The Story of Cannes and its wee festival – The History Show, 5 May.


Since the Cannes Film Festival first started in the 1930s, it has become the major annual meeting place for the international film industry as billionaire actors, porn stars and art house directors throw shapes and sell their wares on the coastline of this glamorous French city.


I’ll be talking to film lecturer and History Show regular, Steven Benedict, about Cannes and the movies.


Of course, Cannes was around for a long time before the festival itself and joining us to give us a potted history of the city will be Trinity College historian, Laura O’Brien.


Up to the early part of the nineteenth century Cannes was just a small town that was best known for only for two things: fishing, and a large prison on a nearby off-shore island. This had once paid host to the infamous ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ during the late 17th century.


Cannes owes its popularity as a tourist destination to the deadly disease of cholera and to a Scot! In 1834 Henry Brougham, the British Lord Chancellor and erstwhile campaigner against the slave trade, was bringing his daughter Eleanor-Louise to Italy. However, because of a cholera outbreak the Italian border was temporarily closed. Brougham had no choice but to remain in France and spent the night in Cannes. So enchanted was he with the town that he built a holiday home in the area. His house-warming party attracted the great and the good of fashionable London and Cannes was on its way.



Brougham, or 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux to give him his full title, died in Cannes in 1868 and is buried there. He has a street named after him and merits a large statue near the Palais des Festivals. He also has a type of carriage named after him, which he either designed or, more likely, inspired.


The further development of Cannes as a resort was aided by an influx of Russian aristocrats, not to be confused with the new 21st century Russian aristocracy which tends to favour the Costa del Sol. But it was the spread of the railway system that finally turned Cannes into one of the premier resorts in Europe. As the French network spread to the south of the country and to the Cote d’Azur you could travel there from France by the early 1860s in a rapid twenty-two hours. Unacceptable today but lightning fast in 1863. Sadly, this also had the effect of making Cannes accessible to the Parisian hoi polloi, a serious blow to the aristocrats who had been having a hard time from the sans culottes since the invention of the guillotine. Ah Quel dommage!


Cannes overtook Nice as a chic holiday destination in the 1920s and 30s when many American movie stars like Fairbanks, Chaplin and Valentino were drawn to the city.  The Film Festival was, in part at least, a response to the awarding of the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1938, to the Leni Riefenstahl Nazi-fest film of the Berlin Olympics of 1936, Olympia and an Italian film produced by Mussolini’s son. In the process Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion was ignored by the jury. The first Cannes Film Festival was to have taken place on 1 September 1939. Many major American filmmakers were due to attend. But Hitler had other ideas. The German invasion of Poland forced the cancellation of the Festival after one night, so 1946 is the official start date.


The sequence of Cannes festivals has not been unbroken, however, since that date. There were no events in 1948 or 1950. The 1968 festival was closed down as ‘les evenments’ (political riots to you and me) proceeded in Paris.


With a budget of over €20m the Festival is now one of a number of film and TV events staged annually in Cannes, but for glamour and regular controversy it generally leaves local and international rivals and pretenders in the shade.





On this day – 3 May, 1916

The Easter Rising executions begin


It was never going to be much more than a futile gesture to begin with, but few of those in the know, who gathered in Dublin on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 for Irish Volunteer manoueuvers, would have expected the rebellion they had planned to last as long as a week.  The failure of the German steamer the Aud to land 25,000 rifles and a million rounds of ammunition on Good Friday, the arrest of Roger Casement in Kerry and the decision of Volunteer commander Eoin MacNeill to countermand the order for units to assemble on Easter Sunday, had lengthened the odds against the Easter Rising being anything other than a brief skirmish. That it lasted almost a week was down to British incompetence as much as it was to Irish luck or pluck.

Matters weren’t helped for the rebels by the British soldier taken prisoner in the GPO in the first moments of the rebellion, who subsequently managed to get hold of a bottle of whiskey and get himself stupendously drunk. He was a constant irritant to Volunteers who had other things on their mind. Two Swedish sailors, whose ship was in port, were seized by the moment and pledged to join in the Irish revolution. Their offer was, however, conditional. Would the rebellion be over by Thursday, as their ship was sailing on that day? Their spirited, but circumscribed, assistance was declined.

Two myths among many. Patrick Pearse did not read the proclamation of the Irish republic from the steps of the General Post Office. He read it from in front of the building. The GPO, then, and now, doesn’t have any steps. The document he was reading bore the signatures of the members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. But it was not their death warrant. The document Pearse was reading was of no use to a prosecutor even in a drumhead court-martial, as the names were printed. The authorities would have had to produce a signed original for it to be of any assistance.

Most of the fatalities incurred, as the British sought to take back the city of Dublin, were civilians, more than 250 of them. More than thirty of those were under the age of sixteen. 64 members of the Volunteers or the Irish Citizens Army lost their lives, as did 116 British soldiers. Most of those were from the Sherwood Foresters, picked off on Mount Street Bridge by a small unit sent from Bolands Mills by Commandant Eamon De Valera, to guard this route to the GPO. When the Forester’s landed in Kingstown – now Dun Laoghaire – they were surprised to hear people speaking English. They assumed they’d just landed in wartime France.

