Published in Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2006), Reviews, Volume 14

In our very first offering (HI 12.1, Spring 2004) Bookworm lavished particular praise on Peter Carr’s Portavo: an Irish townland and its peoples. But that was only Part One of this lavishly illustrated micro-study of one townland on the Ards peninsula, Co. Down, taking the story from the earliest times to 1844. Part Two: The Famine to the present (White Row Press, 720pp, £25/E37 pb, ISBN 1870132211, £40/E57 hb, ISBN 1870132262) was published in 2005 and meets the same high standards. Not only that, but it is being considered by the judges for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize, worth £15,000. Previous winners have included Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad (1998), Simon Schama’s Patriots and liberators: revolution in the Netherlands 1780–1813 (1977), and our own F. S. L. Lyons’s Culture and anarchy in Ireland 1890–1939 (1980), the only previous Irish winner. The winner will be declared in June 2006.
Portavo, amongst many other things, tells the story of the townland’s long-time owners, the enigmatic Ker family, who arrived in Ireland as fugitives from justice in the wake of the murder of Rizzio, favourite of Mary Queen of Scots, rose to become one of the richest families in Ireland, and then spectacularly collapsed, amidst suicide, incest, alcoholism and madness, in the 1870s. At the other end of the social scale, readers can find out more about the Cleggs and the Emersons, the last inhabitants of the Copeland Islands, featured in the author Peter Carr’s piece, ‘The other Aran Islands’, in the Nov./Dec. 2005 issue of History Ireland.
Another recent publication whose story might be familiar to readers is Tom McAlindon’s Bloodstains in Ulster: the notorious case of Robert the Painter (The Liffey Press, 174pp, E11.95 pb, ISBN 1904148913), which was summarised in the Summer 2000 issue of History Ireland. It tells the story of Robert Taylor (of the title), a young Protestant from the Loyalist Tiger’s Bay area of Belfast, who brutally murdered a 54-year-old Catholic middle-class woman, Margaret McGowan, in the course of a botched burglary. Before dying, Mrs McGowan identified her assailant, and his blood-stained clothes also linked him to the murder. An open and shut case? Not in the ‘factory of grievances’ that was Northern Ireland in 1949, especially in the context of the Nationalist anti-partition campaign. The subsequent trial resulted in a hung jury, but the retrial found Taylor guilty and he was condemned to death. However, in a bizarre twist that suggested possible legal sabotage, the case was appealed on a technicality and Taylor was released to a hero’s welcome in Tiger’s Bay.
Bookworm has always had a soft spot for those selfless individuals who engage in the laborious task of compiling bibliographies. A case in point is Margaret Franklin’s Limerick: a bibliography of the city and county (Doon South Publications, 330pp, E30 hb, ISBN 0955021308). This is not the first Limerick bibliography to be compiled but, unlike its predecessors, it benefits from the extraordinary advances in information technology over the past 25 years and is well organised and presented. Note that this is a limited edition: only 500 copies have been printed, so order now to avoid disappointment.
Nicholas Furlong and John Hayes have put together Vol. IV of their Wexford in the rare oul’ times series (Old Distillery Press, 248pp,  E22.95pb, ISBN 0951281232), a large-format collection of over 400 photographs—most, but not all, with Wexford connections. Where do they get these amazing photos? The earliest (and first in the book) is an 1860 one of artillery pieces, ammunition, crew and children at Duncannon Fort (p. 11); there is Rory O’Connor engaging in a spot of target practice with his Luger pistol (p. 148), a tobacco plantation at Mount St Benedict, Gorey (p. 180), and an understandably shaky (War of Independence? Civil War?) photo of the exact moment of the blowing up of Gorey’s railway bridge (p. 198). Of particular interest, given the year that’s in it, is a selection (pp 47–70) relating to the 1916 Rising in Enniscorthy. It is a pity, therefore, that the book is let down by the poor quality of much of the photographic reproduction. While this may be due to the poor quality of the originals, some of the images (e.g. the World War I recruiting poster on p. 35, or John Redmond addressing Irish Volunteers on p. 38) have been reproduced elsewhere at much higher quality. In addition, the eclectic nature of the picture selection (Kim Philby, Stanley Holloway and Kaiser Wilhelm II are all there!) gives it the feel of a scrapbook, albeit a very interesting one.
Two very different books on Irish round towers bear out the adage that small can be beautiful and that high-quality pictorial reproduction is not just a pious aspiration. Joe Williams’s St Mochua and the round tower (South Dublin Libraries, 44pp, E5 pb, ISBN 0954766059) was inspired by the ‘Rally Round the Tower’ action group, which campaigned against inappropriate development in the vicinity of Clondalkin’s round tower, and provides a brief history of St Crónán Mochua’s foundation from the sixth century onwards. Hector McDonnell’s pocket-sized Irish round towers (Wooden Books, 64pp, £4.99 pb, ISBN 1904263313) is more ambitious, providing a gazetteer and map listing all the known examples in Ireland. In spite of the small format it is beautifully illustrated, both with old engravings and the author’s own drawings and sketches. The emphasis throughout is technical rather than religious or historical, with fascinating nuggets of information on mortar, hoists, scaffolding, geometry, windows and doors, and the development of the solid vaulted conical caps at the top.
NUI Maynooth continue their series of Research Guides for Irish Local History under the general editorship of Mary Ann Lyons with the second edition of Raymond Refaussé’s Church of Ireland records (Four Courts Press, 93pp, E14.95 pb, ISBN 1851829636). As the established church, from the Reformation to the late nineteenth century, the Church of Ireland was an integral part of the apparatus of government as well as a religious denomination. The book contains an overview of the Church’s administration and the records that it produced, a guide to published catalogues and printed editions of archives and manuscripts, and an introduction to the principal repositories in which Church of Ireland records can be found.


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