "Most of them were simple men of the towns and countrysides whose names are largely unknown, but known their courage and daring." Surprisingly, the thousands of Irish rebels who flocked to join the French arny have not taken the center ...

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9. Multiple Heroes in Folk Historiographies

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pp. 168-184

In the early 1930s, James P. Donnelan, a national schoolteacher on the aran Islands off the coast of Galway and a native of Knock in county Mayo, wrote to J. F. Quinn's local history column in the Mayo newspaper the Western People. ...

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10. Who Were the Women of the West?

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pp. 185-198

Lord Carleton (1739–1826) recalled that "at Ballinamuck, one of the most beautiful Irish girls ever seen, who had ventured probably into fire to repost a brother or lover, was found shot through the heart."1 Despite the availability of such fitting candidates, folk histories in Connacht and the north midlands did not laud legendary women heroines similar to the familiar ..

Part 4. Commemorating History

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11. Spheres and Mediums of Remembrance

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pp. 201-207

The recital of folk history is a rudimentary form of commemoration. As long as the past is talked about, it is in effect commemorated, a truism lucidly encapsulated in a Swahili tradition by which the dead continue to "live" in the community and only perish once the last descendant who recalls them has passed away.1 Through mourning and memory, death—the most ...

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12. Topographies of Folk Commemoration

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pp. 208-230

Fok history was associated with localities, and the traditions of folk commemoration that it recalled were embedded in the landscape, which, as Vansina noted, could serve as a "powerful mnemonic device."1 In the 1930s there were people all along the route of the Franco-Irish insurgent army, from Kilcummin to Ballinamuck, who could point out to folklore collectors exactly ...

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13. Souvenirs

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pp. 231-242

In 1962 a nonagenarian veteran of the Mashona and Matabele risings against the South African Commpany's rule in Southern Rhodesia (1896–97) presented an axe to Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union. This symbolic act, which implied an imaginary apostolic succession of resistance to colonial domination, used a relic of a rebellion to recontextualize ...

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14. Ceremonies, Monuments, and Negotiations of Memory

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pp. 243-275

The proprietor of Daly's Bar in Mulrany in west county Mayo (by the gateway to Achill Island) keeps two treasured souvenirs from the Year of the French: a coin and a bayonet that were found in remarkable circumstances in which his great-grandfather, James Daly, had been involved.1 Back in 1876 Castlebar residents formed a committee to erect a monument of French Hill, ...

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15. Mediations of Remembrance

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pp. 276-303

Social memory of the Year of the French was constructed and regenerated in a larger context of the spread of popular literacy in Ireland.1 Literacy rates in English consistently rose over the nineteenth century, a trend that accelerated after the Great Famine (see table 3). By the early twentieth century, with 84.8 percent of the population of Connacht and 90.5 percent of Longford listed ...

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16. Memory and Oblivion

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pp. 304-310

It is often said that history was written by the victors, but by whom was it remembered, and what was remembered? To phrase the question in another way, who preferred not to remember and what was not remembered? The historian Peter Burke incisively suggested: ...

Conclusion - Alternative History

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Archaeologies of Social Memory

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pp. 313-322

Prevailing trends in European historiography maintain that, with the advent of modernity, “folk memory” underwent a fatal shock and passed away en masse. Age-old traditions of remembrance were allegedly supplanted by new constructions of “collective memory” imposed by modern states. Hobsdawm dated the extensive diffuse of “invented traditions” to 1870–1914, ...

Epilogue - Commemorative Heritage

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Remembrance in the Late Twentieth Century

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pp. 325-334

In the middle of the twentieth century, remembrance of the Year of the French fell into decline, only to be later regenerated in response to external stimuli.1 The waning of social memory was evident in the attitudes of a young generation of farmers, who dismissed traditions and ignored the social taboo that had preserved commemorative sites in the vernacular landscape. Sometime ...


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pp. 335-414

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 415-444


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pp. 445-466

E-ISBN-13: 9780299218232
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299218249

Publication Year: 2007