This illustrated lecture covered the Backstairs Mountains from prehistory to the present day. It focussed on that lovely stretch of country running from Kildavin to Clonmullen to Kilbranish to Myshall, Ballymurphy all the way down to St Mullins, while also occasionally glancing across to the Wexford side from Bunclody to Rathnure. It explained what was distinctive about the Backstairs region and the ‘mountainy men’ (and hardy women) who lived there. It discussed the distinctive settlement pattern formed by the hill farms, and the crucial importance of the commonage rights along the mountain slopes. The lecture also explored the role of the Backstairs as a ‘refuge’ area, a bastion of traditional communal values rooted in the Gaelic system. Among topics covered were geology, natural history (wolves and starlings), the Kavanaghs, the 1798 rebellion, the impact of the Famine, and why wind farms shouldn’t be allowed on the mountains. The lecture used many historic maps and documents, including ones not normally referenced, to bring history to life. It was aimed at a broad general audience not as an academic one, and there were more than a few jokes and slags (Myshall, the men behind the wire) thrown in. The lecture also proposed a new answer to the unresolved mystery of where exactly did Richard II of England almost corner Art MacMurchadha Kavanagh after he had fled Garryhill in 1394.
Dr Kevin Whelan
Kevin Whelan is a native of Johnstown, Clonegal, and grew up in the shadow of the Backstairs in a family of twelve children. He attended Clonegal NS and FCJ Bunclody (getting an excellent education in both schools) and played with Kildavin in his footballing days. He now works with the University of Notre Dame and is based at Merrion Square in Dublin. He has lectured in almost twenty countries, and at the Sorbonne, Cambridge, Oxford, Torino, Berkeley, Yale, and Louvain. His passions include hurling, poetry, book-collecting and talking.
The talk was the biggest CHAS talk delivered online with over 160 direct attendees watching by Zoom and Facebook, and over 2,000 persons reached through sharing on Facebook.