Book Reviews – Winter / Spring 2013

Image descriptionHistory of the Irish Brigades In The Service of France

From the Revolution in Great Britain and Ireland Under James II,
to the Revolution in France Under Louis XVI

Author: John Cornelius O’Callaghan | ISBN: 9781845740177

Originally published in 1870, John O’Callaghan’s book remains the standard work on the subject. ‘The Wild Geese’ as Irish mercenaries in Europe were unofficially known, had a deservedly high reputation as fighting men. Forced to flee their native island after the defeat and expulsion of the Catholic King James II, the Irish Brigades followed their master to his exile in France - and remained. Fed by continual drafts of fresh exiles from Ireland, whence they had been driven by anti-Catholic discrimination, the Brigades served both the Stuart - or Jacobite- cause, and that of the French Crown with distinction out of all proportion to their numbers. Eventually the emancipation of the Catholics in Britain and the French revolution dried up the source of recruits and helped ensure that the valuable military services of the Irish would - at least for the 19th and early 20th centuries - be given to Britain. Very large numbers of “The Wild Geese”, as the Irish soldiers in exile were called, served in the French army during the period from 1688 to 1789. They participated in all of the major battles and campaigns of the period, more than once crossing arms with Irish soldiers in the service of Britain. This book provides an extraordinarily detailed account of their activities. O’Callaghan’s study provides an account of the formation of the first Irish troops in French service between 1688 and 1691, and the subsequent creation of further regiments, and their service up to 1701. Much space in the book is given over to the Irish participation in the War of the Spanish Succession, including campaigns in Italy, Flanders, Germany and the Peninsula. Other important campaigns covered include the War of the Austrian Succession - notably the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy (in which latter action the Irish troops particularly distinguished themselves), the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the Seven Years’ War 1756-1763, and the fortunes of France’s Irish units sent to assist in the American War of Independence between 1778 and 1783. “The History of the Irish Brigades” is a tour-de-force of research, containing an incredible amount of information relating to the Irish troops - the level of detail provided concerning regiments of individual officers is unprecedented, making this a treasure trove for genealogists. The text is readable, lively and full of interest, packed with anecdotes. The author spent over twenty years engaged in researching this book, and there can be no doubt it was a labour of love. Reprint of the 1870 original edition.

Image descriptionW. R. Grace & Co.

Los años formativos: 1850-1930

Author: Fabián Gaspar Bustamante Olguín
ISBN: 978-9972-877-07-0

The great migrations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from Europe to the Americas are well-known, the United States rather than Latin America being the place that attracted most of the millions of migrating Europeans. The common factor motivating this immigration was the desire to achieve a qualitative improvement in standard of living through the acquisition of wealth and fortune.

This drive for change and adventure is Clayton’s theme in his account of the life and work of William Grace Russell (1832-1904) and the company he founded. Here is “an example of courage and constancy”, to use the words Professor Jorge Ortiz Sotelo employs in his introduction. This Irish emigrant, in escaping from the hunger of Ireland, went on to construct a great multinational enterprise that spanned the United States and Latin America.

This story of a man and of a business, published in its first edition in English in 1985, ranges from 1850 to 1930. It includes both the biographical element, taking us through the founding and evolution of Grace and Co, as well as the wider framework of the central role this company played in the process of economic modernisation not just in Peru, but also in Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and other countries (p.11). As he explains, the author’s motives go beyond the strictly academic. In his childhood he lived for several years in Peru while his father was working for the company Grace founded. Having made this clear, Clayton warns us that he “has sought to be rigorous and impartial to the greatest extent possible, basing myself on my professional training. I realise that some of my opinions and interpretations will be challenged, but good history is not just a string of facts, it is an interpretation of those facts within their context, but in the light of the knowledge we have today (p.13)”. Prof Clayton’s words bring to mind the thesis advanced by the French historian, Henri Ireene Marrou (2), for whom history is the relationship between two planes of human existence; the past, lived by men and women of another time, and the present moment in which the historian recovers that past. That past can never be captured in itself, but rather as knowledge, in other words after being refashioned by the researcher’s mental faculties and the techniques and thought processes which he imposes on it.

The first chapter, “The Travelers”, recounts the difficult path to success of this Irish emigrant who left the Emerald Isle, as did so many others, when poverty and hunger became unbearable. Once hope for a better life made him “rebel out of a desire for independence”, he journeyed to New York in 1846. He worked in different jobs and by the age of eighteen was a shipping agent for the thousands of immigrants who were making for the New World. However, the young William got his chance when his father James invited him to work in an agricultural enterprise in Peru, a sugar plantation belonging to his friend, Doctor Gallagher.

