Casting a cold eye on the civil war in Ulster from his vantage point in the Irish Dail, Conor Cruise O'Brien has written a...



Casting a cold eye on the civil war in Ulster from his vantage point in the Irish Dail, Conor Cruise O'Brien has written a history of fanaticism and sectarian polarization that is both personal and political, the autobiographical sections providing a unique view of divided loyalties and ideological schisms over three generations within his own family. O'Brien dates the discrediting of constitutional democratic politics in Ireland from the fall of Parnell which brought with it a glorification of armed revolution and the ""messianic illusions"" and ""bad history"" of the Irish Literary Revival of the 1890's. He shudders for Ireland's future should the Provisional IRA and its cult of the dead succeed in imposing once again the scenario of 1916-21 on the living. No faction, north or south, comes off guiltless, least of all the Fianna Fail and Jack Lynch whose ""Puss-in-Boots Provisionalism"" has helped legitimize the murderous illusion of an IRA ""mission"" on both sides of the Atlantic. For the terrorists, presently trying to bomb their way to the negotiating table at Westminster, he has only loathing. The legend of Cathleen ni Houlihan summoning her sons to a holy war has grown putrescent. What frail hope still exists for a benign resolution of the conflict must be based on the Cathotics of Ulster repudiating the guerrillas -- and there is some evidence that this is now happening. Far from endorsing the spurious ""inevitability"" of a 32-county united Ireland, O'Brien boldly asserts his belief that ""at this moment none of the main sections of the population of Ireland actually wants unity"" -- the ideological, religious, political and class cleavages are more divergent than the nationalists believe. Indeed, O'Brien asserts that the Ulster Catholics and those in the South have little in common, historically or programmatically; nor could Eire accommodate the impacted traditions of Ulster Protestantism. O'Brien's assessment will be unpopular among Irish-Americans swept up in the resurgent republican passions: it is his uncompromising judgment that (now that Stormont is gone) the chief obstacle to a ""better deal"" for the Catholics of the North is the IRA and its unconscionable war.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1972