Speakers, Talks and Events

CELTIC GRACE

Celtic Grace

CELTIC KINDNESS SHOW

Step into our original, magical, musical, interactive experience. Based on historically accurate events, this unique show focuses the incredible true-life story of the iconic, blind harper, Turlough O’Carolan, a genius composer who developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
A single act of kindness transformed his life and changed Irish history forever…
Let your feet tap, your heart smile, your spirit soar, maybe even dance! as the ancient Celtic music, original story and poetry captivate and infuse your soul. Performed in sumptuous, bespoke, locally-made costumes, this original and unmatchable performance will excite your eyes, delight your ears, expand your heart and enrich your mind.

Carlo Gébler 

A YEAR IN A DAY (memoir, publication autumn 2024)

I’ve always kept a diary. I do it for two reasons; to make a record I can refer to, and because writing the diary limbers me up and gets me into the writing zone. Publication was never intended until I  thought: Why couldn’t I take one day from each year of my diaries, starting in 1989, the year I’d arrived in Northern Ireland, and run them together? That way I would make a book which would tell story of the place where I’d found myself accidentally living as it morphed from the Troubles to the Good Friday Agreement to Brexit three decades later. Out of these slivers, a picture of Northern Ireland over those twenty-eight years would arise.

I, ANTIGONE (novel, 2021)

I, Antigone borrows the story of Oedipus from Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy and imagines how Antigone, Oedipus’s daughter, might have narrated her father’s life story. Antigone’s take is that while on the one hand her father acted of his own free will, on the other he was caught by something greater than himself, something that is sometimes called destiny or fate or even bad luck, which meant he acted against his own best interests because it was impossible he could do otherwise.  In the early twenty-first century, when opinions are so polarised, I wonder whether Antigone’s understanding of volition as both chosen and inescapable, if it were more widely accepted, mightn’t make our conversations with each other kinder and quieter, and our politics gentler? This is what the talk will explore.

CARLO GEBLER
ELIZA PAKENHAM

Eliza Pakenham

TOURISM, TENANTS AND TAXES

Tullynally Castle has been the family seat of the Earls of Longford for over 370 years.
Nowadays, much of Eliza’s time is taken up with the colossal task of keeping this neo Gothic
castle afloat, complete with its 120 rooms, 26 acres of garden and 7 Estate cottages. The
trials and delights of this vocation and how it feeds into her writing will be the subject of her
talk. Whether it’s rescuing stray bats, fending off recalcitrant visitors or pursuing escaped
llamas, there’s never a dull day. In 1813 her 8 x great grandfather kept a notebook titled
“Fun, Folly and Frolic”. In 2023 Eliza’s own notebook is sensibly titled “Tourism, Tenants and
Taxes.” However its quite possible she may soon turn into the Mad Woman in the Attic so do
come to her talk before that happens.

Anthony Malcolmson

EDIFYING BISHOPS

Exploring the neglected role of the Church of Ireland bishops of the 18th and early 19th centuries in building Big Houses – whether see houses or palaces for themselves and their episcopal successors, or private residences for the families they intended to found. Their importance in both respects derived, very practically, from the huge revenues they enjoyed in right of their sees, which placed them in the top rank of the landed class in Ireland.

ARCHIVES AND ANNALS – RESEARCHING BIG HOUSE HISTORIES

In conversation with Andrew Hughes.

ANTHONY MALCOLMSON
DR ANDREW GAILEY

Andrew Gailey

IN THE BLOOD

‘The Sheridans are much admired but are strange girls,’ remarked Lady Cowper; ‘swear and say all sorts of things to make men laugh.  I am surprised so sensible a woman as Mrs Sheridan should let them go on so.  I suppose she can’t stop the old blood coming out.’

The old blood was that of Richard Brinsley Sheridan: the leading playwright and public orator of his day, a society rake and seducer, a celebrity in an age of scandal, and bankrupt.   For all the glamour, his was a life that would end with the bailiffs knocking down the door.  Yet it would exercise a powerful influence on his descendants for over 100 years as they sought to restore, reinvent, or reject this inheritance.  This would prove a tale of duels, elopements, divorce, and court cases; of affairs with prime ministers and leaking of Cabinet secrets.  Of how children can suffer with celebrity parents; of the pursuit of respectability and a rewriting the record.  And at the last a surprising revival as ‘the blood will out’.

