Book Review: ‘The Year of Liberty’ Thomas Pakenham

I’ve returned over the last few months to books – this you could say is a ‘book winter’ – and not all Brooke or other incurably romantic items.

Over the weekend I gave Thomas Pakenham’s work on the 1798 Irish Rising (THE YEAR OF LIBERTY) a going over again it’s a book I bought back in 1972 so we’ve been around together for a long time.

I suppose it gave me my grounding in Irish history in that it revealed to me despite my ignorance that the overwhelming influence in the Irish Independence movement was Protestant – most significantly Theobald Wolfe Tone who of course was executed after the rising. I’ve since visited Tone’s grave at Sallins on several occasions. Initially back in the 70s it was fairly modest structure but since then it’s been hijacked by the Irish State for ceremonial. Tone must be turning in his grave!

I find a note obviously written by me years ago on a page marker which says ‘Q: What have you got in your hand A: A green bough’ strange the things that catch your attention.

Pakenham’s work also bizarrely led we into another interest because the first few pages deal with the views of the British Army garrison commander in Ireland General Abercromby on the state of the Army in 1797. Abercromby knew the Rising was coming and knew the Army as it was then was not up to contain it. He famously said that the British Army was ‘in a state of licentiousness which must render it formidable to everyone but the enemy’. You could say nothing much changed in 200 years.

Prophetic words but Abercromby was sacked!

Still it stirred my interest in the role of the Eighteenth century British Army role in subduing the Celtic countries and some years later (as the wife rolled her eyes) I was seeking out remnants of ‘the military roads’ of the Scottish Highlands the work of another Abercrombie and indeed General Wade and gazing in awe on Fort George a kind of Eighteenth century ‘landlocked dreadnought’.

What I liked about Thomas Pakenham’s work on 1798 was that it was a highly readable historical account. It’s been reprinted since but beware if buying a copy there is a slimmer abridged tome with copious illustrations you could say a sort of ‘1798 for Dummies’.

Image: Wolfe Tone’s grave at Sallins – Kildare.

Bernard Moffatt
pp Celtic League

22/01/18

 

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