Professor English, of Queen's University, Belfast, divides up this critical biography into sections that investigate Ernie O'Malley's life, his ideas, his writings, and his career after the publication of his well-known memoir On Another Man's Wound. The title refers, as English reminds us, not to (as Gerry Adams propounded) the slogan that one generation's freedom fighters must rise up upon the fallen bodies of a previous generation's failed fighters to seek victory, but to the fact that it's easy to withhold pity when someone else is doing the bleeding and the dying. As a medical student before the 1916 Rising, O'Malley knew this to be more than a metaphor. His choice in a few years to take up arms against the Crown only deepened his empathy, and his awareness of the divisions that tore Irish into pro- and anti-British soldiers and then pro- and anti-postwar Treaty soldiers once the British had left--most of the island. He never confused anti-British tactics with anti-British prejudice, and one of the most memorable parts of his memoir is when he tells of his love for Shakespeare's sonnets, a copy of which he took into battle.
O'Malley was a rarity among those who were involved in the Irish war against Britain for independence that followed the failed Rising. He only was periphally involved, if at all, in 1916, but his powerfully described, deeply detailed accounts of his involvement in the war that followed show a university-educated, well-mannered, upper/middle-class Catholic who chose to lead troops most often from disparate backgrounds than his own into a guerrilla war to obtain the ideal Republic as a reality.
If you want to read "Another Man's.." follow it up with his unfortunately incomplete "The Singing Flame," which tells of the civil war that followed the war for independence and his involvement in more pain, idealism, and compromise. English, by separating the life from the critical accounts, avoids having to recapitulate too lengthily what O'Malley himself conveys so well of his war experiences. He makes the biography briefer of the early years to elaborate upon his later wanderings in the Western US, his art collecting and book collecting interests, and his troubled domestic life.
English succeeds best when he goes beyond the facts of O'Malley's life. He then provides valuable considerations of how one could be "IRA & intellectual" by considering how the Catholic intellectual class both succeeded and failed in its attempts to make the Free State into what the Republicans had fought for, and then failed to achieve. The writers from the struggles tended to be on the losing side to a man, and the sense of futility and frustration, English shows, made it imperative for many of the most capable and talented leaders Ireland could have kept to guide the new nation instead to seek exile from the state that emerged, full of censorship and censoriousness.
This is not a long book, but one finishes it with a sense of sadness for the ultimate disappointments O'Malley and his peers endured as they sought aesthetic satisfactions to replace the loss of an Ireland for which they had fought so long, and to escape or endure the reality of a narrower state, intellectually and ideally, than they had lived and seen others die to achieve.
Prof. English has subsequently published "Armed Struggle," an IRA history, and earlier had produced "Radicals & the Republic"--an account of the leftists who tried to advance 1916 ideals in a post-1922-39 Free State unsuccessfully. He has co-edited "Raids & Rallies," the Civil War letters of O'Malley.