By Fergal Tobin
We will fight the Irish Civil War until the last judgment, or at least until our main publishing houses fold, which may come sooner. The appetite for new books on the subject is seemingly inexhaustible.
With The Irish Revolution, An Illustrated History 1912-1925 author Fergal Tobin has produced a handsomely illustrated and evocative overview of the lead-up, conflict and aftermath of the birth of the new republic.
Beginning with the Ulster crisis of 1912, the book charts all the heady years that led all the way to the creation of the new border by the Boundary Commission in 1925.
Easter 1916 is the watershed moment of course, proving a final break from the national paralysis that had fascinated the young James Joyce in the late 19th century. The more that nationalists agitated for independence, the more the unionists in the north grew restive.
Republicanism was the majority view, but for each gain it made in most of the nation it simultaneously copper fastened political opposition in Ulster, a tragic irony that would endure almost a century after.
Edward Carson (the man who had once prosecuted the Nationalist Oscar Wilde) saw Ulster as the rock that would smash Home Rule. Like many of his Nationalist contemporaries he could not imagine the country divided. But this didn’t prevent him from delivering fiery, rabble-rousing speeches of defiance with which to manipulate Westminster.
Tobin’s book provides an invaluable overview of these tumultuous years and the leaders who made them so as Ireland, after centuries of oppression, made a successful bid for its freedom.
Frederick Douglass in Ireland: The Black O’Connell
By Laurence Felton
Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist and former slave, visited Ireland in 1845 and was shocked by the abject poverty of the people and by the finery of many of those who lorded it over them.
A former slave, there was quite some irony in Douglas being amazed to discover how brutally white people could oppress each other.
But his travels in Ireland amazed him in another unexpected way. No matter where he went, from first class carriages to hotels to speaking halls, he was greeted with enthusiasm and dignity.
“One of the most pleasing features of my visit…has been a total absence of prejudice against me on account of my color…I find myself not treated as a color but as a man…” he wrote.
In Fenton’s scholarly but immensely readable new book Douglas’ travels in Ireland are reproduced with a novelistic eye for the telling detail. Douglas, a lifelong impassioned reformer, was inspired by his friendship with Daniel O’Connell and when asked for advice he would quote his old Irish friend: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”
One Hundred Names
By Cecelia Ahern
Some people like their fairytales wrapped up in a familiar metropolitan veneer to give them depth, and this is why the novels of Cecelia Ahern may always be bestsellers.
But their at times thin resemblance to real life and real emotion must compete with the contrivances that drive the plot. Sometimes the device is simple: a girl receives a monthly letter from beyond the grave from a paramour eager to help her move on.
And sometimes it’s more complex, like when anonymous presents from an unknown source drive her heroes into a romantic clinch.
In the case of One Hundred Names, Ahern’s most serious effort to date, her brittle heroine Kitty grapples with the legacy of an older woman she thought she knew and in the process – which Ahern’s books are all about – she learns quite a bit about herself.
It’s not a cakewalk. First Kitty has to make a Joycean tour of Dublin, stopping into cafés, bars and assorted suburban neighborhoods to meet with strangers and unravel the mystery of the 100 names her mentor has left behind in her office.
Who are these people, what is their connection to each other and will it be enough to keep us turning the pages of this latest novel?
Ahern’s book is at its most assured when crafting scenes between its central character and the people she meets along the way, suggesting an impatience to step away from the gimmicky structures she’s employed to date as her talent blossoms.
One Hundred Names won’t be on the Booker Prize list this year, but Ahern is obviously serious about her literary intentions. Watch this space.
William Morrow, $14.99.