A West Cork botanist, a Dublin psychiatric hospital, mythical creatures of Cashel & the Irish founder of the SAS

RTE Brainstorm featured West Cork botanist Ellen Hutchins recently – an interesting article but a slight exaggeration to say that ‘Hutchins’ name had been almost lost to history’ given that she is very well-known in Cork and there’s a Festival named after her in Bantry every year ! The beautiful image is above is taken from the collection of Hutchins’ drawings held at UCC, which has named its Environmental Research Insitute building after her.

And another West Cork story – we only recently discovered the stained glass windows in the Church of the Holy Rosary at Kilcoe. You can read more about them on this excellent blog They were commissioned in 1943 from the Harry Clarke Studios by the Very Rev Florence McCarthy, parish priest at Aughadown from 1926 to 1963. They were designed by Terence Clarke, son of Walter Clarke and nephew of Harry.

This is a really interesting podcast from a series exploring the histories of the Grangegorman area of north, inner-city Dublin. This particular one looks at the history of the ‘Richmond Lunatic Asylum’, now restored at the TU Dublin Lower House.

We’re a bit late for Halloween, but the Heritage Ireland blog had a piece on the grotesque carved animals in Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel. They are medieval and generally depict mythical beasts or hybrid creatures with animal and sometimes human features. Read more here.

Lots of really interesting talks can be found on the PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) YouTube channel, including Festival contributor Ronan McGreevy talking about his book on the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in 1922. Also this might be a good opportunity to mention that the Festival has its own YouTube channel which can be found here.

Finally the BBC has started screening a new historical drama SAS Rogue Heroes about the founding of the SAS during the Second World War (which is very loosely based on fact). The creator Steven Knight was responsible for Peaky Blinders, starring Cork’s very own Cillian Murphy. The Wartime NI blog has a feature on one of the founders Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne from County Down, who is pictured below.


Decade of Centenaries but more too – Irish Georgian interiors & a rebellion in Jamaica

History Ireland’s recent podcast had the intriguing title ‘What if Michael Collins had Survived the Civil War?’ featuring Paddy Cullivan, Brian Hanley, David McCullagh, Fearghal McGarry and Festival contributor Margaret O’Callaghan. It was recorded at Electric Picnic last month (so sound quality varies!) The photo above is taken from the Decade of Centenaries website and shows Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.

Closer to home, more on the Stories of the Revolution project from our friends at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre. The project involved over 800 children from 48 schools around West Cork, who collected folklore over four years from elders in their local community on the 1916-23 revolutionary period. These stories are now published in the form of a book and online archive – find out more and browse the archive here.

The recent Dublin Festival of History had a discussion ‘Sister Against Sister – women and the Irish civil war’ featuring leading historians of Irish women’s history reflecting on events leading to civil war and the contribution made by women to the war. You can watch it here and the speakers include Leeann Lane, Mary McAuliffe and Margaret Ward.

Jennifer Horgan wrote in the Guardian this week about the lack of Irish history taught in British schools.

Some interesting lectures from the Irish Georgian Society this autumn ‘Georgian Homes’: material culture of the domestic interior in 18th century Ireland’ – you can book to attend in-person in Dublin or online via the IGS website.

And finally, Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 is always worth listening to but particularly so this week. Bonnie Greer discussed the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865 and in particular some of the women who were executed for their part in it – you can listen here.


Our Festival Concert is going on tour!

We are very excited to announce that our 2022 Festival concert ‘Thus she shall go to the stars’ is going on tour. On 22 November it will be performed at Armagh Observatory & Planetarium (AOP) by Jessie Kennedy and the Celestial Strings.

Book your tickets here:

The photos above and below show some of the historic buildings of Armagh Observatory, founded in 1789 by the Archbishop of Armagh with the Planetarium opening in 1968.


Bob Geldof for WCHF 2022

Today at Reen in West Cork, Bob Geldof recorded a special film for our 2022 Festival. He read aloud NM Cummins’ letter, one of the most well-known documents of the Famine period, and gave his thoughts on it, on Reen today and on famine more broadly. Our thanks to artist John Kelly for hosting Geldof and the Festival at this extraordinary place.

The film will be screened at our Festival next month as part of our reflections on 175 years since Black ’47. There will also be contributions from John, and from academics Professor Breandán Mac Suibhne, Professor Melissa Fegan and Dr Charles Read. There are a few in-person tickets still available and live-stream tickets too – buy them here.


West Cork, Dublin & Offaly histories

Pictured above is a new book – Stories of the Revolution – written by Terri Kearney and Margaret Murphy of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre which we can highly recommend. It features stories of the 1916-1923 period as collated by hundreds of primary school pupils across West Cork. Terri spoke about the project which was the inspiration for the book at our 2018 Festival.

