The Cambridge Histories.
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2018. [pounds sterling]350 FOR 4-VOLUME SET; [pounds sterling]100 FOR INDIVIDUAL VOLUMES
IN APRIL 2018 Cambridge University Press published a monumental new history of Ireland from the year 600 to the present day. Written by 103 historians from Ireland and around the world, the books provide a comprehensive and authoritative history of Ireland, and situate Ireland's history in wider British, European and imperial contexts. Launching the volumes at Dublin Castle on April 30, 2018, President Michael D. Higgins stated: "At a time when the importance of scholarly endeavor in the humanities is under pressure, or even disdained, these four volumes stand as an intellectual riposte to those who doubt the vital importance of the study of history in our universities and in our society." Below four historians review the individual volumes.
Brendan Smith, Editor
THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF IRELAND VOLUME 1,600-1550
BY MATTHEW STOUT
BEFORE SETTING OUT to write this review, I vowed that I would take this book on its merits and not compare it with other volumes on medieval Ireland. It seemed to me that readers of a general history like this are looking for an up-to-date (at least) and innovative (at best) introduction to early Ireland. As such, it did not matter if other volumes captured the period in greater detail so long as the Cambridge History provided a coherent account of the period, as advertised, 600-1550. Imagine, then, my surprise to find, in the introduction, that this book was not going to "cover the same ground" as the "political" (9) chapters in volume I of the New History of Ireland (Oxford, 2005). In practical terms, this editorial decision dictated that over half of the volume's promised chronology is addressed in the first four chapters of the book, comprising just a quarter of its pages. These introductory chapters eschew political narrative and are, as a result, highly impressionistic.
Having recalibrated my expectations about this book's treatment of pre-Norman Ireland, let me turn my focus to what is on offer rather than a discussion of what is not. The book begins with Edel Bhreathnach's chapter that successfully creates for the modern reader an impression of how early medieval Ireland was perceived by its inhabitants. To do this, Bhreathnach's primary focus is on the pseudo-historical sources--"the fusion of myth and probably pre-Christian ritual" (42)--that dictated how the Irish understood their landscape. She adds weight to these impressions with a hard-headed assessment of recent archaeological discoveries. When combined in Bhreathnach's capable hands, these varied sources provide a fine introduction to the "shape and reality" (46) of the Irish landscape and its early history.
The second chapter takes us back to 431, Ireland's first accurate written record that marks the dawn of Christianity in Ireland. Of course, this was the logical date at which to begin this volume--general editor Thomas Bartlett chose 431 as the starting date of his single volume Ireland: A History (Cambridge, 2010)--but an earlier date would have just added to the sense of neglect, relatively speaking, of early medieval Ireland in the volume under review. Having said that, John Carey provides a concise depiction of the early medieval Irish church and the learned classes that both proceeded ecclesiastical structures and were encouraged within Christian institutions. This is a nicely-balanced interpretation of the past that allows for a surviving pre-Christian oral tradition and "the many-sided engagement with indigenous tradition on the part of the ecclesiastical intelligentsia" (69). Equally successful is Jane Hawkes" summary of early Irish art. Her most important observations focus on how the designs in illuminated manuscript create background patterns that would have been just as significant to the contemporary user as were the foreground designs. Hawkes is at her best when reimagining the experience of the consumers of art whether it be in manuscript, metalwork or stone. The illustrations accompanying this chapter are, however, pitifully small. Alex Woolf's chapter on the "Scandinavian intervention" describes the arrival of the Vikings as heralding the second great phase of early medieval Irish history after the advent of Christianity (107). I admired his focus on "the transformative nature of the Viking engagement in the slave trade" (116-18). The final early medieval chapter, by Maire Ni Mhaonaigh, deliberately reaches either side of the Norman invasion and thus clearly establishes the reality that significant continuities in kingship and intellectual practice persisted beyond 1169.
After the weak narrative provided in the first four chapters, Colin Veach's account of the Norman invasion comes as a refreshing change. It begins at the beginning with Mac Murchada's approach to Henry II and proceeds in a logical chronological fashion. The arguments presented by Veach are no less sophisticated for this more traditional approach. He asserts that the first eighty years of this colonial enterprise "could... be characterised as a protracted struggle to control Connacht" (168). Further, that struggle and other Anglo-Norman enterprises were profoundly influenced by events across the "wider Angevin Empire" (169). The vast extent of the empire is brought home to the reader in an excellent map (198). Nicholas Vincent takes advantage of the firm foundation established by Veach to take a closer and very entertaining analysis of the sources historians use to study "Angevin Ireland" (185), including a much more skeptical treatment of Laudabiliter than in Donnchadh O Corrain's monograph of 2017. As in Veach's chapter, Vincent also emphasizes the drawbacks of the incomplete conquest of Ireland, but even where their rule existed, there was nothing so thorough as was seen in the Norman conquest of England. The king there commanded the allegiance of 3,600 knights. By contrast, Ireland pledged only 425 knights' fees and church lands were exempt from paying anything at all. This explains another intriguing statistic revealed in this chapter; between Henry II and Richard II (1171-1394), English kings spent less than twenty months in Ireland. This is not to say that the Norman invasion was not a savage period in Irish history. Vincent reminds us that the deaths of 4,958 Irish are recorded in a contemporary source on the invasion, The Song of Dermot and the Earl. The same source mentions the deaths of just thirty invaders (209-10).
Beth Harland adopts a Quentin Tarantino-esque approach to her fine chapter by beginning with the end (in this case the Bruce Invasion). Nonetheless, the rise and decline of effective Anglo-Norman control is well and coherently charted. Her discussion of the minutiae of effective governance in this chapter allows the reader to appreciate how English control over Ireland survived despite an incomplete conquest, internal rivalries and a Gaelic resurgence. Brendan Smith carries the firm scaffolding of historical narrative along through, most notably, Richard II's involvement in Ireland. Some key points stood out for this reviewer. As Gaelic Ireland grew in confidence, so too did its international reach, mainly through pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Meanwhile, Ireland remained important to England and England's most important lords. Edmond Mortimer was the largest land owner in Britain and Ireland from 1373 and an unimaginably large portion of Ireland was held by him; east Ulster, Connacht, Meath, Laois, Kilkenny. But he became just another victim of the plague when he soldiered in Ireland in an attempt to take these holdings back from Gaelic encroachment. Mortimer was just another soul from the place in Europe said, in 1349, to supply hell with its largest number of souls. Smith concludes by pointing out that Irish history does need to be understood in its broader European contexts "but can never be fully appreciated unless its unique character is also kept in view" (271).
We are halfway through the book when we are first exposed to the essential geographical component which forms the backdrop to all Irish history. Katherine Simms has a historical geographer's appreciation of regional diversity. This is a theme throughout the book but remarkably no map shows the essential physical properties of the island--mountain, bog, land quality--and no map charts the island's basic and enduring political geography until page 304. Simms clearly presents a complex history and geography but understanding this is critical to comprehending early Ireland. A chapter similar to this would have been a useful addition at the start of the book. Despite this welcome focus on late-medieval Gaelic Ireland, Simms reminds us that the political resurgence of the Irish never "fundamentally weakened the English grip on the Island" (299). Katherine Simms is the only author to have written two chapters in this book. She returns to the theme of Gaelic Ireland in the volume's third thematic section. The revival of traditional learning is a key motif of her second offering, but she notes that by the end of the sixteenth century Gaelic literature had flourished in more meaningful ways across the water in Scotland.
The history of Medieval Ireland is brought to a close in the last two chapters of section two; from the weakness of the Pale and the concomitant reliance of the English crown on the power of the Earls of Kildare, to the brutal beginnings of the Tudor conquest. Christopher Maginn and Michael Bennett reiterate Simms observation concerning the remarkable resilience of the English in Ireland; perhaps more astounding than were Gaelic continuities.
