Hiding history and re-enacting it

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Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby bannerman on Fri Dec 19, 2008 5:44 pm

Hello all.
This is a subject thats been on my mind for some time but Im not quite sure how to frame it.

A few months ago I was talking my girlfriend who is a foreigner around historical sites throughout Ireland and Scotland, I was quite dissapointed to notice that a number of heritage sites had seeming delibaterly left out quite important periods of our history - most notably the War of Independence and Civil War.

For example the display at Bunratty castle mentioned sieges there in the 1640's, the Cromwellion campaign and apparently a Williamite attack on the castle. These were simply listed as events in a chronology and no further explanation was given. I can only imagine that it would leave the public as confused as it left me. Being from the area and having studied the war of the two kings in detail in University I had never heard of any military action in Bunratty during the period. I quizzed several of the tourguides working there on the subject but none of them had ever heard of it.

More dissapointing to me was the absence of any information related to the castles role in the 1913-1923 period. I know from my own research that members of the East Clare Brigade of the Irish Volunteers led by Michael Brennan assembled at the castle on Easter Monday 1916 waiting for the expected german arms from the Aud. [ O.K. it was a bit of a non event and could reasonably be left out!} But I couldent find any references to the R.I.C. station that had been built on the western side of the castle. Or the fact that it was burned down by the I.R.A. in April of 1920. Nor was there any mention of the fact that the last British Soldier killed in Clare during the War of Independence, Private R.W. Williams of the 2nd Battn. Royal Welch Fusileers was killed on the bridge beside the castle on July 10th 1921.

It was much the same story at King Johns castle in Limerick. While the sieges of 1641 were very well presented, and there was a very good display on the war of the two kings including life sized wax works of the leading protagonists, the War of Independence and Civil War did not feature. The only information supplied on the period was in a timeline of the castles history which simply read "1922 - Last British troops leave the castle." Apparently history ends there! I know that King johns castle played a vital role in the Civil war in Limerick and I even have photographs of Free State and IRA troops stationed there in 1922 and 1923 but for some reason this wasnt presented. Why?

Well it appears that some people THINK that tourists would be somehow offended by this period of our history and the attitude of " If the truth hurts, dont look it might go away" prevails. Now i have worked in the tourisim industry giving guided tours at both public and private heritage sites for a long time and I find that foreign visitors to Ireland are very interested in the Irish struggle for independence. In addition in my time as a re-enactor I have found exactly the same thing. Surprisingly British people in particular are fascinated by it and want to know more after seeing films like The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Michael Collins. In fact the only people who ever got really vocal about the 1913 - 1923 period were elderly Irish people who held very strong political views and felt that any narrative on the period should have come down further either in favour of Dev or Collins etc...

I have heard guides at some sites gloss over the Williamite wars, the war of Independence or the civil war opting instead of a somewhat bland tour concentrating on a basic architectural history with continued references to "The Crown" and no attempt being made to explain who the Crown was or why they built military fortification's in Ireland.

Now the question arises if many heritage sites linked with the 1913 -1923 period refuse to discuss or display the history of this period how do we go about getting suitable venues to re-enact in?
Last edited by bannerman on Sun May 30, 2010 12:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby the_power on Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:02 am

Padraig, this is a wonderful question. And it's not just 'hiding' it; it's a general problem of low quality or 'over summarized' history. Many heritage sites were intentionally dumbed down for the bulk-low-cost-american tourist market that we catered for so well in the 1970s and 1980s. Many haven't been updated since.

One thing the nascent 'Forum for History and Heritage' are looking to do is collect as much heritage site leaflets, tour guide scripts and content as we can get, and put it on a central website to be critically reviewed. Hopefully the end result will be free content for them to use to update their leaflets later. If you'd like to help, drop me an email and I'll put you in contact with the person driving that effort; she lost a job as a tour guide years ago when a park preferred the bus-drivers made-up history more than her take on the real one - so she understands.

Rather than a conspiracy to drop a distastful part of history, I think it's more likely that park owners feel it's too compex to cover in a small leaflet, so don't try. Personally, I think they should cater for the history buff, as well as the ignoramus who just wants to look at impressive looking buildings...so have two leaflets, one a two-sided A5, and the other a 4 page A4 one...

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Re: Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby Dave Mooney on Sat Dec 20, 2008 3:26 pm

Sorry! I was trying to remove my post and wiped Bannermans last one at the same time.
I can’t make it come back but it said:

by bannerman (Posted Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:02 pm)
Thanks John, I look forward to working with the Forum on History and Heritage when its up and running, and the central website with specific heritage site / national monument information is a great idea. Hopefully with the quiet political situation that has existed for the last decade heritage sites wont try to avoid controversial parts of our history when dealing with the Irish public and tourists.

Bringing this back to re-enactments - Im just wandering what other periods of our history are fudged at some heritage sites, what other re-enactment groups find themselves in a similar situation? For example Cromwell seems to disappear from the history of a lot of places as he’s�en as to complex or controversial for the tourists.

Cromwell's troops get a mention at the Cragg as they slighted the Castle there.

Some of it is fudging by the tour guides so as not to ruin the visitors buzz. Some is letting them think they know stuff to not ruin their buzz. Some is just lies!
The use of the term 'Celtic' at most sites is a big sticking point. It's so hard to work with the term and you can see the punters disappointment when you'd prefer to steer clear of the word.

The fact that all castles, inc. 16th Century Gaelic tower houses, were all built by the Normans was a good one this summer. That came from an American bus/self-tour tour guide. Actually I ghosted him around most of the park and he got only one thing right...I can't remember what that was now.

