Published in Book Reviews, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2007), Reviews, Volume 15

Ray Gillespie’s Seventeenth century Ireland: making Ireland modern (Gill and Macmillan, 348pp,  ?18.99/£14.99, ISBN 0717139468) is the penultimate of the six-part New Gill History of Ireland series (only Ian McBride’s much-awaited Eighteenth century Ireland: ascendancy and dispossession remains to be published; the other four books were featured in Bookworm’s Nov./Dec. 2005 offering). While most surveys of seventeenth-century Ireland approach the period using war, conquest, plantation and colonisation as their organising themes, the author argues that this was a uniquely creative moment in Ireland’s history, as the various social and political groups within the country tried to forge new compromises. He also shows how and why they failed to do so—leading to, well, war, conquest, plantation and colonisation.
William J. Smyth’s Map-making, landscapes and memory: a geography of colonial and early modern Ireland c. 1530–1750 (Cork University Press, 608pp, ?69/£49 hb, 130 maps and illustrations, 32 in colour, ISBN 9781859183977) is a geographical analysis of the conquest and settlement of Ireland by the New English and Scots and the consequences of this often violent and deep-seated intrusion upon the cultures and landscapes of Gaelic and Old English societies. It uses a wide variety of documentary sources—including Elizabethan fiants, 1641 Depositions, Cromwellian Civil and Down Surveys, and Petty’s 1659 Census—and over 100 original colour and black-and-white maps (all of superb quality) to reveal many hidden Irelands. Included are three regional case-studies—counties Dublin, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Moreover, it sets its subject-matter in a global context with a concluding chapter on Ireland and America. While in many ways a technical book, it does not lack the type of empathy of which Brendan Bradshaw would approve. The conclusion is subtitled with a quote from Elizabeth Bowen: ‘Only the dispossessed people know their lands in the dark’.
Tipperary and cartography feature too in Brendan O’Donoghue’s In search of fame and fortune: the Leahy family of engineers, 1780–1888 (Geography Publications, 340pp, ?45 hb, maps and 56 illustrations, 16 in colour, ISBN 0906602920), a reconstruction of the careers of an Irish Catholic professional family who worked as cartographers, builders, engineers and valuers in Ireland between 1800 and 1847, and afterwards in South Africa, Turkey, Trinidad and Jamaica.
The ghosts of Duffy’s Cut: the Irish who died building America’s most dangerous stretch of railroad (Praeger Publishers, 217pp, $49.95 hb, ISBN 0275987272) is a collaborative effort from William E. Watson, J. Francis Watson, John H. Ahtes III and Earl H. Schandelmeier III. In the summer of 1832, 57 Irishmen were brought by a fellow Irish immigrant contractor, Philip Duffy, to work on the construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Within two months all of them had died from cholera. Based on archaeological, archival and folklore research, the authors argue that the annihilation of the crew cannot be blamed solely on cholera but came about because of the extreme conditions of their employment, the prejudice of the surrounding community, and the vigilante violence that kept them isolated. While this almost-forgotten story provides a unique set of circumstances, it represents hundreds of similar stories of tragedy in the construction of America’s industrial infrastructure. In the booming Celtic Tiger economy, where the construction sector in particular has a high proportion of overseas workers, many in questionable conditions of employment, this is a timely reminder of the fate of Irish emigrant workers not so long ago.
Railways are also the subject of Bernard Share’s In time of civil war: the conflict on the Irish railways 1922–23 (Collins Press, 152pp, ?25/£18.99 hb, ISBN 1905172117), a day-by-day account that documents the social, political and strategic role of the railways in the Civil War. Railways played a significant role as the action involved transporting combatants long distances, and attacks on employees and railways were common, with death, injury and damage to infrastructure and rolling stock.
Bookworm is regularly in receipt of local history publications, which vary in format from professionally produced books of proceedings from the larger and longer-established societies (e.g. Clogher, Cork Historical and Archaeological, etc.) to larger-format magazine-style publications from the less well-endowed. Unfortunately the latter category can vary greatly in quality. This is not the case, however, with the first issue of The Old Kerry Journal, which describes itself as ‘a magazine [our emphasis] devoted to the history of the county’, compiled by Russell McMorran and Maurice O’Keeffe (,, and is a model of interesting layout and high production values. For only E10 there are articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travellers to Listowel by Kieran O’Shea; 1916 and its aftermath by Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe; the North Kerry railway by Tom Dillon; Killarney Fenians by Russell McMorran; high sheriffs of Kerry in the Napoleonic era by Gerald O’Carroll; and Dingle’s naval tradition, also by Russell McMorran.
Readers exercised by the ongoing Peter Hart/Tom Barry/Kilmichael controversy will find Tom O’Neill’s The Battle of Clonmult: the IRA’s worst defeat (Nonsuch Publishing, 120pp, ?12.99 pb, ISBN 9781845885540) interesting, since it is almost a mirror opposite of the Kilmichael incident. On 20 February 1921 in Clonmult, near Midleton, Co. Cork, almost the entire East Cork flying column was wiped out in a single defensive action. Twelve men were shot dead and eight were taken prisoner, the IRA’s greatest loss of volunteers in a single action of the War of Independence. Several of the volunteers were shot following their surrender, and only the arrival of a senior British Army officer prevented the killing of the injured and remaining volunteers. This is a very well organised and researched book, which, despite its brevity, has a proper index, bibliography and extensive appendices.
Finally, a mention of the latest in Liberties Press’s Revival series—Maurice Craig’s Dublin 1660–1860 (384pp, ?14.99 pb, ISBN 9781905483112). While this has been superseded by more recent publications, in particular Christine Casey’s Dublin book in the Pevsner ‘Buildings of Ireland’ series (a point generously made in the short 2006 preface), Craig’s book remains a classic.


Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568