Bookworm

Published in Issue 3 (May/Jun 2009), Reviews, Volume 17

Irish history publishing tends to come in waves, often in tandem with public commemorations and anniversaries. A case in point is the 1798 Rebellion. In the run-up to the bicentenary commemorations what started as a trickle of articles and monographs, some on the occasion of the bicentenaries of the French Revolution in 1989 and the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in 1991, became a veritable torrent by 1998 and beyond. Inevitably the printing presses have slowed a bit since then but they haven’t stopped completely. James G. Patterson’s In the wake of the Great Rebellion: republicanism, agrarianism and banditry in Ireland after 1798 (Manchester University Press, 202pp, £50 hb, ISBN 9780719076930) focuses on the relatively neglected period between the rebellion and Emmet’s rising of 1803, seeing the latter not as an isolated phenomenon but as part of a complex process of radical politicisation and revolutionary activity extending from 1791 to 1803 and beyond. Readers will already be familiar with his ‘“Educated Whiteboyism”: the Cork tithe war, 1798–9’ (HI 12.4, winter 2004).
Similarly, after the upsurge in interest occasioned by the 90th anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Rising in 2006, including the involvment of the Irish Army for the first time since the early 1970s, it might have been expected that publications on the Rising might ease off. Not a bit of it! Clair Wills’s Dublin 1916: the siege of the GPO (Profile Books, 260pp, £15.99 hb, ISBN 9781846680533) draws on diaries, newspaper reports and participant accounts, many of which have lain unread since their collection in the 1930s. But she has also tracked the obsession with Dublin’s iconic edifice through literature, film and art, exploring the twists and turns that the myth of the GPO has undergone in the last century, particularly in her concluding chapter, ‘The front room of the nation’. One of the rhetorical questions she poses is: which house in Moore Street (last HQ of the insurgents as they retreated from the GPO) should be saved from demolition? This is currently the subject of a planning appeal to Dublin City Council and was the occasion of an ‘Arms(!) Around Moore Street’ protest on 19 April 2009.
Roisín Higgins and Regina Uí Chollatáin’s (eds) The life and after-life of P.H. Pearse/Pádraic Mac Piarais: saol agus oidhreacht (Irish Academic Press, 274pp, €24.99 pb, ISBN 9780716530121; €60 hb, 9780716530114) is the publishing doppelganger of a conference held in the Pearse Museum in 2006. Among the contributors are Roisín Higgins, Joost Augusteijn, Joyce Padbury, Brian Crowley, Pat Cooke and James Quinn, all of whom have appeared in the pages of HI in recent years. Remarkably, for someone who became an abstracted and abused icon, Pearse has been understudied, an imbalance that this collection seeks to redress, with articles on Pearse not just as revolutionary but also as poet, writer, editor and teacher. (Listeners to RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany on 3 May 2009, the anniversary of Pearse’s execution, will have heard abstracts of the papers).
Richard Killeen, who has cornered the market in short histories in recent years, has just published his latest, A short history of the 1916 Rising (Gill & Macmillan, 130pp, €9.99/£7.99 pb, ISBN 9780717144167). Not only does it have the advantage of precision but also the small format makes it ideal for slipping into the overcoat pocket of any reader keen to visit 1916-related sites and buildings (while they’re still standing!).
One of the books that slipped through the net for our ‘Fenian’ special (HI 16.6, Nov./Dec. 2008)—a review copy arrived after we had gone to press—was Joe Ambrose’s The Fenian anthology (Mercier Press, 350pp, €24.99 hb, ISBN 9781856356077). Starting with W.E.H. Lecky’s ‘The condition of Ireland—1798’ from A history of England during the eighteenth century (1892) and concluding with an abridged version of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s speech at Ballingarry on the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Rebellion in July 1998, this collection takes a conventional chronological approach (some academic historians might question the validity of such an apostolic succession). The other guiding principle seems to be an eclectic mix of whatever the editor finds interesting (many of the entries are written by him). This is not a criticism; it is the very oddness of the book that makes it a good read. Thus we have entries on ‘Robert Emmet—a man for whom fame was dearer than life’, ‘James Stephens: hawk, braggart and blackguard?’, ‘Cathal Goulding, the flaxen foe’ and commentary on the Provisional IRA’s 1970s training manual or Green book (Martin McGuinness’s response in 2003 to a Saville Inquiry question about its significance is quoted—‘I think it means the book was green’). All in all, a great book to dip in and out of.
On the back of his Tuath na Dromann: a history of Cill na Martra (Original Writing, 174pp, €15 pb from Macroom Bookshop, ISBN 9781906018610) Donal Murphy claims to hold ‘a masters and three bachelor degrees along with postgraduate diploma and certificate qualifications in a variety of subjects, none of them history’. But don’t let that put you off: this is a very good micro-history of a single parish in mid-Cork told literally from the ground up, complete with academic apparatus of footnotes and bibliography (although no index). Pity, then, about the poor quality of its illustrations (the OS map reproduced is almost unreadable), a far-too-common failing of off-the-shelf publishing such as this.
One of the criticisms often levelled at E.P. Thompson’s ground-breaking The making of the English working class (1963), which sought ‘to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “Utopian” artisan…from the enormous condescension of posterity’, was that it was far too PC and didn’t pay enough attention to the flag-waving, Union Jack-saluting, reactionary element of British popular opinion. This is precisely the phenomenon examined by Daniel M. Jackson’s Popular opposition to Irish Home Rule in Edwardian Britain (Liverpool University Press, 288pp, £65 hb, ISBN 9781846311987). He argues that Conservative politicians like Andrew Bonar Law were able to bridge the gap with the British masses by exploiting patriotic and sectarian sentiment to such an extent that by 1914 the United Kingdom, and not just Ireland, was on the verge of civil war.
Readers will recall Daniel Leach’s article ‘Irish post-war asylum: Nazi sympathy, pan-Celticism or raisons d’etat?’ (HI 15.3, May/June 2007), which took issue with some of the conclusions of RTÉ’s two-part Hidden Histories documentary, Ireland’s Nazis, broadcast earlier that year. For a more thorough treatment of the motley crew of Axis collaborators—Germans, Austrians, Bretons, Basques, Scots, Flemings, Croats and Ukrainians—washed up in post-war neutral Ireland, check out his Fugitive Ireland: European minority nationalists and Irish political asylum, 1937–2008 (Four Courts Press, 312pp, €35 hb, ISBN 9781846821646). HI

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