The Dead of the Irish Revolution: An absorbing book that counts the cost of war

Book review: Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin succeed magnificently in combining statistics and stories of the revolution

1920: A casualty is carried away during the Irish War of Independence when Sean Treacy of the Irish Volunteers’ South Tipperary Brigade shot and killed two RIC constables at Talbot Street in Dublin. Photograph:  Sean Sexton/Getty Images

1920: A casualty is carried away during the Irish War of Independence when Sean Treacy of the Irish Volunteers’ South Tipperary Brigade shot and killed two RIC constables at Talbot Street in Dublin. Photograph: Sean Sexton/Getty Images

When presented with statistical data on human suffering and death, we oscillate between being obsessed with the numbers and being utterly inured to them. The intimacy of the context is critical. In the current pandemic the daily bulletins have created thousands of armchair statisticians: parsing the significance of “flattening the curve”, levels of hospitalisation and ICU occupancy and the R number. On the other hand, the sheer scale of the human catastrophe in Yemen or of the displacement levels in numerous other global crisis spots seems to defy our comprehension.

Broadcasters are regularly advised that telling a compelling human story is more likely to hold the attention of an audience than a barrage of figures. Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin, the authors of this important new study of the fatalities of the Irish revolution, succeed magnificently in combining the statistics and the stories, in a volume that will surely serve as the indispensable reference work on this topic for the foreseeable future.

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