Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2009), Reviews, Volume 17

The conflict in Northern Ireland continues to provide a steady supply of new titles, academic and popular, to our bookshelves. The grim, but essential, starting-point for those who want an overview of the human cost of the conflict should be Lost lives: the stories of the men, women and children who died through the Northern Ireland Troubles by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea (Mainstream Publishing, 1,696pp, £30 hb, ISBN 9781840185041). Lost lives was first published to acclaim in 1999 and subsequently updated on two occasions. It is as valuable for an academic seeking to check a fact or figure as it is for the casual reader anxious to get a feel for the scale of the Troubles. In parts shocking, moving and likely to inspire both sadness and anger, it is unfortunate that there are likely to be future editions of this monumental work.
Gordon Gillespie has recently authored a popular general history of the conflict, Years of darkness: the Troubles remembered (Gill & Macmillan, 304pp, €16.99 pb, ISBN 9780717142262), utilising contemporary newspaper reports from 1968 onwards to outline many of  the key events, including Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday, the Sunningdale Agreement, the hunger strikes and the Enniskillen and Omagh bombs. He has also produced Troubled images: the Northern Ireland Troubles and peace process 1968–2007 (Colourpoint, 88pp, £8.99 pb, ISBN 978190424278), an illustrated guide designed for secondary school students (key stage 3 of the Northern Ireland history syllabus), featuring material from the outstanding Northern Ireland Political Collection at Belfast’s Linenhall Library. Alongside the striking images there are exercises to provoke discussion and debate among students.
Many of the contributors to this issue have listed Thomas Hennessey’s Northern Ireland: the origins of the Troubles as a source. His The evolution of the Troubles 1970–72 (Irish Academic Press, 384pp, €55 hb, €24.95 pb, ISBN 9780716528845, 9780716528852) is the follow-up, making good use of recently released material from the archives in Belfast, Dublin and London. The narrative covers many of the key events that saw the Northern crisis develop into war: the Falls Curfew, the fall of the Chichester-Clark government, Brian Faulkner’s premiership, internment and Bloody Sunday. For the latter subject Hennessey has extensively used the transcripts from the long-running Saville inqury into the massacre.
From the angle of political science, Joanne McEvoy’s The politics of Northern Ireland (Edinburgh University Press, 194pp, £9.99 pb, ISBN 9780748625017) is a useful introduction to academic theories of the conflict, its historical context, and the various political initiatives that were attempted from the 1970s until the 1990s, including the St Andrews Agreement of 2006. There are several tables explaining various aspects of Northern politics, including the stances the parties took on the Good Friday Agreement and the make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Another recent political science perspective is provided by Brendan O’Duffy’s British–Irish relations and Northern Ireland: from violent politics to conflict regulation (Irish Academic Press, 288pp, €60 hb, €24.95 pb, ISBN 9780716529538, 9780716529545). This examines the evolution of British–Irish relations since 1921 and argues that the peace process can be explained in terms of ‘parity of esteem’ between Britain and Ireland, as well as between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland itself.
Returning to historical perspectives, Russell Rees looks at what he regards as a lost moment for reform in Northern Ireland, the period of the post-war Labour government of 1945–51. Labour and the Northern Ireland problem, 1945–51: the missed opportunity (Irish Academic Press, 208pp, €60 hb, ISBN 9780716529705) shows how the Unionist Party under Sir Basil Brooke, despite fears about Labour’s socialism and perceived nationalist sympathies, was able to forge an excellent working relationship with Atlee’s government. This was one reason why property qualifications in local government elections, abolished in Britain by Labour, remained in place in Northern Ireland until after the explosion of 1969.
Despite over a decade of ‘peace’ in Northern Ireland, how to commemorate, understand or simply remember the conflict remains contentious. Graham Dawson examines the ‘psychic consequences of wartime trauma’ and how this affects the ‘memory’ of war, and asks whether conflict is best forgotten or whether it can be utilised to help peace take hold. Making peace with the past: memory, trauma and the Irish Troubles (Manchester University Press, 336pp, £60 hb, ISBN 9780719056710) looks at how a variety of those affected have dealt with their ordeals. Dawson shows how the victims of Bloody Sunday were dealt a double blow by their treatment at the Widgery Tribunal, and also considers the pervasive feeling among ‘Border Protestants’ that they were victims of an campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the IRA. What emerges is a strong sense that many in both communities have little understanding that violence hurt ‘the other side’ as well.
On that depressing note we turn to a collection of essays, Shadows of the gunmen: violence and culture in modern Ireland (Cork University Press, 192pp, €39 hb, ISBN 9781859184240), edited by Danine Farquharson and Seán Farrell. The aim is to examine the ‘complex relationships between violence and its representation’ in Irish culture. This includes a discussion on Neil Jordan’s film Angel, an essay on ‘Men, Sex, Violence and Easter 1916’, an examination of Ciaran Carson’s poetry, and the inevitable discussion of ‘Seán O’Casey and the Dialectics of Violence’. Among the contributors are Richard Kearney, Peter Hart, Bernice Schrank and Timothy G. McMahon. HI

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