Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2008), Reviews, Volume 16

They say that journalism is the first draft of history, and this is literally the case with Irish Times journalist Deaglán de Bréadún’s The far side of revenge: making peace in Northern Ireland (Collins Press, 450pp, €18.99/£14.99 pb, ISBN 9781905172610). Originally published in 2001, the concluding ‘fifth act’ has been added, bringing the story up to the St Andrew’s Agreement and the establishment of a Paisley/McGuinness-led power-sharing executive last year and beyond, with some well-grounded speculation on the long-term probability of a united Ireland. In justifying the book’s journalistic style and resisting the temptation in this revised edition ‘to hone [more] elegant sentences’ the author is too modest: this is a well-written and readable account of the Peace Process.
On the face of it, Irish agriculture: a price history from the mid-eighteenth century to the eve of the First World War by Liam Kennedy and Peter M. Solar (Royal Irish Academy, 206pp, €30 hb, ISBN 9781904890416) might not strike the general reader as the most exciting of titles, but in a world that is currently experiencing spiralling price rises in staples such as rice (through a combination of global warming and a shift to bio-fuel crops) it behoves us all to heed the quote (from David H. Fischer) at the start of the concluding chapter: ‘The History of Prices is a history of change’. Inevitably, the appendices, tables and graphs of this large-format book may be heavy going for some readers, but the accompanying text is clear and well written.
‘That fair metropolis so great and populous . . . the gorgeous city of Mullingar’ is the subject of Ruth Illingworth’s Mullingar: history & guide (Nonsuch Publishing, 157pp, €17.99 pb, ISBN 9781845885830). Copiously illustrated (including ‘Main Street, that broad and clane street, with its gas lamps that shine from afar . . .’), it tells the story of the town’s rich historical and archaeological heritage from the earliest times to the present day, and to get you out of the house she concludes with a suggested walking tour. ‘Sure [she] could spake a lecture on the architecture . . .’
The surrounding hinterland (‘That fertile county, which nature’s bounty has richly gifted with both bog and heath’) is the focus of Tom Hunt’s Sport and society in Victorian Ireland: the case of Westmeath (Cork University Press, 357pp, €39 hb, ISBN 9781859184158). Readers will already have had a sample of the author’s work in the pages of HI (Summer 2004) in which he demolished the assumption that cricket in rural Ireland was an élitist sport confined to the middle and upper classes. In this book he broadens the study to include hunting, racing, golf, cycling, tennis, rugby, soccer, Gaelic football and hurling (although, judging by the standard of the recent NHL division II final victory over Carlow, the ‘fertile county’ has a long way to go in the latter sport yet).
Another previous contributor to HI (Spring 2003) whose work has been expanded into a book is Basil Walshe, whose Michael W. Balfe: a unique Victorian composer has just been published by Irish Academic Press (320pp, £35/€39.50 hb, ISBN 9780716529477). Balfe’s most famous opera, The Bohemian girl, a world-wide success that was translated into many languages, was only one of 28 operas credited to the ‘Irish Italian’, 43 if French, Italian and German versions are added.
Bookworm is never shy about taking up the cudgels on behalf of readers, and a common complaint is the exorbitant price of many hardback academic titles. For example, having waited patiently for nearly half a century for the definitive version of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s collected writings (third and final volume reviewed by Kevin Whelan in the last issue), readers may have to spend another half-century saving up the money (€125 for vol. III) to buy the damn things! This is a particular problem with ‘Oxbridge’ publishers. In the case of Fearghal McGarry’s Eoin O’Duffy: a self-made hero (Oxford University Press, 442pp, ISBN 9780199226672), first published in 2005, the good news is that it is now available in paperback for only £16.99. This is now the standard work on Ireland’s leading fascist and is particularly strong on the early, and previously less well known, years of O’Duffy’s career.
A fresh insight into Tone’s writings (as travel writer in revolutionary Paris) was provided by Sylvie Kleinman in the last issue. Travel writing features too in William H. A. Williams’s Tourism, landscape, and the Irish character: British travel writers in pre-Famine Ireland (University of Wisconsin Press, 280pp, $65 hb, ISBN 9780299225209), one of the ‘History of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora’ series edited by James S. Donnelly and Thomas Archdeacon. The author argues that, whether consciously or not, British travel writers defined their own identity in opposition to a perceived Irish strangeness: the rituals of Catholicism, the seemingly histrionic lamentations of the funeral wake, cemeteries with displays of human bones, the archaic Irish language or the Hiberno-English that they heard spoken. Overlooking the acute dispair in Britain’s own industrial cities, they opined that the poverty, boglands and ill-thatched cottages of rural Ireland indicated failures in the Irish character.
In the 2008 Donegal Annual, edited by Seán Beatie (Donegal Historical Society, 260pp, €20, ISSN 0416 2773), David Finnegan, Jerrold Casway and Darren McGettigan take a fresh look at the ill-fated rebellion of Sir Cahir O’Doherty in 1608, a year after the Flight of the Earls. A descendant of the Clandeboye O’Neills, Fionn Morgan, presents some highly personal insights into the lives of her ancestors from the time of Sir Arthur Chichester. Belinda Mahaffy looks at folklore and archaeology in Ballintra. Robert Spiegelman wonders how George Adair came to Glenveagh, the first step in the development of one of the county’s star attractions. Joe O’Loughlin recalls Donegal plane crashes in World War II, while Col. Declan O’Carroll offers unique insights into the life of a Manorcunningham soldier, Capt. Henry Gallagher, who narrowly missed being awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in the First World War. Available (+ €3 postage) from Una McGarrigle, Park Hill, Ballyshannon, unamcgarrigle@hotmail.com or www.donegalhistory.com.
The most recent publishing venture of the Clogher Historical Society is Donald M. Schlegel’s Abstracts of chancery inquisitions of the seventeenth century for counties Fermanagh and Monaghan (143pp + 11 maps, €50 hb, ISBN 0949012807). These inquisitions, normally convened and presided over by county juries, provided information to the court of chancery and the Dublin exchequer about the ownership of land, thereby protecting Crown rights and revenues. They constitute a veritable treasure-trove of information on land ownership, estate consolidation and material culture, providing invaluable data for the historian, genealogist and scholar of Irish placenames.

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