An Irish Village

Friday, April 16, 2021




Forthcoming book: A Revolutionary Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow c.1900-1925.


My next book is completed and has been sent to the printers. Hopefully, it will be ready to launch in May. I say ‘launch’, but covid-19 restrictions mean that there can be no traditional launch of course. However, I hope it will be possible to have a virtual launch by posting a short video on the ‘blog’ section of my website The book will be on sale locally in Dermot Hughes’ shop in Dunlavin and directly from my house on the Sparrow Road. Copies will also be available on my website, which automatically adds on postage costs for Irish, European and worldwide distribution. The book will contain 344 pages and will retail at €30 per copy. The following paragraphs, taken from the back cover ‘blurb’, briefly outline the contents…


In his play The Quare Fella, Brendan Behan famously named an old republican prisoner ‘Dunlavin’. In doing so, Behan acknowledged the republican reputation and revolutionary tradition of the West Wicklow village. Here, for the first time, is the story of that village during the years of the Irish Revolution. Many historians think that the county is not the best unit to use for studies of the local past, but much of the historiography of the Irish Revolution is either based on the county or on significant personalities or events. This ground-breaking study of a single West Wicklow village and its environs during the pivotal historical period 1900-25 is unique and constitutes a true micro-history of the revolutionary era.


The book treats of the international and national political background before moving on to examine social and economic life in Dunlavin during the early twentieth century. Religious and political differences are uncovered and the advent of many new political movements in the region is discussed. A detailed examination of the impact of the First World War on the local area is followed by an examination of Dunlavin’s experience during the Easter Rising and its aftermath. An assessment of the rise of Sinn Féin and the party’s landmark victory in the 1918 general election (when Dunlavin was in the grip of the great influenza pandemic) leads on to evaluations of both the War of Independence and the Civil War. Dunlavin’s Civil War experience is placed in a wider West Wicklow context before the book examines the return of peace and the new reality of Dunlavin taking its place within the Irish Free State. A new era of domestic political sovereignty had dawned in the much-altered West Wicklow village.


The book contains over 50 illustrations and more than 15 appendices, including press reports of meetings held to establish various political organisations in the village, with the original speeches reproduced. There are also lists of the heads of households in Dunlavin in both 1901 and 1911, lists of the members of the three I.R.A. companies in which Dunlavin volunteers served during the War of Independence and lists of the Anti-Treaty I.R.A. remaining in these companies during the Civil War. There is also a list of local business advertisements dating from 1926. These appendices enhance the book and provide much background information.



Friday, October 30, 2020


 Here's a snippet about the Dunlavin Diversions book. For more information, visit my website at

Dunlavin Diversions book

 My latest book, Dunlavin Diversions, has just been published.

The book, which costs €20, is on sale locally in Dermot Hughes’ shop in Dunlavin, and is available from my new website ( There can be no formal book launch or signing in these unusual times, but any local person wishing to buy the book can collect copies from my house on Sparrow Road, where signed copies with personalised messages can be obtained. I can also deliver signed, inscribed copies to purchasers within a 5 km radius of Dunlavin.

In mid-March 2020 at the onset of the national lockdown, I decided to post a series of regular articles on social media as a diversion from all the Covid-19 related news. I drew on sources from far and wide, republishing some pieces (the oldest dates from 1984) and combining them with many new pieces which are published for the first time in this collection. The complete series contains a hundred separate diversions, and these are now being published together as an anthology in book format.

The diversions contained in this book focus mostly on aspects of the local history of the Dunlavin region of West Wicklow. Though local history predominates, there are also articles on Irish national history, some prose essays, short stories and even a couple of poems. The topics covered are also diverse. They include Dunlavin's military tradition from the eighteenth century to the present; the life and times of Countess Constance Markievicz; the commemoration of the R.I.C. in today's Ireland, a century on from the Anglo-Irish War; a short story about an eventful class outing; an observation on the cartoons that children watch on television... and much more. This book truly contains a quirky, eclectic mix!

