BOOKWORM

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 4 (July/August 2012), Reviews, Volume 20

BOOKWORM 1The Olympics are upon us, and Bookworm was recently made aware of a fascinating testimony by Ireland’s first successful Olympian: Heiner Gillmeister (ed.), From Bonn to Athens, single and return: the diary of John Pius Boland, Olympic champion, Athens 1896 (Academia Verlag, 2008, 322pp, no price given, ISBN 9783896654557). Boland may or may not have competed by chance, but he won the men’s singles and doubles titles in lawn tennis at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 and later became Redmondite MP for West Kerry.His story also serves as the de facto starting point for Kevin McCarthy’s hugely readable Gold, silver and green: the Irish Olympic journey, 1896–1924 (Cork University Press, 428pp, €25pb, ISBN 9781859184882). Justly lauded on its release—in 2010 it won the International Society of Olympic Historians monograph award for the best Olympic history—it has been reissued in paperback and will hopefully win some more readers this summer (it even has a chapter on Irish involvement in the 1908 London Olympics!).

BOOKWORM 2By the time you read this Euro 2012 will be over (we didn’t win it, did we?), and the histories of both the Olympics and Irish soccer are combined in David Needham’s Ireland’s first real World Cup: the story of the 1924 Ireland Olympic football team (The Manuscript Publisher, 295pp, €14.99, ISBN 9780957115729): the first international team put out by the football authorities in the new Irish Free State was an amateur team who competed at the 1924 Paris Olympics.Athletics usually dominate coverage of the Olympics, so Bookworm should point out Mick Rice’s In their bare feet: a history of Derrydonnell AC (no details given), which chronicles the achievements of the famous Athenry club from its foundation in the 1950s to the present. Speaking of Galway history, Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill has written some excellent studies of Connemara and adds to these with A colony of strangers: the founding and early history of Clifden (Connemara Girl Publications, 332pp, €30hb, ISBN 9780953045563). This is a very impressive social history of the ‘capital of Connemara’ in the first half of the nineteenth century and makes a very worthwhile contribution to Clifden’s bicentenary year.

BOOKWORM 3Given the forthcoming London Olympics, our appearance at Euro 2012 and the perennial attraction of the GAA’s championships, Irish sports fans have an embarrassment of riches to enjoy over the summer. Those who might be inspired to dig deeper should pick up Mike Cronin and Roisín Higgins’s excellent Places we play: Ireland’s sporting heritage (Collins Press, 208pp, €24.99 hb, ISBN 9781848891296). This arises from the Irish Sporting Heritage project being undertaken by Boston College and is a beautifully produced history of sports in Ireland, as revealed through the venues in which they have been played on the island from the Victorian era to the present. It ranges from the humblest handball alley to the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park, and is a salutary reminder that the sporting history of Ireland has breadth as well as depth. Readers who enjoyed last issue’s interview with Robin Frame and/or attended his lecture in Trinity College on 10 May might be interested in the handsome new edition of his classic Colonial Ireland, 1169–1369 (Four Courts Press, 224pp, €17.50pb, ISBN 9781846823220). Those who enjoyed Sonja Tiernan’s account of Eva Gore-Booth’s fight for the rights of barmaids are BOOKWORM 4sure to enjoy her full-length account of her life, Eva Gore-Booth: an image of such politics (Manchester University Press, 265pp, £17.99pb, ISBN 9780719082320), which is the first biography of its subject. The younger sister of Constance Gore-Booth (a.k.a. Countess Markiewicz), Eva Gore-Booth was a committed social radical and reformer who turned her back on her aristocratic heritage and was immortalised along with her sister by Yeats (the poem in question was read out by no less than Leonard Cohen at his 2010 gig at their ancestral home, Lissadell). Eva Gore-Booth led a life that was surely as interesting as that of Constance, and this lively biography brings her out of her older sister’s shadow.Bookworm is always glad to see new kids on the publishing block and Merrion, the recently launched imprint from Irish Academic Press, follows up Bernard Kelly’s Returning home (favourably reviewed by Michael Kennedy in the last issue) with David Ryan’s Blasphemers & blackguards: the Irish Hellfire Clubs (Merrion, 216pp, €16.99pb, ISBN 9781908928016). BOOKWORM 5This engaging and very readable book arises from a TV documentary that was never completed. The author has carried out an impressive amount of research to cast light on the lurid exploits of the aristocratic types whose drinking, gambling, womanising and general wickedness remain a staple of Irish urban legend. Finally, we might be at the beginning of a ‘decade of centenaries’ but Bookworm is delighted to see a new edition of a classic account of the Civil War of 1922–3: Ernie O’Malley’s The singing flame (Mercier Press, 384pp, €16.99, ISBN 9781856358859). O’Malley’s first memoir, On another man’s wound, is easily the most compelling insider’s account of the period from 1916 to 1921. The singing flame is the sequel and was published posthumously in 1978. Given the fact that most memoirs about the ‘Irish Revolution’ avoided the Civil War, it still has the field to itself in terms of its subject-matter, as well as the literary skill that O’Malley brought to bear on it. Towards its end, in 1924, O’Malley is imprisoned in the Curragh by the Free State, and it is striking to read over his reflections on how Irish history had reached the present in which he dwelt: ‘Ours was the country of broken tradition . . . we had built a world of our own, an emotional life but no philosophy or economic framework’. BOOKWORM 6In 2012 it’s hard not to think he was onto something!  HI

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