Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2005), Reviews, Volume 13

Readers of a certain age (hands up all those who did their Leaving in the 1970s!) will remember with fondness the Gill History of Ireland series, in particular the last two—John A. Murphy’s on the twentieth century and Joe Lee’s Modernisation of Irish society, 1848–1918. For the hard-pressed student, both had the advantage of brevity (c. 200 pages)—the alternative was to wade through the scholarly, but lengthy, Ireland since the Famine by F. S. L. Lyons. Lee’s book in particular fizzed with new ideas and insights. They were part of an eleven-volume series, published between 1972 and 1975, charting Ireland’s history from earliest times. Eventually they were superseded by the six-volume New Gill History series in the early 1990s. Four revised issues have now been republished by Gill and Macmillan: 1, Medieval Ireland by Michael Richter (217pp, ISBN 0717132935); 2, Sixteenth century Ireland by Colm Lennon (401pp, ISBN 0717139476); 5, Nineteenth century Ireland by D. George Boyce (425pp, ISBN 0717132994); 6, Twentieth century Ireland by Dermot Keogh (598pp, ISBN 0717132978), all ?16.99/£12.99 pb. Apart from Lennon’s, whose sixteenth century lasts more or less 100 years, the titles are misleading. Richter’s, ironically the shortest book, has the longest time-span, from prehistory to c. 1500. Originally published in his native German, the clue to its approach is in the subtitle: The enduring tradition. In particular the author is sceptical of the view of the period as ‘politically fragmented’ and stresses instead its stability, not a view that would have gone down well with G. H. Orpen (see below). Boyce’s nineteenth century is ‘long’, 1798–1922, leaving Keogh’s twentieth century ‘short’ (although it is the longest of the books by a long stretch). Such chronological conventions are perfectly justifiable. What is less explicable is a novel approach to the history of Northern Ireland: it is ignored completely. Keogh’s book (and presumably this was his brief from the publisher) is a history of the southern state. Of all the four new editions it has been the most thoroughly revised, with an additional chapter, ‘Ireland in the new century’, co-authored by Andrew McCarthy, bringing the story up to mid-2005. There is also a new introduction (alongside the original) in which the author gently berates himself for the original’s focus on the debates about revisionism and gives an upbeat assessment of the prospects for the discipline:

‘A solid understanding of Irish and international history is not a mere optional embellishment in a liberal arts education; it is a vital component of citizenship which provides the skills to help understand and analyse social, cultural, political and economic trends in an age of unprecedented global change coming to be known as the Information Revolution.’

Amen.
Another paperback reprint from Gill and Macmillan is the aforementioned F. S. L. Lyons’s Charles Stewart Parnell (724pp, ISBN 0717139395). At only ?19.99/£14.99 it is great value for what is still, 28 years after it was first published, the definitive biography of the ‘uncrowned king of Ireland’. Another reprint with a TCD connection is Goddard Henry Orpen’s Ireland under the Normans 1169–1333 (Four Courts, 633pp, ?80/£65 hb, ISBN 1851827153). Originally published in four volumes between 1911 and 1920, this new single-volume edition has been reset but not copy-edited. This was, and still is, a controversial book, borne out, as observed by Seán Duffy’s introduction, by

‘. . . the palimpsest of student marginalia added sown through the decades. Pencilled emotions ranging from anger and outrage to ridicule and blasphemy litter the pages and tarnish the author’s reputation . . .’

(This was in the days before aggrieved readers could vent their spleen in the letters pages of History Ireland!) According to Orpen, Ireland needed to be conquered because its people ‘were still in a lower plane of civilisation than had been reached elsewhere’; conquest was ‘rendered inevitable by the previous anarchy’ (see Richter, above). Nevertheless, Duffy, in his thoughtful introduction, while recognising that Orpen reflected the prejudices of his age and Anglo-Irish background, rehabilitates his academic reputation.
An innovative and interesting contribution to Cork Capital of Culture 2005 is As others saw us: Cork through European eyes, edited by Joachim Fischer and Grace Neville (Collins Press, 427pp, ?18.95/£13.99 pb, ISBN 1903464854). This is a compendium of 68 multinational  contributions from as early as 1149 up to 2005. The original Latin, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Czech, Galician, Swedish, Spanish, Finnish, Hungarian or Romanian is reproduced on the left-hand page, with an English translation facing on the right.
The fourth annual issue of the Irish Studies journal Radharc (Wordwell, 288pp, ?20 pb, ISSN 15317293) has just been published, which is curious since the third ‘annual’ issue appeared earlier this year (Bookworm, HI 13.3, May/June 2005). This is a result of the slipping of schedules on earlier issues, a problem not uncommon with academic journals and a particular hobbyhorse of Bookworm. But with two ‘annual’ issues in 2005 and two more in 2006, Radharc will be back on schedule by 2007. The latest (2003) is a ‘special’ commemorating ten years of Glucksman Ireland House. In ‘The fireman on the stairs’ (a reference to the World Trade Centre and 9/11) Timothy Meagher explores the communal loyalties in the making of Irish America; in ‘Home thoughts from abroad’ John McCourt looks at Joyce and Ireland; in ‘Judges and lawmakers’ Chief Justice Ronan Keane outlines the Irish experience; in ‘Ireland’s new century’ Jim Kennelly and Finbar Bradley present an alternative vision of development; and Mick Maloney interviews Ed McGowan, author of The peace warriors: the story of the Camden 28, which dealt with the persecution of members of the American Catholic Resistance to the Vietnam War.
Two publications from NUI Maynooth that fall under the general heading of ‘local history’. In the Maynooth Historical Studies series (general editor Raymond Gillespie) Fingal, 1603–60: contending neighbours in north Dublin (Four Courts, 320pp, ?45/£45 hb, ISBN 1851828044) is an exemplary and well-organised local study by Maighréad Ní Mhurchadha (although there might be quibbles about the quality of some of the maps and diagrams reproduced). Part I examines the area’s physical environment; part II focuses on the beliefs, values and norms of the community (marriage, family, education, literature, the legal profession and crime); and, having set the context, part III traces the progress of the war that broke out in 1641 and the consequent tensions between Catholic and Protestant neighbours. In the Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History (general editor Mary Ann Lyons) Brian Griffin outlines the Sources for the study of crime in Ireland, 1801–1921 (Four Courts, 96pp, ?45/£40 hb, ?14.95/£14.95 pb, ISBN 1851828214).
Finally, just as we were about to go to press there landed on my desk Dublin by Christine Casey (Yale University Press, 756pp, ?29.95 hb, ISBN 0300109237). This is the third volume of the Buildings of Ireland series (North Leinster and North West Ulster have already appeared) founded by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and Alister Rowan as a sister series to those on England, Scotland and Wales. Churches, public buildings and streets are described for every district, each full of new discoveries and lively detail. Illustrations include numerous maps, plans, and full colour plates of excellent quality. While this is not a small book, its clever narrow format means that it can be slipped into the pocket of the average overcoat.

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