I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.


Sort of Neutral

  Is Ireland Neutral? The Many Myths of Irish Neutrality, by Conor Gallagher, Gill Books, 336 pp, €18.99, ISBN: 978-0717195992 Conor Gallagher asks a simple question: is Ireland neutral? However, as he amply demonstrates in this lucid, readable and very timely book, this simple question does not have a simple answer. A scan of newspaper headlines would suggest that everyone agrees that Ireland is indeed neutral. But opinions about neutrality’s meaning clash. For decades some have argued that our neutrality is being progressively eroded, and that its potential as a basis for a more active foreign policy is not being utilised. Equally...
For forty years and more, governments have been accused of seeking to bring Ireland into NATO by stealth. Yet it is clear, even after the shift in the Swedish and Finnish positions, that no government has the slightest intention of doing so. A government applying to join NATO would, politically if not legally, have to call a referendum. And there is little or no doubt that the proposition would be roundly defeated.


The Outsider

Maurice Earls
A Thread of Violence, by Mark O’Connell, Granta, 288 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1783789573 They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you. Philip Larkin, ‘This Be The Verse’ In 1982 Malcolm Macarthur murdered two people who had had done him no harm, who had never met him and who had no idea who he was. Both murders were extremely violent. One victim, a farmer, had his face blown off with a shotgun, the other, a nurse, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.... The Macarthurs, who came to Catholic and stagnant Ireland in a rush of idealism and optimism, went into decline as soon as they arrived. Their money and their dream evaporated. Malcolm could not escape the family curse. He squandered his inheritance trying to escape a childhood of loneliness and neglect and, like his father and grandfather, he fabricated and fantasised. Yet he struggled to have love in his life. The ensuing conflict was to lead him to desperation and murder.

Dublin Review of Books


White Mischief

Maurice Walsh
Despite a sense that they now had to defer to the US there was still a breezy self-confidence in London about the prospects for maintaining imperial grip. Official estimates for the lifespan of empire ranged from sixty years to centuries. Even the Americans acknowledged it would take time to guide backward peoples to the maturity necessary for self-rule.


First, the Struggle

Thomas Earls FitzGerald
Liam Lynch’s commitment to the Republican cause was an unyielding one, which viewed with hostility and suspicion anything seen as too ‘political’ or removed from the military side of the project – indeed for Lynch the republican project seems to have fundamentally amounted to military resistance alone. His death opened up a path for de Valera, enabling him to take republicanism in a democratic direction.


Up Mount Improbable

Johnny Lyons
Why write a biography of a philosopher? The pattern of Derek Parfit’s life became increasingly fixed and ascetic from the early 1970s: he spent the vast majority of his time in hermit-like isolation, punctuated only by annual teaching stints in the US. Apart from the show taking place between Parfit’s ears, few noteworthy events took place in his life.


The Two Milan Kunderas

Alena Dvořáková
There have for a while now been two Milan Kunderas, characters so different as to suggest Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There is Kundera the good European, celebrated as an eminent writer, a defender of freedom of speech, a voice of remembering against the politics of forgetting, and a spokesman for a mythical entity called Central Europe which could yet save the West from decline – if only the Westerners would heed its call to return to their values. If the good Kundera has any blemish, it might be his representations of women – but for every repulsive Helena,... Kundera presents his communist past as a youthful aberration, mostly in the vaguest of terms, in metaphors and through figurative shortcuts. These metaphors fail to capture what long-term communist loyalties entailed in practice – from sitting in meetings where policies were adopted and people denounced and sacked, to skilful negotiation with censors; from enjoying privileges only granted to prominent communists, such as travel abroad and stays in subsidised writers’ resorts, to receiving exorbitant fees for poetry serving communist propaganda.


Endgame in Paris

On February 13th 1936, the French socialist leader Léon Blum left the Palais Bourbon in Paris, the site of the lower house of parliament, to travel the relatively short distance to his home on the île Saint-Louis. He was driven by Georges Monnet, a friend and colleague, and they were accompanied by Monnet’s wife, Germaine. As the Citroën B12 turned from rue de l’Université into the boulevard Saint-Germain it found its progress obstructed by a large crowd which had come to attend the funeral of the historian Jacques Bainville, a leading figure of Action française, the largest and most...
The extreme right in France in the 1930s lacked electoral support but pursued their enemies with a constant stream of scurrilous attacks in the press. Carried to power in 1940 on the backs of the invading Germans, they harassed their opponents and were complicit in the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. After the war they had to pay, but even here some were more fortunate than others


