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Crime and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ireland.

WAS IRELAND "an inordinately violent place in comparison with other societies in the British Isles or in Europe" during the nineteenth century? (1). This is the question that editors Kyle Hughes and Donald MacRaild ask in this eclectic collection of essays published by Liverpool University Press. This book, a product of the Society for the Study of Nineteenth Century Ireland conference of the same name, is an insightful, thought-provoking and valuable addition to the existing historiography of crime and violence in nineteenth-century Ireland.

In recent years, the historiography of crime and violence, and by extension, law and order, has been greatly enriched by the contributions of historians such as Richard McMahon, Michael Huggins and Anastasia Dukova. Indeed, Hughes and MacRaild's most recent volume, Ribbon Societies in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and its Diaspora: The Persistence of Tradition (2018), propels the discourse into a welcome transnational space, adding even more depth to the complexity of the area. To date, Hughes and MacRaild have produced numerous co-edited and co-authored works, and the volume currently under review, Crime, Violence and the Irish in the Nineteenth Century provides further confirmation of their combined expertise on this subiect.

The book, which is broadly chronological, is divided into four sections, each of which examine the concept of "Secret Societies" and Collective Violence, the Law and its Responses, Sectarianism and Violence, and Manifestations of Crime and Violence, respectively. Hughes and MacRaild take great care in establishing the theoretical framework around which the collection is structured. The editors succinctly discuss the theories put forward by Galen Broeker, Virginia Crossman, and Charles Tilly for identifying and categorizing crime and violence in both Irish and European contexts. In turn, each of the fifteen contributors to this volume incorporate these categorizations in one form or another. Great care has also been taken to ensure that each of the essays complement, not only the central theme of the section, but also the preceding and succeeding contributions. There is little doubt that the fluidity and unobtrusive transitions from one article to the next is one of the volume's many strengths.

Throughout this collection of essays, one of the most striking features is the focus on regionality, and the fact that violent activity, and responses to it, was inherently local in character. This is evident in a number of essays, but is particularly noticeable in Ciara Breathnach and Laurence Geary's discussion of Whiteboyism and the Munster Assizes in 1881 in which they conclude that "convict prisons were being used tactically, primarily as a deterrent to would-be political activists locally and regionally" (172). Dunne's examination of threatening notices issued by agrarian societies in Leinster not only discusses how agitators shaped their "social worlds," but also highlights the varying degrees of unrest, and the extent of local grievances across a variety of economic activities in areas such as Louth, Kilkenny, Longford and Carlow. The provincial approach taken in these two essays is complemented by John McGrath's assessment of organized labor in Limerick city and by Crossman and Keogh's respective analyses which take a more expansive approach. The importance of place throughout this volume cannot be denied, and this ultimately strengthens the argument that nineteenth-century Ireland was characterized by a unique socio-political milieu in which perceived inequality, inaction and injustice were often met with local, regional and national acts of violence.

Moreover, this criminal activity was not confined to any particular aspect of Irish life, and as the thematic approach of the book highlights, acts of violence were motivated by a range of political, religious, economic and social factors. This volume's adroit evaluation of Irish society through the lens of criminality enhances our understanding of the complexities of nineteenth-century Irish life. Michael Huggins' historiographical dissection of agrarian organizations and exploration of the differences between Whiteboyism and Ribbonism, which he characterizes as "formal, cultural and social" (32), demonstrate some of the ways in which communities mobilized collectively to "protect members economic interests" (37). This essay is complemented by contributions from Ian d'Alton and Daragh Curran who discuss the concept of violence through a sectarian lens. Ian D'Alton, who describes Bandon as "an island of Protestant loyalism in a sea of Catholic nationalism" (175), argues that sectarian identity in nineteenth-century Ireland was as integral to a person's distinctiveness as their eye-color, a point acknowledged by Curran, who, when describing the role of the Orange Order in Ulster argues that the Orange Order "became the glue that held Protestant society together in the first half of the nineteenth century" (194). What is most interesting, however, are the contrasting interpretations of class in each of their analyses, and the role that violence played in these communities. Gemma Clark and Teresa O'Donnell approach their respective studies of crime and violence from social and cultural perspectives. Clark, in her discussion of arson observes that, "fear of being burned out induces action and compliance with demands," thereby generating the same level of fear in government officials and among the rural poor alike (215). This, she argues, is one of the reasons why arson was employed so effectively by Rockites. While Clark focuses on crimes against property, O'Donnell is more concerned with crimes against the person, and her analysis of the portrayal of the Phoenix Park murders through broadsides is an intriguing assessment of how the public consciousness could be shaped and molded. O'Donnell highlights the importance of broadsides and ballads as a source of social commentary pointing out that "they reflect the voice and views of ordinary people," who in this instance seemed to embrace the creation of martyrs. Pointedly, each of these essays is underpinned by astute interpretations of nineteenth-century Irish political landscapes, and adds to our understanding of how violence was perceived in this era. These engaging, multi-faceted assessments of Irish criminality encourage the reader to move beyond an elementary interpretation of Irish society and examine it from a range of perspectives.

