These issues first received serious historiographical treatment in the nineteenth century from two great scholars, James Anthony Froude (1818-1894) and William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903). Both published extensively on the great issues of the day — issues of secularism, freedom and political morality. Both men were outstanding researchers and werr recognised as such by the academy: Froude was appointed Regius Professor in Modern History at Oxford in 1892, while Lecky was awarded a LittD at Cambridge in 1891. Nonetheless, they had very different styles. Lecky was obsessed with precision and calibration of judgment; Froude, on the other hand, enjoyed dramatic presentation above all. Froude was always inclined to present history as a matter of harsh choices, which, when fudged by those in power, only made matters worse: paradoxically, he was capable of escapism himself. In the spring of 1879 he privately advocated a policy of extermination of black Africans (according to Lord George Hamilton's memoir) but when he came to make a public statement he spoke of treating them with 'perfect justice'. Hamilton, an Ulster aristocrat, remarked that after this he never took Froude seriously again.This is a book of essays on Northern Ireland, published in 2008, aiming to cover a wide spectrum of things that anyone ought to know, edited by the late great Maurna Crozier to whom I personally owed a great deal. More than half of the contributors are well known to me (including Lord Bew, quoted above). So reading it is a bit like coming home, definitely revisiting familiar territory in most cases - though chapters 7 and 8, covering the experiences of newer immigrants to Northern Ireland, were new to me.
Two chapters in particular stood out for different reasons. Dennis Kennedy repeats his defence of the 1921-72 Unionist regime which first appeared in the Cadogan Group pamphlet "Picking Up the Pieces" in 2003. I criticised this at the time (here and in a letter to Fortnight in November 2003, drawing on my father's research from the 1980s); Kennedy replied to me rather defensively in Fortnight in January 2004, but has basically repeated the same errors in this piece written a couple of years later, which is sad.
Sad in quite a different way is Jane Leonard's report of an Ulster Museum exhibition, curated by her in 2003-2006, with the title Conflict: The Irish at War. Her account of composing the exhibits, and even more of the feedback received from visitors, moved me to tears as I read it on Eurostar. (I’m glad to say that reading the chapter motivated me to get back in touch with Jane, rekindling a friendship after twenty years in which I had seen her only once.)
There's also a DVD of about half of the contributors reflecting a bit further on the topics covered in their chapters, including also an introduction from Maurna Crozier. We're now at a different stage of crisis in Northern Ireland compared to where we were in 2008, but actually not all much of the fundamentals has changed apart from some key personalities and some advance and retreat on particular issues. The collection is still well worth getting hold of and reading.
This was the non-fiction book that had lingered unread on my shelves longer than any other except Alexander the Corrector, by Julia Keay. When the latter's turn finally came, frustratingly I couldn't find it and turned to What Made Now in Northern Ireland as the next in line. I have now located the Julia Keay book so it goes back on top of the pile.