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.


John Swift
Judging Redmond and Carson, by Alvin Jackson, Royal Irish Academy, 304 pp, €30, ISBN: 978-1-908996-93-0 The opening paragraph of Alvin Jackson’s study may seem dramatic but it packs a punch. He writes: “Observers could note a black-clad Irish party leader, his face grey with exhaustion and strained with emotion, reverently attend Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London … The mass-goer was Sir Edward Carson, attending the funeral of his friend, John Redmond.” And during the third Home Rule crisis, between 1911 and 1914, Jackson notes that in spite of their friendship and their Bar membership collegiality, there is little to suggest that Carson and Redmond ever met privately on their own in this period to explore, still less to try to resolve, their political differences. He concludes: “In substance, each depended largely on the British to deal with opponents from a different Irish tradition.” This observation is not totally irrelevant to the first fifty years of North/South politics in pre-Sunningdale Ireland. The two vignettes capture the benefits of this kind of dual, compare-and–contrast biographical history-writing. The genre is well-established (on, for example, Hitler and Stalin, Wellington and Napoleon, Disraeli and Gladstone). Carson and Redmond were near contemporaries (born in 1854 and 1856 respectively), both had legal training, both went early into politics, both were leading figures in the UK parliament; as leaders of the two main opposing political movements in Ireland in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was natural for contemporaries to compare them, and they frequently did so. The juxtapositions and paradoxes, similarities and contrasts between the two leaders, and the movements they led, certainly add depth and extra fascination to the narrative. Jackson’s is the fifth volume in the well-received “Judging” series published by the RIA. It is handsomely produced and profusely and imaginatively illustrated, with a good index and endnotes and a useful chronological summary, but no bibliography. It follows the earlier books on judging De Valera (Ferriter, 2007), Lemass (Garvin, 2009), William T Cosgrave (Laffan, 2014) and George Bernard Shaw (O’Toole, 2017). As with its predecessors, there is a graceful acknowledgement by the author of the helpful guidance received from Ruth Hegarty and the editorial team at the RIA. It is the first dual-biography in the series. Jackson’s treatment of his two principal characters and of their mutually hostile political traditions seems fair and balanced. But he is clearly attracted more to the…



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