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I will start by saying I don't agree with everything in this book. In all honesty, if I felt this book was perfect - I would be awarding it 4 stars rather than 5. That may sound like a terrible contradiction, but the fact is, no matter how hard I might try to be fair, when it comes the troubles, we all have our biases. If I agreed 100% with everything said in the book, it would be an indication of bias to me - and therefore result in a lower rate. but while I do take issue with a few aspects, this is by far the most fair and balanced text I have come across.
This book is not exactly what I was expecting - I thought the book was about the Good Friday Agreement specifically. The information on the Agreement itself is very limited. The majority of this text is devoted the more recent background to the troubles ( this only covers the last 500 years but I could easily make a case to go back another 1,000). But of course this book is only 142 pages and you are never going to contain everything about the troubles here in such a short space. This also intended as a school text book for GCSE's in modern world studies. This is followed by a brief section on what made the agreement possible, the new political institutions, and the future. It is worth noting that this book was published in the year 2,000 so more recent events will not be included.
There is a reasonable amount of information on King William of Orange, and some on King James. There is also a fair amount of information on Wolfe Tone, but very little on other major figures in the Republican movement,. In particular I would have liked to have read more about James Connolly, Roger Casement and of course John Redmond. I also would have liked more details on Edward Carson and James Craig - but the sad truth is, I wouldn't have even known the name of Craig without reading this book as he has been completely overshadowed by Carson.
Another very interesting factor in this book is that does include to some extent the use of propaganda in the troubles. This includes a statement by a top figure in the Republican movement on how he was converted to violent Republicanism by a history teacher drumming home the litany of past wrongs. Some cartoons and other forms of propaganda are shown, encouraging the reader to think about how they would be affected by this material. It also has one brilliant cartoon in which the lions in Rome huddle in a corner away from a turbulent mob saying "Oh dear, not the Irish Christians again".
Sadly I felt the section on the Easter Rising was far too short, and I was also dissapointed not to learn a bit more about the activities of both the Irish 16th regiment, who served with valour but are often known as the forgotten regiment today, as well as the bravery of the 36th Ulster. Many historians believe, if the Easter Rising had not occurred these men who fought side by side in the trenches might have been able to have come to terms at home.
Reasons for partition are given, including arguments for and against. There certainly were no easy solutions at the time, and I challenge anyone reading this to come up with one. After this is an excellent section on how economics contributed to the rise and fall of violence in the North. The slow build up to the troubles is charted with demonstrations gone wrong, increasing unemployment, and economic factors playing as large a role as anything else. Still few people see it coming. I found this the single most important section of this book. Those who forget their history are destined to repeat it . All of the same conditions are currently building up again with only one major difference - and that one is for the worse - facebook. Will the troubles be repeated over and over again? Lets hope not, but I wouldn't put any money on it.
As the book continues through the troubles I would also note that the material on the Hunger Strikes is extremely limited. This event - and the violence surrounding it, did play a major role in zeitgeist of the times and really should have had just a bit more detail. The book ends with a brief section on the Good Friday Agreement, the contributions of other countries and a very hopeful outlook, assuming a brighter future.
As mentioned, this book is aimed at a younger audience. In fact I bought it hoping it would be of some use in teaching my son, age 7. As it turns out there is very little that I can use directly for such a young child, but by increasing my own understanding of events, I can better explain issues to him. This book is certainly very useful as a school text book, and I would highly recommend it to home educators with children ages 12+. But I think the largest audience for this book would be adults with an interest in recent Irish history. This most certainly is not going to tell you everything, but it is a good place to start. It is easy to read and understand, and I feel most adults will learn something from this. If you find this interests you greatly, you can always seek out other sources to learn more, although ones from a Unionist perspective are very few and far between, there is a massive amount of information available on the Republican Movement and various historical figures, such as Cromwell.
I did mention in the beginning that I took issue with a few things in this book. The first is a major historical error. It states that no Protestants were interned. In fact 107 Protestant men were arrested and held without trial. This is a small number compared to the 1,874 Catholics interned, and I believe in hindsight nearly everyone would agree internment was a terrible mistake. In fact the head of the Army in Northern Ireland predicted it would be a terrible mistake before the events but no one listened to him. But one must remember that in this time period the Republican movement was far more violent, and a number of soldiers were being killed as well as innocent civilians with the Bloody Friday bombs. No side was without blame, but the death toll from republican violence was well over twice that from Loyalist, and of course the government tends to take threats to its own a bit more seriously. But whether you agree with internment or not, the facts are still the facts and in this case, the authors got something wrong which could very easily have been checked and verified, but was not.
My other issue with this book is that I feel it severely downplayed the massacres of Irish Protestants in 1641. It mentions a couple of thousand men women and children drowned in the River Bann, but does not mention that even the most conservative estimates see over 1/4 of all Protestants in the country, including women and children, even babies murdered in a very short time period. I might have rated down for these omissions, but as I said we all have our biases and I'm sure someone on the other side could find equal numbers of things to take issue with. One simple quote however, guaranteed this book 5 stars in my opinion, and it is one that should that should be handed to every parent with their child's birth certificate and posted on the wall of every school. The quote is from the Coroner of Sligo after the death of Lord Mountbatten and I will close this review with this quote:
" I believe it is necessary to stress again the great responsibility that parents and teachers of any nation have in the way they interpret history and pass it on to the youth of their country. I believe that if history could be taught in such a fashion that it would help to create harmony among people rather than division and hatred, it would serve this nation and all other nations better".