Section three consists of seven thematic chapters none of which even pretends to account for the first four hundred years of the volume's purported scope. Thus the reader is denied access to some of the most important recent advances in our historical understanding. Little is made of Pat Wallace's discoveries in Viking Dublin and no one draws on the rich vein of information contained in the much-overlooked volume on the excavations in Viking and medieval Waterford (editors Hurley, Scully and McCutcheon, 1997). Significant progress, too, has been made in the appreciation of the narrative of post-Viking settlement as teased out by Thomas Kerr, Tadgh O'Keeffe and Kieran O'Conor (amongst many others). These innovations deserved an airing somewhere in this volume. That said, the medieval church is the focus of a wide ranging and quite outstanding chapter by Colman O Clabaigh. He writes of Ireland's remarkable proclivity towards monasticism and charts the enormous expansion in the number and variety of monastic orders in the high medieval period. Mary Ann Lyons returns to this religious theme in her fine chapter and carries forward the story into the age of religious reform. I found her description of the "steady growth of lay influence in the church and spiritual life" compelling (506). Lyons's more general conclusion is also of fundamental significance; just as the Norman invasion can obscure the realities of twelfth-century church reform, so too does the advent of the Protestant Reformation and dissolution disguise the magnitude of the shift towards lay spirituality. "Third Order Houses" of the Franciscans became a feature mainly of the north and west and provided a venue for "the religious enthusiasm of women" in newly-founded nunneries (505). But this was not just a phenomenon of Gaelic Ireland. In the English towns, guilds were established along with lay confraternities. In this guise, religious observation seeped through into the daily life of the urban dweller as well as the rural. The advent of the Protestant reform of Henry VIII is an even more profound event. Lyons clearly describes its uneven progress which did not, initially at least, seem doomed to failure.
Margaret Murphy takes just thirty pages to describe the medieval economy, but this is an exciting and innovative chapter. It encapsulates what I regard as the greatest stride forward in medieval studies. Murphy, along with colleagues such as Mark Hennessy, Michael Potterton and Bruce Campbell, have revealed much about how the medieval economy worked and how manorial sources, court proceedings, account books, port records, etc., can be harnessed to describe the medieval Irish landscape in convincing detail. The initial success of the Anglo-Norman enterprise in Ireland can be measured in grain exports to "the king's armies" between 1240 and 1324 (395). In a similarly successful short summary, Rachel Moss captures the material culture of the Middle Ages, from the Anglo-Norman town to the late-medieval chalice. Using a few well-chosen examples--notably Kilkenny and Athenry--this contributor ably explains how art and architecture are manifestations of key economic and cultural trends.
This volume concludes with two chapters examining the entirety of the Middle Ages. Robin Frame places medieval Ireland in its international context that is justifiably focused on the British events. But he hints at "Irish... lordships [having a] distinctly maritime flavour" (526). This short section of the final chapter draws on the work of Colin Breen. More could be said, I feel, about the cosmopolitan outlook of Gaelic lordships. Peter Crooks chapter on politics in theory and in practice left a permanent impression on this reviewer. The evolution of the legal terminology relating to Ireland--lordship, kingship, liberty--broadens out to a discussion of the underlying legal foundations of the Tudor conquest: "The language of enmity served, then, a double purpose in demonstrating the necessity for the prosecution of sustained warfare against the native population, while also proving its just cause" (466). I had cause then to hark back to my first year lectures with Professor James Lydon. He again and again stressed the importance of foreign laws and institution. With Crook's chapter, I see more clearly what Lydon was trying to get his first year students to understand: English administration--from the first decisions made by the Anglo-Normans under Henry II in the winter of 1171-72 to the terror of the Tudors in the 1500s--was preserved within the durable scaffolding of legal and political institutions. Whether it is to our taste or not, this is what prevailed when Ireland gained its partial independence in 1922; a British parliamentary system and English civil law.
While I am overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the contents of the book, there are many serious flaws. The editor could have, perhaps, kept a closer eye out for repetition (but perhaps that should be regarded as the reinforcement of key ideas). But what editorial eye could condone the use of outdated and inaccurate terminology. Where, for example, are the "British Isles" (6, 164, 255) and when were the "dark ages" (187, 273, 425). These terms cannot be used in a modern history without quotation marks. There is some inconsistency in how chapters are referenced. Some chapters derived from earlier publications retain detailed citations of primary sources, others (annoying to this reviewer) refer only to the book written by the author of the chapter from which the synthesis was derived.
The book also falls down in the use of illustrations. The tiny (c. 50 mm), murky, ugly, black and white photographs are an insult to the medieval hands that created the great works of art and craft depicted in this volume and totally useless in regards to illustrating the important issues raised in (especially) the chapters by Hawkes and Moss. For example, the side view of Muirdach's Cross at Monasterboice (fig. 20a, p. 104) is meant to illustrate the following: "The figural panels filling the shafts of these crosses, moreover, are carved in such high relief that they physically obtrude into the space of the viewer from the surface of the cross" (103). An important point artfully expressed, but a photograph of just 38 mm in width fails miserably at conveying the high relief of these iconic high crosses. At 648 pages, this book is 321 pages short of the largest volume (IV). Full page photographs would have not made the book much larger but it would have done justice to the medieval artists and architects and, as important, to the fine work of the art and architectural historians.
The greatest failing of Volume I arises, as I have already pointed out, with the initial editorial decision which gives rise to a highly impressionistic account of pre-Norman Ireland. Further, the book lacks a firm geographical, historical and archaeological introduction that would provide a foundation to what follows. A low regard for geography manifests itself in the poorly proofed maps (for example Teltown, Derrynaflan on map 1, p. xxxii). A lack of a basic archaeological discussion means that when Bhreathnach correctly states that recent archaeological discoveries "have revealed settlement enclosures that are atypical of the standard ringfort" (23), where is the reader to learn what a typical ringfort was? This assumes too much for a general history. In contrast to Volume I, Bartlett, the general editor of this four-volume history, included much needed introductory material in his aforementioned single volume Ireland: A History. The rhizomatic learning approach seems to be the predominant influence behind these early chapters. This is a teaching method that has its origins in the way people receive information from the Internet; as an explosion of data lacking in a discernible hierarchy of evidence. Ultimately, this leaves the reader in a weakly rooted thicket of information. It is in this environment that errors arise. So irrelevant does chronology become under this dispensation, that it hardly matters that the synod of Cashel is said to have taken place in 1001 (147) rather than 1101. Anyone can make such a howling error, this reviewer has made many, but I bring it up because it is a mistake arising from the systemic failings of the editorial decisions that shaped the composition of the early chapters. How else can we explain this "typo" surviving Cambridge's rigorous publishing machinery?
One can only puzzle over why this abbreviated and highly impressionistic approach was taken to early medieval Irish history. Is there a sense that early Ireland cannot be known, let alone understood; that it is all Celtic twilight and no daylight. Or do these editorial decisions reflect the editor's lack of faith in the power of narrative? The general editor of the series claims to have given only one simple instruction to his contributors: "Don't be boring" and he criticizes the nine-volume Oxford New History of Ireland for "its emphasis on politics, usually high politics" and "its rather dull writing"
The contributors to the volume know and have shown that medieval history is not boring, why then is it given such short shrift? This volume avowedly relies on the essentials provided in the New History of Ireland by O Cronin (Volume I, Oxford, 2005) and Cosgrove (Volume II, Oxford, 1987). Instead of standing within its own two covers, the reader is required to look elsewhere for a complete picture of Ireland during the Middle Ages. Volume I of the Cambridge History of Ireland is an important book, but for the reason given above, not an essential one.
