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"History of Ireland",
A review by Carroll Quigley June 5, 1967
of a typescript:
by Giovanni Costigan.
New York: Collier Books, 1967

5 June 1967


"History of Ireland"


Mr. Carl Morse
866 Third Avenue
New York, NEW YORK, 10022


   Dear Mr. Morse,

   This is a report on a MS. HISTORY OF IRELAND by Giovanni Costigan.

   This MS. of 341 pages, in 13 chapters, covers the whole of Irish history, but has the major portion of it (pp. 53 to 341) on the period since 1603. It thus would be in direct competition with James C. Beckett’s THE MAKING OF MODERN IRELAND, published by Knopf in this country and by Faber in London last summer. The Beckett book has a somewhat shorter span, since it has only one chapter of 12 pages on the period since 1922. The Beckett book has 496 pages and sells for $8.95. It seems to me to have wider appeal than Costigan, has been favorably reviewed, and is more scholarly, with a critical bibliography of 18 pages. I should think it would offer very severe competition for the Costigan. (see reviews of Beckett in LIBRARY JOURNAL, August 1966, p. 3714; in TIMES LIT. SUPPLEMENT, 11 August, ‘66; and, by A.J..P. Taylor, in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, 28 July ‘66.)

   The only other book available in hard binding and covering the whole of Irish history is Edmund Curtis, A HISTORY OF IRELAND, an old-fashioned political narrative, first published in 1936 and still in print in a so-called 6th edition of 1950. It is 434 pages and sells for $4.50 from Barnes & Noble. I believe it is still in print, although a paperback version, issued in 1961 for $1.95, is no longer available. However, this letter could be re-issued at any time.

   It is not clear to me if it is your intention to publish the Costigan MS. only as a paperback. If so, and if the Curtis book is not re-issued, the prospects are much better, as there is only one possible competitor, and it is not the same kind of book. That is A SHORT HISTORY OF IRELAND by Roger Chauvire of the National University of Ireland, a very brief Mentor paperback of 144 small pages, selling for 75 cents. It is well-written, well though-out, but is not really satisfactory for anyone who wants a history, as it is too brief and is interpretative.

   The Costigan MS. is clearly written and generally sound in judgement once the reader accepts that it is clearly another version of the old, old story of the ruthless oppression of the Irish by the English. The author’s position is perfectly clear; he is for Irish freedom and self-rule at all periods of Irish history, and anyone who resists that effort is wicked. But he is well informed in his judgements, sees much of the complexity of the situation and does not make the error of drawing the linen between the good guys and the bad guys simply between the Irish and the English. He sees that the clergy were often opposed to Irish Freedom, that its cause was often betrayed by native Irish Catholics, and that some of its strongest supporters were often Protestant, English, upper-class, land-owners.

   Costigan’s subject is thus the story of Ireland’s struggle for freedom and is thus more dramatic than it would be as straight history. Social and economic history and such fundamental matters as foreign affairs or the history of education and of religion do not come into the story except in reference to his major theme. Around this theme his story is presented in an interesting fashion, and he does get in a fair amount of the personalities of his chief actors, in an objective and very fair way. He knows the 19th century very well and does get it across.

   On the other hand his first couple of chapters are not very sound or attractive. He admits that there are two ways to write the early history of Ireland: in terms of the old myths and folk-tales or in terms of the archaeological evidence, which is, as yet, only partly worked out. He then gives the former, so that his version of the story of ancient Ireland is just about as it would have been written by a patriotic Irish folklorist two generations ago.

   Once Costigan gets by this early fog, his account is very concrete, well-informed, interesting, and generally well-written, although not, as I say, well-balanced or well-rounded. It would provide a good introduction to Irish history, if there are enough potential buyers for that subject, which I cannot judge.

   If the decision is made to publish this MS., some changes should be made, especially in the bibliographies. At present these are at the ends of each chapter, and seem to have been compiled by someone else on the basis of the content of the chapter in question. There should be a general bibliography at the end, and the chapter lists should be closely related to each chapter, in the sense that books mentioned within the chapter should be on the list at the end of that chapter. For example in chapter 11 on “Parnell and Home Rule” there is discussion of MILL’S ENGLAND AND IRELAND (1868), but it is not listed anywhere. Later (on pages 233-235, several books are discussed or quoted without any indication of their names or dates.

   I have read almost all of this MS. and have corrected various mistakes and also made a few changes in style (such as the use of the word “corn” in the English sense meaning “grain.”)

   In summary, I do not recommend publication in hardback on the grounds that I do not feel that this MS. would be particularly successful in competition with the Knopf edition of Beckett. And I do not recommend publication in Paper-back unless it is fairly clear that the Curtis volume is not to be re-printed by Barnes & Noble.

Very sincerely,
   Carroll Quigley

Scans of original review

1  2



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