An Informal History 1916-1966
Early on Easter Sunday 23 April 1916 in Liberty Hall, the painter Christopher Brady carried out his commission of printing the document that would proclaim the Irish Republic
As the subtitle says, this is a history of Ireland between the years 1916 and 1966, 50 years of change and turmoil. As the informal part of the title may indicate it isn’t the most official of accounts. More of a personal recollection of the history. Not of it all, the author wasn’t alive in 1916, but a great deal concerns his family and how they reacted to the events.
There is also a lot of use of sources at the time, writers and politicians, journalists and diarists. Of course this therefore means that a great deal of the first hand accounts are from those towards the top of the social scale.
It is a very readable book, with plenty to recommend it. But on occasion the author’s personal views come across a little strongly. It isn’t as though he writes “I believe this to be wrong”, but the language used conveys an impression. Sommerville-Ross seems to recognise that this is a failing of Irish history, at one stage he quotes another saying that very few Irish men or women can be neutral, rather they see everything through glasses tinted either green or orange.
I’m not so sure that he is either green or orange, but some of his desciptions of the Civil war leave no doubts in my mind as to his position.
The anti-Treaty minority set a precedent for the modern IRA by displaying contempt of public opinion and the cry for peace
And on the following page he states that the Irregulars deliberatly blew up the records room in the Four Courts, when in fact this is a disputed issue. And later on he makes mention of the anti-revisionists, but never really confronts the revisionist historians, although he does seem to hold their views. I suppose, everyone has some opinion on these matters.
Overall though, the book is well worth a read. The early chapters especially. The later ones get bogged down in the “isn’t it a terrible life we all lived” with the never ending death, disease and poverty. If things really were that bad why on earth did people still keep living.
An interesting section of the book for me, was the discussion of the Second World War, and Ireland’s neutrality. Of course I’ve been raised knowing that this was the right thing to do :) so can I really make an objective call, especially given what we now know the Nazis were all about? But you can’t judge people by your own standards, and Somerville-Large points out that most Irish people didn’t know anything about what was happening outside Ireland. Everything, from newspapers to priests’ sermons were censored. And what little trickled in wasn’t believed.
Part of the trouble was that Irish people with long memories remembered how Allied propaganda about German atrocities during the First World War turned out to be untrue.
And the whole book is worth reading, if only for the description in it of De Valera, as given by David Grey, the US Ambassador to Ireland during the war
he has the qualities of martyr, fanatic and Machiavelle. No-one can outwit, frighten or blandich him. Remember that he is not pro-German, nor personally anti-British, but only pro-de Valera