Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose, Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635-506-3 £11.98 pbk
DAN BREEN'S My Fight for Irish Freedom was one of the first books on the War of Independence that I read as a teenager. Along with Seán Tracey, he is credited with firing the first shots that started off the war in January, 1919.
Hailed as a hero by some, a 'thug with blood on his hands' by others, a mindless murderer, a friend of George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Irish parliament for thirty years, he is a strangely controversial figure in Irish history.
Joe Ambrose's study is a fascinating analysis of the real Dan Breen, cutting through the various public images of the man to get to an understanding of this most famous and contentious son of Tipperary.
It's a absorbing book. I suppose the phrase 'essential study' may be a little overdone these days but, if anyone is really interested in this all important period in Irish history, then there is no other way of describing it. Its easy style, its arguments, makes it an involving read.
My own debates with the neo-colonial school of historians that have risen to prominence during the last thirty years, the so-called 'revisionists', made me pause and start silently cheering as I read the following paragraph from Joe Ambrose's Introduction to the book:
"The Irish are also a post-colonial people, incessantly told what to do and think by international opinion makers working in publishing, broadcasting and the arts. A colourful and curious array of nay-sayers, soothsayers and academics - not to mention pseudo-scholars fighting their own private Wars on Terror - devote entire Amazon rain forests of paper to debunking some simple facts of narrative history concerning Ireland's War of Independence.
They've taken to their task with gusto and occasional aplomb, undermining complex mythologies which have frown up around the likes of Breen, Michael Collins and Tom Barry. Trying to dismantle the reputations of these rural lads of humble origin, they have sought to create post-modern mythologies of their own from which 1916-23 guerrilla leaders emerge as political deviants from some imaginary, civilised, democratic norm, frantically in league with nebulous forces of evil, indifferent to mandate or morality."
Well, thank goodness, we have the likes of Joe Ambrose, Meda Ryan, John Borgonovo, Ruán O'Donnell and others to counteract the damage that these neo-colonist writers try to wreak in pursuance of furthering their own careers.
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Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis