FREEDOM’S CHILD by JAX MILLER : a review

FREEDOM’S CHILD JAX MILLER

HARPER COLLINS 2015 357pp

First, I should declare an interest. I know the author. I first met Jax almost three years ago at a session of the Irish Crime Writers’ Group. She read an extract from her then work-in-progress (not “Freedom”, btw). What she read out was exciting, with a masterly use of language, particularly in the dialogue – New York Smart. She had that essential component for a writer, difficult to define, to capture a scene and bring it to life in a few sentences. If successful writing is ninety eight percent perspiration and two per cent inspiration, it struck me then that Jax had that two per cent and more. There was raw talent there.

“Freedom’s Child” is her first book to be published. I read it at a sitting. The last time I did that was with Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” It’s a riveting story, with a great hook in the opening line “My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter.” It’s not exactly crime – though there’s plenty in it, including an impressive body count. It’s a thriller, certainly, but essentially it’s the story of a mother , hard done by life and circumstances, looking for her missing daughter.

The daughter (and a son) was given up for adoption at birth by Freedom, who was facing a murder charge in New Jersey for a crime she didn’t commit, killing her husband, a corrupt cop. Eventually acquitted and exonerated she then finds the adoption process to be irreversible. Moreover her in-laws, essentially a criminal gang, are seeking revenge, and she is obliged to enter a witness protection programme. When we meet up with her, eighteen years after the event, she has, not surprisingly, buried herself in booze and drugs in a remote part of Oregon. When she learns simultaneously that her in-laws are gunning for her and know her location, and that her daughter has gone missing from her religious fundamentalist foster parents – the action begins.

And what action! It’s difficult to avoid clichés like “ page turner, riveting, gritty, emotional roller coaster, raw, unputdownable, tough as nails.” It’s all of those. Lee Child is quoted as describing it as “original, compelling and seriously recommended.” It’s all of that. To reveal any more of the plot would be to introduce spoilers. But two examples of her style merit noting. The language is quite superb – one of Jax’s strongpoints from the beginning. It’s the language of the street, not pretty but real and evocative, as in: “The day’s as grey as the cigarette smoke from a whore in Times Square on a frigid January morning.” And secondly there is a short chapter, shot through with black humour and empathic compassion, featuring Freedom’s encounter with a neighbour, a harmless, hopeless, Alzheimer’s sufferer, neglected by her “snot-nosed daughter”, with “ business skirts so tight that they apparently choke off the blood to her conscience.”

For a first novel “Freedom’s Child” is particularly strong, quite the best debut thriller I’ve read since Roger Hobbs’ “Ghostman.” It’s far from perfect, but which novel isn’t. The story is at once too full and too empty; there’s enough plot for two novels and a central episode in the book that is extraneous. The main settings are familiar territory. Some of the characters are caricatures at best, stage props or stereotypes otherwise. But none of this diminishes from a highly readable, racy, pacy story. Freedom herself is well drawn, warts and all; she’s not the most appealing of characters but she’s easy to understand. She’s like the book itself – beautiful it isn’t; compelling it is.
Highly recommended – and not just because I know the author!

05/08

Advertisements

WHEN THE DOVES DISAPPEARED by SOFI OXANEN: A REVIEW FOR WRITING.IE

WHEN THE DOVES DISAPPEARED
SOFI OXANEN

ATLANTIC BOOKS 303 pp.

The Second World War was a titanic struggle between the world’s major powers fought over several continents. It impacted also on many other smaller countries drawn unwillingly into the fray. Ireland was one of the fortunate neutrals. The Baltic states were not so lucky. This novel explores the impact of the War, involving invasion, occupation, and the lengthy post war brutal subjugation of one small country, Estonia and how certain ordinary Estonians coped.

The War experience and the lengthy Soviet occupation were not easy for the million Estonians. Independent since 1920, in 1939 Estonia enjoyed a standard of living roughly on a par with other Nordic countries. In June 1940, under the terms of a secret provision in the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, it was occupied by a Soviet army of 160,000, its status as an independent country was abolished and it was incorporated into the USSR. Over the next year several thousand Estonians were murdered, at least 11,000 more deported as the Soviets set about the systematic destruction and elimination of the Estonian political and administrative classes.

