The Transformation of Ireland

In The Guardian, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University, Roy Foster favourably reviews Diarmaid Ferriter’s recently published The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 and predicts it “will be an influential book” as well as being “a remarkable achievement” in itself.

As well as commending Ferriter for his analysis of the enormous changes, both social and economic, Foster, in particular, points to Ferriter’s “judicious and empathetic” approach in dealing with the experience of Northern Ireland as part of the larger Irish story

He is writing at a time when it is possible to isolate moments when attitudes began to change – as when a Dublin civil servant in November 1968 attached a note to a file on north-south policy for the taoiseach: “It is much too naive to believe that Britain simply omposed partition on Ireland” Ferriter also tells us that records released last year show Jack Lynch telling a British ambassador in 1972 that voters in the south “could not care less” about reunification. It was true but it had not been possible for a Fianna Fáil taoiseach to admit it.

The depth of the research and sources is noted throughout the review and Foster highlights the seemingly contradictary elements that the book examines

Many of the elements of Irish life may seem baroquely conservative; but these co-exist with a propensity to radicalism which receives its full due in this survey and should not be forgotten.

Although Foster does have a slight grumble at the “curiously late” analysis of Ireland’s entry into the EU, he welcomes the provocativeness of Ferriter’s analysis of the transformation throughout the century in question

Much discussion of the Irish question under the union during the 19th century revolved around the question of Irish poverty: prosperity and change, it was argued by nationalists, could only come with independence. Ferriter’s rich and provocative study shows that this was far from the case: when these desiderata did arrive, it was only after Ireland once again joined a larger and more powerful union. And many of the failures of independence, as Ferriter argues in his characteristically well-judged conclusion, were inseparable from much that made up Ireland’s fiercely held, and in many ways admirable, distinctiveness.

  • Davros

    My copy arrived a few days ago – narked to find that he misquotes Craig!

    There have been quite a few reviews, some such as those by Paul Bew in the Sunday Times and Dermot Bolger in the Sunday Business Post and John Bruton in the Irish Independent favourable , although the vexed question of the Kilmichael Ambush and treatment of Protestants in West Cork rears it’s head in in a critical letter by Meda Ryan and a later letter to an Phoblacht.

    The Spectator carries a very hostile review by C D C Armstrong, Looking through green-tinted spectacles with comments such as

    In many respects, The Transformation of Ireland is simply slipshod. Typographical errors abound, and the factual mistakes are still more worrying. Sir Edward Carson did not retire in 1921, he became a law lord. Nor did he live in Sussex. And he was buried in 1935, not 1937. Ronald McNeill wrote Ulster’s Stand for Union, not Ulster’s Stand for Freedom. J. R. Fisher was not Sir James Craig’s representative on the Boundary Commission, because Craig nominated no one to that body. And Craig never spoke of ‘a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’. Dawson Bates was Home Affairs Minister in Northern Ireland, not Home Secretary. Bernadette Devlin was not the youngest ever Westminster MP. Mo Mowlam ceased to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1999, not 2000. Seamus Mallon, not Brid Rogers, led the SDLP talks team before the Good Friday Agreement. Cahal Daly was not Archbishop of Armagh in 1983. It is not true that there is no biography of James Molyneaux.


    Worst of all, Dr Ferriter can be a little soft on Republicanism. The IRA, we are told, failed ‘to give adequate warning’ before the La Mon Hotel bombing of 1978. In fact, no warning was given at all and 12 Protestants died. The IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands was ‘martyred’; rather, he died of his own will. It was somewhat unwise of Dr Ferriter, in advance of the publication of the findings of the Saville Tribunal, to assert that on Bloody Sunday the British Army tried ‘to entice the IRA into battle’. Given that evidence presented at the Tribunal shows that many soldiers believed that they had been fired on, it might be no less fair to say that the IRA tried to draw the Paratroop Regiment into a fight. Nor, finally, can Dr Ferriter resist a touch of conspiracy theory. The ‘loyalist’ bombings of Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, he states, demonstrated such a degree of expertise as to ‘suggest collusion with others’ (by which he means MI5). In fact, the ‘loyalists’ had by 1974 already shown their murderous capacity for bombing in both Dublin and Belfast.

    The letter in an Phoblacht by Seán Ó Céilleachair mentions an interview with Diarmaid Ferriter and a review by Dr English in the Irish Times October 2nd – If anybody has a copy of these I would be very grateful if they could e mail me.

  • peteb


    Additional reviews are always worthwhile for comparison.. ‘letters to the editor’ are, IMO, less valid as sources and letters to an Phoblacht should barely register in anyone’s view.

    But if you’ve read this volume perhaps you could provide your view of it?

    I would just note that Roy Foster does describe it as “provocative” and he would appear to be correct in that assessment. The C D C Armstrong review, in particular, sounds like a completely different book.

  • Davros

    Pete, the reason I mentioned an Phoblacht letter was so as to request a copy of the Irish Times material… and not even I can read and digest 817 pages of book and notes in 3 days.

  • ulsterman

    Another book of Papist propaganda. Will the Pope never stop?.

    God Save The Queen.

  • maca

    I’m pretty sure the Pope didn’t write this one “Ulsterman”.

  • Davros

    It’s actually easily readable compared even to other History books, let alone Vatican documents 😉

  • Davros

    Now I have read it- an excellent buy. Readable and informative.