Book Reviews – Summer 2012

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The Gaelic Lordship of the O'Sullivan Beare

Author: Colin Bree | ISBN: 1851829555 / 9781851829552

This book examines the history and archaeology of the O'Sullivan Beare lordship in West Cork. The sept dominated this area for much of the late medieval period following the displacement of an Anglo-Norman presence in the upper end of Bantry Bay in the thirteenth century. This was a Gaelic maritime lordship with an economic focus on fishery resources and trade and communications with continental fishing fleets. The settlement pattern and lifeways of the Gaelic-Irish reflected this dual interest in the sea and the limited availability of terrestrial resources and land usage. Towards the end of the 16th century, English plantations herald the end of Gaelic dominance in the area.
New settlements, industry and forms of land management radically alter the cultural character of the landscape and mark the advent of early capitalism and formalized globalization in this area. The response of the Gaelic-Irish to this change was varied. Some branches engaged in resistance while others interacted with the colonizers in socio-economic and political terms. The varying reactions to this transformation can be seen through architectural and landscape change.

Image descriptionThe Irish College at Santiago de Compostela

Author: Patricia O'Connell | ISBN: 1-84682-032-4

The Irish College at Santiago de Compostela, 1605-1769 covers the history of this important college with its associations with the early Irish exiles who came into Galicia, the north-west Celtic regions of Spain. It follows the lives of hundreds of Irish clerical students who were forced to leave Ireland because of the Penal Laws against Catholics at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th. These seminarians were trained as priests in the six colleges set up between 1590 and 1649 - five in Spain (Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Seville, Madrid and Alcalá de Henares) and one in Portugal, in Lisbon. Based on material from several archives but primarily from the Salamanca Archive manuscript source in the Russell Library, NUI, Maynooth, this unique source includes the records of many of the colleges repatriated to Ireland in the 1950s and gives a vivid portrait of life in the Compostela college where the students studied philosophy before going on to the Irish college at Salamanca to follow their course in theology and be duly ordained before travelling back to Ireland to conduct their 'underground' ministry (they were hunted, tortured, and executed by the English, who offered the same bounty for priests as they did as for wolves).

Image descriptionTriumph And Tragedy: Welsh Sporting Legends

Author: Oeter Jackson
ISBN-10: 1845967763 / ISBN-13: 978-1845967765

Contains profiles of 20 of the most significant post-war Welsh sports stars. Each individual has been carefully selected on the basis that he or she achieved something unique, such as being the first Welsh cricketer to play in an Ashes Test and being the first black player to captain Great Britain. Contains exclusive material on many of the subjects. This collection of enlightening profiles captures a whole galaxy of Welsh world-beaters up close. Those featured include arguably the best Welsh rugby union player of the twentieth century, Gareth Edwards; the greatest bowler never to play for England, Don Shepherd; the farmer's boy who became a master golfer, Ian Woosnam; the lad from Tiger Bay who made such a name for himself in Hull that they called a thoroughfare after him, Clive Sullivan; the 'Gentle Giant' from Swansea, still revered in Italy almost 50 years after his last match for Juventus, John Charles; the only Welsh jockey to win the Grand National twice, Carl Llewellyn; and the unsung hero of Old Trafford who kept Manchester United going in the fraught weeks after the Munich air disaster, Jimmy Murphy. Packed with intriguing insights and exclusive interviews with many of the featured stars, Triumph and Tragedy confirms that Welsh sportsmen and women possess talent, spirit and an appetite for success in abundance.

Image descriptionChildren of the Black House

Author: Calum Ferguson
ISBN-10: 1841582689 / ISBN-13: 978-1841582689

Calum Ferguson employs an unusual narrative technique, drawing on his mother Màiread's reminiscences, and presenting her experiences and conversation in the first person. Màiread herself was most at home speaking Gaelic, though she never learned to read or write in that language, but only in English, the compulsory language at school. This is a fascinating account of a culture in transition; it records and preserves for twenty-first-century readers traditions and ways of life which have now gone forever. In the early years of the twentieth century many crofting families in Lewis lived in great poverty. This book describes that life: the limited diet, the seasonal round of work, the hardship, but also the richness of the culture, the storytelling, music-making, dancing, and the sincere religious faith that sustained the islanders through their trials. Màiread lived through the two world wars, which profoundly altered Hebridean life. Agricultural methods were modernised; radio and television brought the wider world to the islands; the Gaelic tongue was threatened with extinction. This remarkable memoir is a treasury of personal recollections, traditional tales, songs, and contains a wealth of detail about everyday life on Lewis through those years. It is illustrated throughout with photographs of Màiread, her family and friends.

Born in Point, Lewis and educated at the Nicolson Institute and Aberdeen University, Calum Ferguson has a had a varied career as a teacher and broadcaster, including a period at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities, where he was Director of Audio Visual Services. He now lives in Stornoway. He is the author of a number of books in Gaelic and English including Hiort - A Gaelic History of St Kilda, widely recognised to be one of the finest written. He is a keen musician and a noted local historian.

