Prof Roy Foster Explores the Challenges of Commemoration at Public Lecture

Posted on: 20 October 2015

The challenges of commemorating the Irish revolutionary decade were explored by Professor Roy Foster at a public lecture in Trinity College Dublin, in the Edmund Burke Lecture Theatre on Thursday, October 20, 2015.

In his lecture, Professor Foster focused on the agendas, omissions and implications of commemorating events in Irish history that are at once inspirational and divisive. He considered the ‘history wars’ that broke out in Irish academic and public life from the 1970s, the psychological uses of memory in Irish history, and the challenges presented by the current centennial observations of the Irish revolutionary decade of 1912-22.

One of Ireland’s best-known historians, Professor Roy Foster is Carroll Chair of Irish History, University of Oxford, and is the author of the recent and widely-acclaimed Vivid Faces: the Irish revolutionary generation 1890-1923.

His lecture “An Inheritance From Our Forefathers”? Historians and the Memory of the Irish Revolution is the 2015 Annual Edmund Burke Lecture. This lecture series, instituted by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute in 2014, marks Trinity’s strong connection with the 18th-century philosopher, historian and politician Edmund Burke.

Professor Roy Foster said:  “Edmund Burke was preoccupied by the idea of ‘inheritances’ in history, and Irish history is full of them – often contested. I’m interested in the way that we now pay as much attention to ‘memory’ and its operations as to the search for historical facts, and what this means for the decade of commemorations in which we’re immersed. This requires looking at the role history and historians play in Irish life. I also think that one way to approach the memory of our revolutionary past is to look again at what the revolutionaries – or many of them –actually wanted, in relation to the achievements and actuality of the Irish state today.”

Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History, and Director of Trinity Long Room Hub with Professor Roy Foster, Carroll Chair of Irish History, University of Oxford

Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History, and Director of Trinity Long Room Hub, added: “Edmund Burke is one of Trinity’s most famous and most distinguished graduates. We are delighted to be welcoming another distinguished graduate back to Trinity to explore the fascinating subject of the memory of the Irish revolution and the challenges presented by the current  centennial observations of the Irish revolutionary decade.”

About Roy Foster

Roy Foster is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where he was a Foundation Scholar in History and studied under T.W.Moody. Subsequent appointments included Professor of Modern British History at Birkbeck College, University of London, visiting fellowships at St Antony’s College, Oxford, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and Princeton University, and (since 1991) the  Carroll Chair of  Irish History, University of Oxford.

Currently, he holds the visiting  Parnell Fellowship at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and has received honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Trinity College, Dublin, the National University of Ireland, Queen’s University, Canada, and the University of Edinburgh as well as an Honorary Fellowship at Birkbeck College, University of London.

His books include Charles Stewart Parnell:  The Man and His Family (1976), Lord Randolph Churchill:  A Political Life (1981), Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988), The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland  (1989), The Sub Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue:  Selected Essays of Hubert Butler (1990), Paddy and Mr Punch:  Connections in Irish and English History (1993), The Irish Story:  Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I:  The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 (1997) which won the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (2003),  Luck and the Irish: a brief history of change 1970-2000 (2007) and  Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances (2011), based on his 2009 Clark Lectures at Cambridge.

His most recent book is Vivid Faces: the revolutionary generation in Ireland 1890-1922 (2014), which was awarded a British Academy Medal. He is also a well-known cultural critic and broadcaster.


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