In pursuit of the pinkindindies


LOCAL HISTORY:FINDING OUT things you did not know is one of the many pleasures of reading local history. I learned a great deal from A Historical Atlas of Dublin, by Richard Killeen (Gill Macmillan, 176pp, €19.99). For instance, who were the pinkindindies? (Answer: gentlemen scoundrels of the 18th century.) The book gives an outline in 12 highly readable chapters of the political, social and economic history of Dublin from earliest times to the present, illustrated in colour with more than 30 maps.

Starting with Ptolemy, and his map of the known world in 100 AD, it looks at factors which shaped the development of the city, from the arrival of the Vikings and their establishment of trade routes, to the spread in the 14th century of the Black Death, which took only a year to arrive in Dublin from the East through the Mediterranean trade routes. Arriving in August 1348, it had killed 14,000 people in the city by Christmas.

Location was the key to Dublin’s development. Commanding as it did the shortest crossing to a major port in Britain, by the time the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 12th century, Dublin, crucially, maintained the best communications between the English crown and its new lordship in Ireland.

Cork has always seen itself as a rival to Dublin. A Tale of Two Cities, by photographer and writer John Hall (Currach Press, 128pp, €20), uses this rivalry to illustrate a fascinating book on what he considers the best buildings in both Dublin, where he has spent his adult life, and Cork, where he was born and grew up.

Hall says that one of the differences between the two cities is that Cork is a place from where people come, while Dublin, to a great extent, is where people go. “Cork is more than a provincial capital – its own view of itself is of an alternative capital,” he writes. Hall’s book is lovingly done and for that reason anyone with a serious interest in either city will enjoy it.

Drumcondra and its Environs, by Louis O’Flaherty (Drumcondra Publications and the Heritage Council, 185pp, €20), is a handsome and well-researched volume about the North Dublin city suburb. Immensely detailed, the book contains many handsome photographs of the area. Part of its considerable interest lies in how it describes what happened to great houses like Hollybank House, Marlborough House, which became the site of the headquarters of the Meteorological Service, or Clonturk House, now a home for blind men, or entities, such as the Drumcondra Hospital, which no longer exist.

The Irish Franciscans 1534-1990, edited by Edel Breathnach, Joseph MacMahon OFM and John McCafferty (Four Courts Press, 413pp, €29.99 pbk, €60 hbk) was published to mark the celebrations in 2009 of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the order. The book presents in 18 essays by various well-regarded historians, facets of the Irish Franciscans and their impact in Ireland and on the Continent. With its 25-page bibliography, its comprehensive index and its liberal sprinkling of footnotes, the book is uncompromisingly scholarly. A chapter on the founding of the Louvain College, for example, is in Irish, without translation.

The Story of the Presentation Sisters, Scoil Croí Naofa and Presentation College, Athenry. 1908-2008, edited and compiled by Gerald Ahern (Presentation Sisters, Athenry, Co Galway, 600pp, €30) is a “story” rather than a history, but it has its charms. It is set out like a yearbook of the life of the order and the school, with photographs of many past pupils, their various triumphs, sporting and artistic, and the views of various principals, teachers, missionaries, etc. Its appeal to past-pupils is obvious, but it should also be of interest to anyone who grew up in Athenry, with its nostalgic record of how the town used to be.

The Wexford War Dead,by Tom Burnell and Margaret Gilbert, with a foreword by Kevin Myers (Nonsuch Publishing, 288pp, €20), is a list of the 874 names of those who died from Co Wexford in the first World War. It is a very poignant book, and tragic stories abound in it, including that of Andrew Tierney of New Ross, who died on leave in August 1916 at home, having gone swimming with a group of friends. He was aged 17. Supplementary information comes from local newspaper notices and the data on each death from official records.

The information in Forward the Rifles: The War Diary of an Irish Soldier 1914-1918, by Captain David Campbell MC (Nonsuch Publishing 160pp, €14.99) comes from the diaries he kept during the first World War. Wounded early on at Gallipoli, he was then sent with his regiment, the Royal Irish Rifles, to Salonika, where the main hazards included vicious mosquitoes and inadequate mosquito nets. Awarded the Military Cross, he was later invalided out, suffering from osteomyelitis. His book is a highly engaging read, its story told by someone with a good eye for detail: happily, he survived, dying at the age of 83 in 1971.

Father Browne at Home: Unseen Photographs from Ireland’s Best Known Photographer from the Family Archives, by John Martin (Swiftmartin Publishing, 112pp, €25), an affectionate memoir, is a personal account of the life of one of our most influential photographers, written by his great-nephew, augmented by material from the family archive. It includes photographs of the maiden voyage of the Titanic – Father Brown was a passenger on the Cherbourg to Cork leg of the journey and so missed the fatal iceberg later in the voyage.

Briefly noted: The Wall Family in Ireland 1170 to 1970, a reprint from 1971 of a family history by the late Hubert Gallwey (Curragh Publications, 295pp, €29.50): A Voyage Round My Mother, by Paddy Mounter (Jolly Good Egg Productions, 150pp, £6.95), and finally, Kerry in the Jet Age: Kerry Airport 1969-2009, by Donal Hickey ( Kerry Airport, 104pp, €21, incl PP).

Noeleen Dowling is a freelance journalist and local historian