Republican News · Thursday 17 December 1998

[An Phoblacht]

A bag of books.... a cache of CDs

Mícheál MacDonncha reviews highlights of this year's reading and listening


  • The Committee - Political Assassination in Northern Ireland by Sean McPhilemy. Published by Roberts Rinehart.
  • Birth of a Republic by Eoin Neeson. Published by Prestige.
  • The Blueshirts and Irish Politics by Mike Cronin. Published by Four Courts Press.
  • The Living Note - Heartbeat of Irish Music by Christy McNamara (photographs) and Peter Woods (text) published by O'Brien Press.


  • Jimmy Crowley Uncorked. Free State Records. Cd Cro. 007.
  • Sean Tyrrell - The Orchard. Long Walk Music. LM CD002.
  • The Croppy's Complaint - Music and Songs of 1798. Craft Records. CRC D03.
  • Cran - Black, Black, Black. Claddagh Records. CC63 CD.
  • Binn Blasta - the Irish Traditional Music Special. Gael Linn. CDTCD008.

Book of the Year is undoubtedly Sean McPhilemy's The Committee which exposes the complicity of leading business people, top-ranking RUC men and unionist politicians in the campaigns of loyalist death squads. The book is currently mired in legal battles and fear of further action has kept it off the shelves of bookshops in Ireland and Britain but it is available under the counter courtesy of conscientious US citizens who have dispatched copies to this country.

The book received some initial publicity when it was published but it has slipped from view since then. I would not claim that all the assertions of McPhilemy's main informant are correct, but it raises so many explosive questions and exposes so many facts about the RUC/loyalist collusion that it is likely to have profound consequences for the future of that force.

other blow against anti-nationalist revisionism was struck by historian Eoin Neeson with the publication this year of his book Birth of a Republic. The sub-title The Republican Thrust for Liberty in Ireland 1798 to 1923 tells you that it restores the republican narrative of 19th century history, a necessary anti-dote to the likes of Roy Foster. The book was lambasted on RTE radio by Professor John A. Murphy, Cork's representative in that Coterie of Cranks which includes the Cruiser and Ruth Dudley Edwards. No higher recommendation could be given.

Not strictly speaking a 1998 book - it was published last year - Mike Cronin's history of the Blueshirts is a must for political junkies. It is far better than Fine Gael Senator Maurice Manning's apologia for the Blueshirts which, up to this, was the standard work. Cronin, while not unsympathetic to the Blueshirts, shows up this gang to have been both fascistic and farcical. It is fashionable to lambast Dev for his conservatism but an Eoin O'Duffy dictatorship would have made Dev's comely maidens look like the Spice Girls.

The Living Note is a work of art in words and pictures and captures the magic of Irish traditional music. It transcends the coffee table because of the quality of McNamara's photos and the offbeat, almost mystical quality of Peter Woods' writing. It's been available in paperback since the start of the year and would make a great Christmas gift.

This brings us neatly to our CDs and I start with Jimmy Crowley. His latest album was recorded live in Cork and features 14 classic songs from that city and county sung in Crowley's inimitable style. Hear the passion in his singing of the Boys of Kilmichael to which poet Patrick Galvin has added a new anti-revisionist verse. Other favourites include Johnny Jump Up, The Boys of Fairhill and The Bantry Girl's Lament. Jimmy has done a great job with this CD and you should put it at the top of your seasonal list.

In contrast to Jimmy's album is that of Sean Tyrell, a very different style of singing but with equal integrity. The Orchard has depth and subtlety that will endure.

Sean Tyrell crops up again on The Croppy's Complaint. This is the best of the many CDs marking the 1798 bicentenary. The songs are well-reasearched and sung by some of the country's best - Tyrell, Sean Garvey, Frank Harte, Aine Uí Cheallaigh.

Trio Seán Corcoran, Ronan Browne and Desi Wilkinson make up the group Cran. With their combination of the finest traditional playing on flute, pipes and guitar/bouzoki, imaginative arrangements and powerful singing, Cran's 1998 CD Black, Black, Black gets my vote for best traditional group of the year.

The best compilation album of traditional music in 1998 was Gael Linn's Binn Blasta which features some of the best traditional singers and musicians, solo and groups, over the past 20 years. A great introduction to Irish music.

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