Published in Book Reviews, Issue 4 (July/August 2016), Reviews, Volume 24

Michael English, The three castles of Dublin: an eclectic history of Dublin through the evolution of the city’s coat of arms (Dublin City Council/Four Courts Press, €26.95 hb, 272pp, ISBN 9781907002267).

Mary McAuliffe and Liz Gillis, Richmond Barracks 1916: we were there—77 women of the Easter Rising (Dublin City Council/Four Courts Press, €22.45 pb, 276pp, ISBN 9781907002328).

Jody Moylan, illustrated by Mateusz Nowakowski, Daniel O’Connell: a graphic life (Collins Press, €9.99 pb, 218pp, ISBN 9781848892699).

Gerry Hunt, Bobby Sands, freedom fighter (O’Brien Press, €16.99 pb, 64pp, ISBN 9781847178152).

Tom Keough and Paul Buhle, A full life: James Connolly, the Irish rebel (Hungarian Literature Fund, $5 pb, 40pp, ISBN 9781629633725).

Christine Kinealy and John Walsh, The bad times/An droch shaol: the famine killed everything (Quinnipiac University Press, $15 pb, 118pp, ISBN 9780990945413).

Chris Dooley, Redmond: a life undone (Gill & Macmillan, €24.99 hb, 339pp, ISBN 9780717165827).

Diarmaid Ferriter and Susannah Riordan (eds), Years of turbulence: the Irish revolution and its aftermath, in honour of Michael Laffan (UCD Press, €40 hb, 302pp, ISBN 9781910820070).

Jeffrey Dudgeon, Roger Casement: the black diaries—with a study of his background, sexuality, and political life(2nd edn) (Belfast Press, €26 pb, 728pp, ISBN 9780953928736).

Neil Jackman, Ireland’s Ancient East: a guide to its historic treasures (Collins Press, €17.99 pb, 272pp, ISBN 9781848892705).

Michael Byrne, Local and lending: the story of Tullamore Credit Union 1963–2013 (Esker Press, €16.99 hb, 300pp, ISBN 9781909822030).

Joyce famously posed the conundrum: cross Dublin without passing pub. Well now, thanks to some fabulous sleuthing by Michael English, we can say for certain that it is impossible to cross the city without passing a representation of the capital’s coat of arms—and yet we are rarely aware of it. The three castles of Dublin: an eclectic history of Dublin through the evolution of the city’s coat of arms is an absolute gem. English, a designer and photographer, seems to have covered every inch of the city, shooting every image, however obscure, of the three castles, whether on walls, lampposts, bridges, banks, clubhouses, a man’s tattoo, uniforms—you name it. And along with each image English gives a little history behind it or the location where it is found, such as the kiosk on Leeson Street. A co-production of Dublin City Council and Four Courts Press, gorgeously presented, it’s a book you can easily lose yourself in for hours.

Arguably one of the great success stories of the1916 commemorations has been how the story of the women involved has been significantly addressed. One of the best examples is Richmond Barracks 1916: we were there—77 women of the Easter Rising, by Mary McAuliffe and Liz Gillis. Along with chapters on the actual fighting, told from the viewpoint of the women participants, the authors also provide a detailed biography of each of the 77, most of whose stories had been lost to history. Another fine Dublin City Council co-production.


The genres of young adult (YA) fiction and graphic novels have become mainstream in publishing. And now it’s not just fiction: they are also tackling topics of fact and history. Daniel O’Connell: a graphic life is an excellent example of the YA field. The author, Jody Moylan, has researched his subject thoroughly, and the inherently colourful tale is perfectly complemented by the fine line drawings of Mateusz Nowakowski. While this handsome Collins publication is probably aimed at secondary school students, many adults would find it an enjoyable read.If the O’Connell book is words assisted by images, Bobby Sands, freedom fighter is illustration accompanied by text. And it does exactly what it says on the tin: though the panels are in colour, the story they relate is largely black and white. Perhaps understandably, given the format, nuance goes out the door. And the Jack Lynch non-quote of ‘stand idly by’ gets a fresh airing. Gerry Adams gets mentioned—a lot. Nor does the story end with Sands’s death in 1981, but runs right up to the Good Friday Agreement. Noone in Sinn Féin HQ will be complaining. A full life: James Connolly, the Irish rebel, drawn and written by Tom Keough, with a formal afterword by Paul Buhle, is a slim work which emphasises its subject’slifelong socialist activism. The bad times/An droch shaol: the famine killed everything, by Christine Kinealy and John Walsh, is aimed at a much younger audience. It tells the tale of three teenagers in Kilkee, Co. Clare, in 1846.


To return to more conventional publications, Chris Dooley’s extremely readable Redmond: a life undone focuses on the years 1910–18, as the dream of Home Rule moved from near implementation to mere ash. Dooley, a journalist with the Irish Times, dispenses with formal footnotes and opts to include most source references in the text. The largely sympathetic study of Redmond offers a complex portrait of the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who went, in such a brief time, from lauded statesmen to national pariah. Perfect for the general reader.

At the other end of the academic spectrum is Years of turbulence: the Irish revolution and its aftermath, UCD’s tribute to renowned historian Michael Laffan. The collection of twelveessays, edited by the university’s Diarmaid Ferriter and Susannah Riordan, ‘does not pretend to offer a comprehensive treatment of the Irish revolution … rather it highlights some of the themes and approaches currently engaging historians of the period’. Most of the contributors did graduate work under Laffan’s supervision. Among the themes addressed, in chronological order, are suffragist protest as reflected in the 1911 census, another look at the Casement Irish Brigade, a deeper reading of the effects of the IRA policy of executing ‘spies’, and the Treaty and Civil War in County Galway. It’s a handsome publication enhanced by several rare images from the period.

This issue contains articles by Paul Hyde and Angus Mitchell questioning the authenticity of the Black Diaries of Roger Casement. Jeffrey Dudgeon’s Roger Casement: the black diaries—with a study of his background, sexuality, and political life, published by Belfast Press, takes a different view. First published in 2002, this new edition includes extended versions of the 1903, 1910 and 1911 diaries, addresses the 1881 Scribbling Diary and solves the mystery of the missing US money in 1916. Much of the focus of Dudgeon’s new research has been on Casement’s time in Berlin, as well as on his companions of the time and the role of British intelligence in 1916.



Neil Jackman has put together a lovely and compact guidebook to 100 sites in Ireland’s Ancient East—a guide to its historic treasures. Included is practical information about what to expect from a visitor’s point of view at each location and easy-to-use maps. The usual suspects are here, along with a great many others with which the average reader will be unfamiliar. Mind you, the definition of ‘east’ is stretched to include sites in Cork and Limerick.

On the local history front, the prolific Michael Byrne and associates of the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society have produced Local and lending: the story of Tullamore Credit Union 1963–2013.


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