This was only the start of it. In 1941 Germany attacked the USSR, occupying Estonia as its armies drove towards Leningrad. As the Soviets withdrew they murdered several thousand as part of a scorched earth policy conducted by so called destruction battalions. By 1943 half of the country’s M.P.s had been murdered by the Soviets – you can see their names and dates of death on a plaque outside Ireland’s Embassy in Tallinn. Their President died in a KGB prison “hospital” after 16 years; his chain of office has yet to be returned.

The Estonians, having greeted the Germans initially as liberators, came rapidly to realise they had traded one slave master for another. During a brutal occupation the country was administered as part of the Nazi province of Ostland. Concentration and labour camps were set up and thousands of Jews, Communists and political dissidents murdered. As under the Soviets attempts were made to conscript Estonians to fight. Later, as the tide of war turned, Estonians, finally permitted to fight on their own, tried to resist the advancing Soviets. The third city of Estonia, Narva, was levelled in a ferocious battle in 1944. Thousands of Estonians fled; many more took to the woods, where they waged a guerrilla war against the Soviets until well into the 1950’s.

With the return of the Soviets came score settling, completion of the task of liquidating the Estonian elite suspended in 1941 and actions against any alleged to have assisted the Germans. After 1945 there were mass imprisonments, many murders, deportations to Siberia, and, in March 1949, the mass deportation of 25,000 people, mainly farmers and their families ( one friend of mine, then aged six months, was among those deported and spent over a decade in Siberia), to facilitate the collectivisation of agriculture and to break the rural resistance of the “Forest Brothers.” All this out of a population of little over a million.

All told the population of Estonia is estimated to have fallen by 200,000 during and after the war years through a combination of murders ( overwhelmingly by the Soviets), casualties of war, deportations, deprivation and the estimated 80,000 who fled to Sweden and elsewhere to escape the Soviets. In the decades that followed repression continued and several hundred thousand Russian settlers were moved in, seen by Estonians as an attempt to destroy Estonian nationalism.

This is the bleak background to Sofi Oxanen’s latest book. The author, half Estonian, half Finnish, came to international recognition in 2008 with her powerful bestselling third novel, “Purge.” The award winning novel, set in the 1950s and 1992, dealt with the Soviet occupation and its immediate aftermath and explored themes of collaboration and sexual exploitation of women under the Soviets and after.

In “Purge”, Aliide, an old woman, is alienated from her neighbours in rural Estonia over perceived collaboration with the Soviets over the decades, her story as portrayed described by one critic as “an empathic treatment of all the miserable choices Estonians faced during their periods of oppression.” Then her grandniece, Zara, from Vladivostok, to where the rest of Aliide’s family were deported in the 1940s, arrives, seeking help. Zara has escaped from the Russian mafia who had sex trafficked her to Berlin and who are pursuing her. In helping her Aliide must confront her own past. The story continues through a series of flashbacks, inter alia to the 1940s and 1950s, revealing the tortuous and dark family history over the period.

“ When the Doves Disappeared” is set largely in Tallinn and concentrates on the period of German occupation and the early decades thereafter. The “Doves” of the title are the pigeons which used to congregate on Tallinn’s main square, Raekoja Platz, and which were eaten by the occupying German troops, partial to roast pigeon. The title could, at a stretch , be a metaphor for the whole horror story of Estonian history from 1939 to 1994 ( the year the Russian armies left).

The story revolves around three main characters, Roland, his cousin Edgar, and Edgar’s wife Juudit and how each coped with the Nazi and then Soviet occupations. A separate character, chiefly off-stage but highly relevant, is Roland’s fiancée Rosalie (Juudit’s cousin), who dies in mysterious circumstances soon after the Germans invade. As in “Purge,” the choices facing civilians under occupation by a murderous regime are limited and bleak, all the more so when there are two sequential murderous regimes. As in “Purge” also the story takes place through flashbacks in two different time periods, the 1940s and the 1960s, with the chapters neatly delineated by headings featuring Estonian postage stamps of each period.

