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Home Uncategorized Out of his Depth?

Out of his Depth?

Thomas Earls FitzGerald
Cathal Brugha, by Fergus O’Farrell, University College Dublin Press, 96 pp, €17, ISBN: 978-1910820278 Revisionism has long been a word with negative associations in this country. But it is an unsatisfactory term. Wherever there has been alleged revisionism in the writing of Irish history writing, other scholars have not been long in disputing its conclusions. History constantly moves; it is “revised” by new interpretations of well-known sources, the addition of newly uncovered sources and new theoretical methodology. All history is, in effect, a type of revisionism. This book is case in point. Fergus O’Farrell seeks to “rehabilitate”, or revise, the reputation of Irish revolutionary leader Cathal Brugha from what he describes in his conclusion as the “narrow intellectual framework through which historians have addressed the Irish revolution”. The process of revising is normal. Sometimes it is transformative in terms of our understanding, and sometimes it is less so. In this case I would dispute O’Farrell’s idea that there has been a “narrow intellectual framework through which historians have addressed the Irish revolution”. On the contrary, labour, social, feminist, theological, military, political and cultural historians from around the world have studied the Irish revolution, giving it a particularly broad intellectual framework. Cathal Brugha (1874-1922) was born in Dublin and attended Belvedere College in the city centre, a generation or so before Joyce. Like many, he was initially attracted to the Gaelic League before joining first the Irish Republican Brotherhood and then the Volunteers. He was badly injured in the Easter Rising and subsequently became Sinn Féin TD for Waterford and minister for defence in the government of the first and second Dáils. He is probably best known for his tense relationship, if not enmity, with Michael Collins, and his refusal to surrender during the fighting in O’Connell Street in the early stages of the civil war. Brugha preferring to die fighting, charging his opponents head on. O’Farrell argues that Brugha has for too long been wrongly characterised as a simple militarist without political inclinations. O’Farrell considers his efforts in the forming of the new Sinn Féin in 1917, his involvement with the setting up of the first Dáil, and most importantly his attempts to ensure that the IRA both recognised and answered to the authority of the Dáil government as evidence of a highly politically motivated man. He notes that Brugha was on the moderate political rather than the authoritarian militarist…



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