Opinions & Ideas

Category: Books Page 2 of 4


I have greatly enjoyed reading “Kingdom Overthrown” by Gerard Fitzgibbon, published by New Island in 2015. Gerard Fitzgibbon, a history graduate, worked as a reporter with the Limerick Leader. He writes history in a lively way, with colourful portraits of the main characters, and of the places in which they fought and died.

 The war in Ireland between Jacobites and Williamites was just a small part of a wider European war between the allies of King Louis XIV of France, who included the Irish Jabobites, and a large multi denominational coalition of European powers who wanted to curb French power.

 France wanted to expand its territory along the Rhine so as to make its territory more defensible. Louis XIV launched the war by crossing the Rhine to besiege Philippsburg to this end in September 1688.

 This upset the Holy Roman Emperor and led to the formation of  anti French alliance (the League of Augsburg)  which included the Emperor himself as well  William of Orange but also the Pope,  and the Kings of Spain, Sweden and  Savoy. 

In addition to Ireland, the war was waged at sea, in modern day Belgium, in the Rhineland, Catalonia, and there were engagements between the French and the English as far away as New York, New England and the Caribbean. As well as the Irish campaign on behalf of King James, there was a Jacobite rising in Scotland, aided by some troops from Ireland.

As long as the Catholic King, James II was on the throne in England, the British Isles might have remained neutral in the conflict between Louis XIV and his enemies. But when James was deposed by William of Orange, Louis regarded this as an act of war against himself. 

Without the financial and military support of France, James II, and his viceroy in Ireland the Duke of Tyrconnell, would not have been able to sustain their campaign in Ireland from 1688 to 1691.

Religious affiliation was a determining factor in the war in Ireland, with relatively few Protestants supporting James, and even fewer Catholics supporting William. But across Europe, many of the powers who opposed France were Catholic.

 This suggests that territorial ambition was an even stronger force that religious affiliation.

 In Ireland too, the war was about who would own the land….the families who had had it in the past, and remained loyal to the  old Dynasty, or the newly arrived settlers, who had arrived with the Ulster Plantation and the Cromwellian confiscations, and put their money on  the usurper, William of Orange. 

The events of 1688-1691 have shaped the way Ireland is today.

 The fault lines on 1690 are there still in Ireland, and will be accentuated by Brexit.

 In contrast, the fault line between France and its eastern neighbours, which so preoccupied Louis XIV, has been dissolved in the European Union. 



The scandal of Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is one of bureaucratic failure, sloppy political oversight, and culpable procrastination, all leading to a colossal waste of public money. It is exposed in a book entitled “Burned” by Sam McBride, a well known Belfast based journalist.

 This book will be avidly read in the UK Treasury, from which a large overall net subsidy comes to maintain Northern Ireland’s excellent public services.

 The author draws heavily on evidence given to the Public Inquiry into RHI, which will publish its findings in the New Year.  

His book shows that simply restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly will not guarantee good governance. There must be a complete change in mindset among the civil service as well as among the politicians. Structural irresponsibility must be tackled head on.

 Sam McBride shows that, even when the power sharing Administration was working, there was no collective responsibility or proper communication among Ministers. Each government party ( DUP and Sinn Fein) treated the Ministries it held as independent fiefdoms. Checks and balances did not work. The opposition parties ( SDLP, Ulster Unionist, Alliance and others) did not call the government to account, until it was too late.

The RHI started with a good idea, that of incentivising businesses in Northern Ireland (NI) to use renewable fuels (like wood), rather than ones that would eventually run out (like oil, coal, and gas) to heat their premises.  It followed the model of a scheme already launched in Britain. That scheme was deliberately generous in the initial period, in order to promote a step change in business mentality about heating.

But the Northern Ireland version of RHI went further and contained some fatal flaws.

 The rate of subsidy was so generous that it exceeded the cost of the fuel! 

So the more heating used, the more profit was made.

 And the overall budget for the scheme was not capped. These were elementary errors. When firms discovered big upfront profits could be made from abusing the scheme, there was a huge rush of applications, and no limit on the UK taxpayer’s liability. 

The fact that such a flawed scheme could ever have been put forward by civil servants for approval by their Minister (Arlene Foster at the time) is a damning indictment of the culture of public administration in Northern Ireland. This book shows that that culture is characterised by an unwillingness to ask hard questions, evasion of responsibility, and poor record keeping. Restoring the Assembly alone will not solve that.

