Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied for Ireland by Meda Ryan, Mercier Press, ISBN 1 85635 511 X, €12.99 pbk
MEDA RYAN is undoubtedly one of our leading authorities on the war of independence period (1919-21). A native of Bandon in West Cork she has taken a lead in trying to correct the excesses of those neo-colonist historians, the apologists for the British empire in Ireland, who have sought to denigrate the struggle of the Irish people for freedom. In particular, I am thinking of her clash with Peter Hart's appalling propaganda tract on the period in Cork.
Meda Ryan is a scrupulous historian who, unlike the 'revisionists', makes no claims that she cannot document and substantiate. Her biographies of Tom Barry and Liam Lynch are musts for anyone reading this period.
This book enhances her stature. Sadly, in the early years, a lot of women who played crucial roles in the struggle for Irish independence seemed to have been ignored. Here is a necessary corrective to that neglect in which portraits of many of these women are woven into a fascinating new look at the life and role of Michael Collins.
But not only is this document history, but it reads with the ease of a first class thriller. And here is history as seen from the viewpoint of the neglected 'other half of the human race' for whose rights another Cork woman, Anna Wheeler, argued in 1825. There is much to learn from it.
One thing impressed me before I even began to read it and that was the poignant reminder of something Alice Stopford Green wrote on march 11, 1904, in the Westminster Gazette: "We do not want in Ireland the absence of history, we do want a larger study of its truth."
It reminds us that we must challenge those who still work today seeking to distort or consign Irish history to oblivion and assert the 'joys of the old empire'. Dr Meda Ryan is one such voice who diligently seeks the truth.
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Copyright © 2006 Peter Berresford Ellis