Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2007), Reviews, Volume 15

Judging by our letters pages, Seán South of Garryowen continues to excite interest amongst our readers. Des Fogarty’s Seán South of Garryowen (A.K. Ilen Company, 141pp, e24 pb, ISBN 9780954791520), while adding little to our knowledge of the Brookeborough raid itself, is particularly strong on South’s early career and childhood. South’s conservatism was very much a reflection of the times. Included are two letters he sent to the local newspapers, urging readers to boycott American films featuring ‘communist’ actors. This is a well-produced publication with a striking Warholesque cover. Less well-produced and more in the line of hagiography is Awakening the spirit of freedom, an eclectic collection of memoirs and ephemera edited by Des Long (Coiste Cuimneacháin Seán Sabhat, 52 Shannon Banks, Corbally, Limerick, 88pp, e12 [inc. p&p]). This is a pity, because there are some interesting nuggets here that do add to our knowledge of the raid. Of particular interest is an addendum of eight loose pages (which the editors say will be included in any later edition) containing the memoir of Seán Garland, current general secretary of the Workers’ Party and leader of the IRA column. Given Garland’s subsequent political evolution, his is a remarkably generous tribute to South’s character.
Three more of University College Dublin Press’s ‘Classics of Irish History’ series (general editor Tom Garvin) have been published. First published in 1802, and not available as a single book since the nineteenth century, Maria Edgeworth’s An essay on Irish bulls (152pp, e20/£13.95 pb, ISBN 9781904558750), introduced and edited (along with Marilyn Butler) by Jane Desmarais, was intended to show the English public the talent and wit of the Irish lower classes. It is an informal philosophical dialogue on the nature of ‘bulls’ (logical absurdities) and jokes and jests in general, and explores the confusions of identity and the relationship of the Irish people to the English. D. P. Moran’s The philosophy of Irish Ireland, originally published as a series of articles between 1898 and 1900, here introduced and edited by Patrick Maume (126pp, e20/£13.95 pb, ISBN 9781904558743), was the most forceful manifesto produced by that section of the Gaelic Revival movement that saw Irish identity as inexorably Catholic and Gaelic. Tom Kettle’s The open secret of Ireland (122pp, e20/£13.95, ISBN 9781904558767), introduced and edited by Senia Paseta and with the original introduction by John Redmond, was first published in 1912 as a collection of articles offering both historical and contemporary analyses of Home Rule. Included is ‘The Hallucination of Ulster’, a critique of Ulster unionism and its cause. The collection offers many insights into the motivations of the old Home Rule generation, convinced that their time had come and utterly unaware of the radical course Irish politics would take over the next ten years.
The big houses and landed estates of Ireland by Terence Dooley is the latest in the Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History (Four Courts Press, 192pp, e19.95 pb, ISBN 9781851829644) and is a significant expansion on his Sources for the history of landed estates in Ireland (2000). Until the land acts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the vast majority of Irish people lived on or around Ireland’s c. 7,000 landed estates, either as landlords, middlemen, tenant farmers, cottiers, landless labourers or servants. Nearly 300 ‘big houses’ were burnt down during the War of Independence and Civil War. The book includes 27 high-quality black-and-white plates.
The Meath Archaeological and Historical Society has been one of the most active local history societies over the years, with an annual journal, Ríocht na Midhe (303pp, ISSN 04615050), that has been published on and off since 1955. The latest 2007 volume (XVIII) contains articles by authors familiar to HI readers: Colin Veach (see pp 18–23 of this issue) reassesses Henry II’s grant of Meath to Hugh de Lacy in 1172; Ray Gillespie looks at a disputed election in Mullingar in 1637; Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh sheds light on the Catholic politics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by examining the correspondence of Edward Hay of Wexford and Lord Fingall of Killeen Castle; Tom Hunt, fresh from rescuing the history of cricket in Westmeath from obscurity (HI, Summer 2004), turns his attention to polo in the period 1881–1905. In a more contemporary vein, editor Séamus Mac Gabhann assesses the current County Meath Heritage Plan. On the frontiers of technology, P. J. Gibson conducts an archaeo-magnetic investigation of the former monastic site at Kilskyre. Noel French analyses the impact of the Great Famine on the population of County Meath, using census data and parish and Poor Law records, and comes to the surprising conclusion that it was the fifth worst affected county in Ireland. Whereas the country’s population as a whole declined by 34 per cent between 1841 and 1871, Meath’s declined by 48 per cent. The journal is free to members; details are available from secretary Oliver Ward, Spiddal, Nobber, Co. Meath.
Local history is well served by several other high-quality publications. Mary Davies’s That favourite resort (Wordwell, 334pp, e35 pb, ISBN 9781869857851) traces the fluctuating fortunes of Bray, Co. Wicklow. Originally a small village by the banks of the River Dargle, by the middle of the nineteenth century Bray was famous for ‘sea bathing and goat’s whey’, and with the coming of the railway 20,000 visitors were arriving by train on the Whit weekend alone. Bray’s seaside tourist trade had a final flourishing after 1945, when British holiday-makers flocked in to escape post-war austerities. The advent of the cheap Mediterranean holiday put paid to that by the 1970s and forced Bray to reinvent itself as a commuter and industrial town. As one would expect from a former map editor of the Royal Irish Academy’s Irish Historic Towns Atlas series, this large-format book is lavishly illustrated with maps, diagrams and colour plates, both historical and contemporary.
Harry Allen’s Donaghadee: an illustrated history (White Row Press, 134pp, £10.95, ISBN 9781870132312) tells the story of another seaside resort. Once the ‘gateway to Ulster’, the town had an inglorious brush with the slave trade, witnessed many shipwrecks, and played a part in the Ulster Volunteer Force gun-running of 1914, when policemen turned their faces to the pier wall so that they could truthfully say they had seen nothing.
In The Kingdom in the Empire (Nonsuch, 144pp, e12.99 pb, ISBN 9781845885656) Thomas F. Martin paints ‘a portrait of Kerry during World War One’ (the book’s subtitle) and explores how the global conflict changed the lives of the people of Kerry forever. For such a small book this is packed with statistics on demography, criminal convictions, Irish Volunteer armaments, inflation, class, family incomes, exports, wages, income tax, casualty figures, etc. With a chronology, comprehensive bibliography and copious footnotes, it is a mild disappointment that there is no index.
While Dublin City Council has taken its fair share of stick over the years for its attitude to heritage and conservation (it will take a long time to live down the Wood Quay débâcle), credit must be given where credit is due for its publication of The Georgian squares of Dublin: an architectural history (Four Courts Press, 172pp, e30 pb, ISBN 9780946841790, e45 hb, ISBN 9780946841783). Written by a team of conservation architects and sumptuously illustrated with specially commissioned photographs, this book will appeal to specialists and general readers alike.

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