Irish Studies Review (Vol.15, number 1)

Roy Johnston reviews Irish Studies Review, Vol. 15 number 1 published by Routledge (Taylor Francis Group)

THE EMPHASIS in Irish Studies Review has in the past tended to be literary, but there do seem to be other dimensions creeping in, with political implications, and this is to be welcomed. It certainly gives Irish Democrat readers something of a motivation to ensure that it is supported by libraries.

The current issue begins with an analysis by Pat Brereton of how films about Ireland have impacted on foreign appreciation of Irish landscape, and continues with Terence McBride (Bell College, Hamilton, Scotland) on the land question, in which he links Michael Davitt and Henry George wih John Ferguson, the Glasgow Irish leader.

He includes a key quote from Davitt: without state ownership and management... a peasant proprietorship would "...only extend the absolute ownership of land: an ownership which will always be on the market for purchase and re-consolidation into large estates...".

At a Glasgow meeting in 1882 Davitt "...stated his contention that the (future Irish) state had a right to the unearned increment on land... (to) ensure the social elevation of the qhole commmunity...". This is of course the the key to the solution of the current problem of land re-zoning and the related financing of political corruption.

After an excursion by Sinead Sturgeon into literary territory occupied by Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton and the production of poitin, we get what is perhaps the most interesting paper for Irish Democrat readers, one by Constance Rynder on Sheelagh Murnaghan who represented Queens University Belfast in Stormont from 1961 to 1969, as a liberal-feminist Catholic, a remarkable combination in the context. She counts as a forerunner of the Alliance Party, and got in via QUB thanks to the anomalous persistence of PR in that constituency.

In this context she came up with a Human Rights Bill modelled on Ontario legislation in 1964, and again in 1966, this time with some input from the McCluskeys and the campaign for Social Justice. She introduced the Bill again in 1967, with some US inputs (Bonfield, in Iowa), and then finally in 1968 in the UN Human Rights Year context.

What I find interesting is that all this was going on without much contact with the emerging grass-roots civil rights movement, except via the McCluskeys. It shows the width of the cultural gulf. There is no reference to Murnaghan in the Desmond Greaves Diaries, though he was in touch with the McCluskeys. Could it be that the left at the time did not identify liberal feminism as a potential ally?

Murnaghan failed to make Stormont in 1969, the Queens seats being abolished. She contested North Down but was defeated. Anne Dickson in Carrick, a Murnaghan ally, ousted Austin Ardill, who had been involved in the earlier anti-O'Neill coup. So there persisted a liberal-feminist element among the O'Neill reforming Unionists, which went on to get into various types of community work in the subsequent political wilderness dominated by the 'troubles'.

Shelagh Murnaghan remained active up to her death in 1993 in various community-relevant roles, including the Industrial Relations Tribunal and the Equal Opportunities Commission. She continued to practice at the Bar, specialising in harassment cases.

Perhaps the lesson of this experience is the need to identify the progressive elements within the unionist spectrum, and cultivate them to the extent that they recognise the positive opportunities presented within independent Irish-based democracy. There are analogues among unionists in the current situation.

The ISR continues with an interview by Damien Shortt (Ormskirk) of novelist Dermot Bolger, followed by the usual reviews, grouped under 'history and politics' and 'literature and cultural studies'. In the former group there is one by Carla King of Fergus Campbell's Land and Revolution: nationalist politics in the west of Ireland 1891-1921, and one by Maura Cronin of Terence Dooley's The Land for the People: the land question in independent Ireland, both of which I think have been reviewed in the Irish Democrat.

This trend into serious critical analysis of history and politics is to be welcomed, and in the context I find it somewhat anomalous that they declined to review my own Century of Endeavour, the Irish edition of which was published in April 2006 by Tyndall/Lilliput, and which Ruan O'Donnell reviewed recently for the Irish Democrat.

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