During the war Roland is a staunch Estonian patriot, trained in Finland, fighting first the Soviets, then the Germans, before surfacing again as one of the Forest Brothers in the struggle against the Soviets. He is determined also to uncover the truth about Rosalie’s death. Edgar, less than enthusiastic about fighting, is gay but has not come out and is equally unenthusiastic about his marriage to Juudit. As the Germans invade, the couple become become estranged as he also separates from Roland.

While Roland goes underground Edgar reinvents himself as a collaborator, adopting a German name and working for the Germans identifying for the Nazis those who had supported the Soviets as well as Estonian anti-Nazi dissidents. Eventually he encounters Juudit again to find her life has also changed. For Juudit, tasked by Roland to cultivate an SS officer, has fallen in love and begun an affair with an SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain), with whom she moves in. She is reviled by other Estonians for doing so but, in the words of one reviewer, is a complex character, “one whom it is difficult to like but easy to understand.” After a hiatus, she resumes working for the underground, while clinging to the hope that she and her lover can somehow escape their predicament and the war.

The sections set in the 1960s portray a different scene. Estonia is by now firmly a part of the Soviet Union, the “Estonian SSR.” Hopes of independence and the insurrection of the Forest Brothers have been firmly and brutally snuffed out. Through the eyes of Edgar the ruthless and comprehensive nature of the crushing of Estonian resistance by the Soviets is revealed. For Edgar has done another volte face and is now a Soviet apparatchik, “Comrade Parts.” His skin was saved by the compromising documents he had kept from his time working for the Germans. His job now is spying on his fellow Estonians. He is tasked also with writing a pseudo history of Estonia during the war, alleging crimes against real and imagined Estonian patriots. The task, and the language he employs are truly Orwellian.

Edgar is, moreover, now living once again with Juudit, who has become an alcoholic, riven by depression and guilt. Yet Estonian nationalism is not dead. Edgar conducts spurious correspondence with Estonian emigres hoping to find clues for his KGB masters regarding any remaining dissidents including Roland, who has been very careful to avoid capture. He is also monitoring some young radical students who gather regularly at Tallinn’s Café Moskva, (still today a favourite haunt of Tallinn’s young people). Edgar continues to hope for that one major stroke of luck which will cement his position as the novel builds towards a dramatic and revealing denouement.

“ Doves” is another excellent novel by Oxanen, taking the reader through a dark period of a country’s history and pointing up the dilemmas and moral choices facing ordinary people in extraordinary times. It is multi-layered, with many twists and surprises, superb descriptions of war and its side effects and all too believable characters. The translation by Lola Rogers merits special praise. Highly recommended.

S.F.
4/7/15

LIST OF BOOK REVIEWS FOR “IRISH INDEPENDENT” to MARCH 2015

IRISH INDEPENDENT BOOK REVIEWS

1. The End of the Party; Bruce Arnold and Jason O’Toole November 2011

2. Phantom; Jo Nesbo March 2012

3. Mixed Blessings; Peter Somerville-Large June 2012

4. In the Darkness; Karin Fossum June 2012

5. Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power; Robert Caro July 2012

