Memoirs of the great struggles

Centenary Classics

Series edited by Fearghal McGarry with special introductions by others to each volume

(UCD Press, €60 the set of six)

The centenary of the events surrounding Easter 1916 has been marked by the publication of many fine works of history. Among these those of Fearghal McGarry’s stand out. But all history is a process of synthesis, a putting together of facts from a multitude of sources, which will (hopefully) built up like a mosaic into a fixed picture of a period.

However, the actual experience of that period for those lived through it will quite often have seemed to them very different from what historians later make of it. Prince Andrey, it will be recalled, was left wondering if what he experienced was actually the battle of Austerlitz. Hence all the fuss and argument about “revisionism” and claims it was not like that at all.

But historians realise that the individual experience of a period is hard to communicate. Hence Prof. McGarry has put together this collection of books from the period in which a variety of writers record what they did and felt. Such books, while they are not the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”, are essential evidence for a complete understanding.

The earliest book is Joseph Johnston’s Civil War in Ulster (1913). 

This is followed in date by the misfortunate Darrell Figgis’s A Chronicle of Jails (1917), Padraig de Burca and John F. Boyle’s Free State or Republic? (1922), and P. S. O’Hegarty’s Victory of Sinn Fein (1924). But added to these are Ernie O’Malley ‘s Rising Out, a later  memoir which was only published in 2007, and Mossie Harnett’s Victory and Woe, from 2002. These titles are not the usual ‘classics’ of the period often thought of, but each gives a selection of vivid, and in some case such as that of Darrell Figgis, almost forgotten experiences of life and politics.

However, can a set of centenary classics be complete without some views from the other side? Is what we have here a little too close to “victors’ justice”? Is there really nothing to be said on the Unionist side, if only to balance the books so to speak? 

Also one realises after reading this set, how hard it was for so many of those involved to grow beyond those brief years of intense living to survive and work in more placid, or relatively placid, times.