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The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland (and some other things)

This week we have cricket bats, Second World War letters recovered from the sea bed, a virtual tour of Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery and West Cork gates but, very unusually, nothing relating to the Decade of Centenaries.

Starting off this week with a blog – not a new one but one we’d like to recommend, and with the best title: The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland. It’s written by Brenda Malone at the National Museum of Ireland and features objects from that Museum. Here’s Brenda’s first ever post – on the cricket bat in question.

Saturday’s Financial Times featured an article on Anglo-Irish houses – much of it probably new for English audiences but not for Irish ones – however, it did include some wonderful images and recommendations for reading. Closer to home, and much more down-to-earth, our friends at the Roaringwater Journal blogged this week on gate posts in West Cork.

The Crawford Art Gallery has added a virtual tour to its website – not quite as good as the real thing, but enough until the Gallery can open again.

And finally, a really compelling story that we re-Tweeted this week but is worth coming back to – the sinking of the SS Gairsoppa off the coast of Galway in 1942. Letters recovered from the wreck in 2012 have been restored – the Guardian featured them this week and London’s Postal Museum  had previously done an online exhibition on the letters. The most tragic part of the story is the fate of the crew, of whom only one survived. One lifeboat was launched with seven crew on board. By the time the lifeboat reached the coast of Cornwall a month later only three were alive, but two drowned trying to swim to shore. The photo below shows fragments of one of the letters featured in the Guardian article, to a woman named Iris from an unknown serviceman stationed in the Waziristan region, now part of Pakistan.

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Creative Centenaries website, the Anglo-Zulu War and Medieval pilgrimage

An eclectic mixture of subjects in our latest round-up – 18th century plates, the Anglo-Zulu War, the most haunted house in Ireland, medieval pilgrimage and, of course, the Decade of Centenaries.

Creative Centenaries is a new website which brings together information and resources about the Decade of Centenaries and the work of Northern Ireland’s creative sector in commemorating these events. Its partners are mainly NI-based but include the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs. Lots to read there….

RTE Brainstorm published a piece on the preoccupation with tableware in 18th century Ireland – there are worse things with which to be preoccupied!

John Dorney wrote an interesting piece on the Irish Story website about Ireland and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, in which many Irish soldiers died fighting for the British empire. It’s a subject to which we hope to return at our 2021 Festival.

The Ports, Past and Present blog recently has this post on the Welsh Chapel in Dublin, and also a post on the Hook Peninsula in Co Wexford, including the lighthouse and what claims to be the most haunted house in Ireland – Loftus Hall.

All credit to Titanic Belfast for marking Valentine’s Day with a post that mentioned that Titanic love story (entirely fictional) but went on to tell a real life love story from the sinking.

And finally, the always excellent In Our Time on BBC Radio 4 had this fascinating discussion on Medieval pilgrimage.

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India, Dublin, Cork City & Drimoleague

Here’s our regular round up of interesting historical content to read, listen to and watch, this week ranging across the globe from India to Drimoleague.

The Irish Times had this interesting piece on new research about Sir Michael O’Dwyer, (pictured above) Irish colonial official in British India, who as lieutenant-governor of the Punjab was responsible for the troops who carried out the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in 1929. The writer Séamus Nevin observes that “British imperialism and Irish nationalism were not then the mutually exclusive binaries many now suppose…”

If you’ve watched The Dig on Netflix, this is an excellent blog post by Sue Brunning, curator of Early Medieval European collections at the British Museum who looks after the treasures from Sutton Hoo and advised on the film.

If you are interested in the history of Dublin, we’re sure you’ve visited 14 Henrietta Street. They have produced ‘Teatime Talks‘ inspired by the history and people of the house. Themes include the Dublin Dockers and the 1913 Dublin Housing Inquiry, as well as interviews with guides at the house and a former resident.

The Crawford Art Gallery has produced the fascinating Sculpture Stories looking at some of the sculpture highlights in their collection. These include the Canova casts, pictured below:

Skibbereen Heritage Centre has the latest in a series of excellent films on local history, and in particular focusing on graveyards, this one on Drimoleague Old Graveyard. It includes the Famine-era mass grave at the entrance.

And finally, Finola Finlay who is on our Committee and who with her husband writes the Roaringwater Journal blog (as well as running our Festival Field Trips) gave a lecture on The Castles of West Cork for Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage which is well worth a watch.

