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Brilliant if not perfect
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.