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We Recommend: Books

 

Kinsale Harbour: A history by John Thuillier‌ 

This is an interesting book. Here we have something of an academic work covering a lot of the social, a good deal of the economic and plenty of the military history of Kinsale and its harbour. But don’t let the academic bit put you off! Thuillier has managed to keep something of the local essence of the town and its people in his book.  There is a strong sense of the place throughout, and even a touch of poetry about the imagery used. From the very beginning the true heart of Kinsale is placed firmly around the sea – “Heartbeat-like, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the tide sustains the town.” Thuillier brings us into the landscape around Kinsale from the perspective of the sea, reinforcing the importance of the town’s maritime uniqueness and the role of the river Bandon in shaping the harbour.

The golden age of sail - the harbour teeming with ships, the fishing tradition in the town, piracy, smugglers (which at one time were ubiquitous on the south coast of Ireland) and the strong tradition of shipbuilding – is all here. The growing importance of the town both to the emerging transatlantic trade and the already established continental trade in the 15th and 16th centuries meant that Kinsale had to be protected in order to protect ships and the trade they plied. Shipyards at ‘The Dock’, at Castlelands, and later across the harbour where the Trident Hotel now stands were of vital importance in keeping the British Crown’s interests in North America and the West Indies secure. Of course the two forts which now dominate the town (Charles Fort and James’ Fort) leave little doubt as to the military and commercial importance of Kinsale to the British interest. Thuiller brings it all to life with a light tone and an easy, flowing style. It’s his way of introducing fact in an almost conversational manner (“In conversation with....”) that keeps you reading this book. A wonderful presentation with plenty of maps, charts and interesting photos - this is one I can only highly recommend. Kinsale Harbour; A History by John Thuillier is available now at Cork City Libraries.

 

Review by Matthew Farrell

 Kinsale harbour :  a history

 

Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers

There are so many good things to say about this book it’s hard to know where to start! This is the third cookbook by Miers, a BBC Masterchef winner in 2005. During that show she was known for her bold and adventurous cooking style and this book does not disappoint. Here in Ireland our perception of Mexican food is quite distorted. Chilli Con Carne (not even Mexican) and tortilla chips for the main – what most of us think of as Mexican food is actually Tex-Mex at best! Well if you’re feeling like having a look at some authentic Mexican recipes to make at home, then look no further than this book. Miers gives us some real home-cooking Mexican recipes that will thrill the taste buds. She has a handy ingredients guide, including a useful chili guide, and gives us a description of what Mexicans eat and when. She really gets across to us the sprit of what Mexican cookery is all about. The book opens in the usual manner, with salsas (well worth trying), nibbles, soups etc. But then she deviates into a more authentic Mexican style of recipe classification; Cheesy things, From the Grill, and Soul Food. Each chapter starts with a short description of the recipes you will encounter and where they fit into Mexican cuisine as a whole, some of which may surprise you. For example, of soups she mentions “I could fill an entire book with the soups of Mexico” or in the chapter Street Food (great quick and tasty recipes!) she mentions that “The king of Mexican food is the taco… not the crisp rolled shell sold in Tex-Mex supper kits, but a soft-cooked flatbread that comes hot off the grill”. So prepare to experience some bright and colourful food from ‘Mexican Food Made Simple’ by Thomasina Miers. Available now at Cork City Libraries.

