Book Review: The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940. By Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy. Published by Thames & Hudson, 500 Fifth Ave., New York NY 10110. . 2002 Hardback $40, 2013 Softcover $21.95. 224 pp. Illustrations, index.

The introduction to the book points out that “photographs remain an undervalued and underused source by those who are interested in Ireland’s past. Too often they are treated as appendages to the written word rather than as pieces of evidence in their own right. Yet photographs provide a contemporary record which can complement and expand upon other sources, both written and oral. They can challenge or confirm our perceptions of Ireland between 1840 and 1940 by providing fuller and more nuanced information that many written records.” (p.22-23).

The 271 photographs used here are all high quality and clear, the best of the best. They all have clear extensive captions. Accompanying the photographs is clear text placing them into a descriptive historical context, which is in many ways a good summary of the major developments and changes occurring in nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland. The book, after the introduction, is divided into four chapters: land, landlords and the big house (Anglo-Irish landowners, the Quarter Acre Clause, Congested Districts Board, Land Commission); poverty, famine and eviction (lack of famine photographic documentation, but strong eviction evidence and why, occupations); from union to partition (role or Irish in military, Home Rule Bill, Government of Ireland Act, Irish Constitution); towards a modern Ireland (effect of Union, development especially of Dublin and Belfast, rise and fall of major industries).

This book is a fascinating read on modern Irish history, and with the photographs and their captions it is easy to dip into and explore. The reader gets a much better image of what Ireland looked like during the period than could be obtained from just reading about it.

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