Book Worm

Published in Features, Issue 4 (July/August 2015), Volume 23

Gerard Moran and Nollaig Ó Muraíle (eds), Mayo history and society (Geography Publications, €60 hb, 920pp, ISBN 9780906602683).

Jonathon Cherry and Brendan Scott (eds), Cavan history and society (Geography Publications, €60 hb, 920pp, ISBN 9780906602683).

Brian Barton, The Belfast Blitz: the city in the war years (Ulster Historical Foundation, £19.99 pb, 656pp, ISBN 9781909556324).

Mark Radford, The policing of Belfast 1870–1914 (Bloomsbury Academic, $100 hb, 256pp, ISBN 9781472506375).

Tom Hartley, The History of Belfast Written in Stone Series: Belfast City Cemetery (Blackstaff Press, £12.99 pb, 411pp, ISBN 9780856409240); Milltown Cemetery (Blackstaff Press, £12.99 pb, 413pp, ISBN 9780856409257).

Mary Louise O’Donnell, Ireland’s harp: the shaping of Irish identity, c. 1770–1880 (UCD Press, €35 pb, 162pp, ISBN 9781906359867).

Maeve Brigid Callan, The Templars, the witch and the wild Irish: vengeance and heresy in medieval Ireland (Four Courts Press, €35.95 hb, 280pp, ISBN 9781846825491).

P.J. Casey, K.T. Cullen and J.P. Duignan (eds), Irish doctors in the First World War (Merrion Press, €35 hb, 511pp, ISBN 9781785370045).

Paul Taylor, Heroes or traitors? Experiences of Southern Irish soldiers returning from the Great War 1919–1939 (Liverpool University Press, £75 hb, 304pp, ISBN 9781781381618).

Pat McCarthy, The Irish revolution, 1912–23: Waterford (Four Courts Press, €19.95 pb, 208pp, ISBN 9781846824104).

Matthew Lewis, Frank Aiken’s war: the Irish revolution 1916–23 (UCD Press, €28 pb, 243pp, ISBN 9781906359829).

Seán Byers, Seán Murray, Marxist-Leninist and Irish Socialist Republican (Irish Academic Press, €22.45 pb, 228pp, ISBN 9780716532972).

One of the most admirable and longest-running ventures in Irish publishing, Geography Publications’ History and Society series, has published the 22nd and 23rd volumes in its series of county studies. Mayo history and society, edited by Gerard Moran and Nollaig Ó Muraíle, contains 38 contributions, the highlights of which include Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh on the Catholic Church and religious culture in the nineteenth century, James Kelly on the politics of the Protestant ascendency, and Tony Varley on the Land League and Clann na Talmhan. Cavan history and society, edited by Jonathon Cherry and Brendan Scott, contains 29 essays that explore topics as divergent as the emergence of Gaelic football, the demise of landlordism and the decline of the Irish language, along with a host of related topics from a county where, as Shane Connaughton concludes, ‘the rock and whin are hand and glove’.

A number of interesting new studies on the modern history of Belfast have recently been published. Brian Barton’s The Belfast Blitz: the city in the war years is lavishly illustrated and includes a wealth of archival and oral sources. Barton’s study is comprehensive and wide-ranging and reflects decades of devotion to the city’s history by the author. Mark Radford’s The policing of Belfast 1870–1914 examines the RIC in late Victorian Belfast in order to see how a semi-military, largely rural constabulary adapted to the unique problems that policing posed in a divided city. Radford concludes that governmental neglect, compounded by poor pay and conditions, ultimately led to a crisis in the force. Updated editions of Tom Hartley’s companion volumes, The History of Belfast Written in Stone Series, have been published. Belfast City Cemetery and Milltown Cemetery will be a delight to intrepid researchers wishing to explore the resting places of those who lost their lives in the First World War, spasms of sectarian and political upheaval, as well as the city’s Jewish minority.

Mary Louise O’Donnell’s Ireland’s harp: the shaping of Irish identity, c. 1770–1880 is a beautifully produced study that explores the central place occupied by the harp in the formation and expression of Irish identity. O’Donnell discusses the role of the harp in terms of its revolutionary symbolism, the cultural curiosities that were the caste of blind Irish harpists, their protection and patronage by the landed classes, and the harp’s emergence as a marker of national identity. Maeve Brigid Callan’s fabulous new book, The Templars, the witch and the wild Irish: vengeance and heresy in medieval Ireland, examines trials for heresy and witchcraft in fourteenth-century Ireland. From heresy-hunters to devil-worshipping witches and malicious foreigners, Callan’s study explores a fascinating aspect of popular culture in late medieval society.

Worthy studies of Ireland’s role in World War I continue to be produced apace. Irish doctors in the First World War, edited by P.J. Casey, K.T. Cullen and J.P. Duignan and produced with the support of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, contains biographies of Irish doctors who served in the war, along with a comprehensive overview of their role, duties and experiences. Likewise, Paul Taylor’s Heroes or traitors? Experiences of Southern Irish soldiers returning from the Great War 1919–1939 is a timely and admirably researched study that persuasively argues that the experiences of veterans of the war was more positive than has traditionally been argued. It makes an impressive case for the reinterpretation of the standard narrative that depicted ex-soldiers as subject to widespread victimisation in nationalist Ireland.

Interest in the Irish revolution remains at an unprecedented level amongst the reading public. Pat McCarthy’s The Irish revolution, 1912–23: Waterford is the latest in Four Courts Press’s series of county studies of the revolutionary period. McCarthy explores political upheaval in the south-east and, in particular, the effect of political violence across social classes, as well as the impact upon the men and women who fought against Crown forces. Matthew Lewis’s admirable study, Frank Aiken’s war: the Irish revolution 1916–23, blends biography and regional study to offer an exhaustive account of Aiken’s formative role in the revolutionary struggle. Aiken emerges from the study as a highly capable but ruthless militarist. Seán Byers’s Seán Murray, Marxist-Leninist and Irish Socialist Republican examines the career of one of the most prominent left-wing thinkers of his era. An Irish War of Independence volunteer, anti-Treaty republican and graduate of the International Lenin School in Moscow, Murray rooted himself in the key Irish labour, republican and international struggles of his time.

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