Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2009), Reviews, Volume 17

Readers who profited from Micheál Ó Siochrú’s article on Oliver Cromwell in the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue or from the book from which it is drawn—God’s executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the conquest of Ireland (Faber), also published last year—will be interested to know that his 1999 Confederate Ireland 1642–1649: a constitutional and political analysis has been republished in paperback (Four Courts Press, 295pp, €24.75 pb, €58.50 hb, ISBN 9781846821493, 9781846824006). The judgement of Irish Historical Studies—that it ‘will be the standard authority on the subject for many years to come’—has, like the book itself, stood the test of time.
Four Courts’ Maynooth Studies in Local History Series (general editor Ray Gillespie) continues to combine the best of local history writing with a rigorous scholarly approach. R. B. MacCarthy’s The diocese of Lismore, 1801–69 (64pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821172) provides a snapshot of a not-untypical rural Church of Ireland diocese on the eve of disestablishment. The title of Seán Bagnall’s Tallaght, 1835–50: a rural place (64pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821134) makes the point that his native place wasn’t always the thriving metropolis it is today and was in many respects uninfluenced by the nearby city.
Where would journalists be without whistle-blowers or historians without informers? Jennifer Kelly’s ‘The downfall of Hagan’: Sligo Ribbonism in 1842 (55pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821158) uses the testimony of James Hagan, the county’s most powerful Ribbonman, who turned informer following his arrest, to provide a rare insight into the nature and extent of Ribbonism in early nineteenth-century Ireland at a local, regional and national level. Agrarian violence features too in Padraig Vesey’s The murder of Major Mahon, Strokestown, County Roscommon, 1847 (64pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821196). Mahon paid the ultimate price for attempting to put his bankrupt estate in order in what the dust-jacket euphemistically calls a ‘reform programme’ (in fact the mass eviction of hundreds of starving tenants at the height of the Famine). In a final irony, his ‘Big House’ is now home to the Famine Museum. Bernadette Lally’s Print culture in Loughrea, 1850–1900: reading, writing and printing in an Irish provincial town (63pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821165) gives a local dimension to the growing interest in book history and literacy. Few Irish coastal communities have relied exclusively on the sea for their survival. In The Fishery of Arklow, 1800–1950 (64pp, €9.95 pb, ISBN 9781846821189) Jim Rees tells the story of an exception. ‘The Fishery’ was an unofficial, ill-defined area within the town, populated, according to the local rector, by ‘a race distinct’.
Liam Kelly’s Photographs and photography in Irish local history (Four Courts Press, 120pp, €17.95 pb, €39.95 hb, ISBN 9781846821264, 9781846821257) is the latest in the related Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History (general editor Mary Ann Lyons). Not only does it provide a useful brief history of photography in Ireland and a catalogue of the country’s major photographic collections but there is also a very interesting chapter on ‘reading photographs’, i.e. on analysing them in the same way as a document or manuscript. (Is it authentic? Where was it taken? Who took it? When was it taken? Why was it taken? What information does it contain?) Definitely one for the picture editor’s shelf.
One of the surprise publishing hits of 2007 was Great Irish speeches (Quercus), edited by Richard Aldous. Both publisher and editor (this time assisted by Niamh Puirséil and with a foreword by Fintan O’Toole) are back with a follow-up: We declare: landmark documents in Ireland’s history (216pp, £20 hb, ISBN 9781847246721). Along with concise introductions giving the context are 35 documents ranging from St Patrick’s fifth-century Confessio to the FAI’s 2002 Genesis Report.
One of the documents featured in We declare is the Corporation’s 1914 Report on Dublin Housing Conditions, which outlines the appalling circumstances in which the city’s poor lived (78% of lettings were for one room). A catalyst for the report was the ‘Church Street disaster’ of September 1913, when two adjoining tenement buildings collapsed, killing seven people. In anticipation of the inquiry, John Cooke, who later gave evidence on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, photographed the aftermath and slum conditions in the city generally. Some of his photographs were reproduced with the report and in 1926 he presented the entire collection to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI), of which he was a member. This collection provides the basis for Darkest Dublin, edited by Christiaan Corlett (Wordwell Books in association with the RSAI, 228pp, 132 original B&W photos, €32 pb, ISBN 9781905569212). Note that Cooke was not a professional photographer, a fact reflected in the quality of some of the photographs, but their very naïvety provides a rare surviving portrait of the dark side of Dublin life generally left in the shade by professional photographers at that time.
A more conventional pictorial record is Chrissy Osborne’s Michael Collins: a life in pictures (Mercier Press, 160pp, €25 hb, ISBN 9781856355636). It contains not only many of the familiar (and some unfamiliar) images of Collins himself but also a delightful array of ephemera, documents and places associated with the ‘Big Fella’ in Cork, Dublin, London and further afield. Another one for the picture editor’s shelf, although its usefulness is greatly reduced by the absence of an index or specific picture credits.
The latest Radharc, edited by Marion Casey (Glucksman Ireland House, 401pp, €25 pb, ISSN ?), now helpfully described on its cover as ‘A Journal of Irish and Irish-American Studies’, is a bumper issue, encompassing three volumes (2004, 2005 and 2006). From the general reader’s point of view, its fourteen articles are suitably eclectic, accessible and devoid of the type of jargon that makes many academic journals inpenetrable. Martin Dowling (who writes as well as he plays the fiddle) offers us ‘Rambling in the Field of Modern Identity’ with ‘Some Speculations on Irish Traditional Music’. In ‘Discovering an Irish-American Story’ Sharon O’Brien takes as her opening text the last lines of ‘Remember Skibbereen’ (which our editor has been known to sing after a few pints). David Miller, interviewed in these pages a few years ago (HI 13.4, July/Aug. 2005), draws some interesting parallels in ‘Ulster Evangelicalism and American Culture Wars’, while Joost Augusteijn gives ‘A Dutch Perspective’ on ‘Ireland and Europe’. Anthony Keating tackles the difficult issue of ‘Church, State, and Sexual Crime against Children in Ireland after 1922’.
If the recent plethora of events, books, TV and radio programmes is anything to go by, commemoration of Irish involvement in the First World War is now very much in the public domain and across all political traditions. An example of the genre is The 6th Connaught Rangers: Belfast nationalists and the Great War, the fruit of work by the 6th Connaught Rangers Research Project (426 Falls Road, Belfast BT12 6EN, connaughtrangers@ messinesassociation.org). The war features too in Sam Hutchison’s The light of other days: a selection of monuments, mausoleums and memorials in Church of Ireland churches and graveyards and those whom they commemorate (Wordwell Books, 193pp, €35 hb, ISBN 9781905569199). But the Great War is only one of the fourteen chapters in this beautifully illustrated (full-colour plates) book, which includes a bibliography, index and a list of sculptors. HI

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