Summary of Irish History Circle Meeting June 2017.

Melody of Lovely Leitrim

A lively night, as usual, was held on the third Monday of June at the Irish History Circle’s meeting on Third floor of the Celtic Club.

First up was Brian Gillespie with a story of Phil Fitzpatrick who emigrated from Leitrim in the 1920’s and became a mounted patrolman in New York.
Shot while taking on some robbers in 1947 he died of his wounds having never had the opportunity to return to his beloved birthplace. Phil was a bit of a poet and songwriter. He had written a song where he dreamt that he returned and journeyed through the county of his birth.

Fast forward to the mid-sixties and a singer from county Cavan who was popular in the border counties called Larry Cunningham took a liking to this song he had come across.

Thinking it was too old fashioned to sell, he decided to record it on the B side of his latest record which was a cover version of a Jim Reeves song. It had modest success rising briefly to number three on the Irish charts before falling away. However, a popular radio show of that time was ‘Hospital Requests’ where people wrote in and had a song played as a get well wish to a loved one in a hospital.

People started asking for ‘Lovely Leitrim’ by Larry Cunningham. Other Radio shows gave it air time. This revived the record on the back of its B side song. It rose to No.1 knocking the Beatles off. It made an international star out of Larry as it sold well in the UK and USA. On a tour of the States Larry performed to an audience filled with ‘New York’s finest’ and included Phil Fitzpatrick’s widow and son. The response to the song that night was he had to sing it five times.

Phil might only have returned to his ‘Lovely Leitrim’ only in his dreams, but he left a legacy that has endured through this beautiful song.

The purpose of telling this piece of social history was to highlight the power of storytelling when making a presentation. It grabs attention, can revive concentration, give a change of pace when delivering a lengthy paper. All the great speakers used this technique, Lincoln, Luther-King, Churchill etc. Short sentences, modulated delivery with good use of a pause. How you open and grab your audience and how you close are important.

In essence, a good presentation relies on Process as much as Content.


The Main Speaker, Renée Huish, spoke on ‘Irish Identity in the Modern World’.

This was a well researched and thought provoking presentation. It took the audience from the culture of ancient Ireland to the present day where Ireland has a respected place on the world stage.

Unknown-1.jpegFar from being a primitive race in pre-Christian times, Ireland was an organised society where leaders of the four provinces would meet at Tara to sort out differences and explore solutions. Ireland had a G4 3000 years before Christ!

In between we have had to evolve, responding to Christianity, various invasions, the Reformation and Inquisition. Renée argued that cultural identity is not static, growing and developing from its origins as the world around us changes.

Mary Robinson referred to Tara as a swinging door that gave balance to this ancient culture. With the arrival of Christianity the monks became the history writers and all feminine aspects of culture were removed as the monastic system took control.

Maud Gonne’s famous enactment of Kathleen ni Houlihan in Yeats’s play.

After centuries of oppression and Famine, the late nineteenth century saw a revival of Celtic spirit. The portrayal of women, though, fell short as they were seen as either the old woman whose sons were prepared to be martyrs for Ireland, or as Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Mother Ireland trying to find her voice. The reality is the many examples of active participation by women in the many struggles of the times. In the ‘new’ Ireland post-1922, the constitution even described a woman’s role as a homemaker. In the twentieth century we evolved through much pain to a society that Mary Robinson described as inclusive and tolerant.

Today 70 million people around the world claim Irish identity. Signs of a pluralist society are there. We decriminalised homosexuality, recognised  same sex marriage, divorce, higher education etc.,

Renee challenged us to respect our ancestors and through this take our place in the modern world as active citizens encouraging co-operation and inclusiveness.

July meeting notice.

Next meeting of the Irish History Circle is  17 July 2017
Third floor, Celtic Club, 316-320 Queen St., Melbourne
Main speaker is Bernie Brophy  who will talk on ‘The Orange Order Parades’