The courts-martial began almost immediately after the surrender on Saturday 29 April. First up, on 2 May, before a tribunal chaired by the distinctively named General C.G.Blackader, was the man designated by the British as ‘Prisoner No.1’, Patrick Pearse. Prosecuting attorney was a young Irish barrister and Territorial Army officer William E.Wylie. There was no defence counsel. Not that a man as eloquent as Pearse required one. The Volunteer commander impressed Blackader by asking that he, and he alone, be shot. His wish was not granted. He was one of fourteen men executed in Kilmainham jail over a nine-day period. One of the others was his younger brother Willie. He might have escaped execution – he was a minor figure in the Rising at best – had he not invited the death penalty by claiming to have been a far more influential figure than he actually was.

At dawn on the morning of 3 May, 1916 Pearse, accompanied by the old Fenian Tom Clarke and fellow poet Thomas McDonagh, were marched from their cells into the yard of Kilmainham jail. All three were shot by military firing squad 97 years ago, on this day.


The History Show, 28 April 2013

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Love and marriage in medieval Ireland



This week France became the 14th country to approve a law allowing for same sex marriage and adoption rights.  And of course, our own recent constitutional convention voted in favour of holding a referendum on this issue.

These marriages will be purely civil in nature as same sex unions are against the teachings of Christian churches.

So, how long ago did marriage became a sacred act and how have our attitudes to formal unions changed and  progressed down through the centuries?

I’ll be talking to   historian Gillian Kenny about the laws and practices surrounding marriage in medieval Ireland, and finding out, among other things, how you could divorce your husband if he got too fat. 

1641 – Massacre or myth? – The History Show, 28 April – Dr.Eamon Darcy

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‘About Candlemas 1641 a great number of Protestants were, by the means of & instigation of one Jane Hampskin, formerly a protestant, but a mere Irish woman & lately turned to Mass … forced and thrust into a thatched house within the Parish of Kilmore. Then and there (the protestants being almost naked, only covered in part with rags …) the same house was by that bloody virago Jane Hampskin and her barbarous assistants: set on fire in several parts thereof: and the poor imprisoned parties being by armed parties kept there locked in, then and there miserably & barbarously burned to death & and at length the house fell upon them.’

(Deposition of Joanne Constable, Drummade, Co.Armagh)


On 23 October 1641 two forces travelled through the night to seize key fortifications across the north of Ireland and Dublin castle. While the latter attempt, to take over the central administration in Ireland failed, northern rebels led by Sir Phelim O’Neill successfully captured many plantation towns and forts and posed a serious and sustained challenge to colonial authority in Ireland. What happened next is the subject of much controversy. Did a massacre of Protestants in Ireland take place? If so, was it premeditated? Who was to blame? Eamon Darcy’s book, The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, addresses how the mythology of massacre circulated in Ireland during the 1640s and gained currency in the decades that followed, gradually leading to the political disenfranchisement of Ireland’s Catholic population.

 One of the lasting consequences of the rebellion was the official decision to take evidence from the alleged victims of Catholic massacres, mostly in Ulster. We’ve already heard from the deposition of a woman called Joanne Constable, or Drummade in Co.Armagh. Here is some more of what she told the authorities.


‘The outcries, lamentations & screechings of these poor martyred persons were exceeding loud & pitiful yet did nothing prevail nor mollify the hardened harts of their murderers But they most boldly made brags thereof & took pride and glory in imitating these cries: & in telling the deponent and others how the children gaped when the fire began to burn them & threatened and told her … that before it were Long she & the rest of the Protestants that were left alive should suffer the like deaths: Howbeit for this deponent’s own part, The great god almighty afforded her a way by which she escaped.

And further saith that the Rebells within the County of Armagh: betwixt the time of the beginning of the present Rebellion, and her escape from imprisonment out of the said County of Armagh did act and commit divers other bloody barbarous & devilish murders and cruelties upon the protestants in that County by fire, drowning, hanging, the sword, starving & other fearful deaths And in particular, they drowned at one time at the bridge of Portadown, one hundred & fifty six Protestants … ‘

Dr. Eamon Darcy will be talking about the 1641 rebellion and the depositions housed in Trinity College, Dublin on The History Show on Sunday, 28 April. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms is published by Boydell and Brewer.


Search the depositions at

The Irish in Australia, The History Show, Sunday 28 April.


The battle of Vinegar Hill, 1804 – an Irish convict rebellion in Australia

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The Irish relationship with Australia began around the time of the landing of the first convict ships  in Botany Bay in 1788 and the riotous creation of the first British penal colony in Australia. Many more transportees followed until one by one the states of Australia refused to accept any more convict ships. By then 25,000 Irish male and female prisoners had been sent to the colony.  In addition to those transported for crimes as insignificant as stealing bread to keep their families alive, many others migrated to the Antipodes, with or without assistance, in the hope of improving their lives. A huge percentage were Irish. Some of their stories have been captured in a new book Undaunted: the Irish in Australia by John Wright. He’ll be joining me to talk about the Irish colony there, as will Dr.Ruan O’Donnell, University of Limerick historian.

We’ll hear about …

Alexander Pearce, from Monaghan – the cannibal convict


Ned Kelly, the colony’s most famous outlaw, and his Irish nemesis Justice Redmond Barry


as well as the tragic expedition of Burke and Wills, Bridget Partridge (‘The Runaway nun’) and others.