Ruán O'Donnell reviews The Irish Army in the Congo, 1960-1964, The Far Battalions by David O'Donoughue, Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0-7165-3319-7, £19.95p pbk, and Broken Rails: crashes and sabotage on Irish railways by Brian Mac Aongusa, Currach Press, ISBN 1-85607-925-2, €19.99 hbk
O'DONOUGHUE HAS emerged in recent years as one of the more interesting voices in Irish military history.
One of his main strengths stems from personal contact with major actors in the history outlined. Many have been interviewed by O'Donoughue over a period of years and this authoratative resource is well utilized by him in his printed analyses.
The Congo mission, a traumatic and significant venture for the ill-equipped Irish Defence Forces, remains the most controversial.
The editor is not slow to highlight inconsistencies where they are in evidence. Presenting opposing views, however, creates structural difficulties which O'Donoughue has accepted in order to tease out the salient points. This is wholly justified.
Comparatively heavy losses in the Congo soured Ireland's bid to play a role in UN mandated peacekeeping operations but vital lessons were learned. These undoubtedly improved the efficacy of subsequent missons, not least to Lebanon, where the Irish contingent performed exceptionally well.
BRIAN MAC AONGUSA's well-illustrated and informative book should put anyone off travelling by rail for a few weeks.
No stranger to the world of trains, Mac Aongusa has amassed a huge deal of information on obscure, as well as the more familiar episodes.
This, however, is no catalogue of rolling stock, exotic engines and equipment. It is not an academic text. Instead, anecdotes and news digests carry the reader through a necessarily uneven, yet often fascinating, volume.
One could quibble with the fact that the infamous Sallins mail train robbery receives less than two of the 254 pages, but Mac Aongusa does note the opportunist framing of Irish Republican Socialist Party members and the overall financial cost.
The section entitled 'Bombings, Robberies and a Derailment' is far too short given the alarming extent of such episodes during the Troubles but there is no doubt of Mac Aongusa's ability to produce a discreet volume on that theme. He is certainly on the right track.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Ruan O'Donnell