In the following chapter, “Peru”, Clayton makes use of his knowledge of Peruvian history in order to give the reader a description of the place where William took his first steps in business. In the author’s words, “William looked around and undoubtedly asked himself what he was doing in this strange place … he soon discovered his vocation (p.41)”. In the chapter “Family Matters”, James returns to Ireland, while William remains in Peru and becomes an employee of the guano (3) business operated by the Bryce Brothers on the Chinchas Islands. By dint of his tenacity and good business acumen William converts the business into the biggest in the country. His talent and energy were recognised a few years later when he became a partner in the company, renamed Bryce & Grace.

But it was not a case of all work for William, as during his time in Peru he met the young Lillian Gilchrist, daughter of George Gilchrest, a captain of one of the many ships which sailed to the island. He married her in 1859 in a church in Tenant Harbor, Maine. The union “would last for years” (p. 48). Grace’s poor health — he suffered from dysentery — obliged him to retire from the company in 1865. His brother Michael Grace took over, and stayed on to direct the growing family business in Peru. This soon became Grace Brothers & Co, absorbing the former Bryce Brothers. It is worth noting that the author here stresses the enormous importance that William attached to his relatives (brothers, cousins or other relations) in supporting the strengthening of the business in Peru.

Once his health improved, William definitively established W.R Grace & Co in New York’s Brooklyn Heights. As the author points out, he was married to an American, he had made numerous personal and business contacts with Americans, and he had experienced the dizzy pace of New York life (p.59). Yet his links with Peru remained. In fact his most important business in that country was railroad construction; described in detail in the chapter “Railroads and Fortunes”.

In “The Mayor of New York,” the author recounts the most important moment in the life of William Grace. In 1880 he became the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, representing the Democratic Party. He faced the xenophobic American press, which accused him of being an Irish upstart who knew nothing of American life. It was at that moment that a Mr. Eldridge, captain of one of the famous American ships which had berthed at Callao during the Civil War, came forward and offered a very favourable account of the actions of Grace at Callao. This had the effect of turning public opinion and Grace won an unprecedented victory. He was re-elected in 1894. Despite the new road he was following, the Irish immigrant did not neglect his business interests, nor did he lose contact with his beloved Peru.

The following chapter, “The Pacific War”, offers an interesting interpretation of the causes of the war between Chile and Peru. The author warns the reader that “one must looks for causes as much in events as in the wishes of men, and it is hard to say whether it was the events which pushed the men; or the men who precipitated the events”. In this part of the book an important point emerges — William aided Peru by buying and shipping arms from the United States, with the goal of preserving the national territory, even when Peru lost some of that territory at the hands of the Chilean Army. Nevertheless as a businessman, his unconditional “love” for Peru did not prevent him from keeping good relations with Chile. On 19 October 1881 he opened a branch of Grace & Co in the port city of Valparaíso, despite the suspicions of the Chileans that the business was a “Peruvian company”. In the author’s words, “Grace considered that it was a good idea to maintain good relations with whomever would win, thus allowing him to keep a presence on the entire American coast (p.132)”.

American and European economic interests in Peru brought that country to put pressure on the American government to seek compensation from Chile. The hope was to reach agreement on the loss of the province of Tarapacá to Chile, a province rich in nitrate deposits and the guano production which Peru used as surety for foreign loans. However, the US left Peru at the mercy of Chile (p.134), causing Michael Grace, a Peruvian loyalist, to undertake the measures needed to help the Peruvian economy, following the economic disaster of the Pacific War.

Faced with the government’s difficulties in paying its foreign debt, in 1887 Michael Grace negotiated the debt owed to holders of English bonds by showing them the profits they could realise from acquiring Peruvian railways in payment on those bonds (p.137). With this negotiated solution, known as the Grace Contract (the title of this chapter) holders of bonds redeemed them for a value of 250 million US dollars. They received shares in the newly formed Peruvian Corporation, which took over the state’s ownership of the railway system. The agreement shows the Graces’ role in modernising Peru and freeing it from the burden of debt (p.167). For their part, the shareholders agreed to finish repairing the railroads within a fixed period, most of the contracts in this respect being under the direction of W.R Grace & Co. In Clayton’s judgment “the Graces did everything possible to keep Peru strong and independent in the midst of the disasters of war-they helped to identify Peru’s aspirations with those of the United States (p.167)”.

In his final chapters the author describes how W. R Grace & Co maintained growth in its business activity. The continual drive for maximum economic return - the logical essence of capitalism — brought about strong growth in the company. It became an authentic business empire with the creation of the Grace Line, the principal transport for goods - later for passengers - between New York, Callao, Valparaíso and points between, on the route of the Panama Canal. When William Grace died in 1904, his son Joseph succeeded him. In 1929 Joseph became president of the board of W.R Grace. In collaboration with PanAmerican Airways they established the first international air service on the western coast of South America, PanAmerican-Grace Airways, also known as Panagra.