Image descriptionThat Near Death Thing: Inside the TT: The World's Most Dangerous Race

Author: Rick Broadbent
ISBN 13: 9781409143406 | ISBN 10: 1409143406

The Isle of Man TT is commonly seen as the world's most dangerous motorcycle race, Rick Broadbent gets behind the scenes and into the helmets of four leading racers over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He follows the riders through the numerous vicissitudes of an average season. Ian Hutchinson is as high as they come following his clean-up at the 2010 TT, a fortnight later his leg is being rebuilt after a fellow rider rode over it and Hutchinson has to plead the case for not amputating. Conor Cummins is back after battling depression following a serious injury. Guy Martin was on the same hospital ward after breaking his back, but is now a BBC TV presenter. Bridgit Dobbs is the widow of Paul, who died in the 2010 race, and talks movingly on revisiting the race for the first time since her husband's death. This book is the final word on the Isle of Man TT.

Image descriptionBuilding Scotland - The Traditional Building Materials of Scotland

Author: Moses Jenkins
ISBN: 9780859767101

Scotland's traditionally built environment is one of its most unique and cherished features. It is something which both draws visitors from around the world and gives Scotland's inhabitants a sense of place and identity. This volume celebrates for the first time the raw materials which have been employed in forming Scotland's traditional buildings. In total 14 different materials are examined, including stone, timber, iron, clay and slate, with each being discussed by an expert in the material, reflecting regional variations, the socio-economic stories behind the materials, and how they have shaped Scotland's traditionally built environment. Each chapter covers aspects of the material such as how it has been utilised over time, geographical variations throughout the country, the properties of the material and examples of its use. All the photography for the book has been commissioned from one of Scotland's leading young photographers to make it as visually impressive as it is informative.

Moses Jenkins is a Senior Technical Officer with Historic Scotland's Technical Conservation Group. He joined the group in 2005 after completing degrees in history at Stirling and Glasgow universities. He has written various articles and papers previously on subjects as diverse as using archives to inform building restoration, turf construction in medieval Britain, holy and healing wells and town pipers in Scotland. He has also written technical guidance documents on subjects such as repairing brickwork, pantiled roofs and bird control.

Image descriptionFamine In Scotland - The 'ill Years' of the 1690s

Author: Karen J. Cullen
ISBN-10: 0748638873 / ISBN-13: 978-0748638871

This book examines the climatic and economic origins of the last national famine to occur in Scotland, the nature and extent of the crisis which ensued, and what the impact of the famine was upon the population in demographic, economic and social terms. The 'Ill Years', during the nadir of the Little Ice Age, were ones of widespread famine across Europe and economic disaster in Scotland. However, current published knowledge about the causes, extent and impact of the famine in Scotland is limited and many conclusions have been speculative in the absence of extensive research. This is the first full study of the famine, providing a unique scholarly examination of the causes, course, characteristics and consequences of the crisis. Using detailed examination of agricultural, climatic and demographic issues, the book seeks to establish answers to the fundamental question concerning the event. How serious was it? Using detailed statistical and qualitative analysis, Karen J. Cullen discusses the regional factors that defined the famine, the impact on the population, and the interconnected causes of this traumatic event.

Image descriptionFaith and Patronage
The Political Career of Flaithri O Maolchonaire
c. 1560-1629

Author: Benjamin Hazard
ISBN: 9780716530480

This is a demanding book. It uses the Irish forms of all names so that even its hero is disguised from most of us. Flaithri O Maolchonaire may not be known to readers; Florence Corny should be. The Franciscan friar Flaithri O Maolchonaire was a man of many roles: Gaelic scholar and educator, special envoy, and consummate politician with deep religious convictions. Benjamin Hazard has written a fascinating and engaging study of this flawed yet brilliant man and his times. O Maolchonaire left Ireland in the 1590s after Tudor state-building policies had spread from the Pale into regions previously controlled by his family's powerful Gaelic allies. He studied at the University of Salamanca, leaving him ideally placed to act as diplomatic agent between the Ulster earls and the Spanish crown 15 years later. He first gained renown when Spain intervened in Ireland's Nine Years War after which O Maolchonaire used his influence to find employment for battle-hardened Irish veterans in the Spanish armed forces. With the favor this gained for him at the Spanish court, he established St. Anthony's College at the University of Leuven, thereby providing the foundations for a new network of Irish Franciscan colleges throughout Europe. His desire to see the restoration of Catholicism and the Ulster earls in Ireland made his religious and political aims indivisible. With all his efforts directed towards this objective, we see both his genius and his hubristic aversion to compromise. Anglo-Irish Catholics wished to reach an accommodation with Whitehall and O Maolchonaire's resistance to this aim demonstrates the internal divisions inherent to Irish politics. The serious student of Irish history must study this period, and O Maolchonaire in particular, to gain insight into what followed. Hazard's systematic approach and meticulous archival research in five countries brings his subject and the period to life. The bibliography takes up more than 10 percent of the book, and me notes half of the rest. There is an appendix of twenty-four key documents printed (untranslated) in Latin and Castilian. Hazard has scoured the archives in five countries and six languages. Confidant and confessor of Uí Néill and Ui-Domhnaill (O'Neills and O'Donnells), founder of the great Franciscan seminary in Louvain (Leuven) and of chaplaincies to the Irish regiments in the Spanish service, absentee Archbishop of Tuam, organizer of insurrection and international action to overthrow the heretical and tyrannical rule of Protestant kings in Ireland - Maolchonaire was at the eye of many ecclesiastical storms for thirty years. A Franciscan who distasted (to put it mildly) Jesuits and Jesuit political meology, a courtier who won and lost battles at the courts of Philip III and Philip IV, he is an extraordinary story told with a daunting authority. Raised in the family of me seanchaidh chroniclers and genealogists to the Ui Chonchobhair (O'Connor) kings of Connacht,-Maolchonaire's absorption into the new thinking of Rome, Madrid, and Flanders made him a great Counter-Reformation figure. This pithy book profoundly affects how we see the Catholic world in the early seventeenth century and is well worth the effort of reading.

