Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2023), Letters, Volume 31

Sir,—Simon Kingston of the West Cork History Festival has made a disturbing statement in a History Ireland Hedge School (https://www.historyireland.com/hedge-schools/) on the TG4 documentary Marú in Iarthar Chorcaí (Murder in West Cork). He says:

‘At the History Festival which we’ve been running for six years we’ve encountered extraordinarily vitriolic behaviour from a very small minority, having our place where we hold the festival picketed, having all sorts of allegations made about us and who is supporting us, including a suggestion that the British government is funding the festival’.

Does this chilling news signal a return of the bad old days of fear and prejudice and sectarian intimidation and worse? It is but a small step from picket to rowdy thuggery, to fascistic suppression of free speech. With added vitriol!

Together with an equally elderly colleague of the Aubane Historical Society, I attended the first meeting of the festival in August 2017. We saw no picket or any other attempt to prevent people from attending. In fact, we ourselves paid the entrance fee and participated. We distributed, free of charge, West Cork historical material such as ‘Embers of Revisionism’ by Dr Niall Meehan and Dr Brian P. Murphy OSB. Among those who read our contributions were Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin and Bishop Paul Colton of Cork. Eoghan Harris had a full session of his own in the festival. When asked to comment on our contribution, he said it was an exercise of free speech.

On the second day of the 2017 festival Mr Kingston approached us personally a couple of times. The first time round he said he would prefer if we stopped handing out leaflets. We continued anyway. Free speech and all that. The second time he told us to leave. So we packed up and left.

The following year (2018) we decided not to go into the festival from which we had been ejected the previous year. Instead, we remained on the public road outside the entrance and, as participants arrived, we handed them much the same material as before. We certainly did not seek to prevent or dissuade anybody from attending. We were assisted at the entrance by a festival official who was guiding the participants as they entered. Whenever he was otherwise occupied we ourselves directed the arrivals.

People continued to arrive. But we ran out of leaflets and decided to depart, leaving the steward to manage on his own. Just as we were driving away, who else but Mr Kingston himself came sprinting out onto the road, declaiming in very loud tones, and taking photographs. We ignored this comedy and departed.

Readers can judge for themselves where the vitriol came from, and who was trying to suppress open discussion and free speech.—Yours etc.,

Aubane Historical Society
Dunmore East


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