Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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(See the original, complete with images, here).

Next up on my weekend of high culture was the inaugural History Festival at Lisnavagh House also in Co. Carlow. The first thing to strike me about this shindig was the setting. It was pastoral and stunning in the stolen afternoon sunshine. I wasn’t sure what to expect, history not really being my bag. The most I can really tell you about History is that it has it’s own channel. But it turns out that there is a whole host of people for whom history is exactly their bag, they love a bit of it! This was like the Electric Picnic for anoraks… in a good way. Many of the talks and events were sold out. There were people sitting outside the windows of the packed library of the main house so they could listen to the talks; there were no seats left inside.
There was also a marquee on site for other talks and events, a pop-up (this summer’s yurt!) book shop, a bar, tea tent and a stall selling pie and mash. Everything the discerning history buff needed for an afternoon out was here, including a quality line-up of speakers and events. Just strolling through the grounds I spotted Senator David Norris, Diarmaid Ferriter, Keving Myers, Manchán Magan and Ruth Dudley-Edwards. The glitterati of the historical literatti had turned out for the day.
Satirist and musician Paddy Cullivan chaired an event entitled “Virtuous Villains – Five People who Put the Hiss into History“. There were five speakers who each put forward a description of a villain of their choosing from the annals and the audience gave the historical bastards the thumbs up or down in true Roman style. Micheál Ó Siochrú gave a well delivered, blistering and scathing account of our old buddy Ollie Cromwell. You’d think he’d be preaching to the converted with this one, but there were a couple of thumbs up for Ollie in the crowd. When the discussion was opened to the floor there was heated exchange around the warted warrior and the accuracy of Micheál’s assertions by a particularly trenchant supporter of Mr. Cromwell. I’ve been trying to find a delicate way of describing this Cromwellophile without being too jingoistic – let’s just say he’d be more partial to a crumpet than crubeen. Dtuigeann tu? I enjoyed this talk, probably cos there was a bit of a row at the end of it, and especially because it was great to see people who were into something enough to actually get het up about it. A bit of passion is always welcome.



Lisnavagh House was basking in the sunshine on Saturday and the history buffs were out in force for Ireland’s first history festival. Marquees, tea and scones, pie and mash and the assembled glitterati of historical litterati mingled on the lawn. Diarmaid Ferriter supped a beer at the bar, David Norris strolled the grounds, Kevin Myers chewed the historical fat with Joshua Levine under an ancient beech and Manchán Magan and Ruth Dudley-Edwards swapped pleasantries. I felt like Donncha Ó Dúlaing at a Pantera gig. Tom Cruise captaining Verne’s Nautilus would have been less out of his depth. I started to get into it at the “Virtuous Villains – Five People who Put the Hiss into History” talk. Speakers introduced villains from Irish history and we confirmed their villainy with a thumbs up or down, in true Roman style. Trust me to find Lisnavagh’s X Factor. Highlight of my day was a heated discussion as to whether or not Cromwell was a horrible prick. Even I know the answer to that.



