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The WCHF weekly miscellany

We’re slowly getting used to the idea of not having a Festival this year, but still assembling interesting historical content here roughly every week. This week:

Ireland during the Second World War (aka the Emergency) is definitely a theme we want to explore at a future festival, and here is an interesting article on RTE about food and drink here during the wartime period.

Also from RTE this week, on a very different topic, design in the Decade of Centenaries.

On the subject of the Decade of Centenaries, (based at UCD) reminded us via Twitter to listen to this lecture, given in 2016 by Professor Charles Townshend, on the Complexities of Commemoration.

Festival contributor Dr Richard Butler has just published, with Cork University Press, his book ‘Building the Irish Courthouse and Prison: A Political History 1750-1850’ which we can highly recommend. Hear his contribution to our first Festival, in 2017, here – his subject was the architecture of Bishop Lucey’s churches in Cork.

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Interesting things to read, watch and listen to

We’re really sad that we are having to cancel the 2020 Festival, but already looking forward to 2021. In the meantime, we will continue to post weekly updates on interesting things to read, watch and listen to with a historical theme and check on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts too.

This week:

Ambassador Dan Mulhall has spoken twice at our Festival, and is well-known for his interest in poetry and his regular postings of Irish poetry on his Twitter feed. Yesterday he wrote the Irish Times’ Irishman’s Diary on Yeats and the Spanish flu pandemic.

The River-side is the blog of UCC Library’s research collections and has some interesting posts, including most recently a series called Mapping Cork: Trade, Culture and Politics in Late Medieval and Early Modern Ireland.

The Skibbereen Heritage Centre, although sadly closed at the moment, has good articles on its website looking at our local history here in West Cork – see here for features on specific buildings in Skibbereen, local historical figures, the dreadful famine years and other topics.

The RTE History Show on 17 May featured Festival contributor Lar Joye talking about weapons from the revolutionary era, including quite an insight into how to throw a hand grenade successfully. Lar spoke at greater length on a similar subject at our 2018 Festival and his talk can be heard here.

On the same programme, the producer Eithne Hand talked about the assassination of RIC officer District Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson, 100 years ago this year. Her grandfather, Liam Tobin, was one of his killers. She also discussed the link between Lea-Wilson’s death and the Caravaggio painting The Taking of Christ, which hangs in the National Gallery, and is reproduced below.


© National Gallery of Ireland


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Cancellation of 2020 Festival

We are sad to annouce that we have decided, after much discussion, to cancel the History Festival this year.  We had hoped that by delaying the decision we might have been able to find a way of making the physical hosting of the Festival possible in August. It is now clear that is very unlikely to be the case and we don’t want to take risks with the safety of festival-goers. We will be putting some new digital content on this website over the Festival weekend.

We are already planning our 2021 Festival, which will be even better than the 2020 one would have been. Meanwhile, all the talks from our last three Festivals are easily accessible on this website (2019 here and the previous two years here), and we continue to post interesting history-related content on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as weekly round-ups here of things to read, watch and listen to in lockdown and beyond.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing you in 2021,

Victoria & Simon Kingston and the West Cork History Festival Team

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Weekly selection

Another selection of interesting articles and films on historical themes:

The RTE website carried this article recently by Sean O’ Duibhir on Rita Childers, who he says could have become Ireland’s first female president in 1974, but for a combination of civil war politics and poor political choreography.

In the Irish Times on Thursday was an interesting article on food culture in Ireland highlighting a new research project on food in Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. The lead researcher is Dr Susan Flavin, Associate Professor of Early Modern History at Trinity, who spoke at our 2017 Festival.  You can hear Susan’s talk here.

Also in the Irish Times earlier in the week, this on links between Ireland and South Africa.

An intriguing piece in The Guardian on architecture and urban planning after the pandemic. The writer, Oliver Wainwright, looks at some historical precedents including the idea that cholera shaped 19th century street layouts – the introduction of sewerage systems to help prevent cholera outbreaks required the roads above them to be wider and straighter.

The London Library has put some of its literary and historical events online – they can all be accessed here. Particular highlights for us included lawyer and writer Phillippe Sands talking about his book on Nazi fugitives, The Ratline. Further down on the page, Hallie Rubenhold speaks about her book The Five, which looks at the lives of five working class women in 19th century London, who had one thing in common – they were the victims of Jack the Ripper. One of them, Mary Jane Kelly, was Irish.

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Our weekly (very roughly) round-up

Another assortment of interesting articles, podcasts and videos on historical themes. And something about coffee too …. 

Two anniversaries this week, both related to world wars. Firstly, on & May it was 105 years since the Lusitania was sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale by a German submarine, with the loss of 1,198 people. The Cobh Heritage Centre has an exhibition on the Lusitania, and a good summary on its website, including some fascinating photos. The poster below used the tragedy to encourage Irishmen to join the British army.

And on a much larger scale of tragedy, the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945 (VE Day): the Irish Times had this on some of the Irishmen who joined up – some estimate as many as 66,000 of them. Many from West Cork joined the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy. In the same newspaper, Frank McNally wrote about Kay Summersby, born near Baltimore who was General Eisenhower’s driver and secretary during the war, and provided him with huge emotional support, and maybe more (although in some ways that should not be the focus of her of story).

More locally, Skibbereen Heritage Centre has produced a video on the work they are doing to promote local heritage while the Centre is closed to visitors.

A podcast from Dublin City Libraries & Archives, in which art historian Jessica Fahy discusses portraits of Irish women writers in the collections of the Hugh Lane Gallery. It focuses on the period from the late 19th century until the late 1930s and includes Lady Gregory, Katharine Tynan and Alice Stopford Green.

A nice story from the Yay Cork website about an 86-year old bar of soap. And finally, not history related at all but almost as important – coffee. Yay Cork also lists all the coffee roasters who are doing home delivery in Cork during lockdown – including The Golden Bean who have served fantastic coffee for the last three West Cork History Festivals.



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Some interesting things to read

Friday was Bealtaine (aka May Day), and here is a fascinating article by Clodagh Doyle, curator of the Irish Folklore Division of the National Museum, on May Day customs in Ireland.

The Royal Irish Academy’s book A History of Ireland in 100 Words (which has a fantastic cover, pictured and similarly witty illustrations throughout the book) also has an online exhibition, A History of Ireland in 10 Words, on its website.

The RIA’s Irish Historic Towns Atlas series is online including, in Cork, Youghal and Bandon and further afield Fethard (Tipperary), Athlone, Dublin and Belfast.

On a very different subject, the Irish Times published this about an Irishman who was present at the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. His photographs are being displayed by the National Museum of Ireland. Albert ‘Paddy’ Sutton died in 2018 at the age of 96 but never forgot what he witnessed in the camp.

An article by the Southern Star from 2017 was re-shared on social media this week and caught our eye – it looks at the death of Cornelius Crean, brother of the Arctic explorer Tom Crean. Cornelius was in the RIC and was killed in an IRA ambush in 1920 in Upton, during the War of Independence.

And finally, to mark the birthday yesterday of Edith Somerville, one of West Cork’s best known writers who lived very close to where the West Cork History Festival is held, see below the front cover of Maria and Some Other Dogs. It’s one of Somerville’s lesser known works, published in 1949 and was her last and features illustrations by Edith including this one of Maria herself.