Early starts and late launches, lectures, laughs

Serious concerns: Diarmaid Ferriter in his office at UCD. photograph: dave meehan

Serious concerns: Diarmaid Ferriter in his office at UCD. photograph: dave meehan


My Education Week: Diarmaid Ferriter,Professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin


I spend Saturdays in UCD, moving between the office and the library, as it’s quiet and you can get a clear run at things. Today, I’m ploughing through the McAleese report on the Magdalene laundries, to prepare a newspaper opinion piece and for an RTÉ radio interview. I also have to write an evaluation as external assessor for an academic seeking promotion in another university; it is important to give these things time and do them thoroughly.

I’m updating a lecture on the War of Independence and reading a chapter of a book I’m reviewing, as well as chasing footnotes for an essay on John McGahern, based on a lecture I gave on him last year.

I also read a postgraduate application for an Irish Research Council grant; the applicant needs a reference and is looking for comments on the proposal. This is generally the way I approach work: I write a list the night before of all that has to be done the following day and give a little bit to all items and continue to do that until I get to the end of them. I’m good at compartmentalising and have learned effective time management from experience; I’ve been a full-time historian for just over 20 years.


Up early to read more of the Magdalene report, and then I take the kids swimming. I have three daughters, aged eight, six and three, and they’ve a lot of energy to burn. After that it’s down to RTÉ for the second half of Marian Finucane’s show to analyse the Magdalene report.

I manage to finish a book review after lunch and then climb Killiney Hill with my wife, Sheila (who teaches in Senior College Dún Laoghaire), and the kids. This is followed by one of my favourite times of the week: two hours on my own in my local with a pint and the newspapers.


Weekdays start about 6am. I run three or four miles early every weekday and do a longer one at weekends. I’m obsessive about this; it clears the head, allows time to plan and think and helps me structure the day.

Into UCD for 8am to prepare a two-hour MA seminar class on historiography from 10am to noon; afterwards I have consultations with students about their thesis topics. I then reply to student emails about essays, grades and courses. Then it’s on to a meeting in the afternoon in the National Library about a planned exhibition on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s visit, in 1963.

I have serious concerns about Government proposals that I believe will undermine the governance and independence of cultural institutions and resigned from the National Library board last year in protest; in the meantime the staff of those institutions are working hard to creatively deliver essential services and deserve all the assistance they can get.

In the evening, after dinner with Sheila and the kids and reading with them, I write in the office at home and stay at it until 9pm. Pope Benedict has delivered his bombshell, so I go down to RTÉ for Prime Time at 10.30pm to offer historical context and fight with David Quinn of the Iona Institute. Home at midnight.


Youngest daughter Saorla decides at 5am that her day should begin and begin loudly. Her parents strongly disagree but lose the argument.

I attend a meeting of the National Archives Advisory Council in town for two hours; we are looking at issues around the possible release of the 1926 census returns. I live on the Luas line, which makes all the dashing around easier; it also enables me to read notes and minutes of meetings.

Later I give a lecture and seminar in UCD on the War of Independence; students remain fascinated with this period.

There’s a departmental meeting in the afternoon; as with everywhere, there is much concern about budgets and cutbacks, but positives too, including interesting innovations with our curriculum. There is lot of hard administrative graft being done on this and related areas.

At the end of the meeting there’s a barbed comment from a colleague, much justified, about a politician who recently referred to lecturers working a short week by referring just to the number of lectures they give. I know many in academia who work 60-hour weeks and even more when there is a deadline approaching.


Seminars with first-year students; this week we’re looking at Donogh O’Malley and his impact as minister for education in 1966. Afterwards, I have a meeting in the office with a student who is struggling with depression, an all too common affliction. I then attend a meeting of a UCD committee to assess applications for seed funding of various projects and then continue work on a book I’m editing with a colleague – a collection of essays – and update and upload course materials to our online teaching aid system, Blackboard.

Later I give a lecture to a local history society on Ireland in the 1970s. Most of the audience lived through it, so it’s a lively discussion. I read a PhD chapter when I get home, for a meeting tomorrow.


Seminars in UCD with third-year students on the meaning of a republic in the early 1920s. A latecomer, who said she couldn’t get parking, temporarily interrupts spirited contributions. She lives in Milltown, a 10-minute walk away. The mind boggles.

I spend an hour in the office with a journalist from the Washington Post who is in Dublin to write about the church and abortion; he is looking for historical context. After that I have a meeting with a PhD student who is in the middle of a difficult chapter. Later, there’s a book launch for a colleague; it is important to mark the effort that has gone into the research and writing of a book, which can amount to years.


I try and keep Fridays fairly free for archival research; it is essential to keep on top of the release of new documents, and I’m beginning to map out the parameters of a new book on Ireland 1913-23.

Before that, I reply to a host of emails from students, organisers of conferences and talks, and also respond to emails from the public about various matters. Public communication and outreach is an important part of my job; I’m conscious of the privileged position I’m in and try and respond to all queries.

I’ve a brief meeting in the late afternoon of the Universities Ireland group on the decade of commemorations. We’re organising a conference on the centenary of the 1913 lockout and need to brainstorm.

After that, I sneak off to the cinema to see Lincoln; Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerising. We have friends around for dinner that night; plenty of arguments, roaring and laughter about current affairs and personal dilemmas, fuelled by strong opinions and red wine.

This week I was . . .

Listening to

Risin’ Time , on RTÉ Radio 1, with Shay Byrne (my running companion), and Awayland, a brilliant second album from Villagers


Curb Your Enthusiasm series eight, with the hilariously politically incorrect Larry David


Tom Clarke: Life, Liberty and Revolution, by Gerard MacAtasney


The library shelves. How very old-fashioned I am

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