Page 3, 2nd January 1959

2nd January 1959
Page 3
Page 3, 2nd January 1959 — THE COURTS

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Organisations: United Irishmen Movement


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Fr. L. M.


JOHN PHII.POT CURRAN; his life and times, by Leslie Hale, M.P. (Cape, 25s.).

Pget the history of any period in perspective, the biography of a public figure who lived through that period will often reveal the complete data. This is especially true ip the case of John PhiIpot Curran,

Curran was not only the greatest barrister of his day, but he stands forth as the one man of high principle against a background of Irish public life that was sordid and blatantly corrupt. His time was one of political degradation a Parliament there was to rule and a Judiciary to legislate. and it is incredible how one and the other become so thorough in misrule and injustice.

In those days the influence of men as easily bought and the Offer of a baronetcy or an earldom or esen a sum of money could be counted upon to betray the most sacred trust Mercenary spies were active: rapine, murder. prostitution, and truculance were orders of the day-surely the darkest chapter of an unworthy history.

And in all this Curran is revealed as the one man of principle whom money could not buy. With a sense of justice that was delicate he fearlessly inveighed against the corruption that surrounded him and neither Cabinet nor Bench was

shielded against the lash of his tongue.

In his private life he was no worse and no better than most of his contemporaries. hut he had an enlightened patriotism which inspired him with a burning desire to see better standards and conditions for his native land.


THIS book gives a wealth of history of the attempts made by a long-suffering and distressed peasantry to organise

reprisals against the tyranny of the day. The exploits of the

Whiteboys" and the " Light o' Day boys " are examples of such feeble efforts, but they developed into a national movement, the " United Irishmen."

This movement had as leaders such sincere patriots as Napper Tandy, Lord Charlemont. Wolf Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Fmmet. and many others

of the privileged Protestant class, who pioneered the tight to liberate their impoverished Catholic fellow countrymen.

When goaded into rebellion, they turned with hope to the success of the French Revolution for help. Whenever achievement seemed within their grasp, their ever effort was foiled by the ubiquitous informer who was so handsomely rewarded for his accursed work. And so came the glorious failure of the '98 Rising.

Open conflict

CURRAN'S open sympathy with all the principles of the United Irishmen Movement (his constant efforts to rally the support of the Whigs for the cause of Catholic Emancipation did much to prepare the way for O'Connell's success later), his readiness to defend their hopeless cause in the face of "packed juries" and sham courts of justice, before judges who had already pre-arranged the verdict, all this brought him into open conflict with the ascendancy powers: he gave no quarter and sought none.

No one doubted his ability as an advocate, and time and again his skill and oratory were sufficient to secure an acquittal even against such prejudiced opposition. Those were the days when personal invective was hurled with fury and effect. and many verbatim accounts in the book of the use of this weapon make lively, interesting, and fascinating reading.

Ordinarily, the biography of an eminent lawyer might be expected to contain arid details of famous cases, which are of little interest to the layman.

The reader will find nothing of the kind in this book. Each appearance in court gives an absorbing picture of this able man fighting a losing battle with all his skill, against overwhelming odds, and never once losing respect or sympathy in the fight.

Both sides of the Atlantic

MODERN VERSE IN ENG. LLSH: 1900-50, edited by David Cecil and Allen Tate. (Eyre & Spottisnoode, 25s.).

THE English poet, before the war, turned often to Europe for creative stimulation. Today, he is more likely to look to the U.S. (particularly if he is also interested in the cognate problems of poetry criticism).

To have, then, this fat. 600-page, lair-priced anthology of verse from both sides of the Atlantic, presented by two eminent critics, makes for a discursive occasion.

Perhaps it is part of tlie given situation that the U.S. selection appears the more exciting: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Mr. Allen Tate fa recent Catholic convert), who handles the American consignment, is penetrating in his introductory remarks, given much to censure of his compatriot critics, and sometimes attractively wayward in his choice.

Less original

LORD DAVID, assembling the British exhibits, is smoother. more cautious. and less original. His is the "painted fan " approach: Mr. Tate's the more architectural attitude.

Of the 114 poets included, 55 are British, beginning with Thomas Hardy and endirug with David Gascoyne. Taken together, the two selections illustrate the modern muse's trend-in Mr. Tate's words, its " unfamiliar focus of feeling" . . . its " verbal shock " and technique of magic " . . . its speech arising " from the concealed paths ".

The notes (biographical and critical) on the poets are generous, intelligent, and useful.


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