Saturday, February 07, 2015

Book Review: "Irish Voices from The Great War" by Miles Dungan #review #GreatWar @MylesDungan1

I was delighted to get a copy of the re-release of Myles Dungan's 1995 book "Irish Voices from The Great War" as a Christmas present, which I have now just finished reading. I have read quite a few books about The Great War and this one is much different as it concentrates on the Irish contribution to the war. My own great-grandfather James Burns fought in the war (according to my family), and Dungan's own uncle (pictured on the book cover) was killed in the war. There possibly isn't an Irish family today that was not affected in some way by the war.

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Irish people of my generation who went to school in the 1960s and 1970s grew up in a country where Irish participation in the First World War was literally airbrushed out of our history. The Easter Rebellion in 1916 was the most important event between 1914 and 1918. Myles Dungan pays tribute to the Irish Regiments like the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and their fighting in places like Gallipoli and the Somme. Irish soldiers fought well and the memories of those that survived of battle are captured and elegantly combined by Dungan to give us a flavour of what it must have been like to serve in the army. Heroism and fear go hand-in-hand in the trenches, and there's no doubt that Irishmen did their "bit" for what they believed in.

There is no effort to rewrite history here, though Dungan lays much of the blame for the fruitless slaughter at the feet of the generals (thought he does admit that they "got it right" on occasion). Reading any book like this you cannot but be appalled with figures like only 108 men of the Dublin Fusiliers D company out of 239 survived one battle at Suvla Bay. The waste of life makes you angry, though Dungan's matter-of-fact approach lets you judge for yourself if the sacrifice was necessary. 

Overall this is an excellent read for students of Irish history and it goes a long way to reverse the way we were taught our history. One thing though that was very annoying - the number of punctuation errors in this book is unforgivable. It would have been bad enough in 1995 when first published, but not to fix this problem for the re-release is ridiculous.

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