Tom Dunne, 21 April 1988
The seemingly intractable problem of violence in Northern Ireland has spawned a remarkable number of books, ranging from the voyeuristic and ephemeral to the illuminating and scholarly. There have been comparatively few attempts, however, to see the conflict from the perspectives of the individuals most directly involved. Now Max Arthur’s fascinating collage of soldiers’ reminiscences gives a voice to a group who are not generally believed to have (or to be entitled to) one, while John Conroy’s account is that of a sympathetic outsider nervously learning the codes and concerns of a small Catholic community at the eye of the storm. At the academic level, the heightened interest in Irish history in England has found a focus in the dynamic journal Past and Present, which has published some of the key articles by the younger generation of Irish historians. The republication of these, together with new articles on related topics, in Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland makes important work available to a wider audience, and offers an opportunity to assess some interesting trends in Irish historiography. At the same time more traditional concerns persist, and no other form of academic history achieves as wide a readership as biography. Oliver MacDonagh and Owen Dudley Edwards offer new interpretations of two men, each of whom dominated the politics of his time, Daniel O’Connell and Eamon de Valera. Their relevance to the current crisis is most apparent in the way each had to come to terms with the problems which sectarian polarisation, on the one hand, and militant extremism, on the other, pose for Irish nationalist politics.