Page 6, 13th August 1971

13th August 1971
Page 6
Page 6, 13th August 1971 — Some treasured myths

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Organisations: University of Kent


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Some treasured myths


Ireland Since the Famine by F. S. L. Lyons (Weidenfeld and Nicolson £7.50)

FROM the Professor of Modern History at the University of Kent, comes this large and comprehensive work concerning the history of Ireland from 1850 to 1969.

A group of highly-talented Irish historians have figured honourably in the historiological revolution of the past forty years, among the more recent being Professor Lyons. They are a tribe of cool brains whose almost exclusive mental diet seems to be hard facts and statistics; a the....iand treasured myths lie gasping in their wake. O c c a sionally they produce swollen tomes from which, were one to pierce them. there would be an outrush of statistics reducing the works to a third of their size.

At other times, they produce books so stylistically arid that one is reminded of Grey's phrase about "chewing chopped hay." Then again, and praised be to Clio for it, they give us books like the present one.

"The tired old witticism that every time the English came within sight of solving the Irish question the Irish changed the question, contains, like most jokes about Ireland. a small grain of truth submerged in a vast sea of misconception." This, the opening sentence, introduces us to both the tone and method of the book: grains of truth are treasured, and sweeping generalisations are put in the dock to be crossquestioned.

There is, especially in the early sections, a quest for and reliance on carefully sifted statistics, culminating in generalisations which therefore carry their own validity. The watchwords which he ascribes to the British authorities– "cantien, conservatism, centralisation" — are relevant to his own approach.

Professor Lyons has, with high success, attempted a wide synthesis, taking in the political, social, economic, administrative, constitutional and cultural aspects of his period. Naturally, the ground gets soft and somewhat treacherous underfoot as he moves into the very modern period, and some readers will no doubt take issue with certain interpretations of facts. But these will be points of detail which will not detract from our admiration for this splendidly organised work written in a style which is impeccably structured.

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