Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2005), Reviews, Volume 13

The purpose of Peoples, nations and cultures: an A–Z of the peoples of the world, past and present (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 672pp, hb £30, ISBN 0304365505) is, according to its dust-jacket, to present a ‘readable, fascinating and informative guide to no fewer than 1500 peoples, both extant and extinct’, quite an ambitious claim for a single-volume work. This is a very user-friendly book, divided into five sections—the Americas; Africa; Europe; South and Central Asia and the Middle East; and East and Southeast Asia and Oceania—each with alphabetical entries varying in size from two- to three-page potted national histories (e.g. the ‘Irish’) to very short entries on long-extinct peoples such as the ‘Aedui’—‘longstanding allies of Rome . . . it was their appeal for Roman protection against the HELVETII that gave Julius Caesar the pretext he needed to begin the conquest of Gaul in 58 BC’. This will ring a bell with readers old enough to have studied Latin and Caesar’s Gallic Wars. While the numerous maps are in black and white, they have the advantage of clarity. It is hard to find fault with the potted history of the ‘Irish’, which brings the story right up to the Good Friday Agreement, the Celtic Tiger and beyond. On the other hand, readers of Lá, published in Belfast and the island’s only daily Irish-language newspaper, will be surprised to learn that Irish ‘is extinct as a spoken language in Northern Ireland’. Such quibbles are probably inevitable in a reference work as broad as this. Other entries of Irish interest include ‘Celts’, ‘Gaels’ and ‘Ulaid’. The editor, John M. MacKenzie, provides a wide-ranging but scholarly introduction, including a glossary of definitions such as ‘kin’, ‘band’, ‘clan’, ‘tribe’, ‘people’, ‘culture’, ‘civilisation’, ‘nation’ and ‘state’, but has the candour to admit that ‘questions of definition and of nomenclature remain so complex that consistency is almost impossible’. At only £30, definitely one for those Orwellian sick days.
In the past Bookworm has been critical of the ‘over-indulgent production and copy deadlines’ of some historical journals. Credit where credit is due, therefore, to the editors of The Irish Sword (Military History Society of Ireland, 240pp, ISSN 00211389). According to an editorial note at the end of their latest issue (Vol. XXIV, Winter 2004, no. 96), ‘for the first time in many years an issue of The Irish Sword is set to appear in the season represented by its nominal date’. Progress has also been made on the production-values front (another Bookworm obsession) with the addition of colour illustrations, although the rather plain cover offers no hint of the visual treasures within. The Irish Sword, since its foundation in 1949, has been one of the most consistent and high-quality of Irish historical journals, and has stuck to its brief of publishing articles dealing not only with war and military matters within Ireland but also with the Irish at war throughout the world. Thus in the current issue there is an article by Alexia Grosjean and Steve Murdoch on ‘Irish soldiers in Swedish service 1609–1613’. Other articles of general interest include Edward O’Mahony on ‘West Cork and the Elizabethan wars 1565–1603’ and Yvonne McEwen on ‘What have you done for Ireland? The 36th (Ulster) division in the Great War: politics, propaganda and the demography of deaths’. The author concludes that ‘sadly, there has been little scholarly interest in the demography of the Division, and inaccurate beliefs regarding the composition of the 36th persist… reinforced by a series of books and articles by high-profile military and political figures’. This, the relevant footnote adds, has allowed Loyalist paramilitaries and right-wing unionists to invoke the memory of the 36th (Ulster) Division for political ends. The Irish Sword (two issues per year) is distributed to members of the Military History Society of Ireland, Newman House, 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, annual subscription €32.
Which brings us neatly to Irish regiments in the Great War: discipline and morale (Manchester University Press, 237pp, pb £12.99, ISBN 0719062853) by Timothy Bowman, who will be familiar to History Ireland readers. This will be of particular interest to those who were moved by Peter Mulvany’s appeal in the last issue (‘Platform’, HI 13.1, Jan./Feb. 2005) on behalf of those Irish soldiers shot for ‘desertion’ or ‘cowardice’ during the First World War. Readers will find more details (pp 116–17) on the background to two of the cases cited by Peter Mulvany—James Templeton and James F. McCracken, both shot by firing squad on 19 March 1916.
Patrick Streeter’s Mad for Zion: a biography of Colonel J.H. Patterson (Matching Press, 191pp, pb £14.99, ISBN 0951866443) will be of interest to readers who want to find out more about the colourful colonel first brought to our attention by Yanky Fachler in his article in the Winter 2003 issue of HI. Born on the wrong side of the blanket to a respectable Anglo-Irish family, he rose from the rank of private in the British Army to be commander of the Zion Mule Corps and the Jewish Legion in the First World War. He gained celebrity status in 1898 for shooting dead two man-eating lions who were holding up construction on the Kenya–Uganda railway and notoriety nearly a decade later by having an affair with a married woman while on safari. He remained a supporter of militant Zionism until his death in Los Angeles in 1947.
Another book for appetites already whetted by Kevin Haddick Flynn’s short article on the 1904 Limerick Pogrom in the Summer 2004 issue of HI is Dermot Keogh and Andrew McCarthy’s Limerick Boycott 1904: anti-Semitism in Ireland (Mercier Press, 163pp, pb €20, ISBN 1856354539). It combines a narrative of the sequence of events stirred up by Fr John Creagh’s anti-Semitic sermon of 11 January 1904 with a selection of contemporary documents from the files of the Chief Secretary’s Office, Dublin Castle. This is the first in a series of studies produced by University College Cork’s history department pitched at a general readership and for use in the teaching of history at secondary and third level. Some may quibble with the authors’ use of the word ‘boycott’ rather than ‘pogrom’ but in the introduction they point out that ‘nothing can detract from the terror experienced by the Jews of Limerick on the evening of Fr Creagh’s first sermon’, and in any case the copious primary material will allow readers to make up their own minds.
The latest offering from the Irish Manuscripts Commission is The census of Elphin 1749 edited by Mary-Lou Legg (597pp, hb €75, ISBN 1874280738). The census was organised by Bishop Edward Synge in 1749 in order to establish the number of Protestants and Catholics in his diocese, which embraced most of County Roscommon, part of south-east County Sligo and part of north-east County Galway. Compiled on specially printed forms, the census lists the householders in each town and townland, as well as their occupations, their children and their servants, both male and female. The 245 occupations recorded span the economic range from the gentry and their clergy to cottiers, farmers and labourers, but also include doctors, dancing masters and dog-trainers.

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