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review 2020-09-11 19:56
The end of the Irish old order
The Decline Of The Big House In Ireland: A Study Of Irish Landed Families, 1860 1960 - Terence A.M. Dooley

At the start of the 1870s, the great landed families of Ireland sat prosperous and sovereign in their communities. A half-century later, however, theirs was a class in terminal decline, suffering from the effects of a succession of economic and political blows. In this book Terence Dooley charts the course of the fall of the Irish landed elite, detailing the steps in their collapse and analyzing the factors behind it. As he explains, there was no one circumstance or event behind it but instead a series of developments – some global, others local – which brought an end to the social class which had dominated life in Ireland for centuries.


Dooley begins by detailing “big house” life in high Victorian Ireland. Flourishing amidst the economic prosperity of the period, numerous families flaunted their wealth by refurbishing their homes and loading them with art and other acquisitions purchased from the continent, which they often financed through loans and mortgages. Few anticipated that the good times might come to an end, leaving them unprepared when the agricultural economy went into decline in the late 1870s. With indebtedness growing, many landowners sought to maintain their income by raising the rents they charged to tenant farmers. Unable to pay the higher rents the tenants went on strike instead, further crippling landowner finances and exacerbating their financial woes.


In response to the political pressure imposed by the poorer and more numerous tenant farmers, Parliament passed a series of acts designed to facilitate the transfer of the land from the large landowners to the tenant farmers. This initiated a process of land transference that accelerated in the early twentieth century with further increases in the financial incentives for landowners to sell. By then many landowners desperate for money had already curtailed their expenditures and sold off valuable furnishings in the hope of stabilizing their situation or at least delaying their decline.


Instead, their decline accelerated with the outbreak of war in 1914. Dooley describes the blows suffered by many families with the loss of sons and husbands who fell in battle. These individual setbacks were soon compounded by the newly-empowered independence movement, which by 1920 was waging war against the British state. The big houses were prime targets for the Irish Republican Army, both as sources of firearms and as hated symbols of British occupation. Many of the houses themselves were burned down to drive out the pro-Union landowners and to prevent the buildings from becoming barracks for British forces. By the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923 the landowning class thus found themselves gutted and friendless, without even a semblance of their former status and power in Irish society.


In many respects the story Dooley tells echoes that of David Cannadine’s seminal work The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. Like Cannadine, Dooley explains the various forces squeezing the Irish aristocracy as a class, to which he adds the unique circumstances facing them because of Irish nationalist politics. While their British counterparts suffered from the same economic crisis, they were spared the political assaults of the Land War and the independence movement that delivered the fatal blows that wiped them out for good. It’s an important aspect of Irish history that Dooley recounts well, making his book an important account of the transformations taking place in Irish society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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review 2020-08-31 05:52
From novelty to ubiquity
Cycling in Victorian Ireland - Brian Griffin

Given its ubiquity today, it can be difficult to appreciate how revolutionary the bicycle was when it was developed in the 19th century. In an era when most people were dependent upon walking to get to where they were going, the bicycle gave people greater individual mobility than had even been possible without a horse. Thanks to its low cost and the empowerment it offered, it took less than a generation for bicycles to go from a faddish novelty to a mode of transportation commonplace on the streets of cities throughout the Western world.


The introduction of the bicycle took place at a time when mass media covered new developments in almost obsessive detail. Brian Griffin drew upon this abundant record to delineate the early history of cycling in Ireland from the introduction of the first velocipede to the widespread adoption of the safety bicycle. It's an impressively detailed work that identifies by name the first bicyclists, traces the establishment of clubs and some of their key members, and describes society's evolving reaction to bicycles as their riders carved out a place for themselves on the roads and in daily life. This he sees not just in their employment by the hobbyist and the well-to-do, but their use by constables, civil servants, and priests in the performance of their daily duties. As Griffin makes clear, by the end of the century the bicycle enjoyed a prominent place in both practical activities and in the recreational life of the Irish.


Griffin's meticulous coverage of the bicycle's emergence in Ireland is a great strength of the book, as he captures within these details how people came to terms with the new technology of personal transport. He leavens this with humorous stories and a generous supply of details that capture the sometimes freakish novelty and occasional frustration with which people reacted to the bicycle. Yet Griffin rarely strays beyond the specifics to consider more generally the impact of cycling upon Ireland, such as in how it affected social mores or people's sense of time and space. It's an unfortunate gap in what is otherwise an interesting and even amusing study of the emergence of cycling in 19th century Ireland, one that should be read by anyone with a passing interest in either the subject or the era.

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text 2019-08-29 17:04
Charles River Freebies Round Up
The Khmer Empire: The History and Legacy of One of Southeast Asia’s Most Influential Empire - Charles River Editors
Sinn Féin: The History and Legacy of the Irish Republican Political Party - Charles River Editors
Werewolves: The Legends and Folk Tales about Humans Shapeshifting into Wolves - Charles River Editors
Fort Astoria: The History and Legacy of the First American Settlement on the Pacific Coast - Charles River Editors
The Catacombs of Paris: The History of the City’s Underground Ossuaries and Burial Network - Charles River Editors

These were all gotten as kindle freebies.


The best two are the one about Werewolves and the Catacombs because they offer the must in the terms of facts, and move beyond the general.


The other three aren't bad, but short, simple, and general.


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review 2019-08-06 00:51
The History of England (abridged)
The History of England - Thomas Babington Macaulay,Hugh Trevor-Roper

The progress of history is ever moving forward, away from superstition and autocracy towards free-thought and greater liberty, at least that what Lord Macaulay believed.  In his The History of England (from the Accession of James the Second), Macaulay brings forth “the Whig interpretation of history” for the first time that changed how history was interpretation for the next century.


This abridgment of Macaulay’s five-volume history of events leading up to the Glorious Revolution during James II reign through the death of William III begins with Macaulay’s purpose for his work.  The first half of the abridgment covers how James II began his reign by slowly alienating his traditional supporters in the Anglican Church and Tory county squires by putting Roman Catholics in high positions and supporting the Irish against Anglo-Scot colonists.  Even though he survived one rebellion early in his reign, James kept on escalating his efforts until both “Exclusionist” and Tory politicians—including moderate Roman Catholics—joined forces to invite William to take the throne.  The second half of the abridgment covers William’s invasion and the Revolution in all three Kingdoms, not just England.  While the English portion was political rather than martial, it was not the same in Ireland and Scotland as battles between those supporting James and William took place in bloody fashion though mostly in Ireland.  Another bit of history was the religious aspect of the Revolution, while in England there was more toleration in practice which included Roman Catholics it was a different matter entirely in Scotland were Presbyterians retook control after suffering under Restoration policies for over 30 years.  Finally, the effects of the Revolution on finance and Parliamentary corruption are examined before Macaulay’s final summing up.


While Hugh Trevor-Roper did an admirable job in selecting portions over five volumes into approximately 550 pages, it is also the main problem with the book.  With such a reduction of Macaulay’s prose, the reader gets glimpses of his thoughts and intentions but without consistency the reader doesn’t get the importance of the overall work.  As for the work itself, Macaulay’s bias of excusing his hero (William III) and aggressively character assassinating those he dislikes (Marlborough), is one of the biggest flaws.


The History of England is a glimpse into the larger work of Lord Macaulay that really doesn’t give the reader a constancy to see why it was such an important piece of historical literature.  If given the choice, I would have chosen five books of the total work over a short abridgment.

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review 2019-01-18 22:22
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed.  Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.


Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well.  Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries.  The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige.  The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries.  And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.


Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text.  James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it.  The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire.  Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.


The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments.  Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

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