Niamh Puirséil

Dr Niamh Puirseil is a historian and critic. Specialising in modern Irish political, social and educational history, she has written widely on Irish politics, society and the labour movement. She is best-known for The Irish Labour Party 1922-73, the standard history of that party and the best-selling Landmark documents in Irish History.

She has very recently published Kindling the Flame. 150 years of the Irish National Teachers Organisation which was published in 2017. It charts the development of one of the oldest Ireland’s oldest and most influential unions, as well as offering an in-depth look at education and society and the influence of church and state on the island of Ireland form the era of the Fenians to Brexit. (You can read a review of it here and buy it here)

She has contributed to titles including Jacobin, The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post, History Ireland, the Irish Literary Review and Village Magazine as well as history and current affairs programmes on television and radio.

A graduate of History and Politics in University College Dublin, she was completed doctoral studies there in 2002. Previously a lecturer in University College Dublin, she was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Irish History in Trinity College Dublin. She held a graduate scholarship by University College Dublin on the basis of her final results in the BA and was awarded a Government of Ireland doctoral scholarship by the IRCHSS.

As well as many conference and seminar presentations, Niamh has been an invited speaker at the Parnell Summer School, the annual Douglas Hyde Conference, the Tom Johnson Summer School and the Byrne-Perry Summer School as well as at events organised by History Ireland, the Irish Historical Society, the National Library of Ireland Society and many others.

Adept at many things, she finds writing in the third person and making websites challenging.

She lives in Dublin.

Contact: niamh.puirseil at

On The Irish Labour Party

During the 1950s, Jack White, the deputy editor of the Irish Times was asked by a foreign colleague to explain the irrelevance of the left-right cleavage in Irish politics. ‘Draw a line, and put all the parties well to the right,’ he explained. ‘But what about the Labour Party?’ his companion inquired, to which White replied, ‘Put that furthest of all’.

White was joking but only just and if Labour was regarded as conservative at home it was it was even more so when compared with her sister parties. One historian described it ‘as the most opportunistically conservative party in the known world.’ It was not until the late 1960s that the party professed an adherence to socialism, a word which had been completely taboo until that point. But why had Labour developed such a reputation for conservatism and, indeed, how accurate was this belief?

The Irish Labour Party 1922-73, the first comprehensive history of the party, examines its fortunes during the first five decades of the new state. Using a wealth of new material and building on existing scholarship in history and political science, it traces how Labour endeavoured to establish a place for itself in the context of a conservative society dominated by civil war politics and in which the profoundly anti-socialist Catholic Church exerted very significant influence.

The book, which examines Labour in opposition and during two periods of coalition government, is more than a history of a political party and its relationship with voters, other parties (within and outside of the state) and interest groups but also shines a light on attitudes and values in Irish society, and marks a major contribution to our understanding, not simply of the Labour Party, but of twentieth-century Ireland itself.

You can buy it in paperback here or in hardback here.

Launching the book at the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Brian Farrell said:

‘Niamh Puirseil has put us all in her debt. She has had the courage to tackle a central issue inthe development of Irish politics and in the process spread much light on many other aspects of Irish life in the twentieth century…

Her thorough use and command of newer material as well as her careful cross-referencing to earlier work, her analytic capacity to shape it into a clear, comprehensive and critical narrative, and perhaps above all, her sharp eye for the telling detail combine to announce the arrival of an important and exciting new name in modern Irish historiography.

Her fluent and easy style reveals a young scholar determined to bridge the gap between academic accuracy and readiness of access for the general reader.  The pointed phrases flash through the text and lodge in the mind as bright, and immediately recognizable, definitive judgments’

With Brian Farrell and Michael Gallagher at the launch of The Irish Labour Party, 1922-73

Some reviews 

I would urge the leader of the Labour Party … to present every Labour TD with a copy of this book. And I would urge them to read it.”
John Horgan, Irish Times May 2007

“This is a well written and deeply researched book, and a sobering slap in the face to those who wonder why the Left in Ireland struggles to assert itself.”
The Sunday Business Post June 2007

“The book is an outstanding piece of research – sober in judgement, rich in detail, and beautifully written.”
T. Ryle Dwyer, Irish Examiner July 2007

Niamh Puirseil’s recently published history of the Labour Party’s first 50 years is a warmly welcomed addition to what remains a barren field. Published by UCD Press [it] fills an important vacuum in our knowledge of the party and the more general political context … [it] deserves to be widely read, by supporters and critics of the party alike.”
Eoin O Broin, Magill August/Sept 2007

“Niamh Puirseil has produced an invaluable reference work for anyone interested in her subject. It brims with facts presented in an easy style spiced with a pleasant ironic humour.”
D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, History Ireland Sept/Oct 2007

This is a balanced and fascinating appraisal of the Labour Party, written with wry humour and an eye for the telling detail … The book is particularly strong on Labour’s time in government and, as one would expect, the party is treated primarily as an electoral organisation rather than a social movement … Puirseil has engaged with the secondary sources, scoured the archives and conducted interviews with several leading figures, and the depth of research is apparent throughout. It is a confident, authoritative and measured study that will be the starting point for all future research on the Irish Labour Party.”
Fintan Lane, Irish Historical Studies vol. XXXVI No. 141 May 2008

Niamh Puirseil’s study of the Labour Party fills an important gap in both the history of political parties and labour history. … [her] study is based on a wide range of new sources and intelligent use of existing archives. She is to be commended for her mature judgement on many of the key issues that faced the Labour Party and Irish party system during this time’

Brian Girvin, English Historical Review CXXIV 506 February 2009

“This is a thought-provoking study peppered with many original observations. A high quality of research is maintained throughout the book, with Puirseil’s wide archival and newspaper trawl and an excellent employment of the (still underused) Dail debates reaping dividends in the production of this lively account of the Labour Party’s history … has now raised the bar for such future works…”
Irish Political Studies January 2008

More reviews here

The Irish Labour Party 1922-73 was also chosen by Pat Rabbitte as one of his books of 2007 on the Today with Pat Kenny show.

As seen on tv…