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1 June 2015 Edition

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An uncritical state

A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s

Edited by Mel Farrell, Ciara Meehan & Jason Knirck | Irish Academic Press | Price: €22.45

MUCH has been written on the first two decades of the 20th century in Ireland, including the Gaelic Revival forming a groundswell of nationalist sentiment, which in turn paved the way for the Easter Rising and eventually the Tan War. Most historical analysis would consider the Civil War and then sort of drift, perhaps noting the rise of Fianna Fáil, and possibly the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins. This book seeks to rectify that deficit by commissioning eminent historians to produce a series of articles and monographs on different aspects of Irish life in the 1920s. 

It is the editors’ contention that the 1920s were the most important in establishing the form and direction that would become the template of modern Ireland.

The book is divided into ten stand-alone monographs, each representing a different aspect of 1920s Ireland, ranging from Harnessed in the Service of the Nation: Party Politics and the Promotion of the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme 1924-1932 to A Regime of Squandermania: The Irish Farmers’ Party and Parliamentary Democracy, 1922-1927

Other chapters deal with  the consolidation of the Northern state in the 1920s and the impact of the centenary celebrations of 1929 and 1932 on the religious atmosphere in Ireland.

This isn’t exactly light bedtime reading. It is first and foremost an intensely academic work primarily aimed at scholars but not without interest to the general reader. The book’s main fault, from an admittedly partisan republican viewpoint, is a seemingly uncritical view of the actions of the Free State founding fathers. The subtext seems to be, yes, they may have done bad things but they had to be done to preserve law and order from the anarchic chaos that would inevitably follow a socialist republican agenda in government.

Having said that, this is a superbly-researched book which provides a cogent analysis just begging to be rebutted by historians with a more republican perspective.

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