Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2007), Reviews, Volume 15

Sentiment is not something that one would normally associate with Henry Ford, who once remarked that ‘History is bunk!’ (Readers of a certain age might recall that this was a question—followed by ‘discuss’—on the 1975 honours history Leaving Cert. paper. Did anyone out there actually attempt it?) Yet it was largely sentiment that determined the siting in 1917 of the first Ford manufacturing plant outside of North America at Marina, Cork city. Henry Ford’s father, William, had left nearby Ballinascarthy for America at the height of the Famine in 1847. It wasn’t all sentiment, however. Wage rates in Ireland at the time were substantially lower (30%) than in Britain, according to Miriam Nyhan in Are you still below? The Ford Marina Plant, Cork, 1917–1984 (Collins Press, 158pp, €24.95 hb, ISBN 9781905172498), a large-format illustrated history of the plant. Amongst the photos that stand out is one of Lord Mayor Thomas MacCurtain driving a tractor at a plant demonstration on 15 March 1920 (p. 40), three days before his murder by Crown forces, and the famous ‘Pope-mobile’ (p. 121) assembled at Cork in 1979. Sentiment, of course, played no part in the closure of the plant on Friday 13 (appropriately!) July 1984.
Criminals, deadbeats, dossers, rogues and rascals have always exercised a morbid fascination. The rather dull title of Trouble with the law: crimes and trials from Ireland’s past (Woodfield Press, 200pp, €25 pb, ISBN 9781905094028), edited by Liam Clarke and Máire Ní Chearbhaill, belies a collection of essays that deal with extortion, three-card-trick merchants, abduction, bigamy, convict priests, adultery, cruelty, greed and perjury. But sensationalism aside, this collection also gives an insight into the nuts and bolts of policing and the law, for example in Seán Bagnal’s account of Sub-inspector William Burke on the beat in Tallaght in 1839. His ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ came 28 years later, when ‘Chief Burke’, as he had become known, thwarted the Fenian attack on Tallaght police barracks on 6 March 1867. One of the topics, on philatelist fraudster Paul Singer (by Austin Stewart), also features in Joseph McArdle’s Irish rogues and rascals (Gill & Macmillan, 205pp, €12.99 pb, ISBN 9780717141180), which ranges from Miler Magrath (c. 1523–1622), noted for his flexible religious principles, to Charles Haughey, Liam Lawlor et al. and the recent tribunals. This book suffers from the opposite problem. The jokey title and cartoon cover give no hint to the well-researched and well-written essays within; for example, the one on John DeLorean is well set in the historical and political background of late 1970s Belfast. Frank Hopkins’s Hidden Dublin: deadbeats, dossers and decent (Mercier Press, 256pp, €20 hb, ISBN 9781856355681) gets the balance about right. This beautifully produced hardback (great value at the price) contains an eclectic mix of characters and places based on the author’s Evening Herald articles. Definitely one for dipping in and out of.
The Flight of the Earls quatercentenary and the associated Louvain 400 continue to stimulate interest. The Irish Franciscan College of St Anthony at Louvain in the Spanish Netherlands was the intellectual centre of Irish-speaking scholars in mainland Europe in the early seventeenth century. Chief among them was Micheál Ó Cléirigh, the principal historian involved in the preparation of the Annals of the Four Masters. We’re all familiar with the name(s) but who were they? What was the content and context of this much-quoted work? What do the manuscripts look like? All can now be revealed at a special exhibition in the Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, which continues over the winter, and in the associated publication Writing Irish history: the Four Masters and their world, edited by Edel Bhreathnach and Bernadette Cunningham (Wordwell, 142pp, €29.95 pb, ISBN 9781905569120). Apart from the editors’ own contributions, there are essays by Pádraig Ó Riain, Ray Gillespie and Nollaig Ó Muraíle. This well-designed, large-format book, with high-quality manuscript facsimiles in colour, provides an excellent introduction for the non-specialist. The only quibble is the somewhat dull front cover: there are much more interesting reproductions inside.
University College Dublin Press has just published the latest of its Classics of Irish History series (general editor Tom Garvin, ISSN 13936883). Rising out: Seán Connolly of Longford (202pp, €20 pb, ISBN 9781904558897), a previously unpublished manuscript by Ernie O’Malley and edited here by his son Cormac, tells the story of the OC of the Longford brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence, who was killed in action on 11 March 1921. It describes in detail what the fighting men actually did and what a local leader had to do in order to organise his men. In Belfast by the sea by Frank Frankford Moore, edited by Patrick Maume (202pp, €24 pb, ISBN 9781904558866), originally appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1923–4 as a series of recollections of Victorian Belfast and Bangor between his childhood in the 1860s and his departure to London in 1892, including an account of the first public appearance of the Dunlop inflatable tyre. Queen’s rebels: Ulster loyalism in historical perspective (194pp, €24 pb, ISBN 9781904558880), introduced by John Bew, is a reprint of David Miller’s 1978 interpretive essay on the history of the Ulster Protestant community from the seventeenth-century plantations to the mid-1970s. As the title suggests, the central theme is the seemingly contradictory pattern of ‘conditional loyalty’ of latter-day Ulster Protestants.
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has just published An introduction to the architectural heritage of County Westmeath (140pp, €12 pb, ISBN 9780755771769) and of County Sligo (€12 pb, ISBN 9780755771752), the latest two publications to accompany the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH). These are large-format books with high-quality colour photographs of a wide variety of buildings, from cabins to castles, that have (so far) managed to escape the wrecker’s ball. Even if you don’t acquire the books, log onto the NIAH web site, www.buildingsofireland.ie, and check out the ‘building of the month’. You are guaranteed a gem.
And finally, if you’re racking your brains for a Christmas stocking-filler for children or grandchildren check out Brendan O’Brien’s The story of Ireland (O’Brien Press, 96pp, €19.95 hb, ISBN 9780862788810), a history of Ireland from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century (although this large-format and beautifully illustrated book might be difficult to get into a stocking!). This is aimed at primary-school children, with the emphasis on simplicity and clarity. This may ruffle a few feathers here and there. Thus on page 48 we are told, without qualification, that Theobald Wolfe Tone ‘committed suicide in jail’. Surely the author could have rephrased it like the apocryphal schoolboy who concluded an essay on Tone by saying that he ‘died of a cut throat’?

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