Visit for details of this and my previous books, many of which are also on sale on the website.


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

I was looking through some sources I’ve collected over the years – many of which I’ve never actually included in my published works. I came across a few references from the Outrage Papers for County Wicklow in 1832. That was a strange summer… enjoy reading a little about the Great Panic’s impact on Dunlavin!

Popular panic in 1832: a strange constabulary report emanates from Dunlavin!

Much of Ireland was in turmoil in the summer of 1832. To economic distress, the Tithe War, agrarian violence and an upsurge in murders was added a deadly new threat – an outbreak of cholera. The disease surfaced in Belfast in March and spread rapidly. The result of all of these factors was a summer of discontent. Fear, rumour and a sense of the wrath of God were evident among large swathes of the population. This was especially so, according to many contemporary observers, in the case of the Catholic lower classes. Strange apparitions, including appearances of the Virgin Mary, were reported from Cork, Queen’s and King’s counties (Laois and Offaly), Westmeath, Roscommon and Kilkenny. The apparitions advised people to put ‘blessed turf’ – ash from their chimneys that had been anointed [blessed] by priests – in their houses to avoid the cholera epidemic. In many places turf, clay or straw was substituted for ash, as ‘Chinese whispers’-style changes were made to the rapidly-spreading supernatural message. The bearers of the messages were often travelling strangers, who usually claimed to be acting on the instructions of the Catholic clergy, who (unsurprisingly) denied all knowledge of the messages and of their bearers! The message and the use of the blessed turf was often accompanied by tales of disaster elsewhere, causing mass hysteria among its audience. Thus, for example, anxious people in Newtownmountkennedy heard that cholera was rampant on the western side of the Wicklow Mountains, and that it had killed two hundred people in Hollywood alone.On Tuesday 12 June the message  reached Ballymore Eustace, where Constable B. McCann reported: ‘the greatest confusion appeared among the people in consequence of people running through the town carrying seven pieces of turf, and at each house they left a piece with directions to burn the bit of turf at their door and to say some prayers’. The following day, Dunlavin was also thrown into turmoil, as the message reached the populace. Chief Constable J. H. Hatton reported widespread panic and hysteria in the village because ‘in consequence of a curse pronounced by Doctor Doyle a ball of fire had fell [sic] down from heaven in the Queen's County and had completely destroyed it. They also stated that two angels had descended to whom they were ordered to offer up seven prayers’.

The message soon stretched the length and breadth of Ireland, but the great panic of 1832 was short-lived. It was over almost as soon as it started – only a ‘flash in the pan’, one might say. Viewed from the perspective of our modern world, the phenomenon is difficult to understand. However, we need to try to understand the mindsets of ordinary people in the 1830s. There is little doubt that uneducated lower-class Catholics in particular were superstitious, but at a deeper spiritual level they also believed wholeheartedly and unquestioningly in Divine guidance and supernatural interventions in their existence. Divine Providence could, they believed, deliver them from evil, and could keep them safe in times of crisis. (Indeed, who are we to say that they were wrong?). At a deeper temporal level on the other hand, such beliefs probably reflected the everyday hopes and fears which played a real and significant part in their lives. These lower-class Catholics were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. For generations, they and their forebears had been persecuted and had suffered the impact of the Penal Laws. The enactment of Catholic emancipation was too recent to undo decades of hardship, oppression, failed rebellion, injustice and the denial of education and other rights and liberties that we take for granted nowadays. Once again, only Divine Providence could be invoked to improve their daily lot. This harsh background of protracted struggle meant that the mindsets of these people differed radically from mindsets today. If the great panic of 1832, and the report of Doctor Doyle’s curse, the destruction of Queen’s County and the appearance of two angels in Dunlavin teaches us anything, it is perhaps how little we really understand of the mindsets of our nineteenth-century ancestors, and the mental worlds of these ordinary people and, consequently, of the wider society at that time in which they lived.