Keeping the focus on West Cork, for Heritage Week 2022 at the end of last month, Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage put together this interesting film on the history of Timoleague.

Still West Cork related, there has been a huge amount of coverage of the centenary of the killing of one of its most famous sons on 22 August 1922. Of the many articles on Michael Collins and his death this on RTE Brainstorm was one of the most visual. It includes the famous portrait of him in death by his friend Sir John Lavery pictured below..

Love of Ireland (Michael Collins) by Sir John Lavery, 1922
© Hugh Lane Gallery. Lady Lavery Memorial Bequest through Sir John Lavery, 1935

The Dublin Festival of History has announced its programme (26 September – 16 October) with over 130 events and some fanastic speakers.

And finally a fascinating piece here from the Offaly History blog on the discovery of a portrait of the Brontes in Hill House in Banagher in 1914.


Press coverage for our 2022 Festival

There was extensive coverage in the Irish Times on our discussions around the Famine here and here and on our Sunday talks about the 1922 Bandon Valley killings here

The Examiner picked up on the Taoiseach’s comments here and Jude Webber in the Financial Times covered our discussions on the Famine here (may be pay-walled). We were also featured in The Tablet on the same topic.

Our Festival concert, and its creator Jessie Kennedy, was featured in the press too in the Southern Star here.


2022 Festival Images

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin with Festival founders Simon & Victoria Kingston
An Taoiseach taking part in our afternoon of discussion to mark 175 years since Black ’47
Our Festival concert, inspired by the life of Skibbereen-born astronomer Agnes Clerke, performed by Jessie Kennedy (right) and the Celestial Quartet, who are Tess Leak, Francesca Flowers, Susan McManamon (both pictured centre) and Diana Llewellyn.
n Festival co-founder Simon Kingston introducing Dr Andy Bielenberg, who was taking part in our talks and discussions on the Bandon Valley killings of 1922 on Sunday afternoon. Other speakers Dr Gemma Clark and Professor Brian Walker can be seen behind them.

Something for after the Festival…

Bookseller extraordinaire Holger Smyth and his company Inanna Rare Books have been great supporters of the History Festival since we began. Should you be attending the Festival you may want to visit Holger’s wonderful bookshop just next door to the Festival venue – more information here.

Inanna are also running the West Cork Book Fair from 12-14 August at Inish Beg Estate between Skibbereen and Baltimore – it will be an amazing gathering of antiquarian bookdealers and we’ll definitely be there!


Festival back catalogue…

We’re currently busy with the organisation of our 2022 Festival which is the weekend after next (tickets here). So no new posts for a while but if you want some excellent historical content before that, please do have a look at all our previous talks since 2017 via the website or on our YouTube Channel.


Our 2022 speakers

This year we have the following speakers & contributors at the Festival. Click here to find out more about our programme & book your tickets.

Andy Bielenberg

Andy Bielenberg is a Senior Lecturer in History at University College Cork. He has a wide ranging interests in Irish economic and social history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Major published works include the monograph Ireland and the Industrial Revolution and the text book An economic history of Ireland since 1920. He has a particular, specialist interest in the War and revolution in Co. Cork 1914-1923, and in this sphere has been engaged in the debate on the Bandon valley massacre (see recent contribution in journal Eire Ireland). Has also made a major contribution to the debate on conflict migration and the Protestant exodus from the south of Ireland 1919-1923. He is currently working on contributions to the forthcoming Cambridge History of Ireland and the Cambridge Social history of Ireland.

Gemma Clark

Born in Manchester and educated at the University of Oxford, Dr Gemma Clark is Senior Lecturer in British and Irish History at the University of Exeter. Since her first book, Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Gemma has published on sectarianism, gender-based violence, and arson, in outlets including The Irish TimesIrish Historical StudiesAtlas of the Irish Revolution and Ireland 1922.

Melissa Fegan

Melissa Fegan is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Chester. Her publications on the Irish Famine include her book Literature and the Irish Famine 1845-1919, and book chapters and journal articles on the works of nineteenth-century Irish writers such as William Carleton, James Clarence Mangan, and Aubrey de Vere; representations of the Famine in nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first-century literature; female philanthropy and the development of the lace industry during the Famine; the Young Irelanders; nineteenth-century travel writing about Ireland; and the moral economy of the Irish hotel from the Union to the Famine.

Bob Geldof

Bob Geldor is a musician, singer-songwriter and campaigner. He was front man of the Boomtown Rats, before a highly successful solo career. He transcended this sector through his pioneering of a new kind of activism focused on the fight against poverty in low income countries. This began in his response to the Ethiopian famine of 1984 and the Live Aid concerts which followed. His success in this began long before crowd-funding and online fundraising, but inspired it. Since then he has been a powerful voice for positive change for the world’s poor and has been fearless in his opposition to those whose actions or attitudes impede that change. He has spoken in the past about the absence that is still palpable in Ireland as a result of the Famine and we look forward to his reflections on that at Reen.

