60 at Roscrea: Celebrating the Roscrea Conference at Mt St Joseph Abbey, 1987-2017
edited by George Cunningham (The Roscrea People; 300 copies numbered and signed; nos 1-150 h/b, €40, and 150 Card covers, nos 151-300, €20; p/p €5 within Ireland.)
Ireland is truly lucky for a small island to have so many excellent local historians/archaeologists, and George Cunningham of Roscrea in North Tipperary is undoubtedly one of the finest.
Not only did he complete a successful M.Litt. on the Anglo-Norman advance in the South West Midlands, supervised by me in 1985 in Trinity College, Dublin, followed few years later by an Honorary Masters in NUI Maynooth, and he has just been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Limerick.
He has presided over one of the most successful local conferences in contemporary Ireland at the Cistercian monastery and school at Mount St Joseph, Roscrea.
This volume celebrates 60 of these meetings, from 1987, when George retired from teaching, until this year. This is a remarkable achievement by any reckoning, and nearly everyone working in medieval studies in Ireland, in addition to many medievalists in Britain and beyond, have had the honour of speaking at different Roscrea conferences to a jam-packed audience.
The book itself is richly illustrated, with many coloured photographs on nearly every page of its 186 pages of text. It is divided into six sections, each one fascinating in its own right.
There is so much of interest throughout these sections that it is not possible to cover each of them in the same detail in this current review. But the present author found the early history of the monastery in Part One particularly illuminating, illustrated by many historic photographs.
It was particularly interesting to see the earliest black-and-white photographs of the interior life of the community from its foundation in 1878 up through the early years of the twentieth century, and to marvel at the size of the community in 1946, of around 146 members.
There has also been a run of publications associated with the conferences, too, including A Carnival of Learning in 2012 made up of 22 essays in honour of George Cunningham, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the conference.
The wonderful review by Aideen Ireland of this book, and copied in this current volume, indicates the really wide remit of the papers that have been given at the different conferences to date.
In the medieval world the Church, and particularly the religious orders, would have been the main centres of education and learning. So it is remarkable that this has been continued into the present century at the Cistercian community at Mt St Joseph in Roscrea, led by this remarkable visionary George Cunningham, ably supported by his dear wife, Carmel. There is so much in this book that anyone who has an interest in medieval Ireland, social and religious, should not hesitate to purchase it immediately.
Terry Barry, emeritus professor of history at Trinity College, Dublin, is a leading authority on medieval Ireland.