Jan 12, 2015

Some Books (and films) on the Irish Revolution or the Irish Civil War

Chris sent me the following in an email. (The materials in red are my additions. I have also added links to the book page at Amazon.com and reviews of the books for your convenience.)

There are a couple of books that we might want to consider when you asked me about Irish War of Independence and Civil War books.

First of all "Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916" by Peter De Rosa is an excellent book to read, except.....It is a bit like only reading about the Boston Tea Party or the Alamo and figuring that is the whole story.  568 pages, 4.6 stars. Here is the New York Times review of the book.

Probably the most interesting book to read on the subject is Tom Barry's : Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War. This was written by one of the IRA flying squad members in the late 40's and was very influential in the liberation movements of the 1950's and 1960's. Plus it is a first person history of the conflict. 242 pages, 4.8 stars. Here are some reviews of the book from GoodReads.

Tim Pat Coogan has written a few books that have been popular over the years such as: IRA: The secret history and a bio on Michael Collins. I tend to regard some of his works with a bit of scrutiny cause he tended to have good access to IRA, IRB and other Republican sources, but sometimes would write what they wanted to hear. That being said, his Michael Collins bio is pretty decent. Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland 524 pages,  4.6 out of 5 stars. Here are some reviews of the book from GoodReads.

Peter Hart is of the Canadian school that started doing research into the subject in the last decade and started reexamining the conflict and checking out some of the old myths of the war. His two books: "The IRA At War 1916 - 1923"  and his "IRA And It's Enemies" are excellent and the forefront of present day research on the conflict. They have been labeled as revisionist by certain historians who prefer the old interpretations of the war, but they are quite good and were used heavily when I was doing research at University. The real pity is that Hart died so he has been unable to defend himself against his detractors.

There are also a few good books that popped up about the war recently. Micheal Hopkinson's book: The Irish War of Independence is very good. 274 pages, 4.3 out of 5 stars but only 3 Amazon ratings. The first half of this from History Ireland reviews the book.

There are also a few books out about Michael Collins intellegence war. The Squad by T Ryle Dwyer is very good as is also James Gleason's: Bloody Sunday paint a picture of the war fought in the back ally's of Dublin for control of the intellegence war.

It is hard to find books out about the North during the time period. Also there are some on the IRA's operations in the UK at the time. I can supply some titles if any one is interested.

Recently there have been some books on the UK side of the conflict. They have been a bit of a punching bag for nationalists for years, so it is nice to have some voices from their side. British Voices from the Irish War of Independence By William Sheehan is excellent on this subject.

The true "demons" of the war, The Black and Tans have also had some interesting books that have come out about them. The famous book by Richard Bennett made the Black and Tans out to be something the akin to a British SS group. David Leason wrote a new book on the Black and Tans (also with the same title). I have only read the reviews of this book and it closely follows some of the research that I came up with while at University. The Ironic thing is that many of them stayed on with the Irish Police after the Civil War ended and helped found the modern day Garda. Certainly gives you a chance to make your own mind up about them.

Books about the Civil War are even harder to find: Hopkinson has a good book on the subject: Green Against Green. The classic on the war was Ireland's Civil War by Calton Younger. The pity was at the time it was written it was denounced as "Free State Propaganda", which was rather ironic seeing what was happening at the time (late 1960's).

Movie wise there are a bunch of good ones.

Micheal Collins (Dir Neil Jordan): Excellent movie. Fast forward through the Julia Roberts bits and forgive the stuff of legend ending, and you have a great movie. The funny history boo boo is that Ned Broy who is show killed by the Tan's actually lived through both conflicts, founded the Garda, and I believed lived until the 1970's after he retired. Highly entertaining and worth watching.

Wind that shakes the Barley: (Dir Ken Loach) This is probably the best movie on the conflict. Shows a lot of the struggle and all it's warts in an unvarnished view. Must see.

