Ten books for year-end gift giving, or your ‘shelf’

Most of the 10 books described below the photo focus on 19th and early 20th century Irish history. A few were published before this year. One is a first-ever English translation of a German work from 1913; another is an on-demand reissue of a 1922 title. Two books on Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania history are only tangentially about the Irish. Four of the authors are personal acquaintances, marked by *. I hope my readers will support their work. Titles are listed alphabetically and linked to where the books can be ordered online. That convenience notwithstanding, please support small history presses and independent booksellers whenever possible. Enjoy. MH

There’s a mistake in the order of this stack to make you look closer at the list below.

A Journey in Ireland, 1921, Wilfrid Ewart. The author, journalist, and retired British military officer traveled around Ireland for several weeks in spring 1921, shortly before the truce. Unfortunately, his book of experiences wasn’t published until spring 1922, after the treaty and the country’s lurch into civil war. That doesn’t matter as much today. This is a good travel read about Ireland at war, with plenty of passages beyond Dublin and Belfast. I wrote a 10-part blog serial revisiting the people and events Ewart encountered 100 years earlier.

America and The Making of an Independent Ireland, Francis M. Carroll. The book consolidates Carroll’s long career of scholarship on this topic. It “argues that the existence of the state of Ireland is owed to considerable effort and intervention by Irish Americans and the American public at large.” Beginning with the 1916 Rising, the final chapter pushes the story into the early phases of U.S.-Irish relations after partition and the civil war. It compliments Bernadette Whelan’s United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-29, and Michael Doorley’s Irish-American Diaspora Nationalism: The Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-1935.

Ireland [1913], Richard Arnold Bermann. Translated from German and edited by Leesa Wheatley and Florian Krobb. The book is a snapshot of Ireland at the start of its revolutionary period and a year before the Great War. In their Introduction, Wheatley and Krobb also note Bermann’s “umbrage … at traces of mass tourism prone to erode the serenity of the autochthonous culture where it might still survive, and the blatant exploitation of visitors by entrepreneurial yet intrusive individuals who offer their services as guides or coach drivers.” See my post, Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021.

Living With History: Occasional Writings, Felix M. Larkin*. A former Irish civil servant, Larkin is one of the 2008 founders of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. He has devoted special attention to the late Freeman’s Journal and is a regular contributor to the book review pages of The Irish Catholic and letters to the editor section of The Irish Times, plus more than two dozen academic works. His collection of nearly 100 pieces, ranging from 500 to 5,000 words; sectioned under nine themes, including one on American people and events; are all written for general audiences, Larkin says; and can be read sequentially, or dipped into, set aside, and returned to later with ease. I am honored that Larkin included my 2018 Q & A interview with him.

On the Edge: Ireland’s Offshore Islands, Diarmaid Ferriter. My wife and I have hiked and biked two of the three Aran Islands and look forward to a future visit to Inis Meáin. Until then, Ferriter’s “comprehensive study of Ireland’s offshore islands purposely eschews” the “reverent, patronizing and romantic tone” of earlier “cultural archivists and spiritual dreamers … seeking to understand – or even momentarily become part of – a mystical ancient Celtic society,” The Irish Independent wrote in its 2018 review. “Ferriter avoids single definitions, broad brushstrokes and hyperbole. Primarily because he is a historian who always favors fact, sources and evidence, over subjective opinion; and the great array of archival material he brings to the surface here is a good testament to his dedicated approach to research.”

Politics, Culture, and The Irish American Press 1784-1963, Edited by Debra Reddin van Tuyll, Mark O’Brien, and Marcel Broersma. This collection of 15 pieces “tell a number of important stories and provides invaluable insights about journalism, about Ireland, about America, and about the ethnicity of the Irish in America,” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall writes in the Forward. It is divided into three sections: the 1700s, the 1800s, and the 1900s. The book covers subjects you’d expect to find: Gillian O’Brien on Margaret Sullivan and Michael Doorley on the Gaelic American; and more obscure stories, such as Colum Kenny on Michael Davitt’s work for William Randolph Hearst, and Mark O’Brien on American influences at the Irish Press–Dev’s Dublin daily, 1931-1955, not his supporters’ earlier Philadelphia weekly, 1918-1922. A welcome addition to any journalism collection.

The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania: Its Origins, Establishment, Decline, and Resurrection, John C. Bates*. Cork-born Michael O’Connor in 1843 became the first bishop of the new see at Pittsburgh. He built churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions (He founded the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper.) as waves of Irish Famine immigrants and poor Catholics from Eastern Europe populated the workforce of America’s most industrialized city. The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania was created 100 years later to share the church’s history in the region and preserve its records and artifacts. Bates’ detailed reference book documents both efforts, a “history within a history.” I’ve found this book useful in my own research, including this post: Don’t drink: Father Mathew’s temperance tour in Pittsburgh.

The Fall of the Fitzmaurices, Kay Caball*. A professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me find relations and other Kerry characters.), Fall tells of the demise of the Fitzmaurice family, who had been powerful Lords of Kerry since 1235. “What could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced in such a short space of time?” Caball asked in a late 2020 guest post that previews her book. “We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.”

The Irish Assassins, Julie Kavanaugh. This new treatment of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders and their aftermath is the most commercially popular title on this list. The Irish Times said, “Kavanagh’s is a sweeping and compelling narrative of a story that more than bears retelling. What she has sought to do, which has not been done before, is to try to connect in time the political and social lives of what is an extended and diverse cast of characters in Britain and Ireland.” Author John Banville’s New York Times review described the book as “an adroit unpicking of the intricacies of the history, and her book is at once admirable for its scholarship and immensely enjoyable in its raciness.”

The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel Disaster, Mary Jane Kuffner Hirt*. On Christmas Eve, 1917, my Kerry-born grandfather was working as a motorman for a Pittsburgh streetcar company. That day, a car in the fleet lost power as it entered the decline of a tunnel. The crash at the other end resulted in a dozen deaths and scores of injuries, still the city’s worst transit disaster. My grandfather was not involved in the episode, but he would have felt the aftershocks of the streetcar company’s bankruptcy in this dark period of the city’s history, eight months after the United States entered World War I and weeks before the outbreak of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Kuffner Hirt’s research is meticulous. My full review in Western Pennsylvania History Magazine.

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