Book reviews in brief (April/May 2002 edition)

FOR THOSE concerned about the direction of public-service broadcasting in the twenty-six counties, Bob Quinn’s memoir dealing with his time as a member of the RTÉ Authority, Maverick, a dissident view of Broadcasting today (Brandon, £15.99 hbk) will bring little solace.

Quinn, an award-winning independent and independently-minded film-maker — and a former RTÉ employee — was not the only one surprised to find that he had invited to join the Authority in 1995.

The book charts the author’s battles over a range of issues from the targeting of children as consumers through advertising to efforts to secure a better deal for the Irish regions.

Throughout Quinn reveals his passion for public-service broadcasting, which he reveals as being dominated by a metropolitan élite and the priorities of commercialism.

The issue of the author’s unsuccessful efforts to get the Authority to drop its appeal against Anthony Coughlan’s victory in the Irish High Court over the issue of referendum broadcasts serves to highlight the vulnerability of the broadcasting authority to political pressure from the government of the day.

His memoir will send an uncomfortable shiver down the spine of everyone who believes in public-service broadcasting and fears for its future.

OVER THE years, Dublin-born historian Jonathan Bardon has built up a solid reputation around a string of published works chronicling various aspects of the history of Ireland’s currently divided fourth province, Ulster. A new, updated edition of his masterful and accessible A History of Ulster (Blackstaff Press, £30 hbk) is therefore most welcome — although many will understandably baulk at the price. Originally published in 1992 and reprinted on several occasions since then, the most recent paperback edition being published in 1996, the book weighs in with over 900 pages of detailed and informative text and notes spanning the social, political and economic history of Ulster over the last 9,000 years.

Although the length of the book goes along way towards explaining its high price tag, the only new material in this updated edition is a brief introductory chapter dealing with events between 1992 and 2000.

Despite the book’s undoubted qualities, which are manyfold, the £30 price tag is likely to restrict its appeal among general readers. Possibly one to order from your local library — if you are lucky enough to live in a local authority which still buys new books. Failing that, roll on another paperback edition.

FOR THOSE readers unable to afford the original hardback edition, Gerry Adam’s autobiography Before the Dawn is now available in paperback (Brandon, £7.87).

Unfortunately, as this paper has indicated on previous occasions, biographies or autobiographies of key players in recent Irish history invariably suffer from being published too close to the actual events that they deal with. As a result, such books, this one included, should be regarded as mere downpayments on more in-depth, revealing and insightful works to follow in the fullness of time.

This aside, Before the Dawn, originally published in 1996, succeeds in providing many useful insights into the background, personality, motivation and political development of one of Ireland’s most important political leaders. It well worth several hours of anybody’s time, although it is a pity that no new material has been added for the paperback edition.

BELFAST by local photographers Chris Hill and Jill Jennings (Blackstaff Press, £20 hbk) is a excellent collection of photographs accentuating positive aspects of Belfast City life — record of the ongoing efforts to transform large parts of the city through economic regeneration and renovation.

Many of Belfast’s fine buildings, old and new, are captured here in spectacular colour, as are some of the city’s beautiful rural areas on its outskirts. Life appears peaceful, vibrant and utterly normal, and so it is for many of Belfast’s citizens, particularly the middle-class.

Collections such as this can be seen as a welcome antidote to the frequently-disturbing visual records of the conflict in the six counties. Yet, by relegating political and social divisions to the margins, the images presented jar heavily against the reality of sectarian hatred, violence and social deprivation, which remains central to the lives of far too many of Belfast’s working-class communities. A tale of two cities, in more ways than one. Anyone for cappuccino?

If passage tombs, dolmens, rock art, cairns, castles and the lifestyle, rituals and legends of the people of this strategic route into Ulster are your bag, The Gap of the North; the archaeology & folklore of Armagh, Down, Louth and Monaghan by Noreen Cunningham and Pat McGinn, (O’Brien Press, £7.99 pbk) could well be for you.

Packed with fascinating easy-to-assimilate detail, including many photographs, field guides and illustrations, this excellent little book (140 pages) focuses on the strong relationship between the impressive landscape features and natural borders of this diverse and archaeologically-important area.

FANS OF Irish walking enthusiast and writer Michael Fewer are blessed with two new books: A Walk in Ireland, an anthology of walking literature (Atrium, £12.99 hbk) and By Swerve of Shore, exploring Dublin’s coast (Gill&Macmillan, £9.50 pbk).

The accounts lovingly gathered together in Fewer’s collection of walking literature cover the last 200 years.

Contributors range from literary giants such as Dr Samuel Johnson and John Keats through to lesser -known writers and poets, political activists, athletes, men and women of leisured classes, journalists, travel writers and fellow walking enthusiasts such as Eric Newby and Mike Harding.

A book to suit both the keen walker and the armchair enthusiast.

Much the same could be said of Swerve of the Shore. Here, Fewer, an architect by profession, is able to indulge his passion for walking with a life-long fascination for coastal landscape, flora and fauna.

The book, a diary of his perambulations from the Meath border down to where the Dublin coast meets the Wicklow coast, brings him in contact with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes and a selection of colourful local characters.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 14:59:16.
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