History – the word on the street

Sir, – Your Saturday listing of remarkable women, as defined by their commemoration in statues and street names, raises an issue as to how we can ensure that some sense of proportion and representation is observed in the selection of candidates for such honouring or indeed for any method of recording as significant or typical in the life of community or nation ("Ireland's women on the map", March 2nd).

Recent “competitions” in local newspapers to identify the greatest person in the entire history of their circulation area have turned up some interesting “winners” – in Kilkenny, for instance, the avuncular proprietor of an eponymous hostelry was the choice of readers, beating Bishop George Berkeley and Brian Cody in the process (women are often in short supply in these stakes). This kind of circulation-boosting exercise may be good fun for the time being, but it distorts history for those who may want to assess the temper of the times a hundred years from now.

Determining greatness – even on the basis of statues erected, streets named, or freedom of the city conferred – can give only a partial indication of a community and its progress (or, at worst, the success of partisan promotion of individuals, sometimes by political interests).

The quality of local knowledge, or even of genuine interest in the people and places reflective of a particular era, has deteriorated even as the number of outlets for information has multiplied. Local newspapers simply do not have the resources to produce dependable or comprehensive accounts of individual lives across a wide range of interests or involvements; website accounts tend to be patchy in a medium which is essentially ephemeral; customised oral history initiatives are complex and demanding to record and transcribe.


If history is the summation of the experience of individual lives, and the events that shape them, we must find some way of ensuring a balanced selection of personal profiles that include the widest range of candidates – the male and the female, the proud and the humble, the native and the immigrant – and a method of ensuring the survival of the records in an age of transience. – Yours, etc,


Shannon Harbour,

Co Offaly.