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30 January: our regular update of interesting historical content

More of a fortnightly than a weekly update this time around – some interesting articles, an online talk from Bristol, via Belfast, on the legacies of slavery and a podcast from History Ireland on intelligence in the War of Independence. You can also listen to our very own History Ireland podcast from 2020 – exploring the theme of Ireland, Empire & the Sea – on our website here.

27 January was Holocaust Memorial Day – to mark the day, the Wartime NI blog posted this piece on Holocaust survivors who arrived in Northern Ireland in 1946.

The Mary Ann McCracken Foundation has recently been launched by the Belfast Charitable Society, It celebrates the life and builds on the legacy of Belfast-born social reformer, abolitionist and activist Mary Ann McCracken. Historian David Olusoga was the key note speaker at their launch – he spoke on the ‘Legacies of Slavery’ across the UK and Ireland. You can see his excellent talk here.

There is a recent History Ireland podcast on the ever fascinating subject of ‘Spies and informers beware – intelligence and counter-intelligence in the War of Independence‘. It features Festival contributors Andy Bielenberg and Eunan O’Halpin, as well as Cécile Gordon and Gerry White.

Festival contributor Liam Kennedy wrote about new President Joe Biden’s Irish-American ancestry in the Spectator magazine recently.

Finally, on the subject of Irish-Americans, Damian Shiels’ always interesting Irish American Civil War website had a photo essay about the Pension Building in Washington DC, from where Irish American Civil War pensions were administered. One of Damian’s photos of its splendid front hall can be seen below – it is now the National Building Museum.

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18 January: our regular historical round-up

Starting this week with a wonderful online exhibition ‘Mapping History’, put together by Dublin’s Marsh’s Library and Armagh’s Robinson Library. It showcases Irish and world maps and atlases published in the three centuries after the year 1536, drawing on the collections of both libraries. The map featured shows Ireland from Edmund Halley’s Atlas Maritimus and Commercialis (London, 1728) which focused on ports and coasts around the globe.


A profile in the Belfast Newsletter recently of a fascinating man – Thomas Carnduff, shipyard worker, Orangemen and poet who signed the 1912 Covenant, served in the First World War and had a play staged at the Abbey in 1932. The author, Connal Parr, spoke about Carnduff for an online event for Belfast’s Linen Hall Library on 18 January which will hopefully be available to hear/see. Carnduff was once the caretaker at the Library and is pictured below.

More locally, our friends at the Roaringwater Journal blog had a great post on the Legends of Mount Gabriel and particularly a pool near the top. This appears as Poulanenine on old maps, with the most likely etymology being Poul an Oigheann – the Pool of the Cauldron. I have used one of their great photos below.

UCD’s History Hub’s podcasts feature academics from their School of History include Fionnuala Walsh on the campaign for women’s suffrage in Ireland and Diarmaid Ferriter discussing the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Also focusing on events in the Decade of Centenaries, Festival contributor Brian Walker recently published an article discussing the Government of Ireland Bill, which received royal assent on 23 December 1920, and which led to partition as well as becoming the corner stone for the establishment of Northern Ireland.

Finally, the Irish Story’s latest blog focuses on boxing in Ireland (with gloves). If that interests you, you may also like to listen to Lar Joye’s talk on duelling in Ireland, which we had at our first Festival in 2017.

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10 January: our weekly round-up

First off the Bad Bridget podcasts, which tell the story of Irish women who emigrated to America and whose American dream did not end so well – we really enjoyed the first few episodes. They are all based on the research of, and presented by, Dr Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Leanne McCormick of Ulster University who are joined by Derry Girls’ actress, Siobhán McSweeney.

Also linked to the USA, but a slightly more successful (or lucky) life story – a profile of Rex Ingram in the Irish Times caught our eye. He was a pioneer in the early days of Hollywood who directed The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in its time one of the biggest movies ever made. It took six months to shoot (unheard of at that time) and involved 12,000 people. Born in Dublin in 1892, he spent most of his childhood in Kinnitty, Co Offaly where his father was the Church of Ireland rector. Rex emigrated in 1911 and never returned to Ireland. Ironically his original surname was Hitchcock, but in 1915 he took his mother’s name as a surname instead.

An interesting post on the Irish Family Detective website about a celebrated 19th century murder case from Coachford, Co Cork, when a doctor Philip Cross was convicted and hanged for the murder of his wife after having an affair with his children’s governess.

