Commemorating 1919-23 will be much bigger challenge than 1916 – historian
History festival hopes to generate debate on how to commemorate revolutionary period
West Cork History Festival organiser Dr Simon Kingston
The organisers of a history festival in west Cork are hoping its examination of some of the most controversial events of the Irish revolutionary period will stimulate a debate that can generate ideas on how its centenary can be commemorated.
West Cork History Festival organiser Dr Simon Kingston said that event was designed to offer something of interest to intelligent lay people, including lectures on tower houses in the area and piracy off the West Cork coast, but with much attention on the revolutionary years of the early 20th century.
Among the many speakers who will talk about events from 1919 to 1923 is Dr Eve Morrison of UCD, who will give a lecture on Cork Ghosts of the Irish Revolution, and Dr Andy Bielenberg of UCC, who will speak about spies and informers in Cork during the War of Independence.
Dr Kingston acknowledged that the line-up of speakers, which also includes Prof David Fitzpatrick, William Sheehan, Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris, had already prompted some robust exchanges between Dr Morrison and researcher, Niall Meehan in the letters page of the Southern Star.
“Yes, there has been some contention and we’re not going to be shy about the contentious issues particularly those in relation to the War of Independence and the Bandon Valley massacre,” said Dr Kingston, acknowledging that his hope for a frank and fearless discussion may prove painful for some.
“I think the general view - and one I would share - is that the way the State commemorated 1916 was exemplary and showed a kind of maturity and recognised a plurality of experience that was very impressive but arguably the centenaries of events from 1919 to 1923 are going to be much harder.
“The way 1916 was commemorated revealed, to put it rather crudely, there are more than two sides to the story but when you get to the 1919-1923 period, it’s even more complex and we hope that our panel of speakers reflect the varying views of that period.
“So, for example, Andy Bielenberg has a very different view of the treatment of spies and informers to the view of David Fitzpatrick which is different again to Eve Morrison’s which is different again to Kevin Myers’s view or Eoghan Harris’s view so we have a diverse range of views in our panel.
“And we would welcome even more diverse views.”
Dr Kingston believes one of the most eagerly awaited events at the festival will be a panel discussion on the War of Independence, chaired by Irish Times news editor Mark Hennessy, and featuring Prof Fitzpatrick, Dr Morrison, William Sheehan and Mr Myers.
Two other panel discussions on Ireland and the first World War featuring among others, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Julia Neuberger, Kevin Myers, Canadian ambassador to Ireland– Kevin Vickers and Irish ambassador to the UK– Dan Mulhall, are likely to prove highly attractive, Dr Kingston said.
“At the end then, we have Prof Eunan O’Halpin, who is on the Government’s Committee on Commemorations, to draw it all together and see if anything has been discovered in the preceding 48 hours which can help us as we enter this set of very complex centenaries.”