Browser: Detailed and timely history of Irish nurses in Britain

Reviews including Whale Day; Living with History; On Dangerous Ground; and Sterling Karat Gold

Ireland’s Loss, Britain’s Gain, Irish Nurses in Britain, Nightingale to Millenium, Ethel Corduff, Rainbow Valley Books, pp 322, €25

The first comprehensive history of Irish nurses, Ireland’s Loss, Britain’s Gain is capacious and detailed, the result of decades of research on the part of Ethel Corduff who trained as a nurse in 1964. Fascinating characters form the backbone of this book which covers the nursing history from early legends to the end of the 20th century. And the touching interviews with Irish nurses who worked in mid- to late 20th century British hospitals are its greatest strength.

Problematic language used in the description of disabled children in an account of St Dympna is regrettable because this is clearly a labour of love, a long overdue record of the many women and men who left Ireland to serve in Britain's hospitals. – Martina Evans

Whale Day

Billy Collins
Picador, £10.99

Billy Collins spends a lot of time thinking about death. In Whale Day, this much-loved veteran poet twice imagines his funeral, compiles a list of his dead friends, contemplates where his ashes will go and hopes for a tomb "topped by a stone figure of an angel".

Such preoccupations might be macabre in the hands of another poet, but Collins approaches his subject with a characteristic playfulness. Cats and labradoodles pay their respects at his funeral; dead friends appear on the back of a shopping list for "heavy cream and light bulbs". Alive to a "sense of the bizarre", these poems delve into the mundane (like whiskers) and the elevated (including a Hopper painting) to jolt us into observing the "daily surprise of . . . being". – Tanvi Roberts


Living with History

Felix M Larkin
Kingdom Books, €24

This is a multifaceted selection of Felix Larkin's many writings on mostly historical subjects, particularly the history of the Irish media (he has specialised in research on the Freeman's Journal) but also the Irish independence struggle, American presidency, Joyce and Irish history, appreciations of some Irish historians (eg, Mary Hayden, KB Nowlan, Margaret MacCurtain) and other biographical sketches (eg, Hyde, Redmond, Cosgrave, de Valera).

Historiography and the interpretation of historical events have been of the utmost importance to Larkin and are given eloquent expression in Harped history: James Joyce and Irish historiography, one of the finest pieces in the collection. A lovely autobiographical piece recalls UCD in the 1960s and there are insightful essays on the visual arts and literary classics as well. – Brian Maye

On Dangerous Ground

Máire Comerford
Lilliput, €20

This is Máire Comerford's memoir of her extensive involvement in the Irish independence struggle 1916-23, edited by Hilary Dully, who found herself "enthralled by her bravery, idealism and unbreakable commitment to fighting for an independent Irish Republic".

As a member of Cumann na mBan, she travelled throughout Ireland working on behalf of the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin, the Dáil and the White Cross. Her memoir has the double virtue of being a detailed, first-hand, eyewitness account of events and of bringing to light the significant role of many women, which would otherwise be lost to history. She regarded the Treaty as a great betrayal of the struggle and suffered imprisonment during the Civil War. Photographs and memorabilia from the period add to the book's appeal. – Brian Maye

Sterling Karat Gold

Isabel Waidner
Peninsula Press, £9.99

One morning, the protagonist of Isabel Waidner's latest novel is arrested. Innocent but increasingly aware that this might not actually matter, Sterling is cast adrift in a world that refuses to make sense with only the help of their three best friends providing a glimmer of hope. Put simply, Sterling Karat Gold is a contemporary reworking of Kafka's The Trial.

But in building on that seminal work to explore the consequences of state and social violence against people marginalised because of their genders, bodies, race, class, Waidner has created something unique. Many a jaded reader has groaned at the idea of a novel being experimental but the gleeful abandon with which Waidner plays with form, content, and the basic principles of narrative is never anything less than refreshing, and at times, truly breath-taking. A triumph of creative expression, replete with chaos and shot through with genuine heart. – Becky Long

From the Jaws of Victory: A History of Football’s Nearly Men

Halcyon Publishing, £10.99
You worry about starting a collection where the editors, referencing Guy Fawkes in the introduction, write " . . . decimate the whole of Westminster and the monarchy in one go." Sticking with the Fawkes metaphor, moving through the chapters leaves you with the feeling of a good idea that never fully catches fire.

One problem is the book brings little new to many stories that have already been told elsewhere (Netherlands 1974, Brazil 1982, Leeds). A matey writing style in some of the pieces grates, too. A standout is Patrick Barclay's superb essay on Dundee 1961-63. Where the writers have "lived through" the experiences are the most enjoyable: Emanuel Rosu, Romania 1994; Giancarlo Rinaldo, Fiorentina 1998-99. A near miss, but probably a good place to start for a soccer newbie. – NJ McGarrigle