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Old April 26th, 2016, 01:01 AM   #1

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Book Reviews: Irish History


The Reluctant Taoiseach: A Biography of John A. Costello, by David McCullagh (2011)

Quote:
One possible lesson to take from this book is that politics is best left to politicians. Shortly after the 1957 electoral defeat of John A. Costello’s second and final coalition government, the former Taoiseach was walking along the Dublin quays with two other senior Fine Gael men, James Dillon and Patrick Lindsay.

As they passed a pub, Dillon remarked about how he had never been in one except his own which he had sold after observing how much money his customers were spending which could have gone instead into family essentials. Costello chipped in with a story of the one time he had been in a pub when a bottle of orange juice had almost been too much for him.


To the worldlier Lindsay, the pub was “the countryman’s club, where everything is discussed and where contacts are made.” The exchange he had witnessed told him all too much as to why Fine Gael “are going in this direction today and why we are out of touch with the people.”

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Old April 26th, 2016, 01:03 AM   #2

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Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist ‘new order’ in Ireland, by R.M. Douglas (2009)

Quote:
Fascists these days are a mealy-mouthed lot. Not racist but racialist. Not hating another race but loving your own.

So it is almost refreshing to encounter some who were upfront about what they were about. Formed in 1942 while their fellow fascists on the Continent were in the ascendant, Ailtirí na hAiséirghe (“Architects of the Resurrection”) had a set of policies that were as grandiose as its name:

  • Irish democracy to be replaced by a one-party totalitarian state (said party being itself, of course).
  • The use of English to be criminalised in favour of Irish.
  • A united Ireland to be achieved by the raising of a massive conscript army that would swamp Northern Ireland into submission.
  • The encouragement of women to swell the Irish race with as many progeny as they could manage, the earlier the better (how else is that massive conscript army going to be formed?).
Too bad if none of this strikes the reader as appealing, as emigration would also be banned. One has to give Ailtirí credit at least for not resorting to the usual Irish solution to social problems.


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Old April 26th, 2016, 01:05 AM   #3

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Young Ireland and the Writing of Irish History, by James Quinn (2015)

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James Quinn’s Young Ireland and the Writing of Irish History is a fascinating look at a group of ideological intellectuals who sought to make the rest of 19th century Ireland as interested in the country’s history as they were. The purpose of this mission was not for the sake of history itself; indeed, the Young Irelanders, as these men became known, were as contemptuous of overly dry works of impartial scholarship as they were of textbooks aiming to make the Irish into better Britons.

History, as far as they were concerned, was there to excite, to arouse passion and, ultimately, to inspire its audience into becoming better patriots. Orwell had yet to say: “He who controls the past controls the future,” but the Young Irelanders had already come to that conclusion.


With that purpose in mind, the Young Irelanders founded the Nation newspaper in 1842 to publish heroic tales of derring-do, the more battles the merrier, and with an emphasis on ‘great men’ such as Owen Roe O’Neill, Hugh O’Neill and Patrick Sarsfield.



In this, they were drawing much of their inspiration from contemporary Romantic writers such as Thomas Carlyle, Jules Michelet and Augustin Thierry, as the Young Irelanders were the first to admit (though the anti-Irish snobbery in Carlyle was best ignored), and the Romantic movement in general, which celebrated the past as a source of inspiration, as opposed to the more forward-thinking and self-consciously progressive thinking behind the Enlightenment a generation before.


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Old June 10th, 2016, 04:36 AM   #4

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Book Review: Battleground – The Battle for the General Post Office, 1916 (1916 in Focus), by Paul O’Brien (2015)

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For those who have been living under a rock for the past year, 2016 is the centenary of what was possibly the most influential event in modern Irish history. For those who know that there was such a thing as a Rising but are fuzzy on the details, Paul O’Brien’s series of interlocking books, each one focusing on a different area of the fighting – the Four Courts, St Stephen’s Green and Ashbourne – are ideal for catching up on the basic facts.
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Old November 29th, 2016, 12:55 AM   #5

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Book Review: Power Play: The Rise of Modern Sinn Féin, by Deaglán de Bréadún (2015)

Quote:
‘We Need to Talk About Sinn Féin…’ is the title of the first chapter, taken from the 2011 Tilda Swinton film about what is for some an equally troubling subject. By the end of the book, while we have indeed heard a lot of talk about Sinn Féin, it is questionable as to whether we know a good deal more about it.

Deaglán de Bréadún excels at a surface look at his subject, its history, its progression to politics and how it is perceived by both its members and opponents. But the essence of Sinn Féin remains elusive, which is perhaps how the party prefers it, considering its record of playing its cards close to its chest, even with its own.
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Old January 10th, 2017, 03:23 PM   #6

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Book Review: After the Rising: Soldiers, Lawyers and Trials of the Irish Revolution, by Seán Enright (2016)

Quote:
This book appeals to a number of interests: the challenges a liberal democracy faces in confronting a war, one of the least liberal occurrences, in its midst. The weapons that a military regime, as the British state in Ireland essentially was by its end, can use – and have used against it.

Brief but evocative pen portraits of the various senior figures in authority. A study of how things fall apart with the centre slowly but surely failing to hold, no matter how much legal chicanery or brute force is applied. It is for this ability to show many things at once that After the Rising deserves to be on the shelf of any serious student of the period.
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Old January 22nd, 2017, 12:05 PM   #7

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One Bold Deed of Open Treason: The Berlin Diary of Roger Casement 1914-1916, edited by Angus Mitchell (2016)

Quote:
In February 1916, Roger Casement was recovering near Munich from an unpleasant combination of tropical fever and nervous exhaustion when he replied to a letter from the Countess Blücher, asking for help with writing tips for her diary. Eager to help, Casement expounded at length on the delights – and dangers – of keeping a journal:
You know the charm of a diary is its simplicity. Its reality and the sense of daily life it conveys to the reader depends not on style, but on truth and sincerity. It should tell things but still more of the writer and his (or her) outlook on those things.
Sometimes a diary could tell too much. Casement confessed to the Countess that he had given up on the one he had been writing while in Germany as he found himself recording things that were best left in the dark.
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Old February 13th, 2017, 04:25 PM   #8

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Charlie One: The True Story of an Irishman in the British Army and His Role in Covert Counter-Terrorism Operations in Northern Ireland, by Seán Hartnett (2016)

Quote:
Special ops memoirs can be a crapshoot in terms of which ones to take seriously. For every genuine case like Andy McNab on the shelves, there are fakers and fantasists like Philip Anthony Sessarego, taking up space. That the UK Ministry of Defence asked the publishers Merrion Press to halt the distribution of this book over the sensitive material inside would suggest its author, Seán Hartnett, is the real deal.

Certainly there is enough here to argue that the term ‘Peace Process’, while not a misnomer, does not entirely cover the whole picture. With the danger of terrorism in Northern Ireland subdued but ever present, the British Government invested, and clearly continues to do so, a considerable amount of resources, both technological and human, such as the covert Joint Communications Unit Northern Ireland (JCU-NI), also known as ‘the Det.’


The unit’s emblem is Argus, the hundred-eyed monster of classical myth, and in case we ever doubt the appropriateness of that choice of symbol, Hartnett gives us a sample of his working day that would not be out of place in a Jason Bourne movie:
Sitting in front of a vast wall of TV monitors in the operations room, fed by signals from this powerful network, the operations officer (Opso) could track a vehicle or individual in real time from any point in the city to any other point, or manoeuvre his operators like chess pieces around the city, and indeed all the way down to the so-called ‘bandit country’ of South Armagh and Tyrone. As they dropped out on one camera they would be picked up by another, or by an operator, all the whole oblivious to the level of surveillance they were under.
After a stint in the regular British Army, Hartnett was retrained as an electronics expert and assigned to ‘North Det’, responsible for covering the Republican hotbed of Derry. Given responsibility for the myriad of hidden cameras keeping watch over suspects and designated areas, his was unusual work compared to what he had done before as a common squaddie.
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Old February 13th, 2017, 05:57 PM   #9
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I'd much rather read of ancient Irish history.
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