Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Standing by its own Worth: Amory’s The Life of John Buncle

23 November 2011

Contributed by Eoghan Smith

The Life of John Buncle, Esq, by Thomas Amory, and edited here by Moyra Haslett, is to the modern reader a remarkable book. Although not as famous as Irish eighteenth-century novels such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, it is nonetheless a brilliantly eclectic offering of Enlightenment possibility, and, in its eccentricity, an exemplary piece of eighteenth-century fiction. Before Ezra Pound tricked the world into believing that it was twentieth-century modernism that was “making it new”, there were novelists such as Amory, whose range of styles, experimentalism and literary reference – to the point of whole-scale plagiarism – points to the great formless democracy that is the early novel.

The book is a carnival of voices, registers and media – aptly described in the introduction here as “by turns that of pastoral, sermon, romance, learned disquisition, theological debate, experimental science, poetry, travelogue, eulogy and prayer”. A sort of journey through the consciousness of the mid-eighteenth century, the novel is ostensibly a memoir of one John Buncle, who, after leaving Trinity College and becoming alienated from his father and exiled from home, travels to England to seek out a friend with whom he can live. Along the way we are treated to Buncle’s extravagantly unusual encounters with, among other things, a woman-only society of mathematicians, and a range of religious communities through which Amory advances what Haslett describes as “Whig, libertarian politics”. (more…)

Revolution: A Photographic history of Revolutionary Ireland, 1913-1923

9 November 2011

Contributed by Orla Fitzpatrick

This new book covers a period that is particularly fascinating, albeit somewhat confusing, for photographic historians.  The Irish revolutionary period offers a rich photographic archive.  Portraits range from official mugshots held in government archives to family portraits commissioned from commercial photographic studios. Snapshots taken by onlookers and documentary images captured by press photographers offer powerful depictions of armed combat and its aftermath. All of these could be and were manipulated and circulated for the purpose of propaganda or indeed suppressed or hidden by the various sides. The chaos which prevailed at certain times during the period scattered photographs far and wide and has left a bewildering array of personal and private collections which both excite and perplex the researcher and historian of the period.

The matter of provenance can be challenging for such a disparate group of photographs. Prints can be held simultaneously by multiple institutions and individuals. Generally speaking, the holder of the negative, if it exists, takes primacy over the print owner although many have been lost over the years. The further you move away from the original source negative the poorer the image quality becomes, so that second, third and even later generation prints can lose definition and clarity. For these reasons, when conducting photographic research, I tend to use photographs where the negatives or original prints are held by public institutions.  The assignation of a verifiable number to each image and clear provenance and copyright for the collection make them more accessible and usable than those held by private companies and individuals.

Revolution: a photographic history of revolutionary Ireland, 1913-1923 covers the period leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916; the War of Independence and the Civil War and its aftermath. Read More

Review: Children’s Fiction 1765-1808, ed. Anne Markey

20 June 2011

Contributed by Pádraic Whyte

This title from the Early Irish Fiction series presents us with a selection of children’s stories published between 1765 and 1808. With an excellent introduction by editor Anne Markey, the book includes three tales: John Carey’s Learning Better than House and Land; Lady Mount Cashell’s Stories of Old Daniel; or, Tales of Wonder and Delight and various versions of Henry Brooke’s fable of the three little fishes from The Fool of Quality; or, The History of Henry, Earl of Moreland. This is an extremely timely and important publication as it makes a valuable contribution to studies in Irish children’s literature and, in turn, to studies in eighteenth century Irish literature more generally.

The selected writings from these three authors offer an insight into the varying ways in which much literature of the period was engaged in the struggle for young people’s minds, particularly in terms of the construction of narrative voice for the child reader. John Carey’s tale follows the lives and differing experiences of two young boys, Dick and Harry (yes, there’s also a father called Thomas) and demonstrates in no uncertain terms that diligence, hard work, and goodness will be rewarded. However, not trusting that the child reader will fully understand the moral, Carey places a note at the end, just to reiterate the point. Read more

At-Swim-Two-Birds at the Project Arts Centre

28 February 2011

Contributed by Eoghan Smith

2011 is the centenary year of Brian O’Nolan’s birth. Better known as Flann O’Brien, his work represents the last great rebellion of Irish modernism before the naturalist mysticism of Patrick Kavanagh, John McGahern and Seamus Heaney suppressed the comic element in Irish writing. Along with The Third Policeman (1967), At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) is the last outpost on the border between the radical ambition of the Irish modernism, and the introverted helplessness of much of post-war Irish literature. After reading O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, James Joyce famously said, ‘that’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit’.

Jocelyn Clarke’s adaption of At Swim-Two-Birds for Blue Raincoat Theatre Company is a brilliantly conceived rendition of the true lower-middle class comic voice of O’Brien’s labyrinthine meta-novel. Recounting the tale of a writer who is writing a novel, who then loses control of his characters, At Swim is a riotous affair in which the conventions of storytelling are pressurized until they almost explode. Read more

Freedom in Fremantle

11 February 2011

Contributed by Joanne McEntee

In 1829 a new settlement was devised by the British in Western Australia. Under the governorship of Captain James Stirling, the Swan River Colony was established as a ‘free’ colony – unlike the penal settlements of New South Wales, Norfolk Island, and Port Arthur. Two main sites of settlement developed within the colony: the state’s capital Perth and the port city of Fremantle. Due to adverse climatic conditions and inhospitable lands the population of the area remained low. In order to rectify this and to assist with the development of the region a petition was sent to the British Government requesting that convicts be sent in order to provide much needed cheap labour. The first ship carrying convicts arrived at Fremantle on 1 June 1850. Over an eighteen year period over 9,700 convicts were transported to Western Australia. The last ship – the Hougoumont – arrived 9 January 1868 carrying 280 convicts. In 1991 after 136 years of incarceration and punishment Fremantle Prison was officially closed. A year later the prison began its development as one of the State’s major historic heritage sites. In July 2010 Australian Convict Sites were included in a list of seven cultural sites newly inscribed on the World Heritage List.

