Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, General, Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2008), Reviews, Volume 16

After a break occasioned by our detour to Latin America in the last issue, Bookworm is back. It seems to be an iron rule of publishing that any book relating to the Second World War must have ‘Hitler’ in the title. The latest in the genre is Terence O’Reilly’s Hitler’s Irishmen (Mercier Press, 320pp, €16.99 pb, ISBN 9781856355896), about the handful of Irishmen who served with Nazi Germany. HI readers may already be familiar with one of those featured, John Francis O’Reilly (‘The flighty boy from Clare’, HI 14.1, Jan./Feb. 2006), who, having been arrested in Ireland as a Nazi spy, escaped and was subsequently turned in by his own father for the £500 reward. (His father then gave O’Reilly the money, which he invested in a hotel!) O’Reilly had originally been taken prisoner by the Germans in the Channel Islands, as were James Brady and Frank Stringer. Their subsequent service for the Nazis was considerably less farcical. They ended up in an élite unit of the Waffen SS under the command of Otto Skorzeny (mastermind behind the rescue of Benito Mussolini) and were involved in some of the most ferocious fighting in the last days of the Third Reich.
Military matters feature too in Capt. Donal Buckley’s The Battle of Tourmakeady, fact or fiction? A study of the IRA ambush and its aftermath (Nonsuch Ireland, 144pp, €18.99 hb, ISBN 9781845889265). On 3 May 1921, following an ambush of an RIC/Black and Tan patrol in Tourmakeady, the local IRA flying column, commanded by Tom Maguire, retreated to the nearby Partry Mountains, where they were then engaged by regular British troops from the Border Regiment. Maguire’s subsequent report claimed that c. 600 troops were involved but that the flying column fought its way out, inflicting 50 casualties and suffering three. The Border Regiment’s commander’s report concurred with the latter but claimed only one British casualty (wounded). What really happened? The author sifts through the evidence in a fascinating case-study of the fog of war.
A neglected aspect of the IRA’s subsequent history is the subject of John Maguire’s IRA internments and the Irish government: subversives and the state 1939–1962 (Irish Academic Press, 288pp, €65 hb, €26.99 pb, ISBN 9780716529439/6). As well as the usual official sources, this book relies heavily on the oral testimony of surviving contemporaries. The author contrasts the harsh regime endured by the ’40s men with the more benign treament of ’50s internees. This is not surprising since the former were seen to be collaborating with a belligerent power in wartime (Nazi Germany) in a toe-to-toe conflict with the Irish state (and under blanket censorship), while the latter’s conflict was with a third party, the government of Northern Ireland (and Britain). The author considers internment in both cases to have been a success in its aim of defeating the IRA. But he also discusses why it fell into disuse, particularly in the wake of the legal case taken by internee Gerard Lawless, which went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in 1961. Not discussed by the author is why internment (and indeed the whole draconian apparatus of the 1939 Offences Against the State Act) is still on the statute books of our democracy today.
Publishing itself is the subject of Humphrey Carpenter’s The seven lives of John Murray: the story of a publishing dynasty 1768–2002 (John Murray, 370pp, £25 hb, ISBN 9780719565328), edited by Candida Brazil and James Hamilton. In 2002 John Murray, the oldest of the so-called ‘gentlemen publishing houses’, was forced to sell out to Hodder Headline, a branch of the W.H. Smith group. Remarkably, since its foundation in 1768 control of the business had passed through seven generations of Murrays (all called John). John Murray I was a regular visitor to Dublin and, in what sounds like a typical night out in Temple Bar, he

‘Drank six bottles of wine, which it seems intoxicated me uncommonly. At twelve o’clock I went away in a chair, but broke from it in Essex street & ran after some girls in Crampton Court . . . I rambled in the streets for 2 hours, at which time I discovered that my watch was gone.’

Going against the grain of creationist orthodoxy, and at considerable risk, John Murray published Charles Lyell’s Principles of geology (1830) and Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species (1859). Irish writers published range from Thomas Moore to Dervla Murphy, whose Full tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle was published in 1965. We learn that Dervla, to be on the safe side, packed a revolver (and only had to use it three times!).
Wexford features in two books of contrasting formats. Billy Colfer’s Wexford: a town and its landscape (Cork University Press, 233pp, €49 hb, ISBN 9781859184295)—the third in the ‘Irish Landscapes’ series, general editors F. H. A. Aalen, Kevin Whelan and Matthew Stout—is in large format, copiously illustrated with maps (old and new), diagrams and photographs. Whereas Ryan Air’s Michael O’Leary claims that the favoured affectionate greeting in his native Mullingar is an eight-letter word beginning with ‘b’ and ending in ‘s’, here we learn that in Wexford it’s ‘Howya hon’. No aspect of Wexford’s varied history and culture is neglected in this well-researched and beautifully presented publication.
Eamon Doyles’s Tales of the anvil: the forges and blacksmiths of Wexford (Nonsuch Ireland, 160pp, €16.99, ISBN 9781845889197) is smaller in format but still manages to pack in a wide range of photographs. It catalogues the forges in all of County Wexford’s 47 (Catholic) parishes under the headings: 1798 Tradition; Slater’s Directory (various years); Griffith’s Valuation 1853; 1938 Folklore Project; and Twentieth Century. We learn that one Wexford blacksmith, Jem Roche, unsuccessfully challenged Tommy Burns of Canada for the world heavyweight boxing title in 1908. Some of the enterprises featured—like the Wexford Engineering Co. and Philip Pearce & Co.—developed beyond simple forges to become manufacturers of farm machinery on an industrial scale. Pearce even manufactured bicycles; they supplied the RIC, but in a pragmatic gesture also presented one to Michael Collins when he visited the factory in April 1922.
While most of us have heard of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, readers are probably less familiar with the Táin Bó Flidhais, ‘The Mayo Táin’ (Fadó Books, 76pp, €20 hb, ISBN 9780955321818), the subject of Stephen Dunford’s latest (beautifully produced) book. The ‘Mayo Táin’ is a sub-tale (réamh scéal) of the better-known Táin Bó Cuailnge and tells the story of a punitive raid by Queen Meadhbh and her consort King Ailill MacMáta on one of their subject tribes, the Gamhanraidh. It may not be history, strictly speaking, but it’s a rattling good yarn!

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