The author should be congratulated for his ability to provide a wide-ranging but easily understood study which at the same time shows a deep understanding of the subject matter. From the point of view of research and historical analysis, the text is firmly rooted in original documentation, both of the Grace family and the W. R Grace company. The publication of this book also provides an opportunity to congratulate the Asociación de Historia Marítima y Naval Iberoamericana for making it available to the Spanish-speaking public and for overseeing its distribution.

In “W. R. Grace & Co. The Formative Years: 1850-1930” we follow the dream and the adventure of William Russell Grace (1832-1904) an Irish immigrant who realised the “American Dream” by forming one of the most important international businesses in the US. As Professor Clayton puts it in his Epilogue: “In many respects their ability to accommodate themselves to rapid historical change is extraordinarily modern, and often they themselves were the agents of change. We should consider them as among the principal makers of the modern world (p.335)”. This is, without a doubt, a book worth reading — I invite you to do so!

Image descriptionThose Were The Days

Collected Images From The Isle of Man's Past

Author: Richard Davis

ISBN-10: 1907945229
ISBN-13: 978-1907945229

Until the 1960s, the Isle of Man, and its towns saw a relatively slow pace of change.   For some, many of the pictures in this book need no introduction.   Others may be surprised at how much the island has subsequently changed and how quickly. Today some of the scenes depicted are rendered unrecognizable by later re-modelling and redevelopment, indeed it is difficult to even identify some of the locations.

This collection of photographs comes from a collection of sources including the author, Stan Basnett, Tony Wilson, the Manx Heritage Foundation and the fabulous Keig Collection

Image descriptionThe Briggers :

The Story of the Men who Built the Forth Bridge

Author: Elspeth Wills
ISBN 13: 9781841587615 | ISBN 10: 1841587613

The Forth Bridge has long been recognised as one of the finest examples of Victorian engineering on the planet and has achieved an iconic status as one of the great feats of western civilisation since its official opening in 1890. Lavishly illustrated throughout with stunning archive images, Elspeth Wills uncovers the human story behind ‘the engineering marvel’: the story of the Briggers. It is a story that has never been told before - of ordinary men working on an extraordinary structure in an often hostile and dangerous environment. Recognised throughout the world as an enduring icon of Scotland, the Forth Bridge is more than just a testament to the genius of Victorian engineering, it is a monument to all those who worked to realise its vision and to the scores of lives that were lost in the process. In this groundbreaking new work, Elspeth Wills gives a voice to the forgotten heroes who helped to make the ambition of the Bridge a reality.

Image descriptionThe Lost City

Old Aberdeen

Authors: Jane Stevenson & Peter Davidson

ISBN 13: 9781841587387 |
ISBN 10: 1-84158-738-9

Full of iconic Scottish buildings, this ancient burgh is one of Scotland’s greatest but least known treasures, taking your from the middle ages to the present day. Originally isolated to the north of the modern city, and a separate burgh until 1891, Old Aberdeen exudes a sense of charm and seclusion, with sweeping picturesque Seaton Park and the River Don. One of Scotland’s most historic and least known townscapes, it is a treasure house of architectural gems. This new book, ‘The Lost City, Old Aberdeen’, by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson is a celebration of Old Aberdeen which explores its distinctive past in words and pictures. Edited by Marc Ellington and Daniel MacCannell it includes specially commissioned photographs that capture the city’s unique atmosphere.

In the foreword Marc Ellington of Towie Barclay writes: ‘The ‘Lost City’ of Old Aberdeen is one of Scotland’s greatest but least known treasures. From the 15th century, the ancient burgh on the Don was legally autonomous from the newer bustling trading-town on the Dee. Therefore it is not a suburb of its larger neighbour but a miniature city, with its own distinct trades, institutions and traditions.

It is a pattern-book of Scottish architecture, both vernacular and classical, and offers one of the most significant townscapes in all of Scotland. The conservation area of Old Aberdeen contains specimens of almost every type and size of Scottish building, sweeping picturesque views of the River Don and the 13th-century Brig o'Balgownie, the remains of a magnificent medieval cathedral, the Georgian town-houses of the Highland aristocracy, the highly-distinctive buildings of the ancient University of Aberdeen, atmospheric graveyards, long lawns and vistas, and a cobbled High Street of great distinction. Using their expert knowledge and sumptuous photography, the authors capture the unique cityscape and distinctive past of Old Aberdeen. "The Lost City" details the rich treasures of the burgh, with many illustrations drawn from the University's library and museum collections, a number of which are reproduced for the first time.