The motivation for the poor design of RHI in NI is even more troubling. The working assumption was that the full cost would be met by funds coming from London, and not from Northern Ireland’s own budget. So nobody bothered to look out for loopholes that could be abused. As money coming in from outside, so controls were not important.

 If the money had had to be raised from NI taxpayers themselves, much more care would have been taken, both by civil servants and by Ministers.

 In this sense, the careless attitude to money calls the current model of devolution into question. Devolving spending power, without equivalent tax raising responsibility, inevitably leads to poor decision making.

 This was also shown when the decisions on welfare reform had to be handed back by Belfast to Westminster, because the NI parties in the Executive could not agree or take responsibility.

Arlene Foster of the DUP was the responsible Minister when the flawed scheme was launched. When the scandal was uncovered, her party sought to delay the closing down of the scheme, because so many NI businesses were by then exploiting it.  When they found out, Sinn Fein Ministers were also slow in taking action. 

This book contains a mass of information. Its conclusions are deeply troubling, but it is not light  reading.

 It contains salutary lessons for all who would like to see responsible government restored in Stormont.


A book I greatly enjoyed this year was Fergal Keane’s “Wounds, A Memoir of War and Love”(William Collins).

It is a story of the Troubles of 100 years ago in North Kerry, and is built around the killing of RIC inspector, Tobias O Sullivan, on Church Street in Listowel of 30th January 1921.

 O Sulllivan was from Connemara and his wife was from near Westport and she had worked in Gibbons’ grocery in the town before she married Tobias in 1915. 

His family were farmers on the shores of Lough Corrib and family had it that an ancestor had fought on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Aughrim.

 Tobias joined the RIC in 1899, shortly after the GAA had banned RIC from GAA membership in 1897.

 He was talented and came second in Ireland in the sergeant’s exam. He was an effective and brave policeman.

He was a Catholic, as were the men who killed him, when, unarmed, he walked home for his lunch. 

The killing of members of the RIC was one of the methods used by the IRA to undermine the authority of UK institutions in Ireland.

 It is only now that the story of RIC victims of this war is being heard, thanks to books like this one.

 Tobias O Sullivan’s wife died of tuberculosis shortly after Tobias was killed. Some of his orphaned children stayed in Ireland, and one of his grandsons was in the FCA guard of honour outside the GPO on Easter Sunday in 1966. 

Fergal Keane’s family are from Listowel, and some of them were involved in the IRA in the locality, and their side of the story is told with sympathy too.

 One of those involved in the killing of O Sullivan said he prayed for him every day he lived, but felt he had done what had to be done.

This well written book shows that the War of Independence of 1919-1921 was almost as much an Irish Civil War, as was the subsequent fighting between pro and anti Treaty forces in the 1922-23 period.  


News headline are occupied almost every day by a story of conflict in what was once the Ottoman Empire, an Empire that existed for over 400 years and once ruled all of the Middle East, North Africa and much of SE Europe.

We hear of

  • ethnic cleansing in the Balkans,
  • conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, 
  • sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria,
  • tension and rivalry between Turkey and Egypt,
  •  civil wars in Libya and Lebanon, and 
  • the appalling fate of Yemen.

 All these conflicts, in what was once the Ottoman Empire, have deep historical roots that go back to the time of the Empire.

 As long as the Ottoman Empire existed, these tensions were imperfectly contained by the stratified and devolved structures of the empire. That calm did not survive the end of the empire in 1922.

Western attempts, at the end of World War  1, to restructure the territories of the defeated Ottomans on the basis of western style nation states, have not brought peace. The unresolved tensions, dating back to Ottoman times, have fed Islamic terror and fuelled migration flows into Europe.

The origins of all of this can only be understood if one takes a deep dive into how the Ottoman Empire was brought down by the outcome of the First World War, a war for which the Ottomans bore much less responsibility than did most of the other protagonists.

This is brilliantly described in “The Fall of the Ottomans”, the Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920” by Eugene Rogan. Rogan is also the author of a book on the Arabs and a lecturer on history in Oxford University.

This book is much more than a narrative military history. The political origins and consequences of the war are explained.

 In 1914, the Ottoman Empire had had a long term conflict of interest with Russia. Russia had supported its enemies in the Balkans, coveted its territories in the Caucasus, and had earlier expelled Ottoman subjects from the Crimea. 

Russia also wished to control the Dardanelles straits, so as to have access to the Mediterranean. Russia, then as now, saw itself as the defender of the Orthodox Christian faith which had been supplanted in Constantinople by the Ottoman conquest of that city in 1483.

In the nineteenth century, Ottoman interests had been defended against Russia by Britain and France. But, in the early twentieth century, France allied itself with Russia, in order to counterbalance the rising power of Imperial Germany. That left the Ottomans isolated. 

Then, on 1 August 1914, at the very moment of the outbreak of the War, Britain refused to deliver warships, built in Britain for the Ottoman Navy, and already been fully paid for by public subscriptions of Ottoman citizens. The Ottomans had to find new allies so, the day after the British refusal to hand over the battleships, they secretly allied themselves with Germany.

 They then formally entered the War on the side of Germany in November 1914.

Rogan’s book is full of insights into a world that was very different from today.

 The First Arab Congress, which sought to resist the “Turkification” and centralisation of the Ottoman Empire, took place in Paris in 1913.

 23 Arab delegates attended- 11 Muslims, 11 Christians and one Jew. 

The presence of a Jewish Arab at an Arab Congress seems remarkable nowadays, but the Arab identity at the time seems to have been based on a shared language, and not on ethnicity or religion.

The Armenian genocide by the Ottomans during the First World War is described.  It was the result of suspicion and fear. Armenians were to be found in both the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Many lived in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul.

With modest justification, the Ottomans suspected the loyalty of the Armenians and sought to move them by force to Syria, as far as possible from the Russian frontier. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died. 

Assyrian Christians also suffered from similar suspicions, and a third of their pre war population perished during World War I.

The British attempt to knock the Ottomans out of the war by an attack on the Dardanelles in 1915 was an attempt to help the Russians, whose forces were thought to be in danger of being encircled by Ottoman forces in the Caucasus. In fact, this information proved to be false but the attack went ahead anyway, with disastrous results. 

The tenacity and loyalty of the Ottoman forces was underestimated here and on other fronts in this terrible war. The attack on the Dardanelles in fact strengthened the Ottoman/ German alliance and prolonged the war.

Rogan also describes the warfare between the Ottomans and the British in modern day Iraq(where the British suffered severe defeats) and in Palestine. There were in fact three battles in Gaza before the British eventually broke through there to capture Jerusalem and Damascus in late 1918.

In order to win Arab support in August 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt,  had pledged British support for 

“the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants together with our approval of the Arab khalifate when it should be proclaimed”

Obviously Arab aspirations had moved some distance from the non sectarian demand of the Arab Congress of 1913. The notion of a khalifate was, as we know, taken up by ISIS in recent times.

As we know, these promises were not kept, and British and French protectorates were established in the conquered Arab lands (Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon) after War under the Sykes/Picot Agreement.

But it did not stop there.

 At the Peace Conference, the terms imposed on the Ottoman Empire by the Allies also required it to surrender territories in modern Turkey to Greece, to Italy, and to new Kurdish and Armenian entities. 

The acceptance of these terms by the last Ottoman sultan was too much for the Turkish Army led by Kemal Attaturk. He drove the Greek and Italian forces out of Turkey,  deposed the Sultan and proclaimed a Turkish Republic. 

Eugene Rogan’s book is well written and helps us understand some of the fears and resentments that are causing deaths up to this day.

Tom McIntyre, RIP

Cavan County Council and Cavan Arts Office pay Tribute to Tom McIntyre

I wish to pay tribute to the life and work of the poet and playwright Tom McIntyre.

Tom was a noted athlete in his youth, playing for Cavan as a goal keeper.

I first encountered him when he taught me English and History in Clongowes.

He opened my mind to a new view of the world. He was unconventional, irreverent and also a very kind person, whose personality inspired many of his students to explore the world of poetry.

I attended some years ago when he was honoured by Cavan County Council.

He was very proud of Cavan and returned to live there.


I recently enjoyed “Jacobites, a new history of the 1745 Rebellion” by Jacqueline Riding.

Recently I visited Scotland and was at Glenfinnan, where Prince Charles Edward first raised the standard of his father, James III, as the legitimate King of the UK on 19 August 1745.