I love a good festival and I suspect that the use of the word to describe this undertaking was very deliberate on the part of Turtle Bunbury, the event’s organiser. Over the past weekend at Lisnavagh House in Co Carlow, over 200 people (my guesstimate — there were probably even more) gathered over what was a glorious weekend to indulge in their love of Irish history at the First Annual History Festival of Ireland.
The weather, which looked ominous leading up to the weekend, cooperated majestically and we were blessed with some wonderful sun, warm temperatures and splendid surroundings.
The two day festival featured panel talks, one-person shows, debates, discussions, and informal engagement throughout, all loosely surrounding some contentious and thought provoking topics. The list of speakers was extensive, and diverse all of whom showed great inspired dedication and delivered some wonderful and extremely creative presentations. I tweeted throughout the weekend and shared some pictures so I note the hashtag (#turtlefest) above which captures these.
The venue had concurrent sessions taking place in the stunning library inside the house and also in a marquee in the garden. There were a number of additional stalls offering a full bar, scrummy pies from the Pieminister (I love that), books from the Blessington Bookstore, Tea and biscuits from the family Bunbury and the ticket booth ably and stalwartly managed by Natasha Martin and Louise Kennedy who I have the pleasure of knowing from the MA in Digital Humanities at An Foras Feasa.
The full programme and speaker list is available at the History Festival website noted above. I would however cite the great ignite-type presentations first on the virtuous villains (none seemingly virtuous other than Lord Castlereagh who clearly earned the audience’s admiration) and the unsung heroines series which were a particular treat — all speakers to be highly commended.
I attended the bulk of the talks in the house and found the banter between Micheál O’Siochrú and Patrick Geoghan and Kevin Myers around the British Empire quite enter­tain­ing. All speakers separately reminding us that the other was not answer­ing the ques­tion asked (Could the Brit­ish Empire Have Exis­ted Without the Irish?) and then each repeatedly decid­ing to answer their own ques­tion. This of course made for a wide ran­ging, enter­tain­ing, and thought­ful debate. The bottom-line that I took away was that of course the empire (for Micheal — which Empire?) — in this all agreed, but that the pres­ence of the Irish through­out the empire prob­ably and cer­tainly con­trib­uted heart­ily to its downfall.
The championing of various villains worked very well and the decision to employ a Roman-style thumbs up thumbs down voting mechanism following each was great audience participation. On a go forward basis, I think the format really suited and if the speakers were all told they were the champion and to dig deep to find the virtues, the competitive area could be quite engaging. This format really suits something such as a ‘festival’ where we are able to make light of history and shed some of the pedantic aspects that sometimes can overtake stodgy conferences. This was a remark that was overheard much this weekend and bodes well. The festival note really struck a good chord ;-)
My first day ended with Paddy Cullivan’s highly entertaining and hugely appreciated ‘Alternative History of Ireland’ in which he presented a rich multi­media tapestry of images, song and discussion that took a scathing and self-deprecating look at the foibles of a nation over the ages. What a treat!
We managed to get back to Lisnavagh for the second day and the kick-off panel ‘This weeks’ Eucharistic Congress is a sell out – but what has the Catholic Church actually done for us?’ promised to be a rather raucous session. It appeared a little lop­sided with Ruth Dudley Edwards and Kevin Myers featured as the main conversants. As it was the self-declared religion friendly atheists were balanced very ably by Maurice Walsh. The first two suspects reprised their roles for a later discussion exploring the fates of members of the Irish Army that left Ireland to fight for the British during the Second World War.
The following stand-up for the Unsung Heroines of Ireland was a sell out and the audience was treated to a lovely vignetted series of talks on a diverse group of fascinating lifestories.
I was able to jump back and forth between the library sessions mentioned above and the events in the marquee. The entire weekend was a wonderful success and I hope that the organisers found it so as well and that we can enjoy a Second Annual History Festival of Ireland next year. After the challenging presentation on the role of the catholic church in Ireland I was very much struck that ‘Father Ted’ has become rather embedded in discourse and it would be fun to explore ‘What Father Ted did for the practice of Catholicism in Ireland’.


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Above: Regina FitzPatrick, Larry Breen and Ida Milne.


‘Roaring success! Well done Turtle for bringing the Festival together in the first place....already looking forward to next year!’ – Caroline McGee.

‘Just a quick note to put on record what I said on Sunday afternoon: thanks for a terrific festival and please pass this on to the rest of your family who made all of it so terrific.’ – Maurice Walsh, speaker.

'Lisnavagh House provided a beautiful setting for this unique event conceived and organised by Turtle Bunbury, well known Author, Broadcaster and Historian. Our contribution was a joint presentation on “Hidden Gems and Forgotten People,” which was delivered by Pat Devlin FULS and Larry Breen FLHS. It was well received by a large audience and the Federations also had a stand where we were able to advertise the work of the Federations with information leaflets and handouts. It was also an opportunity for society members to meet and share the experience of many excellent presentations given by many of the best known historians and personalities in the country.' - Federation of Local History Societies.

'Congratulations on conceiving and carrying through such a well organised event. It was quite an undertaking and you really surpassed yourselves at all times. The venue was quite beautiful, the company was loquacious and amiable and I really don't want to know how you were able to organise the lovely weather - you don't seem particularly Mephistophelean.' - Myles Dungan, speaker.

'Well done on last weekend; I heard nothing but praise and there was a great atmosphere.' - Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter, speaker.

'Thank you so much for arranging such a brilliant weekend. I really do think it was a great success' - Kevin Myers, speaker.

'The festival was a great success; I had a lovely time, felt extremely well looked after, and learned a lot from the sessions I attended. Congratulations, and I hope you can do it again next year.' - Catriona Crowe, speaker.

'Like everyone else I spoke to I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. Organisationally everything ran like clockwork. The venue was absolutely beautiful! The 'Virtuous Villains' session worked very well & Paddy Cullivan did a great job in chairing. Something along those lines should definitely be repeated. Overall, a triumph.' - Tommy Graham, editor, History Ireland, and speaker.

