Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Rebel Ireland: from Easter Rising to Civil Warby Seán McMahon, Mercier Press, ISBN 1 85635 498 9, €11.99 pbk
THIS 192-PAGE book was initially published as three pamphlets or booklets. The 1916 Rising (1999), The War of Independence (2000) and The Civil War (2001). Now all three have been put together.
McMahon, a critic, biographer and anthologist from Derry, produces the work in the tradition of his Short History of Ulster and his Short History of Ireland. It is readable and succinct. For my taste's a little too succinct, although anyone who wishes to grasp the bare bones of what happened during the period covered might like something that does not tax the concentration.
The text is presented with plenty of white spare as though the printers are trying to flesh out a full size work. Readable, yes, but it will leave anyone who already knows something of the issues dealt with feeling dissatisfied.
There is a tendency to simply go along with the popular myths and legends about 1916, for example, which have now been questioned and overturned by many historians. I find it hard to accept when McMahon talks about "the quasi religious nature of the struggle". We are back into the 'blood sacrifice' mythology which Desmond Greaves firmly dismissed in his seminal 1916 As History: the myth the blood sacrifice back in 1966.
McMahon also places heavy emphasis on the stories that the insurgents were jeered and mocked by the people of Dublin prior to the series of executions and imprisonments following the uprising. In this journal, back in February, 1991, I presented evidence showing that this was not so. Unbiased eyewitnesses from other countries reported an opposite effect but the newspapers were in the hands of the British censors at the time and unquestioning historians prefer to go along with the reports.
This one is recommended as a quick, easy to read, introduction but be careful about the 'Select Bibliography' as it includes a lot of 'revisionist' authors.
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Copyright © 2006 Peter Berresford Ellis