Parnell and His Times: A worthwhile journey, if not the promised route

Book review: The chapters of this sprawling volume do not cohere, yet there is much to be admired

The Charles Stewart Parnell statue on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photograph: Kate Geraghty/The Irish Times

The Charles Stewart Parnell statue on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photograph: Kate Geraghty/The Irish Times

I am not quite convinced that the shadow of Charles Stewart Parnell covers quite as much as is suggested by Joep Leerssen, the editor of this sprawling volume, but he certainly cannot be accused of lacking the appetite to persuade the reader otherwise.

His melodramatic introductory essay robustly elaborates on the “the traumatic, undigested memory” of Parnell’s defeat and death in 1891 and the shadow it cast on Ireland’s transition to the 20th century because it “left Ireland with a Parnell-shaped hole in the middle, filled only partially by a Parnell myth”. Those nationalist politicians who came in his wake looked “puny in comparison . . . Parnell gone made it impossible to get over Parnell . . . almost like a big bang in reverse”. Steady on.

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