West Cork connections to D-Day

6 June marked 75 years since D-Day. An interesting West Cork connection relates to this lady, Kay Summersby, who was born a MacCarthy-Morrogh at Inish Beg near Baltimore. She was driver, secretary & invaluable help to Dwight Eisenhower during his time as Supreme Commander overseeing the Allied landings in Normandy. There has been much speculation about the real nature of their relationship, but whether or not they had an affair, she provided him with much-needed emotional support during incredibly difficult times. At the end of the war he returned to the US, later becoming President, and they never saw each other again.

Our friends at the Roaringwater Journal wrote a nice piece on Inish Beg and Summersby here.

Festival volunteers wanted

The West Cork History Festival will run from 8-11 August 2019, just outside Skibbereen in West Cork.  Now in its third year, the Festival is for everyone interested in history, with a diverse and engaging programme including talks, discussion and film screenings. Our speakers include leading historians, journalists, curators and writers.

We are looking for volunteers with a passion for history to help us run the Festival. We can’t offer payment, but if a volunteer works a morning or afternoon session then they will have free access to all the talks and events for the other half of the day. If you need accommodation we might be able to help as well. Tasks volunteers will be expected to undertake include selling and checking tickets, helping visitors, stewarding one of the two Festival venues and escorting speakers.

As well as help during the Festival, we will be running a Festival Box Office in Skibbereen in the weeks beforehand. We would love some volunteers to help sell tickets and spread the word about the Festival in our local community.

Our 2019 programme can be seen here.

If you are interested please email Victoria Kingston – westcorkhistoryfestival@gmail.com




Professor Claire Connolly

We are delighted that UCC’s Professor Claire Connolly will speak at our 2019 Festival on the Deep Maps project, which explores West Cork’s coastal cultures from the mid-18th century. Earlier this year she gave the Charles Stewart Parnell Lecture at Oxford University with the intriguing title  “Too Rough for Verse? Sea Crossings in Irish Culture”. A version of the lecture was subsequently published in the Irish Time and you can read it here.

The Lusitania camisole

104 years ago today, the Cunard liner Lusitania was sunk off the coast of Cork by a German submarine. The ship went down in only 18 minutes, and more than 1,100 people died, while around 760 survived. One of those who died, and whose body was never found, was the Irish art collector and dealer Sir Hugh Lane. We screened the excellent film Citizen Lane about him, at the 2018 Festival.

One of the most impressive Lusitania artefacts is the one pictured below, held at the Imperial War Museum in London. It’s a camisole worn by Margaret Gwyer on the Lusitania. After the ship was torpedoed, she fell out of a lifeboat into the water and was sucked into one of the ship’s funnels at it sank. An explosion in one of the Lusitania‘s boilers blew her back to the surface and she was eventually picked up and reunited with her husband, who she had married a month before. She kept the oil-stained camisole as a reminder of her ordeal.


The sisterhood at The Royal Irish Academy

A fascinating series of lectures held recently at the Royal Irish Academy celebrating sisterhood and the lives and achievements of five families of sisters who made their mark on Irish life – you can hear them all here. They include the Gore-Booth and Yeats sisters, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and her sisters, and the less well-known Quaker Shackleton sisters.
A beautiful illustration from the RIA website associated with the lecture series.

On this day in 1509….

On this day in 1509, Henry VIII acceded to the throne. His prescription for relations with Gaelic Ireland was “sober ways, politic drifts, and amiable persuasions”. Easier said than done, but in 1541, Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland by a parliament in Dublin which included, for the first time, Gaelic as well as Anglo-Irish lords. He is one of a number of ‘bad’ English kings: John and Richard II being others, who were ‘good’ in Ireland, in so far as they paid more attention to the relationship than most. It was a lesson that has had to be relearned.


100 years since the Amritsar Massacre

It is 100 years today since the Amritsar Massacre in India, when British troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in the Punjabi city of Amritsar, killing several hundred people.

Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy has written an interesting article in the Irish Times today about an Irish connection to the Massacre, through the figure of Sir Michael O’Dwyer from Tipperary who was governor of the Punjab at the time. Meanwhile here is the entry on O’Dwyer from the Irish Dictionary of National Biography, via the RIA. O’Dwyer was assassinated in 1940 by a young Indian nationalist, Udham Singh, who is thought to have been present as a child at the Amritsar Massacre.

Mary Swanzy at the Crawford Art Gallery

We highly recommend the Mary Swanzy exhibition at the Crawford, which runs until 3 June. A fascinating and very talented artist who painted in a whole variety of styles including Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Symbolism and Surrealism – perhaps that is why she is not better known? Find out more here.

Mary Swanzy’s Samoan Scene, painted in around 1923
Collection of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

The Great Famine on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time programme

Cormac O’Grada, Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College Dublin, Niamh Gallagher, University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge &  Enda Delaney, Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of Edinburgh discussing the Famine on this week’s In Our Time programme on Radio 4 – hear it here:




Recasting Canova at the Crawford Art Gallery

The gallery where the Crawford displays its collection of casts has recently been given a fantastic re-vamp. The West Cork History Festival paid a visit.

The collection was made under the supervision of renowned Italian sculptor Antonio Canova and reproduced some of the greatest works of Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture in the Vatican Museums. It was commissioned by Pope Pius VII as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV) as a thank you to Britain for its role in defeating Napoleon. The casts arrived in Cork in 1818. Further information can be found here.