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.