 Mexican foods made simple / Thomasina Miers

Fallout by Tetsuo Takashima 

If you haven’t heard of Japanese born Tetsuo Takashima you would be forgiven. However in Japan he is a well known action thriller writer with books in the science fiction and historical fiction genres. With over twenty novels to his name Takashima has also won a number of literary prizes for his work. One of his novels ‘Fallout’ was winner of a newcomer mystery fiction award in 1994. Original published with the title ‘Meltdown’ in Japanese, it deals with the threat of nuclear disaster.
It all starts with a letter to a California newspaper - a letter containing the schematics for a nuclear bomb! And so begins a thriller action rollercoaster involving faked suicide of government officials, cover up and government policy manipulation. Takashima’s novel explores the issues of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the pressures of national security. By keeping the clash between these interests high risk and moving the plot along at a cracking pace, Takashima keeps the reader turning the pages. He has an interesting style, heavy on the snappy dialogue which fuels the fast pace of the story. The author has another ace in his hand, he himself is a nuclear scientist, which allows him to add a depth to the story that other writers just cannot manage. However, he is careful not to overplay this, and gives his novel a sense of realism hard to find in this genre. ‘Fallout’ by Tetsuo Takashima is available now to members of Cork City Libraries

 Fallout / Tetsuo Takashima
 

‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller.

 

This Costa award winning book is a marvellous read. It begins in Versailles less than twenty years before the French Revolution. The main character is Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young engineer from Normandy. He is given a project by the minister, to disinter the corpses in the  graveyard of Les Innocents, the oldest in the city, containing an estimated six million bodies. In 1780 an edict by Louis XIV had forbidden any more burials in the graveyard, and Miller mentions how a collapsed cellar wall in a nearby house had exposed dead bodies and caused a bad smell.
Miller conveys the filth and the stench very well. People who lived around the area of Les Halles where the graveyard was situated didn’t seem to notice it. Neither did they notice how food was quickly tainted or even how wine went off. Baratte has to arrange the transfer of the bodies to Porte d’Enfer. Of course there are complications; not everybody wants the graveyard emptied. What is to happen to the priest? The organist? The sexton and his daughter? What about the miners that Baratte gets to come from Valenciennes? Do they really want to remove six million bodies? Work is work, but….
The plot develops with anti-monarchic graffiti, attempted murder, rape, and of course love. This is a simple and, despite the subject matter, beautifully told story about a country boy who comes to the city to make a career for himself. It captures the era very well, from the surprising lack of hygiene in the palce of Versailles to the darkness when one’s candle goes out on the stairs at night. The inclusion of Dr. Guillotin is nicely done; he is there to examine some of the exhumed bodies. This book is full of interesting characters! The understatement in the book simply emphasises the bleak reality of the time and reminds us that even in the midst of squalor and death, life goes on. ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller is available now at Cork City Libraries.
Reviewed by Paul Cussen

 

 

Pure / Andrew Miller
 

Birth Matters : a midwife's manifesta’ by Ina May Gaskin

 

Published in 2011, this is the latest book by Gaskin in a continuing conversation on the modern medical approach to childbirth. Considering the rise in birth rates in Ireland at the moment and the guides to childbirth and fatherhood which seem to accompany all the national dailies recently, when could we find a better time to review Gaskin’s ‘Birth Matters’? Gaskin is a world renowned midwife, celebrated for the outcomes at her practice in the US (The Farm, with over 3,000 births), and for her promotion of a more natural approach to childbirth. She was in Ireland recently to address a Home Births Association of Ireland conference , and appeared on morning TV.
So how does the book do? It’s structure makes it very accessible and easy to read. Interspersed between the chapters are a number of first hand narratives and experiences which serve to break up the text, and lend a more human feel to what is essentially a book on medical issues. The reader is never bored. The tone throughout is very upbeat and informative, and it is clear from the start that Gaskin will ‘give it to you straight.’ We get a history of childbirth from the witch hunts of the middle ages to current obstetrics as well as a unique view of the development of the modern approach to childbirth. Some of the debate on the negative aspects which seem to plague the US maternity system do make for worrying reading, and should sound a cautionary note for childbirth practitioners and planners in Ireland. This book will speak to a wide audience ; parents and people in general who have no interest at all in becoming parents. Anyone who is interested in the ongoing discussion about health services in Ireland and their future development will see this book as a must-read…indeed it should be on the course of every Women's Studies class. Above all Gaskin renews our confidence in woman's own natural ability to birth. I would strongly recommend it to everyone, men included, and including also experts in the obstetrics and midwifery fields. It is available now to members of Cork City Libraries.