SEBASTIAN GRAHAM

Sebastian Graham

MANOR MILLS IN THE MID ULSTER AREA – THEIR OWNERS, HISTORY AND FATE 

The development of settlements and society in the 17th and 18th Centuries in Ulster led to the rise in small but significant mills. The London Livery companies during the Plantation of Ulster were quick to build mills on their lands to make them self-sufficient and profitable. Other independent estates and landlords were also keen to build and develop mills on their land to generate trade and taxes. Such sites would have been the most advanced engineering feats of their day, mesmerising locals and finding their way into folklore and literature. Tenants signed leases which bound them to certain “manor mills” ensuring that they could not bring their grain to other mills on pain of paying a crippling fine. Tenants occasionally also had to give due days to help repair the mill and their sometimes leaky mill races. They were an important feature in many estates, but many fell out of use by the late 1800s and many were left to go to ruin. This talk will look at some of these manor mills across Mid-Ulster, their history and fate. 

Bruce Clark

BYRON IN ATHENS

In his talk, Bruce will reflect on the fateful visit to Athens paid by Lord Byron between Christmas 1809 and spring 1811 which gave the young poet an abiding love of Greece and prompted him to fight for Greek independence. Byron and his friend Hobhouse loved the small, gossipy, cosmopolitan town of Athens and entered with gusto into its colourful social life. In the midst of all this partying and tomfoolery, Byron was finding his poetic voice and on the way to becoming one of Europe’s best-known figures.  This talk also looks at the aesthetic influence of Greek art and architecture in Ireland and elsewhere.

BRUCE CLARK
DR SOPHIA HILLAN

Sophia Hillan

JANE AUSTEN’S NIECES IN IRELAND

A conversation between Dr Hillan, author of May, Lou and Cass; Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland, and Cassandra Wedd, descendant of Jane Austen’s niece, Cassandra Knight.

Finola O’Kane

LANDSCAPE DESIGN AND REVOLUTION IN IRELAND AND THE UNITED STATES – 1688-1815

The designed landscapes of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776 and the Irish rebellion of 1798, with some detours into revolutionary France, this talk traces a comparative history of property structures and landscape design across the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.

WALLED GARDENS – GROWING FOOD AND HOW WE FED OURSELVES IN THE 18TH CENTURY

In conversation with Vibse Dunleath, a fascinating practical insight into how our ancestors lived and put food on the table 365 days of the year without a supermarket, a fridge or a freezer. It is a subject which is touched by the weather, politics, war and science.

DR FINOLA O'KANE
ANDREW HUGHES

Andrew Hughes

FROM HISTORY TO FICTION

How the stories unearthed while researching house histories inspired my career as a novelist.

 

RESEARCHING BIG HOUSE HISTORIES 

In conversation with Anthony Malcolmson.

Killua Castle in Co. Westmeath was castellated in the early 19th Century. It was home to the Baronets Chapman. Lawrence of Arabia was the illegitimate son of the seventh and final Baronet Chapman. 

 

Vibse Dunleath

WALLED GARDENS – GROWING FOOD AND HOW WE FED OURSELVES IN THE 18TH CENTURY

In conversation with Dr Finola O’Kane, a fascinating practical insight into how our ancestors lived and put food on the table 365 days of the year without a supermarket, a fridge or a freezer. It is a subject which is touched by the weather, politics, war and science.

MONICA DE WICHFELD, FROM FERMANAGH TO THE DANISH RESISTANCE

Monica Massey-Beresford was born in 17 Eaton Square, London, The home of her grandfather John
Mulholland, 1st Lord Dunleath in 1894. Her parents were of Anglo-Irish descent and she was brought
up at St. Hubert’s, Co. Fermanagh. Monica married a Danish diplomat Jørgen de Wichfeld in 1916.
Her glamourous life ended when war broke out. As the Nazi occupation of Denmark grew more oppressive, Monica became increasingly involved with Resistance work.  Alone, she rowed explosives across the lake at Engestofte, the family home in Denmark. She hid RAF paratroopers and other refugees in the large house. This without ever involving her husband. She was betrayed and taken by the Gestapo. She was tried and sentenced to death. Her sentence commuted to life imprisonment. She died in February 1945, and her name lives on in Denmark as well as in Ireland.

VIBSE DUNLEATH
EMMA HEATHERINGTON

Emma Heatherington

THE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING IN FICTION WRITING

Looking at how the setting of a novel informs the characters and plot; and how the rhythm and emotion of modern fiction writing is inspired by the classics.

