DESPITE THE general perception that the massive advances in technology threaten the future of the printed book, the parallel growth in the number of new publications would suggest the contrary.
This is certainly true in the case of historical material, especially, at least in Ireland, in the case of books relating to the 1916 Rising. At present, Mercier Press IS publishing at least one new volume a month dealing with various aspects of the War of Independence and the lead up to it. At this rate, by the time we reach the centenary of the Rising, every county with have at least one book describing its part in the fight for Irish freedom. Even government ministers are getting in on the act with the Collins Press publishing Michael Martin’s Freedom To Choose: Cork and Party Politics 1918-1932.
With such a plethora of material appearing there is naturally a wide variation in quality and much that is substandard appears on the market. The two general faults (outside the fact that the author often can’t write ) are that either the book is not properly researched or that the book is in fact a doctorate thesis that has not been modified for public consumption.
While some of the Mercier Press publications are guilty of the former, certainly a number of the volumes published by the Four Courts Press and Irish Academic Press are guilty of the latter. The pity of this is that while these books have a great deal to offer the benefit to the reader is too often negated by too much speculation or too heavy an academic approach.
One book that suffers from the academic approach is The Irish Factor 1899-1919 published by Irish Academic Press, which is most unfortunate as otherwise it is a fascinating read. Subtitled ‘Ireland’s Strategic and Diplomatic Importance for Foreign Powers’ and written by Jérome aan de Wiel, the book is a study of the reaction of the French, German, American, Russian, and Austria-Hungarian governments to the developing Irish situation and how they tried to influence the events leading up to, during, and after the Rising to their own benefit.
The book is based on research in diplomatic and military documents notably in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, and Vienna and unearths several unknown documents, which in turn produces some unexpected revelations.
During the Boer War, the French envisaged a landing in Ireland to strike at Britain. There is also the almost incredible likelihood, as documents found in Berlin and London would strongly suggest, that some British officials let the Rising of 1916 deliberately happen in the hope that it would destroy the Republican movement for good.
What is probably more fascinating is the opinion (or lack of ) foreign powers had of Irish Republicans and their aspirations. The main concern of the French and the Germans in relation to the Rising was the negative effect it would have on Irish recruitment into the British Expeditionary Force fighting in France.
We follow in the footsteps of Roger Casement and learn what the Germans really thought of him and what did actually happen in the Aud on its gun running expedition to Ireland. There are wonderful insights into the way the kaiser worked and directed the war.
All of this makes for fascinating reading which is somewhat tarnished by a turgid prose and overlong paragraphs, some of which run for more than two pages. This is unfortunate as the reader has to work harder than should be necessary.
However, those readers who do have the stamina to make their way through the book are more than rewarded by its content. Thankfully the strength of the material outweighs the relatively poor editing and, in the context of Ireland’s role in today’s global society, it makes for a most interesting and enthralling read.