Birth matters : a midwife's manifesta / Ina May Gaskin

Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin
Twenty years ago Claire Tomalin wrote The invisible woman : the story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for biography), The NCR Book Award for Non-fiction, and the Hawthornden Prize. Now she has come out with her enjoyable and extensively researched full biography of Dickens. She is a marvellous biographer (she's previously written biographies of Austen, Shelley, Pepys, and Thomas Hardy), and with the Dickens book she has produced a fascinating and entertaining read.
Tomalin tells of the boy who had to go to work at the age of 12 because his father was in debtors' prison, the boy who attended a recital by his sister in front of royalty even though he was unable to perform, the adult who became a campaigner and social commentator, the man who let his wife know there were problems in their marriage by hiring a workman to partition their bedroom!
Corkonians will be a little disappointed that Tomalin doesn't mention his visit to Cork. Dickens arrived in Cork on Monday, August 30th, 1858, stayed at the Imperial hotel, and read at the Athenaeum (now the Opera House). During his stay he visited Blarney and kissed the Blarney Stone, which may account for some of his eloquence! Of his time in Cork, Dickens reflected:
'Cork was an immense success. We found upwards of a thousand stalls let, for the three readings. A great many people were turned away too on the last night'.
He is said to have based the character of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations on the tragic story of a bride from Rochestown, but there is no evidence to prove this.
Omissions aside, this is a superb biography of a great writer, and is highly recommended. It is available now at Cork City Libraries, in this, the bi-centenary of its subject's birth in 1812.
Review by Paul Cussen

Charles Dickens / Claire Tomalin

Joking Apart by Donncha O’Callaghan
Corkman Donncha O'Callaghan was born in 1979, and began playing rugby at Highfield Rugby Club before going on to play with Christian Brothers College. It was this team that went on to win the Munster Schools Senior Cup in 1998, among the first of his many achievements on the rugby pitch - Two Magners League titles, two Heineken Cup medals with Munster, Triple Crowns, the Grand Slam in ‘09, and two Lions tours. These achievements are well known, as is his joker reputation in the squads he has played with. However as anyone who knows a good autobiography can tell you, the joker personality usually screens a lot more than an over developed sense of humour . 
‘Joking Apart’ is the product of a
collaboration with Denis Walsh, who also worked on Ronan O’Gara’s book. And like Ronan’s, this book has a strong essence and sense of the man it is about. It is very funny (we might have expected that) but also brutally honest – at times searingly self critical – to a degree which I had not expected. It’s all here; the games, the relationships with other players, the work and commitment required, the impact coaches and management have had – especially Declan Kidney – and the huge battle he went through to get the starting jersey for Munster, and then Ireland. Only through this book have I come to fully appreciate not only the difficulty he faced in his early career, but also the level of commitment that is now required for all who dream of wearing a provincial jersey or the green of Ireland in the professional era.
This honesty and frankness is also brought to bear on his personal life. Donncha talks about the effect his father’s death had on the family – “You live with the hole in your life without the hole ever bring filled.” He describes the close bonds that it built between those left behind, the clear admiration he has for his mother, and the sacrifices she made to bring up a young family on her own. He discusses too about the effect his career has had on family and friends (the full extent of which is in what is said, how it is said and what is not said). He writes of his time with UNICEF as an ambassador, his marriage, and the birth of his first child last year. This is a truly interesting read for lots of reasons, and I highly recommend it.  ‘Joking Apart’ by Donncha O’Callaghan is available now to members at Cork City Libraries.
Review by Matthew Farrell.
  

