The O'Brien Summer School
The O’Brien Summer School (TOBSS) is an educational initiative to make Irish history and heritage more readily accessible to all.
TOBSS organises non-profit events on an ad hoc basis, each event themed around an era or aspect or geographical centre of Irish history. Events normally include both a series of talks and an expert-guided field tour to local sites of historic interest.
TOBSS 2017 Event
In 2017 TOBSS presented ‘The Key and Kingly History of Armagh’, a two-day event on 2-3 September in Armagh, the oldest city in Ireland. There was a seminar day, at the Armagh City Hotel, covering key aspects of the area’s history from ancient to modern, followed by a full day tour of historic locations in and around Armagh. Details of the summer school Programme can be found on the Programme Page of this website.
Corporate Sponsorship of TOBSS
TOBSS has been philanthropically seed-funded and recieved some grants, but more help is always appreciated. Corporate sponsors will be listed on this website. If you would like to support TOBSS with a cash donation, please use any of the payment methods listed under the 'Sponsors' section of this website.
TOBSS is non-profit and non-VAT-registered.
The TOBSS 2017 event took place on 2nd-3rd September 2017. The theme of the event was 'The Key and Kingly History of Armagh'. On Saturday 2nd September there was a full day seminar with eight fascinating talks covering periods of Armagh's history ranging from ancient to modern and on Sunday 3rd September there was a day-long expert-guided tour of local historic sites of interest. The rain early on Sunday made the walk uphill to ancient Navan Fort a challenge for those without umbrellas, but the weather improved thereafter. One of the highlights of the day proved to be a private tour of the storerooms at the Armagh County Museum...packed full of historic objects and documents just begging to be assessed, categorised, restored...or just simply appreciated. When you visit a museum, you are not normally aware that somewhere close by lies a treasure trove that most visitors never get to lay eyes on. How privileged we all felt to explore those hallowed vaults!
King Brian Boru replica sword now on public display!
Having acquired the Official O'Brien Clan Replica of the sword of King Brian Boru, TOBSS Founders agreed with Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council on an indefinite loan of the sword to be displayed for public viewing in Armagh Tourist Information Centre on English Street in the centre of Armagh. An information panel telling the Brian Boru story was created and is displayed alongside the weapon, a formidable two-handed broadsword over 6ft long and weighing 11 lbs. The sword was presented at a handover ceremony which took place on Friday 1st September 2017.
TOBSS Seminar and Tours Programme, 2-3 September 2017
‘The Key and Kingly History of Armagh’
Saturday 2 September 2017 - Seminar day
09:30 Registration opens - outside the Keady Newtownhamilton Room in Armagh City Hotel
09.50 Welcome by TOBSS Founding Patrons
Session 1 - Ancient Armagh
10.00 Keynote Lecture: Professor Emeritus James Mallory, Queens University, Belfast: 'Navan Fort in Context'
In preparation for the Sunday visit to Navan Fort, an attempt will be made to provide a brief survey of the development of the Navan ritual landscape , including the results of the excavations at Haughey’s Fort, the neighbouring Late Bronze Age hillfort, and the ritual deposition at Tamlaght. The basic phases of Navan Fort will be summarized as well as the range of interpretations concerning its monuments and its similarities to other contemporary ritual sites in Ireland. Finally, the problem of its relationship to the “royal sites” of early Irish literature will be addressed.
10:40 Professor Emeritus John Waddell, National University of Ireland, Galway – ‘Macha - The Archaeology of a Goddess’
Macha is the sovereignty goddess associated with ancient Navan Fort (Emain Macha). Her association with horses in early literature suggests she may also have been a horse goddess who had a role to play in kingship rituals at that famous site. In support of this argument this talk will illustrate the widespread ritual importance of the horse in later prehistory in the Celtic-speaking world and indicate the survival of pagan beliefs well into medieval times in Ireland.
Session 2 - Medieval Armagh
11.40 James McKerrow – ‘Early Medieval Ireland – an Ecclesiastical Oddessy’
When Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary bishop, the Western Roman Empire was collapsing. Waves of unlettered tribes were flooding across the Rhine and the Danube and trampling the Pax Romana underfoot. The island of Ireland alone in Western Europe was not invaded, so that the chain reaction of Christian conversion set off by Patrick was able to ground itself in Ireland’s patchwork of over a hundred small kingdoms. Then came the Irish Monastic movement, with the establishment of Abbeys and Convents that became the centres of religious and civic life, with abbots rather than bishops becoming the managers of the church. In the late 6th and early 7th centuries, three Irish Saints became leading missionaries in foreign lands, Columba to Iona in Scotland from where he spread Christianity throughout Celtic Scotland and the north of England; Molua, who did the same for the Picts in the North of Scotland, and Columbanus, the fierce revivalist who took on France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Meanwhile, Armagh became established as the seat of the leading ecclesiastical authority in Ireland. Patrick lit a fuse which transformed Ireland from an illiterate backwater to a land of Saints and Scholars.