--Dublin City University
Jane Ohlmeyer, Editor.
THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF IRELAND VOLUME II, 1550-1730
BY JOHN MORRILL
IN THE FORTY-TWO YEARS since Oxford University Press's New History of Ireland was launched, with its Volume III, covering the period 1534-1691, we have entered a brave new world of scholarly enterprise. Back then, the Royal Irish Academy and OUP started planning for a family in 1961, managed to conceive in 1968 and delivered its first-born seven years later. The ninth child did not appear until 2005, by which time one of the authors in that very volume had been dead for 29 years. The first great achievement of Cambridge University Press's new History of Ireland is that from its first imagining to the simultaneous publication of all four volumes took only five years. Naturally, four volumes weighing in with 3,000 pages weighing 6 kg is more manageable than seven [plus three companion volumes] with 6,000 pages weighing 14 kg, but still a change from a 44-year project to a five-year one is pretty dramatic and praiseworthy. And the energy, drive and commitment of the general editor, Tom Bartlett, who had earned his spurs and the trust of CUP by delivering his own 600-page single-authored Ireland: A History (2010), deserves mention and praise--although his ability to choose such effective volume editors is probably the key to his success. At any rate, here we have a new history of Ireland for our times.
And what is a history of Ireland for our times? Let us compare the opening of Theo Moody's introduction to the Oxford History Volume III (covering 1534-1690) with Jane Ohlmeyer's to the Cambridge History (1550-1730 [we will return to the periodization]). Here is Moody writing in 1974 or 1975:
The period covered by the present volume saw the effective conquest of all Ireland by the English state. The medieval conquest that had begun with the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 had never been complete. It had established an English colony and an English administration on Irish soil, and the claim of the English crown to lordship over the whole island. But after more than three and a half centuries the actual authority of the crown in Ireland was slight, and real power was largely in the hands of local magnates, Anglo-Irish and Gaelic. All this had decisively changed between 1534 and 1691.
There is no reference at any point in the 25-page introduction to any part of the world other than England and Ireland (the one reference to Scotland is to the internal affairs of the northern kingdom). This is a book which locates early modern Ireland in the endlessly disruptive and destructive, but yes heroic, dialectic with the English, perennial insecure over-achievers. Locating Ireland in time was more important than locating it in space.
Compare this with the opening of Jane Ohlmeyer's introduction written in 2017:
Ireland's place in the early modern world is well-illustrated through an examination of the contents of a wash pit at Rathfarnham castle in Dublin. Archaeological excavations in 2014 unearthed a veritable treasure trove of 17,500 well-preserved artefacts, probably dating from the second half of the seventeenth century... The Rathfarnham hoard provides a glimpse into the cosmopolitan material world, both public and private, of the Loftus dynasty and their household.
This rapidly leads on to a map which shows goods flowing to Rathfarnham from Spain and France (wine), Italy (glass), Yemen (coffee), Indonesia, India, China and from New England, the Caribbean, central and south America. Anglo-Irish engagement of course predominates, but this is much more a history of Ireland in space rather than in a time continuum. So William O'Reilly opens his chapter on Ireland in the Atlantic world with William Lamport, a "befreckled, red-headed Irishman," a Wexford man, hatching a plan in Mexico city to make himself King of New Spain. Lamport would have suffered a less horrific death if he had declared himself King of Ireland in Drogheda in 1649. O'Reilly's chapter complements Ohlmeyer's, but he is interested not in global imports of material goods into Ireland, but the global export of human capital from Ireland to all points on the globe. In comparison, John Joseph Silke's chapter in the old Oxford New History tellingly included at the very end of the volume but enticingly labeled "The Irish Abroad 1534-1691" is a study almost exclusively of Irish soldiers and Irish seminarians in continental Europe. There is a pithy four-page section in his 45-page chapter on emigration to the new world, but this is a story of those who left not only never to return but not to contribute to the metropolitan story. What is more, in the rest of the book, religion is always bound up into a clean political narrative of the internal history of Ireland. Catholics are being harried by or are posing problems for Dublin Castle or provincial governors. In the new Cambridge history, religion is separated out from the political narrative and has a section to itself. Here, for example, Tadhg O Hannrachain locates the history of Catholicism down to 1641 in a fully continental counter-reformation context. Acculturation comes not from Whitehall and Lambeth but from Rome and Louvain.
Of course, the other striking aspect of Ohlmeyer's opening paragraph is that it focuses on material culture, and here too the whole book is utterly different from its predecessor. In essence the 1976 volume consists of a spine of fourteen narrative chapters (political history interwoven with the politics of religion), three enterprising chapters analyzing the condition of Ireland in 1534, 1600 and 1685, two on economic developments 1600-60 and 1660-91 (but not one on 1534-1600) and a chapter on the coinage, with the only expressly social and cultural history chapters being about the Irish and English languages in early modern Ireland and one on Irish literature in Latin. In comparison, the new Cambridge history includes only ten narrative chapters to politics and religion and fifteen chapters devoted to "society," "culture" and "economy and environment." Irish language and literature now get two long chapters and English-language print culture just one. Elites do better than the common sort, with little reference to the latter in Jane Fenlon's chapter on Irish art and architecture (which again shows how much of the art and how many of the architectural ideas are cosmopolitan) and Susan Flavin's quite narrow study of domestic materiality (in reality an entertaining study of eating habits and of what was eaten). Given the fact that there is also a chapter on Irish political thought and intellectual history and another on aristocratic mentalites, the rich do so much better than the poor, something one might not have expected in a twenty-first century book. Which isn't to prevent us from recognizing those as wonderfully lucid and well-controlled chapters.
Is anything missing? Well we could have done with more maps (only five, compared with 21 in the old Oxford volume), and a few more finding aids (e.g. the subheadings within chapters included in the list of contents) but little else. If this volume, and more particularly the later volumes of the Cambridge History, have a rival, it is the Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History (Oxford UP 2014), edited by Alvin Jackson, with more than forty chapters covering the period since 1580. Of these, five offer narratives of the period 1580-1750 and ten cover themes over long periods including the long seventeenth century. There is a great deal of reassuring thematic overlap between Ohlmeyer and Jackson's chapter plan, but it is noteworthy that Jackson has a chapter devoted to landscape, and one specifically on "faith in Ireland" which is less institutional and more experiential than anything in the volume under review. Nicholas Canny, who rounds off Ohlmeyer's volume with a lively account of the history of historical writing from the early modern period itself to the present, contributes to Jackson's volume a chapter on "Ireland and Continental Europe 1600-1750" and such a chapter as that would indeed have pulled things together in volume two of the Cambridge History of Ireland. Space, space, word limits, word limits, I can hear Jane Ohlmeyer say, and I cannot easily say what she should have omitted in order to make room for these themes. But the book is the narrower for their absence.
One boon of Ohlmeyer's schema (coupled, I presume, with a very careful briefing) is that there is very little overlap between chapters, none worth referring to. Where there are creaky joints, it tends to be small gaps. Thus Ted McCormick's exceptionally lucid chapter on the politics of 1660-91 runs out of steam in James's reign, and Ivar McGrath, whose chapter is titled "Politics 1692-1730," begins with the contents of the treaty of Limerick. So the events of 1688-90 are certainly undernourished. I have a list of half a dozen such minor lacunae. I am sure readers can live with them.
Jane Ohlmeyer ends her introduction with a bold claim, bolstered by a quote from the last chapter of the book, 644 pages later:
As they stand, the essays in this volume offer a range of new departures. They represent the research of a generation of scholars who, to quote Nicholas Canny's Afterword in the volume "search ceaselessly after fresh knowledge, sophisticated methods and new perspectives that will aid the understanding of how and why people acted as they did" in the transformative and tumultuous years between 7550 and 1730.