The National Library of Ireland has a number of excellent online exhibitions on its website which are listed here and which showcase its collections. Subjects include the Dublin Lockout: 1916; W.B. Yeats and the First World War.

And finally, something completely different and not specifically Irish history either – a fascinating article in History Today magazine about clerical celibacy and its consequences in the medieval period. Its author, Dyan Elliott, is Professor of History at Northwestern University in the USA.


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A bumper end of 2020 post – and a Happy New Year !

Christmas rather interrupted our regular-ish weekly posts, but we’ve got a lot of really interesting historical content to post today. We’d also like to wish all our friends and supporters a very Happy New Year, and keeping our fingers crossed that we can have a real, live Festival in 2021.

21 December marked the Winter Solstice and Abarta Heritage has a three-episode series on their website looking at Newgrange,  famously aligned on that solstice. They feature three people who know the monument very well – Professor Muiris O’Sullivan and Dr. Jessica Smyth, both from UCD, and Clare Tuffy, who manages the visitor centre at Brú na Bóinne. Festival co-founder Victoria Kingston worked with all three to develop the new exhibition at Brú na Bóinne which opened earlier in 2020 and interprets Newgrange and the many other Neolithic sites in the area. The Discovery Programme also shared some wonderful 3-D models of the mound, passage, chamber & art at Newgrange.

Ghost stories are traditionally told at Christmas, and MOLI (the Museum of Literature Ireland) has a wonderfully spooky short story on their website – Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘The Familiar’. It was originally published in 1847 as ‘The Watcher’ but set in late 18th century Dublin.

A wonderful online exhibition from the Crawford Art Gallery – Harry Clarke: Marginalia – which looks at his watercolour studies for The Eve of St Agnes window, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

A new blog called Belfast Between the Wars, written by Victoria Millar who is a senior curator at National Museums of Northern Ireland, features stories she has uncovered from the city’s newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s. The first one is great: “Ballymena Lady’s plight in closed Belfast premises….”

We’ve just discovered a podcast called Irish Stew – “the podcast for the Global Irish Nation… whether hyphenated or not” which featured this interview with historian and archaeologist Damian Shiels (whose work on the Irish in the American Civil War we have featured frequently on this blog), including Damian’s work on battlefield archaeology.

The UK Parliamentary Archives have put together this short film on the significance and legacy of the Government of Ireland Act, passed in December 1920.

And finally the RTE website featured a fascinating interactive map on different ways the Irish border could have been drawn.



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13 December: our not-quite weekly at this time of year round-up

Well, it’s been a while since the last post but there has been a lot going on. So here goes – another big centenary on 11-12 December, which marks 100 years since the Burning of Cork. And lots of other interesting content too…

St Peter’s church and Nano Nagle Place, both in Cork City, are hosting fascinating exhibitions focused on Cork in 1920 – we have partnered with them this year to publicise the events we have all run connected with #Cork1920. The exhibition at Nano Nagle is called Small Lives: At Home in Cork in 1920 and looks at ordinary lives in Cork City in an extraordinary and tumultuous year.

St Peter’s exhibition focuses specifically on the events of December 1920. They very kindly let us use a short film from their exhibition, which you can see as part of our digital festival, but do go and see the exhibition too.

The painstaking research of Festival contributor Jim Herlihy is highlighted in this article by Ronan McGreevy in the Irish Times. It reveals for the first time the identify of an Auxiliary who wrote an eyewitness account of the burning of the city in December 1920: …”many who witnessed scenes in France and Flanders say that nothing they had experienced was comparable to the punishment meted out in Cork.”

Photo from the National Library of Ireland

Meanwhile away from the Decade of Centenaries, but a piece connected to a Second World War anniversary. Wartime NI website (and their newsletter) records the history of Northern Ireland during the Second World War and features many, many interesting individual experiences. This story from exactly 80 years ago this month caught our eye as it highlighted the dangers for coastal shipping in wartime, not just the long-distance convoys. On 5 December 1940, the SS Privet was sailing from Birkenhead to Belfast with a load of coal when the ship disappeared. It’s not known if the ship sank as a result of enemy action or bad weather, but no trace of the Privet or her nine Northern Irish crew was ever found.