 Joking apart / Donncha O'Callaghan

The Missing Postman by Fachtna Ó Drisceoil.
Stradbally, Co. Waterford, Christmas Day, 1929. A bicycle is found in the middle of the road, near The Five Crossroads cross. This is all that remains of local postman, Larry Griffin. There are no signs of a struggle and no clue as to why his bicycle is abandoned on this empty country road. No letters strewn across the road, no bulging bag of deliveries. He just vanished.
‘The story of the Missing Postman’ made headlines around Ireland and internationally. And just when it seemed that the tale could not get any stranger, no less than ten local people were arrested and charged with the murder of Postman Larry Griffin. Two Gardaí, the village publican, his wife and two children – even the local national school principle. The list of those charged reads like someone reading a list of all those of prominence in the village of Stradbally. But the court case collapsed when the states witness refused to testify! And without the remains of Larry Griffin ever being found, this mystery remained unsolved.
For over seventy years the truth behind this missing persons case have remained hidden. Numerous libel actions, taken by former defendants, further discouraged any enquiring minds. However now all those involved have passed on. The Gardaí files from the investigation and other state documents have recently been opened to the public, prompting Fachtna Ó Drisceoil’s book.
Fachtna’s book is well written and paced. The narrative rattles along through the substantial amount of statements and documents. His real accomplishment is in not allowing the documents over power the story, making ‘The Missing Postman’ at all times absorbing. Fachtna Ó Drisceoil’s ‘The missing Postman’ is available now at Cork City Libraries.

 The missing postman / Fachtna Ó Drisceoil

Seán Moylan: Rebel Leader by Aideen Carroll
This biography of Seán Moylan was written by his granddaughter, Aideen Carroll. Most famous for his role as O/C of the Cork IRA No. 2 Brigade during the Irish War of Independence, Moylan stood for election in 1932, serving as both a Fianna Fáil TD and later Minister until his death in 1957. This book begins with his early life, the death of his father and his first links with organisations such as the Gaelic League and the GAA. A considerable portion of the book is devoted to Moylan’s years in the IRA, and it is these chapters most compelling. As a guerrilla commander he was cautious with the lives of his men yet remarkably successful. He was arrested in 1921 and imprisoned on Spike Island. He fought for the anti-treaty forces during the Civil War. He later joined Fianna Fáil, serving as both a TD and Minister. Copies of this book are available for consultation in the Local Studies library or for loan from the Grand Parade Lending Department.

 Sean Moylan Rebel Leader

Terence MacSwiney: The Hunger Strike that Rocked an Empire by Dave Hannigan

This story begins, not with Terence MacSwiney, but with another Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain. On 20 March 1920, in the early hours of the morning, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary broke into MacCurtain’s home at 40 Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool and assassinated Cork’s Lord Mayor. Eight days later, Terence Macswiney was elected to replace him. By August of that year, he had been arrested by British forces. He was tried and sentenced to two years in a British jail. He died in Brixton Prison on 25 October 1920 following a 74-day hunger strike which attracted worldwide attention, and which incited demonstrations from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. This book is the story of MacSwiney’s hunger strike, skilfully told by author Hannigan, using archive material and eyewitness accounts. This book is now available in the Local Studies section of Cork City Libraries.

We Recommend Terence MacSwiney

Cork's Hurling Story by Tim Horgan
Tim Horgan is a lifelong follower of hurling and the author of  a number of GAA books, including Christy Ring : Hurling's Greatest and the original Cork's Hurling Story published in 1976. Those not familiar with the first version will find this book to be  a massive treasure trove of the glory years of Cork hurling, covering in detail the beginings of of inter-county hurling in Cork, former greats such as Eudie Coughlan and Christy Ring, and great success stories such as the four-in-a-row achieved in the 1940s. However there is a substantial amount of new material here too. The three All-Ireland titles won between 1976 and 1978 are described over two chapters, while more recent decades are explored in the latter stages of the book. This is a wonderful guide to the history of hurling in Cork, and will be of interest to anyone who has an interest in the sport. The book is available now in the Lending and Local Studies departments of Cork City Libraries.

We Recommend Cork's Hurling Story