Looking back over the year, our regular reviewers have selected what, for them, was their personal book, or in some generous cases, books of the year
A book that impressed me quite a lot this year was Unmasking God by Father Daniel O’Leary (Columba Press, €12.99 / £11.08), whose books are always a joy to read.
Fr O’Leary suggests that God is often to be found in the ordinary everyday experiences of our lives. He tells us: ”In the end, it is not in our perfect observance of religious practice that we are set free from our insecurities, but by trusting the human heart of a person.”
He goes on to point out that Einstein cherished a feeling of utter humility towards the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos and saw himself in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages.
Fr O’Leary has many wise reflections on childhood and old age. The book also contains an interesting CD, in which Fr O’Leary and his sister Maura offer thought-provoking reflections. Fr Daniel O’Leary’s books are always a joy to read.
Of the books I read or reviewed over the year, one especially stands out. That is The Irish Church and the Tudor Reformations (Four Courts Press, €55.00 / £50.00) by Henry A. Jefferies.
Dr Jefferies’ profoundly researched and meticulous study of the failure of the Tudor Reformations in Ireland was one of the most important religious publications in recent years.
The author highlights misconceptions about the alleged pre-existing weaknesses of the Irish Church.
While acknowledging the role of the priest trained in the seminaries on the continent in ensuring the survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland, he rightly emphasises the more crucial role of the more numerous priests who were educated and trained within Ireland and ministered to their parishioners within traditional parish structures.
He vividly contrasts the pastoral commitment and influence of the clergy of the established and Catholic Churches of the period. Nor does he neglect the crucial role of women in handing on the ‘Old Faith’ and its practices.
In the event, the English crown failed to convert the general population to an acceptance of religious change.
Thus, as Jefferies notes, in the 1590s after seven decades of reformation the English Church in Ireland remained just that — almost entirely English in its membership.
Thomas J.Morrissey SJ
The book I was most impressed by during the year was Cardinal Paul Cullen and his World, ed. by D. Keogh and A. McDonnell (Four Courts Press, €55.00 / £50.00).
The extent and depth of Cullen’s influence is conveyed in some 27 articles which deal with Cullen in his political and clerical context, Cullen and the visual arts and architecture, his spirituality, pastoral vision and heritage, his involvement in education at all levels, attitude to Fenians, his links with Gladstone, with the Irish Papal Brigade, the Irish in the Antipodes, Belfast and the ‘devotional revolution’, his relations with John Henry Newman and Abp. John McHale, his influence at the Vatican Council and with respect to the definition of papal infallibility, his contribution to the relief of poverty and the development of social welfare in Ireland, his relations with certain religious orders, and so much more.
As might be expected, there is some unevenness in the contributions, but the overall result is a notable contribution to Irish historical knowledge and a debunking of easy assumptions about Cardinal Cullen. It is a book the general reader with an interest in history can dip into with enjoyment.
I was very taken by Padraig Yeates’s A City in Wartime: Dublin 1914-1918 (Gill & Macmillan, €24.99 / £21.99).
As I am currently working on the biography of the remarkable Lord Mayor of Dublin, 1917-1924, Laurence O’Neill, I am very conscious of the wide scholarship and command of material displayed in this book.
Interest in the years of the Great War never flags, and readers will enjoy the story so well constructed by Mr Yeates. It is a fitting continuation to his major work Lockout: Dublin 1913.
Top of my list is Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth (Catholic Truth Society, €16.99 / £14.99), devoted to Holy Week.
It is an astonishing achievement at every level: academic, theological and, especially, spiritual.
Finola Kennedy’s life of Frank Duff: A Life Story (Continuum, €17.50 / £12.99) was an eye-opener for me.
Kennedy’s carefully researched objective portrayal of the founder of the Legion of Mary affords her readers a genuine insight into the human greatness, spiritual depth and theological originality of a man of God — and one of our greatest contemporaries. Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers (Harper Perennial, €13.20 / £9.99 ) is a fascinating, historical account of the interaction of religion and politics covering the period stretching from the French Revolution to the Great War. Among other insights, it shows how, in the process of secularisation, politics in Europe itself took on the guise of a religion — with tragic effects.
