Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/June 2010), Reviews, Volume 18

It is deliciously ironic that a book that takes us to task for creating a ‘liberation myth’ with regard to the War of Independence should have on its front cover an image that is not what it claims to be (see letters, p. 12). Nevertheless, in spite of this and its rather old-fashioned revisionist tone, The war for Ireland 1913–1923, edited by Peter Cottrell, and with contributing authors Brendan O’Shea and Gerry White (Osprey Publishing, 248pp, £20, ISBN 9781846039966), is a useful addition to scholarship on this period. As you would expect from Osprey, specialists in military history, it is handsomely presented, for example the cut-away image of the GPO in 1916 or the full-colour maps with a slightly angled perspective. The fourth chapter, ‘The Warring Sides’, is particularly good on the nuts and bolts of the various forces involved. One of the book’s strengths is that it deals with the Civil War as a war, and analyses the strategies (or lack of on the anti-Treaty side), tactics and weapons involved.
This is not necessarily a given, as Gabriel Doherty (series editor) explains in his foreword to The battle for Limerick City by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, the first of Mercier’s Military History of the Irish Civil War series (160pp, €12.99, ISBN 9781856356756). Previous accounts, he contends, have over-concentrated on the political or socio-psychological aspects of the Treaty split to the exclusion of the military and, while not ‘wrong’, are incomplete, a lacuna this series hopes to address. Ó Ruairc explains how, when hostilities commenced in the city on 11 July 1922, pro- and anti-Treaty forces were relatively evenly matched. Over the following two weeks of fighting, however, the Free State army gained the upper hand, thus sealing the fate of the so-called ‘Munster Republic’. And as we were about to go to press the second of the series, The summer campaign in Kerry by Tom Doyle (160pp, €12.99, 9781856356763), dropped through the letterbox. Eight more are in the pipeline—on Dublin, Killmallock, the Kerry landings, Waterford, personalities and weapons.
It’s not often that a book comes along that forces the reader to look at the past in a new way. Such is David Brett’s A book around the Irish Sea: history without nations (Wordwell, 336pp, €29.50, ISBN 9781905569366). While not on the same scale or of the same complexity as Ferdnand Braudel’s 1949 Annales School classic The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II, the approach is similar. The author treats the Irish Sea as a kind of inland waterway, linking many parts and extended further inland by navigable rivers and canals. Moreover, he covered much of the ground himself (mainly by bicycle!) in a tour de force that looks at history, geography, archaeology (including industrial), economics, genetics and linguistics. I was particularly struck by the four language maps (pre-Roman, Roman, post-Roman, twelfth century, pp 60–3) in which the boundaries of Q-Celtic (later Old Irish), P-Celtic (later Old Welsh), Norse and finally English move like so many isobars on a weather map back and forth along the length of the Irish Sea. But this is also a very readable book, peppered with many pithy observations:

‘The ghosts of the Cruithin are among the many historical vapours plaguing the loyalists of Northern Ireland who, in their wilder moments, identify themselves with those P-Celtic speakers who were expelled from Ulster in the seventh century and returned in the seventeenth like the Jews to Israel. They match themselves with contemporary Israel to counter the IRA’s enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause’ (p. 134).

From the longue durée to short histories, a genre cornered by Richard Kileen. His A short history of Ireland, first published in 1994, is a best-seller. Gill and Macmillan have now added his A short history of Dublin (132pp, €9.99, ISBN 9780717144174) as well as A short history of the Troubles (180pp, €9.99, ISBN 9780717144631), a near-impossible task carried out with commendable even-handedness by Gordon Gillespie. And as if that wasn’t enough, Gill and Macmillan have also produced A pocket history of Ireland by Joseph McCullough (256pp, €4.99, ISBN 9780717147298). This competitively priced small hardback, packed with high-quality images, many in colour, is clearly aimed at the tourist market (and why not?). It presents ‘the story of Ireland’ from prehistoric times to the present day in bite-sized chunks, although readers might choke on the observation (p. 233) that ‘although the effects of the worldwide recession have hit the country as hard as any industrialised nation, Ireland remains in a strong economic position, and still serves as an example of good governance to both Europe and the world’!
Bookworm has always been puzzled at the relative lack of discourse between the disciplines of history and archaeology. To help bridge this interdisciplinary gap, the Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group (IPMAG) was established in 1999, one of their aims being the ‘fostering of greater contacts between those individuals engaged in researching the archaeology, history and culture of post-1550 Ireland’. Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic world (Wordwell, 284pp, €40, ISBN 9781905569380), edited by Audrey Horning and Nick Brannon, is the second collection of IPMAG proceedings. As its starting point it quotes Fynes Moryson’s 1617 reference to Ireland as ‘this most famous island in the Virginian sea’, and its thirteen essays address four themes: landscapes and seascapes of conflict; change and continuity in the rural and urban landscape; material culture, trade and manufacturing; and archaeologies of the Irish diaspora.
Four Courts Press’s Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History (general editor Mary Ann Lyons) continue to roll off the presses (seventeen to date). C. J. Woods’s Travellers’ accounts as source-material for Irish historians gets the full review treatment in this issue (p. 61). Susan M. Parkes has produced A guide to sources for the history of Irish education 1780–1922 (208pp, €45hb/€22.50pb, ISBN 9781846821271), while husband and wife team Ciarán and Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh have put together Business archival sources for the local historian (94pp, €35hb/€14.95pb, ISBN 9781846821332), including a guide to the authors’ electronic database of select accounting and corporate governance archives held in the National Archives of Ireland and the Public Record Office, Northern Ireland (listed in the appendix). And if you think poring over accounts, minute books and invoices is a cure for insomnia, consider this: imagine the fun historians in years to come will have unravelling the shenanigans at Anglo-Irish Bank, the Irish Nationwide Building Society and our other delinquent financial institutions. HI

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