 I also saw and the battlefield of Culloden, near Inverness where his attempt to reclaim the throne came to bloody end on 16 April 1746.

 This was the last pitched battle fought on British soil, and ended a struggle that had involved Ireland at the battles of the Boyne in 1690 and Aughrim in 1691.

Riding’s book is timely, as it illustrates the close connection of Scotland with continental Europe, something the English sometimes fail to appreciate, as we see nowadays as Brexit unfolds.

There was also considerable Irish involvement in Charles Edward’s campaign.

The bulk of the small number of French troops, sent to aid him, came from Irish regiments in the French Army. The leading financiers of the campaign were French based Irishmen, Antoine Walsh and Walter Ruttledge. Of the small party that landed in Scotland with the Prince in 1745, the majority were Irish.  

Charles Edward was only 25 when he set out on what must have seemed a reckless endeavour, with little chance of success. French military help was modest, and designed more to create a diversion from other theatres of war (mainly in present day Belgium) that were more vital to French interests than was securing the British throne for James III.

Initially, Charles Edward had astounding success. He took Edinburgh (except its castle) without firing a shot. He then defeated a British army at Prestonpans.

He held court in Edinburgh for a few weeks, promising, among other things to grant religious toleration to all, and to repeal the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland. While there he enhanced his mainly highland Scottish Army with lowland Scots recruits.

He then decided to lead a winter invasion of England, crossing the border at Carlisle, and heading for Lancashire where there was considered to be support for the Jacobite cause. But there was just one small, easily suppressed, rising on his behalf, by Catholics in the vicinity of Omskerk near Liverpool. The Catolic clergy advised their flock not to get involved. He was able to raise a force in Manchester, mainly among local Catholics, but practical English support for his cause proved very disappointing.

After an agonising debate, it was decided in December, at Derby, that he should not continue with his invasion but should lead his Army back to Scotland, and await more substantial help from France.  Most of the Scottish forces, on which he depended and who had much to lose, preferred to fight for their cause in their native country than to wait to be overwhelmed by superior forces gathering in what was, for them, in a foreign land.

The Prince himself wanted go on to London. But that endeavour could only have worked if there was a simultaneous invasion from France, which could not be guaranteed.

Prince Charles Edward’s army could move much faster than the more cumbersome English forces, and so evaded them to get back safely to Scotland, where he did indeed prove to have more solid support.

Once back in Scotland, he got local more recruits and help from France, and won another military victory at Falkirk.

But his position was never secure.

Hanoverian forces still held too many of the strong points in Scotland and the Prince’s Highland clansmen were more suited to short aggressive campaigns, than they were to a war of attrition. Money was also in short supply. And French help did not always get through because the Royal Navy was so strong.

He was finally defeated at Culloden, near Inverness, by the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II, and, like Charles, in his mid twenties. Large numbers of highlanders were massacred in cold blood after the battle, while those fighting for the Prince in French uniforms were spared.

The Prince eventually escaped to France, but was ejected from there when France made peace with England.

He had to return to Rome and the protection of the Pope and of his brother, Henry Stuart, who had become a Cardinal. He continued to seek a way to win back the throne, and in 1749 he became a Protestant, presumably to make himself more acceptable to English opinion.

He was a leader of immense flair, courage, and charisma when things were going well. But seemed unable to hide his feelings when things went wrong, which demoralised his supporters.

He lived out his life in Rome, never giving up on the hope of a return to the throne. He had a daughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Albany, who survived him by only two years. In terms of public achievement, his life was over, almost before it had begun.

NIGERIA….a troubled history but a hopeful future

I greatly enjoyed reading “The Nigerian Civil War” by John de St Jorre, first published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1972, shortly after the war itself ended.

The origins of the war of the war are complex.

The Igbo, a tribe in SE Nigeria, thanks to good education and entrepreneurial spirit, tended to be disproportionately influential in post independence Nigeria. This led to resentment.

An army Coup d’ Etat in January 1966, in which members of the Igbo tribe took a prominent part, led to retaliatory killings of Igbos in other parts of Nigeria. This, in turn, led to an exodus of Igbos back to their ancestral lands in South Eastern Nigeria, in what was to become Biafra, and is now part of the Rivers State. These killings, mainly in Northern Nigeria, fed fears of a wider genocide against Igbos.

