An Irish legacy of the Enlightenment

Ken Keable reviewsThe Legacy of History for Making Peace in Ireland by Martin Mansergh, Mercier Press, £15 pbk

DESPITE ITS political faults, this is an enjoyable and rewarding book for anyone with an interest in Irish history. It is a collection of forty-two lectures and commemorative addresses, given by the author, on Irish history and its current relevance, and on the nature of history itself.

It is full of fascinating details - perhaps overfull for some tastes, especially the items from Mansergh’s own family history. But I enjoyed them, though I don’t like his use of untranslated Latin phrases.

Martin Mansergh is Church of Ireland, educated at Oxford University, a member of a Co. Tipperary family, a historian and son of a historian, who has served as advisor to three Fianna Fáil taoisigh, notably as special advisor on Northern Ireland. He helped to negotiate the Good Friday agreement, is a Fianna Fáil senator and serves on the British-Irish Parliamentary Body. All this makes him a very interesting figure and his book amply reflects this.

His reflections on the Belfast Presbyterian origins of Irish republicanism, and on the contradictory history of the Orange Order (with many quotations from its rules) are well-researched and often amusing. As a source of republicanism, he prefers the Enlightenment to nineteenth-century romantic nationalism.

Mansergh sees the European Community as “an effective multinational mutual support framework, …a far superior context in which to develop an independent Ireland in Europe.” (p.130). No surprise, then, that he castigates Anthony Coughlan and Patricia McKenna for describing Ireland’s entry into the Euro as an act of treason.

In 'Irish Unionism and its Legacy' he states: “My own conviction is that the Famine… discredited the Union most. The solidarity was not there, when it was needed, and Ireland was treated by London more as a wayward colony than as an integral part of the United Kingdom.”(p. 187).

With an extensive index and large bibliography, this is a book to dip into for reference or pleasure.

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