Reviews in Brief

by David Granville

Derry Memoirs by Philip Cunningham (Guildhall Press, £8.95 pbk) is the fourth, and most recent, collection of memoirs, anecdotes and tall tales from the author's native city.

Derry Memoirs

All manner of life is to be found here in these often gentle and nostalgic journeys into the heart of working-class nationalist Derry.

However while there's plenty here to warm the heart and raise a smile or two, the reality of poor housing, evictions and discrimination associated with the formerly gerrymandered unionist 'corporation' and, of course, the dangers, privations and heartache brought about by 'The Troubles' are also an integral part of this collection. Many of the stories focus on the economic, social and cultural life of the city's nationalist population with work, religion, education, music, sport and other forms of recreation all to the fore.

The book, which includes a collection of favourite, and sometimes forgotten, Derry rhymes, is richly illustrated with black and white photographs.

Mick O'Farrell's 50 Things You Didn't Know About 1916 (Mercier Press, €7.99 pbk) is a collection of disparate pieces of information and diary extracts about, or connected with the 1916 rebellion.

Having studied and collected information on the rebellion for over 15 years, it's fair to say that the author knows his subject. His latest offering in print follows on from, A Walk

Through Rebel Dublin 1916, which was also published by Mercier Press (1999).

50 Things You Didn't Know About 1916

Although his latest offering includes excerpts from two previously unpublished diaries, exactly how many of O'Farrell's collection of "less well-known facts" a reader is likely to be familiar with will be largely dependent on how widely read they are on the subject of the rebellion.

For example, no one who has taken the time to read any serious study of the events of Easter 1916 will be surprised to learn that it wasn't organised or carried out by Sinn Féin. By the same token, Lenin's thoughts on the rising are also well documented and referred to in several studies.

Much the same could be said of many of the these 'little-known' facts, which, while interesting enough in themselves, are hardly revelatory.

In fairness, the book is clearly not aimed at those with anything approaching a detailed knowledge of the subject and the author is also to be commended for providing an excellent bibliography, which could facilitate more useful study.

Great Irish Heroes (Sean McMahon, Mercier Press €19.99 hbk) is a handsome medium-format title offering readers a series short biographical sketches of Irish men and women from across the ages.

Around 50 entries span both the real and the mythological. A few, such as mathematician George Boole and transport entrepreneur Charles Bianconi, are not Irish but those who settled in Ireland and made their name there.

Great Irish Heroes

The book lays before the reader an eclectic mix of pirates, revolutionaries, religious figures, musicians, scholars, architects, soldiers, philanthropists, opera singers, actors and feminists.

However, to what extent conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke or the unionist leader Edward Carson, or a reformed alcoholic with an excess of religious zeal and masochist tendencies (Matt Talbot) can be classed as 'heroes', is beyond this reviewer. Being an important historical figure, or just plain infamous, is one thing, being heroic is another matter entirely.

Undoubtedly aimed primarily at the young or general reader, the brief portraits which accompany this parade of supposedly heroic individuals inevitably tell the reader very little about the forces that shaped their lives and times.

However, the inclusion of a significant number of female entries from all walks of life, from mythical queens to revolutionaries, from pirates to religious figures, is to be welcomed.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2009-06-04 10:49:49.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2009 David Granville