John Wyse Jackson
My choice is a reissue, but one which should not be forgotten: it is the novel We Are Besieged by Barbara Fitzgerald (Somerville Press, €14.99 / £12.99 pb).
The first appearance from an Irish publisher of a novel originally published in London back in 1946, this is a rare insider’s view of the fears, dilemmas and split loyalties that assailed that forgotten group, the southern Irish Unionists, when independence came after 1922.
From the opening account of the burning by Sinn Fe¨iners of a big house, seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl, to the final decision, years later, on whether or not she will be able to stay in the country she loves, I much enjoyed this illuminating and beautifully written book.
Mrs Fitzgerald wrote of what she knew: she was the daughter of the Church of Ireland prelate Archbishop Gregg of Armagh.
Her father-in-law was Admiral Boyle Somerville, murdered by Republicans in 1936.
Quite the most beautiful book to appear in Ireland this year is Brian Lalor’s Ink-Stained Hands: Graphic Studio Dublin and the Origins of Fine-Art Printing in Ireland (Lilliput Press, €60.00 / £59.00).
Lavishly illustrated, it tells the story of print-making in Dublin from the end of the 19th Century, with particular focus on the Graphic Studio Dublin since its foundation in 1960.
For those with an interest in history, L. Perry Curtis’ The Depiction of Eviction in Ireland, 1845-1910 (UCD Press, €30.00 / £25.00 pb) is a valuable addition to the literature of the land struggle in Ireland.
The more general reader will enjoy Bridget Hourican’s compilation Straight from the Heart: Irish Love Letters (Gill & Macmillan, €19.99 / £17.99).
It features the love letters of many of Ireland’s most famous personalities in history — from Jonathan Swift to Patrick Kavanagh, from Wolfe Tone to Michael Collins.
Check out Éamonn Ceannt’s letter to his wife written before his execution in 1916: for me, it is the most affecting item in Hourican’s book.
I enjoyed Memoirs of a Medical Maverick by Risteard Mulcahy (Liberties Press, €19.99 / £19.99).
Book came out end 2010 but I only read it this year. I had already read several books by him about his famous father, General Richard Mulcahy, and his family.
But in this book, Risteard writes about himself in a simple style as if he were talking to you in a bar or on a bus.
He grew up in the Rathmines of the 1920s and 1930s in a house which kept cows and chickens and often with armed guards at the gate to protect his father.
Then there is the amazing account of how young doctors were trained, or perhaps not trained, in the teaching hospitals of Dublin.
Some of this is hair-raising, especially when he is sent out to the slums to deliver babies with only the most basic knowledge of obstetrics. His patients seem to have survived.
From being an average junior doctor, he graduates to specialise in cardiology in London and brings his knowledge back to Dublin where there is little interest at first.
In between he writes frankly about what today would seem like a retarded maturity in matters emotional and sexual.
He was probably not exceptional. It was an Ireland long gone which young people today would find incredible.
He has devoted much of his long life in trying to educate Ireland about the damage we do to our hearts by what we eat and smoke. Today it is all commonplace. But he tells his story well.
From the shadow world of films, my choice of the year would be Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, by Patrick McGilligan (It Books, €21.67 / £10.87 / $29.99).
Having already read Patrick McGilligan’s masterly biographies of such movie icons as Jack Nicholson, James Cagney, George Cukor, Clint Eastwood and Friz Lang, it came as no suprise to me that this would be an equally authoritative work on one of Hollywood’s most fascinating maverick figures.
When he was doing the Cukor book, Patrick once told me, Cukor asked him what he wanted him to reveal about his life. He replied ‘everything’. Patrick spent an average of four years on each of his books, exhaustively researching his subjects and conducting hundreds of interviews. This is no exception.
An incredibly detailed book that captures the idiosyncratic talent of Ray as well as his self-destructive nature, it takes us from the glory years in the 1950s when he crafted such seminal works as They Live By Night and Rebel Without A Cause to the emotional and creative meltdown that followed his addiction to drink and drugs.
Today, Ray is a mercurial figure to critics around the world, an unacknowledged pioneer of quixotic, inchoate genres. Nobody could ever predict what he would do next, least of all himself. Jean-Luc Godard paid him the unequivocal tribute ”Nicholas Ray is the cinema”.
In this mesmerising biography, one of America’s most renowned critics gives profound testimony to the truth of that accolade.