December 4, 2009
Ireland Books Paper
Ernie O'Malley gives an excellent remembrance of his activities during the Irish War for Independence. This book contains a great amount of personal feelings and thoughts of a well educated Dublin man on the run in rural Ireland. O'Malley adds life to the reader's view of the violent era in Irish history. O'Malley strips away much of this myth of pure violence while adding to the heroics of this time period. O'Malley was a rarity among the people who were involved in the Irish war against the United Kingdom for independence that followed the failed Easter Rising. He had only little involvement in 1916, but his impressive described, intensely thorough accounts of his involvement in the war that followed show the reader a university-educated, refined, upper/middle-class Catholic. He chose to lead troops often from very different backgrounds than Henries own into a underground guerrilla war to gain the ideal Republic as a reality for Ireland.
The title of the book refers to the fact that one generation's freedom fighters must rise up from the fallen bodies of an earlier generation's failed fighters to seek victory. To the fact that it's easier to hold back pity when another person is doing the bleeding and the dying for a cause. As a university student at medical school before the Easter 1916 Rising, O'Malley knew this symbolism to be more than just a metaphor. His choice to take action against the British Crown only strengthens his compassion and his awareness of the partition that tore Ireland into pro and anti British soldiers. Then after the war pro and anti postwar Treaty soldiers once the British had left the fight. He never confuses anti British tactics with anti British prejudice, and one of the most memorable parts of his memoir is when he tells his love for Shakespeare's sonnets and how he often carried a copy into battle.
Doyle made me feel intensely with the loss of Collins more democratic ideals for the sake of a few individuals personal gain in the book. Set in Dublin and surrounding areas in Ireland, it tells the first twenty years in the life of Henry Smart a warrior in Irelands fight for Irish independence. A Star Called Henry is an intense and powerful story showing us an unusual commoner caught up in history's ever changing tide; incapable of changing the course the tide is carrying him. Doyle introduces Henry Smart, bringing him from the wonderful miracle of Henries healthy birth through his ruff growing up on the streets. Using Henrys eyes, Doyle depicts the dirty and ugly slums of turn of the century Dublin. He also shows the streets filled with poverty, hunger, disease and looming rebellion. The rebellion starts to travel through Ireland just as Henry begins to come of age. As the rebellion fills Ireland Henry is weighed down with the legacies of a senile mother, a betrayed father and dead siblings. Henry decides to throws his hat in with Michael Collins during the Easter Rising in 1916. Henry then became an assassin and trainer of younger countrymen for Collins. Henry is skilled at survival and adapting to the rapidly changing circumstances of Dublin in rebellion. Even being able to prosper as a member of the Irish Citizen Army and becoming a trusted ally of the legendary Michael Collins. Even at the books ugliest moments, A Star Called Henry is extremely real, powerful and compelling, never letting the reader to look away or dismiss the characters in the story with pity.
Henry is not a character to feel badly for, as Doyle fills Henry him with energy and an enthusiasm for life. Henry knows that he is just a small part in a much larger machine and he knows that he can do nothing about it. He realizes and excepts that he is at once a major part of the resistance and a totally disposable man. Doyle makes no apologies for Henry and his actions, instead choosing to stay true to Ireland's conflict and violence and bringing forth a character that remains faithful to this and his own convictions. He is a character full of fire, driven by an iron will to endure. Doyle merges history and fiction into a well blended story. Producing an unpleasant but remarkable portrait of Ireland in rebellion and the cast of characters that made it happen, Doyle is instead personalizing history. Through Henries eyes we see the fight to regain Ireland first hand.
Mr. Hopkinson provides a clear ordering to the complexities, he creates a crisp narrative of the major events which led to the foundation of the Irish state. As Hopkinson notes in his introduction to this well researched narrative, Ireland's War of Independence has continued to be a strong source of nationalist mythology. The short length, relatively low casualty rates, and intensely local character of the war, as well as the preference of historians for searching for longer term causes and consequences. This has caused people to think that the War of Independence is caused solely by the rise of Sinn Fein on the one hand and the subsequent Civil War on the other. He does provide good perspectives on more ignored areas of the war effort, such as the peace movements, De Valera in America, the British administration in Dublin castle etc. the book has a feel of being more about the war as viewed from London as opposed to the war of independence itself
Hopkinson focuses on the period of military conflict between Crown forces and the IRA. Which comes to what seems like an abrupt ending in his book. There is little talk of sociology or ideology of the IRA as a political movement, or the relationship between the IRA and competing ideologies of Irish nationalism. While the book ends with an interesting examination of the various peace initiatives that led up to the truce. The final treaty and its formulation are not examined which is where Hopkinson is lacking. What Hopkinson does provide a well organized respect of the course of the war itself, and in particular the strategies and frustrations of the British government in London and Dublin. As well as those in Dublin by the IRA, about the fragmented organization in the various IRA brigades that were more or less active in the rural areas.
The evidence of the guerrilla warfare movements by regional areas and by logically linking up this evidence Michael Hopkinson shows the last stages of the Irish revolution coming from a more grass roots and not from a solely central policy from Dublin. Michael Hopkinson Stresses the importance of local and dependent issues over the thought of one grand plan developed by the government based republican leadership in Dublin. The Irish War of Independence was an irregular guerrilla campaign. In a guerrilla warfare war the IRAs fighting did not have to be continuous or widespread as traditional wars are. The war was acted out mercilessly by the Irish Republican Army which, paralleling the political efforts of organization of Sinn Fein, and their hope to break the back of Britain's will to rule over Ireland to create an independent Irish republic. The British retaliated to these actions by introducing two new irregular forces to the fight in Ireland, the Auxiliaries forces and the Black and Tans. The fighting was sporadic but vicious, with fewer than 2,000 IRA members facing over 50,000 British forces. The IRA depended upon energetic local leaders. Were there were none or limited leaders there was little fighting going on. The success of the IRA is partly built up on the Irish nationalist myth of heroic freedom fighters. From the British point of view, the IRA was a menacing, dark, organization constantly threatening them anywhere and at anytime. Small scale attacks profoundly affected the British morale and opinion of the war. Helping to lead to the end of the conflict.