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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 28, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    The history festival of Ireland

    John Grenham

    Irish history hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs. That might be the pinhead view, but perhaps it accounts for us having dozens and dozens of summer festivals to celebrate everything from aviators and saints to poets, pipers and soldiers, but nothing based around history itself.

    What exactly should a festival of history consist of, though? It’s hard not to imagine the extremes to be avoided. On the one hand, the Scylla of HibernoDisney, with parades of dancing milkmaids, monks and Vikings. On the other, the Charbydis of academia, endless tedium with only the occasional bloody skewering of a rival hypothesis for relief.

    Planning for the inaugural History Festival of Ireland, running from Saturday June 9th to Sunday 10th next, seems to have steered expertly between the twin hazards. The event is part of the Carlow Arts Festival, Éigse 2012, and as such aims to have fun and also stimulate a bit of thought. Two threads run simultaneously on both days, the one in the Marquee on the lawn consisting of stories, interviews, readings and discussions that positively demand audience participation, while the Library sessions provide some deeply sceptical examinations of Irish sacred cows.

    The topics covered range from the proposition that Irish military history has been all downhill since Brian Boru and Clontarf to the question of whether the Queen’s visit last year actually changed anything. In between come the Irish in the American Civil War and World War I, Eucharistic Congresses, Irish responsibility for creating the British Empire and much, much more.

    The founding curator of the festival is Turtle Bunbury and the event is being held at his ancestral pile, the Victorian Gothic Lisnavagh House in Co. Carlow. More information at thehistoryfestivalofireland.com.

    You may consider your back scratched, Turtle.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]

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