Indeed, providing the reader with contrasting perspectives is also something that both the editors and contributors achieve admirably in this volume. In their discussion of the law and judicial responses to violence, Reid challenges the reader to move away from traditional representations of the nineteenth-century courtroom, which tended to empathize with the defendant, particularly during the trials of Irish rebels. Reid argues that "an appearance in court marked not the end of the struggle, but a new platform for rhetorical expression" (129) and in so doing, this also gave a voice to Irish Conservative political thought. Richard Keogh, meanwhile, is also concerned with the trials of Irish rebels and examines judicial impartiality and the administration of justice during the Fenian trials of 1865 and 1866. He concludes that during this time, the courtroom became politicized and judges, lawyers and defendants were all aware of its importance--a point also developed by Reid. Patrick Maume in his analysis of Tom Steele, also offers us an alternative perspective, suggesting that Steele should be seen as "representing a tradition of aristocratic radicalism whose exponents prided themselves on taking the side of the people" (224). Each of these articles highlights how the social elite interacted with the burgeoning judicial system and reflect the complex social fabric of nineteenth-century Ireland. Another interesting perspective is offered by Richard Butler, who, in his assessment of the architectural heritage of County Cork, suggests that the development of courthouses and bridewells in that county during the first half of the nineteenth century were as much about a government response to combat crime, as they were about the improvement of provincial towns. Similarly, Jess Fisher, in her assessment of journalistic representations of Ribbonism approaches the theme of crime and violence from a unique perspective. In her analysis, Fisher argues that public discourse focused on the "most visible and public aspects" of the crime and in so doing, the crimes were "stripped of their contexts and thus all potential political content" (55), an interesting contrast with O'Donnell's interpretation of broadsides later in the century.

Perhaps the one perspective that is not examined in sufficient detail throughout this collection is that of gender. There is little discussion of the types of crime committed by women during this time, or indeed how the judicial system responded to these. The reader is almost conditioned into thinking that criminal acts were only committed by men, and it is only intermittently, like for example in Crossman's essay when she discusses prostitution, that we are reminded that women actively participated in criminal activity also (272). Nevertheless, this collection has sufficient depth to overcome this vulnerability and will be an important volume as the historical discourse of criminal activity in Ireland evolves.

In asking if Ireland was an inordinately violent place in the nineteenth century, the answer, arguably, is No. Ireland was, however, inordinately complex, and engendered a unique set of environmental circumstances that nurtured violent activity. This volume is a spirited, engaging and stimulating assessment of this environment and will add to our understanding of Irish social history in the nineteenth century. The book highlights the ways in which criminal activity intersects with our understanding of medical, legal, social, political, economic and religious histories of nineteenth-century Ireland. It is an insightful and discerning collection and will be of interest to broad and extensive readership.

--Carlow College St. Patrick's


Kyle Hughes and Donald MacRaild, Editors

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Title Annotation:Crime, Violence and the Irish in the Nineteenth Century
Author:Donlon, Regina
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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