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.


Become a Friend of the West Cork History Festival

Would you like to become a Friend of the West Cork History Festival? Your support would help us expand and improve an already brilliant annual weekend of historical discussion and debate. The Festival does not aim to make a profit, but we do need your help to make it sustainable.

There are two categories:


Donors – in return for €290 per annum, or €450 for a couple, you will:

  • be acknowledged on our website
  • receive one weekend pass (two for a couple)
  • be invited, along with one guest, to a Donors’ & Friends’ drinks reception on the Thursday evening before the Festival
  • receive advance notice of the Early Bird tickets going on sale

Friends – for €90 per annum you will:

  • be invited, along with one guest, to a Donors’ & Friends’ drinks reception on the Thursday evening before the Festival
  • receive advanced notice of the Early Bird tickets going on sale

Please do email us on if you are interested in becoming a Donor or Friend, or alternatively call us on 00353 (0)87 356 1871.


Irish women in mid-20th century Britain

An interesting article by Sarah O’Brien in the Irish Times on Irish women emigrating to Britain from the 1950s:

“Britain in the last half century has been no paradise for Irish immigrants. Rather, it has been their place of protest. We have needed Britain for our counter-narratives as much as it has needed us for its labour.”

Photo from the Irish Times/Getty Images, showing an Irish nurse working in St Chad’s Hospital in Birmingham in 1955

Death of Professor David Fitzpatrick

We were saddened to learn of the death of Professor David Fitzpatrick. David was a gifted, wide-ranging, and fearless historian. He brought rigour and a cool eye to the study of contentious subjects, too often clouded by the mythmaking of others. He transformed our understanding of the Irish Revolutionary period and the generations of his students who continue to work in this area are part of his legacy.

The West Cork History Festival owes David a particular debt. He delivered a fascinating paper on Protestant depopulation in Ireland at the first Festival in 2017. His analysis of events in West Cork, in particular, was enormously valuable. It also typified the man. Insightful, relentlessly focussed on the evidence, and with a wry sense of humour, he shed fresh light and opened up the subject. Characteristically modest and judicious, he, nevertheless, revealed the inadequacies and evasions of some treatment of the period. He was never uncritical, but also never unkind, he remains a model for other historians.

We remember him with gratitude and extend our sympathy to his family and many friends.

Six months until WCHF 2019 …

….. and most of the talks from our 2018 Festival can be heard on our Playback page, while the photos below give a flavour of our 2018 Festival too.

Professor John Horne of TCD, with Simon Kingston, co-founder of the WCHF, and Gus, the Festival dog

Micheál Martin, who introduced our Saturday afternoon session on the events of 1918

Dr Andy Bielenberg of UCC with Simon Kingston

Professor Louise Ryan of the University of Sheffield

Terri Kearney of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre

Ronan McGreevy of the Irish Times introducing his film ‘United Ireland: How Nationalists and Unionists fought together in Flanders’

Victoria Kingston, Festival co-founder, introduces Katie Childs from London’s Imperial War Museum

Niamh MacNally from the National Gallery of Ireland

Our Festival Concert with Patsy Puttnam (left) and Jessie Kennedy, performing songs inspired by the diaries of Lady Mary Carbery in the early 1900s

One of our very successful Festival Field Trips (this one to Drombeg Stone Circle), which we will be running again in 2019

Marc Kingston of The Golden Bean, coffee-suppliers to the Festival