Monday, 22 April 2019

Book Review: The Roots of Ireland's Troubles

Venturing where wise men fear to tread Englishman Robert Stedall, educated at Marlborough College and McGill University, opines in the preface to his new book:
"It may seem unfathomable that tempers have continued to run so deep with friction remaining stubbornly close to the surface. Yet the protagonists have been slow to forgive and forget, jeopardizing continuing efforts to secure a lasting peace."
As I write the shooting death of journalist Lyra McKee by dissident republicans in the Creggan area of Londonderry is just the latest episode in that long history.

If like me your knowledge of Irish history had been previously informed by Flanders and Swann "blame it on Cromwell and William the Third" and the famine of the 1840s this lengthy book aims to give a perspective on the deeper historical roots.

The 322 pages of the body of the book are divided into 32 chapters grouped into nine parts:

Part 1 The Reformation and its impact on British efforts to dominate Ireland
Part 2 Events leading up to the English Civil War
Part 3 The Restoration and the Williamite wars
Part 4 The development of Dissenters theology in the cause of republicanism
Part 5 Britain's determination to retain control over Irish government.
Part 6 The seeds of revolution to establish republicanism in Ireland
Part 7 Events leading to Union and emancipation.
Part 8 Famine, destitution and agitation for independence.
Part 9 Parliamentary agitation for Irish Home Rule

Had the Reformation not happened at least one source of discord would have been avoided, perhaps only temporarily. Blame it on Henry VIII.

Although no expert I was surprised there's no mention of the 1601 Battle/Seige of Kinsale described elsewhere as "the ultimate battle in England's conquest of Gaelic Ireland" and "one of the most important battles in Irish history. It finally brought success to England in its fight to conquer Gaelic Ireland."

Although the famine of the 1840s is well known I was not aware that the period 1739 - 1744 famine caused a greater proportional fall in the Irish population than in the 1840s.

Frequent references to absentee English landlords made me wonder if they were so much worse than those of us with investments in stocks, mutual funds, and even pension assets who don't know the social implications of our investment. How many are employed on a minimum wage or one that's inadequate to house, clothe and feed the family? Are the companies you're invested in socially and environmentally responsible?

Regarding a previous book by Stedall one reviewer commented that it quoted at length from earlier books —  musing as to when quotation, even if given a citation, calls into doubt the originality of the work. I don't think that's entirely fair. There's nothing wrong with presenting material that may have been written for an academic readership or is now dated, for a general audience. For example, in chapter 29 on The Rise of Charles Stewart Parnell 1874-1882 all but 11 of 45 references are to T.P. O'Connor, but the version referenced is from 1891. The same cannot be said for the extensive references to Jonathan Bardon's 2011 book on the Plantation of Ulster.

There is a single map showing the provinces and counties of Ireland and eight pages of b/w portraits and photos grouped following page 184. Rounding out the volume are a 9-page bibliography, 29 pages of references and a 37-page index. And strangely, there's not a single reference to a website!

The Roots of Ireland's Troubles (Hardback)
By Robert Stedall
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 396
ISBN: 9781526742186
Published: 27th February 2019

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