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The new Taoiseach & the West Cork History Festival

Congratulations to Micheál Martin on his appointment as Taoiseach. He has been a supporter and contributor to the West Cork History Festival and is pictured below at our 2018 Festival. The first photo shows him with Lar Joye, formerly of the National Museum of Ireland and now at the Dublin Port Authority and Festival co-founder Simon Kingston. The second photo shows him with Professor Louise Ryan, at the time at the University of Sheffield and now at London Metropolitan University.

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Our weekly historical miscellany

The Irish archaeological story of the year was published by Nature magazine last week. Genetic analysis by researchers at TCD showed that an adult male from the Neolithic period whose body was found inside Newgrange was the product of first degree incest. This may indicate he came from a ruling social elite who married within their own deified royal families in a similar way to Egyptian pharaohs. The Irish Times reported the story here.

Nature’s cover photograph of Newgrange was taken by Ken Williams, whose fantastic images of the monuments and landscapes of the Boyne Valley, and many other prehistoric sites, can be seen on his website. Festival co-founder Victoria Kingston worked with both Ken Williams, and Dr Lara Cassidy and Professor Dan Bradley from TCD who led the DNA research, when she curated the new exhibition at the Bru na Boinne visitor centre that opened last year. The visitor centre interprets Newgrange and its sister sites of Knowth and Dowth.

Much more recent history now: 22 June marked 100 years since the IRA’s assassination of Sir Henry Wilson outside his London home – he was the most senior British military figure to die during the revolutionary period. The Irish Story wrote about the event on their blog.

Another story from 1920, this time focused on Cork. On 26 June British officer Cuthbert Lucas, who commanded the garrison at Fermoy, was kidnapped by the IRA while fishing on the Blackwater River. He was help captive for 34 days but became friends with those guarding him, playing bridge with them and drinking whiskey they supplied him with. The letters between Lucas and his wife, along with his diary kept secretly in captivity, have now been digitised and made available by his granddaughter. The Irish Times coverage of the story is here, and the website featuring the letters between Cuthbert and Poppy Lucas is here.

16 June was Bloomsday, and MOLI (the Museum of Literature Ireland, in Dublin) released a beautiful short film ‘A New day will be’ featuring readings of lines from Ulysses in multiple languages. It was developed in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs and can be seen via YouTube.

And finally, a few weeks ago we pointed our readers to some excellent online talks on the website of the London Library. This week, we are recommending an online talk from Belfast’s Linen Hall Library – Alice Johnson discussing her fascinating research on middle-class Belfast in the 19th century.


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Weekly selection

Our selection is a little later than usual – we’ve been busy planning digital content to go up on our website the weekend the Festival should have been…. (7-9 August):

There has been lots of media coverage this past week of the RTE programme Hawks and Doves, in which former British cabinet minister Michael Portillo looked at the War of Independence from the British perspective, including this article by Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy who was involved in the documentary. It’s available to watch on RTE Player.

Skibbereen Heritage Centre has been making some excellent films about local history during lockdown, including this on Aughadown Graveyard. Individuals buried here link this quiet graveyard to the Famine, the Battle of the Boyne and Kilmichael. William Casey, who is featured in the film, spoke at our 2018 Festival on cilliní (unconsecrated burial sites) in West Cork – you can hear his talk here.

The Irish History Show has a great podcast – mixing history, architecture and social policy – in which Ruth McManus, associate professor of geography at Dublin City University, discussed public housing in 20th century Dublin. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Dublin’s slums were regarded as amongst the worst in Europe – interestingly Belfast’s housing was much better. Lots of other podcasts via this site too.

In The Irish Times Maurice Casey, historian-in-residence at Epic the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands, told the story of John O’Reilly from Thurles in Tipperary. O’Reilly went to fight in the Spanish Civil War and married Salaria Kea, an African-American nurse – they are pictured below. The couple eventually settled in the US.

Photograph from The Irish Times/Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

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Weekly round up

Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy wrote in the Irish Times about links between Ireland and the slave trade, in the context of the targeting in the UK of statues of individuals associated with slave trading.

From 19th century statues to 19th century stuffed animals… the blog of the CSHIHE (Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates) at Maynooth University had an interesting post recently by Annie Tindley on Taxidermy and the Country House. We also enjoyed another post, by Terence Dooley, on The Power of Ruins.

The National Archives holds a fascinating database for the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee, established in 1916 to assess claims for damages to buildings and property as a result of the Easter Rising. You can search the database here – it includes the claim below from stained glass artist and book illustrator Harry Clarke for cover designs and illustrations destroyed by a fire at publishers Maunsel & Company, based at 86, Abbey Street Middle in Dublin. A payment of £30 was recommended by the committee.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography has put together a selection of ‘rogues’ from the 9000 lives it contains, including Anne Bonney one of the most famous female pirates, who was born in Cork.




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Weekly update of articles to read and films to watch

The Irish Times published another of its excellent Decade of Centenaries supplements this week, this one looking at 1920. Articles that particularly caught our eye were Festival contributor Andy Bielenberg’s piece on the contested and difficult subject of ‘disappearances’ by the IRA, many of which took place in Cork, Linda Connolly writing about violence against women during the revolutionary period, as well as Brendan O’Shea on the burning of Cork in December 1920.

In the week that marked the anniversary of D-Day, we listened to one of The Forgotten Irish podcasts, by Damian Shiels, which he first produced in 2018 and which explores the experiences of Irish Americans and Irish Canadians who took part in the Normandy campaign. Damian’s website highlighting his work on Irish involvement in the American Civil War is definitely worth a visit too.

The Royal Irish Academy is posting a series of short films on its You Tube channel featuring contributors to its book Ireland in the European Eye, which was published last year and features a huge and fascinating range of locations and periods. So far it doesn’t include Thomas O’Connor who spoke at our Festival last year on the Irish in Europe before the 18th century, but I hope his inclusion is planned as his Festival talk was fantastic. Hear it here.

Finally something which mixes literary and historical references – an article in the Independent by Festival contributor Claire Connolly which looks as the Irish love of English literature. It was inspired by the recent TV adaption of Normal People based on the book by Sally Rooney.