Fermoy symposium to honour Thomas Kent
Event will ensure the 'forgotten patriot of 1916' will be remembered
It was fitting that the launch of the Thomas Kent Inaugural History Symposium should have taken place last week in the shadow of the of the Fermoy bridge that proudly bears his name.
The symposium, which will take place in Fermoy at the end of September, is the brainchild Mary Collette Sheehan a PhD at UCC where she is studying memory - how we remember and what we forget.
It is apt that she should have chosen the name of Thomas Kent, the Castlelyons native dubbed 'the forgotten patriot of 1916', to be the standard bearer for the three-day event that will feature presentations by a number of high profile guest speakers.
"Establishing a History School in the name of one of the forgotten patriots is a way of ensuring that the name of Thomas Kent cannot be overlooked in the future," said Mary Collette.
She said the core of the symposium, which she said would be a "convivial gathering to discuss a subject", would be to give voice to aspects of our history that have "been neglected or have been too difficult to speak of."
The focus of the inaugural symposium, which will take place from September 28 -30, will be on Ireland at the end of The Great War in 1918.
"Historians and social commentators will paint a vivid picture of what life was like in Ireland as the First World War drew to its shuddering conclusion," said Mary Collette.
For example, the highly respected historian Dr Aoife Bhreatnach will, through the eyes of a Fermoy resident of the time, explore what it was like to live in a garrison town in 1918.
"While the garrison in Fermoy was the largest in Munster, it was far from being the only one. In 1888, for example, of the 51 towns identified in the province almost half contained a barrack," said Mary Collette.
She pointed out that many military buildings of that time have disappeared or are now unrecognisable.
"With this in mind, archaeologist Damien Sheils 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," said Mary Colette.
"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 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," she added.
Other speakers will include historian and former senator Professor Joe Lee, Professor Terence Dooley from Maynooth who will set the context of the land question at the time, UCC's Gabriel Doherty who will talk about the political climate of the era and military historian Gerry while, who will examine how and why history forgot Thomas Kent.
Mary Colette said the symposium would give voice to the debate about why we teach history at all and what it means for the Irish nation when we decide not to.
"This a topic that 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," she grinned.
Even before this years event takes place, Mary Collette is already planning next year's symposium.
"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," she said.
More information about the event, which has the blessing of the Kent family and is grant aided by The Heritage Council of Ireland and Cork County Council and supported by the UCC School of History and Fermoy Forum, can be found at www.fermoysmemorybank.com.