There are eight claims here, each italicized by me, that can guide us through assessing just how new is this book.
Let us start with the dates: 1550 and 1730. This is of course a general editor's decision. The other volumes have dates of 600 to 1500, 1730 to 1880, 1880 to the present. This is not the first series to opt deliberately for dates with little or no political and religious significance (as the Oxford volumes, starting from well-established turning-points, 1534 and 1691, obviously do). Tom Bartlett, in his 300-word General Introduction to the series, focuses on this decision: "the periods covered in each volume are not the traditional ones and we hope that this may have the effect of forcing a re-evaluation of the familiar periodization of Irish History and the understanding it has tended to inspire." Well, yes. But a bigger justification is that it makes us rebalance our concerns away from turning points in high politics and the politics of religion.
I am reminded that back in 1981, I was asked to write a volume in the New Oxford History of England (sic) on 1649-1689. My volume was to follow one by Conrad Russell on 1603-49. The General Editor wrote to me saying Russell thought he would rather end in the winter of 1642-43. Would I mind my contract being changed to read "England 1643-1689." My response, as a callow youth, was to say that 1643 was an excellent place to end a history book but a bloody silly place to begin one. I feel the same about 1550. There is a lot to be said for taking the story of the transformations and turbulence occasioned by the break from Rome through the initial dislocations--kingly title, dissolution, surrender and regrant and so on. To break in 1534 is to chronicle the earth tremors that precede and earthquake and the quake itself but not the chaos and the aftershocks. But to begin in 1550 is to be midway through a process and with the rubbish of dislocation and processes of rebuilding in train. Equally to end with the Boyne and the Treaty of Limerick rather than 1730 is (to modify my conceit) to chronicle a tsunami but leave someone else to look at tumults and transformations. I know this is to presume the fixity of turning points in a predominantly political narrative, but some events are just that. So while there is a case for 1550 and 1730, I am not persuaded it is not the one asserted in the introduction to the volume. That said, 1550 is a lot better than 1547 and 1730 is a lot better than 1721, when there were strong winds but not chaos.
The Research of a generation of scholars: This is of course crucial and drives everything else. Since 1976 there has been a revolution in the scale of research within Ireland and about Ireland. The number of Ph.D. students has increased exponentially, both as a result of Irish government policy (and the growth of interest in doctoral and post-doctoral research in Anglophone universities worldwide) and indeed the supply of those with high-quality doctorates far exceeds the jobs available for them. It is harder to get a permanent job in Ireland, but easier, via an economy of makeshifts to stay in the "game." I do not think any of the authors in the Oxford New History volume of 1976 had been in permanent posts for less than ten years. In contrast, Jane Ohlmeyer's team includes five independent scholars and postdoctoral associates. More generally, the age range of the team is far wider than in most comparable projects (I have checked this against the list of authors of several Oxford Handbooks covering the early modern period). This makes it more likely that we will be getting a volume which is not a distillation of established views, but precisely the kind of "fresh" knowledge and interpretation that is spoken of in the introduction and afterword. And none of the unestablished scholars let the side down. Indeed, in the rare cases where one senses a degree of coasting, it is amongst some of the most established figures. "Freshness" is a characteristic of parts IV and V rather than parts I and II, but the quotient is high throughout.
A range of new departures: most obvious here is the chapter on environmental history, where ancient oaks and volcanic residues offer up their secrets; but interest in the history of early-modern material culture (as hot an area as they come in British and Continental universities currently) is limping along behind that in Ireland, despite the best efforts of Toby Barnard over the past decade or so. Indeed, the bibliography attached to Susan Flavin's chapter on material chapter is, I think, the only one where works not on Ireland, but giving a steer to Irish scholars, far outnumber contributions to the field in Ireland.
New departures are obviously connected to the next claim made for the volume--sophisticated methods and new perspectives. Brushing aside the ambiguous meaning of the word "sophisticated"--taking it to mean clever and innovative--then we can find this easier to sustain. Once more the oak trees and volcanic ash deposits discussed in Francis Ludlow and Arlene Crampsie's chapter on Environmental History are the star exhibits. Variations in temperature, rainfall and a series of extreme events are all imposingly charted and the authors then daringly argue that "chance intervention of weather has acted to alter the course of major events" and (following Bruce Campbell) that "nature [is] a protagonist in human history." And they offer two case studies, the Nine Years War and the 1641 Rebellion, demonstrate the impact of bitter cold winters in determining causes and consequences in both cases. There has been a radical de-emphasis on determinist explanations of historical change in recent decades, and environments are in the forefront of unsettling this idealist consensus. I always remember Roger Schofield's reproof to a scholar who found two statistical tables relating to royalist and parliamentarian MPs running in parallel and seeking to establish a connection. It is the case, he said, that the birth rate in Sweden ran in precise parallel with the size of the stork population, but a causal relationship was not suspected. That said, those who are generally drawn to positivist explanations will be excited by this chapter.
Sophisticated methods are not confined to environmental history, of course, and all the intellectual history chapters, above all Ian Campbell's drilling down into the implosion of Aristotelianism in favor of empirical natural and social science, and all the chapters on the languages and literatures of Ireland show this. But perhaps the supreme example is Micheal O Siochru and David Brown's demonstration of the frankly astonishing riches of the Down Survey Project and how it can be interrogated using state-of-the-art IT. Brendan Kane in an elegant reprise and extension of his book on The Politics and Culture of Honour in Britain and Ireland 1541-1641 (Cambridge UP, 2010), certainly offers a new perspective on how ideas drove events. Was English power and (Old English and) Irish resistance driven by political calculation, religion or ethnic identity? To this classic trio, Kane adds a fourth: the defense of honor.
How and why people acted as they did: that is, the emphasis is not on how the past resonates in the present, but how people in the past made sense of the world they were living in. Historians are indeed interested in how our present and our future are shaped or at least flavored by our pasts--by how the past conditions its future. But they are also interested in the particularity of episodes in time past. It is a distinction that the late Pat Collinson saw as a distinction between a vertical and a horizontal component to the historian's art. The former is stressed in Whig history, Marxist and post-Marxist, (religious) denominational history, patriotic (nationalist). The latter is found in Histories of the past as foreign countries to us. Yet again, this new book leans more than most "textbooks" and vade mecums to the horizontal. In my view it is much the better for it. The brave new world of scholarly enterprise turns out to be more a history of how it was rather than a history of how it contributed to what it has come to be. This is a book which has no sense of Irish victimhood and no sense of Irish exceptionalism. It evaporates myths. It tells us how Ireland was more than why it is as it is. This, too, is useful knowledge.
--University of Cambridge
James Kelly, Editor.
THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF IRELAND. VOLUME III, 1730-1880
BY CATRIONA KENNEDY
THE PUBLICATION OF THE Cambridge of the History of Ireland in four volumes covering the history of Ireland from 600 to the present has inevitably invited comparisons with the ambitious New History of Ireland, published by Oxford University Press between 1976 and 2005. Famously, many of the contributions to T.W. Moody's "new" history were already nearly a decade old by the time they were published. The stated aim of the series was to bring the fruits of the "revolution" in Irish historiography that Moody saw as beginning in 1938 to a general audience. The relative paucity of scholarship on eighteenth-century Ireland rendered, many thought, such a project premature. The intervening four decades, however, have yielded a crop of high quality research for the editors of the Cambridge History to harvest. The range and richness of that scholarship is ably showcased in the present volume.