'Nostalgia is not just sentimental regrets for the presumed loss of things past. Good things are still with us. Well done, all of you who made this the day it was, and for those fortunate enough to attend.' - Myles Stanistreet.

'I attended 4 talks in your Library on Saturday & Sunday last & I wanted to compliment you on your wonderful venue, choice of speakers, facilities etc. I was since delighted to hear of the Government`s proposed pardon for all the Second World War Irish Army "deserters" who left to fight for the Allied cause - well done Kevin Myers & Ruth Dudley-Edwards. Lisnaveagh is a fabulous venue & I hope that you are considering using it again for next year`s History Festival. Congrats.' - Noel MacEntee.

‘We really enjoyed Saturday’s history festival; pity we couldn’t come back for Sunday.’ – Dr. Adam Winstanley.

'I just wanted to compliment you on the festival. I had a wonderful time.' - Fionna Feehan.

‘Just a short mail to say that we all enjoyed the festival. Congratulations on a job well done. I am sure you were pleased with the turn out … You certainly had great weather.’ Larry Breen, Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland.


‘Congratulations on a very successful two days of History....really interesting topics and speakers and so well organised. Well done to all concerned’ - Phyllis McMonagle.

'The week-end treat of History was wonderful at Lisnavagh! It was well organized; the weather was very pleasant and what an interesting gathering of people both giving and receiving!! It was great! I hope it will happen again next year. What a lovely venue for some of the "Gatherings" in 2013! It may be an exciting year for all genealogists!' - Ronnie Shorten.

'That was a wonderful weekend, Turtle. Congratulations and thanks and at all costs avoid an advisory committee' - Ruth Dudley Edwards, speaker.

'Thoroughly enjoyable and a real credit to you. It seemed to be a highly successful event. I hope that you are very pleased with it and that it will be possible to organise another equally successful event next year.' Prof. Marian Lyons, head of history, NUI Maynooth, speaker.

'The whole event was excellent and very well organised' - Martin Nevin, speaker.

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‘Just to add my congratulations to the many I’m sure you received on last weekend’s festival. I thoroughly enjoyed it – beautiful surroundings, great organisation, good range of interested participants and a great line-up. Very well done to you and the team. You should all be very pleased with yourselves!’ – Fiona Slevin.

'Well done Turtle, the whole weekend a huge success' - Robert O'Byrne, speaker.

'The festival was certainly a lot of fun. A high-octane blast of debating, score-settling, idea-duelling and surprising insights. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The food was excellent, as were the intertesting beers available. The library, really, was such a gorgeous venue to talk and attend talks in.' - Manchán Magan, speaker.

'It's one of my favorite festivals ever - congratulations on a job well done - as a first event it was miles ahead of anything else I've been at. It really is beautiful there. And - unlike many festival venues - great drainage! Congratulations on what I think is a great success' - Paddy Cullivan, speaker.

'Really enjoyed my brief stay and next time will stay the night, congratulations, great atmosphere.' - Michael Sheridan, reader.

‘I don't think I've ever seen an event that is attracting such attention and making everyone smile at the innovation and fun of it all. Well done Turtle and all the Turtleians assisting...’ – Ida Milne (live).

'Well done on the history festival - I was sorry that our stay was
short but still thoroughily enjoyed the events we attended and felt that everyone else did too.' - Marie Bourke.

‘Terrific day and what a lovely atmosphere....well done, AND DO do it again, please! And as for Turtle, well, the festival - hitchless - speaks for itself.’ – Ida Milne (live, day 2).

'Thanks so much for the opportunity to read. By all accounts your festival was a huge success - no doubt the first of many. It was a massive and brave undertaking; very many congratulations.' - Alison Foster, reader.

‘We really enjoyed the talks we attended ... It was a great event and has raised lots of chat among people who were there.’ – James O’Higgins-Norman.

‘Excellent day today. Interesting talks and debates, fascinating people, beautiful location. Sorry not to have been able to stay to the end, though my brain will be some time digesting all the food for thought from today. Thanks for a great festival, and already looking forward to next year's.’ – Sarah Goddard.

‘Thanks to all the Family and Team at Lisnavagh for a fantastic weekend from all the Byrnes’ – Edward Byrne.

'Thank for the opportunity to talk on Saturday I enjoyed the day very much. You live in a very lovely place' - Ann Matthews, reader.

