Inaugural history festival a mixture of debate, discussion and discord

August 10th, 2017 3:03 PM

By Southern Star Team

Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Dan Mulhall and Bishop Paul Colton.

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It was three days of informed debate, discussion and a little controversy, at the inaugural West Cork History Festival in Skibbereen last weekend.


IT was three days of informed debate, discussion and a little controversy, at the inaugural West Cork History Festival in Skibbereen last weekend.

The festival, which was held at Rosebank House just outside Skibbereen, saw large crowds gather to hear a number of well-known and respected history experts speak on subjects ranging from the War of Independence to The Knights Templar. 

The subjects also included spies and informers, Protestant depopulation, the commemoration of the Irish who fought in World War I and the creation of the House of Cards books and TV shows.

‘The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive,' festival organiser Simon Kingston told The Southern Star. ‘People seemed to enjoy the atmosphere. They welcomed the chance to hear leading historians, writers, and thinkers debate and discuss a range of topics,' he said. ‘There was a willingness to challenge received wisdom. The mix of subject matter and the chance to enjoy West Cork food and drink were also appreciated.' 

Noted historians taking part were Professor Eunan O'Halpin, Prof Nigel Biggar from Oxford, Prof Roy Foster and Dr Eve Morrison. 

‘While we approached some controversial and difficult subjects, I do not think it was a case of reopening old wounds,' Simon continued. ‘For most people, thinking about the events of the revolutionary period in Ireland is something we can now do honestly. Our contributors came at the subject from different perspectives and, as we expected, there was not agreement on everything.'

The festival itinerary also included two ambassadors, Canadian Kevin Vickers, who spoke about the Irish-Canadian soliders who fought in WWI and Ireland's new ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall, who spoke on Irish writers during the same conflict. 

FF leader Micheál Martin was there in an informal capacity. ‘I am here on my holidays,' he said. ‘I was very taken by the list, especially with Prof Foster who launched the event and I thought his address was very thought-provoking. I studied history myself in UCC and I hope this is the beginning of something that will continue here in West Cork. The quality of the speakers here at this event is second to none.'

However, while the debate on historical events continued, it was the controversial comments in his weekly column for The Sunday Times Irish edition, by guest speaker Kevin Myers, that almost overshadowed the events at Rosebank House on Sunday.

Mr Myers was, somewhat ironically, seated beside fellow contributor Julia Neuberger – one of the first women to become a Rabbi in the UK.

They featured on a panel discussing the subject of commemorating the Irish who fought and died during WWI. Within hours of speaking in Skibbereen, Myers was fired from his position as a columnist, as his editor apologised for the writer's ‘anti-Semitic' comments.

When asked to clarify his position on Sunday afternoon in Skibbereen, Mr Myers declined.

‘I'm here to discuss the Irish in WWI, nothing more,' Mr Myers said.

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