The new Oxford Companion to Irish History is a fine piece of work, says FLORENCE O'DONOGHUE
The Oxford Companion to Irish History, edited by S. J. Connolly, Oxford University Press, £25.
THES EXCELLENT work provides sound guidance for seekers of information about Ireland's past and present.
Whence IRA and Sinn Fein? A militia called the Irish Volunteers was founded in 1913, with, as a prime mover, the Co. Antrim-born Catholic, John MacNeill, a professor of Old Irish History. His idea was a response to the recent establishment of the Ulster Volunteer Force by Protestants worried by the Liberal Government's design to give Home Rule to all Ireland.
But in the Great War thousands from both groups, Irish differences submerged, died in the Somme and other battles.The tiny Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret oath-bound society dating from 1858 and called the Fenians, manipulated an anti-English rump of the Irish Volunteers into the 1916 Easter Rising. After five days it was suppressed, Pearse and the others were shot and the event dubbed the Sinn Fein Rebellion.
But Sinn Fein had no hand in its gestation. That party started in 1905 as a peaceful movement preaching high tariffs and a political solution with Ireland and England as a dual monarchy on the model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Sinn Fein (Irish for "ourselves") had languished until the Rising, but it then became, gradually, the revolutionary party. In the 1918 General Election the Sinn Feiners won 73 of 105 Irish seats at Westminster. Those who were then at liberty set up the first Dail in Dublin. Eamon de Valera soon escaped, and went to America to win support for the republican cause.
He was so engaged for most of what was called the Anglo-Irish War, or War of Independence, in the homeland. That ended with a truce in July 1921, followed by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, with Lloyd George and Churchill among those signing for England, and Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, Sinn Fein's begetter, for Ireland.
By this time the Irish Volunteers were known as the Irish Republican Army. The style continued in use after a regular army fought to support the new Irish Free State, given Dominion status by the Treaty, against proponents of the republican ideal.
And the name and that of Sinn Fein survive.
In this book is material on such battles as that in July 1690 by the Boyne, in what has been titled the Republic of Ireland since 1948. During the 18th century the Irish Protestant rejoicing occurred on 4 November, day of the birth of the posthumous son of the Prince of Orange and Mary, daughter of Charles I and Princess Royal of England. It was not until 1795 that the Orange Order was formed in an inn at Loughgall, Co. Armagh. And it is noted that the Orangemen's decision to celebrate the Boyne on 12 July seems to have been based on a misunderstanding of the 1752 calendar reform: the battle was actually fought on 1 I July, new style.
Aiuge gallery of contributors have elped the editor, who is Professor of Irish History at the Queen's University of Belfast, to present this authoritative book of reference, of remarkably wide range; it includes the Rt Rev the Hon Percy Jocelyn (1764-1843), DD, Bishop (Protestant) of Clogher, in the Province of Ulster, who lost his see after discovery, as the book daintily puts it, "in compromising circumstances with a soldier in a London public house". That was in 1822, just before the suicide of Lord Castlereagh, of whom Shelley had written, in The Mask of Anarchy:
I met murder in the way He had a mask like Castlereagh.
Castlereagh is included: as Chief Secretary of Ireland 1798-1801 he was promoter of the Act of Union. He was out of his mind when he cut his throat, soon after he had shocked George IV by saying: "I am accused of the same crime as the Bishop of Clogher." He was wrong_ The Bishop jumped his bail, to Scotland, and lived incognito, and usefully, as a butler for many years.