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3 November 2013 Edition

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The enigmas of Parnell and Kildare in the Tan War

Book reviews by Michael Mannion

• A republican election team on Main Street, Naas, during the 1918 elections

James Durney’s new book, The War of Independence in Kildare is a passionate defence of his native county’s often disparaged record.

Parnell Reconsidered

Edited by Pauric Travers & Donal McCarney, UCD Press

 pg 28 2

THERE IS a tendency amongst many republicans to sideline Charles Stewart Parnell as something of an interlude between the Fenians and the Easter Rising, when the really important stuff happened. Yes, he was important at the time but what lasting significance has remained? 

It was not for nothing that Parnell had been dubbed “The uncrowned king of Ireland” (a title previously applied to Daniel O’Connell). His pivotal importance and influence are not readily appreciated in the modern Irish political landscape.

pg 28 1Gladstone, himself one of the greats of British politics, described Parnell as the most remarkable man he had ever met. This is all the more impressive when one remembers that Parnell died when only 45 years old.

This latest book on Parnell from UCD Press, whilst obviously aimed primarily at the academic market, nevertheless makes fascinating reading for those of us who would not normally be considered as Parnell scholars. The book consists of a series of short essays, each dealing with a specific aspect of his life and career. Many of the topics covered in each section are on familiar ground but there are others that are more unusual.

The relationship between Parnell and the drinks industry is scrutinised in one section; another provides an insight into the relationship between Parnell and the press in Ireland. A further chapter focuses specifically on the relationship with the United Ireland newspaper.

The more traditional examinations of attitudes to Gladstone and Home Rule are also reviewed.

This book could so easily have been a dry, sterile and frankly boring collection of disparate essays cobbled together for publication, Instead, the editors have assembled a selection of well-written, impeccably researched, and above all interesting insights into what they describe as “the enigma that is Charles Stewart Parnell”.

This is an engrossing book and surprisingly readable. It provides a series of commentaries and insights not normally found in the standard biographies and would be essential reading for anyone studying the period, or merely wishing to find out more about Parnell.

The War of Independence in Kildare

By James Durney, Mercier Press

pg 28 3

JAMES DURNEY’S new book, The War of Independence in Kildare is a passionate defence of his native county’s often disparaged record.

At times the argument switches between explaining that Kildare was really far more active in the Tan War than generally appreciated; that Kildare couldn’t really do much due to its unique geographic and demographic situation; and that Kildare may have performed poorly but others were worse.

Looked at purely on the level of headline military operations, Kildare could be seen as ‘under-performing’ but the author reminds us that Kildare was in fact one big barracks containing more than 6,000 soldiers, RIC and Black and Tans. A third of the total British Army strength in Ireland was based in the Curragh alone.

pg 28 4Many of the soldiers were accompanied by their families and most of the RIC were themselves Irish with families. Coupled to this was a huge number of ex-servicemen and their families, all of whom would be seen as being broadly pro-Union. Many non-military members of the population, from farmers to shopkeepers, were inextricably involved with supplying goods and services directly to the military or indirectly (to their extended families). As a result, Kildare was a relatively prosperous county with a broadly pro-Union population.

The other problem facing potential guerrilla actions was the large expanse of flat, hedgeless countryside precluding the mounting of ambushes, the action of choice of the IRA during the Tan War.

Where Kildare was more successful was in the field of intelligence, supplying Ned Broy to Michael Collins in Dublin Castle as a double agent for the IRA, and the less-well-known Gerry Maher and Patrick Casey in Naas. These last two were RIC members who were able to provide the top secret codes enabling captured encrypted police documents to be deciphered.

This is a passionately written book, well-researched and worthwhile reading for anyone with Kildare connections.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1