John Kelly

John Kelly was born in 1965 in Bristol, England and has lived on South Reen in West Cork, since 2003. Being born in England, growing up in Australia and with an Irish father, he has three official nationalities being English, Australian and Irish. John is a visual fine artist working across multiple mediums and exhibiting internationally.

Breandán Mac Suibhne 

Brendan Mac Suibhne is a historian of modern Ireland at NUI Galway where he directs Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge. His publications include The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2017), a study of the ramifications of the Great Famine in a small community in west Donegal. With historian David Dickson, Mac Suibhne edited Hugh Dorian’s The Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social Life in Nineteenth-Century Donegal (Lilliput, 2000; University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), the most extensive lower-class account of the Great Famine, and, with critic and novelist Seamus Deane, he was a founding editor of Field Day Review, a journal of political and literary culture, and several book series.

Charles Read

Charles Read teaches economics and history at the University of Cambridge, where he is a fellow of Corpus Christi College. His research examines the causes and consequences of famines, financial crises and pandemics in Britain, Ireland and the British Empire over the past two centuries. He has two books scheduled for publication later this year: The Great Famine in Ireland and Britain’s Financial Crisis (Oct 2022) and Calming the Storms: the Carry Trade, the Banking School and British Financial Crises since 1825 (Dec 2022).

Brian Walker

Brian M. Walker is Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. Previous books include ‘A political history of the two Irelands: from partition to peace’ (2012).  His new book, ‘Irish history matters: politics, commemorations and politics’, was published in June by History Press Ireland. He is a native of Belfast and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He is from a clerical family, his father was rector of Knockbreda parish in south Belfast.

Don Wood

Don Wood was born in West Cork to a Protestant farming family, roughly half way between Kilmichael ambush site and Bealnablath. After his family left West Cork (and farming), he made a career in IT, far from the world of History Academia. He is what he terms an amateur historian. A study of his own family history gradually expanded to the local history of West Cork and his family’s place in it and he has taken a keen interest in the Irish revolutionary period and how it played out in West Cork. In 2017, he delivered a paper on Protestant decline in Southern Ireland  between 1911 and 1926 at a history conference at Maynooth University. This has since been published by Liverpool University Press as a chapter of a book on Southern Loyalism.

Festival Concert: Jessie Kennedy & the Celestial Quartet

Our Festival concert will feature Jessie Kennedy accompanied by The Celestial Quartet, comprised of three cellists, Tess Leak, Diana Llewellyn and Francesca Flowers as well as pianist Susan McManamon.

Jessie Kennedy

Jessie is an vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and writer from West Cork. She has released four studio albums to date, including the acclaimed “The Carbery Songs”. Jessie has performed and collaborated with many artists including sixties legend Donovan, Interference, James McVinnie, Nigel Kennedy, Sacha Puttnam, Glen Hansard, Jeremy Irons, John Spillane. She has headlined venues such as The National Concert Hall, Dublin, Cork Opera House, St. Andrews in London, National Digital Week and St. Barrahanes Classical Music Festival. Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Devils and Dust” on a compilation album of female artists singing Springsteen songs, which also features Emmy Lou Harris, Patti Smith, Anna Calvi and Lucinda Williams, was released earlier this year. Jessie is a violinist and vocalist with The Vespertine Quintet. 

Tess Leak

Artist and musician Tess Leak is a graduate of the BA in Visual Arts on Sherkin island and The Curious School of Puppetry in London.As cellist with the Vespertine Quintet she has enjoyed collaborating with members of Amici Dance Theatre Company as well as poets and musicians of all kinds. 

Francesca Flowers

Having been awarded a BMus from City, University of London in 1999, Francesca Flowers continued to work in the field of music, playing cello and piano, as well as promoting new music, and commissioning composers. She was Manager of the New London Children’s Choir for several years. In addition to curating visual arts exhibitions over the last decade, Francesca is Director of the Adrian Flowers Archive of Photography. In 2019 she was awarded an MA in photography from Canterbury Christ Church University.

Diana Llewellyn

Diana was born and raised in South Wales where she lived and taught music for over twenty years before making the move to West Cork. Since setting up home here she has entered fully into the musical life of the area.. teaching, conducting, performing but most of all enjoying music every day.

Susan McManamon

Susan is a pianist, choral music director and teacher based in Clonakilty, West Cork. She trained classically in piano from age 8 and completed an MA in Ethnomusicology at University College Cork in 2015. She is currently music director with Bantry and Drimoleague Community Choirs. Susan believes in the power of collaborative music making and is greatly interested in the connection between expressive voice and body. She is pianist with The Vespertine Quintet, who share a love of beautiful, sparse, minimalistic music by composers such as Arvo Pärt and Ólafur