A Nation and Not a Rabble
The Irish Revolution 1913–1923
Overlook Press, New York, 2015, 528 pages
Book Review published on: October 27, 2017
On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, a group of Irish nationalists, taking advantage of British forces being deployed to France, proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic and staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland. Within a week, the rebellion had been suppressed and more than two thousand people were dead or injured. The Irish War of Independence followed in 1919, as the Irish Republican Army conducted a guerilla war against British forces in Ireland. The two parties struck a treaty in 1921, and the negotiations that followed resulted in the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, which would eventually become the Republic of Ireland on Easter Monday, 18 April 1949.
Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at University College in Dublin, explores Ireland’s most turbulent decade in A Nation and Not a Rabble. While the title may mislead readers who are expecting a narrative history of Irish nationalism, it is a historiography that highlights the revolution’s legacy and how it has been honored, remembered, mythologized, and commemorated.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part examines how the revolution was framed by those writing on the subject, including veterans and later professional historians. The second part is an analytic narrative of the revolution. The third part assesses the fallout of the revolution, the legacy for some of those directly affected, their quest for recognition of their services, and how we now understand and remember the revolution one hundred years later.
Ferriter reminds us that civil wars are messy affairs, and the Irish uprising was no different. His research reflects that it was neither just only religious, Catholics versus Protestants, nor just only English versus Irish. It was all of this and more. There were Protestant Irish nationalists and there were Irish Catholics who saw no contradiction between Irish nationalism and the British Empire. There were many Irish Catholics who volunteered for the British army and were serving in France. The research also indicates that Irish woman played a prominent role, challenging the historical narrative that only Irish men took up arms.
The legacy resulting from the Irish uprising appears more convoluted. Following the revolution, Irish and British authorities restricted access to official records, witness statements, and private files. Ferriter asserts these restrictions served both sides as they attempted to restore order following a very violent period. He contends that denying historians and other academia access to these records has resulted in the unintended consequence of the history of this period being based largely on myths and propaganda from both sides. Attempts to officially recognize or commemorate events or participants remains contentious. Its greatest impact may be in the Irish educational system, where students are not exposed to this period of Irish history.
A Nation and Not a Rabble is not an easy read, but it’s worth every moment of it. It is not a book to pick up unless you are quite familiar with the events and personalities of the period and are looking for academic analysis of the Irish uprisings. It requires frequent consulting of outside sources while encouraging further reading on key events, personalities, and period history. A Nation and Not a Rabble is a must read for those with an interest in Irish history.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas