Johanna Lowry O'Reilly - student profile


I am a mature student from Ranelagh in Dublin with a career background is in public relations and political writing.  I have a family of three ‘adult kids’, two of whom are living in Dublin; the third is currently studying in London.

Application to Queen’s seemed a logical choice for two reasons.  Firstly, the strength of Irish History within the school was a deciding factor.  Secondly, the fact that my research will be primarily centred in archives and libraries in Dublin, London, and Belfast.  Resources and research opportunities in the latter, which I have not yet fully explored, are particularly relevant to the work in progress. 

Having studied for a BA and an MA in UCD and an MPhil in TCD, with both colleges being in reasonably close proximity, coming to Queen’s is also a welcome variation on an almost too familiar geographic and academic landscape.  While saying that, Belfast is a city I know reasonably well from travelling up over the years and has a familiarity of its own, particularly around the Queen’s/Botanic area. 

From an initial interest in the early modern period, with an emphasis on the Irish Parliaments of Elizabeth I, a change of direction now sees research firmly directed to modern Irish history, with an emphasis on the years 1918-22.

In the main the argument for the current thesis is based on the hypothesis that increased educational provision in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Ireland and the resultant social mobility, led to the rise of a Catholic middle class and the opening up of senior administrative positions to Catholics. This created opportunities for civil servants such as James MacMahon from Armagh, under-secretary for Ireland, who benefited from the provisions of the post Catholic Emancipation era.  

‘Skating on Thin Ice’ could be a fitting title for a thesis focused on Catholic civil servants in the years leading up to the foundation of the Free State, facing as they did the hostility of sectarian, political, educational and class divides.  Nonetheless, in many cases they were to the forefront of the non-revolutionary contribution of the Dublin Castle administration to the setting up of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The influence of both social and educational mobility on Irish born civil servants and their subsequent input to the foundation of the state in tandem with a number of British colleagues seconded to Dublin Castle in 1920, is a broad area ripe for new discoveries.

While the outcome of research cannot be predicted and it would be largely futile to try, there are indications on which to build.  For example, it is self-evident to say that a Catholic middle class did emerge from the mid-19th century.  It is the under-investigated building bricks of its progression that my thesis will seek to uncover.

As is the norm, research to date has already lead in a number of unexpected directions, which although not changing the basic concept of my initial proposal, could alter the emphasis of the thesis.