Image descriptionA Century of Friendship, Breton Fishermen in Cornwall and Scilly

Author: John Mcwilliams.
ISBN-10: 0955439817 / ISBN-13: 978-0955439810

In writing this fascinating account of the activities of the Breton fishermen in Cornish waters and their relationships with the Cornish fishermen, John McWilliams, as well as trawling through the records reports and accounts, has drawn on many years first-hand experience of these hardy men and their stout fishing craft. As a boy and youth, growing up at St. Ives, John developed close contacts with these visitors and their colourful bateaux, which frequently ran into St. Ives Bay to shelter from the sweeping South Westerly storms. Here, like many boys in West Cornish harbours John sculled their buoyant punts [that's 'over the stern' sculling with a single oar – not your fancy river stuff in lightweight shells], but more importantly he got to know the fishermen and learnt their regional language. In time John made working passages to France in these 'crabbers,' and met their families at home. All of which engendered a deep appreciation for this hardy race of independent fishermen, with so many parallels to the Cornish fishermen of his home. Universally known as 'crabbers' these colourful craft, with their full bows and sweeping sheer running down to a low stern, were in fact fishing for crawfish, though crabs and lobsters were also taken in their distinctive pots. From 1902 onwards these craft hailing from Camaret, Audierne, Concarneau, Douarnenez, and a host of other small Breton ports, battled their way in increasing numbers to fish in our Cornish waters, principally off the Seven Stones reef. While the fishing was at times very good, few made their fortunes, and a distinctive feature of these men and their craft, were the very obvious mis-coloured but carefully stitched patches to their clothes and sails alike. Economy was their watchword. There were inevitable clashes with the English fishery authorities, which saw many an appearance of these Breton skippers in our Magistrates Courts, and which in their turn attracted a vociferous local press. But in reality general relationships between the Cornish and the Breton fishermen were respectful and cordial, and in this book John goes a long way to put this cultural interrelationship into a true perspective. Well illustrated with John's sketches, and numerous monochrome and colour photographs, these are effectively combined with Michael Pellowe's attractive and accurate paintings of representative examples of these craft. Throughout the text a great many of the craft concerned in this fishery are identified by name and fishing number, while the rewards and risks of this hazardous fishery are clearly set out in the accompanying accounts. A unique insight into this niche fishery, in a very readable book that is the product of a lifetime's personal experience and study. Highly recommended and not to be missed.

Notice to Members:

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  1. Dr. Douglas S. Files, NSC Archivist, announces he has electronic copies of the AWEN issues listed below, which are available on request, to members only, by contacting Dr. Files at or 3920 W. 16th St., Panama City, FL 32401
  2. If any members have copies of other issues, it would greatly appreciate if Dr. Files might borrow them to make copies.  It is a high priority for the NSC Archives to obtain a complete set of all editions of The Awen.  Please note that the archives are missing the very first issue, and all issues between 1997 and 2002.

The following are available electronically from the archivist:

Summer 1994 vol. 1, issue 2
Fall 1994
Winter 1995
Summer 1996
Fall 1997
June 2002
Fall 2002
Spring 2003
August 2003

Spring 2004
Winter 2004-2005
Summer 2005
Winter-Spring 2006
Fall-Winter 2006
Spring-Summer 2007
Winter 2007-2008
Summer 2008

Please note that all issues since 2008n are readily available on our website.

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The Neo-Druid symbol of Awen

Awen is a Welsh word for "(poetic) inspiration".   It is historically used to describe the divine inspiration of bards in the Welsh poetic tradition.

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