Our 2020 digital (mini) Festival

Our digital (mini) Festival will be free-to-view on our website from Saturday 8 August. We aim to provide some of the elements that would have been part of the physical festival, based around two themes – the events of 1920 in Cork and Ireland & Empire. All of these are pre-recorded and no log-in is required.

On the theme of 1920 in Cork, we will have:

Dr Eve Morrison of St Catherine’s College Oxford on the Kilmichael Ambush, about which she is writing a new book to be published in November. In her talk, Eve discusses the interviews on which historian Peter Hart based his important, if controversial work, on the subject.

Professor Brian Walker of Queen’s University Belfast on inter-connected violence in Cork and Ulster in 1920 touching on, among others, the connected murders of Tomás Mac Curtain and Oswald Swanzy

West Cork-based historian Kieran Doyle in conversation with Festival co-founder Simon Kingston about Kieran’s project to map memorials of the Revolutionary Period across the county of Cork

a film about the burning of Cork, commissioned by St Peter’s in Cork city which is currently hosting an exhibition on the burning

In addition, we have a specially-commissioned History Ireland Hedge School podcast on Ireland, Empire and the Sea, chaired by History Ireland’s editor Tommy Graham. The panel includes Lar Joye of the Dublin Port Authority – which is sponsoring the Hedge School – alongside Dr Aoife Bhreatnach, Professor Claire Connolly from UCC and Dr David Murphy from Maynooth. The theme of Ireland & Empire is something we hope to develop further at our 2021 Festival.

We also have historian and writer Turtle Bunbury in conversation with Simon about Turtle’s book Ireland’s Forgotten Past: A History of the Overlooked and Disremembered.

We are already making plans for our 2021 Festival and look forward to seeing you in person then !

Our weekly round up

Here’s our weekly round up of interesting historical content – lots to read and listen to. There won’t be a round up next weekend as on Saturday 8 August we have here on our website our digital (mini) Festival with specially recorded talks and discussions. Find out more here.

In the Irish Times, historian and archivist Catriona Crowe wrote about the power of archives. She used the examples of the archives of the Irish industrial school system and the records of the adoption of Irish children in the United States from mother and baby homes to illustrate how crucial it is to preserve, properly catalogue and make these records available.

Three Castle Burning is a regular podcast that looks at aspects of Dublin’s social history and this podcast ‘From the Liberties to Lagos: Guinness and Nigeria‘ tells the story of the internationalisation of Guinness.  It links to Ireland & Empire, a theme we are touching on in our 2020 digital Festival and hope to explore further in 2021.

Novelist Kathleen MacMahon wrote a wonderful article in the Guardian last week on so-called “quiet” Irish women writers. Her grandmother, Mary Lavin, was one of the first women to feature in a poster of Ireland’s great writers. Having read all her grandmother’s work, MacMahon concludes that “.. if Ireland found these subjects quiet, Ireland needed its hearing adjusted.”

Another literary feature, this one in the Irish Times, was entitled ‘Mobilise the poets’. John Gibney described the origins of Irish cultural diplomacy – the quote comes from Arthur Griffith writing from prison in 1919.

And finally, a really interesting opinion piece by Dr Gillian O’Brien from Liverpool John Moores University on RTE Brainstorm about government policy towards culture and heritage.  




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.

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”.


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.


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.

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.


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

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.




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.

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, HistoryHub.ie (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.

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


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

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.

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.



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.

Some interesting things to read

Another of our (irregular) round-ups of interesting articles and websites to find historical and archaeological subjects:

Today is Anzac Day and there is a fascinating article by Damian Shiels on his website about an Anzac by the name of Ambrose Haley who is buried in Midleton graveyard in east Cork. His cousin, an IRA volunteer killed in 1921, is buried nearby.

23 April marked the anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 – this website was developed in 2014 by Trinity College Dublin to mark 1000 years since this significant event and has lots of information about the battle and its context.

Two articles about very different periods of history in the Irish Times recently: Roger Stalley writing on high crosses – with some good photos including one from Monasterboice showing two men pulling each other’s beards – and Nathan Mannion on the ‘wine’ geese who left Ireland after the Williamite Wars and went into the wine trade, either producing or making wine. Cork-born Richard Hennessy is probably the most famous, but they also include Skibbereen-born wine broker Abraham Lawton, based in Bordeaux and from whom Thomas Jefferson sought advice on stocking his wine cellar.

The Roaringwater Journal always has interesting content, and its authors, Finola and Robert, post new things every Sunday on the history and archaeology of West Cork (we should declare an interest – they are on the Festival committee!)

Some interesting things to read and listen to …


Another of our (irregular) round-ups of interesting articles and audio on historical and archaeological subjects:

An article on the Irish Georgian Society’s website caught our eye, as it highlights some of the historic buildings in the Cork town of Youghal. ‘From Warden’s House to Myrtle Grove’ was originally published in 2017 and its author is Peter Murray, who spoke at our 2018 Festival.

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has been featuring poems read by BBC correspondents and others. Here is Fergal Keane – who we are delighted will be at our 2020 Festival – reading from the Benedictus: Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue.

The Irish Story website is always worth a visit and is regularly updated (or you can sign up to their newsletter) – fascinating articles recently on General Henry Tudor by Sean William Gannon and Epidemics in Ireland by John Dorney. John is the editor of the Irish Story and spoke at last year’s Festival.

The Discovery Programme is a government-funded body that conducts advanced research in Irish archaeology and related disciplines, often using new technologies. They have published a series of short articles on some of their recent work called A Research Miscellany, which includes many intriguing projects. The piece on the aerial photographer Leo Swan is particularly interesting.

Dr Connie Kelleher, another Festival contributor, has just published her book The Alliance of Pirates: Ireland and Atlantic piracy in the early 17th century (Cork University Press) which we can highly recommend.

And finally, two articles that are not about history but both very enjoyable – Frank McNally in the Irish Times on bookshelves and Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy in the same paper on star-gazing during lockdown.