6. Yankee Doodles; Dennis Kennedy August 2012

7. Books to Die For; John Connolly and Declan Burke September 2012

8. Live by Night; Dennis Lehane October 2012

9. Searching For Ami; John O’Keeffe November 2012

10. A Recipe for Disaster; John Henry December 2012

11. The City of Shadows; Michael Russell February 2013

12. Suddenly While Abroad: Hitler’s Irish Slaves David Blake Knox March 2013

13. What in the World; Peadar King March 2013

14. Fever: Typhoid Mary; Mary Beth Keane April 2013

15. Crocodile Tears; Mark O Sullivan May 2013

16. To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace; Jeffrey Sachs June 2013

17. Echoland; Joe Joyce July 2013

18. JFK’s Last Hundred Days; Thurston Clarke August 2013

19. One Summer: America 1927: Bill Bryson October 2013

20. A Cruel and Shocking Act; Philip Shenon November 2013

21. The City of Strangers; Michael Russell December 2013

22. Cockroaches; Jo Nesbo December 2013

23. The Second Deadly Sin; Asa Larsson January 2014

24. The Farm; Tom Rob Smith February 2014

25. The Almost Nearly Perfect People; Michael Booth March 2014

26. A Life Worth Living; Michael Smurfit

27. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August; Claire North

28. Obama Power; Jeffrey Alexander and Bernadette Jaworsky July 2014

29. Last Kiss; Louise Phillips August 2014

30. Echobeat; Joe Joyce August 2014

31 Disobeying Hitler; Randall Hansen September 2014

32. T.K. Whitaker: Portrait of a Patriot; Anne Chambers November 2014

33. Ireland’s Great War: The Glorious Madness December 2014

34. Aengus Finucane ; Deirdre Purcell January 2015

35. Ireland and the End of the British Empire; Helen O’Shea February 2015

36. Marked Off; Don Cameron March 2015

BREAKDOWN BY YEAR

2011 : 1
2012 : 9
2013 : 12
2014 : 11
2015 : 3

MARKED OFF by DON CAMERON : a review

MARKED OFF

DON CAMERON

NEW ISLAND 252 pp €13.99 e book €2.99

A killer is operating in Dublin, targeting blond women in the comfortable suburbs around Blackrock. Two are murdered in rapid succession, with the same unusual and shocking modus operandi. The Gardai are baffled. There’s nothing to link the women, the murders were well planned and there are no clues. Inspector Danny O’Neill, fighting demons from his own past, must find the killer before he strikes again. Yet lead after lead prove to be dead ends as O’Neill and his team struggle to deal with false clues, lies and corruption in the efforts to track down a troubled and evil man, one who revels in frustrating the Gardai and follows closely the detectives’ efforts to find him.

Public hysteria mounts with media revelations that the killings are linked. The killer is even given a nickname by journalists. Then, the separate gruesome murder of a junior Minister. The Minister had a past as a ladies man and as a Celtic Tiger businessman with many enemies. There are no lack of suspects and the murder appears totally separate from those of the two women. Yet the leads in this murder also dry up despite intense political pressure to solve the crime. Some are asking whether the murders could be linked, or is Dublin now stalked by two vicious killers?

When another woman is attacked pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle begin to fall into place and O’Neill realises he is confronted with an unprecedented situation. His team must delve into the seamy life of the Dublin underworld and apply wit, imagination and lateral thinking to locate their quarry as he targets another victim.

This novel won last year’s “ Get Your Book Published” competition jointly organised by RTE’s Today Show and New Island Books. It’s the first by author Don Cameron, a Dubliner who has published over forty short stories since he began writing in the mid-nineties. In an extensive interview on Writing.ie the author gives an interesting account of writing the novel, winning the competition and the process of getting it ready for publication – a process he describes as “tough, exciting, interesting, sometimes frustrating, rewarding and, above all, fun.”

15/02/15

IRELAND AND THE END OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE by HELEN O’SHEA : a review

IRELAND AND THE END OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

HELEN O’SHEA

I.B.TAURIS 288 pp €89.00

Cyprus, an island slightly larger than Co. Cork, and with a population of just over half a million, became independent in 1960 after a short, nasty, guerrilla campaign. In four years several hundred British soldiers and locally employed Cypriots were killed, nine EOKA ( Cypriot Resistance) fighters were hanged with many more dying fighting up to 40,000 British soldiers.

A bad situation was made worse by British blunders and ineptitude. They sought initially to crush EOKA by savage repression (enforced by a military Governor), deported the inspirational Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios to the Seychelles and flew the EOKA leaders to British prisons, where they teamed up with IRA prisoners. EOKA were even gifted their own Kevin Barry, 22 year old Michalis Karaolis, hanged amid protests in May 1956. As with Barry, the hanging of Karaolis proved a watershed, enflaming passions and compromising possibilities of a political solution.

