Monday, May 06, 2019

History of Ireland

Visiting Ireland recently, I was reading Ireland's historical magazine, and I was entertained to see that it was debating much the same topic as was recently aired in Canada: too much or too little political biography? 

David McCullagh, an Irish writer/broadcaster/biographer contributes a piece to the most recent History Ireland, reflecting on how some years ago he said  "Who needs a new book about Dev?" and ended up writing a two-volume biography of the very man, Irish revolutionary, politician, and president Eamon De Valera. (This is not the David McCullough who writes a similar kind of American political biography.) 

There is an interesting struggle, I gathered, in current Irish political historiography.  Much honour -- and not a little hagiography, goes to those who launched the Easter Rebellion of 1916, and opened the first, illicit Irish Parliament, the Dail, on January 21, 1919 -- a date recently chosen as Irish Independence Day. De Valera stands among them, though he seems to have avoided much of the actual fighting -- and therefore lived long enough to be President of Ireland into the 1960s and an architect of the conservative, poor, and priest-ridden Ireland that only began to change in the 1970s and 1980s. The only vivid thing I know of De Valera is that someone said that when he smiled, it was like moonlight on a tombstone -- which rather makes me want to read the biography.

But there is a good deal of opinion now that those men's ideology  -- armed struggle and the need for an independent Ireland to be sanctified by blood and not to be sullied by political negotiations -- nowadays plays directly into the hands of those who shot Lyra McKee last month. 

The importance of that debate was brought home to me by Historical Walking Tours of Dublin, a terrific endeavour, all of whose tour leaders are history graduates, mostly engaged in graduate studies at Trinity College Dublin.  If you are going to Dublin, this is the tour to take. Does any university history department in a Canadian city have anything like it?
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