There Will Be Blood

End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration, by Peter Turchin, Allen Lane, 240 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0241553480 Peter Turchin is the founder of the discipline of ‘cliodynamics’ (Clio being the ancient Greek muse of history), a big-data-enabled approach to the study of history over the very long term. He is frank in his claim that cliodynamics is a science; to aspire to being a science, of course, a discipline must discover at least approximate laws, which have robust if not absolute predictive value. Since 2011, Turchin has led a research team engaged in a remarkable programme called Seshat: The Global History Databank (named for the Egyptian goddess of wisdom), which gathers data from and extends its analyses over 10,000 years of human history, seeking macrolevel patterns that would approximate laws of human behaviour and interaction, and typical outcomes, on an aggregate scale. Explaining political integration and disintegration – the rise and decline or collapse of states and empires – has been the chief focus of the work. It has also been, says Turchin, ‘the area where our field’s findings are arguably the most robust ‑ and the most disturbing’. Turchin rose to prominence when a 2010 contribution to the journal Nature, from among a number then solicited asking for predictions for the next decade, began circulating widely during the Trump presidency: Relying on his evolving models, Turchin had predicted a rise in political tension and potential for political violence in the United States, peaking some time in the mid-to-late 2020s, possibly with a descent into civil war. End Times is a popular (that is, nonmathematical) presentation of Turchin’s work on the drivers of political disintegration, focusing especially on...
Popular immiseration comes about because of ‘the wealth pump’, the funnelling to elites of an ever greater proportion of wealth. Where wages stagnate, the money produced has to go somewhere. Since the proportion taken by the state in the US has remained relatively constant, this has meant increasing profits for the very wealthy.


A Life of Journeys

Journeys of the Mind: A Life in History, by Peter Brown, Princeton University Press, 736 pp, £38, ISBN: 978-0691242286 As a young boy growing up in the 1930s in a Dublin Protestant family, Peter Brown could have been personally acquainted with the unblessed coupling of politics with religion long before he wrote about its presence in Roman North Africa, the subject of his first published work as a scholar of late antiquity (200 to 700 CE). Ireland’s bourgeoisie tolerated a degree of mixing between Christians of different faiths, but not when it came to marriage: when one of Brown’s aunts, aged eighteen at the time, became too close to a Catholic boy she was packed off to relatives abroad and the whole business buried in silence. Seventy years would pass before he came to know about it. A distant connection with Lady Jane Grey, the executed grandniece of Henry VIII, invested the maternal line of Brown’s genealogy with impeccable Protestant credentials; the male side traced its descent from Scottish Presbyterians who had settled in the Irish capital. Brown’s father was an engineer who worked in Sudan but not, his son assures readers in Journeys of the Mind, as an empire-builder: profession and citizenship kept the railroad engineer apart from the imperialistically minded, Oxbridge-educated British elite governing the country. Peter stays with his family for three winters in Atbara, two hundred miles north of Khartoum, until the outbreak of World War II. At the age of eight he moves to Aravon, a boarding school south of Dublin. Outside the state education system, Aravon had its share of eccentric staff, including a history teacher who had been a colleague of William Joyce, the...
His recall of the fog rising from the Severn and mingling in a golden glow with the lights of the school Houses wraps his account of Shrewsbury in nostalgia. He reads Hill’s ‘Lenin and the Russian Revolution’ but finds it a ‘stupid, cruel, futile story’. Oxford’s cloisters and crenellations appeal more to his imagination.



From Page to Stage

Enda O’Doherty writes: John Fleming has contributed pieces to...
A fictional post-punk band from the 80s has become very real indeed


The Dark Side – 50 Years On

Martin Tyrrell writes: Half a century has passed since...
A shot at fame: Your chance to try, over in the twinkling of an eye.


Dunsany’s Careless Abundance

Robin Wilkinson writes: Whenever I came over from London...
As bilinguals and binationals know, identity is not a zero sum game.


Whole Lotta Shakin’

