Hi, my name is Terry Dunne and I write the scripts of, and narrate, the podcasts on Peelers and Sheep: Rebel Tales from the Land.
The peelers and the sheep featured in the Meath and Kildare farm labour strike of 1919 – farm labourers were described by one historian as the forgotten men of Irish history. The Drumree incident — the peelers and the sheep — comes from a space that is marginal in popular memory.
It resonates with me personally as I am descended from agricultural wage workers and from part of the country – south Kildare – where they formed a large part of the population. But this wasn’t always the history I grew up with – as a teenager I read books like Tom Barry’s Guerrilla Days in Ireland, Dan Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom, Ernie O’Malley’s On Another Man’s Wound and The Singing Flame.
This is the image of the Irish Revolution that engulfed the decade from 1913 to 1923 – an image of raids and ambushes and assassinations – a purely militaristic and simply nationalistic image – and one that has been little challenged in the current Decade of Commemorations. The point is not that these are bad books – they are not – the point is this is a partial view, that represents some things, and leaves other things out.
Left out is the revolution as a time of mass mobilisation — and left out with it is the revolution as a time of the continuation of the agrarian social conflicts of earlier decades. Agriculture was the major industry for most of Ireland for most of the modern period. Agriculture was a central aspect of the lived experience of ordinary lives.
Agriculture was the setting for the most significant social conflicts and social movements from the mid-eighteenth century into the twentieth-century. It is today the most obvious interface between society and ecology and as such is making the twenty-first century.
I have been in a very different “field” though and between the ages of eight and thirty-eight I was never near a tractor. I have a Ph.D. in sociology from the National University of Ireland – Maynooth. My doctoral thesis analysed threatening letters – a form of media used to issue demands in nineteenth-century agrarian social conflicts. Threatening letters are among the earliest documentary sources we have coming from what we might very colloquially call the common people.
My more academic work has been published in journals such as Critical Historical Studies, Éire-Ireland, Saothar and Rural History. I have also written on my research for more accessible publications such as History Ireland, Rabble, Journal of the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland and Old Kilkenny Review. You can read the Rural History article here and you can see me talk about the research that went into that article here . A full publications list is here.
I support public history and was formerly the chairperson of Castledermot Local History Group. My most recent teaching gig was in adult education with Ballyfermot-Chapelizod Partnership — adult/community education is a rewarding opportunity to learn with people.
As well as these scholarly interests I have a more practical interest in working the land and pictured is me helping on a friend’s organic fruit and vegetable small-holding in the West of Ireland —something I do quite a bit.
I also have a practical interest in movements —most notably spending two years with Rossport Solidarity Camp and Shell to Sea —helping residents of a remote corner of the West of Ireland oppose a gas pipeline and refinery.
So what you’ll get here is historical research —but it is historical research informed by social memory —the memory passed down from previous generations —and it is historical research informed by practical involvements in organic agriculture and environmental campaigning.
It is moreover historical research made to serve sociological goals — what we are looking at here is not just stories from the past but a picture of how society changes over the long-term.