Atlas of the Irish Revolution

ATLAS OF THE IRISH REVOLUTION. Edited by John Crowley, Donal O Drisceoil and Mike Murphy, with associate editor John Borgonovo. New York University. 984 pages. $75.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the “Atlas of the Irish Revolution” could be the perfect gift for the Hibernophile in one’s life. Warning: The recipient must be strong enough to deal with some “heavy” reading. This tome, almost 1,000 pages, weighs more than 11 pounds!

Irish writer John Grenham describes the physical challenge on his blog: “I’ve tried reading it in bed, in an armchair and sitting at a table, and had to give up each time. What it needs is a lectern.” He concludes that the publisher “has produced the most beautiful book-like object imaginable. But it fails the first test of being a book, that it can be read.”

Granted, it is huge and heavy, but the book may be worth its weight in the gold that fills those proverbial pots at the end of Irish rainbows. That the “Atlas of the Irish Revolution” is of inestimable value is attested to by the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his laudatory foreword: “This remarkable book is a compelling exploration of Ireland’s struggle for freedom. ... We, the readers, are brought along a vivid, exciting but painful journey as we share paths with the men and women who were the actors in those seminal events.” Higgins calls the Atlas a “scholarly masterpiece,” an assessment echoed in numerous reviews.

To many who are not familiar with the several major stages of the Irish Revolution, that term might bring to mind only the Easter 1916 Rising. The atlas is comprehensive, however, in covering not only the heroic Easter Rising with its iconic occupation of the General Post Office, but also the War of Independence that followed and then the bitter Civil War in 1922-23.

The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic is, understandably, treated exhaustively. Even the challenges in having it printed in secret are detailed. In tone and intent, it sounds much like the American Declaration of Independence.

The courts-martial and executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising are covered in heart-wrenching detail. These executions incited worldwide condemnation; it is said they were the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

It is also noted how one of those leaders, Eamon de Valera, although sentenced to death and imprisoned in the infamous Kilmainham Gaol, escaped execution when the British realized he had been born in New York City and, thus, was an American citizen. De Valera lived long enough to become president of Ireland.

By definition, an atlas is a book of maps or charts. Those who love to pore over such cartographic creations will find a veritable treasure trove of 364 originals in this "Atlas." There are more than 700 other images, many of which have been published for the first time. Complementing the maps, graphs, charts and photographs are verbal contributions by more than 100 scholars from Ireland (mainly), the United States and elsewhere. These contributions reflect not only political and military, but also cultural and social aspects of the revolution.

Cultural aspects treated include the role of the fine arts in the revolution. This period produced a wealth of paintings, plays and poetry. Admirers of the work of W.B. Yeats will be pleased to find in the book, strikingly formatted over two facing pages, the text of his best-known poem, “Easter 1916,” which ends with the memorable line “A terrible beauty is born.”

In varying degrees, the atlas offers details about the revolution in all 32 counties, including the six comprising Northern Ireland. One of these regional perspectives is a particularly engaging account of the War of Independence in County Sligo, contributed by Michael Farry, an acclaimed poet who is a native of that county.

The final essay in the “Atlas of the Irish Revolution” will be of particular interest to readers who enjoy Ireland-related movies. “The Irish Revolution on Film” was contributed by Kevin Rockett, who taught film studies at Trinity College Dublin.

Reviewer Eugene Platt, a poet, earned a diploma in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin.