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The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence. 1918-1923

de Charles Townshend

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The Irish fight for independence was both a physical battle of protracted violence, and an intellectual battle for a new sort of country. After bloodshed, betrayals and grim compromises that haunted a generation, the struggle ended and a new Irish state was born. These critical years in Ireland's history have often been viewed through the prisms of myth and martyrdom. Charles Townshend's The Republic gets to the truth, painting a far more nuanced and sceptical picture than previous accounts have done but never losing sight of the ordinary heroism of countless Irish men and women trapped in terrible times.… (mais)
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I read this as a follow up to Townshend's "Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion." The two books were recommended to me, along with Tom Barry's "Guerilla Days in Ireland," by a bookseller in a great store in Cork City when my wife and I were there on vacation a few years back. I had asked him about the best books to read to learn about the events of those years.

The Republic is very detailed and so is not particularly a fast read. Interestingly, during the course of the narrative, Townshend often compares earlier published histories to demonstrate how knowledge and perspectives about particular events have evolved as attitudes have changed and new information has been uncovered or new interviews given. Townshend also does his best to unravel fact from legend. Probably the toughest job for anyone, like myself, who did not grow up learning this history, is keeping straight all of the factions in the struggle and all of the chief figures. Given all that, my opinion, like that of many others evidently, is that Townshend has done an admirable job of it. In particular he shows the glories and the bravery of the revolutionaries, but also their frequent viciousness and incompetence. Also, the ways in which the English frequently and tragically misjudged one situation after another. In the end, it seems it was more global opinion, and British political exhaustion, than military achievements that got the British to the bargaining table and led to the treaty that created the Irish Home State, less than the full independence the fighters wanted, but perhaps as much as they might have expected given the totality of the Irish ability to carry on armed conflict and the British belief that control of Ireland was critical to their own self-defense.

By the time Townshend comes to describe the Irish Civil War between the pragmatists who wanted to get on with building a government and considered the exit of the English Army from their island victory enough (despite having to live with the dreaded partition of the three northern counties from the rest of the country) and the purists who swore to fight on against whoever stood in the way of a fully independent Irish Republic, Townshend stops describing the combat itself. The reader, after all, has already gotten enough of a picture of what the guerilla combat of the past years had looked like. Townshend focuses instead on the personalities and politics of that conflict.

His short description of the final end of the Civil War is extremely evocative, I think: " . . . {Eamon} de valera issued his order to the 'Soldiers of the Republic, Legion of the Rearguard" declaring that 'the Republic can no longer be defended successfully by your arms.' Military victory 'must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.' Nearly a month after that, on 24 May, {IRA Chief of Staff Frank} Aiken issued the final command to the IRA to dump its arms. There were no negotiations, no truce terms: the Republic simply melted back into the realm of the imagination."

This is a very good resource for anyone looking for a comprehensive and readable, if not always flowing, account of these fascinating but tragic times. Perhaps at least a bit of foreknowledge about the subject matter might be recommended, though, to keep the details from becoming too confusing. Anyway, four stars from me. ( )
  rocketjk | May 31, 2020 |
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The Irish fight for independence was both a physical battle of protracted violence, and an intellectual battle for a new sort of country. After bloodshed, betrayals and grim compromises that haunted a generation, the struggle ended and a new Irish state was born. These critical years in Ireland's history have often been viewed through the prisms of myth and martyrdom. Charles Townshend's The Republic gets to the truth, painting a far more nuanced and sceptical picture than previous accounts have done but never losing sight of the ordinary heroism of countless Irish men and women trapped in terrible times.

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