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 So no new posts for a while but if you want some excellent historical content before that, please do have a look at all our previous talks since 2017 via the website or on our YouTube Channel.


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.


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


The Book of St Albans, the Tailteann Games, the Civil War & a fantastic resource on the Diaspora

Trinity College Dublin has recently announced the digitisation of the Book of St Albans, held in its Library since 1661. Dating from the 13th century, it was written by the Benedictine monk and chronicler Matthew Paris and features over 50 works of art telling of the life of St Alban and the building of St Alban’s Cathedral (the image is shown above). Read more about the project and the Book of St Albans here.

The Guardian’s Rory Carroll wrote a really interesting article this week on the Tailteann games of 1924 in Dublin, which were bigger than the Paris Olympics of that year but are now largely forgotten.

The recent UCC conference on the Civil War is now available to view online here (Day 1 and then click through for the later days) – we’ve only got part way through but there’s an outstanding range of topics and speakers, many of whom have presented at the West Cork History Festival.

And finally, we recently discovered the Irish Diaspora Histories Network which has lots and lots of interesting content from scholars from all over the world who study the Irish diaspora. The first few articles alone cover diaspora stories in England, the US, Shanghai, France and South Africa.


Women’s experiences in the revolutionary period & beyond

Festival contributor Linda Connolly wrote in the Irish Times recently about sexual violence against women in the revolutionary period, a subject she also discussed at the Festival. Linda focused particularly in her article on the experiences of Eileen Mary Warburton Biggs from Co Tipperary. In June 1922, Biggs was assaulted and raped by a number of IRA men who broke into the house she shared with her husband near Dromineer, Nenagh. The article is shocking reading. The illustration above is taken from the article and is by Stephen Rhatigan.

Also on the subject of women’s experiences in the revolutionary period, Lindsay Earner-Byrne wrote on the UCC website about the role and representation of women in the civil war. At the end, her piece looked forward to what women would experience in the Free State: “While the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State honoured the commitment to equal suffrage, it did not prove effective at preventing the enactment of legislation in the 1920s and ’30s which openly discriminated against women and reduced the horizon of their citizenship. So many women, disaffected by the new state, disappeared from sight, submerged by the struggle to survive or dispatched on emigrant ships.”

Fionnula Walsh wrote an article in the Examiner recently covering some of the same ground, but also focusing on the trauma endured by families and the lasting impact of the Civil War violence on the wives and children left behind.

Finally, moving to a different period of violent upheaval on the island – the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Epidemic Ireland featured an article entitled ‘Feminist Activism, Rona Fields and the History of Trauma during the Troubles’ by Ian Miller. It explored the work of the at times controversial American psychologist Rona Fields in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, who particularly focused on the experiences of women and children in nationalist communities.


Sir Henry Wilson, 19th century prison hulks, a “drunken man of genius” & medical staff in the Troubles

The most recent Irish Military History podcast focused on the assassination by the IRA of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson in June 1922. The podcast features an interview with Festival contributor and Irish Times journalist and historian, Ronan McGreevy who has just published a book on the subject. Listen to the podcast here and find out more about Ronan and his book here.

We liked this from the Irish Aesthete on the ‘drunken man of genius’ – he was the architect William Alphonsus Scott (1871-1921) Described as such by WB Years, Scott mostly designed churches and this post highlights his work in Spiddal, County Galway.

The Epidemic Belfast website is well worth a visit – it’s been developed by researchers from Ulster University’s School of History and explores Belfast’s medical history since the 19th century. A recent article by Ruth Coon of QUB focused on the experiences of medical staff during the Troubles.

RTE’s Brainstorm published this by UCC-based Anna McKay – the grim story of Ireland’s convict ships and prison hulks. Ireland’s first hulk, the Surprize, began operating in 1823, and was moored in Cork harbour where it housed around 300 convicts at any one time. 

And finally, the National Army Museum in London has some interesting features on its website focusing on Irish soldiers – click here to read about individuals, campaigns and themes.


Feargal Keane at the 2021 Festival

Fergal Keane gave a memorably moving talk as the closing speaker for our 2021 digital Festival. He has recently been writing and speaking about his PTSD including in an article in association with a documentary on the BBC. You can watch his talk to last year’s Festival here.

BBC Radio 4 has had a 1990s season recently which included this really interesting documentary called Russia’s Restless 90s – the BBC’s former Moscow Correspondent Tim Whewell looks at how what happened in Russia in the 1990s and how it shaped the Russia we see today.

The Festival blog has just caught up with a really interesting Irish Story post from last month on Bill Dwyer, one of a number of Irish-American individuals who became leading figures in organised crime in the the 1920s and ’30s. Dwyer himself, born to Irish parents in New York, was known as The King of the Rum Runners and made the most of the ‘business opportunities’ afforded by Prohibition.

From rum to wine- we haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, but the title and cover of a new book from Four Courts Press caught the Festival’s eye: Enjoying Claret in Georgian Ireland – A History of Amiable Excess by Patricia McCarthy. Find out more about the book on the Four Courts website.

The excellent newsletter Tripe & Drisheen had a piece on the future of Cork’s Butter Exchange by Ellie O’Byrne, highlighting the central role played by butter in Cork’s economy in the 19th century.

And finally, an unexpected but intriguing article in the Guardian this week linking the current threat to the Roe v Wade in the US, air stewardesses and women’s rights in the 1960s.


Kilmichael: the Life and Afterlife of an Ambush

Dr Eve Morrison’s new book ‘Kilmichael: the Life and Afterlife of an Ambush’ will be published shortly and we are sharing the invitation to her two book launches here. Eve spoke at our 2020 online Festival about some of her research for this important new book, and you can see her talk here.


James Kingston

James combined learning, generosity and humour in large and equal measure. He was a great friend to and supporter of the History Festival, both behind the scenes and on the platform. He leaves an echo in the world we will try to catch and we will always remember him with gratitude.

Yesterday the Irish Times published this obituary of James, which gives some sense of his extraordinary life.

James (right) with Carl Dinnen at our 2019 Festival.