Republican News · Thursday 6 January 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Books of the revolution

Are you wondering what to do with thise Christmas book tokens or looking to change unwanted book gifts? Maybe you'll find somethign of interest in these reviews of Irish history books, continued from our Christmas issue, of new publications dealing in particular with the first two decades of this century.


A walk through rebel Dublin, 1916
By Mick O'Farrell
Mercier Books

One of the better books on 1916 to hit the shelves in recent years. It's a pity the text is so small and that the many and varied illustrations are not bigger. A larger format might have been the answer.

Most of the locations associated with the Easter Rising get full treatment with factual, anecdotal and statistical information. A pleasant read for visitors or Dubliners alike as they travel Dublin looking at the sites.


Big Fellow, Long Fellow: A joint biography of Collins & de Valera
By T. Ryle Dwyer
Gill and Macmillan

A further treatment of the two of the main, though often opposing characters in the republican history of the 1920s. Very little new can be written of these two and Ryle Dwyer goes over much ground that has been covered already, but this new treatment tries to link the two in together as events unfolded.


MacBride's Brigade: Irish commandos in the Anglo-Boer war
By Donal P. McCracken
Four Courts Press
19.95 (Hb)

More like an adventure story than an historical account, this book details the story of The Irish Transvaal Brigade of 500 Irish and Irish Americans who fought the British in what is now South Africa. Following in the tradition of the Wild Geese and the many other Irish volunteer soldiers who travelled abroad to fight oppressors, these Irish volunteers joined the Boers in their guerrilla war against the British. The units or commandos were more akin to the flying columns of the later Tan War era in Ireland, un-uniformed, democratic in structure, greater importance on action than military code and varying in sizes and make-up. Major John MacBride, who was later executed for his role in 1916 - some believe in revenge for his role in the Anglo-Boer war - was a commander of the Brigade for a mere few months. The main leader of this boisterous and stubborn bunch was Colonel John Blake.

The Irish fought with distinction on the battlefield, but they didn't affect the outcome of the war, and they gained the respect of the Boers for that, so much so that the Boers siphoned cash illicitly to the Irish Republican Brotherhood to use in opposition to British army recruitment in Ireland.


My Parents and other rebels: A personal memoir
By Michael Kevin O'Doherty
Errigal Press

This some of the story of two very important people in the creation of the Irish revolution. A Derry man, Séamus O'Doherty was on the Irish Republican Brotherhood's Military Council, which planned the 1916 rising; he was involved in the reorganising of the IRA and Sinn Féin after the release of POWs in 1917. He and Kitty Gibbons from County Meath were heavily involved in the many election campaigns for Sinn Féin that year and in the successful election campaign in 1918 that resulted in Dáil Éireann being set-up. In 1919 though, he was at variance with many republicans, believing that it was only through the political process that Ireland's independence could be achieved.

Much of the book is short snippets of information regarding disjointed episodes in history or characters of history, which do not gel well together on occasions.


In the Legion of the Vanguard
By John A. Pinkman
Edited by Francis E. Maguire

Pinkman's account of the IRA activities in Liverpool during the Tan War is gripping and along with Edward Brady's With the Ireland's Secret Service in England, will help ensure that the role played by IRA Volunteers abroad during the Tan War will not be forgotten. On his release from prison, Pinkman joined the pro-Treaty forces in Dublin and here presents his version of events in Kilkenny, Dublin and Munster during the Civil War. There are some interesting insights in the book, especially in relation to England and the war.


Soldier of Ireland
By Robert F. Ely
Dorrance Publishing Co.

This is not academic history, but as the introduction states is a true story of the west of Ireland during the Tan War and Civil War as recounted by a surviving eyewitness, Mrs Eileen Moran. As such it is very valuable and adds much to the little knowledge we have of the IRA in Connacht, especially in Mayo. A fast-flowing gripping read.


The Sinn Féin Rebellion as they saw it
By Mary Louisa and Arthur Hamilton Norway
Edited by Keith Jeffery
Irish Academic Press
16.50 (Hb)

A plethora of memories, diaries and letters about events in Irish history have hit the bookshelves. This falls into that category. All such accounts are intrinsically valuable, Arthur was secretary-general of the GPO and Mary Louis was a resident in the Hibernian Hotel in Dawson Street during Easter week.


The last days of Dublin Castle: The diaries of Mark Sturgis
Edited by Michael Hopkinson
Irish Academic Press
27.50 (Hb)

In a few years, some Stormont civil servant will hopefully be penning a comparable tome. Writing from the viewpoint of an English civil servant who came to his posting via Eton and Oxford, Mark Sturgis was on the Irish political and social scene for a short though very turbulent time, 1920-1922. The insights he gives us into the workings or non-workings of the colonial mind can be very informative and maybe, despite the passage of time, very useful. Like most published diaries, it is only with the help of the editor that we can make head or tail of much that is written, and Michael Hopkinson notes make this a valuable document in the library of the Irish Revolutionary period.


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