About the Festival

January 30, 2017

The West Cork History Festival – what is it and why do we do it?

The West Cork History Festival is five years old in 2021. In it, we try to bring people who research and write about history together with a public audience of informed and interested people. The festival is still in its infancy and we run on a shoestring budget, but we aim to make a contribution to the local cultural programme in West Cork and to wider conversations about important historical subjects.

We take our inspiration from the richness of the history of West Cork itself, but, like the people of West Cork, we are outward looking. Each year, we seek to broaden the range of the Festival to include national and international themes. This is a work in progress, as we gradually build both our network and the resource base to be even more inclusive.

We are running a Festival, not an academic conference or symposium, so each year we have a range of subjects which are loosely connected, rather than following single defining research theme. We hope that by bringing leading academics together with non-academics, and non-historians, we provide an intelligent general audience with food for thought.

The Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations has as one of its tenets that the aim of commemoration should be “to broaden sympathies without having to abandon loyalties”. We believe that is very good advice. We think that including a range of contributors, some with unconventional or unpopular analyses, is necessary to arrive at a generous and truly informed view of our histories.

We do not believe anyone ever has the final word in historical debates and our aim is always to have a plurality of opinions. This means we have sometimes had controversial speakers and some people find that a challenge, even offensive. We include people with different interpretations of our pasts. We do not suggest that any programme of ours offers a definitive view. We do hope people who attend will come away challenged and inspired by our speakers to think and read more, whether they agree with what they have heard or not.

This all sounds a bit worthy, and in one sense it is intended to be worthy. Being at the Festival is also supposed to be fun. In pre-Covid times, food, drink, and music were a big part of the experience. They will be again when we can meet in person. Some of the most memorable parts of 2017, 2018, and 2019 were the conversations in the bar and the bookshop, we are looking forward to their return.

In 2021, we have had to construct a purely virtual programme for the Festival. It is constructed around the two connected strands of ‘Ireland in 1921’ and ‘Ireland and Empire’. This will range from the actions of Crown Forces in Ireland during the revolution, to aspects of the Irish experience of the British Empire. Of course, as much recent work has suggested, the Irish Revolution is illuminated by an understanding of its international context, both the First World War and the crisis of empire that followed. As in previous years, this will be an important part of what many of our speakers discuss.

The bulk of the Festival programme is free to view on our website, to maximise its accessibility - find out more here. We do have a number of live events, to allow people to engage with some of our speakers and join in the discussion, as well as a fantastic live-streamed Festival Concert. We hope you enjoy it!

Our thanks

For all their support for the West Cork History Festival we would like to thank the following:


John & Jo Spearman, Chair of Patrons

Bishop Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

William Bollinger

The Harold Barry Trust


Chantry Cottage Enterprises


We are very grateful to the following organisations for their grants for the 2019 Festival:

Cork County Council's Local Festival Fund

Creative Ireland County Cork Grant Scheme

The Irish Government's Reconciliation Fund (Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade)


Ben Burman & Aisling Ludden-Burman

Patrick Handley

Simon King

James Kingston

Kirstan Marnane & Philip Graf

Joe Mares and Etain Lavelle-Mares

Charlie McCarthy

Peadar O'Mórdha


Liss Ard Estate for their generous provision of parking facilities when we have a physical festival and visitors with cars to park


The Ludgate Hub, with which we were proud to partner in 2019


The Festival Committee

Simon Kingston, Founder; Victoria Kingston, Founder
Dr David Edwards, Danielle O'Donovan, Finola Finlay, Robert Harris, David Clarke, Di Pitcher, Jessie Kennedy

Honorary President: Professor Roy Foster

Contact Details

Castletownshend Road,
County Cork,
P81 HF61

phone: +353 (0)87 356 1871
email: westcorkhistoryfestival@gmail.com