The Cypriot insurgents drew inspiration from Ireland’s earlier struggle. The similarities are obvious, even if the ultimate aim of many was not independence but Enosis – union with Greece. Fears over this among the 20% Turkish minority led to bloody clashes with the Greek majority before and after independence and eventually to partition of the island and Turkey occupying the northern half.

Public sympathy in Ireland for the rebels was, unsurprisingly, considerable, particularly as Britain seemed to be repeating in Cyprus the mistakes made in Ireland a generation earlier. Yet ,as Dr O’Shea shows ,Irish involvement was not one-sided, the complicated situation reflecting Ireland’s relatively recent separation from Britain.

The British Empire may have been in decline but its bureaucracy and military still held many high ranking Irish, including the head of the Foreign Office, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, an early advocate of the partition of Cyprus. On Cyprus, Chief Justice Hallinan, who sentenced Karaolis to death, was from Cork, while the Attorney-General, James Henry, who refused clemency to all nine who were hanged, was the son of Denis Henry, Irish Attorney –General when twenty four IRA members were executed between 1919 and 1921.

Many other Irish were involved at various levels in the British judiciary and administration plus hundreds in the army. These included Brigadier Butler from Rathgar, and a number of other senior officers , while several Irish regiments served tours of duty during the “Emergency.” Not surprisingly many Irish ordinary soldiers served, having emigrated during the decade after 1945; some were casualties, some were decorated.

Moreover, this was the 1950’s, the Cold War at its most frigid, with Cyprus regarded as key to Britain’s defence of the eastern Mediterranean. Ireland, staunchly Catholic and anti-Communist, while not in NATO, was firmly in the western camp. This led to a certain wariness , for example from the Catholic Church, in support for the Cypriot cause. At the political level also there were factors at play. While committed to supporting the principle of self-determination at the UN, Ireland, a new member, was still preoccupied with Irish Partition ( the “sore thumb ”policy). There was caution about attacking Britain’s State of Emergency in Cyprus and alleged human rights abuses , when Ireland herself had a State of Emergency (including internment) to deal with the IRA border campaign. There was a delicate balance to be struck. “ Sympathy was free but a UN vote could be costly.”

01/02/15

AENGUS FINUCANE by DEIRDRE PURCELL a review

AENGUS FINUCANE

In the heart of Concern

DEIRDRE PURCELL

NEW ISLAND 358 pp. For publication early February; e book €9.99

Aengus Finucane was a big man, not just physically. For decades a towering figure in Ireland’s aid and assistance efforts for the poor of the developing world, he died of cancer aged 76 in 2009. His name will forever be synonymous with Concern, the Irish aid organisation he headed for sixteen years.

This is his story, interwoven with that of his forty year association with Concern. Deirdre Purcell, prolific journalist and author, has compiled it from scores of interviews with those who knew and worked with Aengus, including many prominent political and business figures. Sadly, most of his personal papers and correspondence, painstakingly assembled and sorted by his brother and fellow priest, Jack, were destroyed by accident soon after Aengus passed away.

The story is remarkable. Aengus Finucane was ordained in 1959 in a different Ireland, where the Church was supreme and where hundreds of young Irish men and women flocked to the religious life and, within that life, to serve overseas in the “Missions.” Aengus and brother Jack were among around 900 Holy Ghost (now Spiritan) priests sent out as Missionaries, mostly to Africa, and Nigeria in particular, spending eight years in pastoral work. The job was learned on the hoof, nothing in their training having prepared the young Irish priests for their new life.

Then, in 1967 Nigeria’s oil –rich province of Biafra, where most of the estimated 300 Spiritans were located, attempted to secede. It proved a defining moment. The resulting civil war saw an increasingly severe encirclement and blockade of Biafra, leading to widespread malnutrition and starvation, particularly among children. The television images of starving Biafran children struck a chord in Ireland, with several ad hoc groups formed to supply aid. One such was “Africa Concern” formed in early 1968 by Fr Raymond Kennedy, another Spiritan priest, and members of his family.

