The Blanket

Warring Against Propaganda
The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition by Liz Curtis.
Beyond The Pale Publications. Price £12.95.
reviewed by Anthony McIntyre (1996)

 

Liz Curtis is perhaps best known for her work The Propaganda War. It was an insightful analysis of the role of the media in the conflict here. In her latest work, The Cause of Ireland, Curtis has demonstrated that her ability as a writer and researcher has if anything improved. It is probably true to say that this book will not be well received outside of the nationalist community. In many respects it is a standard contribution to nationalist historiography.
 
The difficulty with assessing any historiographical work lies in the ability of the reviewer to possess a good knowledge of alternative perspectives. Lacking that, the casual reader - as is the case with the present reviewer - is left to form their own opinion, quite often armed with the preconceived notions held prior to opening the first page.
 
Nevertheless, Curtis offers a detailed and comprehensive account of major developments from 1798 to 1922. An immediate source of puzzlement, however, lies in the portion of the book devoted to the last fifty years of the period examined - roughly 250 pages. The remaining 150 years are dealt with in 150 pages. Yet it is in that first section that the work is at its most interesting. The chapter on the famine in particular is of such quality - Curtis without overtly trying constructs an elaborate and persuasive refutation of more revisionist works on the period - that the reader is tempted to scream out in protest that it should have been extended by yet another chapter. Throughout the remainder of the book my thoughts kept drifting back to those pages.
 
A compelling theme of the book is the attempt by the author to write women back into the history pages. The roles of Anna Wheeler, friend of William Thompson, and Anna Parnell, sister of Charles Stuart Parnell, are particularly illuminated. In this respect The Cause of Ireland is a valuable counterbalance to other works in nationalist historiography, most notably Questions of History which managed not to mention women at all.
 
Nationalists in general will appreciate the book. It will rank on a par with Farrell's The Orange State. Equally so, it will be met with the disdain provoked by Farrell's elsewhere. Republicans in particular will feel vindicated but not the Catholic clergy. The following passage quoted from Charles Kickham confirming for the former that the criticisms of the latter are timeless and without any substantive or moral significance:


when priests turn the altar into a platform; when it is pronounced a ''mortal sin'' to read the Irish People; a ''mortal sin'' even to wish that Ireland should be free; when priests actually call upon the people to turn informers ...

 
And perhaps even more relevant to the republican position of today is the comment made in London in 1921 by Charlotte Despard: 'Let the great heart of England respond to the great heart of Ireland and then there would be peace'.
 
Written in a particular tradition this book is unlikely to reach many beyond it. But its life span will survive many of those that have. 

 

 

 

 

 

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