Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2007), Reviews, Volume 15

After a short break occasioned by last issue’s ‘special’ on the Flight of the Earls, Bookworm is back. The ‘Flight’ continues to stimulate the public imagination throughout the country, with conferences, seminars, re-enactments, music recitals and publications. A useful starting-point for the uninitiated is Liam Swords’s The Flight of the Earls: a popular history (Columba Press, 109pp, e9.99, ISBN 9781856075824), a short, quick read accompanied by maps, photographs and interesting factual asides. For readers with the ‘cupla focal’ there’s Marcas Ó Murchú’s Imirce na nIarlaí (Coiscéim, 167pp, e10), which relies heavily on the scholarship of the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich. Included is his ground-breaking 1988 article (from which this book gets its title), which questioned the use of the term ‘flight’ and suggested instead ‘journey’ or ‘departure’ as part of a strategic realignment. Anticipating an increased public demand for a more in-depth treatment, Gill and Macmillan have republished in paperback John McCavitt’s The Flight of the Earls (277pp, e14.99, ISBN 9780717139361), first published in 2002. This combines an accessibility of style with the scholarly apparatus of a more academic work, including a very useful index compiled by Helen Litton. The same author has also just published The Flight of the Earls: an illustrated history (johnmccavitt@hotmail.com, £20 + p&p h/b).
Meanwhile, the journals of local historical societies continue to make an appearance. John McGurk edits the latest issue of Dúiche Néill: Journal of the O’Neill Historical Society (No. 15, 2006, 168pp, ISBN 0955452406). He notes in particular the contribution to the society’s work of its president, Proinsias Ó Conluain, who has two articles in this collection: ‘“Fraud, intrigue and litigation”: Lough Neagh and the long-running saga of fishing rights’ and ‘At the Coalisland coalface: a brief history of the Tyrone coalfields and their associated Tyrone navigation’. Next door, so to speak, sees the publication of Breifne: Journal of Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne (Breifne Historical Society) (333pp, ISSN 0068087765). Editor Brendan Scott accounts for the failure of the Reformation in sixteenth-century County Meath. In a similar vein, readers will recall his account of Richard Plunkett (HI 13.6, Nov./Dec. 2005), who in 1581 was accused of adultery, assault, pluralism, absenteeism, recusancy and simony. The other end of the country sees the publication of the latest Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society (Series 2, Vol. 6, 2006, 177pp, ISSN 00852503). Michael Gibbons, who has expressed serious reservations about the OPW’s restoration work on Skellig Michael (‘Platform’, HI 15.3, May/June 2007), reviews two recent publications on the county’s archaeology, while Paul MacCotter (see his article on the origins of baronies and counties in this issue, pp 17–21) steps gingerly into the minefield of the Daingan/Dingle controversy.
NUI Maynooth maintains its high standard of local history publications with the latest (No. 12) of its Research Guides for Irish Local History (general editor Mary Ann Lyons). In the preface to Exploring the history and heritage of Irish landscapes (Four Courts Press, 264pp, e19.95, ISBN 9781851829651) author Patrick Duffy gets straight to the point:

‘Unprecedented modification of the Irish landscape by new transport systems, suburban sprawl and scattered rural housing has resulted in a form of landscape trauma never before experienced in this country. Enormous material (and emotional) legacies are being irreversibly altered.’

He also makes the point that concern for our built and landscape environment can no longer be dismissed as a whimsy of ‘belted earls’ and ‘left-wing intellectuals’: ‘Nowadays, official, scholarly and popular interest in the rudiments of our surrounding rural and urban landscapes has increased substantially’. This is a scholarly yet readable book, packed with illustrations, maps and diagrams, ideal for the general reader who wants to shed some light (as opposed to heat) on our ongoing ‘heritage versus development’ controversies, such as the Tara/M3 motorway.
Four Courts Press has also published the latest batch of the Maynooth Studies in Local History (series editor Raymond Gillespie). Not content with editing Breifne (see above), Brendan Scott also found time to write Cavan, 1609–1653: plantation, war and religion (63pp, e9.95, ISBN 9781846820625). In Restoration Strabane, 1660–1714: economy and society in provincial Ireland (64pp, e9.95, ISBN 9781846820601) William J. Roulston focuses on a town typical of the urban experience of Plantation Ulster generally. In Edenderry, County Offaly, and the Downshire Estate, 1790–1800 (62pp, e9.95, ISBN 9781846820618) Ciarán Reilly wonders why this part of the country didn’t feature more prominently in the 1798 Rebellion despite earlier social tensions produced by economic crisis. David Broderick, in Local government in nineteenth-century County Dublin: the grand jury (71pp, e9.95, ISBN 9781846820571), makes the point that it was local government (in the form of grand juries until their abolition in the 1898 Local Government Act) that touched the lives of most people, with responsibility for roads, bridges, tramways, jails, public health and food and drug legislation. Much has been written on the Irish emigrant experience but very little on the few who managed to return home. Diane Dunnigan redresses the imbalance in A South Roscommon emigrant: emigration and return, 1890–1920 (79pp, e9.95, ISBN 9781846820588), which looks at the life of Margaret Brennan, who emigrated to Boston in 1902 and returned home to marry in 1913.
In the foreword to Framing the West: images of rural Ireland 1891–1920 (Irish Academic Press, 266pp, ISBN 9780716528746), edited by Ciara Breathnach, Cormac Ó Gráda makes the point that Irish historians have been slow to adopt the photographic image. There have been very few historical monographs with accompanying photographs informing rather than dominating the text (as in your typical coffee-table publication). This collection of photos (mainly from the albums of James Hack Tuke and Belfast-based photographer Robert J. Welch) shows landscapes, farming techniques, images of teachers, children and nurses, clothing and housing, set against the background of the Congested Districts Board and the uses of commercial photography, and is accompanied by essays that give historical context and insights, encouraging the reader/viewer to look beyond the image towards a deeper awareness of the use of photography in the pursuit of historical research. It’s a pity, therefore, that this ambition is not matched by the publisher. The small (albeit landscape) format of the book does not do justice to the brilliant images here assembled.
This criticism cannot be levelled at Jack’s world: farming on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, 1920–2003 (Cork University Press, 228pp, e39 hb, ISBN 9780955226113) by Seán Sheehan, an illustrated history of his well-read Uncle Jack’s life, which neatly paralleled the emergence and development of the Irish state, from the hungry early decades to the relative prosperity stimulated by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy in the ’70s and ’80s, its subsequent dismantling, and the disillusionment of the corruption tribunals of the 1990s and 2000s. This book meets all the criteria outlined by Professor Ó Gráda above and strikes the right balance between text and images, many (in colour) specially commissioned by photographers Danny Gralton, Ciaran Watson and Danny Levy Sheehan, and in a format large enough to do justice to the combined package.

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