As anybody interested in books in Ireland will know by now, an academic historian, Diarmaid Ferriter took advantage of being given my recent book, ‘1916: The Mornings After’, to review in The Irish Times to blast what he clearly viewed as the work of a non-academic writer in what was called on Politics.ie a contender for “the bitchiest review of the Year” award. Irish Times readers responded with a spate of letters criticising Ferriter.
In my view Irish academic historians as a class suffer from three defects, one cowardice, two inability to write and three a closed shop trade union like approach which says “this is our patch, all others keep off”. You’ll never find an Irish academic writing a book about the IRA for example, or history making episodes like the Hunger Strikes, indeed the Troubles generally or something that requires real effort like the travel involved in writing about the importance of the Irish diaspora worldwide.
Where writing is concerned a number of these gentlemen and ladies fall into the category described by the writer Gautier who said that the critic reminded him of a eunuch in the Hareem; “He knows how it’s done, he sees it done every night, but he can’t do it himself. The Irish book buying public would appear to place Ferriter in this category also to judge from their response to his latest book.
Because of reaction to his unusually vitriolic and ad hominem critique, The Irish Independent investigated how our two books fared. The result was a double page spread in the Independent under a large heading which said; “Coogan blows Ferriter away in explosion of 1916 books.” The results of the Nielsen survey which monitors Irish book sales showed that I had outsold Ferriter by more than four to one (Nielsen does not cover the six counties), even though Ferriter’s book had been in print since March and mine only from the last week in October. I’m still waiting for The Irish Times to print something on the Nielsen findings.
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