Friday, November 13, 2015

Peter Somerville-Large's "Irish Voices": Book Review

Irish Voices: 50 Years of Irish Life 1916-1966This prolific chronicler's Anglo-Irish background offers a welcome vantage point from which to look back on the half-century (and more!) from the 1916 Rising. Although its subtitle makes this seem as if it ends in 1966, it looks at the cultural changes weakening the Catholic church and the social mores that for long kept many Irish men and women within the sectarian and political divisions that the Free State, Republic of Ireland, and the Northern Ireland province as bywords and manifestations for division, strife, and bitter memories lived out for millions who remained, or left, the fraught island.

Peter Somerville-Large integrates engagingly many first-person accounts into his own prose. As a veteran journalist and historian, he can blend the varied and contending testimonies of hundreds of his fellow countrymen and women (as well as visitors with their romantic or barbed reflections) into a thematic sequence of chapters. These are loosely chronological, taking you from the failure of De Valera and his rebels to their qualified, partial, and ambiguous "success" in leading the 26 Counties.

Somerville-Large, however, looks to Loyalists, dissenters, and Republicans alike, and he mixes his own aloof (by his own estimation) approach towards this small place whose allegiances loom large. He sympathizes with those who have suffered under clerical and political and economic power; while from a place of privilege himself, as somewhat of an outsider despite that advantage, in at least the post-1922 state, he offers a comprehensive panorama by a social history for the general public that is far more readable and enjoyable than a casual reader may expect. Inevitably, one may differ with some of his tone or leanings, but that too may be predictable when investigating this locale, so full of contention, controversy, and best of all despite all the ups and downs, conversation, as constant craic.
(Amazon US 11-4-15)

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