Bookworm

Published in Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2005), Reviews, Volume 13

As readers are by now aware, Bookworm has a particular fondness for dictionaries. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable was first compiled by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810–97) in 1870. Ever since it has settled arguments, proved essential to compilers of quizzes and crosswords, sent browsers happily to sleep, saved the sanity of distracted parents beset by inquisitorial children and been the pursuit of the trivial. Now editors/compilers Seán McMahon and Jo O’Donoghue have provided us with our very own Brewer’s Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 877pp, hb, £25, ISBN 0304363340). The chatty tone of the introduction, of the foreword by Maeve Binchy and of the entries themselves (c. 6000) makes it clear that this is a book that does not take itself overly seriously, a view reinforced by the dust-jacket depicting a settling bottle of stout (some connection with ‘Brewer’, perhaps?). It is packed with an eclectic array of useful (and useless) information. Thus on the first page we have, alongside a fairly conventional entry on the Abbey Theatre, one on the Abbeylara shooting, followed by ‘Abbotstown Stadium. See BERTIE BOWL’. Opening another page at random we have ‘Come-all-ye. A popular type of traditional song . . .’, ‘Come here [‘to me’, surely?] till I tell you. A common prelude to narrative or gossip’, and ‘Comely maidens. See DE VALERA, ÉAMON’.
Regular listeners to RTÉ Radio One will be familiar with the voice of Terry Dolan, whose Dictionary of Hiberno-English (Gill and Macmillan, 278pp, €29.99, ISBN 0717135357) is now in its second edition (which the accompanying blurb tells us has ‘1000 new entries’, although we are not told how many were in the original). The scholarly introduction includes a brief grammar of Hiberno-English, a brief history of the English language in Ireland, and a speculative explanation of the origins of the noun ‘scanger’ (a rough, uncouth youth). How many readers can remember ‘cogging their eccer’ (copying their school homework)? Do any English-speakers outside Ireland ‘wet’ tea?
They say that you should never let your job interfere with your work, advice clearly taken to heart by Guy Rysza, a computer process engineer at a state-of-the-art Indiana cold rolled steel mill. In his spare time he has brought his years of experience in data manipulation to bear on a corner of Ireland by transcribing the complete index of the Tithe Applotment Books of County Longford,1823–35, published here as County Longford residents prior to the Famine (Dome Shadow Press, 439pp, hb, $49.95, ISBN 0974267309). The Tithe Applotment Books were compiled in the 1830s as a record of all persons owning, leasing or renting land throughout Ireland against the backdrop of the Tithe War. They form the best available substitute for 1821–91 census returns, particularly in the light of the destruction of many of these documents in the Public Records Office (Four Courts) in June 1922. A model of clarity and usability, the book is divided into three parts: (I) a full name index; (II) a recapitulation of Tithe Books, arranged alphabetically by townland; and (III) maps of County Longford’s civil parishes, Poor Law unions, baronies and townlands. For the maps alone (clear, black and white) this book is worth the purchase price.
University College Dublin Press has continued its ongoing Classics of Irish History series (general editor Tom Garvin, ISSN 13936883, all pb). Carla King introduces George Moore’s Parnell and his island (127pp, €18). First published in Le Figaro in 1886, Moore’s collection of essays, sparing neither landlords nor tenants, priests nor nationalists, caused outrage in Ireland and was a rare book until this publication. Edward A. Hagan introduces Standish James O’Grady’s Sun and wind (149pp, €18). It was O’Grady’s last work before his death in 1928 and is published here in its entirety for the first time. In the first half O’Grady argues for drastic change in Ireland and in the second makes extensive use of classical Greece as a model for Ireland. Patrick Maume introduces Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna’s 1847 Irish recollections (176pp, €18). Tonna, an English evangelical writer, gives a vivid account of her time in Ireland from her arrival in 1818, of the violence of the Rockite movement in 1820s Kilkenny and Tipperary, and of the apocalyptic ultra-evangelical ‘siege mentality’ during the Tithe War and the run-up to Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Edward A. Hagan also introduces A.P.A. O’Gara’s The Green Republic: a visit to south Tyrone (244pp, €20). Although first published as a novel in 1902, the book describes real characters and events at the turn of the century in Poyntzpass, Co. Armagh, where O’Gara (real name William Robert MacDermott) worked as a dispensary doctor. The ‘novel’ is both a sophisticated sociological study of rural Ulster Protestants and a political argument for instituting joint stock company management of Irish agriculture.
John Bew introduces William Bruce and Henry Joy’s 1794 Belfast politics (225pp, €18). While at the time it seemed as if Bruce and Joy ‘lost’ the argument to United Irish radicals like Neilson and Tone, these twenty essays, outlining a more moderate political position, contain the seeds of the ‘transformation’ of so many late eighteenth-century Ulster radicals into the Unionists of the early nineteenth century. Patrick Maume also introduces William Cooke Taylor’s Reminiscences of Daniel O’Connell (140pp, €17). Written within weeks of the Liberator’s death in 1847, this ‘instant life’ is written from a liberal Irish Protestant perspective. W.J. McCormack introduces William and Mary Ann Hanbidge’s Memories of west Wicklow 1813–1939 (110pp, €17), which provide a vivid and unique account of Protestant ‘small farmer’ life in west Wicklow in the nineteenth century, together with recollections of the 1798 Rebellion. Mairead Maume, Patrick Maume and Mary Casey (granddaughter of the author) introduce John Sarsfield Casey’s The Galtee Boy: a Fenian prison narrative (226pp, €18). Fenian Head Centre for Cork, Casey was arrested in September 1865. His previously unpublished account portrays with humour and determination the harsh conditions endured by Fenian prisoners and their struggles to preserve their purpose and identity within a system designed to remake them as penitent convicts.

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