Even before Biafra formally seceded from Nigeria, the Nigerian Army was decentralised. Its commander in what was to become Biafra, Emeka Ojukwu, was thus free to make preparations for independence, while still technically in the Federal Nigerian army. This scope for autonomy of military commanders was also a factor in the Spanish and Irish Civil Wars.

At 2 am on the morning of 30 May 1967, Ojukwu declared Biafra to be independent of Nigeria.  Thanks to the fear of genocide, and to considerable international assistance (notably from France, Portugal and South Africa), Biafra survived militarily, until it suddenly collapsed in January 1970.

Thanks to the statesmanship of the Nigerian leader, General Yakubu Gowon, there was no genocide at the end of the war.

In contrast, leniency was shown and former supporters of Biafran secession were encouraged to take part in Nigerian political life. This is in marked contrast to the way in which the Spanish Civil War ended. Indeed the gradual realistion that, as the Federal army advanced into formerly Biafran territory, there was in fact no retaliation against former supporters of  Biafran secession, contributed to the collapse of secession.

In a sense, this Nigerian Civil War discouraged later attempts to re draw colonial boundaries on more “logical” tribal lines, elsewhere in Africa. An exception is the independence of Southern Sudan, which has not proven to be a great success.

It is difficult for an outsider to judge the legacy of the Civil War within Nigeria itself.  But this book tells a tragic story well.


Family, religion and ethnicity are still important loyalties rivalling loyalty to the state of Nigeria itself.

There are 350 different local languages.

The birth rate is higher in the Muslim north of the country and this could gradually change the balance of power within the country. Warfare with Boko Haram in the North displaced 2 million people in 2017.

In another book I read, “Nigeria, what everyone needs to know” by John Campbell and Matthew Page it is claimed

‘“politics is more important in Nigeria than in the US or Europe because there are few other alternatives for elite competition or enrichment”.

Members of the National Assembly are very well paid.

Democracy has become stronger in recent years. The 2015 national elections were seen as credible and fair.

Patronage is still a key to re election. But UNICEF estimates that as many as 40% of Nigerian children aged between 6 and 11 do not attend school any many educated Nigerians(including priests and doctors) tend to emigrate.

Finding a workable development model, that will keep talent at home and give opportunities to those currently excluded, is still a huge challenge for this large and powerful African country.



I have just finished reading “Sicily, a Short history from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra” by John Julius Norwich.

A former British diplomat, Lord Norwich has also written a comprehensive history of the Byzantine Empire, and other historical and travel works, concerning the peoples of the Mediterranean.

Sicily, like Ireland, is an offshore island of Europe, but its history has been more varied.

A thousand years ago, Sicily was much more prosperous than Ireland.

For over the two thousand years it was at the crossroads of the known world. It was a key to the control of the Mediterranean.

Not surprisingly it was fought over many times, by the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs and the Normans. All left their mark on the architecture of the island.

The Greek influence is still predominant on the eastern side of Sicily, and the Arab in the west of the island. Greek was the predominant language in Sicily until the sixth century.

In more recent times, the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties fought the control Sicily.

At times Sicily was part of one political unit with Naples, at others it was independent.

Garibaldi started his military campaign to unify Italy in Sicily, and the Americans started their invasion of Europe in Sicily in 1943, an event which led to the fall of Mussolini.

Al these stories are told in a colourful way by Lord Norwich, who brings the characters of the protagonists vividly to life.

In ways, the history of Sicily is the history of Europe seen from a southern angle.

Sicilians have suffered from their strategic location. Outsiders interfered so much, that Sicilians never developed a sound, predictable and efficient political and civic system of their own. This weakness left a space for the growth of organisations like the Mafia.

In some respects, Italy, as a whole, faces a similar challenge today of building a lean state, that can govern economically, without avoidable delays or fuss.



Ireland will soon be entering the period of commemoration of the conflict that took place in this country between 1919 and 1923.

It is customary to refer to the conflict between 1919 and 1921 as the War of Independence, and that between 1922 and 1923, as the Civil War.

In fact, both were Civil Wars. In the 1919 to 1921 war, the first victims were Irish members of the RIC, and Irish members of the Judiciary.

The first police victims were RIC constables James McDonnell and Patrick O Connell, killed at Soloheadbeg Co Tipperary on 21 January 1919.  Both were Irish born Catholics, as were many RIC victims.

