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.

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Northern Star

Jim Smyth
The Belfast Jacobin: Samuel Neilson and the United Irishmen, by Kenneth L Dawson, Irish Academic Press, 272 pp, €22.99, ISBN: 978-1911024750 A striking feature of all the commemorative buzz and commentary around the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion was a strong sense that previous commemorations in their own right constitute significant moments in Irish history. In that sense 1998 can be, and to an extent at the time it was, read as the centenary of 1898. And just as the commemorative politicking of 1898 attracted the attention of later historians, as Ian McBride predicted in 1999, “future historians will surely scrutinise this mother of all anniversaries for evidence concerning the national pulse in the era of the Celtic Tiger and the Good Friday Agreement”. In national narratives round figure anniversaries of great events turn on “sites of memory”, at whose gates public remembering, historical interpretation and present-day politics collide. Some historians dissented from the prevailing narrative on the meaning and significance of the rebellion, which they considered sanitised and inaccurate, but all were agreed on the strides that had been made, in terms of both research findings and reconceptualisation, over the preceding two decades. In retrospect, the publication of Marianne Elliot’s seminal essay on “The origins and transformation of early Irish republicanism” in 1978 has a satisfying chronological neatness, and its contrast with the received wisdom at the time is instructive. Elliot’s principal subject, subsequently elaborated in her first book, Partners in Revolution, is the relationship between the United Irishmen and France, but arguably her most important contribution to the nascent reassessment of the 1790s was the fresh prominence she accorded Defenderism. To place that in historiographical context, RB McDowell depicted Defenders as “rural rioters” – familiar Irish agrarian types swept into a revolutionary maelstrom; meanwhile in 1981 a state of the art review of eighteenth century studies concluded that, because of lack of documentation, “it is unlikely” that a more detailed picture of these “localized secret societies with a largely illiterate membership” would ever be possible. Elliot, on the contrary, declared that the Defenders “were never a peasant movement”, and demonstrated both their organisational and ideological sophistication, certainly as compared to their “agrarian” Whiteboy predecessors. The crucial role played by the Defenders in Kenneth L Dawson’s account of the revolutionary politics of the 1790s, Belfast Jacobin, illustrates how categorically that once “shadowy” insurgency has, since the 1970s, been rescued from the…



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