Bookworm

Published in Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2008), Reviews, Volume 16

The launch of Turas na dTaoiseach nUltach as Éirinn: from Ráth Maoláin to Rome, edited by Nollaig Ó Muraíle (Pontifical Irish College, Rome, 690pp, €75 hb, ISBN 9788890169212), in Dublin Castle on 21 November 2007 by another taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, had uncanny parallels with the original episode, but in reverse. Copies of the book (printed in Rome) were delayed en route in France—not unlike the earls themselves—in this case owing to an industrial dispute. So the book had to be launched in absentia. Thankfully the consignment has since arrived safely.
This is a beautiful and well-organised book. ‘Tadgh Ó Cianáin’s contemporary narrative of the journey into exile of the Ulster chieftains and their followers, 1607–8 (the so-called “Flight of the Earls”)’—as described on the dust-jacket—has been transcribed from the original Irish manuscript (left-hand pages) and translated into English (right-hand pages). There is an extensive commentary and appendices (much of them based on the work of the 1916 translator, Paul Walsh, and of Tomás Ó Fiaich); ten high-quality plates, all but two in colour (most—e.g. Thomas Ryan’s famous painting, which also adorns the cover—will be familiar to readers of our Flight of the Earls special issue [July/August 2007]); five maps indicating the places they stopped en route (but why, oh why, do the maps indicate current rather than contemporary political boundaries?); and a comprehensive index. But the general reader should not be intimidated by this extensive scholarly apparatus. Ó Cianáin’s vivid descriptions—sometimes gullible and naïve—shine through. By the time they landed at Quillebeuf at the mouth of the Seine, on Thursday 4 October 1607, he explains, ‘the only drink they had [remaining] was five gallons of beer and less than one barrell of water’. If they ‘only’ had five gallons left, one wonders how many gallons of beer they consumed on the sea voyage from Ireland?
Readers who saw the film Kings, or who read Micheál Mac Aonghusa’s review in the last issue, might be interested in Enda Delaney’s The Irish in post-war Britain (Oxford University Press, 232pp, £55 hb, ISBN 9780199276677), a scholarly rather than artistic treatment of the phenomenon. Delaney challenges the assumption that the Irish assimilated with relative ease, and shows that they often perceived themselves to be outsiders on the margins of their adopted home—just like in Kings.
Architect Niall McCullough’s Dublin, an urban history: the plan of the city (Anne Street/Lilliput Press, 222pp, €40 hb, ISBN 9781843510987) is an elegy to a lost city. First published in 1989, ‘this book [according to the blurb on the back] is about [Dublin’s] physical structure, an exploration of the city plan over time, how early marks of movement or ownership became a layered tissue of meaning’. While it is superficially ‘coffee-table’ in style (large-format, with an abundance of high-quality photographs dating back to the late nineteenth century), it is not ‘pretty’. What makes an impression is not the Georgian splendour but the squalor of the back streets and laneways. Consequently the author has produced a social as well as an architectural record of the city.
Bookworm has no intention of getting embroiled in the controversy connected with the recent RTÉ ‘Hidden History’ documentary about the killings on 30 June 1921 by the IRA of the Pearson brothers at Coolacrease, Co. Offaly (See ‘Platform’, pp 5–6), except to mention the re-publication (third edition) of the book that inspired it, Alan Stanley’s I met murder on the way—the story of the Pearsons of Coolacrease (Alan Stanley, Quinagh, Carlow, 109pp, hb, ISBN 9780950175898). The author is the son of William Stanley, one of the IRA’s intended victims, who escaped. For a counter-interpretation check out www.indymedia.ie/article/76350. Whatever the right and wrongs of his account, Alan Stanley has done a great service by rescuing the story of the Pearsons from obscurity.
While on the subject of controversial killings (and websites), 2008 will see the long-awaited publication of the Saville inquiry (www.bloody-sunday-inquiry.org/) into the deaths of fourteen unarmed Civil Rights demonstrators by soldiers of the British 1st Parachute Regiment in Derry on 30 January 1972. The website has been dormant since August 2005 while the report itself is being compiled but is still a treasure trove of witness statements, expert reports, etc.
Possibly in anticipation of the report’s publication, two very different books have just been published. Jennifer Faus’s Before Sunday: the life stories of the Bloody Sunday victims (Nonsuch, 191pp, €14.99/£9.99, ISBN 9781845885731) fleshes out the lives of the people who would otherwise be simply names on a memorial. The (often out of focus) family photographs in particular provoke a powerful sense of melancholy ’60s/’70s nostalgia: families shivering by the seaside, pointy sunglasses, young men with long hair, flowery wallpaper, Cortinas. The first entry, Johnny Johnston, has the double distinction of being the oldest victim (59) and a postscript on every memorial: ‘died later [five months] as a result of his injuries’.
After Bloody Sunday: representation, ethics and justice by Tom Herron and John Lynch (Cork University Press, 152pp, €39/£25 hb, ISBN 9781859184257) examines the portrayals of the day and its devastating repercussions in photography, film (Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday), theatre (Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians and Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City), poetry (Thomas Kinsella’s Butcher’s dozen), television documentary (Jimmy McGovern’s Sunday), art installations (Willie Doherty and the Bogside Artists), murals, commemorative events and legal discourse. It is now more than a generation since Bloody Sunday yet the events of that day have yet to pass into the realm of history. It remains to be seen whether or not the Saville Report will be part of that process.
And yet the Northern conflict generally is (thankfully) passing into the realm of history. It is already part of the curriculum, North and South. Gordon Gillespie’s Troubled images: the Northern Ireland troubles and peace process 1968–2007 (Linen Hall Library/Colourpoint Books, 88pp, £8.99, ISBN 9781904242789) is pitched at Key Stage 3 of the North’s history curriculum (roughly equivalent to the South’s Junior Cert), that ‘difficult’ 14–16-year-old age group. He has succeeded in producing a simple, balanced account yet avoids being anodyne. The book is illustrated (in full colour) by images (mostly political posters) drawn from the Linen Hall Library’s 3000-item Troubled images CD-ROM (the author was a research officer on that project), which in turn is drawn from the library’s world-renowned Northern Ireland Political Collection of over a quarter of a million items collected since the onset of the Troubles in 1968. Those of you who have been loyal readers since the start can refresh your memories on that by dusting down your Vol. 1, No. 1, issue of History Ireland (Spring 1993) and consulting our ‘sources’ section.
Finally, County Meath features in Arnold Horner’s Mapping Meath in the early 19th century (Wordwell, 100pp, ?35 hb, ISBN 9781905569175). This is the second in a series 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 1812 map of County Meath on 24 separate sheets.

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