Bookworm

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 5 (September/October), Reviews, Volume 22

Ruth Musielak, Charlemont’s Marino: portrait of a landscape (OPW, no price given, 80pp, ISBN 9781406428223).

Saothar 38: (Irish Labour History Society, ?25, 192pp, ISSN 03321169).

Bryan MacMahon, Robert Tressell, Dubliner: (Kilmacud Stillorgan Local History Society, ?10, 112pp, ISBN 9780954986582).

Dominic Phelan, Cornelius Ryan: D-Day reporter (Dominic Phelan, no price given, 80pp, ISBN 9781497432543).

Tom Reilly, Cromwell was framed: Ireland 1649 (Chronos Books, £14.99 pb, 268pp, ISBN 9781782795162).

Kilcoole Heritage Group, Forgotten history: the Kilcoole gunrunning, 2nd August 1914 (Kilcoole Heritage Group, 26pp, ?5, ISBN 9780951975497).

Bryce Evans, Ireland during the Second World War: farewell to Plato’s Cave (Manchester University Press, £70 hb, 240pp, ISBN 9780719089510).

Niall Ó Ciosáin: Ireland in official print culture, 1800–1850: a new reading of the Poor Inquiry (Oxford University Press, £60 hb, 208pp, ISBN 9780199679386).

Peter Harbison and Valerie Hall (eds): A carnival of learning: essays to honour George Cunningham (Cistercian Press, ?20 hb, 264pp, ISBN 9781900163040).

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Clontarf is, as readers of our March/ April special issue will know, inextricably entwined with the name of Brian Boru. But Clontarf had a history after 1014, which is explored in Colm Lennon’s excellent That field of glory. A respected early modern scholar (and Clontarf native), Lennon applies his skills to the eponymous north Dublin suburb. After the famous battle, Clontarf came into the possession of the Knights Templar, thence eventually to the Vernon family after the Cromwellian conquest, before undergoing a drastic transformation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a mecca for day-trippers and an enclave for
middle-class (both Catholic and Protestant) wealth escaping the boundaries of Dublin City. Lennon’s very readable and handsomely produced book is a model of how to write the history of a locality, and deserves a wide readership beyond the boundaries of Clontarf.

Beside Clontarf lies Marino, and its Casino (see HI 21.6, Nov./Dec. 2013) remains one of the gems of Ireland’s Georgian architecture. Impressive as it is, however, it was once surrounded by an extraordinarily lush demesne created by James Caulfield, earl of Charlemont. This lost landscape, which commanded impressive views over Dublin Bay, is explored in an exhibition in the Casino until 31 October 2014 and is accompanied by a lavish catalogue, Ruth Musielak’s Charlemont’s Marino: portrait of a landscape.

The centenary of the Howth gunrunning fell in July this year, as did the centenary of the related but far less well-known gunrunning in Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. This was marked by an ambitious heritage weekend in August, and the organisers have produced an attractive and interesting booklet on the event: Forgotten history: the Kilcoole gunrunning, 2nd August 1914.

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Given that the ongoing ‘decade of centenaries’ has included the 1913 Lockout, it comes as no surprise that the latest issue of Saothar carries an article on the Lockout by John Newsinger and Padraig Yeates. But it looks beyond Dublin: there are also articles on working-class housing in Cork City, Irish migrants in colonial Cuba, women in 1950s Ireland and the IRA in 1967–8, along with a wide range of reviews. This year, 2014, marks another centenary of relevance to the labour movement: the publication on 23 April 2014 of Robert Tressell’s epic novel The ragged trousered philanthropists. It is perhaps better known within the British labour tradition than in the country of the author’s birth: Tressell was born Robert Noonan on Dublin’s Wexford Street in 1870. His only novel was semi-autobiographical, drawing on his experience as an interior decorator and sign-writer in England. He died of TB in Liverpool in 1911 and the book was published posthumously: both book and author are the subject of Bryan MacMahon’s engaging Robert Tressell, Dubliner.

Another native of Dublin (this time from Heytesbury Street) whose literary endeavours fall outside the Irish literary ‘canon’ was the war correspondent Cornelius Ryan. As a journalist for the Daily Telegraph, Ryan covered the advance of the Allies through Europe and the Pacific (up to and including the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings), but he is best known for his enormously successful account of D-Day, The longest day. Ryan’s life and career are explored in Dominic Phelan’s Cornelius Ryan: D-Day reporter, published to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

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In 1999 Tom Reilly published Cromwell: an honourable enemy. Scholars deemed his claims that Oliver Cromwell did not oversee atrocities at Drogheda and Wexford unconvincing. Reilly now returns to the fray in Cromwell was framed: Ireland 1649. He claims that a belief in Cromwellian atrocities against civilians ‘is representative of the opinion of the majority of Irish people’ (p. 14). This is what he is seeking to challenge, but when attempting to argue his case from contemporary source material, phrases such as ‘I have chosen to interpret’ (p. 51) hardly inspire confidence; were there other interpretive choices he did not make? Readers can, of course, make up their own minds (though they would surely have been helped by basic conventions such as citations, a bibliography and an index, none of which are included). But it’s hard not to feel that this is all a bit pointless. The impact of the Cromwellian conquest is to be found in the vast land confiscations that followed it rather than in what happened at Drogheda and Wexford; in that sense, an attempted rehabilitation of Cromwell on the grounds that ‘we, the Irish nation, owe Cromwell an apology’ (p. 266) seems like a red herring.

If you enjoyed Bryce Evans’s article in this issue on how Guinness saved Ireland, his new work on the ‘Emergency’ will surely be of interest: Ireland during the Second World War: farewell to Plato’s Cave. The Emergency is usually viewed through the lens of high political diplomacy, but Evans casts light on ordinary life of the period by exploring the neglected social and economic history of Ireland during World War II in this very readable book. Ordinary life and popular culture in pre-Famine Ireland, as examined by the authorities, is the subject of Niall Ó Ciosáin’s meticulous and illuminating Ireland in official print culture, which takes as its subject the remarkable ‘Poor Inquiry’ of the 1830s. These two scholarly books contain much that will be of interest to readers of Irish history; it is a pity that their list prices will render them inaccessible to many.

Finally, belated mention should be made of Peter Harbison and Valerie Hall (eds), A carnival of learning: essays to honour George Cunningham, who (amongst other services to Irish history) has been organising conferences on medieval Ireland in the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Joseph in Roscrea since 1987. This handsome volume contains a distinguished roll-call of contributors and is a fitting tribute.

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