One of the notable innovations of the Cambridge History is its approach to periodization. The fourth volume of the New History of Ireland addressed the period 1691 to 1800, a chronology that invariably shaped the narrative contours so it became, in large part, the story of the rise and fall of the Irish Protestant parliament. Narratives that fell outside of this time frame--the Catholic resurgence and campaign for emancipation that culminated in 1829; the long shadow cast by the 1641 rebellion--were consequently marginalized. The third volume of the Cambridge History by contrast covers the period 1730 to 1880 (though many chapters range beyond these dates) displacing the Act of Union, in James Kelly's words, "so long the fulcrum round which the narrative of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century history pivoted" (18). This fresh approach to periodization allows revealing connections and comparisons to be drawn. The devastating "Great Frost Famine" of 1740-41, or bliain an air--the year of the slaughter--as it was remembered in folk memory, is thus brought into the same frame as the Great Famine of 1845-1851, the subject of a judicious and expert survey by Peter Gray. It allows too for meaningful continuities to be discerned across the two centuries. If the union with Great Britain and the rise of O'Connellite politics entailed the progressive Catholicisation of the Irish public sphere, the fundamentals of Irish associational culture as Martyn Powell notes in his chapter on "Civil Society, 1700-1850" remained largely the same. While the politics and toasts may have changed, club culture in the 1830s and 40s still revolved around the same rituals of drinking, gourmandizing and conviviality as it had in the 1770s and 80s.
The distinctiveness of eighteenth-century emigration is also brought into question. In a stimulating, analytically sophisticated chapter on eighteenth-century Irish emigration to America, Patrick Griffin asks why this significant early phase of Irish emigration--the largest transfer of non-African peoples to North America in the eighteenth century--has not been integrated into the larger history of Irish-America. The answer lies partly in the predominantly Ulster Presbyterian composition of this immigrant group and their efforts to differentiate themselves from later, largely Catholic, immigrations by identifying as "Scots-Irish." Yet focusing too much on the differences in the ethnic and confessional make-up of Irish emigration to America occludes underlying continuities. The Ulster regions that sent the most migrants to America in the eighteenth century were those that were already enmeshed in the world of Atlantic trade through the burgeoning linen economy. That pattern continued into the nineteenth century. It was those areas that were most fully integrated into the Atlantic system that sent emigrants in large numbers when the potato blight struck in 1845, while those that were yet to be "Atlanticised," much of Munster and Connaught, suffered horrendous mortality.
As well as offering fresh insights through new approaches to periodization, the Cambridge History also reflects in its range of contributions welcome advances in Irish historical scholarship in recent decades. Parliament and the politics of the Protestant Ascendancy in the eighteenth century are ably covered by James Kelly in a chapter that balances attention to high politics with a recognition of the growing influence of the press, "public opinion" and extra-parliamentary agitation over the course of the century. Significantly, however, the volume opens with a chapter on Jacobitism by Vincent Morley, a subject that did not warrant a separate chapter in the New History of Ireland, but which, thanks to the work of Eamonn O Ciardha, Breandan O Buachalla and Morley himself, has increasingly been recognized as fundamental to our understanding of the eighteenth-century popular mind. Daniel O'Connell's political career and divisive legacy is the subject of a brisk and engaging assessment by Patrick Geoghegan, but the broader popular political world of O'Connell's supporters and opponents is also thoughtfully analyzed in Maura Cronin's chapter on "Popular Politics 1815-1845." Cronin complicates the narrative of mass politicization that supposedly characterized Irish politics in the era of O'Connell. To illustrate the remoteness of "party" politics and ideology to some voters, she cites the telling case of a Denis Sullivan of Berehaven. In 1841, Sullivan set out for Cork city to cast his vote for the conservative candidate in the county election, but was unluckily waylaid and badly beaten near Bandon. He later testified to a select committee that he had chosen to vote for the conservative candidate solely because he was a friend of his landlord, Lord Bantry. As Cronin observes, "Sullivan seems to have shrugged off party politics as irrelevant and this well over a decade after the emergence of mass democracy under O'Connell" (131). While Irish politics in the first half of the nineteenth century may have been marked by a degree of democratization, popular movements of all political hues, Cronin concludes, remained largely leader-centered and locked in traditional structures of deference, a leader-follower model evident in the bullying tactics often employed by O'Connell as well as the pressure exerted by Protestant landlords over their tenants.
The New History of Ireland's account of the eighteenth century contained fifty-five index entries for Trinity College Dublin, but not a single entry for "women." The Cambridge History, by contrast, includes a separate chapter by Sarah-Anne Buckley on "Women, Men and the Family, c. 1730-c.1880." As with other chapters in this volume by David Dickson, Andy Bielenberg and Brian Gurrin much of the focus is on Irish demographic patterns. The reasons for Irish population growth in the second half of the eighteenth century--when the Irish population grew by an unprecedented level of between 1.5 and 2 per cent a year--have been much debated. In Britain a rise in fertility driven by more marriages at a younger age (or increased "nuptiality" in the demographers" terminology) has been identified as a key factor driving population growth. In Ireland, where it is likely that the trend for marrying young was already well established by mid-century, the explanation for population growth remains contested and, as Gurrin notes in his chapter on "Population and Emigration, 1730-1845," is likely to remain so, given that Irish historians are not blessed with the detailed parish records that allowed Edward Wrigley and Roger Schofield to produce their monumental history of English population patterns (23). Much important work on Irish women's history has been concerned with these demographic trends and the distinctive character of Irish marriage patterns after the Famine, when, as Buckley notes, the proportion of married women aged 15-45 years fell to only 43 per cent (234). These statistical accounts of women, marriage and family are, as Buckley shows, gradually being supplemented with more textured, cultural and social histories of familial intimacy, marital violence and the relationships between parents and children. The history of childhood offers a particularly rich seam for future research, one which must confront the history and legacy of the institutions to which poor and abandoned children were committed following the Industrial Schools' Act of 1868, though a full insight into these schools will be impossible until the religious orders responsible for them open their archives.
The fate of the "bourgeois" Irishwoman is also considered in Ciaran O'Neill's chapter on the Irish middle classes. It was women of this class, he suggests, who were, up until the mid-twentieth century, the most restricted and disempowered. O'Neill's nuanced analysis stresses the diversity of the Irish bourgeoisie a group that could encompass bureaucratic professionals and "classic bourgeois workaholics" such as the Irish undersecretaries Thomas Drummond (1797-1840) and Thomas Larcom (1801-1879), as well as the vastly wealthy Guinness family, who were only grudgingly admitted into the ranks of the titled in the late nineteenth century (and even then still condescendingly referred to as "the beerage"). Drawing on the much more advanced scholarship on bourgeois identities in Britain and Europe, O'Neill sketches out some of shared values and outlooks that may have bound this diverse group together: an ethos of hard work and seriousness, religious conscientiousness (regardless of confession) and access to controlled and applied knowledge. He also makes a plea for more work on the role of taste and distinction as markers of social gradation within Irish society (530).
This call for further research into the relationship between consumption, display and the identities of Irish social groups stands in contrast to Christine Casey's insistence in her beautifully illustrated chapter on "Art and Architecture in the Long Eighteenth Century" that aesthetic and decorative choices reveal relatively little about mentalities or ideologies. She quotes approvingly the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's remarks on Dublin's Georgian townhouses during his sojourn in the city in the 1940s that they were built by those "who had the good taste to know that they had nothing very important to say: and therefore they didn't attempt to express anything" (444). Casey focuses instead on evaluating the aesthetic merits and craftsmanship of Irish art and architecture, deploying the art historian's specialist vocabulary of "pristine ashlar elevations" and "acanthus arabesques" and offering a robust defence of this more traditional, connoisseurial approach to art history. Yet, it is questionable whether the "new" art history with its contextualized readings of the social history and politics of art and architecture has made sufficient inroads into scholarship on Ireland to warrant such a backlash. Indeed, Irish historians, with a few notable exceptions, have a blind spot when it comes to material and visual culture, a blind spot that is unlikely to be remedied by a retreat into disciplinary silos.
