West Cork History Festival set to bring Skibbereen to the forefront of historical debate

Posted on: 9th June, 2017

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Patrick J. Mahoney

Patrick J. Mahoney studied cultural history at NUI Galway’s Centre for Irish Studies, and now teaches in the department of history at Sacred Heart University, Connecticut. He is interested in the study of emigrant narratives, and the Irish historical experience as it relates to those in the United States and Britain. This column highlights the stories of significant people and places with West Cork connections, throughout the world.

Next month, the inaugural West Cork History Festival will run from July 28 to 30 at Rosebank, just outside Skibbereen. The event, which is the brainchild of organiser Simon Kingston, will consist of lectures, debates, and film screenings. Of how the festival came to be, Kingston remarked, “I am a West Cork Kingston by ancestry, and while the family lived in other parts of Ireland, when I was growing up we always came back to Cork on holiday. My parents have a cottage at Cunnamore point, where my maternal grandmother came from. The place, its character, and history have always fascinated me and, a few years ago, my wife and I bought Rosebank, a house just outside Skibb. Both of us are historians and we thought that a history festival would complement the rich range of cultural activity that already takes place in West Cork.” Considering the rich programme that they have put together, they have certainly achieved that goal.

In addition to the set sessions and events, attendees will also be treated to excellent local food selections, and have the chance to chat informally with the internationally renowned list of presenters. Speaking of the aim and diversity of the festival, Kingston remarked, “The idea is an event, aimed at the intelligent layperson, not only the academic. In the first year, the bulk of the programme will be on Irish subjects, but this is not intended to be an exclusive focus. We are interested in both Irish and international subjects, on the premise that West Cork is a plural, outward-looking place and a good vantage point from which to think about histories from all over the world.” The lineup to the festival is particularly noteworthy, if not for the marquee names that organisers have drawn, then for the diversity in scholarship, which will be on display. On Friday, July 28, Professor Roy Foster, recognised as the premier revisionist historian in Ireland and authorised biographer of WB Yeats, will open the festivities. On the other end of the historical spectrum, the day will conclude with a screening and discussion of the biopic Rebel Rossa, which was shot and directed by the American-born great-grandsons of the storied Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. However, perhaps the most intriguing part of the programme is a Saturday afternoon panel focusing on the War of Independence in Cork. Over the past few decades, the study of IRA activity in Cork during the period of 1919-1923 has proven immensely controversial amongst historians. Spurred on by articles and books by the late Peter Hart and rebuttals by the likes of Niall Meehan, the colorful debates have been plentiful, ranging from allegations of questionable source work and contemporaneous agendas to new insights made available through the online release of the Bureau of Military History files. In recognising the lack of opportunities for scholars from both sides of the academic divide to discuss this integral period in Irish history, the organisers noted that they have tried [to] “draw speakers with differing views together in open debate, in this way anticipating upcoming discussions and commemoration of the centenaries of the [revolutionary period].” Contributors will include Professor David Fitzpatrick, Dr Andy Bielenberg, Professor Eunan O’Halpin, Dr Eve Morrison, and Dr William Sheehan.

In addition to these discussions, there will be talks on a slew of other subjects, including the Great Earl of Cork, the Knights Templar in Ireland, the archaeology of tower houses, piracy off the coast of Cork, and commemoration of Irish involvement in the First World War. Contributors will be both local and national and include Dr Connie Kelleher, William Casey, Professor Marianne Elliot, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Dr. Heather Jones, Kevin Myers, Professor Terry Barry, Finola Finlay, Dr David Edwards, HE Dan Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to Britain (and soon to become Ambassador to the USA), and HE Kevin Vickers, Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland.

The festival will also include the highly anticipated launch of the 2017 edition of the Journal of the Skibbereen and District Historical Society. Festivities will conclude on Sunday with a talk by celebrated author and screenwriter Michael Dobbs entitled, ‘Life, Lust, and Liquor: How House of Cards wrote itself’. For tickets or to obtain more information, visit the official festival website at westcorkhistoryfestival.org.

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