Launch of the Thomas Kent Inaugural History Symposium at Fermoy

12 Jun 2018

The Thomas Kent Inaugural History Symposium was launched in Fermoy on Thursday, June 7, fittingly, under the arches of Kent Bridge.

In the Decade of Commemorations, establishing a History School in the name of one of the forgotten patriots is to create a living memorial, a way of ensuring that the name Thomas Kent cannot be overlooked in the furture.  The core of the symposium - a convivial gathering to discuss a subject - is to give voice to aspects of our history that are neglected or that have been too difficult to speak of. The inaugural symposium, which takes place in Fermoy September 28 - 30, will focus on Ireland 1918. Historians and social commentators will paint a picture of what life was like in Ireland as the First World War was shuddering to a close.  Through the eyes of a resident in the town itself in 1918, Dr Aoife Bhreatnach will explore what it was like to be alive in what was, at that period, a garrison town.  The garrison in Fermoy was the largest, but far from being the only one.  In 1888 for example, of the 51 towns identified in the province of Munster, almost half contained a barrack.  So many of the military buildings of that time have disappeared or are unrecognisable now.  Archaeologist Damian Shiels will examine the history we're literally standing on top of.  We know too well now in Ireland, the cost of burying history when the story has not been told or when all of the voices have not been heard. Difficult though they still are for some to talk about, the symposia in 2019 and the years to follow will open a national conversation about the War of Independence and the Civil War.  The idea to form the Thomas Kent History School belongs to Mary Colette Sheehan, a PhD candidate in UCC, where she is studying memory - how we remember and what we forget. "Fermoy is one of the most interesting towns in Ireland in terms of its military history.  It is what formed the attitudes of so many of the people who played an active role in their extraordinary efforts to create an independent Ireland.  To study remembering and forgetting in such a setting is fascinating.  The chance to talk about it, to open the conversation to everyone who comes to the symposium is really exciting."

The line up of speakers who have already agreed to come to Fermoy is impressive. "Professor Joe Lee is coming! The last time I heard Professor Lee speak was at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin 2016, and President Higgins sat in the audience, listening to him."  Thomas Kent was a man of the Blackwater Valley, a tenant and later a landowner.  Professor Terence Dooley from Maynooth will set the context of the land question at the time, Gabriel Doherty from UCC, the political climate and military rule, and military historian Gerry White will explore how - and why - history forgot Thomas Kent.  The symposium is giving voice to the debate as to why we teach history at all and what it means for the nation when we decide not to.  Sheehan concludes: "This a topic athat is exercising people right now and I know it will generate a vigorous debate. I'm looking forward to knowing what's going to come out of it.  In addition to talking about history, perhaps we'll actually make some in Fermoy in September."  The Thomas Kent History Symposium, with the blessing of the Kent Family, is made possibel through a generous grant from The Heritage Council of Ireland, Cork County Council, and the support of the School of History in UCC and Fermoy Forum.  Information about the event can be found at the website Fermoys Memory

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Room 2.22, O'Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland