Category Archives: Reviews – books
The defeat of the hunger strike in 1981 was a severe setback for the Republican Movement. While initially, in the wake of the heroic sacrifice of the prisoners, certain political gains were made especially on the electoral front, the last few years have not seen any significant political advances by the revolutionary forces in Ireland.
The greater emphasis on electoral work and the decision to reject abstentionism in elections to the Dail has not led to the gains clearly expected. The work around ‘economic and social’ issues has not yet produced any substantial results. The revolutionary forces in Ireland have been unable to halt the growing collaboration between British imperialism and the puppet governments in the Twenty Six Counties. Finally, on the military level, the stalemate which has existed for some time between the IRA and the British and loyalist security forces remains.
Inevitably in such a period every revolutionary movement is forced to reassess and rethink its strategy if the impasse is to be broken. The Republican Movement is no exception. It is in this context that we should welcome Questions of History written by Irish Republican Prisoners of War and produced by the Education Department of Sinn Fein ‘for the purpose of promoting political discussion’. Part I has so far been made available and covers the period from Wolfe Tone to the Republican Congress (1934).
The book is a valuable historical document which uses the history of the Republican struggle as a vehicle for raising crucial Read the rest of this entry
Here’s yet another place where what Matthews dishes up is at best highly questionable and, in fact to put it bluntly, most likely untrue.
For instance, Matthews’ Renegades asserts that Markievicz did very little in Liberty Hall during the lockout other than flounce around making a show of herself.
Well, here is some testimony from Louie Bennett, a leading figure in the Irish labour movement for many years. Bennett was a suffragist wh0 got involved with the radical end of the labour movement at the time of the 1913 lockout and subsequently played a leading role in the militant Irish Women Workers Union. Here she is talking about how she secretly started going to Liberty Hall during the lockout:
“At that time I belonged to the respectable middle class and I did not dare admit to my home circle that I had run with the crowd to hear Jim Larkin, and crept like a culprit into Liberty Hall to see Madame Markievicz in a big overall, with sleeves rolled up, presiding over a cauldron of stew, surrounded by a crowd of gaunt women and children carrying bowls and cans.” (Bennett talked to R.M. Fox about her life and this provided the basis for his 1958 book on her, Louie Bennett: her life and times, p42).
This suggests Markievicz worked hard in the soup kitchen and was not some dilettante who only appeared when photos were being taken, as suggested by O’Casey and picked up by Matthews.
Moreover, Matthews is highly selective about providing context. If she wants to Read the rest of this entry
Back in May, this blog reprinted an excellent piece from the Irish Political Review by Manus O Riordan on the revisionist assault on Constance Markievicz (see: The assault on Markievicz: as fact-free as it is malicious). Below is another excellent piece from the IPR dealing with Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc’s exposure of a chunk of other revisionist – ie professional anti-republican – propaganda masquerading as disinterested historiography. People have a range of views about IPR and the politics of the small current which produces it. However, there can be no doubt that these folks perform a valuable service in tackling and exposing the products of the political project of the historical revisionists. The piece below is taken from this month’s IPR (August 2016).
The March issue of Irish Political Review published the remarks made by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc on the occasion of the launch of his book, Truce: Murder Myth and the Last Days of the Irish War of Independence. Ó Ruairc then presented his book as “a challenge to myth, propaganda and fabrication”. Indeed it is. For, from the word go, the author tackles revisionist academia head on: “Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin, stated in a recent television documentary that (RIC Constable Alfred) Needham had married in a church ceremony and was shot dead in front of his new bride just minutes after they had exchanged wedding vows. A common element in most of these accounts is the suggestion that the IRA Volunteers who killed Needham knew a ceasefire had been agreed with the British forces and that was a motivating factor in the attack. The stories about Needham’s wedding are part of a wider narrative about the War of Independence, which claims that the announcement of the Truce on 8 July 1921 led to a wave of unjustifiable ‘eleventh-hour’ IRA attacks before the ceasefire began. Supporters of this narrative claim that republicans launched a determined campaign to kill as many people as possible before the war ended and that these final IRA attacks were made mainly against so-called ‘soft targets’, i. e., unarmed members of the British forces and loyalist civilians… Some of these stories have a grain of truth in them. Others are entirely fictional, or are genuine killings taken out of context and with new details invented for propaganda value.”
Ó Ruairc exposes the Needham tale, which had been related with such feeling by Professor O’Halpin, for the fiction that it is: “There was no wedding ceremony, no teenage bride… Needham, a Black and Tan from London, was shot standing at the door of a stable with two other armed members of the RIC – not while leaving a registry office with his new bride. This tale about Needham being killed immediately after getting married appears to have been invented for melodramatic effect in a propaganda story. Yet different versions of this story continue to surface every few years masquerading as factual history.” (pp 9-11).
In his history of the build up to the Truce itself, Ó Ruairc also makes clear how the war violence of the preceding seven months was solely the British Government’s responsibility, for in December 1920 it had rejected what it would accept in July 1921, Michael Collins’s proposal for a comprehensive bilateral truce, with a commitment that “the entire Dáil shall be free to meet and that its peaceful activities not be interfered with”. (p 31). But, of course, the very reason for the War of Independence had been Britain’s refusal to accept the democratic validity, Read the rest of this entry
The excellent piece below appears in this month’s issue of the journal Irish Political Review. It deals with the extraordinary and malicious assault on the reputation of Countess Markievicz, an assault which has been ratcheted up in recent years by Ann Matthews. Matthews seems to have decided to devote her twilight years to a personal vendetta against the revolutionary countess – indeed, the vendetta seems almost out-of-control now, in terms of what she says about Markievicz, making Matthews look somewhat obsessive and deranged. She suppresses evidence, uses ‘evidence’ which is highly questionable, cherry picks evidence to suit her already decided upon line, claims to have ‘no theory’ as if she is just some impartial fact-finder, and writes books and plays which appeal to a particular type of audience (middle class, anti-republican) who lap up her fanciful ‘history’. In reality, hatchet job as history.
I had been thinking of writing something about Matthews and her methods for a while, when I received the piece below from a friend of mine in Belfast. What is most notable about the critiques of people like Matthews is how strongly evidence-based they are. They show Matthews and her fellow revisionists to be short on facts and long on prejudice and not particularly scrupulous – and certainly not rigorous – when it comes to dealing with evidence.
Sometimes, however, you do just have to laugh. For instance when Matthews refers to Markievicz as “eccentric” and “with a strong sense of her own self-importance”, I think this is what the psychologists call ‘transference’!
In a future short piece I’ll deal with Charles Townsend on Markievicz’s imaginary breakdown and with Fearghal McGarry’s complete misrepresentation of evidence from Barton & Foy’s book on 1916. (Barton & Foy demolish the nonsense that Markievicz broke down at her court-martial and call the claim ‘scurrilous’, whereas McGarry pretends that they say the account of her breakdown was expunged from the official court-martial proceedings!) If I can summon the energy, I’ll also comment on Matthews shoddily-written Renegades, point to the shoddiness of the writing, suppression of evidence and some of her sleights-of-hand and double standards. It’s hard to believe that her ‘work’ is taken seriously, so it’s hard for me to summon up the energy to deal with it. She should have been taken to task for all this by her PhD superviser/s and marker/s.
Perhaps someone in Ireland or Britain doing honours papers could methodically go through Matthews’ ‘work’ and check her ‘references’ as well as her omissions and double standards. It could be a model dissection of how a rather crude anti-republican propagandist goes about presenting their propaganda as merely truth-seeking historiography.
“MURDERESS” MARKIEVICZ OR MALICIOUS MISOGYNY?
by Manus Riordan
From April 20 to May 2 of last year a Show Trial took place in the Headquarters of the Communist Party of Ireland. A year later, during this past month of March, the Show Trial resumed in CPI HQ, with the defendant scheduled to be extradited to Paris for the final day’s Court sitting on April 23. On trial for “murder”, and undoubtedly scheduled for a death sentence, gender considerations nonetheless signaled commutation.
But no, the CPI has not been seeking to emulate any of the Show Trials that characterised Leninist rule in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the CPI has no responsibility at all for Madame de Markievicz on Trial. For understandable commercial reasons, the CPI shares its premises with the New Theatre. But just as I found it incongruous to pass through Connolly Books en route to finding out just how nauseating the theatrical character assassination of Connolly’s comrade-in-arms would turn out to be, I am sure CPI personnel found it even more nauseating to witness, on a daily basis, those audiences en route to lap up that Show Trial authored by one-time CPI-archivist Ann Matthews.
