Republican News · Thursday 17 February 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Ireland in the 1930s

Ireland in the 1930s
Edited by Joost Augusteijn
Four Courts Press

When `history' is written about any period or event, one of the major questions to be asked, is `What has been the cost of progress?' This short but enlightening book of academic treatises, edited by Joost Augusteijn, poses the exact opposite question. The articles, each in different ways, pose the question `what was the cost of the lack of progress in the Free State in the 1930s?'

The book is introduced by an editor whose book on the IRA in the 1920s has been much lauded. He points out the gap of historical research on Irish society in the 1930s period and highlights the aim of the book as being to reopen a period usually glossed over. The book succeeds and provides a platform for valuable academic research.

The first article, by Elizabeth Russell, delves into popular reading habits in the early Free State. While the rest of the contributions make compelling reading, Russell's tends to be repetitive and lacks focus. That said, it deals with a subject, the importance of outside influences on Irish reading habits, which can be engrossing, and in the context of the other pieces the themes it raises are interesting.

ne-Marie Walsh follows Russell with an article on the Irish language revival. This points to the blind way Fianna Fáil followed Cumann an nGaedheal's Irish language policies, albeit with more vigour. While highlighting the initial interest of popular opinion in language revival, the article constructively criticises government policies, which virtually ignored oral Irish, did not provide adequate teacher training and failed to assess its own initiative's progress.

The damage to Irish society that the unchallenged position of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has had has only emerged in the last decade. Articles by McIntosh and Mullarkey point out that the church was allowed to write itself into Irish history with the connivance of the political elites. Instead of Irish society progressing, it was reined in by an organisation which has at critical junctures sabotaged the struggle for freedom. Margaret O hOgartaigh, in an interesting piece on the life of Dr Dorothy Price, points out how the church, in an effort to maintain its control of health care, set back the fight against TB by ten years.

The book also includes articles on O'Duffy's Irish Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, Fianna Fáil's rural house building project and the Free State army reserve initiated by Frank Aiken. All are stimulating and thought provoking.

One of the central themes running through this volume is Fianna Fáil's fall from grace. From ignoring (or actively opposing) the plight of other republicans in order to bend the knee to the church to smothering class struggle through corruption through to selling out northern nationalists, the articles represent well the sad vista that was Fianna Fáil's `progress'. The present day Fianna Fáil generation can look back safe in the knowledge that their ineptitude is nothing new.


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