Redmond review

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Home Rule, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2009), Letters, Letters, Volume 17

Sir,

—I must protest at the treatment given to my book Redmond: theParnellite by your reviewer in the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue. My complaintrefers not to any unfavourable evaluation of the book but to theslipshod nature of the review.
There are many indications that the reviewer has only a passingacquaintance with the period covered by the book, and even less withits contents. How else could she apparently confuse Redmond’sleadership of the small Parnellite faction of the split IrishParliamentary Party in the 1890s with his leadership of the reunitedparty after 1900 (paragraphs 1, 2 and 5)? One need only refer to thedust-jacket of the book to realise the distinction.
Errors such as ‘the Home Rule bills of the 1880s’—there was onlyone—and the mention of my use of ‘songs’ (I mention only one song anddo not quote it) and of ‘poems’ (I cite only some youthful attempts ofRedmond at patriotic verse) as source material might be forgiven asslips of a hurried pen. But who are the ‘flamboyant republicans’ fromwhose supposed shadows Redmond ‘struggled’ to step out? And why is poorJoseph Biggar, whose active days were well in the past by the timeRedmond’s career was taking off, singled out as one of the ‘titans’ ofthe party who is supposed to have cast a similar ‘shadow’ over Redmond?
Labelling Redmond as ‘part of the tradition of well-to-do Catholicparliamentarianism that later gave rise to the Fine Gael party’ is notjust an example of reading history backwards but is surely reductionistin the extreme, given that constitutional nationalism was the onlypolitical expression of the vast majority of the Irish Catholiccommunity of all social classes from the early 1870s to the year ofRedmond’s death in 1918. That at least is a matter for possibleargument. But how to explain the following double non sequitur?

‘. . . Redmond is still being defined in terms of his relationship withParnell. He is portrayed very much as a statesman in waiting. Forexample, during the 1880s he was far from the centre of his party’sactivities . . .’

Contrary to your reviewer’s assertion that ‘a few’ biographies ofRedmond were written by family members after his death, none such werein fact written, or certainly not published. She may be confusing‘family’ with the Gwynns, father and son, the first of whom, Stephen,published a part-biography, John Redmond’s Last Years, in 1919, and thesecond of whom published the only full-length biography to date, TheLife of John Redmond, in 1932.
Previous biographical writing on Redmond is dealt with in myintroduction, a reading of which might also have modified yourreviewer’s judgement that the book pays ‘little attention’ to theimpact of Redmond during his lifetime or to his legacy. Apart from theintroduction and the epilogue, these matters are dealt with in severalplaces in the book, although a comprehensive assessment of Redmond’slegacy must await the second volume.
This review is in my opinion well below the standards of writing andengagement with the subject that normally characterise book reviews inHistory Ireland. A historical figure of Redmond’s importance, if nothis biographer, deserves better.

—Yours etc.,
DERMOT MELEADY
Clontarf
Dublin 3

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