Published in Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Issue 2 (March/April 2017), Reviews, Volume 25

Reviewed by Joe Cully

Jackie Uí Chionna, He was Galway: Máirtín Mór McDonogh, 1860–1934 (Open Air/Four Courts Press, €19.95 pb, 304pp, ISBN 9781846826252).

Mick Moloney, Across the western ocean: songs of leaving and arriving (Quinnipiac University Press/Cork University Press, €17.95 pb including CD, 56pp, ISBN 9780997837438).

Angela Bourke, Voices underfoot: memory, forgetting, and oral verbal art (Quinnipiac University Press/Cork University Press, €11.95 pb, 44pp, ISBN 9780997837407).

Tadhg Foley, Death by discourse? Political economy and the Great Irish Famine (Quinnipiac University Press/Cork University Press, €11.95 pb, 48pp, ISBN 9780997837414).

Paschal Mahoney, Grim bastilles of despair: the Poor Law Union workhouses in Ireland (Quinnipiac University Press/Cork University Press, €11.95 pb, 52pp, ISBN 9780997837421).

Vincent Woods, Leaves of hungry grass: poetry and Ireland’s Great Hunger (Quinnipiac University Press/Cork University Press, €11.95 pb, 52pp, ISBN 9780997837445).

Kevin Martin, Have ye no homes to go to? The history of the Irish pub (Collins Press, €14.99 pb, 256pp, ISBN 9781848892750).

Philip O’Connor, Road to independence: Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle play their part (Howth Free Press, €15 pb, 312pp, ISBN 9780955316333).

Seán Beattie (ed.), Donegal Annual, Bliainiris Dhún na nGall (Donegal Historical Society, €25 pb, 140pp, ISSN 04162773).

Bill Mag Fhloinn, Blood rite: the feast of St Martin in Ireland (Folklore Fellows’ Communications, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, €45 hb, 345pp, ISBN 9789514111211).

Down at the Spanish Arch in Galway, at Wolfe Tone Bridge, which crosses the Corrib to the Claddagh, there now stands a hotel, but for generations, for over 80 years right into the 1990s, that prime piece of real estate, in the most picturesque corner of the town, stood open to the skies as a fertiliser yard. It was McDonogh’s. Right beside it was McDonogh’s fish market. Around the corner on Merchants Road was McDonogh’s general merchandise and hardware store, which was beside the harbour—which in practice the McDonoghs ran. This was all part of an even larger commercial dynasty built by Máirtín Mór McDonogh at the turn of the last century, and this local legend is now the subject of Jackie Uí Chionna’s engaging biography He was Galway. Máirtín Mór was an imposing specimen of a man in every sense: 6ft 4in. tall, powerful, intelligent, a teetotal bachelor driven to increasing his empire. He did not suffer fools gladly but was at the same time keen to improve his town for all. A complicated and reserved man, he was known for many private generosities but seems to have made enemies as easily as friends. One such enemy was Liam O’Flaherty, who in his novel The house of gold based his ‘fat-faced, sweaty headed swine’ main character on Máirtín Mór. A Redmondite, his businesses did well during the Great War. Not surprisingly, he was a local political powerhouse and eventually became a Cumann na nGaedheal TD in 1927. As Uí Chionna writes: ‘Whatever his faults—and he had many—he did his county and his country no small service, and in all his dealings, political and professional, he had the courage of his convictions, and never wavered in expressing them’. It’s a terrific read and must be flying out the doors of Shop Street.

We have mentioned previously the exceptionally fine Famine Folio Series from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. They might be described as slim, coffee-table paperbacks, gorgeously designed and each full of easy but expert erudition. There are five recent additions to the series. Galway professor emeritus Tadhg Foley beautifully condenses what is arguably the greatest debate about the Famine into the succinct Death by discourse? Political economy and the Great Irish Famine. In Grim bastilles of despair: the Poor Law Union workhouses in Ireland architect Paschal Mahoney tells the story of Englishman George Wilkinson, who was commissioned to design a

new type of workhouse for the Irish. Mahoney examines not only how the workhouses were constructed but also the thinking behind their design and (in)effectiveness. Mick Moloney conducts a brief survey of emigration songs in Across the western ocean: songs of leaving and arriving (includes a CD); Angela Bourke addresses the largely unacknowledged trauma of Famine victims and their descendants by looking at stories of fairies in Voices underfoot: memory, forgetting, and oral verbal art; and poet and broadcaster Vincent Woods traces the development of poems on the topic right up to the present in Leaves of hungry grass: poetry and Ireland’s Great Hunger. Each in the series is a gem.

Kevin Martin’s wonderfully titled Have ye no homes to go to? The history of the Irish pub tackles the story of Ireland’s greatest cultural institution. Martin has done his research, and his observations throughout are supported by either official documentation or suitable reference to other cultural commentary. His story stretches from the high kings to the dreaded contemporary ‘cocktail bar’. In between we learn about the pub and political intrigue, bona fides, its place in literature and the arts, the Irish pub abroad (‘smuggling craic’), the gay scene and so on.There is also, perhaps naturally, frequent mention of Temperance in general, and in particular the seemingly endless campaign, particularly throughout the nineteenth century, to get the pubs closed on Sundays. It never succeeded. And we really should encourage the revival of the sort of ‘wren’ tradition that Dublin butchers once had of going about the town on Easter Saturday and ‘whipping the herring’. You’ll have to read about it.

From an unusual source—a Finnish science academy—comes Blood rite: the feast of St Martin in Ireland. Bill Mag Fhloinn, a lecturer at the University of Limerick, has produced a comprehensive study of the folk veneration of St Martin of Tours in Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in particular the tradition of slaughtering animals, or ‘spilling blood’, on the eve of the saint’s feast-day, 11 November. What was once a widespread folk practice has largely disappeared only relatively recently. Mag Fhloinn’s study runs from a review of similar traditions across the Continent in earlier centuries right up to contemporary conversations with practitioners in County Clare. Along the way he touches on what exactly was killed and who did it, the saint’s associations with horses and fishing, and sites and wells named for St Martin. While the structure and methodology of the work is highly academic, Mag Fhloinn has an easy prose style accessible to the non-expert, who will not find himself buried in jargon and statistics. It appears that the book is available only on-line.

In Road to independence: Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle play their part Philip O’Connor tells how the people of north-east Dublin were often prominent in nationalist politics, in particular from before the First World War right through to post-Civil War reconciliation. O’Connor examines how the evolving nationalist thinking was received by all layers of society, including Howth’s unionists. Indeed, they were quick to condemn some heavy-handed policing in the area, not least an attack by Black and Tans who fired on some men and boys playing pitch and toss: one man was killed and two boys injured. Nicely illustrated, it is a fine work of local history.

The County Donegal Historical Society’s 2016 annual focuses, naturally, on the county’s connections to the Rising 100 years earlier. This includes the melancholy fact that the first RIC man killed in the fighting was a Donegal man, Constable Charles McGee, who was shot, while unarmed, during the confrontation with Seán MacEntee’s Volunteers in Louth. There is also an interesting piece on Pearse’s friendship with brothers Seumas and Patrick MacManus, in particular with reference to the Gaelic League and St Enda’s. Nor is Donegal’s connection to the tragedies of the Somme ignored.


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