A heroic aid operation was mounted by several Irish relief organisations , a ship acquired and supplies flown in to the embattled province. There to receive them at Uli airstrip were the Finucanes. The first legends about Aengus began. But it was to no avail. Despite international aid, after almost three years and a million civilians dead, chiefly from starvation, Biafra surrendered. The Spiritans were imprisoned briefly and then expelled.

Internationally, part of Biafra’s legacy was the formation of Medecins sans Frontieres. In Ireland Biafra proved a catalyst in terms of public awareness, via TV and the other media, of the poverty and suffering of hundreds of millions of their fellow humans elsewhere, whether from natural or man-made catastrophe. Concern widened its net, dropping “African” as it got involved elsewhere. Trocaire, Goal and an impressive Irish government development cooperation programme emerged as the years passed. In terms of total assistance Ireland moved steadily up the league table of donors.

Concern in particular has grown. It now has 3,000 staff deployed in twenty eight countries. Aengus Finucane was involved at every strategic moment. He spent the Seventies in Bangladesh, a new country wracked by war damage and natural catastrophe, moving on in 1978 to the Thai-Cambodian border where the refugees from Pol Pot had fled. His philosophy was simple: “Do as much as you can, as well as you can, for as many as you can, for as long as you can.”

The question he asked in debates about immediate welfare relief or sustainable development programmes was equally simple: How could the poorest, the most unfortunate, be assisted, a helpful reality check in terms of achieving results. He became the logical choice to succeed as Concern’s chief executive in 1981. Shortly afterwards his predecessor was found to have embezzled funds. Aengus Finucane went on the road, staking his personal reputation in a host of public appearances to regenerate belief in Concern. It worked. Trust was restored. The funds were ultimately recovered .

The Eighties and Nineties saw a succession of horrific international humanitarian crises – Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda. Concern and Aengus Finucane were to the fore throughout. There are harrowing chapters reliving the horrors of each one, recounted by those who were there. His acumen and awareness that publicity was the key to persuading the public to donate was reflected in his message, hammered home to visiting Irish journalists in Ethiopia in 1984: report back what is happening. In Somalia he seized upon the tremendous publicity value of a visit by President Robinson and worked with her to secure government approval for the trip.

Energetic, committed and gregarious, he was excellent at making friends in the right places. Under his stewardship, Concern acquired an international fund raising and leveraging capability. But his hectic lifestyle began to take its toll on his health. Bizarrely, it was a simple accident with a pen , which infected his arm with a necrotising water-borne bug , which caused most damage and enforced extended sick leave.

This proved a turning point. Methods and attitudes were changing and Aengus, at retirement age, moved on to become honorary president of Concern US. The role gave him a new lease of life as he mingled with, and opened the wallets of , numerous wealthy Americans. His final odyssey was to Haiti, where Concern is now heavily involved.

Purcell’s book is packed with fascinating anecdotes and extracts from interviews with journalists and others, including his successors in the job. Some are amusing, some make for grim reading but overall they contribute to a well-rounded portrait of someone who strove to make the world a better place.

18/01/15

IRELAND’S GREAT WAR by KEVIN MYERS ; THE GLORIOUS MADNESS by TURTLE BUNBURY : two reviews

IRELAND’S GREAT WAR KEVIN MYERS LILLIPUT PRESS 248pp €20.00
THE GLORIOUS MADNESS TURTLE BUNBURY GILL & MACMILLAN 338 pp €26.99 e book €18.44
“HE LOST HIMSELF COMPLETELY” BRENDAN KELLY THE LIFFEY PRESS 152 pp €16.95

“Not merely had people forgotten, but they’d forgotten that they’d forgotten.” This, from the opening page of Kevin Myers’ powerful book, was his comment in 1979 on the derelict state of the Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge.

Here are three different but complementary books on the four year conflict which impacted heavily on Ireland, leaving roughly 40,000 young Irishmen dead, with many thousands more wounded or scarred mentally from their experience. By comparison 1400 were killed in the War of Independence, and at most several thousand in the Civil War. Yet until recently Irish participation in the Great War was airbrushed out – except in Northern Ireland – and the dead and their sacrifice ignored or discounted.

