Launch of Hidden Gems & Forgotten People Project – National Library of Ireland Dublin – 8 October 2015
Special Guest, President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins
By Larry Breen
The History Federations of Ireland, Federation for Ulster Local Studies and Federation of Local History Societies recently joined together to launch an important development in their Hidden Gems & Forgotten People Project. A large audience of local historians and guests gathered in the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin, for a very special and unique occasion. President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, was the honoured guest as he launched a specially commissioned set of Hidden Gems & Forgotten People displays specifically designed to help promote the project.
President Higgins was met by the welcoming party comprising Richard Ryan, Chairman FLHS, Johnny Dooher, Chairman FULS and Dr. Sandra Collins, Director of the NLI. A capacity crowd filled the NLI seminar room to see the President view the exhibition, deliver his address and officially launch the project.
A short summary of his address is as follows. He said and I quote; “Your two federations, constitute an incredible national network that does valuable work in organising local events, lectures and visits as well as joint activities in Ireland and the UK.” Talking about history he remarked what Jane Austin had said through one of her characters in Northanger Abbey, “History, real solemn history I cannot be interested in. Give me rather a more inclusive history that tells the stories of local places and ordinary people- a history that includes the stories of women – in short, a history which is made up of the stories of all our lives.” He felt that this was at the heart of our Hidden Gems & Forgotten People Project. He was well informed on the project commenting on Carrickfergus born Sean Lester, the Killeen in Ballycar, Co. Clare the scene of his childhood and also on the home of Domhnall Ua Buachalla, last Governor General. He complimented the simple format approach which he said “would encourage contributions from people other than just academics”. He then acknowledged specifically the contribution made by Pat Devlin and John Hulme FULS and Larry Breen FLHS for the key role they play in the development and management of the project.
His final words were, “I wish you the very best for this wonderful project, which I hope we will see develop and grow, Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir, (Thank you very much.)”
The full text of the President’s Address is HERE
Johnny Dooher, Chairman FULS
The chairpersons of both Federations, Richard Ryan and Johnny Dooher, responded with a common message praising the long history of friendship, sharing and co-operation that existed between both Federations and which had endured over many years and had stood the test of time. The Hidden Gems project, they said, exemplified the fruits of working together to promote local history study throughout the whole island of Ireland. Both spoke of the wealth of local history to be found in every community, urban and rural, and the fact that this project offered us all the opportunity to record and preserve this for future generations. They complimented President Higgins on his own keen interest in local history and heritage and thanked him for giving of his time to launch the project.
There then followed a presentation on behalf of the History Federations by Larry Breen of the FLHS to President Higgins. This was a specially framed copy of a Hidden Gem/Forgotten Person in appreciation of the President’s visit. The story behind the presentation was an interesting one as it was about a forgotten person, Willie Clune, who had taught the President at the national school in Ballycar, Co. Clare. This teacher was an extraordinary man who is credited with having a significant influence on the President as a boy and in fact inspiring Michael D Higgins on his later crusade for social justice for all. The President was visibly touched by the presentation as was his wife Sabina and was extremely grateful for the nature of the gift.
President Higgins then returned to the exhibition and spent more time looking at the displays in greater detail sharing his thoughts with those nearby. He then enjoyed a “cuppa” while mixing and socialising with all present for a considerable time. We then said goodbye to President Higgins who had left us all with fond memories of a memorable visit. After that there was an opportunity for old friends and new to catch up with each other on all the news whilst still sharing a “cuppa” in a most convivial atmosphere.
Thanks go to everyone who attended. We had a terrific turn out with 90 – 100 people attending from all over the country from as far afield as Waterford and Derry (Londonderry) representing both Hidden Gems & Forgotten People contributors and members from many history societies around the country.
It proved once again to be another success story for both Federations working together in the common cause of promoting local history across the island.