was with a measure of trepidation that I agreed
to review Tim Pat Coogan's wide ranging work on
the Irish Diaspora for Fortnight. With
over six hundred pages of Wherever Green is Worn
in front of me coupled with my never having been
a great fan of the author, I sat down in a public
library in Halifax last December to begin my task.
Upon completion many months later my main query
was whether it took him as long to write the book
as it took me to read it? Apologies to Fortnight
for the delay but please do read through another's
lenses for six months before becoming too judgemental.
Perhaps my appetite would have been enhanced were
it not for an attempt by the author in the opening
pages to indulge in a little ersatz Freudianism
by drawing a distinction between Gaelic football
and English cricket - the first is a penetration
rite while the latter suggests castration. May
I audaciously venture to ask what his theory on
horn blowing is?
admit to being in possession of a pre-formed opinion
that Coogan's obsession with demographics had
prompted him to travel the world in a bid to count
as many Catholics as he could among the seventy
million worldwide who call themselves 'Irish'.
Not for nothing do some of his less admiring readers
sometimes refer to him as Tim Pat 'count the Catholics'.
And so it was with little surprise that I approached
the end of this lengthy work only to find the
following: 'One day, demographic forces ... will
subsume the present Unionist majority'. Was the
purpose of the book to lead us inexorably to such
was further disconcerted or prejudiced by my previous
reading of his work on the IRA. Although - and
as Coogan points out - reviewers have been known
to describe his forays into IRA historiography
as 'the definitive work', I recall interviewing
the late Sean McStiofain a number of years ago
and being told that his first book on the IRA
was the 'worst crap ever written'. I have since
come to feel that the reviewers in question either
did not read Coogan's book or knew little about
would seem to be no coincidence that a fixation
with Catholics has led to the daddy of them all,
the Pope, seemingly being credited in Wherever
Green is Worn more than anyone else with having
brought down what passed for communism in the
Eastern bloc. No mention of the Soviet system
being forced to its knees by an arms race deliberately
designed by an American hegemonised West to produce
such a result. It is also insinuated that the
Pope may have had a hand in initiating the peace
process as far back as 1979. In an inverted mirror
image of Paisleyism the Pope is praised rather
than castigated for all he didn't do.
unappealing is the author's habit of inflating
the influence of the Diaspora on the peace process.
In this account they appear to have caused rather
than facilitated. But such are what myths are
most interesting parts of the book were in fact
those that did not deal primarily with the Diaspora.
Some shocking revelations about the reign of the
generals in Argentina or the Hutu genocide in
Rwanda possessed the potential to capture the
imagination. But in reality this was not essentially
the subject matter of the book.
the strong side is the fact that Coogan traced
the Irish to regions other than Australia, America
and Britain. Illustrating something of the Irish
in Japan, the Caribbean and Argentina gave the
book a sense of the nouveau. Unfortunately, too
much was written about those Irish communities
of which we know already and too little about
those of which we do not.
if we consider other work on areas addressed by
Coogan such as Kevin Kenny's on the Molly Maguires
or David Wilson's on the Irish in the United States
which are much more informative then we may catch
a glimpse of just how extensive the limitations
in this work actually are. And presumably the
further a field Coogan takes his readers the greater
such limitations become.
it was reassuring that this work pulled few punches
in its treatment of the racism shown by elements
of the Diaspora to other ethnic groups particularly
in America where the Irish seemed determined to
reproduce the social disadvantage and deprivation
experienced by blacks in particular. Such directness
reminds us of vintage Coogan from the days when
as editor of the Irish Press he battled tirelessly
to resist the almost fascist fervour of Conor
Cruise O'Brien in the latter's bid to close down
long to be an appetiser, too patchy to be definitive,
Wherever Green is Worn shall hardly be read by
all who wear it.
Green is Worn, By Tim Pat Coogan. Published
by Hutchinson. PB £25.00