Fatal Path by Ronan FanningWednesday 07 May 2014
Publisher: Faber & Faber, paperback
A plethora of books have appeared - and will continue to appear - on the history of the early twentieth century period in Irish history, as centenary anniversaries come swiftly down the tracks, the chief among them being the Easter Rising of 1916.
Ronan Fanning is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at UCD and has long specialised in the period under scrutiny within the pages of this 420-page paperback.
The renowned historian traces the momentous events of a decade which commenced with the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1912 and concluded with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.
A cogent and particularly elegant writer, Fanning argues that the British government’s fear of Ulster Unionist violence stalled British policy between the years 1912 and 1914, thus preventing the implementation of Home Rule. The revolution which ultimately secured the six counties for Unionists was based on the very real threat of violence from the 90,000 strong Ulster Volunteer Force.
Irish nationalists had lost trust in a democratic process that appeared to be merely attempting to buy time. Thus was opened the way for the violent struggle of 1916, whose tragic consequences set in train the IRA’s War of Independence. .
Ultimately, the First World War meant that British attention was diverted away, and as Fanning writes, the Great War `ensured that for its duration the British sought not to solve but to shelve the problem of Ireland.’ American interests are inevitably part of the weave. Arthur Balfour was the British Foreign Secretary in 1917. Departing for America, he asked Walter Page, the American ambassador why he thought the British were so unpopular in the USA. “It is the organised Irish, “ Page replied. “ Then it’s the effect of the very fact that the Irish question is not settled. You’ve had that problem at your door for 300 years. What’s the matter that you don’t solve it?” Ronan Fanning has give us a compelling and illuminating account of a turbulent 12 years in the Irish story.