Published in Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Issue 4 (July/August 2021), Reviews, Volume 29

By Joe Culley

In his contribution to From whence I came: the Kennedy legacy, Ireland and America, NUIG law lecturer and native Bostonian Larry Donnelly offers a scathing analysis of Ted Kennedy’s stance during the run-up to and implementation of the city’s ‘school bussing’ crisis of 1974. The plan was, ostensibly, a high-minded attempt to desegregate society and to improve the quality of education in black neighbourhoods by sending some black children to schools in white neighbourhoods, while some white children went the opposite way to schools, which also received greater resources.

It was a spectacular failure. In the end, the only white neighbourhoods affected were working-class Irish—the Italians had threatened to blow up the tunnel to Logan Airport if their area was involved—while the white suburbs were unaffected.

The events in Boston often led the national headlines, even in a summer when the nation was glued to the televised drama of the Senate impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon. Donnelly argues that, whatever ‘white flight’ had already begun in Boston, the bussing crisis turbocharged the process. And Senator Ted’s position meant that the ‘Kennedy legacy’ in the city was destroyed among much of the city’s Irish.

Other contributors to this collection of essays, which grew from the annual Kennedy Summer School, include former Obama speechwriter Cody Kennan, and former adviser to Bernie Sanders Tad Devine. All royalties go to the New Ross Community Hospital.

Ted Kennedy also features prominently in Ray O’Hanlon’s snappy Unintended consequences: the story of Irish immigration to the U.S. and how America’s door was closed to the Irish. Indeed, it was the Massachusetts senator who spoke of the ‘unintended consequences’ of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act—of which he was a main architect—which phased out the national quota system and virtually put an end to legal Irish immigration. Later in the story, Prof. Larry Donnelly’s uncle, Brian, takes centre stage as the congressman responsible for the ‘Donnelly visa’ system. It’s a complicated story but an easy read. O’Hanlon, the editor of New York’s Irish Echo newspaper, tells his story in sharp journalese—not a hint of academia—in no fewer than 50 punchy chapters.

Maeve O’Riordan, who lectures at UCC, has produced what she describes as ‘a group biography of a network of elite women’ in the excellent Women of the country house in Ireland, 1860–1914. Although technically an academic study, O’Riordan tells the story in a clear, conversational tone, which will appeal to the casual reader as well as to the expert.

The study focuses on the lives of twelve women from Munster. Chapter headings include ‘Courtship: for love and money’, ‘Expressing taste and talent’ and ‘Independence and life outside the home’. In ‘Courtship’, for instance, we learn—in contrast, perhaps, to what many might suspect—that none of these women was forced into effectively an arranged marriage; instead, ‘romance, economics and family opinion’ all played a role in the choices the women made for themselves. As for independence, no fewer than five of the women were published authors. O’Riordan’s goal is to demonstrate that ‘these elite women were not “idle drones”, but rather complete and complex characters, committed to the success of their family and class’.

On a related theme, J.A. Kimmitt Dean has filled a large gap in the architectural history of this island with his fine The plight of the big house in Northern Ireland. This coffee-table catalogue addresses 179 entries, many of which expand the idea of the ‘Big House’ to include some church rectories and suburban ‘villas’ of the aspiring merchant class. Dean writes with a fine style to match his subjects. It’s a pity the images are nearly all, unavoidably, black and white.

Great things come in small packages. The Irish munitions embargo of 1920: how railwaymen and dockers defied an empire, from ICTU officer Peter Rigney, is a terrific 52-page booklet recounting one of the most remarkable episodes of the War of Independence, when ordinary railway workers refused to transport armed British troops. The strike is often overlooked by historians—a notable exception being Pádraig Yeates—though it is an extraordinary example of the power of non-violent civil resistance. Of course, non-violence often meets a violent response, and many of the workers were physically intimidated (as usual, Ulster was a special case), and the chairman of the Dublin South and East Railway, Franke Brooke, was shot dead in his office in Westland Row. Get a copy.

Retired Air Corps commandant Frank Russell has published a memoir, Air, sea and land memories—a pilot revisits, in which he recalls his adventures as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, including picking up some trapped French fishermen, and a couple of cross-Border ‘incursions’ during the Troubles. There are also tales of his childhood in rural Castleknock and Blanchardstown, his work with the Lakeland Area Retreat Cancer Centre in Westmeath and as an air accident investigator. He should get a second book out by expanding on his tales of shuttling C.J. on and off Inishvickillane.

Michael Smith’s popular 2006 Icebound in the Arctic: the mystery of captain Francis Crozier and the Franklin expedition has been reissued. Sadly, this new edition makes no mention of any monster—did you watch the series The Terror? Jared Harris was superb as Crozier—but it does include an update on the discovery of the two ships. (May I also recommend Michael Palin’s quite superb Erebus, from 2018?)

In Rebel Aghada 1798–1923: the untold history of an East Cork parish, former Teachers’ Union of Ireland president and Whitegate native Billy Fitzpatrick focuses primarily on events during the War of Independence. There was a large British military presence in the area, so it saw more action than might be expected, including the burning of barracks, the reprisal burnings of houses and the execution of an alleged spy. A strong piece of local history.

Tipperary historian John Connors has taken a closer look at one of—if not the—principal characters of the famous Knocklong train rescue in Seán Hogan: his life, a troubled journey. Hogan was just eighteen when he took part in the Soloheadbeg ambush in 1919. He was captured that May but rescued the next day. As the author points out, Hogan’s six years as a revolutionary, including his anti-Treaty service, took its toll, and he struggled for much of his life. Near the time of his death, in 1968, he was living in a tenement loft in North Great George’s Street. This study was originally published in 2019.

Brian Murphy and Donnacha Ó Beacháin (eds), From whence I came: the Kennedy legacy, Ireland and America (Merrion Press, €19.95 pb, 220pp, ISBN 9781788551410).

Ray O’Hanlon, Unintended consequences: the story of Irish immigration to the U.S. and how America’s door was closed to the Irish (Irish Academic Press, €19.95 pb, 368pp, ISBN 9781785373787).

Maeve O’Riordan, Women of the country house in Ireland, 1860–1914 (Liverpool University Press, £90 pb, 360pp, ISBN 9781786941244).

J.A.K. Dean, The plight of the big house in Northern Ireland (Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, £24 pb, 154pp, ISBN 9780900457838).

Peter Rigney, The Irish munitions embargo of 1920: how railwaymen and dockers defied an empire (Umiskin Press, €9 pb, 42pp, ISBN 9781838111229).

Frank Russell, Air, sea and land memories—a pilot revisits (Hayesprint Publishing, €20, 104pp, ISBN 9781999616243).

Michael Smith, Icebound in the Arctic: the mystery of captain Francis Crozier and the Franklin expedition (O’Brien Press, €16.99 pb, 308pp, ISBN 9781788492324).

Billy Fitzpatrick, Rebel Aghada 1798–1923: the untold history of an East Cork parish (Iontas Press, €20 pb, 92pp, ISBN 9780995597556).

John Connors, Seán Hogan: his life, a troubled journey (Tipprevolution, , €15, 155pp, ISBN 9781916066007).


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