The West Cork History Festival – what is it and why do we do it?
The West Cork History Festival is seven years old in 2023. 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 do this at a time when open, frank, and respectful conversations about our past seem to have become rarer: in Ireland, between Ireland and Britain, and more widely. We try to make a small contribution by hosting some.
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 programme to include national and international themes. This is a work in progress, as we gradually build both our network and the resource base we will be even more inclusive.
We are running a Festival, not an academic conference or symposium, so each year we have a selection of subjects which are loosely connected, rather than following a 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 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 had to construct a purely virtual programme for the Festival. It was constructed around the two connected strands of ‘Ireland in 1921’ and ‘Ireland and Empire’. This ranged 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 empires 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 also have a number of live ticketed 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!
Since 2017 we have been very grateful for the support of:
Cork County Council
The Department for Foreign Affairs (Reconciliation Fund)
The Harold Barry Trust
as well as the Festival’s Patrons, Donors, and Friends.
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
Founders: Simon Kingston & Victoria Kingston
Danielle O’Donovan, David Clarke, Di Pitcher, Jessie Kennedy, Dr Richard Butler, Finola Finlay & Robert Harris
Honorary President: Professor Roy Foster
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