The Journal of History     Winter 2004    TABLE OF CONTENTS


Feature: 2000's best and worst

Phil Derrig lists his favourite books for the year.

Editor's note: Even though it's already 2004, a book that was excellent in 2000 would still be excellent now.

First prize goes to Eugene McEldowney for the Faloorie Man. The story of a young Belfast boy, born in 1945 and grows up in West Belfast is simply wonderful. A truly human book. Just for sheer storytelling, the tale of Martin McBride is peerless. Why this wasn't listed for a Booker is beyond me. The next one was so listed and gets Derrig's coveted second prize (worth a few bob in itself round these parts).

Second prize is for Brian O'Doherty 's The Deposition of Father McGreevy. I read this tale of the people of a mountain village in Kerry in the 1940s during a summer trip to Portugal. I have a vivid recollection of O'Doherty's storytelling skill making me cold in the midday sun under an olive tree.

An Phoblacht was probably the first Irish paper to review this book and recognise its potential. When it was shortlisted for the Booker, lesser papers became interested in it. Eileen Battersby reviewed it for The Irish Times, but the Californian in D'Olier Street missed the entire point of O'Doherty's epic of the destruction of the West in the early years of the Free State. His hill village is allegorical - he was being ironic, Ms Battersby.

Had they given the book to a certain Roscommon man in their employ, then they wouldn't have been embarrassed by the infantile treatment of O'Doherty's work. Although shortlisted for a Booker, Healy-Rae Jnr called for a fatwah on it as it portrayed Kerrymen as sheepshaggers. If Ms. Battersby doesn't understand irony or allegory, Healy-Rae Jnr doesn't understand anything.

Editor's note: I know how he feels as a "review" of my first edition left a great deal to be desired too since it completely missed the essence of the volume.

My old friend Peter Berresford Ellis recorded the debt of gratitude that the Scottish nation owes to Seamus Mac a'Ghobhainn in the concise: Scotland Not Only Free But Gaelic. A Tribute to Seamus Mac a'Ghobhainn. Still on the pocket book format I was impressed by: A Pocket History of Gaelic Culture by Alan Titley.

Easily the worst book I reviewed over the year was the truly appalling: The Garda Siochana. Policing Independent Ireland 1922-'82 by Gregory Allen. This nonsense should end up in the bargain bins marked non-fiction, bad non-fiction.

The book that most surprised me by its quality was: Soldier of the Queen by Bernard O'Mahoney with Mick McGovern, another bit of smart publishing by Steve MacDonagh at Brandon.

My Donegal prize goes to Breandan Delap for his: Mad Dog Coll, quite simply the definitive word on this Gweedore boy made bad and a sensible view of the Irish Diaspora experience in the US.

Despite the online revolution, there is still nothing quite like pulling the phone out of the wall, locking the door and settling down with a good book in your hands. My abiding impression of 2000 is the depth of talent in Irish writing and that's a cheering thought for the New Year.

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