Happily this has now changed, as epitomised most recently by Ambassador Dan Mulhall laying a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. This is due at least in part to the indefatigable efforts, over many years, of Kevin Myers to focus public attention on the issue and challenge the policy of official neglect. His book, a compilation of articles and lectures delivered in recent years, with one piece going back to 1980, reflects this. Myers points up the scale of volunteering in the first years of the War across all creeds and political affiliations and then recounts the ebbing of support after 1916 and the subsequent re-writing of history.

Several chapters on the impact of the war on different counties help bring into focus and humanise what was a mini-holocaust, with an average of one hundred Irishmen dying each day the war lasted, including two of the very last casualties. Taking two examples, almost four hundred Sligo men died during the conflict, while the figure for Kerry was 718, with 340 from Tralee alone. Again, all classes and creeds were affected. The impact on small communities across Ireland was huge, yet afterwards the dead were unacknowledged, those returning ignored or even pilloried. In Sligo, for example, the only annual commemorations were for the nineteen IRA men slain in the War of Independence. Selective amnesia about the Great War became the norm.

The horrors of the trenches, the squalor, the terrible deaths of the Irish are described in detail in Myers’ characteristically unsparing prose. Some of the multiple deaths among families are recounted, again across the classes. There are separate chapters on Francis Ledwidge and Robert Gregory, the Irish Airman immortalised and romanticised in Yeats’ poem.

The chapter on Gallipoli corrects a few of the myths but the reality remains equally shocking. The fate of the Dublin Fusiliers attempting to storm the Kiritch Tepe Sirt ridge, as recounted by Myers, is particularly memorable. The cull on that hillside included, among the Pals of the Footballers (drawn from the IRFU), a TCD professor of law and the chief botanist from the Botanic Gardens, killed with the others in a bayonet charge uphill against machine guns.

Myers points out that , to match the legendary – and much commemorated – losses of the 36th Ulster Division on the Somme (2000 dead) , should be set the even greater – but unacknowledged – losses (2700) of the 16th (nationalist) Irish Division. One of them, Tom Kettle, killed in 1916, his head cradled by eighteen year old Emmet Dalton, who did the same for the dying Michael Collins a few years later, is given special mention. Remembered now chiefly for his sonnet to his daughter, he was perceptive enough to comment that “Pearse and the others will go down in history as heroes and I will be just a bloody English officer.”

Tom Kettle and Emmet Dalton feature also in Turtle Bunbury’s excellent “ Glorious Madness,” which is a fitting complement to Myers’ work. The title is a quote by Woodbine Willie, a chaplain of Irish descent, later a noted pacifist, who dispensed bibles and cigarettes to the troops, and who later wrote there were “no words foul and filthy enough to describe” war.

Glorious Madness is splendidly illustrated with fascinating period photographs and reproductions . It comprises a collection of detailed anecdotes on scores of the more prominent Irish involved in the war , including chaplains and airmen, together with accounts of some of the battles and skirmishes in which they participated. Of particular note is Tom Barry, who fought in Iraq, honing the skills he would later impart to training the West Cork Flying Column after 1919.

There’s even a chapter on Captain “Hoppy” Hardy, British ace escaper, later ace interrogator, who earned notoriety subsequently as the probable torturer of both Kevin Barry and Ernie O’Malley and as the murderer of comedian Brendan O’Carroll’s grandfather in 1920. Hardy escaped Collins’ hitmen on Bloody Sunday.

Brendan Kelly’s book is a reminder that many returned from the front physically unscathed but mentally shattered. Written by one of Ireland’s most eminent psychiatrists, the book charts the treatment of 362 shell shocked soldiers in Dublin’s Richmond War Hospital between 1916 and 1919.From the anecdotes in the final chapter, including one quoting Gay Byrne on his father’s nightmares, it is clear that many thousands more were profoundly disturbed and haunted throughout their lives by that terrible conflict.
07/12/14