One of Casey's criticisms of scholarship that seeks to identify ideological and political motives in art and architecture is that it tends to overstate the "Irishness" of the island's visual and material culture, a culture that, she suggests, is more appropriately analysed in terms of British and European norms (464). As with all surveys of modern Irish history, the question of how far Ireland conformed to or deviated from broader European trends is threaded throughout many of these contributions. The possibility of locating Irish history within broader frameworks stretching far beyond the island's shores is also addressed in several chapters. As Thomas Bartlett contends, it was the global, "total" warfare of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic that was the crucible of modern Ireland. While the United Irishmen's republican project of the 1790s and the 1798 rebellion had deeper roots in Irish patriot politics and popular protest from mid-century, the conflict with Revolutionary France transformed this into an international struggle between the defenders of monarchy and the forces of revolution. At the same time, the recruitment of Irish soldiers into the British army forced the further relaxation of the penal laws in 1793 and was arguably critical to Britain and the Coalition Power's victory in the wars against Napoleon. The reorienting of Irish agriculture towards the demands of the wartime economy also had an enduring impact on the Irish economy. It is from the period of the French wars, Bartlett writes, "that the malign configuration of the Irish population structure, one that was to collapse in catastrophe in the 1840s, can be dated" (78). The enduring links between Scotland and Ireland resulting from the seventeenth-century plantations are addressed in a number of chapters. As Ian McBride notes in his lucid overview of Irish Protestant Dissent in the eighteenth century, Francis Hutcheson, the so-called "father" of the Scottish Enlightenment, identified himself as "Scotus-Hibernus" in the matriculation album at Glasgow university where he studied between 1710 and 1718 and where he would later take up the chair in moral philosophy (110-11). Patrick Griffin proposes for the eighteenth century the formulation "Scots/Irish migration" to best "capture the ways in which movement to America from Scotland and Ireland, between Scotland and Ireland, and sequentially from one to the other defined the eighteenth-century marchland experience within the Atlantic archipelago" (596). Peter Gray asks whether the potato famine that struck Ireland and the Scottish Highlands and led to crisis emigration to lowland Scotland and England might better be described as the "Great British Famine of the 1840s," though he also explains why the famine came to be seen as a specifically Irish crisis (639).
More familiar histories of Irish emigration to Europe in the eighteenth century and to Britain, America and Australia in the nineteenth are ably covered by Liam Chambers and Kevin Kenny. Added to these, is a new focus on Ireland's relationship to the British Empire one of the most exciting fields of research in Irish history in recent decades. Crosbie considers both the impact of imperial culture and forms of governance on Ireland, as well as the role of the Irish as agents of empire. He quotes from the memoir of Patrick Heffeman, a County Tipperary-born Catholic employed in the Indian Medical Service in the 1890s to illustrate the complexity of Irish imperial identities. Heffernan and his compatriots' engagement with Empire did not diminish their sense of themselves as "good Irishmen" rather they deeply "believed in the British Empire" and saw themselves as "Irish Europeans, cosmopolitans and citizens of the world" contributing, through imperial service, in some way "great or small, to human progress and civilisation" (629). One of the figures who perhaps best exemplifies the range of Ireland's transnational entanglements--European, American and global--is Cardinal Paul Cullen, archbishop of Dublin from 1852. Educated in Rome, where he would become rector of the Irish College in 1831, he presided over what Colin Barr has dubbed Ireland's "Spiritual Empire" using his influence to appoint a network of Irish Roman Catholic prelates throughout the empire where they would spread a distinctly "Hiberno-Roman" devotional and disciplinary model of Catholicism (633). As Barr notes in his chapter on Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century, Cullen approached Ireland with a similar missionary zeal intent on introducing a specifically Roman Catholicism to post-famine Ireland. Modifying Emmet Larkin's influential "devotional revolution" thesis that argued that it was through Cullen's efforts that the majority of Irish people became practicing Catholics, Barr concludes that Cullen may not have transformed the Irish masses into practicing Catholics "but he went a long way towards making them Roman Catholics" (304).
In his 1987 review of Volume IV of T.W. Moody's New History of Ireland, Thomas Bartlett, series editor of the Cambridge History, criticized "the unduly rosy" "tension free" portrait of eighteenth-century Irish history that it presented, "one in which antagonisms, hatreds and rivalries are muted or marginal and one in which burgeoning confidence is the salient trait. (1) The Cambridge History does not necessarily paint a bleaker picture of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Ireland, but by incorporating a broader range of perspectives it does present a fuller one. Indeed, in the introduction, James Kelly points to the many different interpretations of Irish society advanced by European travellers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While some, such as Philip Luckombe writing in 1780, praised the great advances in improvement and industry that had been made in a country that ninety years earlier had been a "continual field of blood," others, like the German traveller Karl Gottlob Kuttner, writing at a time of threatened French invasion in 1779, emphasized the deep tensions that still coursed beneath the surface of Irish life, as an anxious Ascendancy lived in daily expectation of an uprising of the "impoverished, uncouth and forlorn populace" (7). Elsewhere in the volume various contributors question some of the more pessimistic narratives of Irish history. In a cogently argued chapter on literacy and the Irish language, Aidan Doyle, challenges the long-held assumption that there was a dramatic and precipitous decline in the number of Irish speakers in the period 1800 to 1850. Instead he charts a more gradual transition from Irish, to bilingualism in Irish and English, to literacy in English. The decline of Irish, he provocatively suggests, should not be viewed only in terms of loss but also as balanced by a gain, the acquisition of English. Whereas Gaelic written traditions tended to be elitist and exclusive: "English offered access to a world of print and books previously denied to Irish speakers" (354). In a similarly innovative contribution that questions the model of a centralized, top-down "state revolution" in nineteenth-century Ireland, Virginia Crossman also queries a tendency to see administrative reform and developments in policing, education, public health and poor law provision in exclusively negative terms and as evidence of the oppressive nature of British rule. That view, she contends, must be balanced by a recognition that such reforms contributed to the development of an educated, democratic society whose members had access to a range of local services (566).
If T.W. Moody's New History of Ireland was conceived of as a monument to "revisionist" history, the Cambridge History is more modest in its ambitions. Citing E. H. Carr's model of history as an unending dialogue between the present and the past, James Kelly presents the volume as a contribution to that dialogue. And a worthy contribution it is. Nearly every chapter provides a clear and accessible guide to the most up-to-date historical scholarship, the best offer striking new perspectives and directions for future research. It promises to be an invaluable guide to this period of Irish history for many years to come.
--University of York
Thomas Bartlett, Editor.
THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF IRELAND VOLUME IV, 1880 TO THE PRESENT
BY IAN D'ALTON
THE SURVEY SPEAKS to the modern notion of engaging the general public as well as the scholar and academic. The Cambridge History is informed and shaped by the general editor of its four volumes, and editor of this one, Thomas Bartlett. Bartlett is himself no mean surveyor; his Ireland: A History (Cambridge, 2010) is lively and thought-provoking, and he has brought those qualities into this volume, as well as his own contribution, an evocative "The Troubles: A Photographic Essay." Volume IV is monumental in many ways--1006 pages and yet in an easily-handled format, both intellectually and physically, with a production quality that one comes to expect from Cambridge University Press. That's not an insignificant consideration; books of this order have to be attractive and usable. Irish historical scholarship is fortunate to have available in the sister island the publishing resources, skills and reach that allows these sorts of books to appear.