Robert O’Byrne

THE IRISH COUNTRY HOUSE IN THE 21ST CENTURY

After a turbulent period 100 years ago when many important properties were lost, Ireland’s country houses have enjoyed mixed fortunes. While some have thrived, others have sadly failed to survive, their contents dispersed, their buildings left to fall into decay. Even in the 21st century, few of them can be assured of a stable future. This talk will look at the challenges owners now face and offer examples of houses which are reinventing themselves for the present age.

ROBERT O'BYRNE
STEPHEN PRICE

Stephen Price

THE EARL BISHOP

Frederick Hervey, The Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. The man and his mansions – Downhill and Ballyscullion.

Terence Reeves-Smyth

BIG HOUSE PASTIMES:  THREE HUNDRED YEARS OF SPORT IN GARDENS AND DEMESNES

This will be an illustrated overview of how the occupants of Irish country houses had an irresistible propensity for the chase and placed high value on game, especially deer, and from the later 18th-century, foxes, and hares. Horse racing and cock fights also featured in many demesnes, while in the 19th century parkland plantations were frequently altered to accommodate the widespread fashion for driven shooting. Closer to the house, bowling greens were a common feature in the 17th and early 18th-century, while archery, croquet, cricket, tennis and even golf, all featured as popular sports in Victorian and Edwardian country house gardens and parks.

TERENCE REEVES-SMYTH
JOYCE RAFTERY-ENRIGHT

YEATS AND THE NOBEL PRIZE

Martin Enright and Joyce Raftery-Enright will give a presentation
and recite a selection of Yeats’ poems commemorating the poet’s Nobel
Prize of 1923, with music by Celtic Grace.

YEATS AND THE SLIGO LANDSCAPE

Additionally, they will present ‘Yeats and the Sligo landscape’, an illustrated talk which traces the influence of mythology, archaeology and history of Yeats’ family links to the Sligo hinterland. The poems of W.B. Yeats are integral to this presentation.

MARTIN ENRIGHT
PADDY CREEDON

Paddy Creedon

POETRY TREASURE HUNTING 

In 2023, Paddy Creedon led his unique and participative ‘Poetry Treasure Hunt’ in a number of different locations from West Belfast to Oxford, from Rowallane Garden in Co. Down to Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow. For all those attending the Ballyscullion Park Book Festival in May 2024, come and participate in a very different poetic experience.

“My absolute favourite experience at that Oxford conference in 2023 was to be a part of a creative and moving poetic journey that would ultimately arrive at a full length poem, penned by Paddy. Listening to his poem was like listening to your heart beating in symphony with everyone around you. Paddy led this highly professional, creative ‘Poetry Treasure Hunt’ with the utmost care, grace and ease.”  Mattie Shisko

ROWAN SOMERVILLE

Rowan Somerville

A POUND OF FLESH: ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND THE QUALITY OF MERCY

Rowan’s third book Beat was a non-fiction investigation into a suicide bomb in
Tel Aviv, Israel, followed by a heart transplant between an Israeli Jew, and a Palestinian Muslim. 23 young people were killed in the attack and hundreds were injured. Many people see this particular suicide bomb as the ticket that brought Netanyahu to Power, the moment when the Israeli liberal voice became impotent and the catalyst for where we are today.

SUZIE SCOTT

Suzie Scott

THE ART OF FLOWERS IN THE GEORGIAN PERIOD

This illustrated talk will look at the art of flower arranging, predominantly during the Georgian era (1714 – 1830), and how the use of flowers, which hitherto had mostly been used for medicinal and culinary purposes, came to be enjoyed for pure pleasure and decorative beauty alone. The discovery of new and exciting plants from across the world which flooded into Europe in the
16th and 17th, encounters with the art of China and the Far East, the spread of botanical illustration (combined with advances in engraving on metal) and developments in garden style and new methods of horticulture, all contributed to an exciting and ever expanding choice of
flowers to grow & arrange. This in turn led to a proliferation of ever more artful & ingenious methods of arranging them & vessels to display them in.

Lady Caroline Hervey (1736-1819 ) sister of Frederick Hervey The Earl Bishop, and builder of the Palace at Ballyscullion.

Neil Porteous

 GARDENING ON THE EDGE – THE CLIMATE AND IRISH GARDENS 
 
I believe the industrial Walled Gardens in both the UK & Ireland were developed in response to climate change – the  presentation focuses on that historic climate change and then projects it forward to the current climate crisis and what we can expect from our weather in the future and how it might change our plant choices and gardens.
 
NEIL PORTEOUS