Review of Books
By Irish America Staff
April / May 2016
Books of Irish and Irish American interest.
The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’: Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland
By Robert J. Savage
Rob Savage, professor of history at Boston College, has done extensive academic research on 20th century Irish politics and media, especially film and television. His newest book, The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles,’ combines his expertise in these areas with a nuanced, detailed examination of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s role in reporting on Northern Ireland from 1968 through 1988.
As with many accounts of Northern Ireland, the story is replete with the dreary, heavy-handed bullying, favoritism, ineptitude and deceit practiced by British and Northern Ireland officials during this period.
“Refusing to inform viewers fully of what was taking place in Northern Ireland,” the BBC coverage became dictated by “Government-imposed censorship, together with self-censorship practiced by anxious broadcasters.” The result was often a fabricated, self-serving narrative that did little to solve the legitimate social unrest. The heroes in the saga were a handful of intrepid reporters and news editors who tried to resist BBC censorship, as well as ordinary citizens who continued to press for change.
The final chapter, “Margaret Thatcher, the IRA and the Oxygen of Publicity” offers disturbing examples of how politicians willingly sabotage the free press for short-term political positioning.
Relying on primary source material, Professor Savage’s The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’ is an accomplished work of historical scholarship that contributes enormously to literature of Northern Ireland. On another level, it is a cautionary tale about the complicated dynamic between government and a free press in democratic societies.
– Michael Quinlin
(University of Manchester Press / 288 pages / $95)
Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising
By Robert Schmuhl
As a raft of new scholarship emerges coincident with the centenary of the Easter Rising, Robert Schmuhl’s engaging new work astutely probes the contribution of Ireland’s “exiled children” – a title given to Irish America in the 1916 Proclamation, from which Schmuhl’s work derives its title. Schmuhl details the contributions and circles of influence of four key individuals (John Devoy, Joyce Kilmer, Woodrow Wilson, and Éamon de Valera) in order to tell his story, as well as offers invaluable insights into the importance of Clan na Gael in the Rising, President Wilson’s role, and de Velara’s American connections.
On top of his credentials as a historian, Schmuhl is also a leading scholar in the field of journalism. It is this latter fact that makes his analysis of the American press coverage of the Rising so rewarding. The trenchant arguments throughout establish this work as an important contribution to Irish and American historiography, while its pithy prose makes for a pleasurable read for both scholars and those with only a cursory understanding of the subject.
– R. Bryan Willits
(Oxford UP / 232 pages / $29.95)
By Belinda McKeon
Belinda McKeon’s second novel tells the story of inseparable friends, obsession, and loss in early Celtic Tiger Dublin. Catherine is freshman at Trinity with a sheltered Co. Longford world view until she meets James, a brash and flamboyant young artist unlike any boy she’s met.
He influences Catherine to open herself socially and romantically, and as she grows more deeply entwined with him, the Dublin they inhabit becomes globalized and modern. By the time James confesses he is gay, it is already too late; what initially made him undateable – his loudness, his “wrong” Doc Martens, his freckles – has made him so deeply a part of Catherine that she is unable to let him go.
The text frequently skips over Catherine’s other relationships to keep a tight focus on her and James, her jealousy at his friendships, and her growing desperation during their brief, inevitably doomed, affair. McKeon’s prose is clean and heartfelt, making Catherine’s thoughts frighteningly recognizable as her feelings for James grow from infatuation to obsession. Tender is a refreshingly intimate take on the consequences of fixation, particularly during economic boom.
– Julia Brodsky
(Little, Brown & Co. / 405 pages / $27)
The Bad Times
By Christine Kinealy and John Walsh
The Irish Famine is often understood in large numbers – death counts, years of blight, declining Irish language speakers, and immigration statistics. The Bad Times, a new graphic novel by historian Christine Kinealy and artist John Walsh, counters these abstraction by putting the Famine in human terms, and telling a narrative of three teenagers and their dog Cú during the hardest years of the blight from 1846 to 1850.
Perhaps most importantly, The Bad Times touches on the profound effects of the class system in how families dealt with the Famine, and reminds that the biggest factor in survival was opportunity and occupation. The decision to tell the story in the graphic novel form makes the Famine all the more visceral, and the illustrations give a sense of intimacy to the characters that is powerfully emotive. The Bad Times is a worthwhile contribution to Famine literature, and an especially affecting introduction to the individual suffering that can often be overshadowed by the largest figures.
– Adam Farley
(Quinnipiac UP / 118 pages / $15.25)