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25 July: a fortnightly round up ….

Last week’s round up was rather delayed so we thought instead we’d do a longer fortnightly round up – some really interesting reads and listens below.

Festival contributor Claire Connolly of UCC wrote in the Irish Times about the power of literature in a time of global pandemic. We are looking forward to hearing Claire’s contribution to our digital festival, as part of a History Hedge School on Ireland, Empire and the Sea. This will be on our website from 8 August and via History Ireland.

On a related topic of pandemics (unavoidable really), The Irish Story’s most recent podcast is about how the terrible Sligo cholera epidemic in 1832 inspired Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. Stoker’s mother Charlotte Thornley survived the epidemic and told her son stories of that time. We have previously posted a link to an article on the London Library’s website about the books Stoker consulted in that library while researching the same book.

In the Irish Times earlier in the month Marie Coleman of QUB discussed events in the north a century ago. 21 July 2020 marked 100 years since the beginning of the expulsion of an estimated 7000 workers from Belfast’s shipyards and other manufacturing industries in the city – all these workers were Catholics or socialists. The Irish Story also had an article on the violence in Belfast in July 1920.

On the theme of the revolutionary period, RTE Radio 1 broadcast a fascinating documentary on 18 July – The Little Shop of Secrets – about Nora and Sheila Wallace, whose newsagents shop in Cork City played a crucial role in the War of Independence in Cork.

The Ports Past and Present project, partly based in UCC, always has interesting material on its blog. This article by Elizabeth Edwards caught our eye, looking at the experience of women crossing between Ireland and Wales. Mary Wollstonecraft had a calm crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in 1786 and found herself lost in a sea of thoughts. The crossing was a less positive, and sometimes positively dangerous, time for others who feature in the article.

Over the summer the Dictionary of Irish Biography has been highlighting individual stories by theme – so far they have had rogues and now they are focusing on explorers. Those featured include aviator Lady Heath (pictured below), astronomer Annie Maunder, William Lamport, apparently the inspiration for Zorro and Thomas Heazle Parke, who was the first Irishman to cross Africa and once “saved a man’s life by sucking arrow poison from his wound”. How could you not want to read more here ?!

And finally, RTE Brainstorm had an article on the always intriguing topic of Sheela-na-Gigs, mysterious medieval carvings of female figures with prominent vulvas and breasts, which are found in Ireland, Britain and continental Europe.

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WCHF weekly selection

Fergal Keane, who was scheduled to speak at our Festival this year, had an interesting piece on BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning news programme Today last week about the Munster plantations. Click here and you can find it at 2:45:51. He also wrote about his family and the complex legacies of empire on the BBC website.

On the subject of empire, History Ireland re-posted a fascinating article from 2007 on the Irish and the Atlantic slave trade which is worth reading in the light of current discussions about how slavery, and more broadly black history, is represented (or not).

And from the British empire to the Russian empire, History Today had a feature on Cork-born Eleanor Cavanagh. Her letters home from Russia, where her job as a lady’s maid took her in the early 19th century, are amongst the first published Irish accounts of Russia.

Joe Cleary’s article in the Irish Times last week about Irish writers and writing in the 1920s claimed that it was “surely the greatest single decade in Irish writing in English”. Discuss.

Finally for this week, the Michael Collins House in Clonakilty has some really interesting podcasts on its website – including podcasts on Collins himself, the War of Independence and the Civil War. However, we particularly enjoyed Episode 9, by Dr Alan McCarthy, about The Skibbereen Eagle. The newspaper was published in Skibbereen between 1857-1922 and 1926-1929 and became “one of the most famous local newspapers in the world”.


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5 July: our weekly round up

Yesterday was Independence Day in the US – to mark the occasion why not listen to ‘Declaring Independence: America 1776, Ireland 1919’, a talk from last year’s Festival given by Dan Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to the US?

Alternatively, you could read this fascinating article by historian Damian Shiels, re-posted from his archive, about John Dunlap, the printer of the Declaration of Independence, who was born in Strabane, Co Tyrone. The image below is from Damian’s website.

And in the week that Micheál Martin became Taoiseach, Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy looked into Martin’s family history in an article in the Irish Times. Micheál Martin has himself attended the West Cork History Festival twice, last year chairing a number of sessions for us.

And finally something completely different – an online exhibition about Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray. The physical exhibition, at the Bard Graduate Gallery in New York, opened in February and was due to finish this week, but has obviously been closed since lockdown. Gray (pictured below) was a pioneering modernist, designer, architect, painter and photographer, whose life spanned nearly a century – she was born in Wexford in 1898 and died in Paris in 1976.