Literary Review: Ireland The Autobiography

Ed John Bowman

Ireland: The Autobiography

I received a number of books this Christmas the above being one.

The book jacket states:

Over the past hundred years, Ireland has undergone profound political, social and cultural changes. But one thing that has not changed is the Irish genius for observation and storytelling, invective and self-scrutiny. Ireland: The Autobiography draws upon this genius to create a portrait of a century of Irish Life through the words of the people who lived it.

The book is edited by John Bowman, a broadcaster and historian. He has interviewed every Taoiseach since Sean Lemass. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College in 2009 and awarded an Honorary Doctorate by UCD in 2010. People in Ireland  will have seen John on their television screens since the 1960s presenting current affairs, historical, and election-results shows.

In putting together this anthology John, “has ranged widely over many kinds of sources: books, journals, newspapers, parliamentary debates, private letters and diaries” (xiii).  He has arranged the anthology in chronological order, by date of publication, but where a document belongs to a specific period he has included them with the other documents of that time, for example, Elizabeth Bowen’s account of Easter Week 1916 at the Shelbourne Hotel, though published in 1951, appears with the other accounts of the rising.

This is a gem of a book. You can read it from cover to cover, but it is more enjoyable to just randomly open it and see where you land. It provides an extremely varied patchwork of voices, from the Leitrim priest who wanted to ban jazz to the campaigner who imported contraceptives in defiance of the law, my personal favourite so far is an article titled, ‘What the GAA is really about” by Brendan O’ hEithir (1943), (180), it is only a page long and it made me laugh out loud, I so hope it is a true story. Ireland: The Autobiography features contributions from a vast array of major players, Patrick Pearse, Constance Markievicz, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Elizabeth Bowen, Kate O’ Brien, Eamon de Valera, T. K. Whitaker, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Bernadette Devlin, Nuala O’Faolain, Edna O’Brien, J. J. Lee, I could go on and on. Most entries are only a couple of pages, three or four at most.

John gives a note on context or just a wry observation  at the start of each piece. This book is a goldmine of interesting, insightful, often hugely entertaining, some depressing, documents covering the key themes and events that have shaped Ireland over the last one hundred years. It gives invaluable insights into the social, political and cultural  fabric of this relatively new state, Any student writing on Ireland will find no end of gems to enliven any essay. It includes a terrific list of sources. A wonderful addition to any library. “One hundred years in the life of the nation, told by its people”.

Highly Recommended.

Works cited.

Bowman, John, ed. Ireland: The Autobiography. UK: Penquin Ireland, Random House UK, 2016. Print.

Ireland: The Autobiography. Digital image. Yahoo. n.d. Web. 27th Jan. 2017. https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEVvwW3NZYIgMAe.4nnIlQ;_ylu=X3o

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