Question of Taste: Padraig Lenihan, history lecturer at NUIG

Padraig Lenihan lectures in history at the National University of Ireland Galway, and will be one of the contributors to the special Talking History show live from Galway on Sunday at 7pm on Newstalk. Before his academic career, Lenihan was in the army where he attained the rank of captain.

Best recent book you’ve read: Tana French’s Broken Harbour.

The one recently-published history book everybody should read is... I must confess a personal stake here, but the recently launched four-volume Cambridge History of Ireland is priced beyond reach of the private individual but if the volume I am reading at the moment is typical, it is very impressive.

Best recent film: Get Out, an uneasy blend of social critique, satire, horror, suspense thriller, and black comedy.

Best recent show/gig you’ve seen: Gilbert O’Sullivan in Leisureland.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old): A 1980s compilation CD made up by my daughter for playing in the car, Madness, The Smiths, Men at Work and so on. Thanks Cora!

First ever piece of music or art or book that really moved you: Seán Ó Faoláin’s biography of Hugh O’Neill early of Tyrone. I remember the yellowing wartime economy paper. It is bad history but great art.

His present-centred nationalism cannot help seeing the subject as a towering and enigmatic figure among squabbling pygmies and he falls for the Tudor picture of Gaelic primitives lurking in the vast woods that apparently blanketed the country.

But the sheer power and beauty of the writing conjure up that world, or Ó Faoláin’s version of it, and drew me to that time of transition in Irish history.

Tell us about your TV viewing: Old box sets with a worrying preference for crime; gentle English series like Foyle’s War in which the suspect obligingly confesses at the end and wraps up the whole, The Sopranos of course, and the three seasons of Fargo to date with their nasty surprises and fumbling attempts at black comedy.

As to television, I have really enjoyed Ireland’s Deep Atlantic, the presenter is very engaging and the photography superlative.

Radio listening and/or podcasts: Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Times podcasts for BBC Radio 4 presents a wonderful variety of topics with lively and interesting discussion.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history – where, when, and why? I could travel back to Aughrim Castle in Co Galway at around six o’clock on (what was then) the twelfth of July 1691.

I would cheat in my time travel by bringing a belt-fed machine gun with me and mounting it on the bawn wall.

There I would fire off a few belts at the Williamite cavalry slowly advancing across the togher, just in front of me, where the Irish have left a gap in their lines. Then hop back into my time machine and scoot out of there.

Your best celebrity encounter: I heard Arthur Scargill address a public meeting, some years ago now. I can recall the substance, what he had to say about the coal industry, economics, immigration, the race-to-the-bottom, but what really stays with me is his oratorical skill.

I felt I was listening to someone whose oratorical style had been formed by a tradition coming from the trade unionists of the Victorian era.

Do you have any interesting ancestors or family? My area of interest is 17th century Irish history and I have found not a single reference to anyone of my paternal surname. A Cork family, they were transplanted to Co Clare during the Cromwellian times.

My mother’s people, the O’Flahertys of Iar Connacht, were rather better known: they ended up being driven even further west in the 1650s to the rocks, blanket bog and seaweed of Cois Fharraige.

My aunt and godmother Mary O’Rourke is certainly interesting, lively and astute: I can never can predict what she is going to say in an interview. Brian Lenihan who served as Minister for Finance after the crash was a cousin and a friend: we were close in age and interests.

My dad, Paddy, was a county councillor in Roscommon, aligned loosely with Neil Blayney and others who were disaffected by what they saw as Fianna Fáil’s neglect or betrayal of ‘our people’ (Nationalists) in Northern Ireland.

Unsung hero – individual or group who don’t get the profile/praise they deserve:

People who volunteer, especially with and for children and young people — roles are becoming increasingly

burdensome, not least because of greater parental involvement and, dare I say, over-involvement.

Des O’Driscoll


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