The first Magistrate to die was James Charles Milling, a Mayo native, shot through the front window of his home in Westport in March 1919. He was a member of the Church of Ireland is buried in the Holy Trinity cemetery in Westport.

These Irishmen were supporting the then existing legal order as they saw it, and paid the supreme sacrifice in so doing.

The tragedy of these conflicts is reflected in two books I read recently.

One is “The Irish War of Independence” by Michael Hopkinson, published by Gill and Macmillan.

The other is “The Redmonds and Waterford, a political dynasty 1891 -1952” by Pat McCarthy published by Four Courts Press.

Hopkinson’s book shows how the threat of the introduction of conscription in Ireland, in March 1918, radicalised Irish opinion and laid the foundation for the Sinn Fein electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party nine months later,  in the General Election which took place when the Great War was over.

Sinn Fein won the election on a manifesto of abstaining from Westminster and seeking recognition for Irish independence from the Peace Conference in Versailles.

The Manifesto claimed that

“the right of a nation to sovereign independence rests on immutable natural law and cannot be made the subject of compromise”

This rejection, on principle, of compromise was reckless. It made conflict of some kind inevitable.

But the Sinn Fein Manifesto did not seek an explicit mandate for armed insurrection, although it did speak of the

“use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection”.

It is hard to argue that, by voting for Sinn Fein in 1918, the Irish people gave a clear democratic mandate for the waging of war.

From the beginning, the preferred IRA tactic was the shooting of policemen (whether armed or not, whether on or off duty) and of Magistrates.

Policemen and Magistrates were, and still are, the executors of state authority in every locality. Killing them was designed to undermine that authority.

Hopkinson claims that both Griffith and de Valera were opposed to the shooting of policemen and would have preferred more conventional warfare. But their policy of appealing to the Versailles Peace Conference yielded no results, despite de Valera’s efforts to rouse opinion in the US.

The struggle was evenly balanced.

Despite many IRA successes, by July 1921, there were 4500 IRA internees, compared to around 2000 active in the field. Shortage of ammunition was a problem for the IRA.

Shortage of manpower was a problem for the authorities. The British had other military priorities, in places like Egypt.

The possibility of Partition had been a main reason for the rejection, by Sinn Fein and wider Nationalist opinion, of the Home Rule policy of John Redmond in the 1916 to 1918 period.

But when it came to negotiation a Truce to end the hostilities in 1921, partition was no longer so central. Hopkinson claims that Lloyd George was told through intermediaries that

“the Dail would accept the exclusion of the six counties provided that fiscal autonomy was granted to the twenty six”.

This is, in fact, how things turned out. Ireland got fiscal independence but partition remains.

The key issue in fiscal independence was the ability to impose tariffs.

One of the perceived inadequacies of the Home Rule proposal had been that Home Rule Ireland would have remained in the UK Customs Union, and would not have been able to impose tariffs on British goods. Fiscal autonomy, under the Treaty of 1921, enabled the Free State to impose tariffs.

When the war was started in January 1919, Home Rule was on the statute book, but remained unimplemented because of differences over the exclusion of some Ulster counties.

But Northern Ireland had not been created, and partition had not been formalised.

That happened in 1920, when the UK Parliament passed a  new Government of Ireland Act, creating two Irish Home Rule Parliaments in place of one , a Parliament  for Ulster (which became Stormont) and another for the rest of Ireland(which was boycotted by Sinn Fein and was stillborn).

This is where the theme of Pat McCarthy’s book, on the Redmonds, intersects with Hopkinson’s book on the Civil Wars.

When the new Government of Ireland Act, setting up Stormont, came before Parliament in London, there were very few Irish Nationalist MPs there to oppose or amend it. This is because the constituencies in Southern Ireland had elected Sinn Fein MPs, who declined to take their seats.

There was one exception, Captain Willie Redmond, who had defeated the Sinn Fein candidate and  won his father John’s old seat in Waterford City.

Along with TP O Connor, who represented a Liverpool constituency Patrick Donnelly (Armagh South), Joe Devlin (Belfast West), Edward Kelly (East Donegal), Jeremiah McVeagh (South Down), Thomas Harbison (Tyrone NE), he was there to speak against the Government of Ireland Act.

