Home > General > Ferriter has before exhibited many of the faults he found with Coogan’s work

Ferriter has before exhibited many of the faults he found with Coogan’s work

Diarmuid Ferriter may be right about everything he has to criticise Tim Pat Coogan for, but should Ferriter be the one to say it? Too many of his comments brought to mind Ferriter’s own 2004 book, “The Transformation of Ireland, 1900–2000”. This was a book badly in need of an editor, or at least another set of eyes before it launched itself on the Christmas market. At several points he makes reference to people by their profession or position but without identifying them, as if he had written an incomplete note in his research, “a leading Irish MEP suggested racism was endemic” (who? I’d love to know!), “In January 1980, Latin America’s leading Catholic theologian suggested” (what was their name?). Other times he quotes someone without giving an endnote citation, such as a line proposed by Tom Johnson, omitted from the final draft of the Democratic Programme.

At various points, he uses inaccurate descriptions for the name of the state, “Irish Republic”, “Southern Ireland”, at times when it was not appropriate to do so, or the “Free State” of a statistic in 1944. He inaccurately describes the substantive question in the 1992 abortion referendum. He mentions incidents more than once (the abolition of the industrial school system in Britain decades ahead of its abolition in Ireland; Magill’s Supreme Court victory in the prostution story); on other occasions he presents his chronology through the book in a confusing manner (writing about the resignation of Ó Dálaigh, and then the formation of the Cosgrave government; discussing Carson’s position as a Dubliner working for Ulster Unionists when discussing the formation of Northern Ireland, without any prior mention when discussing 1913; writing about talks in 1986 with the IRA two pages before talking about the hunger strikes; discussing how de Valera drafted a new Constitution without mentioning the prior deconstruction of each significant element of the Irish Free State up to 1937).

He criticised Tim Pat Coogan for inaccuracies in his dates. Yet Ferriter gives Article 44 rather than Article 41 as including a section on the life of woman in the home; he describes the Fianna Fáil as 1992-95, where in fact it was 1993-94; he gave the Progressive Democrat seat total in 1987 as 15, where in fact it was 14. He writes that university representation in the Dáil continued until 1934, where it continued up to 1937 (after an amendment in 1936). He talks of the seaside town of Bray in County Dublin, rather than County Wicklow. He describes Jack Lynch as the first Taoiseach with no Civil War baggage, without acknowledging that John A. Costello was chosen in 1948 for that reason (Lynch was the first FF Taoiseach was had not been involved in the Civil War).

There are points of lacking in clarity or precision, like referring to Holles Street, rather than calling it the National Maternity Hospital; writing in 2004, he mentions of the PDs in government from 1989-92 and 1997-2002; at one point, it seems like he’s referring to Costello as leader of Fine Gael. On what happened in Dublin at the end of the Second World, he writes, “Trinity students displayed the flags of the Allies, to which nationalist students, including future Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, responded by burning the Union Jack”; someone reading that could be forgiven for thinking Haughey went to Trinity. His discussion of the First Dáil would have been the perfect time to explain what a TD was; instead, we find it in parenthesis several pages later as “James Collins, a member of the Abbeyfeale IRA and future TD (member of parliament)”. Or even include it in a key to terms. It just looks out of place randomly there.

Some obvious points of context are lacking: for example, mentioning Mary Robinson as a presidential candidate simply as “a liberal academic lawyer from Trinity College”, without specifying any of the causes she was involved in, or that she had a career in the Seanad, or that she had left Labour in 1985, or anything else. He writes that after 1977, the electorate rejected single-party government for the rest of the century; though there were no further single-party majorities, it ignores Haughey in 1982 and 1987-89. He mentions that the 1982-87 government spent time on cultural questions like abortion and divorce, but without mentioning that there were any referendums, let alone what the result of them was. He mentions the Anglo-Irish Agreement parenthetically, while discussing the relationship between Dublin and nationalists, without explaining what it was, who signed it, who opposed it, what led to it. He talks of the response to the hunger strikes and the success of Sinn Féin in the 1980s without mentioning their change of leadership and policy on abstention.

Aside from this, there are structural problems with the book. He divides the century at decade points too rigidly at times, so that for example the discussion of the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s is set apart from the rest of the events that follow from it. Within each chapter, the length of any section seems to be dictated more what he can group with an amusing quotation.

There are sections of the book that read like a collection of quotations from other historians and analysts. Again and again we have lines like, “as pointed out be Laffan…”, “In the words of sports historian Paul Rouse…”, “Colm Tóibín asserted…”, “Similarly, Fintan O’Toole pointed out in his survey of Ireland…”, “Tom Garvin maintained that…”, “His alternative to the Treaty was, maintained Joe Lee…”. The occasional intext reference to other historians is fair enough, but we read a text to read the author’s interpretation of events, not see how much he likes quotations from Laffan, Lee or Jackson. He even does this doubly so once: “Michael Gallagher quoted David Thornley…”. Were it simply to survey the existing research before presenting his own thesis, it would be fair enough. But such lines are peppered throughout the text, often without any separate analysis from Ferriter.

And a few pages of an overarching conclusion would be good, to justify the title, to explain how and why he believes Ireland was indeed transformed.

Anyway, these are just a few points I noted on the margin of book at various points when I first read it, such that I thought it a bit rich for Ferriter to find the faults he did with Coogan’s book. Especially so as Coogan is a popular historian; though Ferriter writes for a broad audience, he is an academic historian, and standards of referencing and accuracy apply all the more.

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