One thing that endeared my in-laws to me was that they held on to my wife’s collection of 45s – her records, I mean, not her (non-existent) collection of other revolvers. True, they were buried in a box under crumpled high-school decals, spineless paperbacks and ratty college notebooks. But there they were: originals of ‘Please Mr Postman’ on the butter-yellow Tamla label (Tamla 54046), ‘Johnny B Goode’ on sea-blue Chess 1691, the Cadence metronome seemingly swaying to the Everly Brothers, ‘Blueberry Hill’ on inaptly mulberry-coloured Imperial, Buddy Holly on hot-pink Coral, the whole, maybe fifty-strong, collection now and then attaining historic heights, in my goggle eyes, by such finds as Gene Chandler’s ‘Duke of Earl’ on rainbow-rimmed VeeJay. Yes, I was a teenage pop, rock, whatever, fetishist; indeed, in that respect, I was a fairly active teenager until I was thirty or more, and the fetishism can still unexpectedly twist again like they did those many summers ago. Absorption in the songs soon led me to wondering if there was any content behind their content. I mean, who exactly did put the bomp …? The music world was a prairie of trivia, and I grazed on it night and day, as though nothing more sustaining was to hand. And here now comes Ed Ward’s history of rock ’n’ roll with all my heart desired back then, an enormous fast-food meal consisting of not just staples like labels, writers, producers, DJs and other taste-makers and begetters, but to spice it all up – like so many pickles, hush puppies, slaw, mayo, hot sauce and ketchup – lashings of A&R men, engineers, session-men, talent scouts, club owners, salesmen, back-up singers, chart positions,...
Nothing in the essentially manufactured nature of the Stones’ presence speaks of, or directly derives from, actual experience or personality. Stylised sneering doesn’t count: it’s no more than, at best, contrarian affectation. Jagger’s campness and Richards’s outlaw posture are just two raised fingers from a speeding Caddy, naughty gestures surely not be taken at face value.


The First of a New Genus

Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age, by Daisy Hay, Vintage, 528 pp, £10.99, ISBN: 978-1784701079 The Garrick Club in the West End of London was founded in 1831, making it one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in the world; for almost two hundred years women have been allowed in only as dinner guests. But Michael Beloff KC, the lawyer who pronounced in 2011 that women could continue to be excluded by the Garrick legally, has recently changed his mind. He said that, in his opinion, the word ‘he’ in the original wording of the club’s... Johnson also published books by women, and included them socially at a time when the dining clubs, literary societies and coffee houses of the printing district excluded them. His most celebrated author and friend was Mary Wollstonecraft, whose first book he published while she was still working as a governess. He wrote to her, promising to stand by her if she wished to forge a path as a writer. This she did. He recorded that ‘Mary came from Ireland in 1787 … having determined to try to live by literary exertions & be independent’.


Double Exposure

The images have a true aim: direct and unpretentious, yet atmospheric. Their texture and visual sonority are honest: expressive monochrome, confident perspective, calibrations of grey and no tricks or tints, as characterised some early photography from the nineteenth Century. Some pictures are documentary of the time, showing an excitement at modernity as the industrial revolution came of age. Others are bravely intimate, as the photographer admits us to his private, contradictory, and even inner life. But this photographer is not one of the famous names to pioneer the art. These pictures were taken by the most remarkable and acclaimed writer...
Émile Zola was not just a minute recorder of French life through his novels. He was also an enthusiastic photographer. But he seems to have felt that when it came to close-range Naturalist realism, he had ‘done that’ with his pen, and there was no need to do it again with a camera. Here, in his evocations of the visual textures and timbres of urban life, he is trying to achieve something different.


Big House to Little House

Ireland, Revolution and the English Modernist Imagination, by Eve Patten, Oxford University Press, 228 pp, £65, ISBN: 978-0198869160 When Karl Marx looked to the militancy of the Fenian movement, and the émigré Irish in industrial centres, to awaken the English labour movement from its political slumbers, he could hardly have foreseen the parodic turn this would take in Ethel Mannin’s novel Comrade, O Comrade (1947), a satire on primitivist leanings in English left-wing circles in the 1930s. On holidays in the west of Ireland, a Communist Party ideologue, Peter Isinglass, persuades a Connemara native, Larry Lanaghan, to accompany him back to...
Ireland’s precarious position both outside and inside modernity presented, to conservative sensibilities in England, the appeal of a pastoral retreat from the modern world, but to more progressive minds it was a means of re-imagining the modern itself, retrieving it from the catastrophes of two world wars. In some London socialist circles the Irish rising was hailed as ‘the first crack in the as yet undisputed rule of the imperialists’.


The Conditions of Liberty

Adam Coleman
  He is most powerful who is in his own power. Seneca The strength of our nation must be the strength of the whole people. Michael Collins                                                        i When, in 1791, Edmund Burke broke with his parliamentary colleagues in the Whig party over their diverging interpretations of the French Revolution, Burke did not rationalise his decision as an abandonment of Whig principle in favour of Tory reactionism. ‘Their liberty is not liberal,’ he remarked in his Reflections on... For classic liberals and neo-liberals, freedom is understood largely as freedom from constraint. In its active aspect it is the ability to make choices as ‘consumer’. But this ignores the myriad social constraints that conspire to inhibit various groups of nominally sovereign consumers from actualising their potential, or the circumstances whereby certain individuals, given their pre-existing disadvantages arising from legal status, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender or class, must submit to some capricious authority out of desperation and thereby forgo their rights to participate in political, social, and cultural life.