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review 2018-04-08 16:08
Ireland and its relationship with the First World War
Ireland and the Great War - Keith Jeffery

The great Irish historian Roy Foster has argued that the First World War is one of the most decisive events in the history of modern Ireland, one with a profound impact on Ireland’s politics, economy, and society. Yet in spite of this the war remains an under-examined event, lacking the attention given to the Famine, the Home Rule campaign, and the Anglo-Irish War.


Given this deficiency, Keith Jeffery’s book is a welcome addition to the historical literature.  Developed from a series of presentations given in the Lees Knowles Lecture series at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1998, this book provides an examination of a number of aspects of Ireland and the war. In four chapters, Jeffery examines why Irishmen signed up for the conflict, the experience of the war, the impact of the war on Irish culture, and how Ireland has remembered the war. In doing so, he tackles a number of knotty questions and demolishes a few myths, addressing the complicated motivations behind enlistment, the dream of Irish Nationalist politicians to organize distinctively Irish military units, and the political complications within Ireland of honoring a war fought for the British – one that many Irish revolutionaries so resolutely opposed.


Supplemented with a useful bibliographic essay, Jeffery’s book is a valuable overview of a frequently neglected aspect of Irish history. Though hardly a comprehensive survey of the subject, it addresses many of the aspects of the war and its role in Irish history.  Until the war receives the specialized attention it deserves, this will remain the best starting point for understanding how the war affected Ireland and how the Irish people have grappled with its memory.

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review 2018-04-07 16:47
An enjoyable but overwrought book
The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates - Des Ekin

Despite being the subject of considerable attention at the time, the raid on the Irish coastal village of Baltimore on June 20, 1631 is an event that has been long overlooked by most histories of the era.  Yet as Des Ekin demonstrates in this absorbing book, it is an event that offers an interesting window into life in the early 17th century.  While such raids were uncommon they were not unheard of, as Barbary pirates started ranging out into the Atlantic and raiding settlements along the coast.  It was one of these raids which fell upon Baltimore, sacking the village and capturing over a hundred men, women, and children.  These captives were then taken to Algiers and sold into slavery, a fate from which few of them would ever escape.


Ekin’s book is an entertaining account of this traditionally obscure event.  A journalist and author of two novels, Ekin conducted considerable research to underneath the lives and experiences of the Baltimore captives.  Where the directly relevant sources ended Ekin turned to the accounts of others who dealt with the Barbary pirates or underwent similar experiences in an effort to understand better what life was like for the villagers of Baltimore.  Though this occasionally comes across as padding, it results in a more generally informative portrait of the early 17th century, the economics of slavery, and life during those times.


Yet these strengths are offset by several problems.  While his research into the village of Baltimore, the captives, and their lives is thorough, his coverage of the broader context is weaker, with descriptions of such groups as the Janissaries often dependent on a couple of sources, often dated and bearing errors as a consequence.  Moreover, while Eakin claims in his preface that he has made nothing up, the text is peppered with assumptions and suppositions that strain such an assertion.  Stitching all of this together is an overwrought prose style that gets in the way of a naturally exciting tale.  These flaws detract from what is otherwise an interesting account of the sack of Baltimore and the fate of its survivors.

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review 2018-04-07 01:42
Uncovers a legend’s true achievements
Mick: The Real Michael Collins - Peter Hart

There are few people in modern Irish history who loom larger than Michael Collins, “The Big Fellow” who more than any other individual is credited with winning independence for Ireland.  In a matter of a few short years he emerged from the ranks of the Republican movement to become one of the key figures in the struggle against British rule.  His early death as a result of an ambush in the subsequent civil war gave him the aura of a lost leader, laden with the possibilities of what might have been.  In this book, Peter Hart seeks to penetrate beneath the many legends surrounding Collins in order to get at the truth behind this famous figure.


Faced with the stories and misconceptions about Collins’s life (many of which were of his own making), Hart bases his narrative on the extensive documentary evidence about his subject’s life.  The Collins that emerges is not a great guerrilla figure but a master bureaucrat, one whose organizational abilities and work ethic were both the keys to his rise and his great contribution to victory.  These skills were the product of his years in London, where he worked as a postal clerk and spent his free time in various Irish social organizations.  His subsequent rise through the ranks of the Irish revolutionary leadership was aided by the loss of the top leadership in the aftermath of the Dublin rising in 1916.  The loss of most of the senior leadership created opportunities that Collins exploited to the fullest, gaining positions of authority in which his managerial talent ensured a flow of money, supplies, and (most critically) intelligence to the members of the IRA in the field.


Hart’s achievement in uncovering the real Michael Collins from the layers of myth that built up over the years is impressive, providing a truer assessment of his role in Irish independence than any previous biography.  His detective work on Collins’s time in London is especially exemplary here, illuminating a part of his subject’s life often overshadowed by his subsequent achievements.  People seeking the Collins of legend would be better off watching Neil Jordan’s hagiographic depiction, but for those wanting to discover the true Michael Collins, this is the book to read.

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review 2018-04-07 01:20
A detailed account hobbled by a dense text and poor maps
The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 - John Childs

The overthrow of King James II during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 is one of the key events of not just English history but Irish history as well.  As king, James had pursued a policy of “Catholicization” in Ireland, allowing Catholics to serve in the army and the government, which fueled anxieties among the Protestant population.  When news reached them of the dramatic events in England, the Protestants began defying the Catholic authorities, who responded to what soon became an uprising against Catholic rule.  The result was three of the bloodiest and most destructive years in Irish history, as the island served as the battlefield on which broader struggles were waged.  This war is the subject of John Childs’s book, which details the campaigns from the initial unrest to the conclusion of the conflict.


Childs traces the success of the rebellion to the two-week period in 1688 when Derry was without a garrison, arguing that had the town been continuously occupied and the Protestants there suppressed the rebellion could not have prospered.  Yet even with Derry the Protestants faced a difficult first year, as the more numerous Catholic forces gradually asserted control throughout the island.  By the summer, only Derry and Enniskillen remained as Protestant holdouts, yet the arrival of forces under the command of the Duke of Schomberg managed to secure most of Ulster before the end of the campaigning season.  The new year saw an increased commitment of forces against the Catholics, one led by King William III himself.  With William’s army pressing down from the north, the two sides clashed at the Battle of the Boyne, which broke James’s fragile resolve.  His flight left his supporters with no other option than an attrition campaign that could buy them time in the hope that William might suffer defeats elsewhere that would salvage the situation for them.


Childs recounts the conflict in considerable detail, carefully tracing the numerous skirmishes that characterized the “war of posts and ambuscades”.  This results in a dense text, one that makes it challenging to follow the sequence of events.  Making matters worse are the inadequate maps provided, which provide only basic geographic details, rendering them less than helpful in following the various battles and campaigns.  Better maps and subheadings within the chapters would have gone far into providing a more accessible history of the war than the one Childs has written, in which the value of his examination of the conflict is offset by its inaccessibility.

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text 2018-04-06 21:31
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