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on 28 October 2013
Townshend's book on the Easter Rising blew me away and so I read this with very high expectations. And, having finished it I realise I have read an important and revealing work, but there were a few bumps on the road getting there.

Townshend begins with the conscription crisis - another piece of disastrous mishandling by a British regime in Dublin Castle - and ends with Aiken's order for republicans to dump arms at the end of the Civil War, and in between we are given a history that focuses as much, or maybe even more, on the civil as the military side of the republican period. Indeed his argument seems to be that the civil achievements of the republican regime were central to its ability to hold down popular support - as nobody, or nearly nobody, had been explicitly told a Sinn Fein was a vote for war in the 1918 election.

The book traces the slowly widening gap between the "militarists" and the "politicians" on the republican side and Townshend's case is that the experienced political operators, the more successful ministers and administrators (including Mulcahy at IV GHQ), were largely the ones who backed the Treaty as they understood what civil power was about. Foremost of these, of course, was Michael Collins, who emerges from this in many ways as a more dynamic civil than military leader.

The book's description of events in the North, especially outside Belfast, is cursory and nor do we quite discover just how the war accelerated though 1919 and into 1920 - at times the book reads like a commentary on accepted history rather than an attempt to outline that history.

But, yes, it's good.
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on 22 July 2014
The events around the independence are complex and confusing; and, in relation to the Civil War, more than a bit obscured. Despite the detail here, you do need a reasonable knowledge of what happened to understand things. A time line would help; and though there are some mini-biographies of the main actors, there are none on the Irish side.

The first part is more the story of the "IRA" in the War of Independence; it's really rather one-sided. There isn't so much information about the British strategy (if there was one) and tactics. The strange period of the two governments/parliaments is really confusing. The parts about the change from "home rule" to "independence" and "republic" could be improved.

What would really help is a greater understanding of British policy, and why they were so concerned to keep Ireland within the Commonwealth; other than references to security, this question isn't really addressed. While it's not really a psychological history, it would help to understand more of the motivations.

It does seem to be "balanced"; the horrors of the Civil War in particular are not whitewashed away, as has so often happened, though the full story of this period probably will never be known.

There's a ludicrous mistake about "Republican Itch" that more or less says that scabies is caused by diet; scabies is an infestation caused by a mite.

Detailed, the product of much research, but sometimes too close to the action, when standing back and trying to see the "big picture" would be better.
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on 1 June 2014
What I most like about this book is the understanding that the Author has for each of the many perspectives that existed in Ireland over this tumultuous period. He goes beyond detailing and explaining what happened to analysing and exploring the driving forces behind each key element. It is quite difficult from this distance to understand and appreciate the motivations and intentions of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising and then those of the anti-Treaty forces in the Civil War that followed the signing of the Treaty with the UK. As we begin to commemorate the events of the First World War the effect that conflict had on the development of Ireland was enormous simply by the distraction of the British Government, the stymying of traditional nationalist hopes and the opportunity it created for extremists to strike. We then saw an arc of activity as blunders by the British Government fanned the flames, destroyed constitutional nationalism and led to a full scale guerrilla war. Then as stalemate ensued a Truce was agreed and one of the most complicated periods of Irish History followed as the Sinn Fein/IRA movement fell into bitter dissension and eventually armed conflict over the question of the Treaty.
The Author does the best job I have seen of explaining why the Civil War occurred and the essential barrenness of the anti-Treaty position as just like 1916 its leaders united behind the concept of the Republic without any coherent effort to create a political or governmental structure to underpin it. Both sides fought on this issue but neither made much effort to come to terms with how to handle the inconvenient fact that a large proportion of the population of Northern Ireland would not accept either side's interpretation of what should happen. That unreality continued to bedevil these islands for many years and anyone seeking to understand the motivations of holdout Republican diehards in the North would see the same mystical attachment to an ideal beyond any practical or rational explanation that is so well explained in this book.
This is certainly the best book I have read on this period.
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on 29 January 2015
As expected of Prof Townshend; readable, full of detail which can be used at several levels from an Introduction primer, to higher level academic work.
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on 8 April 2014
This is a deeply researched and with sharply directed insight into the mechanics of political inflexibility on both sides resulting in a very nasty war.My only quibble is that he covered too many of the protagonists which made it sometimes confusing.
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on 31 July 2014
A detailed account of the events leading up to the declaration of Irish independence in 1923. Well researched, but written in a ponderous style which makes the book hard to digest in places. That said, very informative and well researched.
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on 25 May 2015
Growing up in Ireland during the '60s and '70s this would have been incredible - a must read for every Irishman and Irishwoman
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on 3 October 2014
Good book well written, very small print.
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on 21 January 2015
Hard going read but will persevere!
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on 30 March 2015
Well worth the read. Nicely put together.
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