Twenty-eight scholars contribute to the volume. Of its four parts, three are broadly chronological and narrative in construction. Gearoid O Tuathaigh kicks off with a penetrating overview as part of a section dealing with the island from 1880 to 1923. Parts II and III cover 1914-45 and 1945-2016 respectively. The fourth section, "The Long View, Ireland 1880-2016," is thematic, with pieces on the family, state and philanthropic institutional history, memory, Catholicism, art and architecture, and closes with a thoughtful "Endword: Ireland Looking Outwards, 1880-2016" by Eunan O'Halpin, which builds on Ireland as a relatively extrovert state in essays by Philip Ollerenshaw (on neutrality and the Second World War) and Michael Kennedy (on foreign policy, 1919-73). The scholarship can be tracked through extensive (but not overbearing) footnotes, supplemented by excellent bibliographies for each chapter, gathered at the end of the volume.
The contributors form a broad matrix of Irish scholars and scholars of Ireland, home and abroad. Women historians are substantially underrepresented, though--seven, just a quarter of the essayists. So, nothing much has advanced here since the Cambridge History's predecessor work, A New History of Ireland published by Oxford University Press, was criticized for precisely this reason over thirty years ago. Perspective is better assisted by the geographical locations of the contributors, with seven of twenty still-tenured academics from outside the island. Of the essayists, within Ireland scholars from University College Dublin dominate, with seven. Four are from Trinity College, Dublin, two each from The Queen's University of Belfast and NUI Galway, and one each from Maynooth University, Dublin City University and the Royal Irish Academy.
Large claims have been made by the editors for the Cambridge History, One forceful point is that its purpose was to move away from an insular and political approach to Irish history and towards one where key thematic areas--such as the history of children, associational culture and institutions--were given due attention. Another aim of the series was to provide something that was state of the art--written by experts for the general reader in attractive style, drawing on the latest historiographical developments. Bearing these claims in mind, then, a review of Volume IV can be approached in a number of ways. One is to determine to what extent it offers a fresh take on the problems thrown up by ethno- and geo-centric history, and whether the parts, taken together, add up to a work that is greater than their sum. Another is to assess the individual essays, looking at each on its own terms and within the reference each sets itself. A third is comparative, to analyze how, and whether, the volume might be an advance on earlier survey work. Finally, what is not in Volume IV that should be?
Structurally, this volume is a prisoner, if a willing one, of its "Irishnicity." It is what it is, and to question the entire idea of national narratives and the raison d'etre of this Cambridge History is beyond the scope of this review. Yet while reading Volume IV, we should always bear in mind whether, in the words of Naomi Standen, we should be still using "standard definitions of categories like states, ethnicity, religion, urbanization, when these are increasingly challenged at the specialist level?" She advocates "thinking in layers rather than blocks, rejecting ethnocentricity, emphasizing exchange over competition, avoiding narrative arcs" and so on. Irish historiography rarely takes up on that. Volume IV, though, goes some way to address these challenges. Bartlett's "General Introduction" to the four volumes emphasizes that a rejigging of periodization will aid in seeing "new patterns, beginnings and endings" (xxix). That is well worth attempting: for too long, Irish historiography has been on a narrative railroad track, with fixed and familiar stations. Changes in periodization will certainly keep readers on their toes--chapters sixteen to twenty, on the economy, migration, broadcasting, popular culture and Irish foreign policy are under a section titled "Contemporary Ireland, 1945-2016" but deal with periods starting from, respectively, 1973, 1914, 1916, 1880 and 1919. This raises the issue of how theme selection and periodization was decided on; four of these essays might have been better categorised under "The Long View." Again, if history is largely about "the economy, stupid," whether it is advisable to deal with it apart from the politico-cultural-social development of the island is debatable. Joe Lee's 1989 survey, Ireland 1912-1985, despite its now somewhat dated feel, is a model in that regard, integrating, interrogating and anchoring the political narrative firmly within an economic dimension.
But challenging the accepted rules of engagement should increase the volume's appeal to a broader readership, one that perhaps is more interested in the contemporary state of Ireland, and why we got to where we are now. This Bartlett acknowledges in his "Preface," where he places the historical march of Ireland in terms of sovereignty and "taking back control" firmly within a continuum that has led to the current conditions of the EU and Brexit. Excellent essays such as Fearghal McGarry's on the revolutionary period and Susannah Riordan's on Northern Ireland, 1920-1939, reflect this by charting how the historiography has been shaped by contemporary perception as well as the availability of sources.
Altering insight through differing periodizations represents a refreshing move to think "outside the box." Another way to do this is to "tackle topics that have hitherto not found their way into the existing survey literature" (xxix). That is well accomplished with, for example, chapters on broadcasting by Robert J. Savage and on "Institutional Space and the Geography of Confinement in Ireland, 1750-2000" by Catherine Cox. Guy Beiner's essay "A Short History of Irish Memory in the Long Twentieth Century" traces the genealogy of remembrance and memorialization, demonstrating the benefits that come from an outside perspective--his phrase "the history of Irish memory is riddled with social forgetting" (723) is memorable, as he points out the absence of memorials to the great influenza epidemic of 1918-9, and how homosexuality has yet to become a part of the Irish story. Good sport can be had by identifying common themes across essays, such as the relative "modernism" of Ireland--for instance, through the prism of art and architecture Paula Murphy complements and reinforces Anne Dolan's thesis of Ireland being more modern than it has been given credit for. Similarly, Lindsay Earner-Byrne's "The Family in Ireland, 1880-2015" is full of insights into how new-fashioned Ireland often was--"all clerical exhortations to marry younger and more often, fell on deaf ears" (646).
What of the essays themselves? Acuity, wit and attractive writing sparkle throughout. That's important. Ideas need mediation through appealing expression. What's not to like about: "The conceit that the Irish were a hybrid people, a kind of bridge between colonized and colonizers, has roots alike in imperialist and separatist traditions" (O'Halpin, 830); "For Ulster Unionists... it was fairly easy to interpret war service as an expression of loyalty to the monarch (rather than the government), invoking an idealised British past untainted by modern reforms and betrayals" (Fitzpatrick, 226); Roy Foster's characterization of Yeats's endeavors in the Irish Literary Revival as "part of an enterprise of reclamation" (169); "Irish-Ireland saved neither traditional Ireland nor the Gaeltacht, but it moulded a new form of Irish identity" (O Conchubhair, 219); "Michael Collins proved an awkward ghost; his freedom to achieve freedom view of the Treaty was an easy taunt" (Dolan, 325); writing of schooling Earner-Byrne's "Children could be monitored: their bodies became maps of the home" (658)?
The essays are positioned along a broad spectrum, ranging from pieces that might properly belong as original articles in specialist academic journals to a reshaping and remodeling of work already published. At one end of the spectrum, with references to much archival research, sits Brian Girvan's chapter "Ireland Transformed? Modernisation, Secularisation and Conservatism since 1973." At the other is Susannah Riordan's essay "Politics, Economy, Society: Northern Ireland, 1920-1939" (296-322), which the bibliography indicates is a classic survey piece, largely based on secondary reading. While many chapters naturally draw on publications by their authors, two are acknowledged as close reworking of earlier research and publications: Alvin Jackson's "The Origin, Politics and Culture of Irish Unionism, c. 1880-1916" and John O'Hagan's "The Irish Economy 1973 to 2016." The value of these essays lies primarily in their contextual placing in this volume, and the wider exposure they gain from being here.
