Tag Archives: Felix M. Larkin

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.

Guest post: Kennedy and Parnell, lost leaders

I am pleased to welcome back Dublin-based historian Felix M. Larkin, who has contributed an essay – entitled “Judging Kennedy” – to a new volume From whence I came: The Kennedy Legacy, Ireland and America, edited by Brian Murphy and Donnacha Ó Beacháin (Irish Academic Press). The 15 essays in the collection had their origin in papers given at the Kennedy Summer School, held annually in New Ross, Co. Wexford, since 2012 (though not in 2020, because of the pandemic). New Ross is the small port from whence John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather left Ireland. The title of the volume is taken from Kennedy’s speech in nearby Wexford town during his June 1963 visit to Ireland. An adaptation of part of Larkin’s chapter follows below.

***

Charles Stewart Parnell

In reading, thinking and writing about Kennedy over many years, I have often been struck by the parallel between his death and that of the great nineteenth-century Irish constitutional nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Though Parnell was not the victim of an assassin, he was hounded to his death by his enemies and the shadow that his death cast – memorably captured in the writings of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats – had an effect similar to that of Kennedy’s, albeit on a narrower canvas. Parnell and Kennedy have thus become part of the mythologies, as well as part of the history, of their respective countries. Parnell’s idealization by Joyce and Yeats is the Irish equivalent of the characterization of the Kennedy presidency as “Camelot on the Potomac”.

There are many other correspondences in the lives of these two remarkable men: 

  • both were young leaders – Parnell was 45 when he died, Kennedy was 46; 
  • whereas Kennedy had Irish ancestors, Parnell had an American mother;
  • Kennedy was a Catholic leader in a predominantly Protestant country, while Parnell was a Protestant leader in a predominantly Catholic country;
  • Parnell made a triumphant visit to the US in 1880, and Kennedy came to Ireland in June 1963; and
  • the sense of possibility in Kennedy’s vision of the “New Frontier” chimes with Parnell’s assertion that “no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation”.[1]
       

John F. Kennedy

Parnell and Kennedy are good examples of the “lost leader” syndrome, great men cut down in their prime whose reputations are more enduring than those of their contemporaries who lived on to make a more substantial contribution to their country’s fortunes. As Stephen Collins, the Irish Times journalist, has suggested, lost leaders are remembered with such fascination and admiration precisely because they “have not had to govern for long, if at all, and so don’t get sucked into the messy compromises that are the inevitable fate of long-serving politicians entrusted with the thankless task of government”.[2]

Surprisingly, there is some evidence that Parnell may have influenced Kennedy’s style and mode of operation as a political leader. Robert Dallek records that Kennedy “was conversant with Irish leader Charles [Stewart] Parnell’s counsel: Get the advice of everybody whose advice is worth having – they are very few – and then do what you think best yourself”.[3] Moreover, Kennedy referred to Parnell in his speech to the Irish parliament during his visit to Ireland in 1963. He first mentioned the fact that he had in his office – the Oval Office – the sword of Commodore John Barry, the founder of the American navy, who was born in County Wexford. He then went on to note: 

Yesterday [27 June 1963] was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell, whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America, and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country”, he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people towards Ireland”. And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America.[4

Kennedy’s grave, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

Parnell’s grandfather and namesake was Admiral Charles Stewart, commander of the USS Constitution during the War of 1812, and Kennedy had on his desk in the Oval Office two bookends with brass replicas of cannons on the USS Constitution and on the walls flanking the fireplace in the office were pictures of the famous naval engagement between the Constitution and the British frigate Guerriere. A model of the Constitution was displayed on the mantelpiece above the fireplace, and when Kennedy met Krushchev in Vienna in June 1961, he presented the Soviet leader with another model of the ship – perhaps as a gentle reminder of the power of the U.S. Navy. 

Parnell’s grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The USS Constitution (nicknamed ‘Old Ironsides’) is now a tourist attraction in Boston Harbor, in the city that was Kennedy’s political base from 1946 when he was first elected to the US House of Representatives. Admiral Charles Stewart’s magnificent desk is among the exhibits in Avondale House, the ancestral home of the Parnells in county Wicklow.

See Larkin’s “The Slow Death of the Freeman’s Journal”, October 2019, and other essays from our guest contributors. Consider offering a proposal through the provided form, or message me at @markaholan

[1]For Parnell’s speech in which these lines occur, see Pauric Travers, ‘The march of the nation: Parnell’s ne plus ultra speech’ in Pauric Travers and Donal McCartney (eds), Parnell reconsidered (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), pp. 179-96.

[2]Stephen Collins, ‘Romantic Ireland lives on in our fascination with the leaders who left us too young’, Irish Times, 3 August 2013.

[3]Robert Dallek, Camelot’s court: inside the Kennedy White House (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), p. 35. Parnell’s words here are as recorded in William O’Brien, An olive branch in Ireland and its history (London: Macmillan, 1910), p. 47. They were quoted by Conor Cruise O’Brien in his Parnell and his party (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 145, n. 1.

[4] Speech to the joint session of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, 28 June 1963.