Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2005), Reviews, Volume 13

As the Scottish comedian Arnold Browne used to say, the secret of good comedy is timing: the audience and the comedian must show up at the same time. Being even one day out made a difference, he observed. Not so where historical journals are concerned, it seems. Thus the May 2004 issue of Irish Historical Studies (Vol. XXXIV, No. 133, 112pp, ISSN 00211214) has just appeared. While the time-shift may not have much bearing on the main articles (which are up to their usual high standard), it does render the ‘reviews and short’ notices somewhat redundant for the general reader hoping to keep abreast of the latest offerings in academic publications on Irish history.
Reflecting the growing interest in the history of Irish sport, Neal Garnham endeavours to account for the early success of the Gaelic Athletic Association. By 1890 the GAA had 875 member clubs; in spite of a four-year head start the Irish Football Association had only 124 affiliated clubs by then, while the initial thirteen founder clubs of the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1874 had not even reached 100 six years later—a comparative level of performance being mirrored over a century later where the provision of stadia is concerned. But the article that really caught the eye was by Davíd Logi Sigurdsson, ‘A parallel much closer: the 1918 act of union between Iceland and Denmark and Ireland’s relations with Britain’. This is centred around a June 1921 pamphlet, The independence of Iceland: a parallel for Ireland, by Alexander McGill, a Scotsman of Irish descent, who argued that Irish nationalists could learn salutary lessons from the history of the people of Iceland. In this particular parallel universe there is even an Icelandic version of ‘revisionism’ that has challenged accepted nationalist versions of Icelandic history. There are also articles on the Desmond rebellion by Anthony M. McCormack, on Restoration Ireland by Anne Creighton and on the Edwardian Irish Parliamentary Party by James McConnell. (Yearly subscription [biannual] €44 [students half-price], Irish Historical Studies, c/o Dept of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin 2.)
Now available in paperback is Bill Irish’s Shipbuilding in Waterford 1820–1882: a historical, technical and pictorial study (Wordwell Books, 273pp, €30, ISBN 1869857917). Despite the comprehensive title, this book does more than it says on the tin, providing an insight into an Irish urban and industrial world that we usually only associate with Belfast and, to a lesser extent, Dublin. Also republished in paperback is Meda Ryan’s The real chief: Liam Lynch (Mercier Press, 224pp, €15.95, ISBN 1856354601). First published in 1986, it was written with the aid of Lynch’s personal letters and private documents. The back cover blurb refers to the author’s ‘controversial biography’ of Tom Barry (see pp 16–19, this issue).
How did Hugh O’Neill barely escape death at the Battle of Clontibret in 1595? Why did Oliver Cromwell’s discovery of a silver bullet seal Clonmel’s fate in 1650? How, in 1649, did Sir Arthur Aston’s wooden leg lead to his violent death in Cromwell’s siege of Drogheda? These and other questions are answered in John McCormack’s Twists of fate: stories behind Irish battles and sieges (Mentor Books, 232pp, €14.95 pb, ISBN 1842102443).
Cork silver and gold: four centuries of craftsmanship by John R. Bowen and Conor O’Brien (Collins Press, 200pp, €60 hb, ISBN 1903464951, €35 pb, ISBN 190346496x) is yet another spin-off of Cork 2005: European Capital of Culture. Published to coincide with the Airgeadóir exhibition, which has just finished at the city’s Crawford Gallery, this is the first comprehensive study of the work of Cork’s silversmiths and goldsmiths. Lavishly illustrated, it charts the past 400 years of outstanding output by these craftsmen and craftswomen.
University College Dublin Press’s ‘Classics of Irish History’ series (general editor Tom Garvin) continues apace (ISSN 13936883). Readers will be most familiar with John Mitchel’s The last conquest of Ireland (perhaps), introduced by Patrick Maume (220pp, €18 pb, ISBN 1904558445). Mitchel’s account of the Repeal campaign, the Famine and the 1848 rising originally appeared in 1858 and was to form the basis of the nationalist view that the Famine was a deliberate act of genocide by the British government. While that view has been substantially modified by historical scholarship since, the issue of British responsibility has never gone away and was finally acknowledged in a statement by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997. The other two in the series will be less familiar. Your fondest Annie, introduced and edited by Maureen Murphy (154pp, €18 pb, ISBN 190455837), is a collection of letters from Annie O’Donnell to James P. Phelan, 1901–4, published here for the first time. Annie O’Donnell left her native Galway for America in 1898, one of the 15,175 Irish women who left that year. They far outnumbered the men, and most went into domestic service. Joseph Keating’s My struggle for life, introduced by Paul O’Leary (308pp, €25 pb, ISBN 1904558445), gives an insight into the male experience of emigration, this time to Britain. First published in 1916, it charts the tortuous route by which a young man struggled to free himself from a life of manual labour by using his literary talents to become a journalist and a popular novelist.
Stephen O’Donnell’s The Royal Irish Constabulary and the Black and Tans in County Louth (the author, 5 Avondale Park, Avenue Road, Dundalk, 230pp, €17 pb [inc. p&p], ISBN 0954703804) is a good example of a local study placed firmly in its wider national context. It is also one of the first local studies to take advantage of material now available from the Bureau of Military History.
Another local publication that brings us back to the theme of sports history is Patrick Bracken’s ‘Foreign and fantastic field sports’: cricket in County Tipperary (Liskeveen Books, Clongour Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, 198pp, €22 pb [inc. p&p], ISBN 095465434x). Similar in approach to Tom Hunt’s article on cricket in County Westmeath (HI 12.2, Summer 2004), the book reveals that even in what was to become the cradle of the GAA cricket was once a popular and demotic game.

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