12.20 Dr Greer Ramsay, Curator, National Museums: 'The Viking Era of Armagh'
The advent of written records help create a picture of early medieval Armagh – an image of Patrick’s chosen city, blessed with saints and scholars. Objects recovered from the nearby drainage scheme on the River Blackwater, in the 1990s, shed new light on this topic and geographical area. They include fine church metalwork and evidence of Viking raiding and trading.
Session 3 - 17th-18th Century Armagh
14.00 Mr Stephen Day, Vice Chairman of History Armagh: '18th Century Armagh and the Architectural Legacy of Archbishop Richard Robinson'
The Nine Years War (1594-1603) and the Irish Rebellion (1641-1653) brought great destruction to Armagh City but the war between King William III and King James II (1688-1691) proved to be the end of major land warfare in Ireland. The intermittent and significant violence of these three periods had left its mark on Armagh and hindered its development but from 1700 onwards there was a sustained period of relative peace and stability which allowed the city to recover and grow. On the ‘Ancient Hill of Armagh’ the development and improvement of the Cathedral received priority but thoughts also turned to the development and building of other administrative and private dwellings. By 1764 the city was much recovered but it was the arrival of Archbishop Richard Robinson (Primate of all Ireland 1765-1794) which led to the creation of a number of elegant Georgian buildings which set the standard for others to follow. His vision and influence in the architectural heritage of Armagh is still very evident to this day.
14.40 Dr Andrew Charles – ‘A Battle Beyond the Boyne – the Birth and Impact of the Orange Institution in the 18th Century’
The Armagh disturbances of the late 18th Century reached a climax with a 'Battle' near Loughgall in the North of the County. The disputed origins, events and aftermath of the proclaimed 'Battle of the Diamond' saw the birth and development of an organisation that would soon spread and have an impact far beyond the borders of the Orchard County.
Session 4 - 19th-20th Century Armagh
15.40 Dr Raymond Gillespie, Maynooth University – ‘The Farm by Knocknamuckley’
This talk explores the history of north Armagh in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the history of one farm in the townland of Knocknamuckley. While most historians complain of the lack of sources the local stories of nineteenth century Ireland are abundantly documented and this study could well act as a template for those who wanted to study the history of other farms in Armagh and elsewhere. What is most striking about this story is the lack of drama: landlords are not murdered, tenants did not revolt and local strategies were devised to deal with the national issues that impacted on the locality such as the Ulster Covenant. In that sense the story of this farm provides a corrective to the usual narrative of violence and the struggle over land in the late nineteenth century.
16.20 Dr Éamon Phoenix, political historian and commentator and member of the Taoiseach's Expert Advisory Group on Centenaries – ‘Armagh and the Struggle for Independence, 1916-21’
This talk will deal with the impact of the Irish Revolution on the city and county of Armagh from the impact of the Easter Rising on both communities though the rise of Sinn Fein, the Ulster Special Constabulary, Partition and the 1921 Treaty. Key themes will include the reactions in Armagh to the threat of partition, the South Armagh by-election of 1918 and the roles of such key revolutionary figures as Michael Collins (elected for Armagh to the Second Dail) and Frank Aiken (commander of the Fourth Northern IRA division).
17.00 Closing Remarks by Sir Conor O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin, The O'Briain
Sunday 3 September 2017 - Tours Day
09.30 Depart for Ancient Navan Fort
09.45 Expert Guided Tour of Navan Fort
(Professor Emeritus James Mallory, Queens University, Belfast)
11.00 Free time to explore the ‘Navan Centre’ or take tea/coffee in the cafe
11.30 Depart for The Ancient Hill of Armagh
11.45 Expert Guided Walking Tour of The Ancient Hill’s Attractions
(medieval and 18th century) – Stephen Day, Vice Chairman of History Armagh
13.00 Lunch Break
14.00 Armagh County Museum – Introduction by Dr Sean Barden, Curatorial Services Officer, time to explore the public galleries and a private guided tour of the Storerooms.
15.45 Depart for the 18th century neo-classical Archbishop’s Palace and Chapel in the 300 acre Palace Demesne Park. The Palace is now the Council headquarters.
16.00 Time to view the Palace and Chapel and stroll the park/gardens
16.25 Depart for St Patrick’s Cathedral
16.30 St Patrick’s Cathedral (The Great Church), where there will be time to view the plaque that commemorates the final resting place of King Brian Boru, outside the Cathedral, along with the sculpture of King Brian’s head in the Cathedral gardens
16.45 The Dean, the Very Reverend Gregory Dunstan will honour the memory of King Brian Boru, inside the Cathedral
17.00 Return to Armagh City Hotel