Category Archives: Books

My summer in Maine, a great book & an incident in Ireland that changed the 20th Century

Like many South Florida Irish-Americans, I spent the summer in Maine, enjoying its soft Ireland-like weather, searching for sea glass on the beach and spending many quiet evenings reading. One of the great books that I read this summer was The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, originally published in 1962 and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction that year. This amazing history of the politics and persons responsible for the outbreak of World War I, and of the first few weeks of battle, so impressed President John F. Kennedy that he gave copies of the book to his friends as Christmas gifts.

The Guns of August was a revelation to me, surprised me by revealing how little I knew about “the war to end all wars”, and provided me with a fresh perspective on events that shaped the history of the 20th century. If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend it:

The Guns of August [Mass Market Paperback]

The Guns of August [Hardcover]

The Guns of August [Kindle Edition]

Of particular interest to me was a now little-known incident relating to northern Ireland that paralyzed Britain’s military decision-makers in 1914, and which emboldened Germany to launch its invasion of Belgium and France in August of that year. The Guns of August briefly mentions the so-called “Curragh Mutiny” incident that rocked Britain’s military and political structure to its foundations in the months before the start of World War I, and left the mighty British Empire unprepared and indecisive on the precipice of impending war in Europe.

In January 1913, after over 700 years of England’s colonial oppression of Ireland, a Liberal Party-controlled British Parliament voted to grant “Home Rule” to Ireland, including its own independent Irish Parliament. Conservative pro-British Unionists in the north of Ireland vehemently opposed “Home Rule” and the prospect of being governed by a liberal Irish Parliament in Dublin. The Ulster Unionists threatened armed rebellion to prevent Irish “Home Rule” in the north, formed their own provisional government at Belfast and established their own paramilitary force with an estimated 100,000 volunteers by 1914. Faced with the threat of armed opposition to the enforcement of the Home Rule Act, the British Government ordered its military to ready weapons and troops to respond to any armed rebellion in Ulster. In March 1914, the largely pro-Unionist British officer corps in Ireland balked at the prospect of fighting against “its own people” in Ulster, in what became known as the “Curragh Mutiny”. Britain’s Parliament and Government were shaken by the resignation of a large number of its senior Army officers and by the threat that its military might not obey the civilian Government.

Meanwhile, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was contemplating the imminent invasion of France through Belgium. His decision would be based upon the likelihood of Britain’s not honoring its treaty obligation to defend neutral Belgium. The Kaiser’s close cousin was King George V of England and the mighty British Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm was afraid of facing a British military response to any German invasion of Belgium. The political chaos and fractured military authority in England, created in large part by the “Curragh Mutiny”, lead the Kaiser to believe that England would either opt to stay out of any Continental war or, at the very least, delay any British military response long enough for Germany to launch a rapid and overwhelming invasion through Belgium and achieve a quick conquest of France. Upon this wishful and faulty assumption, the Kaiser plunged the world into the greatest and costliest war in human history to that time. World War I killed much of an entire generation, wasted Western Europe and, in its festering ruin, spawned nearly a century of world conflict. The “Curragh Mutiny” also resulted in nearly a century of unnecessary conflict and terror in northern Ireland.

Read more about the “Curragh Mutiny”:


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Egypt Road: A Memoir of a Farm Boy by Ron Laing

My 95-year-old Aunt Alice Lunney Gregory told me about a new book about Westfield, Maine titled "Egypt Road: A Memoir of a Farm Boy" by Ron Laing.  It’s a memoir about life in Westfield during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.  According to Alice, her baby brother, my Dad, Boyd Lunney and his youthful pranks are featured prominently the book.  I asked Dad about it…He denies any and all "youthful pranks"…Hah, Hah !

"The book is a wonderful account of Ron’s life in Westfield, Maine. Ron graduated from Presque Isle High School in 1953 and shares some wonderful memories and photographs in this book. He lives in Oxford, Maine, with his wife Carolyn Dudley Laing."

