Michael O'Sullivan Sean Treacy And The Tan War by Joe Ambrose, Mercier Press, ISBN 978 1 85635 554 4, £12.99 pbk
SEAN TReACY is without doubt a folk hero remembered forever in song and story though surprisingly little exists on him by way of serious biography, Desmond Ryan's 1945 study remaining the standard work.
Joe Ambrose sets out to supply that want and promises a type of history writing that is neither 'academic', i.e. reliant on state records, nor 'romantic post-colonial' in the style of Ryan or Tom Barry.
Ambrose's own method of history writing however is difficult to pinpoint, to say the least. He devotes his first two chapters to the Fenians, no bad place to begin a book about the IRA if the author wishes to establish a continuity or make a contrast, but Ambrose doesn't attempt either of these tasks.
Another disappointing feature is his continuous failure throughout the book to state his thesis. At no point do we ever learn how the author himself views his subject, that is to say he takes no stance.
His manner of writing is relaxed and easy, something in the style of a journalist writing a column for a popular newspaper, complete with colloquialisms, embarrassing clichés and passages of pseudo-dramatic 'dialogue' between the participants.
Having said all that, Ambrose does manage after a fashion to tell the story of Treacy's life and times, even though, as he acknowledges, he eschews any form of original research, concentrating on published sources alone.
There are no notes anywhere in the book though there is a half decent bibliography and an index. There is also a very curious collection of appendices, reproductions of historical documents, letters etc, most of which seem to have little or no bearing on the text.
Appendix I, for example, is a three page extract from Charles Kickham's famous novel Knocknagow; or The Homes of Tipperary.
Undoubtedly Joe Ambrose's heart is in the right place but his book is not history, not even popular history, and does not in any way merit the claim in the blurb to being "a major re-evaluation'" of its subject. This is definitely not a book to be judged by its cover!
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Copyright © 2008 Michael O'Sullivan