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With the imposition of colonial rule in the late 19th century, the African continent witnessed a revolution in communication and transportation systems. It was an era marked by the construction of tarmac roads, bridges, railways, ferry pontoons, harbours, the beginnings of a postal service, and telegraphy installation. As a veritable ‘tool of empire’, transport infrastructure was used efficiently in actualising the evangelisation strategies and objectives of the Irish missions in Nigeria between 1885 and 1970. While scholars have focused on Christian missionary activity in education, welfare and healthcare provision, transport infrastructure development in the mission field remains neglected in missionary historiography. This paper will draw on a diversity of fields – missionary history, economic history, imperial history, colonial architecture and the history of technology. 

By looking at colonial transport infrastructure and analysing how Irish missionaries availed themselves of it, this paper will address five issues using sources in Ireland, Britain, and Nigeria. First, it will briefly trace the development of transport infrastructure in Nigeria, the evolution of the missionary state, and how Catholicism expanded in the late nineteenth and twentieth-century Nigeria. The second objective is to highlight the main actors (the colonial government, missionary congregations, private contractors, mining companies, business entities, and community leaders) involved in developing transport infrastructure in Nigeria and the geopolitical, economic, and socio-cultural agendas. Third, it will assess the links between the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund, Irish missions, and transport infrastructure development in rural parts of Nigeria. Fourth, it will unravel the role of lay volunteers and Nigerians in transport infrastructural development. Fifth, it will examine the shift to air transport and how Irish missionaries utilised the airports and aerodromes littered across Nigeria.   

James Onochie Akpu is an Irish Research Council-funded doctoral candidate in the School of History and Geography at Dublin City University, Ireland.           

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.