Books may be ordered by calling the author Ron Laing at: 207-539-9171

or by mail at: RDL Enterprises, 79 Pine Point Road, Oxford, ME 04270

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Dictionary of Irish Biography

On November 18, 2009, the Dictionary of Irish Biography was formally presented by the Taoiseach of Ireland at Dublin Castle. The Dictionary project had taken 12 years to complete, and was produced on time and within budget.  The Dictionary is a collaborative project between Cambridge University Press and the Royal Irish Academy. The Dictionary is the indispensable reference work on notable people in Ireland’s history.  It includes the lives of Irish men and women who made significant contributions in Ireland and abroad, as well as those born overseas who had noteworthy careers in Ireland, from James Ussher to James Joyce, St Patrick to Patrick Pearse, St Brigit to Maud Gonne MacBride, Shane O’Neil to Eamon de Valera and Edward Carson to Bobby Sands. The Dictionary will put their remarkable lives into every major library in the world and on the shelves of scholars, journalists, teachers, broadcasters, diplomats and general readers. It will be especially important in helping to sustain Irish studies in universities throughout the world.


Criteria for inclusion in the Dictionary, as outlined in the editors’ introduction, are that subjects: “born in Ireland with careers in Ireland; born in Ireland with careers outside Ireland; born outside Ireland with careers in Ireland”.  Subjects include “artists, scientists, lawyers, actors, musicians, writers in Irish and English, politicians, sporting figures, criminals and saints”. Criteria for each entry were that it be “factually accurate, based on the most recently available sources and accessible to the general reader”.  The earliest entries are from the 5th Century, and the earliest birth date is for St Patrick in 420 AD.  The latest death date, December 8th, 2002, is for the art critic Dorothy Walker.  In between lie some 9,700 lives, some very well known, some hardly at all.

The innovative, imaginative and comprehensive Dictionary of Irish Biography is an amazing work of scholarship. 

The Dictionary of Irish Biography consists of nine volumes containing entries for the 9,700 lives, ranging in length from 200 to 15,000 words. There is a subscription-based online version, which allows searching by names, birth, death and dates, gender, place, religion, occupation or field of interest, contributor and free text:  One can also browse by name of subject or contributor, or read a random life. Names of other subjects covered by the series are linked from each piece, leading to a cornucopia of delightful distractions. It is much easier to click on a hyperlink than to take out another volume and leaf through it to find the person with the (qv) beside their name.

Source:  THE IRISH TIMES – Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Lunney family was a major contributor to this enormous effort.  Dr. Linde Lunney of the Royal Irish Academy served as Secretary for this effort and authored 605 of the entries; her husband, Professor James Lunney of Trinity College authored 2 of the entries; and Sheila Lunney, also from Dublin, authored 18 of the entries.

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The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin

I’ve added a new book to my list of recommendations: "The Sinkings" by Australian author Amanda Curtin:
This historical novel/murder mystery features a character named "Mary Lunney", who adopts an unwanted intersex child.  A brief message from the author:
subject: re: Lunney’s
message: Hello Timothy

How lovely to hear from you, and thank you for your interest in The Sinkings. Yes, Mary Lunney is a real person, and the research I’ve done is reflected in the novel itself, e.g. census records on pp. 96–7, family tree sketches pp. 97, 101, Poor Relief records pp 237–9. I see from the family photographs on your website that we have visited many of the same places. You might recognise the photo of the pre-Famine cabin in my book trailer as the one at the American Ulster Folk Park near Omagh.

A very happy New Year to you and all your extended family. I hope 2010 is a wonderful one for you all!

Best wishes


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Lost and Found


During my recent Christmas visit to Maine at my parents’ house, I perused the bookcase in their guestroom, and found a real treasure.  Sitting there among recent popular novels was an 1887 edition of the “Young People’s HISTORY OF IRELAND” by George Makepeace Towle.  I had forgotten that, as a child, I had purchased this book for a few cents over 43 years ago from the tiny Taylor Memorial Library in East Derry, New Hampshire.  This book was one of the first textbooks about Irish history written especially for Irish-American students, and contains many remarkable velum-protected engravings of notable scenes from Irish history.  Thanks to this unexpected discovery, I can share some of this 121-year-old treasure with you.


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