Thursday, December 20, 2007

Michael Huggins "Social Conflict in Pre-Famine Roscommon": Book Review

This book, a revision of a thesis, presents an academic’s examination of “whiteboyism” in this county, known for its labor agitation and land reform movements in the 19c. Huggins goes back to the half-century preceding the Famine to trace connections between the protests and the influence of the French revolutionaries and British radicals. He applies E.P. Thompson’s concept of a “moral economy” of the Irish crowd—itself a term that refers to Georges Rude in turn—to argue that the Irish were in fact, given the primary evidence—perhaps as attached to non-nationalist ideals as native ones. He uses the revisionist analysis that questions nationalist discourse as the leading mode of thought within Irish history of the past couple of centuries.

His study, while adhering to the conventions of current scholarship both in style and assumptions, seeks to present his view that a “secret” Ireland persisted behind the shadow of what the Gaelic-Ireland patriot Daniel Corkery proposed in the early days of the Irish Free State as a “hidden Ireland” beset by exile and emigration and republicanism and tradition vs. the Crown. Huggins diminishes, therefore, the impact of popular histories of Roscommon protest such as the Famine-era murder of Major Denis Mahon at Ballykilcline, in Robert Scally’s tellingly titled “The End of Hidden Ireland” and Peter Duffy’s new account of the same. A map would have been helpful, as few readers may have as intimate a knowledge of the townlands and parishes; also, the tone of this strives for such detachment that it risks drifting away from inherent interest created in this admittedly difficult topic: how to get into the minds of farmers and landlords two centuries ago, given crime statistics, testimony, and correspondence that tends to give the view of the accuser more than the accused.

Huggins may not earn the wider readership for his more measured investigation, which applies historiographic rigor more than vivid anecdote, but Huggins prepares the way for such popularizations, and his account fulfills a need for such studies that incorporate the new findings of such scholars as Peter Burke, Sean Connolly, and James Donnelly.

(Posted today to Amazon US.) Image: 1880s "The Rivals," as (she's nicely filled out post-Famine) Hibernia's courted by a suave Land Bill Reformist who woos her over a thuggish Land Leaguer. Recall that my own great-grandfather Jack-- whom I doubt looked that troglodytish-- counted himself among the latter contingent, from this very Roscommon. He met his end mysteriously in the Thames, in 1897, after accompanying a delegation of Land Leaguers to perfidious Albion's capital city. Cartoon courtesy of

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