Monday 19 March 2018

Centenary-inspired books lead charge in non-fiction

Eamon Delaney on the best in history, politics and biography

Diarmuid Ferriter
Diarmuid Ferriter

Next year is the centenary of the 1916 Rising and, although it can seem like an overload, there have been many fine books on the insurrection and on the subsequent, formative War of Independence.

Peace after the Final Battle - The Story of the Revolution 1912-1924 by John Dorney (New Island Publishing, e19.99) is a succinct and compelling assessment of the events and forces of those years.

For a more detailed examination, there is much to savour in A Nation and Not a Rabble - The Irish Revolution 1913-1923 by UCD history Professor Diarmaid Ferriter (Pluto Books, e47.40).

Another fascinating read is Judging WT Cosgrave by Michael Laffan (Royal Irish Academy, e41.99), which is a handsome, engaging account of 1916 veteran William T Cosgrave, who, as president of the Free State's Executive Council, was effectively our first leader.

Cosgrave was a very substantive figure but had been deemed to be somewhat grey and dour, and so this biography, drawing on new and varied sources, does a tremendous job in balancing the picture of this determined individual whose energy and even ruthlessness secured the new State, its democracy and its rule of law.

However, with all the focus on the big personalities in our State's creation such as Michael Collins and De Valera, there is a tendency to overlook other very influential figures in the Independence period.

Frank Aiken - Nationalist and Internationalist, edited by Bryce Evans and Stephen Kelly (Irish Academic Press, e45) examines one such figure. Aiken is particularly interesting given his conversion from militant Irish Republican and chief of staff of the IRA, to a progressive foreign minister dedicated to peace and international co-operation through Ireland's role at the United Nations.

It is a fascinating story that is told in an excellent series of essays.

After the recent television documentary of aviation tycoon and Ryanair founder Tony Ryan, it would be worth checking out Tony Ryan - Ireland's Aviator by Richard Aldous (Gill and Macmillan, e24.99). It is a reminder that we produced Celtic Tigers in this country long before we actually had a Celtic Tiger. That is: business figures and pioneers with the drive and imagination to realise their dreams, enrich themselves and enrich many others, as well providing much needed employment.

By contrast, The Mount Street Club - Dublin's Unique Response to Unemployment 1934 to Present by Peter Somerville-Large, Mary E Daly and Colin Murphy (Mercier Press, e19.99) describes how an often affluent people tried to give something back when, in the economic crisis of the 1930s, a group of prominent Dublin business people founded a 'club' for unemployed men.

The project created a social solidarity, but also gave the jobless an opportunity to reskill and develop other talents and activities.

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