Published in Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Summer 2004), Reviews, Volume 12

George Orwell once remarked that the best book to read while ill in bed is a dictionary. He would surely have approved, then, of the publication by Gill and Macmillan of the second edition of A New Dictionary of Irish History from 1800 (pp520, €29.99 pb, ISBN 0717125203). First published over twenty years ago, the editors, D.J. Hickey and J.E. Doherty, have updated and completely rewritten it. According to the dust-jacket, ‘peripheral articles have been dropped or consolidated, although the authors have been careful not to lose those quirky, offbeat entries that were such a feature of the first edition’. Thus we have ‘girlcotting’ [as opposed to ‘boycotting’], the ostracising of women during the Land War for marrying or associating with boycotted farmers. Unlike the forthcoming Dictionary of Irish Biography, the living are included along with the dead, and so we have entries for Gerry Adams and Bertie Ahern, as well as for the ongoing tribunals of inquiry. Unlike similar one-volume dictionaries like Boylan’s A Dictionary of Irish Biography or S.J. Connolly’s The Oxford Companion to Irish History, this one confines its brief to the modern period. Marvellously eclectic, it is a mine of information, particularly for short-lived obscure organisations such as Ailtirí na hAiséirí (‘architects of the resurgence’), a right-wing nationalist organisation active in the 1940s.

History Ireland readers will be familiar with the ongoing debate (featured from time to time in these pages) on the authenticity or otherwise of Roger Casement’s ‘Black Diaries’. While a conclusion may never be arrived at to the satisfaction of all the debate’s protagonists, one of the welcome side-effects of the controversy is that it has focused attention increasingly on the man’s career, particularly as a great humanitarian. The latest contribution in this endeavour is The Eyes of Another Race: Roger Casement’s Congo Report and 1903 Diary (pp350, €25 pb, ISBN 1900621991), edited by Séamas Ó Síocháin and Michael O’Sullivan, published by University College Dublin Press. Apart from the documents themselves, long unavailable in English, the introduction outlines the scramble for Africa, the role of Leopold and the Congo Free State, Britain and the Congo question, Casement’s career, and the publication of the report and humanitarian campaign, 1903–13. The book is dedicated to co-editor Michael O’Sullivan, who died suddenly in tragic circumstances in 2002 when work on the volume was at an advanced stage. Michael had also been a contributor to History Ireland. May he rest in peace.

The latest (no. 7) of the Maynooth Research Guides for Local Irish History (general editor Mary Ann Lyons), published by Four Courts Press, is Brian Hanley’s A Guide to Irish Military Heritage (pp120, €14.95 pb, €30 hb, ISBN 1851827897). The book lists 37 archival collections in Ireland; 162 battlefields, castles, heritage sites and museums (county by county); 74 libraries and institutions; five walking tours; and 72 websites—all relevant to war in Ireland or the Irish at war worldwide.

Over 400 years ago, in the wake of the Irish/Spanish defeat at Kinsale, Donal O’Sullivan Beare led his followers on an epic fifteen-day march from West Cork to Leitrim. In anticipation of renewed interest in this heroic episode, Lucius J. Emerson has republished his The March of O’Sullivan Beare (available for €10 from the author, 61 Cluain Barron, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal). He gives a very objective but readable account of the march. In a prickly foreword, Arthur Spears, former president of the Donegal Historical Society, castigates the ‘New Historians’ for ignoring the episode—no mention in the multi-volume New History of Ireland, nor in Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland.

Tadhg O’Keeffe’s Romanesque Ireland: Architecture and Ideology in the Twelfth Century (pp336, €45 hb, ISBN 1851826173), the first substantial analysis of Romanesque architecture in Ireland to appear in 30 years, crosses the disciplinary boundaries of archaeology, history and art history. The development of Gaelic-Irish Romanesque architecture is seen as part of an international trend, the product of the interaction of the institutions of secular and sacred power. The author has been well served by the publisher, Four Courts, in the high quality of the numerous black-and-white photographs and diagrams reproduced.

The recent retirement of Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin has once more focused attention on the problems facing the contemporary Catholic Church. Yet for an issue that has stimulated so much debate and on which few do not have an opinion it is remarkable how little scholarly work has been done on the recent history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Gill & Macmillan’s latest paperback edition of Louise Fuller’s Irish Catholicism since 1950: the undoing of a culture (380pp, €14.99, ISBN 0717137570) is, therefore, to be welcomed. When it was first published two years ago it was widely praised for its objectivity and scholarship.


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