Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2006), Reviews, Volume 14

In spite of our best intentions to review as many Africa-related books as possible in the special Africa issue (HI 14.4, July/Aug. 2006), some important titles only came to our attention after we had gone to press. One of these, Rose Doyle’s Heroes of Jadotville: the soldiers’ story (New Island, 383pp, ?19.95, ISBN 1905494319)—featured in a letter from the author in the last issue—recounts the fate of ‘A’ Company of the Irish army’s 35th Battalion, sent on a ‘Mission Impossible’ in September 1961 to hold the town of Jadotville in the Congo for the United Nations, in the face of overwhelming mercenary and Katanganese forces. Despite putting up stiff resistance, their eventual surrender led to their being stigmatised in some quarters as cowards. As the title suggests, this is a view vigorously contested by the author. Another is Irene Christina Lynch’s Beyond faith and adventure: Irish missionaries in Nigeria tell their extraordinary story (ICDL, 483pp, ?40 hb, ISBN 9780955304705), a collection of over 50 interviews with Irish missionaries from nineteen religious orders still active in Nigeria. It is easy to forget in the secular Ireland of today that at the height of the Irish missionary project in the early 1960s over 2,000 priests and sisters served in a country that accounts for a quarter of Africa’s population. Readers who found Theresa Denise Murray’s article on the 1631 sack of Baltimore interesting can find a more detailed account in Des Ekin’s The stolen village: Baltimore and the Barbary pirates (O’Brien Press, ?14.95 pb, ISBN 978062789558).
Two other recent History Ireland contributors have had monographs published by Irish Academic Press. Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh’s Kathleen Lynn: Irishwoman, patriot, doctor (180pp, ?25 pb, ISBN 9780716528432) expands on the career of the founder of St Ultan’s children’s hospital featured in the July/Aug. 2005 issue. In the May/June issue of the previous year Robert Lynch related the confused story of the gun battle at Clones railway station on 11 February 1922, when four Ulster Special Constables and the local IRA commandant were killed, an event variously described as an ‘invasion’ or a ‘massacre’. His The Northern IRA and the early years of partition 1920–1922 (272pp, ?27.50 pb, ?65 hb, ISBN 9780716533788) sets that incident in the context of a previously neglected topic and period. According to the author:

‘. . . Southern nationalists have little interest in highlighting the Northern aspects of the independence struggle mainly because it demonstrates their total failure to avert partition . . . For unionists the events of 1920–22 do little but highlight the Northern government’s rather shaky hegemony over its territory and its use of brutal methods to maintain it . . .’

In an otherwise well-produced book, surely the author and publisher could have improved on the poor-quality hand-drawn maps (pp xvi–xvii)?
At a time when the Celtic Tiger continues to cut a swathe through the country’s landscape and architectural heritage, the ongoing National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) being undertaken by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is indeed timely. Based on the inventory, Introductions to the architectural heritage of counties Carlow, Fingal, Kerry, Kildare, Laois, Meath, Roscommon, South Dublin, Waterford and Wicklow have already been published. Latest in the series are County Kilkenny (140pp, ?12 pb, ISBN 9780755717170) and County Offaly (132pp, ?12pb, ISBN 9780755771745). These are high-quality publications, lavishly illustrated, mostly in colour, with both contemporary photos and historic paintings and prints. A broad and eclectic spectrum of buildings is included, from grand castles to tiny thatched cottages. One of the latter in particular caught my eye (Kilkenny, p. 79)—Lacey’s pub, Gazebo, a small thatched cottage (c. 1825), with Ionic pilasters on either side of the doorway ‘striving for a sense of sophisticated grandeur . . . but reveal[ing] a charming naïve quality in its execution’. The coming year will see the publication of further Introductions to the architectural heritage of counties Clare, Longford, Louth, Sligo, North Tipperary, Westmeath, Wexford and Limerick City. The NIAH survey can be accessed at www.buildingsofireland.ie.
The Faithful County also features in Arnold Horner’s Mapping Offaly in the early 19th century (Wordwell in association with the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society and Offaly County Council, 82pp, ?35 pb, ISBN 9781905569052). This is a spin-off from the early nineteenth-century Irish Bogs Commission (see the author’s article in the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue of HI) and is based on the cartography of William Larkin. The large-format publication, generously illustrated with full colour plates, includes an atlas of the entirety of Larkin’s 1809 ‘Map of the Bogs of Allen within the King’s County’ on 24 separate sheets.
Since 1993 Colourpoint, Newtownards, has been publishing popular large-format books, mainly, though not exclusively, on transport themes. Planes, trains and automobiles from all over Ireland, North and South, have been featured. The latest is Michael Collins’s Buses under fire: Northern Ireland’s buses in the troubles (184pp, £14.99 pb, ISBN 9781904242345). While at first glance this would seem to be of interest to transport anoraks only, on closer inspection this book should interest serious historians of the recent troubles. For one thing, it has a very useful and fair synopsis of the history of Northern Ireland from the Border Campaign up to and beyond the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but more importantly it explores a very important but neglected aspect of the recent troubles—the day-to-day struggle of ordinary men and women to go about their ‘normal’ lives in the midst of a dirty war. There is even a ‘toll of destruction’ (roll of honour?) of every bus destroyed, from the Divis riots of 1964 up to the (last?) Leyland Tiger hijacked and burnt out near Bangor on 11 September 2005.
While Brendan Behan was referring to republicans when he observed that the first item on their agenda was always the split, the same could be said of the scouting movement in Ireland. Within eighteen months of the swearing-in of the first Baden-Powell scout in Ireland in February 1908, the rival nationalist Fianna Éireann had been established by Countess Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson. Since most Fianna Éireann members took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, in 1925 the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) were established, firmly under the control of the Catholic hierarchy. In Scouting in Ireland (Kingdom Books, 193pp, ?25 hb, ISBN 9780952456728) J. Anthony Gaughan outlines the history of all three organisations. But there is a happy ending. By 2004 the former and latter associations had amalgamated into a single organisation, Scouting Ireland (SI), while Fianna Éireann, an organisation long in decline, disappeared into the ether surrounding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Finally, Corkonians disappointed by this year’s hurling final defeat at the hands of Kilkenny can at least console themselves that the People’s Republic now has its very own Biographical dictionary of Cork (Four Courts Press, 384pp, ?35 hb, ISBN 9781846820304), which the editors, Tim Cadogan and Jeremiah Falvey, assure us was not compiled in any ‘spirit of chauvinism’.

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