‘I had such an enjoyable two days at the history festival – well done to you and everybody involved.’ – Norah Burgess.

‘Very many thanks for an excellent festival i hope it was good for you and the organisers and please say yes because we want several more years of this. it was a perfect setup and lisnavagh such a gorgeous house and setting.’ – Jack Tennison.

‘Congrats! The festival was a runaway success and thanks for letting me have my spake on William Desmond Taylor. See you in Lisnavagh next year’ – Marc-Ivan O’Gorman.

‘Many thanks to Turtle and all the speakers, and especially the volunteers from Eisge who gave us such a wonderful day on Saturday. You even arranged the weather perfectly! Well worth the trip from London. Here's hoping for many more years of the History Festival.’ – Esther Doyle.

‘Another brilliant idea brought to fruition!’ – Stephanie Hogan.

'Congratulations on the marvellous success of the History Festival. I can see
it going from strength to strength.' - Barbara FitzGerald.

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Above: It's action stations for the History Festival co-starring, L-R, Patrick
Geoghegan (with scroll), Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter, Turtle Bunbury (with umbrella),
Myles Dungan, Tommy Graham (the Samarang telescope), Ally Bunbury and
Claire Halligan. This photo by James Fennell appeared in The Irish Times
Magazine on Saturday May 26th.

‘I just want to say that my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed and were informed at yesterday's event and some of the talks we attended. We planned to attend some of the Library talks but long-fingered and then forgot to book. A lesson we will remember for next year! We, along with some friends from the Ulster Federation for Local Studies and, of course, the Federation of Local History Societies, attended on Saturday but some of us were unable to attend on Sunday. Anyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed the day. The setting was magnificent and you managed to organise beautiful sunshine as well! Again, congratulations on a very successful event and really looking forward to next year's event.’ – JJ Woods.

‘Really enjoyed the History Festival. Great speakers, lovely setting and nice to catch up with friends and also to meet Val Byrne & Eddie McDonald. Thank you to all involved and look forward to next year!’ Rachel Murphy.

'I had a wonderful time at the History of Ireland Festival last weekend. Well done to you all - it was a terrific occasion.' - Simone Carton.

'At the Festival academic and popular historians showed how to capture and hold the audience's interest. Well done, and roll on next year.' - Fiona Fitzsimon, Eneclann, chairwoman of 'Unsung Heroines'.

‘Congrats to the team at history festival of Ireland, very much enjoyed ... Many thanks Turtle, for hosting with elegance.. Planning to study history in 2012 in UCD, as mature student, so festival was excellent for summer study!!!' – Dolores Kearney.

'I really enjoyed the festival- it was great to be part of something like that' - Louise Kennedy.

'Great gig' - Brian Donovan.

‘Thanks so much for a great and interesting weekend. Looking forward to next year!’ – Deirdre Kearney.

‘Oral History Network of Ireland's Regina Fitzpatrick, Mary Muldowney and Ida Milne loved the warm welcome they got from the audience and the organisers at the festival yesterday. Thanks all for a great day's history, and we look forward to seeing some of you at our conference in Ennis in September.’ – Oral History Network of Ireland.

‘What a great weekend and well done Turtle. I so enjoyed the 3 talks that I attended. Congratulations and I hope you are not too exhausted!’ – Barbara Herring.

‘Well done Turtle! Fabulous event. Great speakers, perfect location, amazing weather. Congratulations to everyone at Lisnavagh who made the first History Festival of Ireland so special..’ – Jacquie Burgess.

‘Congratulations on hosting what will hopefully be the first of many History Festivals - it was a wonderful day!’ – Jane Daly.

'An unqualified success' - Rohan Boyle.

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‘Congratulations to Turtle and all concerned with the weekend. Workled really well, lively and entertaining and illuminating discussions and good friendship. Here's also looking forward to next year.’ – Terry Reilly.

‘Congratulations on a great concept and impeccable execution. Hopefully the first of many :-)’ - Tom Halligan

‘Learned a lot.. Laughed a lot... great day.. Well done Turtle & Crew!’ – Jacqui Doyle.

‘What a beautiful serene place!!’ - Lisa Smith.

‘Great day, well done all!’ – Mary Burke Halligan.

'My mum and brother attended this year's history festival at Lisnavagh and really enjoyed it. Hope to make it next year.' - Emmeline Henderson.

'Well done on organising the History Festival - I was able to sample the delights on Sunday - very well attended, speakers were excellent, its was a most pleasant afternoon and a great location.' - Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator, Carlow County Museum.