Book reviews in brief

by David Granville:

All Changed: 50 years of photographing Ireland (Colman Doyle and John Quinn, O'Brien Press) ; Gaelic Sports (Eamonn Sweeney, O'Brien Press); A Dictionary of Hiberno-English (Terence Patrick Dolan, Gill&Macmillan); Talk Nation: the Irish on everything and anything (Aubrey Malone, Currach Press); Byrne's dictionary of Irish Local History (Mercier Press)

ONE OF the benefits of the festive season is the flood of new books that come in to the world guided by the star of conspicuous consumption. Others, as we shall see, get their very own 'second coming'.

There isn't enough space here to review them all in full, or even to given all the good ones a mention. However, here a few recent titles which have caught this reviewer's eye. Of the large-format 'gift-oriented' books to have made it on to the shelves, All Changed: 50 years of photographing Ireland (O'Brien Press, £19.99, ISBN 0-86278-873-0) stands out amongst the crowd.

Showcasing the superb portraits and photo-journalism of leading Irish photographer Colman Doyle, the book charts the transformation of Irish society over the past 50 years. Doyle's photographs are ably accompanied by the recollections and reminiscences of award-winning broadcaster and writer John Quinn.

Doyle's portraits, whether of politicians, political activists, film stars, sports personalities or ordinary working Irish people, are simply outstanding, and confirm, for me at least, the superiority of black and white over colour in the art of photographic portraiture.

Gaelic Sports by Eamonn Sweeney (O'Brien Press, £4.99, ISBN 0-86278-854-4) is the latest in the Irish publisher's excellent Pocket History series.

The book offers a concise and highly readable introduction to the history Ireland's traditional sports: Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and handball, and of the GAA itself, founded in 1884. The chapter on each sport includes biographical sketches of historic teams and leading players while the appendix provides information about GAA county colours and player and team nicknames.

My only gripe is that a brief bibliography to encourage further reading would also have been useful.

The arrival of a revised and expanded edition of A Dictionary of Hiberno-English , compiled and edited by Terence Patrick Dolan (Gill&Macmillan, 29.99 euros, ISBN 0-7171-3535-7)) will be welcomed by lovers of Irish language and literature alike.

First published in 1998, the new edition contains more than 1,000 new entries, including the derogatory acronym BIFFO (Bloody Ignorant Fucker from Offaly) and The Yellow Bellies (a supposedly 'affectionate' term for the Wexford GAA team).

But there's much more here than invective and nickname. In his foreword, the poet and critic Tom Paulin describes the dictionary as both "quarry and cairn... a living resource which connects us with the spoken language and the printed language."

Sounds like the sort of thing a poet might say, but no doubt you get the gist.

Put it this way, if your friends are planning on a bout or two of meisce in the New Year, are happy to stay just meidhreach, or are off to the chemists to clear up a smugarlach, here's where to find out what they've got in mind.

Talk Nation: the Irish on everything and anything by Aubrey Malone (Currach Press, £8.99, ISBN 1-85607-913-9) sets out to demonstrate that the Irish 'got the gift of the gab' and can put a smile on your face in the process.

A collection of nearly 2,500 quotes from some 700 different sources: politicians, writers, TV broadcasters, musicians, actors and sporting personalities, the book covers all of life from politics to sex and everything in between. The quotes themselves are by turn witty, acerbic, humorous and, at times, just plain baffling,

While not exactly a classic, it's sure to provide plenty of honest entertainment for those quite breaks in front of the fire while the grandchildren are outside on their new bikes or, as is just as likely to be the case these days, glued to the Playstation.

On a more serious and practical note, Joseph Byrne's dictionary of Irish Local History (Mercier Press , 20 euros, ISBN 1-85635-423-7) would make an ideal gift for anyone you know who is interested in the subject.

Hundreds of local history terms from the earliest times to circa 1900 are explained. Should you be baffled by a reference to bonnyclabber (sour, curdled milk and a part of the traditional Irish diet), want to know the origin of Brunswick clubs (rabidly anti-Catholic clubs founded in response to O'Connell's 1828 by-election victory in Clare), or need to find out what a gauger is (a type of excise official), Byrne's dictionary is as good a place as any to search for an answer.

An extensive bibliography, useful research and reference guides and a list of web sources all help to make this a superb reference work.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-01-06 14:53:48.
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