Book reviews in brief (August/Septemebr 2002 edition)

IT WOULD be surprising if the constant steam of inquiries in Ireland into all manner of financial chicanery and political graft did not engender a high degree of cynicism among the 26 counties’ ill-served public.

Irish journalist Gene Kerrigan has picked up on this cynicism, penning a tongue-in-cheek primer for political hopefuls. How to Succeed in Irish Politics (Gill and Macmillan, £6.40 pbk) claims to get to the heart of politics in Ireland today -- “shafting your colleagues, conning the voters and sucking up to the people who matter”.

The book contains lots of useful tips ranging from how to become a minister -- salary rates are helpfully supplied -- through to how to appear socially concerned, but not too much so; how to be no more racist than is strictly necessary; how to fake sincerity; how to spend other people’s money; how to accept a bribe; and, perhaps most importantly, how to give evidence at a tribunal.

While providing plenty of laughs and wry smiles courtesy of the baser instincts of twenty-six county politicians and the clientist political culture which nurtures them, little is likely to change Irish citizens are content to shrug their shoulders and go on accepting this situation as the norm.

Those with a particular interest in the world of the Celts will be pleased to hear that Peter Berresford Ellis’s The Druids, originally published in 1994, has been given another airing, and a new cover, by his current publisher (Robinson, £7.99 pbk).

Published as part of their A Brief History of... series, The Druids, sets about separating fact from myth using of a variety of written sources, Greek, Roman and native Irish. The end product is a fascinating and highly readable account of the role of the Druids in Celtic society. Whether it is a true representation of the life and beliefs of the Celts intellectual class is impossible to say.

As Berresford Ellis readily admits, any study of the beliefs and teachings of the Druids is seriously hampered by the fact that they left no written records, which were prohibited as a means of safeguarding knowledge, and an extremely short supply of sympathetic observers.

As a result, the author himself prefers to consider this potent antidote to the anti-Celt propaganda of the Roman Empire and the drivelling nonsense of New Age mystics and romantic fantasists as an ‘introductory argument’.

Two fascinating memoirs from the pen of the equally fascinating Robert Brennan, Ireland Standing Firm and Eamon de Valera, (University College Dublin Press, £13.95 pbk) have recently made their way back into print.

Originally written for publication in the Irish Press in the late 1950s, Ireland Standing Firm provides insight into Brennan’s robust efforts as Irish minister to the United States during WWII in protecting his country’s neutral status.

Despite considerable pressure from US officials and politicians, whose armoury included out-and-out threats, the deliberate use of disinformation and even the occasional political carrot, Brennan used his considerable diplomatic skills to fend off attempts at undermining the Irish position.

A veteran of the Easter rising -- the first time he came across de Valera in person was in Mountjoy prison in May 1916 -- Brennan was closely involved in the struggle for Irish freedom and took the republican side during the civil war.

Around two-thirds of Brennan’s de Valera memoir concentrates on the period between 1917 and 1923. A talented writer and journalist, he was also the author of a number of novels and plays. As a close associate and admirer of de Valera’s over several decades he had hoped to be able to be in a position to write a biography of the Irish leader.

By 1958, aged 81, Brennan finally accepted that the project was unlikely ever to reach fruition. Fortunately, he decided to update his notes for publication in the Irish News, the newspaper established by de Valera and that Brennan had been general manager of in the early 1930s.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 15:19:12.
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