Shake Hands with the Devil (1959): This is an early IRA movie. The story line is very good for it shows how organized the IRA was during the time and James Cagney's role is excellent. The American tie in is really weak and the forced love story (why oh why do all these movies have to have one?) is pretty awful. But worth watching if you can get a copy.

Rebel Heart (2001) BBC ULSTER TV movie: Actually not a bad miniseries. Covers several characters from the Dublin Uprising to the Civil War. Covers also the North during the time. A bit silly at times, a Republican fantasy, and way too much romance, but worth seeing if you can get a copy. Just don't take it too seriously.

And if you are looking for what the IRA turned into:

Odd Man Out (Dir Carol Reed) (1947); Shows the IRA during the late 40's and 50's. More into being a lot more like Jesse James and less like Che.


  1. Thanks to Chris! It seems to me that the books most of interest to club members would be (in order of preference):

    The Irish War of Independence by Michael Hopkinson

    Green Against Green by Michael Hopkinson

    The I.R.A. at War 1916-1923 by Peter Hart

    Guerilla Days in Ireland by Tom Barry

  2. John C wrote:

    You referred to Coogan as having access to IRA etc. sources. To what extent are there publicly accessible records to such sources for the period prior to the end of the Civil War?

    Chris responded:

    I would prefer to read books based more on hard evidence than on speculation. My understanding of Coogan's book is that it is a myth supported by some participants or their descendants in the Troubles. Coogan is known to have consulted with participants, but the book poorly supports itself. I think that has made the book contentious rather than authoritative.

  3. Chris added this:

    One other book came to me the other day that I found was a great help in the research that I was doing. The title of the book was called Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert A. Bickers. It came out I would say about 8 years ago.

    The book itself was on a member of the Shanghai Municiple Police during the 1920's and 30's. The Gentleman was English and a Veteran of the First World War. The thing about it was that it actually, except for location, describe the "Imperial Policeman" of the interwar era. be it Kenya, Ireland, or in this case Shanghai.

    The further catch though that made this mans story even more interesting (sadly it was not part of what I was working on) was that he was one of the first Westerners killed by the Japanese at bayonet point during the Japanese invasion of 1937. He becomes lost in the masses of deaths during WWII, but his case was brought back up after the war and later by his family to get the war crimes trial start date back to 1937 to include him.

    I always thought that this was a interesting book. Sort of like a anti-version of Unbroken, for he is a bit a a man of his times. A jingoist and a racist. But at the end of the book one tends to feel sorry for him because he becomes a dinosaur in the changing times. I always thought that it would make a great book to cover.

    (This book is 416 pages, 3.8 out of 5 stars on the basis of 4 reviews)

  4. An Irish cousin (whose views I respect) recommended My Fight for Irish Freedom by Dan Breen. 192 pages, 4.5 out of 5 stars. He mentions that one of the incidents described in the book occurred 150 yards from where our family was living at the time.

  5. Another Irish cousin (whose views I also respect) wrote me:

    Not a history book but a book set in the period by Roddy Doyle. I think the title is A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup) Certainly a page turner it is a fiction from the perspective of a 'foot soldier' in Dublin IRA. It clearly shows that behind the men of action are a group from whom the soldiers will always be excluded. This group will assume power when the New Day dawns, as such groups do worldwide.

    (400 pages, 4.0 out of 5 stars)

  6. There was considerable discussion in the book club meeting about Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry. Roddy Doyle is a world class author, having been short listed once and having won the Man Booker Prize on a second occasion. The Man Booker Prize is perhaps the most prestigious award for English language fiction, awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK. Doyle also won the British Oscar for best film writing.

    The club has never selected a book of historical fiction, but there was some support for doing so in this case. It is possible that in some cases a fictional treatment may provide a better understanding of situations and events than straight history.

  7. There was a great movie on Ireland during The Troubles{ The Informer. In 1936 it was nominated for Best Picture, John Ford won the Best Director Oscer, and Victor McLaglen won Best Actor in a Starring Roll.