But this small Nationalist Party in Westminster did not have the votes to insist on amendments that might have protected the minority in Northern Ireland from what were to be the discriminatory excesses of the Unionist dominated Stormont Parliament.

Pat McCarthy’s book explains how it came about that a city in the south east of Ireland could resist the Sinn Fein tide that swept over the rest of the South in December 1918.

It was due to a devotion to John Redmond in Waterford City that lasted long after his death.

John Redmond had protected the economic interests of Waterford City, bringing it funds for housing and bridge building. He forged an alliance with the local pig buyers association and with the trade unions. Like Redmond, Waterford City had remained loyal to Parnell unlike most of rural Ireland and this Parnellism added to Redmond’s appeal in Waterford.

After 1922, Captain Willie Redmond was elected to Dail Eireann and founded his own party, the short lived National League.

He later was re elected as a Cumann na nGaedhael TD in 1932. He died later that year and his young widow, Bridget Redmond continued to represent Waterford City in the Dail as a Fine Gael TD until she died at a young age in 1952, just after having got her largest ever vote in the 1951 Election.

Because it is concerned with a particular family and locality, Pat McCarthy’s book is full of human interest. But is also a serious and balanced work of history.

Hopkinson’s narrative and analysis of the War of 1919 to 1921 is necessarily more superficial, but it is well worth reading too.


“Asia’s Reckoning, the Struggle for Global Dominance” by Richard McGregor certainly has an ambitious title.

It chronicles the growing competition in East Asia between China on one side, and the United States and Japan on the other. This competition has economic, military, and resource dimensions.

China aims to again become the dominant power in East Asia, a position which it had until about 200 years ago. Until then, other Asian countries acknowledged the preeminent position of the Chinese Emperor.  This history partly explains why China still has such  seemingly extravagant ideas about how far Chinese territorial waters extend.

Since 1945, through its network of alliances and military bases, the United States has held the position of dominant power in East Asia and in the western Pacific. But its hold is weakening, especially since both Trump and Clinton foolishly decided the United States should pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have provided an economic and trade under pinning to the US military position.

The United States position needed the economic strengthening TPP would have given it, because of dramatic changes that have occurred in relative economic power since 1990.

Since 1990,

  • the Chinese economy has increased thirty times in size, whereas
  • the US economy has only tripled in size. Meanwhile
  • the Japanese economy has only grown by 23%!

Countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Phillipines, depend on US military guarantees to defend their territorial integrity. Communist Vietnam has also moved closer to the United States for this reason. This worked well when US global dominance was visible for all to see, as it was in the wake of the first Gulf War. But subsequent US military reverses, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and isolationist rhetoric from President Trump has created new doubts.

While China has settled land based territorial disputes it had with its neighbours, highly emotional and unresolved issues remain with Japan, the Philipines, and Vietnam about uninhabited islands,  territorial waters, and exclusive air space. And, of course, China claims Taiwan.

China takes these issues very seriously.

For example, in 2012, Japan had 50 coast guard vessels to China’s 40. Now China has 120, to Japan’s 60.

Economic growth has enabled China to invest heavily in its military and naval strength.

China may not be seeking global dominance, as this book’s title suggests, but it is determined never again to be dominated by outside powers, as it was between the 1830’s and 1945. Memories of these past humiliations are fresh in China, and are reinforced by propaganda.

It growing economic and military power has increased China’s diplomatic weight.

The opening by South Korea to North Korea around the winter games may well be an example of Chinese influence replacing the belligerence of Donald Trump.

As time goes by, the United States will find its dominance of the western Pacific harder to maintain, but this may not lead to military conflict.

Thanks to its one child policy, quite soon, China will become an elderly country. Japan is already elderly. Elderly countries are prone to be cautious.

On the other hand, as this book laboriously demonstrates, both China and Japan have become increasingly nationalistic. They have radically different understandings of history, and this shapes their sense of what is important, and of who they are. Accidents and miscalculations can lead to war, as happened in Europe in 1914.

This book gives a detailed account of the twists and turns on the triangular diplomatic relationships of the United States, China and Japan since 1951. Some of this is hard to follow.

It does not deal with economics at all, so the reasons for Japan’s decline are unexplored. Shifts in United States perceptions of Asia are also largely unexplained.

This book deals with an important topic, but it could be better.



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