The Irish Aboard Titanic

By Senan Molony

All human endeavor can be undone by nature within a minute. Perhaps that chilling realization explains our enduring fascination with the Titanic. If ever there was a fable about the limits of human ingenuity, it's in this tale of how an iceberg sank the greatest ship in the known world within a few hours.

In "The Irish Aboard Titanic," author Senan Molony, a former journalist with the Irish Press, Evening Herald, and the Irish Independent, examines the Irish dimension of the Titanic’s history through the lives of its Irish passengers.

We know their fates. Poverty meant the vast majority of them were either traveling in steerage or were members of the crew below deck and now Molony’s research finally gives voice to them, a voice that was continually and intentionally denied a place in the testimonies and accounts that followed in the wake of the disaster.

With close reference to baptismal certificates, census records, personal letters and the news articles of the period Molony pieces together the words and lives of Irish passengers before, during and – for the lucky ones – after the ship sank.

In the "Downton Abbey" era of aristocrats and commoners, the well off received most of the press coverage and the working class received scant attention. So Molony is left to construct his working class Irish lives from a paragraph with a name, a few basic facts and whether they were lost or survived.

In rare but enlightening cases it means pages of details, stories told by friends and family, hopeful or despairing letters exchanged after news of the sinking had spread and interviews from when the survivors finally landed in New York, rescued by the Carpathia.

Where possible, Molony has sourced photos of the passengers from archives and old newspapers and even from obituaries. The Titanic’s most overlooked demographic were among the people who built and ran it and Molony's book gives them their say.

Dufour, $24.95.


Seamus Heaney: Creating Irelands of the Mind

By Eugene O’Brien

Centuries from now books will be written about the astonishing legacy of St. Columb's College in Derry in the 1950s. It was there that star pupils like Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, John Hume and Seamus Deane first began to grapple with Ireland's broken history and in the process began to rescue and simultaneously fashion a sort of cultural and political mandala from the disparate parts.

This careful study of all of Seamus Heaney’s work explored his poetry, prose and translations and traces his own philosophical investigation of Irish society, its politics, culture and religion, as well as his critique of these inherited conditions.

It was Heaney's generation's fortune to find that their development mirrored profound cultural and philosophical shifts in the wider society, particularly in the way the nation thought about its history and its future.

Heaney, alongside Friel, embodied and grappled with the tectonic shifts in Irish culture in the 20th century which makes him an essential candidate for any study of contemporary Ireland. As O'Brien reminds us, Heaney’s work develops the process of moving from an inward looking preoccupation with history, the past and racial memory, to a much more outward looking mindset directed at Europe, America and the present and future.

The recurring themes of digging in memory, the power of language, the interplay between art and politics and implicating dance between the individual and the tribe are examined in careful and illuminating detail. This rich inheritance is laid before us in O'Brien's thoughtful new book.

Liffey Press, $26.95.


The Rector Who Wouldn’t Pray for Rain

By Pat Semple

Until relatively recently, to tell someone that you were an atheist in Ireland was actually considered an impermissible affront, as though you had highly contagious tuberculosis and had failed to inform anyone.

But it was so much worse when people discovered that you had started out as an ardent believer, as a priest or in this case a rector in the Church of Ireland. To lose your faith is still no small matter in Ireland as Pat Semple, the author of this memoir, knows well.

Semple's gripping story shows us how he starts as a clergyman who begins to reject the basic doctrines of Christianity, until he finds new and compelling insights to offset them in the teachings of modern astrophysics.

Told by a man who has lived on both sides of the story, this book is also a picture of religious life in Ireland over the last 60 years and a living testament to its changes.

Dufour, $24.95.