Published in Book Reviews, Issue 5 (September/October 2016), Reviews, Volume 24

By Joe Cully

David Brundage, Irish nationalists in America: the politics of exile 1798–1998 (Oxford University Press, £22.29 hb, 312pp, ISBN 9780195331776).

David Doolin, Transnational revolutionaries: the Fenian invasion of Canada, 1866 (Peter Lang, €30 pb, 350pp, ISBN 9783035307894).

Rose Doyle, Heroes of Jadotville: the soldiers’ story (New Island Books, €15.95 pb, 380pp, ISBN 9781848404885).

Rudolf Dekker (ed.), The diary of Constantijn Huygens Jr, secretary to Stadholder-King William of Orange (Panchaud Amsterdam, €28.50 pb, 267pp, ISBN 9789082077971).

Gerry Kennedy, The Booles and the Hintons: two dynasties that helped shape the modern world (Atrium/Cork University Press, €29.95 hb, 448pp, ISBN 9781782051855).

Salvador Ryan (ed.), Treasures of Christianity, vol. III: To the ends of the earth (Veritas Publications, €19.99 pb, 303pp, ISBN 9781847305947).

John Carey, Kevin Murray and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh (eds), Sacred histories: a festschrift for Máire Herbert (Four Courts Press, €49.50 hb, 450pp, ISBN 9781846825644).

Richard O’Rawe, Blanketman: an untold story of the H-block hunger strike (New Island Books, €15.95 pb, 216pp, ISBN 9781848405547).

James W. Taylor, Guilty but insane: J.C. Bowen-Colthurst—villain or victim? (Mercier Press, €19.99 pb, 288pp, ISBN 9781781174210).

Ruán O’Donnell, 16 lives: Patrick Pearse (O’Brien Press, €14.99 pb, 336pp, ISBN 9781847172624).

Meda Ryan, 16 lives: Thomas Kent (O’Brien Press, €14.99 pb, 384pp, ISBN 9781847172655).

Nial Ring and Terry Fagan (eds), Rebels and heroes: hidden stories from Dublin’s northside (Dublin City Council, pb, 144pp, ISBN 9780993201295).


Further evidence of the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ arrives in the form of David Brundage’s Irish nationalists in America: the politics of exile 1798–1998, which is far more inspiring than its faux nineteenth-century poster sleeve. Brundage argues that Irish-American nationalism was pioneered in the 1790s and then repeatedly rejuvenated as late as the 1970s and 1980s by actual (not metaphorical) political exiles who, much like Matilda Tone, ‘never had an easy hour, longing after their native land’. For such a broad survey it is quite a slim volume, but it is packed with some telling detail and thought-provoking analysis. His account of Wolfe Tone’s period in America is fully engaging. As he observes: ‘… in ways that prefigured the experience of many later emigrants and exiles from Ireland, Tone’s time in America, marked by a deep sense of displacement and longing, intensified his embrace of a specifically Irish national identity and of Irish nationalism’. He tackles all of the big movements—Repeal, Fenians, Land League, Clan na Gael, the Irish Civil War—right up to the Good Friday Agreement, and asserts that ‘… long-distance nationalism is as old as nationalism itself’. Brundage writes in a lucid prose that will appeal greatly to—and is certainly aimed at—the general reader, but there is plenty for the academics to sink their teeth into.

On a related topic, this is the 150th anniversary of an infamous episode of Irish-American history that is commonly dismissed as mere farce. In Transnational revolutionaries: the Fenian invasion of Canada, 1866, David Doolin presents a thorough reassessment of the IRB’s seemingly audacious adventure. While a more formally academic publication than Brundage’s work (footnotes galore), Doolin nevertheless writes in an accessible manner. The invasion will not be dismissed again.

The release of director Richie Smyth’s film Jadotville might encourage you to delve deeper into the story. No better place to start than Rose Doyle’s 2006 Heroes of Jadotville: the soldiers’ story. Now reissued and updated, Doyle tells the tale of how a small contingent of Irish peacekeepers, led by Comdt Patrick Quinlan, was caught in the crossfire of Katangan insurgents and an uninterested UN, which largely abandoned them. Incredibly, Quinlan, like Shackleton, didn’t lose a man.


Constantijn Huygens Jr, the eldest brother of the seventeenth-century Dutch mathematician/astronomer Christiaan, led his own remarkable life, much of it as personal secretary to William of Orange. Like his near contemporary Samuel Pepys, Constantijn was a dedicated keeper of a modern, private, diary. The diary of Constantijn Huygens Jr, secretary to Stadholder-King William of Orange, edited by Rudolf Dekker, offers an entertaining insight into a defining period in European history—not least Ireland’s. Like Pepys, Constantijn loved a good bit of scandal and gossip. Do you know what a gaude michi is? The paperback is a bit dear, but the price includes a DVD documentary on its subject.

The third volume of Treasures of Irish Christianity, subtitled To the ends of the earth, takes the theme of ‘the Irish abroad’, with an emphasis on missionaries over the centuries. We hear tales of the Revd Devereux Spratt, captured by Algerian pirates; of typesetting in seventeenth-century Rome; of a Cork woman’s appearance before the Inquisition; and a contemporary story from South Sudan. There are some 70 short, entertaining pieces, nicely illustrated. Easy to dip in and out.


Máire Herbert has been a force in the Irish Department at UCC for a couple of decades, and to honour her contribution friends and colleagues have produced the weighty Sacred histories: a festschrift for Máire Herbert. The collection of essays addresses ‘themes that range from the cults of the saints in early medieval Ireland to the literary portrayal of women’. It promises ‘numerous fresh insights and new perspectives’.

Gerry Kennedy delves into the lives of his Victorian ancestors in The Booles and the Hintons: two dynasties that helped shape the modern world. George Boole, of course, is now often considered the forefather of the digital revolution, while James Hinton was an eccentric philosopher and advocate of polygamy. Appropriately, perhaps, women play a prominent role. Boole’s wife, Mary, was an early advocate of hands-on education. Of the five talented Boole daughters, Ethel Voynich campaigned with Russian anarchists to overthrow the Tsar. Her 1897 novel The gadfly, filmed later with music by Shostakovich, sold in millions behind the Iron Curtain.

In Guilty but insane: J.C. Bowen-Colthurst—villain or victim? James W. Taylor makes the first detailed investigation into the life of the man generally considered the greatest villain of the Rising. Taylor has uncovered material which raises the possibility that the captain was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). ‘This book is not an apologia but allows the reader to come to his or her own informed conclusions.’

During the 1981 IRA hunger strike in the Maze prison, Richard O’Rawe served as public relations officer for the prisoners. In 2005, after much agonising, he published Blanketman: an untold story of the H-block hunger strike. In the book, he made the then—and probably still—controversial allegation that in early July 1981, when ‘only’ four men had died, the hunger strikers themselves had accepted a deal with the British government to end the strike, but that the deal had been rejected by the IRA command outside of the prison. Did six more men thus die ‘needlessly’? This new edition includes a foreword by Richard English.

In the final two volumes from O’Brien Press in the fine 16 lives series, Meda Ryan addresses the story of Thomas Kent, while Ruán O’Donnell tackles the small subject of Patrick Pearse. Still on 1916, Rebels and heroes: hidden stories from Dublin’s northside (Dublin City Council) is a collection of short essays.



Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568