The BBC website featured this very moving feature on Irish mixed race children, many of whose fathers were students from Africa or the Caribbean studying in Dublin in the 1960s and 1970s.

And finally in a rather gloomy December, a wonderful, sunny piece of footage of Lough Hyne in the 1960s posted by the Skibbereen Heritage Centre – wish there was more of it!

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22 November: almost too much history this week…..

… it has been quite a week for interesting historical content, with the centenary of Bloody Sunday and associated events in the War of Independence.

Croke Park have lots of information on their website about events there 100 years ago when British forces killed 14 people. There is a good overview and a short film about their centenary exhibition (sadly currently closed) which includes some extraordinary artefacts from that day including an original match ticket.

On the morning of the same day, 15 men were killed in an IRA operation targeting British intelligence operatives. Ronan McGreevy had this article in the Irish Times, focusing on the story of one of those men, boarding-house owner Thomas Smith.

There was also a History Ireland Hedge School discussion on Bloody Sunday – featuring Joe Connell Jnr, Siobhán Doyle, Brian Hanley and Fearghal McGarry – and asking did these events mark a decisive turning point in the ongoing War of Independence?

The Military Pensions Archive has a blog listing the individuals whose files are available online and who either claimed involvement in the IRA operation on Bloody Sunday, or whose involvement is stated by others within the collection. This totals 153 men and 12 women – it was to that date the largest single operation undertaken in Dublin during the War of Independence.

A more local connection – Skibbereen Heritage Centre had a fascinating blog post on a photograph taken the morning after Bloody Sunday at a wedding reception in Dublin. The bride and groom – Michael J. O’Brien and Lil Clancy – were both from Skibbereen and Lil’s brother Joe ran the Eldon Hotel. He was good friends with Michael Collins and Gearóid O’Sullivan, and not only did they both attend the wedding reception, but they allowed themselves to be photographed (although Collins is not looking at the camera!)

Finally more broadly on the Decade of Centenaries, Festival contributor Eunan O’Halpin has authored, with Daithì Ó Corráin, a new book entitled The Dead of the Irish Revolution (Yale University Press) which aims to be the first comprehensive record of all deaths arising from the Irish revolution between 1916 and 1921. We are sure it will be well worth a read. Eunan has also recently had a book on Kevin Barry published, entitled Kevin Barry: An Irish Rebel in Life and Death (Merrion Press) – Barry was in fact his great uncle.

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15 November: our weekly round-up

Lots of really interesting things to read and listen to this past week…..

The always excellent blog on the Irish American Civil War by Damian Shiels had this post on the famous song Paddy’s Lament and its origins and history. The image on our blog page and below is by John Ross Dix and was published in 1864 (Library of Congress).

Ireland and the Middle East in the British Empire is the latest podcast from the Irish History Show, presented by John Dorney and Cathal Brennan – an interesting listen and a subject we’d love to return to at the West Cork History Festival.

On his blog, the Irish Aesthete profiled Father Frank Browne, best-known for the photos Browne took on the Titanic’s maiden voyage (he disembarked at Cobh) but a prolific and talented photographer of many other subjects – in fact he took 42,000 photographs in all. This blog post focused on Browne’s photos of country houses in Wicklow, which have been published in new book Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography adds new lives each month, and this month’s new ones included Henry Swanzy (1915-2004). A fascinating figure, Swanzy was born in Glandore in Cork and after studying in England, went to work for the BBC Overseas Service. He became very influential in providing a platform for Caribbean writers to make their work better known in Britain via his programme Caribbean Voices. He also lived and worked in Ghana. Henry Swanzy must be related in someway to the painter Mary Swanzy, to whom the Crawford Art Gallery recently devoted an exhibition, and to Oswald Swanzy, the RIC inspector killed by the IRA in Lisburn in 1920 as a reprisal for the killing of Tomás Mac Curtain, Lord Mayor of Cork.

And on the subject of Swanzy and of Cork-Ulster connections, Professor Brian Walker’s talk for our 2020 digital festival has been published in a shortened form by the Dublin Review of Books and can be read here. Its title is Cork, Lisburn and Belfast in 1920: connections, controversy and conflict.

Finally, a really impressive project – the Atlas of Lost Rooms – which aims to contextualize the voices of women in the Magdalene Laundries, and particularly the former Laundry on Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin. The building has been recreated digitally and testimony of some of the women incorporated.