There is little doubt in my mind that Constance Markievicz has been the target of systematic misogyny, irrespective of whether the character assassins be male or female. Professor John A Murphy, University College Cork’s Emeritus Professor of History, had certainly been prepared to play the role of nasty little man in the Irish Times of 22 October 2004 when, under the heading of “Markievicz and the Rising”, he gave vent to the following piece of misogynistic West Brit character assassination:
“The argument in your columns about Countess Markievicz’s activities in Easter Week 1916 recalls W.E. Wylie’s interesting account of her demeanour at the courts martial. Wylie was appointed to act as prosecuting counsel. He was impressed by some of the prisoners, notably Eamon Ceannt and John MacBride, but not by Constance Markievicz. According to him, the court expected she would make a scene and throw things at the judge and counsel. ‘In fact’, said Wylie, ‘I saw the General (Blackadder, court president) getting out his revolver and putting it on the table beside him. But he needn’t have troubled, for she curled up completely. ‘I am only a woman’, she cried, ‘and you cannot shoot a woman. You must not shoot a woman.’ She never stopped moaning, the whole time she was in the courtroom.’ Though she had been ‘full of fight’ in Stephen’s Green, ‘she crumpled up in the courtroom’. ‘I think we all felt slightly disgusted. . . She had been preaching to a lot of silly boys, death and glory, die for your country, etc., and yet she was literally crawling. I won’t say any more, it revolts me still.’ Wylie’s memoir of 1916 was written in 1939 when he was 58. But is there any reason to think he was lying about Markievicz, or that his recall was defective?”
In my then capacity as SIPTU Head of Research in Liberty Hall, I submitted the following reply, which was published that 28 October:
‘In the 1916 Rebellion Handbook, first published in that year by the Weekly Irish Times, there is a self-revealing observation on the Irish Citizen Army from ‘The Steward of Christendom’ himself, Dublin Metropolitan Police Superintendant Thomas Dunne. (This is the title of the play penned in his memory by Dunne’s great-grandson, Sebastian Barry – MO’R). He complains that ‘it is a serious state of affairs to have the city endangered by a gang of roughs with rifles and bayonets, at large at that time of night with a female like the Countess Markievicz in charge’. Constance Markievicz’s reputation has indeed been bedevilled by a combination of misogyny and contempt for her association with the working class that this union set out to organise, and whom Superintendent Dunne chose to christen ‘the disorderly class’. All the more reason, then, to expect professional rigour to be applied when UCC’s Emeritus Professor of History, John A. Murphy, intervenes (October 22nd) in what he calls the ‘argument in your columns’ concerning Markievicz’s role in 1916. Surprisingly, however, he has nothing to say on the actual issue in dispute: that either Markievicz had shot Constable Lahiff at Stephen’s Green, as maintained by Kevin Myers (October 14th), or that she could not possibly have done so, being at that time at the City Hall, as evidenced by Claire McGrath Guerin (October 19th).”
“Prof Murphy has instead chosen to open up a new line of attack, by endorsing, without any qualification, the character assassination of Markievicz offered in his memoirs by the death penalty Read the rest of this entry
James Heartfield and Kevin Rooney have produced an interesting, valuable and timely short book on the 1916 Easter Rising and how it has been commemorated since 1966. The authors are clearly sympathetic to the republican insurgents of 1916. They provide a fine account of the Easter Rising and its context, emphasizing that it was a historical event in global terms. They locate the 1916 Rising in the context of inter-imperialist rivalries and labour unrest,and how it resonated from India to Burma, from Lenin to Ho Chi Minh. This is a welcome progressive alternative and counter-narrative to the standard official accounts of the period. But the book is especially valuable for its discussion of the issue of historical memory and its connection to the peace process. Heartfield and Rooney provide an excellent critique of the so-called ‘Decade of Centenaries’, clearly influenced by some of the most creative insights of Frank Furedi (1992) Mythical Past, Elusive Future: An Essay in the Sociology of History.
The authors first examine how the Rising has previously been commemorated, and how central taking ownership and control of anniversary commemorations was. Eamon de Valera ‘owned’ the 50th anniversary of the Rising in 1966, celebrating it as the foundation of the 26-Counties state. Liam Cosgrave tried to ban the 60th anniversary in 1976 only succeeding in losing control of it. In 1991 Charles Haughey clamped down on the 75th anniversary choking it. But for the 100th anniversary in 2016 “the Decade of Centenaries has given up on trying to control the event, and chosen instead to decentre it and dilute it, by putting it alongside other events, of supposedly equal significance” (150).
The 1916 Easter Rising is being ‘decentred’ and ‘diluted’ by being put on par with the Read the rest of this entry
This is an historical one. The review below appeared in Ireland Socialist Review #8, winter 1980/81. I gather that #8 was the final issue of this particular magazine. Pity; it looks like a good magazine. Thanks to Liam O Ruairc for drawing my attention to it.
Austen Morgan and Bob Purdie, Ireland: divided nation, divided class, London, Ink Links,
reviewed by Richard Chessum
“We have no doubt that, historically, progressive social and economic developments were associated with Irish nationalism. We also have no doubt that the current entrenchment of the Irish left in the ‘battle of the nations’ is not justified, either by Marxist theory or by the real needs of the Irish working class. The Northern state partially collapsed between 1968 and 1972 because of the uprising of the Catholic minority against unionist resistance to reform. . . The partial c ollapse of the sate did not logically imply that it had to be destroyed by a section of the Catholic minority and replaced by a unitary Irish state. Unless, that is the crisis was seen through Republican spectacles and Unionist hegemony was interpreted simply as a British strategy for suppressing the historic Irish nation. While it was correct for socialists to respond to events as they occurred, it is not obvious why they should have placed all the chips on the green or orange numbers. . . It is by no means clear why socialists should pose a national question as the central political question when this merely raises a problem which cannot be solved and also obscures the global class struggle.”
In these words, Morgan and Purdie, the editors of this new collection of essays, sum up their starting point in their quest for a new Marxist understanding of the possibilities for socialism in Ireland. Many of the readers of Ireland Socialist Review may feel that the starting point is not new. Indeed, one way or another, socialists, reformist or revolutionary, have been at this one before. Yet the national question continues to pose itself – or rather, significant individuals and social forces obstinately persist in pushing it to the forefront of political discussion. One suspects that Morgan and Purdie will have little more success than King Canute in ordering the waves to go back, no matter how many books they edit. Moreover, it is by no means clear (to use their own expression) how many loyal supporters these latter day Canutes have amongst the contributors to this collection of essays, or how many of these latter might wish to add some sort of disclaimer to the views expressed by them.
When the editors speak in their Introduction of “the varied composition of the seminar” at which the papers upon which this book is based were presented, this is a polite way of saying that there was little common agreement on very basic issues amongst the contributors. This, of course, does not invalidate the book. But readers should not be left to assume that those who contributed to it would all assent to the view that the national question is a diversion. The present reviewer attended the seminar in question (held at Warwick University) and it was apparent that Read the rest of this entry
A few weeks back I was going through a load of old books I have packed away, looking for some novels to lend to a friend. I came across an old Iris Murdoch novel, set in the week leading up to the Rising, that I’d bought and read several decades ago. I couldn’t remember any of it, so decided to read it again, especially as I was going to a tiny town at, literally, the end of the world for a break from care-giving. The novel is The Red and the Green and it was published in 1965.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag as a novel. There’s middle-aged Aunt Millie, who wants to bonk all her nephews (well, it is Iris Murdoch!) and most of the characters seem rather self-obsessed (well, again, it is Iris Murdoch); however it is quite sympathetic to the Rising. Most of the characters either take part in it or become sympathetic to it later (as revealed in the brief postscript set in 1938).
Anyway, one of the characters is called Pat Dumay and, although he admires Connolly most, he’s a young officer in the Irish Volunteers. His younger brother, 14-year-old Cathal, is not very impressed with the Volunteers and, instead, hangs out at Liberty Hall with the ICA.
Pat is determined Cathal won’t take part in the Rising because he’s too young. But Cathal is determined to take part, steal’s a rifle from Pat and heads down to Liberty Hall on the Saturday night. At this point the Rising is still set for Sunday. Pat goes down to Liberty Hall, finds Cathal outside with his rifle, grabs back the weapon and starts dragging Cathal home. However a group of Volunteers and ICAers, with Connolly at the front, are just returning to Liberty Hall and Connolly is looking very pissed off. Other Volunteer officers tell Pat he should come back into Liberty Hall to hear what has happened. The novel then picks up after this meeting at Liberty Hall and has this to say:
What had happened in the last two days in Dublin Pat had by now largely discovered. On Tuesday a rumour had reached Bulmer Hobson that an armed rising was planned for Easter Sunday. He went at once to MacNeill, who was still of course the nominal head of the Volunteers, and in the early hours of Good Friday morning he and MacNeill visited Pearse, who had Read the rest of this entry
While the De Silva report has had little alternative but to identify the central role of the British state in the Pat Finucane murder, a new book lays bare the role of torture in the British ‘security state’. The book is Cruel Britannia: a secret history of torture by Ian Cobain and you can read Tommy McKearney’s review of it here.