Ian McKeane reviews As Others Saw Us: Cork through European Eyes, Joachim Fischer and Grace Neville (eds), Collins Press, ISBN 1-903464-85-4, £13.99/€18.95 pbk
THIS IS a fascinating collection of reflections by European continental visitors to Cork. Dates of these visits range from the 12th Century to the present and are from a great variety of individuals, some professional writers and others not.
There is a wide range of nationalities represented and the editorial decision to print the original text on the left with the English translation on the right is a happy one, especially given the city's recent year as European Capital of Culture. It also lends authenticity to the whole enterprise and possibly widens the appeal of the book permitting those of us with a good knowledge of the original language to dust off our own skills and cast a critical eye over the quality of the translations.
The editors have provided a useful set of notes on the various authors. They seem to have been restricted as to the space allowed for these which is a pity since a little more information could have been given to supply a more rounded and complete picture.
For example, Simone Téry was the only female reporter from France to visit Ireland in the early 1920s. She wrote two books about the country. Later her experiences reporting the Spanish Civil War led to her close association with the politics of the communist daily l'Humanité. She died in 1967.
The contribution by Alfred Duquet from 1872 is misleadingly sub-titled 'a pro-French demonstration during the Franco-Prussian war'. It actually comes from an account of a visit to Ireland by the top brass of the 'French International Society for Aid to Military Wounded' (forerunner of the French Red Cross) to Ireland in 1871. This was to thank the Irish who had sent two medical columns to France the previous year despite the British government's rather pro-Prussian neutrality. The sub-text was also to recognise the Irishmen who had gone to fight for France. Unfortunately, no hint of this is given by the editors.
As one might expect, this book contains texts written for a variety of reasons. Some are straight travelogues while others give a feel for the history and political experience of the people of Cork. Others reflect on life in the city and attitudes to foreign visitors. This mixture, from so many different nationalities is its real strength. Richard Bermann's heavy irony, the note from the Hachette 1912 guide and the contributions by Juan Casas Rigal (on Rory Gallagher) and by Italian UCC student Elena Toniato on life in Cork are gems.
If you are from Cork or love to visit the city then buy this book.
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Copyright © 2006 Ian McKeane