The contemporary resonates in Cox's essay, where she demonstrates how the scholarship of the state's "intrusion into welfare and social arenas" (674) has moved on from McDonagh's and McDowell's emphasis upon state actors and high politics to the "dynamics of class power and social relations." Brian Girvan is coruscating about the failures of imagination and fear-fulness that condemned the new state to stop, transfixed, at the red light, while other European economies cruised steadily ahead after the Great War. He perceptively understands that Catholicism in 1950s Ireland was by no means monolithic, using the Fethard-on-Sea boycott in 1957 to distinguish "an intolerant strain... from a more moderate one" (395). That was a significant milestone on the road to the "secular Catholicism" that the Republic now exhibits. There is synergy here with Daithi O Corrain's important essay "Catholicism in Ireland, 1880-2015: Rise, Ascendancy and Retreat," in which he suggests that "Catholicism remains an integral, if increasingly elusive, aspect of Irish identity" (727).
For this reviewer, Anne Dolan's essay stands out as exceptional in conceptual reach and lyrical quality. Opening the door on its rather anodyne title: "Politics, Economy and Society in the Irish Free State, 1922-39" reveals a fruitful and nuanced rebalancing of this period, so long characterized as "the history of a disappointment" (323). She describes much of the historiography of the Irish Free State as an entity seen as "stubborn and wrong-headed, too accepting of its failures, too proud of its own parsimony, too quick to sacrifice another generation just to get by" (323). Dolan does not play down the conventional narrative, of subterranean subversion, of stultifying economic and religio-social orthodoxy. She concludes that the often-derided conservatism of the state preserved Ireland from the greater horrors often visited upon its European analogues. But then she interrogates respectability, class, what people did rather than what was forbidden to them, and argues for a parallel account that sees complexity, engagement with the contemporary, of lives that had fight and light in them as well as dark and depressing corners.
If the aim of the Cambridge History, in the words of the general editor, is "to offer students, and the general reader, a detailed survey, based on the latest research" (xxix) has this been achieved? It is inevitable that it is compared to its closest analogue, in structure and content if not time, A New History of Ireland. Conceived in the 1960s but not completed until the early years of the present century, it was consequently often criticised for being dated almost as it appeared. Yet it is still available from the publishers, which says something about its continuing relevance. The New History of Ireand was consciously modeled on the earlier Cambridge Modern History, even down to its discursive (but very useful to the undergraduate student) intra-chapter headings. Its narrative construction and organization emphasized the primacy of the political--and relatively high political, at that. Land--essentially an economic problem, not a political one, though used as a convenient tool by political nationalists--was enfolded within the political narrative. The economic and the cultural were only dealt with when the political history and analysis was well out of the way.
With the political placed firmly within a more holistic context Volume IV of the Cambridge History does things somewhat differently. But not too differently; would it have been too radical to start with Catriona Clear's scene-setting and absorbing chapter on "Social Conditions in Ireland 1880-1914"? Yet while the first three chapters--on radical nationalisms (Matthew Kelly), the parliamentary Home Rule party (Conor Mulvagh) and the origins of Ulster unionism (Alvin Jackson)--seem, at first glance, to reflect the way the New History was structured, they are wider in reach, aware of a greater totality; politics rubs shoulders with an eclectic crowd of the material and cultural. If only with a small "m" it's in essence a Marxist form of interpretation, not something found much in the New History. This is further reflected in the downplaying of the agency of personality in the Cambridge History; as an illustration, "Parnell" does not appear in any chapter headings, compared to two in the New History. Different emphases, reflective perhaps of then-contemporary concerns (or lack of them), are exemplified by the treatment of the Great War, which gets a chapter here by David Fitzpatrick at his most elegant, forensic and wide-ranging best, but not in the earlier work. One area in which scholarship has considerably advanced since the New History is land, in the Cambridge History this is addressed comprehensively in Terence Dooley's essay "Irish Land Questions, 1879-1923."
What's not in Volume IV that perhaps should have been? Reading what is practically a companion volume--the Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland (2017)--will fill many gaps. It is perhaps too easy to hurl from the ditch on this, but a couple of themes suggest themselves as leaving Volume IV a little less comprehensive than it otherwise might have been. Newspapers and journals may not have dictated public opinion, but they certainly shaped the direction, intensity and limits of political and social discourse, national and local. Paul Rouse's essay on popular culture, while characterizing them as bringers of "stories from around the world," acknowledges that they also promoted "the creation of a national identity" (582). Given the significance of newspapers in a society rapidly becoming literate, that would have been worth some further, and separate, exploration.
How a state treats its minorities is a measure of the maturity of its polity and social cohesion, in Eugenio Biagini's words "because their existence forced nationalists to reckon with diversity and pluralism... also because their historical analysis can help historical analysts to understand the making of a pluralist society and a functioning democracy." But there is comparatively little on minorities in this volume. The Irish Free State had the potential to be radical and modern in this context (as it was, for instance, in its coinage designs). That it was not invites explanation. Brian Girvan argues that "the treatment of less advantaged and marginal groups" [here referring to unmarried mothers in particular] exposed Ireland's "darker side" (385). But eliding the appalling treatment of these into a wider discussion about anti-Semitism and the marginalization of Protestants somewhat jars. In O Corrain's essay on Catholicism minority religions are mentioned--but essentially as a counterpoint to declining Catholicism. Protestants as a pivotal minority in the south are little part of this volume's narrative, maybe because they did not speak to power; it's as a governing majority in Northern Ireland that they attract comment. "Travellers" don't feature in the index, even though they are referred to in Beiner's essay. Jews and Judaism do, but principally with reference to Irish-Jewish interactions during the Second World War. The "new Irish"--those who have come to the Republic since the 1990s, mainly from Africa and eastern Europe, with complexities of race, religion and ethnicity--receive a welcome discussion in Mary Daly's essay, neutrally titled "Migration since 1914." If these new minorities are still somewhat below the radar, there are hidden majorities in plain sight that took on the mantle of minorities, such as, well, women. They don't get separate billing in this production, though it might be argued that like sexual orientation and gender assignment weaving them into the narrative may now represent the contemporary recognition of a normative state.
"Impact" is a word that British academics have to wrestle with in their Research Excellence Framework. The question must be asked, what impact will this volume have, and where will it lie? Its influence will largely be felt in the way that future historians will address and interrogate sources, and it will consolidate and strengthen already existing methodological and conceptual trends. The necessity for it to appeal to a broad spectrum has it as developmental rather than radical. It confirms the apparent inbuilt bias in Irish history scholarship against both intellectual history and the intellectualizing of history--quite a lot of James Joyce, very little Patrick Joyce. Some parts will wear well for a long time, as did sections of the New History. A plethora of sources that has come into play recently, such as the Bureau of Military History and Military Service Pensions Collection, have benefitted those essays that deal with the Irish Revolution. Others carry a "best-before" date already; just as the historical analysis of the revolutionary period has itself been revolutionized by these sources so too will eventual access (frustratingly delayed by absurd privacy considerations) to the individual records of the 1926 Census substantially change our perspective on social trends, migration, Protestant "depopulation" and the like.
One impression that powerfully emerges from the splendidly rich scholarship in these pages is--with some exceptions in the socio-cultural sphere--how unimaginative and cowardly Ireland--north and south--was in the 140 years analyzed in this volume. Partition--of minds as well as territories, about which there is comparatively little discussion in this volume--was arguably the greatest influence on our history in this period, reinforcing inwardness. Consequently, it seemed that we were too often behind the curve, too timid or cowed to do much more than peer out from behind Mother's skirts, whether that was Mother Church, Mother England, Mother Europe or Mother Ireland. Despite the rhetoric and occasional heroic attempts, we were content to be rule-takers, not rule-makers. We lacked courage. Maybe we spent too much time looking in a rear-view mirror, not charting the road ahead. The paradox is that it takes history and historians, as in this fine volume, to make us aware of that.
--Trinity College Dublin
(1) Thomas Bartlett, "A New History of Ireland," Past & Present, 116 (August, 1987), 206-19, pp. 216-17
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|Title Annotation:||The Cambridge History of Ireland|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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