Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2006), Reviews, Volume 14

While they say that the definition of a Corkman with an inferiority complex is one who believes that he is only as good as everyone else, the same, it would seem, applies to publications, especially in the wake of Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture. The Atlas of Cork City (Cork University Press, 465pp, e59/£39 hb, ISBN 1859183808), edited by J.S. Crowley, R.J.N. Devoy, D. Linehan, P. O’Flanagan and M.J. Murphy (cartography), is a superb publication. Owing to generous sponsorship it is an absolute steal at this price for a large, coffee-table-type format, with numerous full-colour plates and high-quality historic black-and-white photographs. Full credit must go in particular to cartographer M.J. Murphy, whose (over 200) maps are a model of clarity and beauty, and cover everything from geology, through evolving street patterns, to the distribution of GAA clubs. One in particular that caught my eye (p. 262) neatly summarises Civil War operations, in particular the pro-Treaty forces’ amphibious landings along the Cork coast in August 1922. It is not an atlas in the conventional sense, as it is not solely reliant on maps. Divided into five sections—1. The city in the landscape: the environmental heritage; 2. Transformation: a minor port town becomes a major Atlantic port city; 3. The city in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; 4. Culture and the city; 5. Contemporary transformations—the book has 38 chapters/essays written by 59 contributors. Incidentally, one of the cultural icons claimed for the city is blues guitarist Rory Gallagher, although it is generously acknowledged that he was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal.
One of the contributors to the atlas is Fintan Lane, whose Long bullets (Galley Head Press, 160pp, e19.95 hb, ISBN 095421594X) has just been published. This is not, as you might expect from the author of The origins of modern Irish socialism, 1881–1896 (CUP, 1997), another study in revolutionary republicanism or socialism but A history of road bowling in Ireland, a game which, although largely associated with County Cork, is also popular in Armagh and in pockets in Mayo, Tyrone, Louth, Waterford and Wexford. Ready-made iron bowls (the ‘bullets’ of the title) were not always easily available and stone ones were sometimes pressed into service. Other improvisations included the ‘bowl’ found by the unfortunate Daniel Coughlan from Carrigaline in either Haulbowline or Camden Fort British army base. When, ‘in a spirit of inquisition’, he applied a lighted match to a small hole he noticed on its surface, it blew his hand off. It was in fact a grenade, which he had been using as a bowl for several weeks! There are over 50 photographs and drawings, many depicting the players in typical ballet-like pirouettes.
Maynooth continues to maintain its high standard of local history publications with six more of its Studies in Local History series (Four Courts Press, all 64pp, e9.95/£9.95 pb, ed. Ray Gillespie). Liam Kelly’s Kiltubrid, County Leitrim: snapshots of a rural parish in the 1890s (ISBN 1851828982) is a study of a ‘congested district’ under the headings of houses, land and people. James Kelly’s The Liberty and Ormond Boys: factional riot in eighteenth-century Dublin (ISBN 1851828974) traces the conditions that gave rise to factions (and not just the two of the title) in Georgian Dublin and the periodic flare-ups of violence. Partially overlapping in time and geography is Brendan Twomey’s Smithfield and the parish of St Paul, Dublin, 1698–1750 (ISBN 1851828958), which looks at the civic administration of the parish and its leading property developer, William Hendrick. Sinéad Collins’s Balrothery Poor Law Union, County Dublin, 1839–1851 (ISBN 1851828931) draws on the 1833 Poor Enquiry, whose findings identify a distressed society dominated by underemployed farm labourers, distress intensified by the Famine. Moving up the social ladder, Olwen Purdue’s The MacGeough Bonds of The Argory: an Ulster gentry family, 1880–1950 (ISBN 185182894X) traces the fortunes of a minor gentry family from County Armagh. Donal Hall’s World War I and nationalist politics in County Louth, 1914–1920 (ISBN 1851828966) is a study of the experience of war and revolution in one rural county in Ireland.
Never was a subtitle more apt than John E. Waite’s Peter Tait: a remarkable story (Milnford Publications, 338pp, e30 hb, e18 pb, ISBN 0955037905). Memorialised in Limerick (the clock-tower in Baker Place), where he was mayor of the city for three consecutive years (1866–8), Tait was born in the Shetland Islands into a small-shopkeeping family in 1828. At age 16 he entered the drapery trade in Limerick. By the 1850s he had a flourishing clothing business of his own (where he pioneered the use of steam-powered sewing machines), and by 1856 he had secured his first government contract for the supply of uniforms to the Royal Limerick County Regiment. He supplied uniforms to the Confederates during the American Civil War and was involved in blockade-running, which also involved a disastrous relationship with the fraudster Alexander Collie. Bankrupted in 1869, he twice stood (unsuccessfully) for parliament: for Limerick (1868) and Orkney and Shetland (1873). Going into self-imposed exile in Constantinople (where he also suffered bankruptcy), he made a comeback in the cigarette-making business in London. His last speculative venture was in oil-prospecting in the Caucasus, where he died in 1890. Remarkable indeed!
The latest (November 2004!) issue of Irish Historical Studies, Vol. XXXIV, No. 34 (Ulster Historical Foundation, 136pp, ISSN 00211214), has just arrived in the post. Of its eleven ‘reviews and short notices’ of books, one was published in 2004, seven in 2003, and one each in 2002, 2001 and 2000. Is this a satisfactory service to writers and publishers from Ireland’s academic history journal of record? Christopher Maginn traces the fortunes of the English marcher lineages (the Harolds, Archbolds, Walshes, Lawlesses and Howells) in south Dublin in the later Middle Ages and concludes that in the absence of central authority, only asserted in the Tudor period, these groups reverted to insubordination. The struggle for Catholic Emancipation is often seen as Catholic Ireland’s battle with the British establishment, which leaves out of the picture the focus of Suzanne T. Kingon’s article, Ulster opposition to Catholic Emancipation, 1828–9. Bill Kissane outlines the legislative response to political extremism in the Irish Free State, 1922–39. It is noteworthy how the anti-subversive ‘gamekeeper’ of the 1920s, Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy, had turned subversive ‘poacher’ by the mid-1930s, ground partly covered by Fearghal MacGarry in the last issue. Terence Dooley reappraises the issue of land and politics in independent Ireland, 1923–48, and questions the assumption that the land issue was settled after 1923. Finally, in the ‘select documents’ section, James Kelly outlines the usefulness to historians of parliamentary lists and reproduces, as examples for 1806, ‘Irish parliamentary interests’ and ‘the political allegiance of Irish MPs’ (both drawn up by Chief Secretary William Elliott). A typical example from the former is the entry for Richard (‘Humanity Dick’) Martin, MP for Galway County: ‘Will support government. Wants something for himself and a collectorship for a friend. To be supported.’ A new car or a house-painting job, perhaps?

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