Old Aberdeen is and always has been much loved by those who have lived here, or simply fallen under its spell. King’s College Chapel, with its crown spire, the magnificent Georgian Town House, familiar with its use as the logo of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, and St Machar’s Cathedral, with its massive twin towers, are among the iconic buildings of our nation, yet remain little known to those who have no personal connection with either the Old Town or the university.’ A walk in Old Aberdeen will take you through an anthology of Scottish building from the Middle Ages to the present day, a delicately layered townscape of exceptional beauty and historic interest.

The architectural history and evolution of Old Aberdeen reflect a more balanced and natural progression than most of the other Scottish cities. The result is a triumph of casually evolved organic town planning and development, a university city which has over the centuries grown and gracefully absorbed a wide variety of private houses, shops and academic buildings to create a single, integrated community of great character, charm and atmosphere. reflect a more balanced and natural progression than most of the other Scottish cities.

The result is a triumph of casually evolved organic town planning and development, a university city which has over the centuries grown and gracefully absorbed a wide variety of private houses, shops and academic buildings to create a single, integrated community of great character, charm and atmosphere.

Image descriptionGlyn Dwr’s War

The Campaigns of the Last Prince of Wales

Author: G.J. Brough
ISBN: 1-903-52906-9

‘Glyn Dwr’s War’ tells the true story of a nation’s fight for liberty against overwhelming odds. This chronology of the war against England details not only the savage fighting, sieges, ambushes, full-scale battles and assassinations, but also the political maneuverings, alliances and the re-birth of a nation.

The book begins with flashes from Wales’ forgotten military past, and explains how the culmination of years of cruelty inflicted on the Welsh people finally ignited a nation, and brought the fire and tumult of war to the land.

Such a compilation of the known facts of these campaigns is unique though much remains lost in the depths of history. ‘Glyn Dwr’s War’ is the story of the Welsh nation at one of its most crucial moments.

Image descriptionHumanity Dick Martin ‘King of Connemara’ 1754-1834

Author: Shevawn Lynam | ISBN: 0 946640 36 X

This finely detailed and amply illustrated biography recreates the life and times of one of Ireland’s earliest environmentalists, founder of the world movement for the protection of animals. A loveable Galwayman, Volunteer colonel, landlord-eccentric, lawyer-duellist, parliamentarian and champion of Catholic emancipation, his colourful, humorous personality is caught in this poised and readable work.

A vivid, thoughtful, engrossing book.”
- David Thompson, The Guardian

“He waged a one-man battle to stop the ill-use of animals.  For that alone he deserves to be remembered and to have won such a sympathetic and fair biographer as Miss Lynam.
- T.G. Barker, The Cork Examiner

The book is full of fascinating grace-notes about the history of both Ireland and England in a period of almost frenetic entanglement.
- John Horgan, The Listener

“A courageous and attractive man who deserves to be remembered with affection.”
- Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Irish Press

“The most enthralling book I have read for a long time.”
- Hibernia


Shevawn Lynam was born in Dublin of Galway parents and educated in Ascot, Madrid, France and Germany.   Linguist and journalist, she was Spanish specialist with the BBC and the Ministry of Information during the War.   After going to Paris in 1950 she worked for the Marshall Plan and UNESCO, and edited NATO’s monthly review from 1958 to 1963, returning to Dublin to be Editorial Publicity Officer at the Irish Tourist Board until 1971.   She died in 1998.

Image descriptionBefore the Kilt

How the Irish and Scots Dressed in the 16th Century

Author: Gerald A. John Kelly
ISBN-10: 1466219785 / ISBN-13: 9781466219786

With 22 full-colour illustrations and 25 black & white illustrations, all from the 16th century, the purpose of this book is to use 16th century sources to provide in a single volume the most comprehensive and accurate description so far available of 16th century Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic clothing. 

Accordingly, this book presents and examines the watercolours, woodcuts, and manuscript illuminations of Lucas de Heere, Albrecht Dürer, the Ashmoleum Museum, Raphael Holinshed, John Derrick, and more. It also presents and examines the reports on Gaelic dress written in the 16th century by Nicolay d'Arfeville, John Lesley, Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, John Major, Jean de Beaugué, George Buchanan, Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh, and William Camden. 

As a result of this extensive process of compilation and analysis, the author specifically identifies the most accurate 16th century illustrations of Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic clothing. He also presents damning evidence that the most widespread images (and long considered the most important images) of 16th century Irish men and women are, to a large degree, a fraud perpetrated by a single 16th century propagandist - John Derrick. 

As an added bonus, the author includes a full chapter devoted to the law, custom, tradition, and worldview of the Irish Gaeil and Scottish Gaeil who wore these clothes.