The Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement and its South Kildare meeting, 5-7 May 2017.

The Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement

South Kildare meeting, 5-7 May 2017

Michael Byrne

Welcome to the South Kildare Conference on Friday 5 May from Kildare County Council

The Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement (GSIHS) was founded by Dr Robin Glasscock, then of Queen’s, in 1969. We are now talking of a celebratory conference in Dublin in 2019 to mark that occasion. GSIHS can rightly be proud of all that it has achieved over the last forty-eight years. Not only has it held together but it has gone from strength to strength. The aim of the Group was clearly set out at its inaugural meeting and was often repeated in the bulletins and newsletters of the 1970s.

GSIHS South Kildare conference 5-7 May 2017 - Copy

The three principal aims still are:

  1. to produce and circulate useful information concerning Irish historic settlement.
  2. to promote and co-ordinate studies of particular aspects of settlement
  3. to express opinions on matters of historic settlement which are of national and local concern, and, where necessary, to press for action.

The Group annual meeting has been successful for a variety of reasons. First, it has always believed in an inter-disciplinary approach and in its publications and meetings has avoided a too narrow and off-putting specialism. Yet the annual meeting has always combined a high level of expertise with a warm friendliness towards all who attend, be he or she a professor in a history department or a rank and file member of a local historical society. Everyone who attends is valued for what they can contribute to settlement studies.

Like another great event, the National Ploughing Festival (which has its home in Athy and has supported this conference) GSIHS has insisted on going about the country and to a different province each year so as to kindle enthusiasm for the aims of the organisation and build on the amateur and voluntary effort in so many historical and archaeological societies. The task of circulating useful information has been made easier by technology while curiously it may be more difficult to get people to travel to a weekend such as ours. Yet the effort is worthwhile for the friendships made and learning uncovered. The farmer going to the annual ploughing event learned that years ago.


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The South Kildare programme for 5-7 May 2017

Another reason to make the pilgrimage to South Kildare is to honour the memory of Lord Walter Fitzgerald (1858-1923) who gave the last forty years of his life to his historical and genealogical pursuits, not excluding folklore, place-names and archaeology. Fitzgerald was a founder member of the Kildare Archaeological Society in 1891 and was its secretary for thirty years. Under him the journal of that society flourished. He was no antiquarian in the pejorative sense of that word. It is good to see that our members Con Manning and Ray Gillespie both now contribute greatly to that Society, as they have and continue to do for GSISH. Another with Kildare leanings and a regular contributor both to our meetings and to our bulletins is Dr Arnold Horner. In the mould of Fitzgerald (save that noble lord was unmarried) is that great team of Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber who will be speaking at our South Kildare conference on the Annals of  Ballitore. They have been coming to Ireland since the 1960s and must rank among the great icons for our organisation. One could say the same of others who have served the Group well over many years. Our thanks also to the other speakers at the Carlow-based South Kildare weekend including Gillian Barrett, Sharon Greene, Annejulie Lafaye and Peter Connell. I also wish to thank Kildare County Council and in particular its heritage officer, Brigid McLoughlin. I believe that GSIHS should continue to work closely with the county heritage officers and the Heritage Council to build a county network for GSIHS throughout the country and to use the best of the social media tools to get our message across.

Some of the speakers at the Ballina conference in May 2016

A read through the newsletters (now online) since the 1970s is to be reminded of the progress in settlement studies; of the gigantic contribution of members such as Ray Gillespie and Bernadette Cunningham and of officers of the Group in the past such as Michael Hanrahan and Niamh Crowley. One recalls too great weekends such as those at Youghal, Carnlough, Bantry, Portumna and Ballina last year. My first introduction to the Group was back in 1972 when the annual meeting was held in Athlone and the Offaly-based committee member was Fr Conor McGreevy (of the booming voice and a former secretary of Offaly History) and local friends included Billy English and Harman and Ann Murtagh.

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Seamus Corcoran demonstrates the use of the quern with a very early wheat variety.

I did not yet mention two other speakers at the South Kildare conference, Charles Doherty and Margaret Murphy. GSIHS is delighted to have them in such major roles on our committee. It would be fair to say that not much would happen without Margaret who has proved to be an excellent secretary general for GSIHS. For the last few years we have been favoured with a hard-working committee comprised of Margaret, David Fleming (treasurer) James Lyttleton, Rachel Tracey, Matthew Stout, Geraldine Stout, David Kelly, Charlie Doherty, Linda Shine and Paul MacCotter. It is good that we hold our committee meetings at the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Merrion Square. The house is home to settlement inquiry for 100 years this year and, of course, was founded in 1849. It is also home to Lord Walter Fitzgerald’s archive.

Participants at the Ballina conference in May 2016 with the table set for dinner on Saturday evening after two book launches

Books published by GSIHS

All can be read at the Offaly History Centre, Tullamore, 10 -4 Mon-Fri. and Thursday from 7.30pm

B. J. Graham, Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland (Belfast, 1985), Irish Settlement Studies, 1

C. T. Cairns, Irish tower houses: a Co. Tipperary case study (Belfast, 1987), Irish Settlement Studies, 2

Rolf Loeber, The geography and practice of English colonisation in Ireland from 1534 to 1690 (Belfast, 1991), Irish Settlement Studies, 3

Brian J. Graham and Lindsay J. Proudfoot, Urban improvement in provincial Ireland (Athlone, 1994), Irish Settlement Studies, 4

Matthew Stout, The Irish Ringfort (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1997), Irish Settlement Studies, 5

T.B. Barry (ed.), A history of settlement in Ireland (London, Routledge, 2000)

Patrick Duffy, David Edwards and Liz Fitzpatrick (eds), Gaelic Ireland c.1250 c.1650: land lordship and settlement (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2001)

James Lyttleton and Tadhg O’Keeffe (eds), The manor in medieval and early modern Ireland (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005)

Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and Raymond Gillespie (eds), The parish in medieval and early modern Ireland (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2006)

Linda Doran and James Lyttleton (eds), Lordship in medieval Ireland: image and reality (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2008)

James Lyttleton and Colin Rynne (eds), Plantation Ireland: settlement and material culture, c.1550-c.1770 (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2009)

Matthew Stout and Margaret Murphy (eds), Agriculture and settlement in Ireland (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2015)

Bernadette Cunningham and Harman Murtagh (eds), Lough Ree: historic lakeland settlement (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2015)


So get yourself to the Carlow-based South Kildare meeting for all that is best in regional interdisciplinary studies.

Booking at

GSIHS South Kildare conference 5-7 May 2017 - Copy