For tourists, Fremantle Prison offers a wide ranging and varying experience. Read More

Ireland’s Renegade Women

9 December 2010

 Contributed by Marnie Hay

Searching for a Christmas gift for someone with an interest in Irish women’s history or the republican movement? Look no further than Ann Matthews’ Renegades: Irish Republican Women, 1900-1922 (Cork: Mercier Press, 2010). Priced at €19.99, this highly readable paperback would make a great stocking stuffer.

In Renegades, Matthews examines the role played by women in the political and social revolutions that occurred in Ireland in the early twentieth century. She sets the scene with a discussion of the foundation laid by Fenian women and the Ladies Land League before turning to the main event: the contributions made by women to the advanced nationalist / republican movement between 1900 and 1922. Matthews refuses to allow those notorious scene stealers Maud Gonne and Countess Constance de Markievicz to hog the limelight and instead illuminates the work of the many unknown or lesser known women who made the fight for Irish freedom possible. She covers the contributions of everyone from veteran political activist Jennie Wyse Power (1858-1941) to May McLoughlin, the 15-year-old Clan na Gael girl scout who served as a messenger during the 1916 Rising. In many ways Renegades builds on and revises Margaret Ward’s 1989 classic Unmanageable revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism. Read more

An ingenious audio guide to Tara

10 November 2010

Contributed by Anne Mac Lellan

A tapestry of green and brown fields guarded by haw-laden hedgerows unfolds on all sides. The summit of Tara, reached via a muddy path through squelching wet grass, rewards with views of twelve of Ireland’s counties. Under the mud, further treasures abound. However, without interpretation, it can be difficult to appreciate the significance and richness attached to Tara’s series of grassy ditches, mounds and dips.

A new audio guide infuses the landscape with meaning as the voice of broadcaster Mary Mulvihill guides the listener on a meandering journey through the site. Standing in front of the Mound of the Hostages, the story of ‘Tara boy’ unfolds. A robust 14-year-old, gender unknown, was probably the last person buried in the mound. He or she was the only person not to be cremated. The skeleton was adorned with a necklace of faience, bronze and amber beads while a dagger lay nearby. Read More

Review of Michael Sheridan’s, Murder at Shandy Hall: The Coachford Poisoning Case

27 October 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

In Murder at Shandy Hall Michael Sheridan (journalist and author of Death in December and Frozen Blood: Serial Killers in Ireland) pieces together a murder which took place in 1887 of a wife, Mary Laura Cross, and the subsequent trial of her arsenic poisoner husband Dr Philip Cross. The nineteenth century was a golden time for poisoners. Arsenic, which has no smell or taste is incredibly difficult to detect in food and drink, was the poison of choice. I am a big fan of Kate Summerscale’s historic crime investigation The Suspicions of Mr Whicher so I jumped at the chance to review this and learn a bit more about Irish criminal cases in the nineteenth century.

A quick summary of the case is this: In the early morning of 2nd of June 1887 Mary Laura Cross died after several months of illness. Read more

Ireland in Turmoil at the Trinity Long Room

25 October 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith
On Saturday I was lucky enough to be escorted around the new exhibition at the Trinity Long Room: Ireland in Turmoil: The 1641 Depositions by the co-curator of the exhibition Eamon Darcy. The digitization of the depositions is Ireland’s largest digital humanities project to date. If you are not familiar with the 1641 depositions, they are over 3,000 testimonies which were taken by a team of government officials in the aftermath of one of the most violent events, the 1641 rebellion. There is a very nice explanation of the significance of these depositions, as well as the scope of the project from the RTE 6 O’clock news that you can watch from Youtube here.

Read more

Review: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves

22 October 2010

By Christina Morin

As I sat waiting in the Garda National Immigration Bureau the other day – my yearly punishment for not being Irish – I decided to do a little light reading. The book I had to hand was The Swan Thieves (2010), by Elizabeth Kostova. I had picked it up a while back during one book sale or another, knowing very little about it except that I loved Kostova’s 2006 novel, The Historian. Within the first few pages, I was hooked and found myself in a rather exhilarating state of immersion in a fictional world. I just didn’t want to put the book down! A good sign, I always think, and a credit to the author’s ability to create a fantasy world that is at once mundane and extraordinary. What I particularly liked about The Historian and again with The Swan Thieves is the way in which Kostova weaves together distinctly separate but also intrinsically linked historical narratives – one present day, and one nineteenth century or earlier. While The Historian told a chilling tale of tracking the real life (er… real living dead) Dracula in twenty-first century London and Budapest, The Swan Thieves narrates the strange obsession of gifted painter Robert Oliver with a dead Impressionist artist he neither knew nor had any connection to. Read more