War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s

By Douglas, R. M. | The Historian, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s


Douglas, R. M., The Historian


War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s. By Christine Kinealy. (London, England: Reaktion, 2010. Pp. 414. $40.00.)

A comprehensive and authoritative history of Ireland in the post-de Valera years is much needed at present. Unfortunately, War and Peace is not that book. A combination of an overemphasis on the conflict in Northern Ireland to the exclusion of almost everything else, a pervasive pro-Republican tilt, a lack of explanation and analysis, and a worryingly large number of factual errors make Christine Kinealy's latest book a work that cannot be regarded as suitable for the needs of undergraduates or the general public.

Kinealy acknowledges in the introduction that, in her version of the story, "the island of Ireland is viewed largely through the prism of the unfolding conflict in Northern Ireland" (11). Typical of what follows, Kinealy neither explains the reasons for making this choice nor addresses the question of whether such a perspective might produce a distorted image. The results, however, are distinctly unfortunate, with many of the most significant individuals and events of the past half-century being largely or completely ignored. Few politicians in the republic who have served in any office other than taoiseach or president (and not even all of those) rate a mention, thus such important figures as Frank Cluskey, Tony Gregory, Mary Harney, Gemma Hussey, Charlie McCreevy, Michael McDowell, Des O'Malley, and Donogh O'Malley, among many others, appear nowhere in the text. The entirety of the treatment of Brian Cowen's disastrous tenure as taoiseach consists of two sentences mentioning his presence at "a tense North/South Ministerial meeting" in 2009 and an announcement of his intention to visit Belfast "to meet the leaders of the [Stormont] Assembly" the following month (332-333). Though Kinealy complains repeatedly of the exclusion of women and the working class from the political life of the two jurisdictions in Ireland, both groups, ironically, receive short shrift at her own hands. No female politician in the republic other than Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, and Mfiire Geoghegan-Quinn (or, as the book--which has innumerable difficulties with Irish nomenclature--styles her, "Marie Geoghan Quinn") is mentioned; the only Labour figures discussed--invariably unfavorably--are Conor Cruise O'Brien and, en passant, Dick Spring. No one reading War and Peace would know that the Green Party had ever been in government, or that Ireland had a Green Party at all. The series of corruption scandals that erupted in 1997, through the revelations of the Moriarty, Mahon, and McCracken Tribunals, which continue to roll Irish politics to the present day, are dealt with in six uninformative lines--less than the attention devoted to the extramarital antics of the wife of the current Democratic Unionist Party leader (cf. 300, 332-333).

Although these and other no less extraordinary omissions have produced what can only be described as an unbalanced image of recent Irish history, the shortcomings would be mitigated to some extent if Kinealy's treatment of Northern Irish affairs were accurate and reliable. Sadly, this too is not the case. The story she relates is a straightforward morality tale--as she herself says, one in which "men and women of vision and courage were outmanoeuvred by those who put prejudice and personal gain above peace and social justice" (13).

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