At the East Clare Heritage centre they have this mad bloke (happens to be English) that tells visitors that "there was no famine" and that "the Irish didn't grow crops and grind grain until the English arrived to show them how it was done". I can't remember when this was supposed to have happened but I think they brought a horizontal water driven mill with them. :o He's on a FAS scheme there.

This stuff is down to heritage sites not hiring historians and archaeologists to write and review what's being said and not providing training for the tour guides. I for example don't click with the kids so well (very popular with the older visitors though) and two of the girls I was working with have teacher and/or childcare training. I tried to follow them about to see how they deal with kids but for some reason they found me intimidating and wouldn't let me hear their shpiel in case they were getting the archaeology wrong.

I'm trying to re-write the Craggs script for them and have it stressed tested via the FHH academic section.

Also, from the Heritage Conference we had, and indeed reports from the Clare County Council Heritage section, the punters would much rather see it done that be taken on a 1 hour whistle stop tour of the place. I’m t�ng to radically rethink how we do LHE domos, steering well away for the static museum demos that have become the norm. They’re ok� a GAA pitch but look wrong in an authentic domestic setting.

I’ve splu�d there, sorry. And again sorry bout deleting your post there Padraig.
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Re: Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby knightofredemption on Sat Dec 20, 2008 5:01 pm

I have worked on the Boyne site, and was told "don't mention the war"...not funny. I felt unable to comply with this order and am no longer welcome at this site. Anything that can be done to educate people about the facts of our collective history, devoid of religious or political bias can only be a good thing. As Bannerman found, most people are more than ready for an honest and uncensored look at our history.

Good luck with the new forum John, I look forward to its arrival.
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Re: Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby bannerman on Sat Dec 20, 2008 11:37 pm

Thats alright Dave delete what you want!

The use of the term celtic is a big sticking point

Yes indeed I think the problem there is the changing meaning of the word celtic over time 1st Century "keltoid" meaning mainland European peoples north of the alps. 19th Century to Modern day Celtic refering to the Britain, Ireland and Britany. The six celtic languages etc... Again we shouldent assume that the public are completely stupid and unable to understand this it just takes a minute to qualify and explain the term your using. Idont want to re-open the whole "Was Ireland Celtic in the Iron age? debate here again though so Ill move on. All Ill say Is that archaeology and linguistic archaeology have realy sorted this out.

When i talk about qualifying the term you use ie. Celtic, I do it all the time when i am speaking about the war of Independence at a re-enactment. I explain that the term IRA was used to replace the name Irish Volunteers in the 1916 -1919 period,that they fought a very different campaign to more modern groups who use that three lettered name, that they were the army of the democratically elected irish government from 1919 and that when you first hear those three leters you should dispell the image of a guy with a M16 and a balaclava because im talking about the 1913 - 1923 period and not the post 1969 period. That usually takes the sting out of things and its not too longwinded, It only takes as long to explain as it just took you to read it.

Also the key to keeping the contraversy out - is about keeping it period. When Im doing the 1913 -23 period stuff. I generally stop at the truce of 1921. Im very happy to discuss in depth the civil war but dont really want to re-enact it - as im concentrating on the war of independence. Also when tourists/public ask me about the north/ the troubles / the peace process i simply tell them. "Look at my clothing Im from 1923 none of that stuff has hapened yet!" It usualy gets a laugh and stops and further politics questions. If people persist I simply tell them that im interested in history and not modern politics so id prefer not discuss it.

As for the English fella who says "there was no famine" He was right!!! :shock:
THE COUNTRY WAS AWASH WITH FOOD BUT THE ARISTOCRACY SHIPPED IT ALL OUT!!! This is historical fact I think we all know that and i can produce copies of ships manifests from cork in 1847 if anyone doubts it. Theres all sorts of crazies out there who believe the earth is flat, the holocaust didnt happen, and that the earth is only 4000 years old they sit at home ignore scientific and historical facts and shout abuse at the T.V. whenever it tells them the truth

As to the battle of the Boyne its simple - "The League of Asburg" the Pope and good King Billy were in a military alliance. But it suits some people to believe that there was no one at the Boyne except Irish Catholics dressed in Green {leprechaun style) and English protestants who were all dressed in red [john bull style]. Never mind about the French, Dutch and all the other nationalities these as well. Oh and by the way Patrick Sarsfield was leading the boys in green to fight for an Irish republic. It had nothing to do with a British civil war, a wider European war and a row over who would be king! See above comment ... theres all sorts of crazies....

So basically I think if we know our subjects in depth and are passionate about them, keep following new research and debates we can avoid contraversy and offending resonable, mentally balanced people and maybe even find a way of convincing heritage sites to present all the history concerned. As you said Dave roll on the Forum. If it works as well as it sounds them it should be a step towards solving these problems.

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Re: Hiding history and re-enacting it

Postby Tychsen on Sun Dec 21, 2008 2:16 am

History has to be told warts and all , we can't change the past we can only try and understand it.
The Boyne is one which always makes me chuckle - it is not as clear cut as some folks might want to think - Richard Donerty's excellent book on the Williamite wars is a real eye openner.

As far as the history of Cromwell's military activty and the rising go - why not go for it - we have to stand back and be prepared to lay down any baggage we are carrying - we have to be able to look at things as Cromwell viewed them at his time and not how we view them now .
An excellent question and one which causes me no major pain or discomfort , history is neutral as far as I am concerned and so should our approach be to it.

I think if we are presenting history what we present has to be based on a balanced understanding of the events , the people and the intersts of all concerned - which is why the "traditional" view of "The Battle of the Boyne" is not actually what it was about.
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